MEXICO CITY: SUMMER 1536
The Story of Estevanico
In the summer of 1536, Mexico City was in the process of adjusting to a new governmental administration. We also have that change to make upon occasion, As Prescott states, "The Crown of Castile, as its colonial empire expanded, became less and less capable of watching over its adminstration,"(l) Part of the problem was the long distance from Spain and the slow overseas communication with the colonies.
While the rules and laws of Charles V were just and humane, the Audencia of the Indies, the governing body, had not been able to enforce them, Nuno de Guzman, as a provincial governor, had committed so many atrocities that the Church had asked for his suspension and removal, He was only one typical example.
Cortes, although conqueror of Mexico, had nany enemies both personal and political. It was in a minor clash between their two forces that Narvaez had lost an eye. Guzman was also a longtime adversary.
Now the King had appointed Don Antonio Mendoza as Viceroy of New Spain with full powers of the Crown to stop the rivalry and accusations, to pacify the Indians and stop their enslavement, and to see them converted to Christianity.
In addition, a new "Juez de residencia" had arrived in March to conduct a rigid investigation of the charges against Guzman. Action had been swift. He was shortly arrested, jailed until 1538, and finally exiled. Probably the most admirable thing that he had ever done was to establish a chapel at Tonala where the city of Guadalajara would later grow.
While Mendoza was busy establishing his polittical procedures and a palace worthy of the King's envoy, the city was flooded with rumors of more gold and silver to be hunted.
The old Portuguese tradition of Seven Cities of Antilia was still related. Then a few years earlier Guzman had led an expedition with an Indian named Tejo, who claimed going with his father to seven large cities far to the north where there were workers in silver and gold. They had gone no farther than the Yaqui river but the story continued to circulate.
Now suddenly there appeared three Spaniards and a Negro who had come from that same far north. They had seen the Seven Cities? They had spent hours in conference with Mendoza. What secrets were related? There must have been exciting news. Facts didn't matter. Rumors expand on hot air like a balloon.
There is no evidence that any of the four ever exaggerated on what they had seen. Yes, they had seen permanent houses, fertile valleys and the growing of squash, beans, and grain. They had seen cotton blankets of good quality, robes from wild cattle skins, pieces of turquoise, and that line copper bell that must have come from Mexico.
The Viceroy was a cautious man. His regine was not long established. It could be disastrous to spend a large sum of the King's money on an exploratory expedition that might find nothing of importance. He did what any CBO does. He held a series of conferences.
The first conclusion was that perhaps it would be advisable to send a small scouting party to investigate in the north. there could be no better leader than Cabeza de Vaca. would he lead such an expedition? Cabeza de Vaca declined the invitation. He wished nothing more than to go home to Jerez. The eight years of struggle had made great physical demands upon him. There was the long detailed report to be prepared and presented to the King, Charles V.
(1) The History of the Conquest of Mexico, W. H. Prescott
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