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    Re: Columbus, Slavery, & Class War



    Marvellous story of Cabeza de Vaca, 1527 — Expedition of Father Marcos, 1539 — It catches sight of Cibola and returns with great news to Mexico — Preparations of Cortes, Mendoza and Alvarado to subdue and plunder Cibola — Expedition of Coronado, 1540 — Tatarrax. The golden cross and the Queen of Heaven — Coronado reports the country a desert and the Seven Cities as worthless.

    STRANGE reports reached the City of Mexico, about fifteen years after its conquest by the Spaniards, respecting the unknown countries which lay to the north and northwest. Those as yet undiscovered regions were supposed to abut upon the kingdoms of India, and were said to contain not only rich and populous nations and splendid cities, but also mountains of gold, silver, and precious stones, oceans of pearls, islands of Amazons, mermaids, unicorns, and all the marvels which for centuries had played a part in the fables and romances of Europe. The conquerors, even though in the presence of the glories of Tenochtitlan, believed they had entered merely the threshold of the wealth and splendor of the New World, and that the true Dorado lay in the far North beyond. To their excited imaginations everything assumed a golden hue, the vague accounts of the country given by the Indians grew more and more exaggerated with every repetition as they passed from mouth to mouth, and not only the soldiers, but even the great Cortes himself felt firmly convinced that in the unknown North there were nations whose wealth and splendor as far exceeded that of the Aztecs as those of the Aztecs exceeded Hispaniola and Cuba.

    But strange as were these reports, on account of their romantic character and the avidity with which they were caught up and credited, they were much more so on account of the substratum of truth which underlaid them. This points in the direction of the territories since called California, Arizona and New Mexico, the territories which have since been found out to be the true Dorado, the territories which, as the world now knows, are the true land of mineral wealth. It points especially to cities large and populous, cities of splendid and extensive buildings, cities far advanced in civil polity; where we now find spread over vast tracts of country immense ruins, which, even in their loneliness and desolation, still bear eloquent testimony of former grandeur and magnificence. By degrees, as further and further discoveries are being made among these ruins, our attention is being more and more attracted to the ancient reports; and when we come to compare recent developments with what have hitherto been regarded as only the heated fancies of the old Spanish explorers, the facts demand at our hands a much ampler justification of Cortes and his companions in their reception of, and belief in, these marvellous stories, than has ever yet been vouchsafed to them.

    Among these stories the strangest were concerning the Seven Cities of Cibola, or the, as they were called by the Latin- speaking priesthood of the day. The ex Septum Civitates act situation of these famous cities was not pointed out; but in all the ancient maps, however general and defective in other respects, they were invariably designated, and given "a local habitation and a 'name." In some, they were represented as rearing their giant towers where the then unknown Bay of San Francisco ought to have been; in others, as lying at the head of the California Gulf, and in others as more nearly in the centre of the great sandy wastes, like Palmyra in the desert. However erroneous, and at whatever times these maps may have been made, they all exhibited the Seven Cities, or the Septem Civitates, as if they were as well known as the cities around the Lake of Tescuco.

    Cortes, as is well known, sent several expeditions, one of which he accompanied in person, in search of the splendour and wealth which were thus believed to exist in the far northwest. The story of these expeditions is told in most of our histories; but it is omitted to be told in them how, though all his expeditions proved unsuccessful and unfortunate, his confidence in the wealth of the country remained unbroken and undiminished. Though he had seen for himself the bare and rugged mountains of the Californian peninsula, and their wretched and savage inhabitants, he yet believed that the Dorado which he sought, though it might be distant, still lay in that direction. And in this belief many of the adventurers of the then New World participated. If we could suppose that they actually knew only a small portion of the truth, we might well imagine how they revelled in their anticipations of the magnificent countries and illimitable treasures open to their conquest. If we could suppose that they had obtained only a few nuggets from the Californian placers, we might well appreciate how richly prepared were their minds for the marvellous stories, which, as narrated by the old Spanish chroniclers, reached Mexico in the year 1536.

