New Mexico Episode 10: Cibola or Bust Transcript

Hello, and welcome to Distant Echoes episode 10, Cibola or Bust.

Last time we covered the fate of Esteban and the beginnings of the Coronado expedition. Leaving them with Coronado creating a vanguard to clear the way for the Spanish.

Diaz was dispatched to explore the Abra, an Fray Marcos had discovered, to the west. If he needed more time, he would meet up with Coronado later. From Jamarillo, who had been sent with Diaz: “Thus it was done, but all we found there was some poor Indians settled in a few valleys in the manner of Rancherias. The land was sterile. The distance from the river to this arroyo must be an additional five days’ journey.” This of course led to more grumbling among the men. 

Upon arrival in Corazones Coronado immediately set to work. They procured food from the north and sent messengers to the coast to see where Alarcon was and to scout the people who lived on the coast. The reports were mixed, ships had been sighted but they could have been Portuguese. More importantly, the reports of the people living on the coast included that they had little food.

As we’ll see later, Coronado would continue to worry about the location of Alarcon and the food situation. The vanguard especially so. The vanguard would continue on to Chichilticale, which may have been Kuykendall Ruins, of which Castañeda would write: The house was built of brown or red earth. It must have been despaired by the natives of the region, who are the most barbarous people thus far encountered. They live by hunting and in rancherias, without permanent settlements.” This marked the edge of the despoblado, an uninhabited and harsh area.

They rested here for a few days. They wanted to stay longer so that the horses could recover some, but their food situation was getting worse and they decided they needed to make tracks. 

Coronado was definitely starting to worry about why they hadn’t been able to meet with Alcoran yet. The Spanish were learning that they were further away from the coast than they had thought. Many things Fray Marcos had promised were being proved false. Coronado wrote in a letter about these issues: “We all now became very distrustful, and felt great anxiety and dismay to see everything was the reverse of what he had told your Lordship! The Indians of Chichilticale say that when they go to the sea for fish, or for anything else they need… it takes them ten days; and this information which I have obtained from the Indians appears to me to be correct. The sea turns towards the west for ten or twelve leagues directly opposite Los Corazones, where I learned that sight had been caught of the ships of your Lordship which had gone in search of the port of Chichilticale, in the thirty-fifth parallel the father said. God knows that I have suffered, because I fear they have met some mishap. If they follow the coast, as they said they would, as long as the food lasts which they took with them … and if they have not been overtaken by some misfortune, I maintain my trust in God that they already may have discovered something good, for which their delay may be pardoned.”

At this point Cardenas would be sent about a day’s march ahead to scout the route for the men and prepare camps. This section was the hardest part of the trek. They continued to the Gila river and followed it to the north where they forded the white river, somewhere near Fort Apache Arizona.

At this point their pace began to slow as the men and horses were starting to get tired. They were also getting even hungrier. As they entered July, things were getting bad, they were tired, hungry, and Alarcon was nowhere in sight. Although there is some evidence that the Eyropeans on the expedition had maintained full rations while others involved had been cut.

I do want to note that the expedition was mostly relying on indigenous guides and roads. They did very little to deviate from this route unless they had to for the cattle they brought. They were here to profit not explore. They would encounter approximately 17 languages too, which would mean they needed chains of interpreters. We’ll talk about all of this later in the story of Coronado too.

Cardenas was again sent ahead to try and find food for the men. Cardenas and his group would continue to the Little Colorado, supposedly where Fray Marcos had met with his companions. At this point they met a group of Cibolans who said food would be given the next day. The Spanish would keep two of these four to ensure they got the promised food. Alvarado was sent back to give this report to Coronado, who quickly caught up to the rest of the group.

The Cibolans, modern Zuni, had most definitely heard of the Spanish beforehand. Whether from long distance traders or through the grapevine. They were most definitely aware of Guzman’s slave raids and that had probably colored their perception of the Spanish.

