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The Battle of Hawikuh at Cibola

Eyewitness Accounts of the Final Approach to Cibola and the First Battle between Native People and a European Army in the Southwestern United States


This material is adapted from the novel, Cities of Gold (2002).
Copyright, William K. Hartmann

From various accounts written by soldiers such as Pedro Castañeda, Juan Jaramillo, and Coronado himself, it is possible to assemble a sequential, coherent description of the last days of the march north in 1540, the approach to the first town of Cibola, and a vivid, consistent, eyewitness account of the first encounter between an organized European army and Native Americans of a permanent settlement in early July, 1540 -- an epic encounter almost entirely forgotten today.

One of the first accounts was by Coronado himself, writing a letter to Viceroy Mendoza, August 3, 1540, summarizing the arrival at the village of Hearts and the march north up the Sonora River valley to Chichilti-Calli. The passage refers to the Mendoza's idea that Chichilti-Calli might contain a port that could supply his army by sea, and he erroneously reports that the coast turned west opposite Hearts (near Ures, Sonora). Marcos' original Relación was much more accurate on both these points, yet, ironically, many of the soldiers were already blaming Marcos for things falling below their expectations.

I tried to encourage the company as well as I could, telling them that Your Lordship had always thought that this part of the trip would be a wasted effort, and that we ought to devote our whole attention to the Seven Cities, the main goal of our enterprise. Having resolved this issue, we marched cheerfully, but it was a very bad route, where it was impossible to pass without making a new road or repairing the one that was there. This troubled the soldiers still more, considering that everything the friar had said was found to be quite the reverse. For instance, he said that the road would be plain and good, and there would be only one small hill of half a league; but the truth was that there are mountains which, however well the path might be fixed, could not be crossed without great danger of horses falling.... It was so bad that a large number of animals which Your Lordship sent as provision...were lost along this part of the route, on account of the roughness of the rocks.

I reached the Valley of Corazones on May 26. I rested there a number of days.... In this valley we found more people than in any earlier part of the country , and a great extent of cultivated land. There was little corn for food, but I heard there was some in another valley called Senora. I didn't want to take it by force, so I sent Melchior Diáz with barter goods.... By Our Lord's favor, he obtained some corn by this trading, which sustained our Indian allies and some of the Spanish....

The people there told me that Corazones is a long five-day journey from the western sea, and while I waited in Corazones I sent messengers to gather information about the coast.

Eventually I set out from Corazones and kept near the seacoast as well as I could judge, but in fact I found myself continually farther off, so that when I reached Chichilti-Calli, I was fifteen days from the sea, although the Father Provincial had said it was only five leagues distant and he had seen it. We all became very distrustful, and felt great anxiety and dismay to see that everything was the reverse of what he told Your Lordship.

The Indians of Chichilti-Calli say that when they cross the country to the sea for fish or anything else they need, it takes them ten days, and this information, which I gathered, appears to me to be true. As for the coastal orientation, the sea turns west directly opposite Hearts for ten or twelve leagues, where I learned that Your Lordship's ships had been seen. These must be the ships that had been sent to search for the port of Chichilti-Calli, which the Father said was at 35 degrees latitude. God knows what I've suffered because I fear the ships may have met with some mishap....

I rested for two days at Chichilti-Calli, and there was good reason for staying longer, because we found the horses were becoming so tired; but there was no chance to rest because the food was giving out. I entered the edge of the final despoblado on Saint John's Eve....

In this letter, Coronado made a puzzling claim that Marcos' thought Chichilti-Calli was a mere one-day journey of five leagues from the sea. This is odd, because Marcos's official Relación of 1539 had indicated a distance of one or two weeks from the sea to Chichilti-Calli, not a mere one-day journey of five leagues. But perhaps Coronado was joining the bandwagon of blaming Marcos for his ills.


