The Coronado expedition gave the Spaniards the first claim, the prior right and title to the Great Plains. The discovery, together with the exploration of the country by De Soto, should have given the great interior valley in the heart of the continent to Spain. This it would have done had that country shown energy and persistency in its conquest and settlement. But the unusual success of Cortez and Pizarro had overwrought the Spanish common mind. Countries holding only possibilities of trade and agriculture were not at that time considered worth much, and they received little attention. The adventurers were seeking countries full of gold and silver. It was their intention to seize those commodities at all hazards, even though the lands so ravaged were utterly destroyed. The Great Plains, those “sandy heaths” covered with wild cattle and inhabited by naked savages, did not appeal to the average Spaniard. He was often ruthless and cruel in his conduct toward the Indians in such countries as he finally settled, sometimes perpetrating more atrocious murders than the savages were guilty of, as witness the action of Coronado when he burned the people of the pueblos at the stake.
In the occupation of the country north of Mexico the priests stopped in the dead and desolate pueblos along the Rio Grande. A few SpaniardsMexicanscame with them. The burdens imposed on the miserable Indians of the filthy pueblos were unbearable, and they were goaded into desperation. They rose and slew to the utmost. This civilization brought into the valley of the Rio Grande, nearly as barbarous as that which it sought to displace, was thrown back whence it came. It was some years before another attempt to colonize that country was made.
For many years the feeble and desultory efforts at exploration only reflected the weakness of the Spanish in New Mexico. The discoveries made by Coronado could not be continued. A few journeys were made to the plains, but they constantly diminished in strength and purpose. They were finally abandoned altogether. An empire of vast possibilities was practically forgotten in the interest of goats and burros on the deserts of New Mexico.
The first of the futile efforts to follow the grand march of Coronado was a filibustering expedition led from Nuevo Viscaya by Francisco Leyva de Bonilla and Antonio Gutierrez de Humana, in 1594. It is claimed that it was unauthorized. Bonilla was the leader. He lingered about the old pueblos a year, with Bove, the St. Ildefonso of later times, as his headquarters. Then he began his movement to the northeastward. He is said to have passed through Pecos and another pueblo, but he did not follow the route of Coronado, though it is believed he ultimately reached the same destination. A vagabond and wandering course was pursued to the eastward, many streams crossed, and large herds of buffalo encountered. Far out on the plains, Bonilla turned to the north. He probably entered Kansas somewhere about the town of Kiowa, and crossed the Arkansas in the vicinity of Wichita. There he found, no doubt, the Quivira villages visited by Coronado. About these towns there were extensive fields of corn. Three days beyond them to the north on the road which led Coronado to the Nebraska border he was murdered by Humana, who usurped command of the filibusteros. On that day a buffalo herd was seen which seemed to cover all the plains. After this the herds were not so large, and on the tenth day out from the Quivira towns on the Arkansas, a river was reached which was a quarter of a leagne wide, as remembered by the man who described the journey. It was possibly the Platte. There six Indians deserted and started back to New Mexico. Jusephe, one of the deserters, seems to have finally escaped, though he was captured by the Apaches, who kept him a year. The other deserters were lost or killed.
The narrative of this Contrabando is obscure and half-mythical, as are most of the old Spanish chronicles. By one version it appears that while the party lay encamped on the plains, “gold-laden,” the grass was set on fire by the Indians. They rushed forward with the flames and massacred the entire band, except Alonzo Sanchez, whom the Indians saved, and who became a great chief among them.
The route of Humana, after he left the towns of Quivira, on the Arkansas, is a matter of conjecture. It is believed that he reached the Platte River. It is likely that he lost his life in the robbery of some Pawnee Indian Town. There was no good accomplished by this band, and geographical knowledge was not increased by its journey over the plains into what is now Kansas.