Francisco Coronado was a Spanish explorer who visited parts of the American southwest. He was born in Salamanca, Spain around 1510. He left home as a teenager because his parents promised their fortune to his brother. He quickly took to exploring. As governor of New Galicia (a province of New Spain in present-day Mexico), Coronado heard stories of seven golden cities along the Pacific Ocean named Cibola and quickly assembled a simultaneous land and sea expedition. The cities were said to contain houses made out of gold and streets paved with gold. Coronado and a friend, Antonio Mendoza, invested large sums of money in the expedition. In 1540, Coronado, Mendoza, 335 Spaniards, 1300 natives, and four Franciscan monks headed north for the purposes of taking the gold from the Seven Cities of Cibola.
Coronado divided the expedition into small groups that would begin the arduous inland journey at different intervals so that the grazing areas and water holes along the trail would not be overwhelmed. Coronado and the expedition first crossed into present-day America by following the Zuni River into Cibola (present day New Mexico). Coronado expected to find the fabled seven cities, but instead, found little more than a complex of Zuni Indian pueblos. Nevertheless, a devastated Coronado and his half-starving expedition pushed on into present-day Arizona, where they entered Zuni Indian territory at Hawikuh and demanded entrance into the village. When the Zuni refused, the men of the expedition took their village by force and confiscated all of the food they needed. This incident intimidated Indians of nearby villages, who quickly submitted to the demands of Coronado in future encounters.
Discovery of the Grand Canyon
From Hawikuh, Coronado sent several scouting parties to search for the Seven Cities of Cibola. The first scouting party raided a Hopi Indian Village, that turned out to be as poor as the Zuni villages. Although no gold was discovered, members of the expedition learned of the Colorado River that was located to the west. Coronado then sent a second scouting party to find the Colorado River. Members of this scouting party became the first to find the Colorado River and the magnificent Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, the expedition was unsuccessful in descending the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River, and thus could not link up with the water expedition. They next headed east where they encountered another pueblo village along the Rio Grande in New Mexico. It was near this village called Tiguex, close to present-day Albuquerque, where Coronado and his expedition spent the winter of 1540-1541. During the winter, Coronado clashed with Indians from the village in what came to be known as the Tiguex War. As a result of the war, hundreds of Indians were killed and the pueblo village was destroyed.
Still, No Golden Cities!
During the winter of 1540-1541, Coronado once again heard of a mythical city to the northeast known as Quivira that was said to be full of gold and riches. Coronado and his expedition traveled hundreds of miles to the village of Quivira in present-day Kansas. Once again, Coronado suffered a crushing disappointment when he found the village and there was no gold. Coronado returned to Tiguex and spent another winter there. On June 29, 1541, Coronado held the first ever Christian mass in the interior of the present-day United States near Dodge City, Kansas. The event is commemorated with a large concrete cross known as Coronado's Cross.
Death in Disgrace
Coronado was soon ordered back to New Spain (Mexico). He remained the governor of New Galicia, but his expeditions had bankrupted him. He died on September 22, 1544, in Mexico City.