    The bringers of these stories were Alvaro Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and his companions, Alonzo de Castillo, Andres de Orantes, and a negro called Estevanico, the last of whom, by the way, is one of the first of his race named in American annals. These persons, according to the reports they gave of themselves, were of the unfortunate expedition, conducted by Panfilo de Narvaez, into Florida, in the year 1527. Managing to escape the death which their leader and comrades suffered, they found means, by persuading the Indians that they possessed miraculous powers for healing sicknesses, to subsist. Several fortunate recoveries under their hands gave colour to their pretensions. They passed from tribe to tribe, and gradually, after wandering for nine long years, reached the Pacific and at last made their way to Mexico — being thus the first Europeans who crossed the continent north of the tropics. In narrating their adventures they assured their wondering listeners that the interior of the country through which they had passed was full of various nations; that they themselves had seen much wealth in the shape of arrow-heads of the finest emerald, and big bags of silver; and that they had heard of many peoples, living further north, who possessed great cities and abundant riches. These reports, sustained as they were by the credit of Cabeza de Vaca, confirmed the Spaniards in their previously somewhat vague belief in the wealth of the northwest, and not only induced Cortes to continue his exertions, but attracted the enterprise of others, who, it might be supposed, would have been the last to engage in visionary schemes or mere romantic adventures.

    One of these latter was Father Marcos deNiza, a Franciscan priest and provincial of his order. He was regarded as one of the most solid and substantial men in the New World, but he became so much animated by the reports of Cabeza de Vaca, that, without considering personal risk and inconvenience, he determined at once and almost alone to explore those wonderful countries, and reap the early harvest of uncounted wealth, as well as of regenerated souls, which they promised. Accordingly, having secured the services of the negro Estevanico as a guide, and a number of Indian interpreters, he set out for Culiacan, the most northern of the Spanish settlements on the Pacific, in March, 1539. He travelled first a hundred leagues northwestward along the eastern coast of the Gulf of California, and reached, and in four days crossed, a desert. This brought him to a country where the natives had no knowledge whatever of the Christians, and believed him a Man come from Heaven. They placed before him provisions in great quantities, and touched his priestly robes with reverence. In answer to questions concerning the countries beyond, they told him there was a valley among the mountains, four days' journey eastward, where the people possessed large vessels of gold, and wore ornaments of the same in their ears and nostrils. Father Marcos determined to visit this valley on his return, should it prove worth his while; but upon the present occasion, without turning aside, he continued his journey northward, and in four days further, came to the town of a nation called Vacapas. It was now the time of Easter, which his profession required him to pass in quiet and religious exercises; and he accordingly made arrangements to tarry among the Vacapas for a week. Having an eye to business, however, and apparently regarding his companions as mere Gentiles, excluded from the pale of salvation and not in need of the same religious recreation as himself, he divided them into three parties, and sent them out north, west and east, with instructions to explore the country and bring him back intelligence of their discoveries. It was only a few days after they had gone when he was surprised with great news. Estevanico, who had gone northward, sent back intelligence of a great country, thirty days' journey further north, towards which he was advancing as fast as he could go, and requesting Father Marcos to follow as speedily as possible. This country, Estevanico informed him by messengers, was called Cibola, and it embraced, or consisted of, seven great and magnificent cities, whose houses, built of stone, several stories high, with portals adorned with turquoises, were disposed in streets, and whose inhabitants were under the government of one supreme king. Soon afterwards, the party, which had gone westward, returned with word that they had found the sea forty leagues distant at a place where there were thirty-four islands near the coast, and many people bearing shields of leather beautifully figured; and about the same time the party that had gone eastward also returned, bringing three Indians of a tribe who painted their arms and breasts, and were therefore called Pintados. At first it was supposed that the bringing in of the Pintados was a matter of small account; but upon questioning them they said they had travelled and knew the country, and among other places they had seen were the great cities of Cibola, which they described, and in all respects confirmed the reports of Estevanico regarding their grandeur and magnificence.

