Produced by Gary Martens and Laurie Saikin
CORONADO, THE BRILLIANT CAVALIER.
"Coronado was a Spanish cavalier, born in the city of Salamanca, where he had received a good education, and had improved the advantages which wealth and gentle birth naturally confer. Intrepid, ambitious, of pleasing and ingratiating manners, skilled in all manly and martial exercises, he would have come down to us as a model of the brave adventurous, avaricious and cruel commanders of his age, but for a superstitious belief in evil omens and unlucky signs, which sometimes prevented him from seizing hold of success even when it was fairly within his grasp.
"In his youthful days, Coronado had made the acquaintance of a youthful sage, who, after long study and travel in the East, where he had collected the knowledge and experience of ages, had taken up his abode in the classic and congenial city of Salamanca. This spare and wrinkled devotee of science possessed great skill in the kindred pursuits of astrology and necromancy, to which he added the marvelous gift of divination. To him the young Spaniard applied with a request that the mystery of his future life might be revealed to him. After consulting his sacred parchments, and communing with the supernatural beings who had deigned to impart to him their wisdom, the astrologer, at an appointed time, received Coronado in his retreat, fragrant with incense and covered with mathematical diagrams and cabalistic characters. The stars in their courses, he said, and the mystic intelligences, who reveal future events to mortals, had foretold that the fiery young student should one day become the omnipotent lord of a greet and distant country; but the portents thenceforward were gloomy and sinister--a fall from a horse would imperil his life. We shall see in the sequel what effect this prediction had upon the early settlement of our State.
"Coming to Mexico while still in the vigorous strength of early manhood; our hero was fortunate enough to win the affections of a daughter of one of the Spanish dignitaries who had been sent out to take part in the government of that province. Estrada had been the Royal Treasurer and in charge of the finances. For a time even, while the charges against Cortes were a subject of investigation, the reins of government had devolved upon him. He appears to have been a man of small mind, but arrogant and dictatorial, as small minds are apt to be; and not averse to using his office as a source of wealth, as small minds have done before and since his time. This pompous old grandee had, like Polonius and Jephthah,
'One fair daughter, and no more,
"We catch but a glimpse here and there, through these dry and musty old chronicles, of the sweet face of Beatrix d'Estrada, but we see enough of her to know that she was beautiful and accomplished, graceful in person, refined in mind, and as different from her father as Jessica from Shylock. And so, when she and Coronado met, we behold again the picture which belongs to no age or time--
'Old and yet ever new, and simple and beautiful always;
"Marriage did not cool the ardor of the ambitious young warrior. He remained passionately fond of his handsome wife during the whole of his stirring and adventurous career; and her wealth and station served to elevate him above the position in which his own good qualities would have placed him.
"Early in the spring of 1540, the expedition of Coronado, composed of 300 Spaniards and some 800 natives, set forth from their rendezvous with bright anticipations and sanguine hopes. These were somewhat dimmed and dampened by the hardships of the way, for the country was rough, mountainous and desert; and now and then, notwithstanding the marvels of the seven cities which they expected to see at the end of their route, distrust and home sickness overmastered their curiosity. Once, a soldier, rushing in to Coronado, in a well-counterfeited agony of apprehension and terror, declared that, while he was bathing in a mountain stream, the devil in his proper shape (for in those days they had not lost belief in a personal devil) had tempted him, saying, 'Kill your General, and you shall many Donna Beatrix, his beautiful wife, and I will endow yon with boundless wealth.' This was touching the General in two tender points--his superstition and his uxoriousness; so, to prevent the fulfillment of the devil's desire, he ordered that the honest and sorely tempted soldier should remain at Culiacan, which was theprecise object for which the cunning rogue had invented the story.