Cardenas and his men were sent ahead to scout out for potential places for an ambush. Meanwhile the main portion of the vanguard would cautiously follow behind. As they approached Hawikku, the first of the Cibolan pueblos, they would learn of a pass that would be perfect for an ambush and that the people of the pueblo were up in arms. Cardenas was sent ahead to hold this pass until the vanguard could arrive.

They encountered some native scouts, probably spies in reality, telling them that they came in peace and sending them on their way. From here Cardenas made camp. During the night, they would be attacked and their horses scared away. However, there were no mentions of any casualties on either side. A report was sent back to Coronado who quickly pushed on, hoping for food or to avoid a military disaster.

They made it through the pass, near the modern New Mexico-Arizona border and would continue on until sighting Hawikku. What they saw would be nothing like the monumental cities that Fray Marcos had told them about. Castañeda gives a good account of the Spanish’s disappointment about what they found: “Such were the curses some of them hurled at Fray Marcos,” … “that I pray God to protect him from them.”

There is some confusion about when the Spanish arrived. It is possible they arrived during Olo’ikyaikyaka which started on the solstice, which would have fallen on June 10 that year.

The Pueblo itself was ready for war. Some fighting age men from nearby pueblos had also joined them. Meanwhile, the young, elderly, women, and valuables had been evacuated from all the settlements to the traditional stronghold of Dowa Yalanne. Some of the defenders had drawn up in front of the pueblo to challenge the Spanish. In total there were about 200 people defending the pueblo. This form of coalition defense hints at some larger integration between the Cibolan pueblos.

The Spanish read the requerimiento to the pueblo, which was probably not understood. Which as one account put it: “They were not unusual in that respect; there is no known case in which an indigenous group in the Western Hemisphere, without understanding what was being asked of it, acquiesced to the demands of the requerimiento.”

There are a few different accounts of how this encounter went hostile and whether the Spanish actually understood everything that was going on when they brought on hostilities.

One account that I’ve heard is that the defenders outside of the village made lines or cornmeal on the ground, a common sign among the pueblos not to cross. Cardenas had been sent ahead to tell them they came in peace, not knowing about the meaning of these lines they crossed them and violence broke out.

The other telling is that the Cibolans dared the Spanish to cross them. Cardenas was still sent ahead to tell them that they came in peace. At this point they would set upon him and his men.

Whether provoked or accidental, the Cibolans would set upon Cardenas and his men. The brief skirmish would end with no real damage done, other than one wounded horse.

Coronado then moved in to try and keep the peace himself. This supposedly emboldened the defenders who then made advances. At this, Coronado conferred with the priests who approved a charge. Which Coronado approved. I think the man says it better than I could: “In obedience to the precepts of your Lordship and his Majesty, I did not wish them attacked, and although my men were begging me for permission, I enjoined them from doing so, telling them they ought not to molest them; that the enemy was doing us no harm, and that it was not proper to fight so small a number of people. On the other hand, when the Indians saw we did not move they took greater courage, and grew so bold that they came almost to the heels of our horses to shoot their arrows.” … “On this account I saw the time for hesitation had passed, and, as the priests approved the action, I charged them.”… “But there was little to do, for the Indians suddenly took to flight, some running toward the city. Which was near and well fortified, and others toward the plain, or wherever chance led them. Some of them were killed, and others might have been slain if I had allowed them to be pursued. But I saw that in this there would be little advantage, because the Indians who were outside were few, while those who had retired to the city, added to the many who had remained there in the first place, were numerous.”

A small number of the defenders were killed in the skirmish and overall this account probably paints the Spanish in a better light than was probably true. Fray Marcos then sanctioned the Spanish to go after those who had retreated to the pueblo. Some flowery language can be given to try and justify the Spanish here and having to defend their honor, but when you look at the practical situation it’s not needed. The Spanish needed food and they were hungry. There was a promise of a meal inside of the pueblo.