    Father Marcos now bade farewell to the hospitable Vacapas, and continued his journey northward. In three days he was met by another messenger from Estevanico, who brought still further and more glowing accounts of the greatness and wealth of Cibola. Further on he heard that, besides the Seven Cities, there were three great kingdoms situated in the north, called Marata, Acus, and Totonteac; the people of which wore ornaments of precious stones in profusion. Still further on he found a great Cross, which Estevanico had erected in token that the prospects of great discoveries brightened as he advanced. Cheered by these hopeful indications. Father Marcos hurried along and passed through a country which was artificially irrigated and very productive, where the people were clothed in cotton and wore turquoise necklaces. He then crossed a second desert, and came to a populous and well irrigated valley, inhabited by a people whom he says were white, where he found that the Seven Cities were as well known and as much spoken of as the City of Mexico in New Spain. Hearing at this place that the sea was not far distant, he turned aside, and discovered what he supposed to be the Ocean in the neighborhood of the 36th degree of north latitude — the parallel of Tule Lake and Santa Fe — a supposed discovery, in which the worthy Father was probably deceived by some mirage of the desert, mistaking it for a portion of the fabulous Straits of Anian. Again pursuing his northerly course five days further, Father Marcos met a fugitive from Cibola, who gave him still further information concerning the Seven Cities, their form.and appearance, and also of the kingdoms of Marata, Acus, and Totonteac, their people, their cities built of stone and lime like those of Cibola, and their riches. It was about this same time that a skin was brought in said to belong to that famous animal, the unicorn, which the worthy Father informs us was one and a-half times larger than an ox, having hair the length of a finger, and of the color of a he-goat, and possessing a single horn curving down from the forehead upon the breast, and giving off a single prong, in which there was great strength and power. In the meanwhile further intelligence came from Estevanico that he was travelling with all possible despatch towards the Seven Cities, in company with 300 natives who had joined him; that so far as he had travelled he had found no deceit in the Indians, and that therefore full credit was due to all they said about the rich countries to which he was leading the way. And to this commendation Father Marcos assures us he could add his own testimony "that in the 112 leagues he had journeyed since first hearing of Cibola, he had always found them truthful and trustworthy."

    Father Marcos was now, May 9, 1539, within 15 days' journey of Cibola. The remainder of his way was a desert, over which he travelled 12 days, and consequently arrived within three days of Cibola, when the melancholy intelligence reached him of the barbarous and inhuman inhospitality of the Cibolans, and the massacre of Estevanico and all his friends. The tragic news was brought by an Indian, who said "that Estevanico, when within one days' journey of Cibola, had sent forward messengers to the governor with presents of strings of bells and coloured feathers; that the governor, upon their approach, flew into a great passion, flung the presents into the fire, and said he knew the people from whom they came, and that should they enter Cibola, they should surely all be put to death; that Estevanico, notwithstanding this threat, persuaded his companions they would still be well received; that accordingly they all proceeded to the city, which, however, they were not allowed to enter; but, after being stripped of everything they carried, they were imprisoned in a large house, and the next day the people of Cibola fell upon and massacred them. "^

    It was difficult at first to credit this evil report; but soon afterwards two of the Indians who had accompanied Estevanico, and who had escaped the massacre, arrived and confirmed it in every particular, adding " that they themselves had only escaped by hiding among the dead bodies of their companions until after night-fall." The account of so great a disaster, thus brought and thus confirmed, at a moment when his imagination was worked up for far other intelligence, so confused and so horrified Father Marcos that for a long time he knew not what to do. He, however, like a good Christian as he was, eventually composed his mind to patience, and retired apart to pray and commend himself to God. But alas, his absence only added to his troubles. Upon his return a new cause of danger and inquietude stared him in the face. The Indians, who had escaped the slaughter, having leisure to discuss their situation, came to the conclusion that he was the cause of all their misfortunes, and conspired to put him to death. It was an occasion upon which such a man as Cortes would have exhibited some master-stroke of policy as a soldier; Father Marcos acted simply as a priest and missionary. He ordered all his merchandise and trinkets to be brought forth, and, after dividing them among the Indians, informed them " that they would now gain nothing by his death, and that should they kill him, the Christians would surely avenge his death. " And thus he saved his life. By the effect either of his words or of his liberality, the Indians were appeased, and made no attempt to put their threats in execution.