The soldier, Pedro Castañeda, also described the army's march from the Sonora river valley north to Chichilti-Calli, and then on to the outskirts of Cíbola. On this part of the march, Castañeda was with main army, lagging some days behind Coronado's advance guard, but he described events involving both parties, and gave us some of our best scenes of life in the up-till-then-prehistoric villages:

Senora is a river valley thickly populated by able-bodied people. The women wear petticoats of tanned deerskin... The chiefs of the villages go up like public criers onto some little heights they have made for this purpose, and make proclamations for the space of an hour, regulating the things that the people have to do. They have some little huts for shrines, all over the outside of which they stick many arrows, like a porcupine. They do this when they are getting ready for war....

The people further along are the same as those in Senora and have the same dress, language, habits, and customs -- all the way to the desert of Chichilti-Calli. The women paint their chins and eyes like the Moorish women of Barbary. They are great sodomites. They drink wine made of the pitahaya, which is a fruit of a large thistle that opens like a pomegranate. The wine makes them stupid.... There are native melons so large that a person can carry only one. They cut these into slices and dry them in the sun. They are good to eat, and taste like figs, and are better than dried meat. They are delicious and sweet, keeping for a whole year when prepared this way....

When the general and his advance party had crossed the inhabited region and come to Chichilti-Calli, where the wilderness begins, he saw nothing favorable there. He could not help feeling a bit downhearted. Although the reports were still fine about Cíbola, there was no one along who had actually seen it except the Indians who went with Estevan, and already these had been caught in some lies. Furthermore, the general was much affected by seeing that the fame of Chichilti-Calli was summed up in one tumbledown building without any roof, though it appeared to have been a strong place at some former time when it was inhabited. Plainly, it had been built by a civilized and warlike race of strangers who had come from a distance.

Meanwhile, the soldiers of the main army were following some days or weeks behind Coronado's vanguard. In a province called Vacapan [close to Marcos' Vacapa?] there was a large quantity of prickly pears, of which the natives made preserves. They freely gave away the preserves; many soldiers in the main army ate too much of it, and fell sick with a headache and fever, so that the natives might have done them much harm if they had wished.

After this, the main army continued its march till they, too, reached Chichilti-Calli. Chichilti-Calli was discovered by Friar Marcos and his party when they came to the house at this place, formerly inhabited by people who separated from Cíbola; it was made of colored or reddish earth. The building was large and appeared to us to have been a fortress. It must have been destroyed by the local people of the district, who are the most barbarous people that have yet been seen. They live in separate huts, and not in settlements. They live by hunting.... The men in the General Coronado's advance guard saw a flock of sheep one day after leaving this place....

At Chichilti-Calli the country changes character and the spiky vegetation ceases. The rest of the country toward Cíbola is all wilderness, covered with pine forests. The reason the character changes is that the gulf reaches up as far as this place, and the mountains change direction, turning west to parallel the coast. Thus, the army had to cross and pass through the mountains here, in order to get into the level country where Cíbola is located.

Coronado's advance guard saw their first Indians from the country of Cíbola at a river eight leagues [about 20-24 miles] out from Cíbola. There were two of them, and they ran away to report us.

At the end of the next day, during the night, Indians from Cíbola, hiding in a safe place, set up a yelling that startled the men so much that they leaped up from their sleep, ready for anything. Some of them got so excited they put their saddles on backwards, but these were the new fellows. When the older veterans mounted up and rode around the camp, the Indians fled. None of them could be caught because they knew the country.


The testimony of Garcia Lopez de Cardenas, recorded in 1546, gave his eyewitness recollections of the arrival at Cíbola. The testimony was taken during a trial against Cardenas for cruelties to the Indians during the expedition. Cardenas was convicted and sentenced to serve in the army for 30 months, and pay a fine of 800 gold ducats to be used to finance religious and charitable works.

The expedition came within three or four leagues [8-12 miles] of Cíbola, without having any skirmishes with the Indians. When we reached that position, I was ahead with eight or ten horsemen and noticed some Indians on a hilltop. I advanced alone to the place, making signs of peace and offering presents of things I carried to trade. With this, some of them came down and took the articles that I offered. I shook hands with them and remained at peace..., giving them a cross and telling them by signs to go to their town and tell their people that the expedition was coming peacefully and wanted to be their friends. With this, they returned to Cíbola, and I remained there to await Francisco Vazquez and the others.