As was the style at the time, the pueblo was functionally a fortified apartment complex. There were no entrances on the first floor, instead there were ladders that led to a series of terraces with entrances within. In total, Hawikku was six levels high at its peak. In the show notes and website I’ve shared a link to an example of what the Spanish encountered.

These ladders could easily be pulled up to prevent access to the pueblo. There may have been an open area mostly surrounded by a wall. The defenders had furthermore collected stones to augment their capabilities to defend beyond just the bow. In contrast, the Spanish were tired and hungry. The defenders had purposely left one ladder to the ground as a trap.

Coronado deployed his calvary to surround the Pueblo. Coronado tried once more to resolve the situation peacefully and the defenders answered with a shower of arrows. As a result, he called for a charge, this would immediately be stopped by a second shower of arrows.

In response, Coronado ordered his crossbowmen and Arquebusiers to fire on the terraces and create an opening. These were essentially useless between broken strings and weak men.

The Spanish would try to take the first terrace. Coronado joined in the charge. The Spanish would find their entrance to be narrow and crooked, making it far harder to assault the pueblo. Coronado would be knocked down twice trying to climb the ladder. Near the end of the battle, he would be knocked unconscious and Cardenas would take charge to accept the pueblo’s surrender a little over an hour after the attack began. Most of the victory could be attributed to the Indian Allies who helped make up the difference in number.

The Spanish promised amnesty to those that wished to stay, but overall many chose to leave the pueblo. While in the grand scheme of things, this could probably be called a draw at best, but to the men it felt different. It was a victory that provided food. One account describes it as such: “God knows how frugally we had lived, and whether we could have eaten much more than we consumed on the day when his Grace entered the city of Granada … There we found something we prized more than gold or silver; namely plentiful Maize and beans, turkeys larger than those … in New Spain, and salt better and whiter than any I have ever seen in my whole life.”

After their conquest, “The Spaniards renamed the pueblo “Granada” because it was reminiscent of the cramped and impoverished Moorish quarter of that city, called the Albaicin, which was characterized at the time by low adobe buildings.”

While the men rested at Hawikku, some local leaders would finally come to see Coronado. He would use this opportunity to invite the rest from the area to try and smooth everything over. Some from the pueblo of Máçaque took Coronado up on this offer saying they would bring others.

Coronado had not yet begun to talk about the wealthy cities that he had come in search of. Instead informing these leaders of their obligations as subjects or the Spanish Crown. While Coronado was hopeful, the puebloans again packed up and left again.

Coronado sent embassies to the pueblo of Mats’a:kya (Mahtsahkyah) to see what had happened, arriving in early July. Here he asked to see the “lord” of the pueblo despite having not seen anything that would denote such a rank in the European understanding of the world. An old man would heed this call and agree to try and get the leaders to meet with the expedition again.

What followed was a conference where the pueblo leaders “agreed” to become Spanish subjects and convert. They painted the fauna and flora of the region on hides which were sent back to Viceroy Mendoza. They also agreed to return to their homes. Something they did not do at first, but eventually they would.

Coronado gave his report on Cibola as such:

“It now remains for me to talk about the Seven Cities, the kingdom and province of which the father provincial gave your Lordship an account. To make a long story short, I can assure you he has not told the truth in a single thing he has said, for everything is the very opposite of what he related except the name of the cities and the large stone houses. However although they are not decorated with Turquoises, nor made of lime or good bricks, nevertheless they are very good houses, three, four, and give storeys high, and they have very…. Good rooms with corridors, and some quite good apartments underground … which are built for winter and are something like hot houses.”

Of course at the end there he is talking about a kiva. He then continues:

“The Seven Cities are seven little villages, all having the kind of houses I have described, and all within the space of four leagues. All taken together they are called the Kingdom of Cévola. Each has its own name, and no single one is called Cévola, but collectively they have this designation. This one where I am now lodged and which I have called a city, I have named Granada, both because it has some similarity to that place, and in honor of your Lordship. In it there are perhaps two hundred houses, all surrounded by a wall, and it seems to me that, together with the others which are not so enclosed, there might be a total of five hundred houses. There is another town near by, one of the seven, which is somewhat larger than this, and another of the same size as this one, the other four being somewhat smaller. I am sending to your Lordship a sketch of them all and of the route. The skin on which the painting is made was found here with the others.”