    Father Marcos, finding himself thus delivered from imminent danger, and considering that he might safely see, even if he could not visit, the great object of his search, continued his journey with the few companions who still remained faithful; and the next day, upon ascending the ridge of a mountain, came within view of the famous Cibola. Glorious was the sight now presented to his eyes. Far below him, in a plain among the hills, within a short distance of each other, lay the Seven Cities, shining in the sun; with their long streets of stone houses several stories high and flat-roofed, and darkened by a population more numerous than that of Mexico. No wonder Father Marcos, upon beholding this beautiful sight, and gazing down upon it long and earnestly, was tempted to descend and enter the forbidden precincts; but remembering that if he were killed no one would carry back the news of his discoveries, he wisely refrained. He contented himself with setting up a great pile of stones, surmounted with a cross, and thus claimed possession of the whole country of Cibola, and of the kingdoms of Marata, Acus, and Totonteac in the name of his friend and patron, Don Antonio de Mendoza, Viceroy and Governor of New Spain, for the Crown of Castile and Leon. Having thus made his discovery, and convinced himself, with his own eyes, of the existence and magnificence of the Seven Cities, Father Marcos set out upon his return. On his way back he turned aside at the golden valley, of which he had heard on his outward journey, and approached near enough to see its towns and people, of which he also took nominal possession, and erected a Cross as he had done at Cibola. He then hastened to Culiacan, and thence to Compostella, the capital of New Galicia, whence he sent advices of his discoveries to Mexico.

    The report of this journey, as might be supposed, filled all New Spain with novelty and excitement. There was enough of uncertainty about it to give free scope to the imagination, and enough of truth, we may well believe now, to convince the reason. It sounded almost like a fairy tale, and yet it was told by a Father of the Church. Now, at least, it became probable that all the discoveries and conquests hitherto made in the New World would be eclipsed. Nothing now was thought of but Cibola. Every man partook of the absorbing enthusiasm, from the old captain, who had seen the Aztecan and Toltecan capitals in their pristine magnificence and was now enjoying his repartimientos and revenues, down to the half-clad recruit, last come from Europe in search of employment and fortune. Even the cautious Mendoza and other officers of government were inspired with the same ardour, while on the mind of Cortes, being, as it was, the proof of his long settled belief in the wealth and splendour of those distant regions, it must have produced a profound effect.

    The conqueror, who by his emperor had been named Captain-General of New Spain and of the coasts of the South Sea, held the right, according to the terms of his capitulacion, of making discoveries and conquests of all countries in the New World beyond the jurisdiction of other Spanish governors. He had already built many ships and spent vast sums in projects directed towards the countries of the northwest, the very ones into which Marcos de Niza had penetrated. But he now found two great rivals, whom the reports of the wealth and splendour of the Seven Cities induced to enter the field against him. One was Mendoza, the Viceroy, who laid claim to the new countries in right of his office and of the possession taken of them in his name. The other was Pedro de Alvarado, governor of Guatemala, who had recently managed to obtain a commission to make discoveries, and was now preparing an armament beyond anything which had ever appeared in the Pacific.

    From one end to the other. New Spain now resounded with the noise of preparation; recruits were gathered, arms furbished, stores collected, and everything got ready for the march. Cortes, Mendoza, and Alvarado, each in his own sphere, pushed on their projects; but Cortes, with that celerity of movement peculiar to his genius, far out-stripped his competitors. Long before they were ready to start, he equipped a great fleet and dispatched it up the northern coast under the charge of that most faithful and perhaps most deserving of his officers, Francisco de Ulloa. Ulloa completely explored the Gulf of California, weathered Cape San Lucas, and ran up along the western coast of the peninsula, till meeting heavy weather in the northern seas, and finding his crew disaffected, he turned about. On his return, when almost within sight of the port from which he set out, he was basely assassinated by one of his soldiers, and his fleet scattered, without having either seen or heard anything further of the Seven Cities. In the meanwhile Alvarado, the Murat of those times, before he was ready to take his final start, was killed by a fall from his horse, and his enterprise also broken up. Mendoza, on the contrary, succeeded in sending a force to the new country, consisting of 150 horsemen, 200 infantry, and some light pieces of artillery, under the command of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, governor of New Galicia. The leader of this expedition appears to have been a man of cold disposition, with not a spark of enthusiasm or romance in his composition. One cannot help thinking him a methodical and careful soldier, and undoubtedly he was an able leader ; but the reader of the old chronicles in which his exploits are recorded can hardly thank him for his strange incredulity in a land so full of wonders ; and the Spanish nation may attribute to him, in great part, the non-development, and perhaps the subsequent loss, of the richest mineral territory on the face of the earth.