At this very place, the soldiers camped for their last night before reaching Cíbola. I went ahead with a few men to guard a bad pass, so that if the Indians should approach with hostile intent, the Spanish could block them. At midnight many Indians attacked us at this pass. Because of the Indians' cries and shouting and arrows, the horses became frightened and ran away, leaving the men on foot. Had it not been for two mounted guards, the Indians would have killed me and my ten companions.

The next morning Francisco Vazquez arrived with the rest of the men, and learned what happened. From there we all set out together in order and marched toward Cíbola.

About a league from Cíbola, the army spotted four or five Indians. Upon seeing them, I again stopped my men, and went ahead of the others, alone, to talk to them, making signs and demonstrations of peace. They didn't wait for me.

So we Spaniards marched in the same order as before until we came close to Cíbola. All the Indians of Cíbola and the people of other places...had gathered there to oppose us.


HawikuhThe plain of Hawikuh,Cibola, where the battle was fought on July 7, 1540. The town of Hawikuh was on the distant ridge. This photo was taken 440 years later on July 7, 1986.


An account labeled "Traslado de las Nuevas," by an anonymous member of the army, emphasized the dire condition of Coronado's troops on the arrival. They had lost at least one man and run out of food while crossing the final fifteen-day despoblado north of Chichilti-Calli.

His grace reached the province on Wednesday, July 7, with all the men except for one who died from hunger four days earlier and several blacks and Indians who also died of hunger and thirst.... The army did not approach the city as it should have, because they all arrived very tired from the difficult journey. Yet there was not one man in the army who would not have done his best....


Pedro Castañeda took up the story, describing the arrival of Coronado, Marcos, and the advance guard. When Castañeda refers to "Cíbola" in this passage, he means the first village the army encountered. It was the town Marcos recorded as Ahacu, a site known today as a ruin called Hawikuh. It was a multi-tiered pueblo in those days, probably different from the one Marcos saw, since Marcos may have stolen through the back country for a glimpse of a different part of the province from a hidden position. The army drew itself up on the plain in front of the city. Beauty was in the brain of the beholder.

When Coronado and the army saw the first village, which was Cíbola, such were the curses that some hurled at Friar Marcos that I pray God protects him from them. It is only a little, crowded village, looking as if it had been all crumpled up together. There are haciendas in New Spain that look better at a distance. Cíbola is a village of about 200 warriors. It is three and four stories high, with the houses being small and having only a few rooms, and without their own courtyards. A single courtyard serves for each section.

The people of the whole district had assembled there. There are seven villages in the province, and some of the other villages are even larger and stronger. All these people waited for the army, drawn up in divisions in front of the villages.


Zuni Pueblo

This view of thepueblo of Zuni, New Mexico in the late 1800's gives a fairlyaccurate idea of the appearance of Hawiku, on its low hill, when the Coronado army attacked in July, 1540.


Coronado himself described what happened next, writing in his August 3 letter to Viceroy Mendoza about four weeks after the event. He also gave a similar account at his trial in 1544, when he was exonerated of charges of mistreatment of the Indians. I edited the two accounts together as follows.

When I arrived within view of Cíbola, I noticed many smokes rising in different places around it, and I saw some Indians in warlike array, blowing a horn. I sent Don Garcia Lopez de Cardenas and two of the friars, Daniel and Luis, plus the notary, Hernando Bermijo, and some horsemen a short distance ahead to read them the Requerimiento prescribed by his majesty. This was to tell them that we were coming not to do them any harm, but to defend them in the name of our lord, the Emperor.

Some three hundred Indians with bows, arrows, and shields approached. Although our side summoned the Indians to peace three times and explained the object of our coming through the interpreter, the Indians never consented to submit to either the Pope or the King. Being proud people, they weren't affected by the reading. They thought that because we were few in number, they would have no trouble defeating us. They advanced and started shooting arrows and even pierced Friar Luis' gown with an arrow, which, blessed be God, didn't harm him.

As they advanced, I decided I wanted to be present. