The Seven Cities

In the revival of the myths of “The Seven Cities” it was said that other parties from the Spanish settlements had visited the rich countries of the North, especially after the return of the shipwrecked wanderers. Of what they saw there, of what they reported, we are not certain. But there was a growing desire to know what those hidden regions held. Mendoza determined to find out. He sent forth an expedition commanded by Friar Marcos de Niza, who is said to have made a prior journey into that land on his own account. He had came into Mexico from Peru, where he had gone with Pizarro, and where he had witnessed the murder of Atahuallpa.

The negro Estevan was the guide of the expedition led by Friar Marcos to discover “The Seven Cities.” He was well fitted for that service, for he had doubtless been near that country with Cabeza de Vaca. Approaching the borders of that land, he was directed to go on before, and to report to the friar upon his discoveries. If what he found was favorable, he was to send back a white cross as large as the palm of the hand, and if the country was better than Mexico, he was to send a larger cross. He penetrated to the Seven Cities, to which he lured the friar by sending back immense crosses. But before the arrival of Friar Marcos, the negro was killed by the Indians because of his rapacity and his lascivious conduct. He collected a quantity of turquois and demanded that women be given to him at every village.

The party, upon the death of Estevan, desired to return at once to Mexico, but Friar Marcos persisted until he dared go no farther. Then he prevailed on two chiefs to take him into a mountain, from the top of which he was able to see one of the cities of Cibola. It was set upon a hill and glittered in the desert sun. He was told that there were other cities beyond, where the people wore clothes of cotton and had much gold.

Friar Marcos returned, arriving at the Mexican settlements in August, 1539. He is said to have made what was in effect two reports—one stating what he had himself seen, and one setting out what the Indians had told him. But the people did not discriminate. It was soon spread abroad that the good friar had reported as facts all the things spoken by him. It came to be of common report that the houses of the Seven Cities were four stories high, with doors faced with precious stones. The Spanish population of New Spain were eager to go there. The principal men of the provinces, and even those in Spain, became rivals for the royal permission to explore and settle the country of Cibola. This privilege went finally to Mendoza, the viceroy, who selected the post of Compostela, on the Pacific, as the point of assembly. He appointed as commander of the expedition Francisco Vasquez de Coronado.

The force allowed Coronado consisted of about two hundred and sixty horsemen, seventy footmen, and a motley throng of Indians variously estimated at from three hundred to one thousand. This army of conquest started from Compostela on Monday, February 23, 1540, and followed the common highway to San Miguel de Culican. This march occupied about a month. The army left Culican on the 22d of April, and its general direction was northeast. Coronado, with a select company, went on in advance. The route led them into that land embraced in Eastern Arizona, as we know the country. The Indians were alarmed at the approach of so large a force of strangers, and gave battle. They were defeated, and the Spaniards took possession of the Zuni villages on the 7th day of July, 1540. How different the reality from the golden stories which had stirred New Spain! The Seven Cities were the filthy, unlighted, unventilated, gloomy pueblos to be seen to this day on the Zuni and Moki Indian reservations in Arizona.

And so was the mystery of the Seven Cities solved, to the dismay of Friar Marcos, who stood with his countrymen in the midst of the rude mud-and-stone communal dwellings of the squalid desert tribes.

Coronado sent out detachments to explore the regions round about. One of these was commanded by Don Hernando de Alvarado, and started eastward on the 29th of August. This was in consequence of the appearance before Coronado of a chief from the province of Cicuye, said to be seventy leagues east of Cibola. The chief came, he said, in response to the invitation made generally to the Indians to come before the commandant as friends. The Spaniards called this chief Bigotes, that is, Whiskers, for he wore a long mustache. He brought presents, and he invited Coronado to pass through his country, should he desire to do so. Among the presents borne by Whiskers to the Spanish commander was the skin of a buffalo. It had the hair still on it, and this hair was a sore puzzle to the Spaniards. They could not understand how a “cow” could have such hair.

Whiskers became the guide of the expedition sent out under Alvarado, who reached the village of Tiguex on a river which the Indians called by the same name, on the 7th of September. This river was the Rio Grande, and Alvarado reported to Coronado that there were eighty villages scattered along its course. ((After sending back his report, Alvarado went on to the eastward five days, when he arrived at the village or communal dwelling of Cicuye. There Alvarado learned that he was on the border of the country of the wild cows. He found at Cicuye an Indian who is set down as a slave, but who was only a captive, and a native of some country far to the east, bordering evidently on the Mississippi. He was different in appearance from the Indians of the desert regions, and he resembled a Turk, from which circumstance he was called the “Turk.” He was probably an Arkansas Quapaw Indian, and from the villages on the west side of the Mississippi below the mouth of the Ohio.)) The country was much better than that of Cibola, and Alvarado advised that Tiguex be made the winter quarters for the army.

Under various headings in the Handbook of American Indians, issued by the Bureau of Ethnology it is said that the Turk was a Pawnee—”evidently a Pawnee.” I have not found anything to support that view except the statements in the work above referred to. Mr. Dunbar, in his article, “The White Man’s Foot in Kansas” published in Volume X, Kansas State Historical Collections, says in reference to this matter: The Turk was no doubt a native of some tribe near the Mississippi, for his description of the scene quoted from Castaneda, one of the chroniclers of Coronado’s march, portrays an ordinary familiar scene upon the Mississippi River at that time; while the second writer, the Knight of Elvas, a chronicler of Soto’s expedition, presents an ornate naval display on the part of the Indians before the Spanish chieftain. Though the conditions were so diverse, the underlined portions indicate essential resemblance. The two passages are as follows: He (Turk) claimed that in his native country, where the land was level, there was a river two leagues in width, in which were fishes as large as horses, and many canoes of great size with more than twenty oarsmen upon either side. The boats carried sails and the chiefs sat at the stern under awnings, while upon the prow was a large cache of gold. The next day, the cacique arrived with 200 canoes filled with men, having weapons. They were painted with ochre, wearing great bunches of white and other plumes of many colors, having feathered shields in their hands, with which they sheltered the oarsmen upon either side, the warriors standing erect from bow to stern, holding bows and arrows. The barge in which the cacique came had an awning at the poop under which he sat. The absurdity of contending that the Turk was a Pawnee Indian is clearly shown by these quotations. The Turk lived on the Mississippi. If he were a Pawnee, then the Pawnee Indian country bordered on the Mississippi below the mouth of the Ohio, and the Pawnees were the Indians who met De Soto. There is another horn to this dilemma. If the Turk were a Pawnee and the Pawnee country came down to the Kansas River about the mouth of the Big Blue, then his description of the river must be made to apply to the Kansas—something which is preposterous.

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