Black Spanish explorer Estevan is reported killed - HISTORY
Year
1539

Black Spanish explorer Estevan is reported killed

Word reaches Fray Marcos that Indians have killed his guide Estevan, a black slave who was the first non-Indian to visit the pueblo lands of the American Southwest.

Thought to have been born sometime around 1500 on the west coast of Morocco, Estevan was sold to the Spanish as a slave. He ended up in the hands of Andres Dorantes de Carranza, who took him on an ill-fated expedition to Florida in 1527. A series of disasters reduced the original exploratory party of 300 to four men: Estevan, Dorantes de Carranza, Cabeza de Vaca, and Alonso del Castillo. The four survivors lived with Indians on the Gulf of Mexico for several years before finally heading west in hopes of reaching Mexico City. With the assistance of Spanish slave hunters they encountered, they finally made it to Mexico City in 1536, where their amazing story of survival caused a sensation.

Intrigued by reports by the four men of rich cities of gold to the north, the Spanish Viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza, immediately began to plan an expedition. The three white men, however, wished only to return to Spain and refused to serve as guides. As a slave, Estevan had no choice in the matter and he was sold to the viceroy.

In 1539, the viceroy ordered Estevan to lead the Catholic friar and explorer Fray Marcos de Niza on a preliminary mission to investigate the rumors of cities of gold. Setting out on March 7, 1539, the two men and a party of retainers headed north into the modern-day states of Arizona and New Mexico. On March 21, Marcos sent Estevan ahead to scout the territory, in part because the pious Marcos had become annoyed with Estevan’s penchant for collecting turquoise and his too-evident enjoyment of the native women.

Six days later, Estevan sent back word to Marcos that he had encountered Indians who had told him spectacular places lay ahead. Marcos took this to mean that Estevan had heard reports of one of the fabulous golden cities. The two travelers trudged on through the hot desert sands, with Estevan traveling ahead by several days and periodically sending Indian messengers back to the friar with reports. By mid-May, they were nearing the White Mountains of Arizona. On this day in 1539, another messenger came riding from the north to tell Marcos that Estevan was dead.

From the messenger, Marcos learned that Estevan had made contact with a band of Pueblo Indians. In his earlier transcontinental trek, the black man had acquired a sacred rattle used by the Plains Indian tribes. Estevan had previously found that the gourd filled with pebbles worked wonders in gaining the trust and respect of certain Indians. The Pueblo people, however, deeply feared anyone using the paraphernalia of a Plains Indian medicine man. Estevan may have also further alienated the Pueblo Indians by demanding women and treasure. After keeping him for three days, the Indians killed Estevan near the modern-day Arizona border southwest of Zuni, New Mexico.

Upon hearing this frightening news, Marcos immediately returned to Mexico City. Based on the third or fourth-hand reports from Estevan of spectacular places ahead, Marcos told the viceroy the rumored golden cities of the north might actually exist. Encouraged by the friar’s tales, the explorer Coronado headed north a year later, confidently promising to return with hordes of gold. Like Estevan and Marcos, he found no gold but he did return with a wealth of useful knowledge about the geography and people of the Southwest. However, it was the black slave Estevan, not the white nobleman Coronado, who was the first non-Indian to penetrate the southwest territory.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Chuck Berry records “Maybellene”

John Lennon once famously said that “if you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.'” That’s how foundational Berry’s contributions were to the music that changed America and the world beginning in the mid-1950s. Even more than Elvis Presley, who ...read more

Lindbergh lands in Paris

American pilot Charles A. Lindbergh lands at Le Bourget Field in Paris, successfully completing the first solo, nonstop transatlantic flight and the first ever nonstop flight between New York to Paris. His single-engine monoplane, The Spirit of St. Louis, had lifted off from ...read more

American Red Cross founded

In Washington, D.C., humanitarians Clara Barton and Adolphus Solomons found the American National Red Cross, an organization established to provide humanitarian aid to victims of wars and natural disasters in congruence with the International Red Cross.Barton, born in ...read more

Second Moroccan Crisis

Six years after the First Moroccan Crisis, during which Kaiser Wilhelm’s sensational appearance in Morocco provoked international outrage and led to a strengthening of the bonds between Britain and France against Germany, French troops occupy the Moroccan city of Fez on May 21, ...read more

Nancy Lopez wins her first Coca-Cola Classic

On May 21, 1978, 21-year-old rookie golfer Nancy Lopez defeats her childhood hero, JoAnne Carner, on the first hole of a sudden death playoff to win the Coca-Cola-Classic in Jamesburg, New Jersey. The next year Lopez beat out 44-year-old Mickey Wright, again in a playoff, to ...read more

Garfield’s spine on display at museum

On this day in 2000, the bones of President James Garfield’s spine are on display for a final day as part of the Out of the Blue Closets exhibit at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C. The exhibit featured medical oddities from the museum’s archives. The ...read more

Huge earthquake hits Chile

On this day in 1960, the first tremor of a series hits Valdivia, Chile. By the time they end, the quakes and their aftereffects kill 5,000 people and leave another 2 million homeless. Registering a magnitude of 7.6, the first earthquake was powerful and killed several people. ...read more

Long Island Lolita is arrested

Amy Fisher, the so-called “Long Island Lolita,” is arrested for shooting Mary Jo Buttafuoco on the front porch of her Massapequa, New York, home. Fisher, only 17 at the time of the shooting, was having an affair with 38-year-old Joey Buttafuoco, Mary Jo’s husband. The tawdry ...read more

Leopold and Loeb gain national attention

Fourteen-year-old Bobbie Franks is abducted from a Chicago, Illinois, street and killed in what later proves to be one of the most fascinating murders in American history. The killers, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, were extremely wealthy and intelligent teenagers whose sole ...read more

Gorbachev consolidates power

In an attempt to consolidate his own power and ease political and ethnic tensions in the Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev dismisses the Communist Party leaders in those two republics.Since coming to power in 1985, Gorbachev had faced ...read more