September 22

This Day in History

Old West

Sep 22, 1554:

Coronado dies, without finding the fabled cities of gold

On this day in 1554, Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez, his health badly deteriorated from injuries and the toll of his strenuous travels, dies. He never found the fabled cities of gold that he had sought for decades.

A quarter-century earlier Coronado had explored much of the southwestern United States, leading his force of 300 Spaniards and 800 Indians northward from Mexico in search of the Seven Cities of Cíbola that were rumored to have walls made of gold and treasure houses filled with priceless gems. Arriving in the region that today straddles the border between New Mexico and Arizona, Coronado did actually find Cíbola. But after winning a brief battle against the native defenders, Coronado discovered he had conquered only a modest Zuni village built with walls of adobe mud, not gold.

Discouraged, Coronado considered abandoning his search. But while exploring the Rio Grande one of his lieutenants had acquired a slave, a man the Spaniards called "the Turk," who boasted that in his homeland of Quivara, far to the northeast, Coronado could find all the treasures after which he lusted. Coronado set off in search of Quivara in the spring of 1541, eventually traveling across the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and up into Kansas. But when he finally made contact with the Quivara Indians, Coronado was once again disappointed to find that they were living in simple huts and had no more gold and silver than the Zunis. After strangling the Turk for having lied to him, Coronado gave up and returned to Mexico where he faced a government furious that he had not brought back the wealth he had promised.

Coronado never again mounted another exploratory mission and died believing that he had been a shameful failure. But while he never found the golden cities he sought, Coronado did succeed in giving the Spanish and the rest of the world their first fairly accurate understanding of the inhabitants and geography of the southern half of the present United States.

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