    Coronado set out from Culiacan on April 22nd, 1540, with the express design of conquering the Seven Cities, and all the countries in that part of the world. When he reached the neighborhood of the valley among the mountains, which Marcos de Niza had reported to be full of gold, he sent off a detachment of horsemen to reconnoitre it. They did so, but brought back cold comfort. He assures us they found •neither cities, nor gold, nor anything, but a few Indians, who lived upon maize, beans, and calabashes, and in warfare used poisoned arrows, with which they killed several of his soldiers. He thereupon continued his march; taking, however, a somewhat different route from that pursued by Marcos de Niza; for he crossed several mountain chains and two rivers, one of which he called the San Juan, and the other the Balsas. In the course of a month or more, having passed over countries diversified with deserts, fruitful valleys, mountains and plains, in all of which there was nothing to attract his attention, he at last stood, with his army, before Cibola — Cibola the famous, Cibola the renowned! The imaginations of all had been raised to the highest pitch by Marcos de Niza's account of his reconnaisance of this renowned locality from the mountains. But all that Coronado could now see was a few small towns, consisting of houses built, indeed, of stone, and having flat roofs, but peopled with only a few hundred miserable inhabitants. He admits that the country was delightful, and the soil fruitful; but he intimates, and indeed virtually declares, that the narrative of Marcos was a fable. He, Coronado, could finding nothing worthy of conquest, nothing to attract emigration, nothing to justify settlement. The country was remote; and there was in it neither civilization, nor splendour, nor wealth, nor turquoises, nor precious stones, nor silver, nor gold.

    Coronado was of too unimpressive and too unimaginative a nature to observe objects of scientific or historical interest; and, not finding the expected wealth, he contemptuously turned his back upon the Seven Cities and proceeded in search of Marata, Acus, and Totonteac. These towns, when he reached them, he found to be similar to those he had just left. But one important fact he could not help noticing, and this was that all the streams which he came to ran towards the Gulf of Mexico. One of these in particular, the largest he saw, he followed twenty leagues towards its source, and in that short distance passed fifteen towns. He appears to have travelled eastwardly and northwardly, after leaving Cibola, for nearly three weeks, and at length arrived at a country where the plains, as far as the eye could reach, were black with herds of buffaloes, so crowded together that his troops could scarcely pass. Here he heard of Quivira, a country still fur- ther north, governed by Tatarrax, a hoary-headed, long-bearded king, said to worship a Golden Cross and an image of the Queen of Heaven. To this venerable monarch Coronado now determined to pay his respects; and, after travelling a whole month northward in search of him, at length arrived at his dominions. But these, though they exceeded Cibola in fame, proved also quite as unimportant and inconsiderable. Nothing found favour in the eyes of Coronado — neither the country, the vegetation, the animals, the inhabitants, nor the natural wonders; neither the mountains, nor the streams, nor the forests, nor the plains, nor the cities, nor the fields. Cold and unimpassioned, he calculated the mere number of leagues which he had travelled; set up a Cross and an inscription to notify the future adventurer that Coronado had been there before him, and then, turning about, carried back to Mexico a chilling account of the North, and with one fell swoop, dashed all the golden prospects which had been excited in regard to it.

    The report of Coronado dissipated entirely the hitherto imagined glories of the north and northwest; so much so, that for many years afterwards little was said or thought of the Seven Cities, or of Marata, Acus and Totonteac, or of Quivira. Nobody visited them; nobody cared for them; ages passed away; the dust of centuries gathered around the old records, and they were forgotten. It is true that, in the course of time, the Spaniards spread further and further northward, settled in the countries which reach from the Mississippi to the Bay of San Francisco, and established ten pueblos in the same valleys which Cabeza de Vaca, Marcos de Niza, and Vasquez de Coronado had traversed; but they were not the Spaniards of the olden time. It is true that the Spanish name advanced over all these regions; but it was not until after the magnificent empire of Charles I and Philip II had fallen into the hands of their feeble and puerile successors, and the ancient enterprise of Spain and the Spanish people had become a thing of the past. It is true that in name the Spanish sway was extended over these vast territories; but in reality the sovereignty remained rather in the roving bands of Apaches and Comanches than passed to the descendants of the conquerors.