I’ll take a break here to interject on Cornado’s report. These seven cities, and I apologize in advance if I butcher this, Google was less than helpful. But the seven cities were: Kechiba:Wa, Kwa’ki’na, kayak:ma, Mats’a:kya, Halona:wa, Chalo:wa, and of course, Hawikku.

He then goes on to describe the people, climate, and plants. He talks about their religious beliefs, as the Spanish understood them. In all it is a large account of the people of this time, even if given through a colonial Spanish lens. The only thing of note for this podcast is his description of the people, which was part of the goal of the expedition. Coronado puts it as such:

“The people of these towns are fairly large and seem to me to be quite intelligent, although I do not think they have the judgment necessary to build these houses in the way in which they are made, for most of them [the men] are entirely naked except for the covering required for decency. They have colored fabrics like the one I am sending to you. They do not raise cotton, because the country is extremely cold, but they wear mantas, such as you may see by the sample, and it is true that some cotton thread was found in their houses. They wear the hair on their heads like the Mexicans, and are well formed and comely. I think they have many turquoises but removed them with all the rest of their goods except the Maize. When I arrived I did not find any women here nor any men under fifteen or over sixty, except two or three old ones who remained in command of the young men and the warriors. Two points of emerald and some little broken stones, rather poor, which approached the color of garnet were found in a paper under some stone crystals. I gave them to one of my servants to keep until they could be sent to your Lordship, but he lost them, so they tell me.”

Finally he includes this last thing of note:

“The natives here have some very well dressed skins, and according to what they tell me, they tan and color them where they kill the cattle.”

In this case, the cattle he is describing are really Buffalo.

He then sent out messages to get more information on the surrounding area. He learned that the kingdom of Totonteac was actually a single kingdom on a small lake. He also learned that Acoma was not as large a kingdom as previously depicted and was instead a single village. It seemed that Marcos had gotten everything wrong.

At the end we’ll discuss how much of a liar Fray Marcos, and others really were.

He would also hear of a kingdom they called Tusayan, which may have been the southernmost Hopi pueblo, called Awatovi. He did write about all of this somewhat skeptical though: “They could not tell me much about the others,” … “nor do I believe they are telling me the truth, because they think that in any case I shall soon have to depart from among them and return home. But here is where they are mistaken.”

They also heard about the kingdom Of Tiguex around this time.

Captain Pedro de Tovar and father Juan Padilla were sent with 21 men to follow up on this lead for the Hopi pueblos though. They left on July 15 about a week after Hawikku was taken. Castañeda wrote about this journey: “When they arrived there, they entered the land so secretly that they were not noticed by a single person, the reason for this bring that between the two provinces there are neither towns nor country houses, nor do the people go outside of their pueblos any further than to their fields.”

The reason they were staying in their pueblos were because of rumors of the conquest of Cibola which included: “men “who were riding about on animals that devoured people.””

They tried to remain hidden at the first village that they came to, but were discovered the next day after making camp. The Hopi ordered the Spanish to leave and the Spanish demanded the Hopi render obedience to the king. Lines were once again drawn in cornmeal and the Spanish again crossed them to try and talk to them. Eventually all of this quite literally came to a head when a horse was hit on the head with a club.

Before things could escalate further, more Hopi would rush down from the pueblo with gifts to ease tensions. Here they heard about a great river to the west, a common tactic used by the people Coronado encountered to divert attention to a nearby “richer” settlement.

Hoping that this was the same river that Alarcon was to be exploring, he would set up an expedition. But we’ll have to wait until next time to hear about how that went. As a reminder, I have a map of the routes taken by the early explorers of New Mexico on the website.

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