The Early Explorers – Coronado 1539

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Coronado, Lewis & Clark, The Verendryes and Zebulon Pike are considered the four main Early Explorers.  

This is the second excerpt – a short peice about Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, seeker of the “Seven Cities of Cibola” – in a series about the early explorers of the western United States of America; or the lands west of the Mississippi River.

Excerpts from the Book: The Pathbreakers from River to Ocean by Grace Raymond Hebard – published 1913.

Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, seeker of the “Seven Cities of Cibola.”

Coronados CanonIn 1539, Coronado was made provisional governor of Nueva Galicia (New Gaul), by Antonio de Mendoza, viceroy of Mexico.  This Viceroy Mendoza, who had been filled with enthusiasm over the accounts that Cabeza de Vaca had brought home, urged Coronado to take charge of his province at once and to explore the unknown country to the north immediately.  Coronado, with the spirit of adventure in his blood, was equal to the task and was eager to be off.

The army was financed from the personal wealth of Coronado and what he could borrow, though the command of the soldiers was granted to him by the viceroy.  The expense of equipping the expedition was about two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, or sixty thousand ducats. If Coronado did not succeed in his high ambition – the loss was his.  If he won – he was dizzy with the vision of the empires he was to conquer and own. He would have wealth greater than that of Cortez, and lands unlimited.

Early in 1540, piloted by a monk, Fray Marcos, who had previously penetrated to the Zuni Villages, he started with three hundred horsemen, foot soldiers, crossbow men, arquebusiers, eight hundred Indians, and a thousand extra horses for ammunition and baggage.

Northward through tribes more or less hostile they marched, near the present site of Tombstone, Arizona, on to Salt River, north across the Mogollon Mountains, then northeast to the Little Colorado. Here the first station of their travels wàs reached, the Zuni Pueblos.  We are told that the city of Zuni is the home of a people who lived there centuries before the coming of Columbus. “There they still live, with very little change.  The march of progress that has swept away other Indian tribes has spared the lonely little pueblo communities in their adobe terraced houses, surrounded by the arid deserts.”

Pueblo HomesThese adobe terraces made excellent forts.  Rising tier on tier to the height of three or sometimes four stories, with no doors, they covered with unbroken walls many acres, and presented a formidable front to the little army destitute of cannon with which to batter a breach.  Ingress to these houses is had through the roof by aid of ladders.  Upon the approach of the intruders, the Zuni had drawn up ail their ladders and ranged themselves on the terraces intent on defending their homes.  Wood for the construction of new ladders was hard to obtain, and when the means of assault were finally provided it was no child’s play to storm that fortress through the hail of arrows and stones from the warriors in the terraces.  Coronado’s shining armor and his foremost place in the assault made him an especial target.  After the place was won he had gaping wounds on his face, an arrow in one of his feet, and many stone bruises on his legs and arms, and tells us that if it had not been for the strength of his armor “it would have gone hard with me.”   But more bitter than the perils of the assault was the disappointment of the victors upon finding that here was no gold or precious stones,— none of the wealth they had marched and starved, fought and bled, to win.  Evidently these were not the famed “Seven Cities of Cibola.”  They must be still farther on.

So the conquerors passed on; scouts were sent in various directions, all bringing back similar reports of “noEarly Buffalo Picture cities of gold.”  In August of this year, 1540, the famous Grand Canon of the Colorado was discovered by a division of the expedition under the command of Garcia Lopez de Cardenas.  One often wonders if this Canon were the real “city of gold,” for the discovery and possession of which more than one continent wasted its blood and treasure.  It would take no great stretch of the imagination to fancy that the glittering and sparkling mica-bearing formations responding to the sun’s rays were houses built of gold.  The tradition of this city was not a dream.  Some one had observed something.  For want of better description the vision was called a “city of gold.”  Was this the end of the rainbow with its proverbial “pot of gold”?


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The Early Explorers

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This is the first excerpt in a series about the early explorers of the western United States of America; or the lands west of the Mississippi River

Excerpts from the Book: The Pathbreakers from River to Ocean by Grace Raymond Hebard – published 1913

Zebulon PikeZebulon Pike

August 9, 1805, Captain Lewis was pausing on the Continental Divide, near the headwaters of the Jefferson, preparing to cross to the Pacific slope.  On this exact date another indomitable explorer whose name will always be inseparably linked with those of Lewis and Clark started from St. Louis by the way of the Mississippi, wishing to locate the headwaters of that river, and to ascertain the extent and value of the newly acquired territory embraced in the Louisiana Purchase.

President Jefferson was anxious to justify his purchase of this wilderness, so he sent Zebulon Pike up the Mississippi as he had sent Lewis and Clark up the Missouri.  Pike was put in command of the expedition by General Wilkinson, with orders to explore and make a report upon the Mississippi to its source, to make peace with warring Indians, particularly the Ojibways and the Sioux, to select desirable sites for military posts, and to ascertain to what extent the British fur traders were still occupying our territory recently purchased from Napoleon.
Map of Early Explorers
This country into which Pike was now to travel had been explored by Jonathan Carver in 1766-68, when he was hunting for the headwaters of the Mississippi.  He had fully described that country to the north and northwest of the head of Lake Superior.  The French were familiar with stories similar to the ones he told about the Indian tribes living to the west in the “Shining Mountains” where gold was in such abundance that the most common utensils were made from it.  These exciting tales spurred Carver more than once to try to cross the continent, but always without success.

Without particular incident or accident, Pike with his twenty men navigated as far north on the “Father of Waters” as Little Falls, Minnesota.  Here he left some of his men in a stockade which they had built, and pushed up overland to the mouth of Turtle River into the regions explored by Jonathan Carver in 1766-68.  This was as far as Pike attempted to advance.  He found British fur men in the country and protested to them, saying that they were now in the country owned by the United States.

Pike returned to St. Louis in April, 1806.  From here, with twenty soldiers, he started on his second expedition in July of this year, going westward into Louisiana Territory. New Spain, or Mexico, was jealous of the possessions the United States had acquired, and was ready to contest every mile that our government might attempt to claim.  We must remember that the exact boundary lines of the Louisiana Purchase were not defined.  When an Emperor deeds a territory to a nation fixing its limits by the wave of his hand the boundary lines are liable to be uncertain.  This second journey of Pike’s had for its main object the discovery of the course of the Arkansas River and the location of its headwaters.  This and the Rio Grande were feit to be determining streams in settling any boundary between the United States and Spain.  Jefferson felt that we must have some definite knowledge of that southwest region in case of dispute with Spain and he sent Pike to get this knowledge.

Pike went farther and learned more than any one had hoped or even wished.  His purpose was to go up the Arkansas until he came to the mountains and then to go south to the Red River, returning home on that stream.  After traveling many days, weeks in reality, Pike discovered, November 15, 1806, a mountain, which looked to the naked eye like a small blue cloud.  A half-hour’s travel brought him in full view of the peak which now bears his name.  His party with one accord “gave three cheers to the Mexican Mountains,” which shows clearly that they did not know where they really were.  Confident that the lofty peak could be St Anthony Falls Viewed By Pikereached in a few hours they pushed on, shivering, cold and poorly clad.  By this time Pike and his men were without shoes, using skins to cover their feet.  Their thin summer clothing was worn to rags.  After marching for twenty-five miles they found themselves at evening apparently no nearer the mountain than they had been at sunrise.  Pike attempted to climb the peak but was obliged to abandon the attempt, declaring that it would be impossible for man ever to reach the top.  Not only has man reached the top but a train daily takes scores of human beings to its summit. Pike’s Peak will ever be nature’s monument to this bold explorer.

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