    Since the times of the old chroniclers, in whose works lie scattered the details which we have thus far attempted to collect and connect together, little, if any, new information in regard to Cibola, and her famous Seven Cities, has been acquired. Historiographers have done nothing more than repeat the old story; and travellers, until very recently, have not considered it worth while to search into the question, what basis of truth existed for this strange episode in Spanish-American history. For three hundred years readers have commiserated the melancholy fate of Estevanico, and been amused at the credulous recitals of Marcos de Niza. The wrath of the Cibolan governor, when tendered the present of bells and feathers, has interested those who could appreciate the ludicrous and humorous; and his asseveration, that he knew the people from whom they came, can not have failed to attract the attention of those who had a taste for speculation and wonder. But here the interest on the subject seemed to stop. Full faith and credit was attributed to the report of Coronado; and when he declared there was "nothing in it," the question was supposed to be settled and at rest.

    Marcos de Niza may have been something of a visionary. His stories about the sea, which he saw in the middle of the continent, and his acceptance of the unicorn fable, and the ready credence he gave to marvels he did not see, and the improbable splendours which he supposed he beheld from distant prospects in the mountains — all go to shake the dependence which might otherwise be due to his testimony. But if he was something of a Munchausen, Vasquez de Coronado was much more of a Sir Charles Coldstream. Marcos de Niza, doubtless, imagined more than he saw; but Vasquez de Coronado did not see what really existed. There are no evidences, now ascertainable, to fully sustain the marvelous accounts of Marcos, but there are many proofs within easy reach to overthrow the skeptical and incredulous narrative of Coronado. For, notwithstanding all the exaggerations and marvels with which the name of Cibola has been connected, and notwithstanding it has for ages been regarded as a mere figment of romance, it is now well ascertained, it is indeed a fact incapable of dispute or contradiction, that a great people, considerably advanced in civilization, inhabited the countries of which these old Spanish adventurers have made their various reports.

    It is particularly within the last few years — since these countries have become a part of the United States, and since they have been found to lie in the track of one at least of the great trans-continental railroads — that they have attracted public attention. Scientific men have visited and explored them, traversed, measured, and studied them. And among their discoveries the famous old Seven Cities, or what is supposed with much reason to have been the Seven Cities, and many others, which may have well have flourished in the age of Marcos de Niza and Vasquez de Coronado, have come to light. The ruins found half buried in the valleys of the rivers Chaco, Zuni, and the tributaries of the Rio Grande, give evidence of an old population far advanced beyond the Indian of the present day. There, almost entirely covered with the rubbish and debris of centuries, are to be seen the remains of magnificent structures, the masonry and architecture of which indicate an unexpected combination of science and skill. Some of the buildings consisted of more than a hundred separate apartments on the ground floor alone, and some show that they were three or more stories in height. The walls were painted and pictured, and the remnants of coloured pottery scattered about, indicate a degree of polish and refinement of which savages could not be susceptible. By whom these houses were erected, and these pictures and decorations designed, we can only conjecture. Whether they were reared by the same inhabitants whom Cabeza de Vaca, Marcos de Niza, and Vasquez de Coronado first made known to Europeans, or whether they were the work of earlier inhabitants, of the Aztecs, or the still earlier Toltecs, is mere matter of speculation. Whoever the people may have been, and whenever the structures may have been built, it is certain that the traveller in those regions finds much to wonder over in the strange masonry and fallen terraces which he meets.

    He can reconstruct in imagination, from what still remains, the habitations of a race which must once have had a regular policy and a government of law.*

    * Theodore H. Hittell, in "The Californian," 1880.


    "The History of Money in America : from the earliest times to the establishment of the Constitution," by Alexander Del Mar,
    Washington, D.C., 1899

    Last edited by Barry; 01-10-2012 at 07:16 PM.
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