"But when at last, after a tedious and toilsome march, the long-expected seven cities of Cibola were reached, the whole army, as the chronicler tells us, broke out into maledictions against Friar Marcos de Niza, who had so deceived them. 'God grant' he charitably adds, 'that he may feel none of them.' His highly colored tales had all proved false. There were farms in Mexico better than Cibola; the seven cities were seven hamlets, the houses were small, gold was not found, the minerals were of but little value, and in short, the puissant realms and populous cities which be had promised, the metals, the gems and the rich stuffs of which he had boasted in all his discourses, had faded like an insubstantial pageant into thin air.
"But the fitting-out of the expedition had cost too much money, and its starting had been heralded with too much boasting, to allow it to come thus speedily to an ignoble end. Were there not other cities, Coronado began to inquire, which it would be profitable to visit? The natives, always ready to lend to the Spaniards a helping hand out of their country, were not slow to answer this question in the affirmative. Two hundred and fifty miles to the eastward, they said was a rich, peaceful and populous province, where their desires for wealth and their ambition for power might be gratified to the fullest extent. Thither Coronado led his little army, reaching a point which, even to this day, is readily identified by its natural characteristics and by its ruined cities and villages, with the country which is now the eastern portion of the Territory of New Mexico, watered by the Rio Grande and the Pecos, and not far south of the city of Santa Fé.
"The welcome which the gentle and kindly natives of this region gave to their invaders was so cordial and sincere that it seems, sometimes, to weak and sentimental humanitarians of the present day, almost unfair and ungenerous for the Spaniards to plunder and kill them afterward. But those old warriors were made of stern and unrelenting stuff. They were met by the inhabitants of the peaceful villages with warm demonstrations of friendship, great store of victuals, large quantities of stuff, and the blue turquoise of the country; they were serenaded with the quaint music of their drums and flutes. 'Sometimes,' says one of the historians of the march, 'they sought to touch my garments, and called me Hayota, which, in their language, signifieth a man come from heaven.'
"As a recompense for these hospitable attentions, the Spaniards, who had been instructed by the Viceroy of Mexico to 'let these people understand that there was a God in heaven and an Emperor on earth,' first imprisoned several of their chief men on some frivolous pretext, and then, by way of diversion, burned one of their villages. These things, says the chronicler, caused some dissatisfaction, which was not diminished by a requisition of the General for cloth enough to furnish new suits for his entire army. Winter was just coming on, and the poor natives begged for a little time to comply with this demand, so that it might not bear too severely upon them, but they were pressed so hard that they were forced to give up their own scanty garments to complete the desired tale. If the soldiers who accompanied the collectors were not content with the clothing supplied to them, and saw an Indian who had something better, they forced an immediate exchange, without troubling themselves about the rank or condition of those whom they despoiled. Such conduct, it is gravely added, irritated the natives exceedingly.
"But they bore these wrongs and indignities with submission, if not in silence, till the last and crowning insult was added to them. This ignorant and barbarous people had among their peculiarities a strong and exclusive love for their wives; and so jealous were they, after their experience with the dissolute Moor, of the rude eyes of theSpanish soldiery, that they carefully concealed their females, immuring them in such strict seclusion that Coronado complained, after a long residence in Cibola, that of their females he had only been able to see two gray and withered old women. It chanced one day that an officer, whose name even the soldier who tells the story is ashamed to hand down to its deserving infamy, saw peeping from an upper window the bright and curious eyes of a comely woman. Dismounting from his horse, he strode into the apartment from which outcries and shrieks of agony were presently heard. The wronged husband and chiefs of the village waited upon Coronado, and with humbleness and in sadness, presented their complaint. The troops and retainers of the camp were paraded, but the simple-minded Indian failed to recognize the assailant; probably, it is hinted, because he had changed his garments. The animal he rode, however, was pointed out and positively identified, but its owner, being called upon, boldly denied the charge. 'Perhaps,' we are told, 'the Indian was mistaken, but at any rate he was obliged to return without having obtained justice.'
