Expedition to the Seven Cities
The Story of Estevanico
In August, the Viceroy appointed a new governor for the province of Nueva Galicia, Don Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. He had been a gentleman member of Mendoza's staff and had ideas of his own about leading a major expedition in search of the Seven Cities.
At about the same time, approval of the King was received for sending Estevanico with Friar Marcos de Niza on their scouting expedition.
Since they must start from Culiacan, Coronado was happy to assist in the preparations. A little advance information could be helpful in his long range plans.
Late in the fall, the procession left Mexico City in brilliant splendor. The new governor and his gentlemen adventurers led the way, plumes and banners flying. Then there were mounted soldiers, their armor shining in the sun. Somewhere among the foot soldiers, herds of sheep, cattle and horses, would be found Estevanico, Friars de Niza and Onorato and a few slaves and Indians to handle their supplies and necessities, walking, as usual, barefoot or sandaled.
Marcos de Niza would lead the group; Estevanico would be the guide. Mendoza's instructions were detailed and complete. The Friar should:
- Urge the Spaniards of Culiacan not to abuse the Indians. Punishment would be certain.
- Assure the Indians that no nore slaves would be taken.
- Inform me of how Coronado performs his duties. (A little private eye work on the side.)
- Travel in safety that you may penetrate the land in the interior.
- Observe the number of people, the character of the land, and the trees, plants and animals.
- Send back reports in secrecy of any important finds or discoveries.
The order for Estevanico was simply to obey Friar Marcos in whatever he might ask of him.
Friday, March 7, 1539. Scouts had reported that the Indians in the north were peaceful and friendly, some returning with them to escort Estevanico, whom they remembered seeing three years before.
At last the small party was able to set out from Culiacan. Striding ahead was Estevanico, followed by the two Friars, a few slaves and several Indians. He realized that he was the leader on fact if not in title.
He knew where he was going. The Friars would be lost in a minute without him, He had no intention of following orders from anyone. He had been a slave for many years. Now he was a free man with slaves carrying his possessions.
Troubles were not long in appearing. When Friar Onorato became too ill to continue, he had to be sent back to Culiacan on a litter.
Estevanico's "possessions" soon became a problem, He had acquired much personal baggage including clothing, ornaments, a tent, bedding, two large greyhounds, and four green dinner plates. Each meal had to be served to him on these and no one else could use them. All the Indian tribes were generous with gifts of turquoise and coral when he gave medicine ceremonies, made the sign of the Cross and performed religious rites.
He soon had a harem of Indian girls he found pleasing following along with all the others. Marcos de Niza was justly critical and disapproving but could do little more than issue reprimands.. It was Estevanico who was the friend of the Indians, their Child of the Sun God, sometimes with hundreds crowding around.
March 21, 1539. They arrived in the village of Vacapa near the Sinaloa border a few days before Easter. Friar Marcoss decided to remain there during Holy week and permit Estevanico to go on ahead. If he got into trouble through his excesses it would be his own fault. He was ordered to go no farther than fifty or sixty leagues. If he discovered anything of importance he should send back a messenger with a white cross, its size dependent upon the value of the discovery.
Estevanico agreed to the plan.
Within four days a messenger arrived with others following regularly. One reported to Friar Marcos that Estevanico had talked with Indians who knew of seven cities thirty days march to the north. Another told that he had been there to the first city in a land called Cibola. Marcos de Niza's report was the first to use the word and thus they became the Seven Cities of Cibola.
The Friar left Vacapa in a losing game of catch up that would last through April and into May. The trail was easy to follow. Everywhere the Indians expected him and made him welcome with food and lodging, Estevanico had been an excellent emissary but had no intention of being overtaken. He was always a day or two ahead.
May, 1539. Estevanico did not linger in the Pueblo de los Corazones. The route north from there was an ancient trade trail across a desolate region. The Opatas knew it and agreed to send guides with him.
Here is Terrell's vivid description of the march from Ures. "It was a colorful, wild procession. Some three hundred Indians accompanied him. On he strode with a regal manner at the head of the column. In one hand he carried the sacred gourd rattle. His powerful ebony legs and arms were adorned with feathers. A crown of plumes accentuated his height. Tiny bells tinkled on his ankles. Turquoises strung on deer thongs dripped over his broad chest. Immediately behind him his harem straggled through the dust of the high desert. These were girls he had found especially pleasing. Near him a personal servant carried four green dinner plates on which his meals were served, Two lean greyhounds trotted by his side."
From a high ridge in the Huachuca Mountains, Estevanico would be the first person other than native Indians to look into what is now the Southwest of the present United States.
The trail they took would follow the San Pedro river, cross the Gila, and follow the high country to the Little Colorado near St, Johns. Then up the Zuni river to the first city of Cibola. It was called Hawikuh.
Estevanico used the procedure that had worked so many times before. He sent messengers with the sacred medicine gourd decorated with strings of jingle bells and a red and a white feather. They were to say that he came in peace, that he was a great medicine nan who could perform magical cures.