Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

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Assigned the task of locating the fabled Seven Cities of Cíbola in the New World for Spain, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, governor of the New Galicia province of northern New Spain, left Compostela, on the west coast of New Spain (present Mexico), in February 1540. The well-known and capable twenty-seven-year-old led 240 mounted soldiers, 60 foot soldiers, 800 Indians and slaves, and hundreds of head of cattle and horses northward. Finding no gold in what is now Arizona and New Mexico, Coronado trusted a captured Pawnee Indian called El Turco to lead him to distant Quivira, a village where inhabitants reportedly ate from golden plates and silver bowls.

According to the narrative, the Spaniards followed El Turco east and north to what is now the Texas Panhandle. The Spanish troop had traveled "110 leagues west of Mexico, and then to the northeast 100 leagues and to the north 250, and all this brought them only to the barrancas where the cattle [buffalo] were," presumably, in the Texas Panhandle. At this point, Coronado's men tortured El Turco into confessing his deceit. With El Turco in chains, a smaller contingent of thirty horsemen and six foot-soldiers followed Ysopete, a Wichita Indian slave, north through the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and Kansas; eventually, in July 1541 they found Quivira, a squalid village of Wichita Indians, presumably near present Wichita, Kansas. Here Coronado found no wealth, only mud-and-twig huts, tattooed natives, and noisy dogs, and he ordered the execution of El Turco.

Coronado and his men never found any riches. On the return trek to the southwest, the explorers may have followed the path that three centuries later would become the Santa Fe Trail. On this march, the Spaniards again traversed what is now Kansas and the Oklahoma Panhandle, passing near the present communities of Liberal, Kansas, and Tyrone, Hooker, Optima, Guymon, Goodwell, and Texhoma, Oklahoma. A stone marker north of Beaver on Highway 270 in Beaver County commemorates the expedition's passing through the Panhandle. Some historians claim that Coronado carved a Castillian-style inscription "Coronatto, 1541" on Autograph Rock near Boise City in Cimarron County. Regardless of the authenticity of the signature, in the spring of 1542 Coronado returned to New Spain, where he died in 1554, never receiving the fame and glory that would have come if he had found the golden fortune on the prairies of the New World.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Herbert Eugene Bolton, Coronado, Knight of Pueblos and Plains (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1949). Dianna Everett, ed., Coronado and the Myth of Quivira (Canyon, Tex.: Panhandle-Plains Historical Society, 1985). Richard Flint and Shirley Cushing Flint, eds., The Coronado Expedition to Tierra Nueva: The 1540-1542 Route Across the Southwest (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 1997). George P. Hammond and Agapito Rey, eds. and trans., Narratives of the Coronado Expedition 1540-1542 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1940). Bill McGlone, Ted Barker, and Phil Leonard, Petroglyphs of Southeast Colorado and the Oklahoma Panhandle (Kamas, Utah: Mithras, 1994). Stewart Udall, Majestic Journey: Coronado's Inland Empire (Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1987).

Tom Lewis and Sara Jane Richter

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