"The next morning, the natives of the village were in arms and rebellion. Barricading their houses with logs, and secure behind their battlements of stone, the cowardly rascals kept their foes at bay with flights of arrows for two days; and it was not until the Spaniards had managed to dig under the walls and set fire to the town that they were obliged to surrender. Even then, smoked as they were, they would not submit until the Spanish officers had promised them quarter, whereupon they laid down their weapons. Being secured and guarded, it was concluded, not withstanding their surrender, to burn them alive, by way of setting an example to other refractory villages. But when the prisoners saw the preparations for their burning, they seized the billets of wood collected for the ante-mortem cremation, and made so stout a defense with them that it became necessary for the Spanish cavalry to ride in among them, sword in hand. As the slaughter took place in an open, level plain, not many of the natives escaped; but the few who were fortunate enough to do so did great injury to the Spaniards by reporting that they disregarded the usages of warfare and violated truces.
"As the winter was an uncommonly severe one, snow falling to a great depth and ice sealing up the rivers, the Spaniards expressed a willingness to overlook all that had passed and to grant a full pardon and safe conduct to all who would come in and submit to the invaders; but the Indians responded that it would be useless to make treaties with people who did not keep faith, and unwise to surrender to an enemy which burned its prisoners of war. So siege was laid to another village. Here, however, the inhabitants were better prepared for defense and for fifty days stubbornly resisted the most daring and gallant attacks. But, deprived of water, they suffered untold and terrible agonies. The falls of snow within their court-yards were soon exhausted. They tried to dig a well, but its sides caved in and buried the workmen. So, with a forlorn courage, which, if they were not copper-colored, might excite our sympathy, they built a great fire, into which they cast their mantles, feathers, turquoises, and all their little stores of finery that the strangers might not possess them; made a desperate sortie with their women and children in the midst; and not one escaped the edge of the sword, the hoofs of the horses or the cold waves of the Rio Grande. Most of them the Spaniards mercifully slew; the wounded were spared to become slaves.
"Thus this simple, loving, virtuous people, who had greeted Coronado with the perfume of flowers and the soft music of their flutes, came to understand that there was a God in heaven and an Emperor on earth.
"Not infrequently has it happened in the history of the world that, when the need of a nation is the sorest, a savior rises up among them; and thus it was with the unhappy and oppressed natives of these valleys. One of their number, willing to sacrifice his life for the salvation of the rest, suddenly appeared before Coronado with much mystery in his movements and a pretended hostility to the natives. His description of rich countries and large cities, remote from the secluded valley of the Pecos, surpassed all previous revelations. He came, he said, from a land far to the northeast, where there was a river seven miles in width. Within its depths were fish as large as horses. Upon its broad bosom floated canoes which carried twenty oarsmen on each side; and huge vessels with sails, which bore upon their prow a golden eagle, and on the poop a sumptuous dais, whereupon their lords were wont to seat themselves beneath a canopy of cloth of gold. That every day the monarch of this favored region, named Tartarrax, long-bearded gray-haired and rich, took his noonday sleep in a garden of roses, under a huge spreading tree, to the branches of which were suspended innumerable golden bells, which sounded in exquisite harmony when shaken by the wind; that this King prayed by means of a string of beads, and worshiped a cross of gold and the image of a woman, the Queen of heaven; that throughout the land the commonest utensils were of wrought silver, and the bowls, plates and porringers of beaten gold. This land of plenty, he said, was the great kingdom of Quivera, and thither he waited to conduct his white friends whenever they should be pleased to accompany him. He talked with so much assurance and sustained their rude tests of cross-examination so well that Coronado's oft-shaken faith was again established. It is true there were not wanting suspicions of the integrity of this new-found friend. It was evident that he had some secret communication with the natives. One soldier, to whom ablution was probably a forgotten luxury, declared that he had seen him with his face in a wash-basin full of water, talking with the devil. Still, his disclosures were so specific, and their truth so desirable, that it was determined (all necessary precautions having been taken that he should not escape) to trust to his guidance.
"So, on the 5th day of May, in the year 1541, Coronado and his army quitted the valleys they had pacified and Christianized so thoroughly, crossed the Pecos River and soon entered upon the treeless and pathless prairies of what is now the Indian Territory and the State of Kansas. Through mighty plains and sandy heaths, smooth and wearisome and bare of wood, so that they made great heaps of buffalo dung to guide them on their return, and in spite of all their precautions were constantly losing stragglers from the camp, they made their way for 800 miles northeastwardly to the banks of a considerable river, which could have been no other than the Arkansas.
"Each one, says Castaneda--a credulous, honest, sincere and pious private soldier, who has, with others, told us the story of this march--was charged to measure the daily progress made by counting his steps. The picture which we can fancy to ourselves of this dusty band plodding its way through the long summer days over the Kansas prairies, grim silent and arithmetical, has something in it of the ludicrous as well as the pathetic. Still, our adventurers were enabled to enliven their dreary computations by an occasional indulgence in their favorite pastime of robbery. Once, finding a village with an enormous quantity of skins, they cleaned it out so completely that in a quarter of an hour there was not one to be found. The Indians, we are told, tried in vain to save them, and the women and children wept, for they had believed that the Spaniards would not take their skins, and that they would be content with blessing them, as Cabeza de Vaca and his companions had done when they had passed that way.
"The suspicions which had from the first attached to their guide had been spreading and increasing in intensity. It was noticed that when they met with the wandering nomads of the plains, if the Turk, as they called him,6 was the first, to converse with them, they confirmed all his stories, and pointed to the eastward as the true course; while, if communication was prevented, the tribes knew nothing of the riches and splendor of the land of Quivera, and insisted that the country lay to the north and not to the east.
"Coronado, therefore, seeing that the Turk had deceived him, that provisions began to fail, and that, except the meat of the buffalo, there was no prospect of obtaining more in the country round about, convoked his Captains and Lieutenants in a council of war, to determine upon their future course. It was there decided that the General, with thirty of his bravest and best mounted men, and six foot soldiers should proceed northward in search of Quivera, while the main army should return to the vicinity of the Pecos River. The soldiers protested with many supplications against this separation, but Coronado was inflexible, and he started north with guides which he had taken from the roving Indians of the plains, and the unhappy Turk securely bound; while the army, after slaughtering great numbers of the buffalo for their sustenance, set out upon their homeward route.
6From a fancied resemblance to the people of that nation, some say, though it seems more probable that it was a name given to him after the discovery of his faithlessness.
"Northward, then, from the Arkansas River, for many weary and anxious hours, the little band which accompanied the adventurous General pursued its way over the Kansas plains. July had come, the days were long and hot, and the sultry nights crept over the primeval prairie, seeming to rise like a shadowy and threatening specter out of the grass. But stout hearts and good horses brought them at last to the southern boundary of Nebraska. And here, along the Platte River, they found the long-sought kingdom of Quivera; here was Tartarrax, the hoary-headed old ruler of the land. But alas for the vanity of human expectations! the only precious metal they saw was a copper plate hanging to the old chief's breast, by which he set great store; there were no musical bells, no gilded eagle, no silver dishes no rosary, no image of the Virgin, no cross, no crown. In the midst of his disappointment, Coronado took a melancholy pleasure in hanging the Turk who had so egregiously misguided him; and that barbaric Curtius, after boldly avowing that he knew of no gold, that he had brought the invaders into the wilderness to perish with hunger and hardship, and that be had done this to rid the peaceful dwellers in the Rio Grande and Pecos Valleys of their hated presence, met his fate with a stoicism which the Spaniards called despair and remorse.
"Here, then, upon the southern boundary of this State, at a point not yet easily ascertainable, but doubtless between Gage County on the east and Furnas on the west, Coronado set foot upon the soil of Nebraska, and here busied with observations and explorations, he remained for twenty-five days. "I have already adverted to the fact that this location of the northern terminus of his march has not met with universal acceptation. The arguments, however, in support of the theory, seem to me unanswerable. 7 Let us briefly examine them.
"It is unimportant for the purpose of our investigation whether we fix the site of the cities of Cibola at Zuni with Gen. Simpson, at Acoma with Emery and Abert, or on the Chaco with Mr. Morgan. The last place visited by Coronado before he emerged from the mountains to the plains was Cicuye, which is described as a well-fortified village, with houses of four stories, in a narrow valley between pine-clad mountains and near a stream well stocked with fish. These features point so unmistakably to what is now known as Old Pecos, on the river of the same name, that no one can visit those desolate and melancholy ruin and remain unconvinced. The four stories may even now be distinguished by the careful observer; the place is still admirably fortified both by nature and art, against any assault not aided by artillery; it is apparently completely hemmed in by mountains, and among the stone hatchets, hammers, arrowheads and bits of turquoise, which the curious may still find there, are not unfrequently to be seen the grooved stones which the Indians used as sinkers for their fishing nets. Some, however, have founded an objection upon the statement of Castaneda that, after leaving that place the army did not reach the Cicuye River, which flowed near Cicuye and took its name from that place, until the fourth day, and Gen. Simpson, though he thinks that no other place than Pecos 'in so many respects suits the conditions of the problem,' is inclined to get over the difficulty by supposing that the river referred to was the Gallinas, which it might require four days to reach. With the utmost deference, however, to the opinion of so learned and skillful an explorer, I venture to suggest that it is unnecessary to suppose that four days were occupied in the march to the crossing. Supposing Coronado to have left Pecos near the close of the first day (by no means an unusual time for the commencement of a long expedition), and to have reached the crossing on the morning of the fourth, then but little more than two days would have been occupied on the way. Now, although the Pecos River flows very near the Pecos Village, it is in fact not visible from that place, and by the old Santa Fé trail it is twenty-two miles to the ford at San Miguel. The railroad crosses five or six miles below the trail, and there is still another crossing some ten miles beyond at Anton Chico. Inasmuch as to reach the nearest of these points, through the difficult country about Pecos, might well have consumed two days, it seems to me that the paragraph in question confirms, instead of opposes, his views. It must not be forgotten, moreover, that as the evident object of the Turk was to lead the troops as far to the eastward as possible, he would, if practicable, take them to some lower point than San Mignel on the Santa Fé trail. There seems, therefore, to be conclusive grounds for believing that Cicuye and Pecos are identical.
"From Cicuye the main body marched about seven hundred miles northeastwardly to a considerable river. As all the narratives of the expedition concur in bearing testimony to this fact, there is no escape from it except by the exercise of an unreasoning disbelief. After making all possible allowances for deviations from a direct line and the shortened steps of tired soldiers, it is impossible to believe that this stream could have been anything south of the Arkansas. The distance by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fé Railway from Pecos to Newton, Kan., is 593 miles. By the Santa Fé trail it is probably about the same. That the main body of the army reached a spot as far north as that cannot certainly be a violent presumption.
"From the point where he left his army, Coronado must have proceeded in a direction west of north. 'They had diverged too much toward Florida,' says Castaneda. The time occupied in the march by the detachment is uncertain; Castaneda gives it as forty-eight days, while Coronado says in one piece that it was forty, and in another forty-two days. Taking the lowest of these numbers, and conceding that it includes also the twenty-five days spent by the General in exploring Quivera, and there was ample time to reach the Platte or the Republican River.
7The view I have taken of Coronado's march was suggested by Mr. Gallatin, and has been supported by General Simpson. See the latter's excellent paper on the subject in the Smithonian Report for 1869. I think, however, that the General has placed the northernmost point reached much too far to the eastward.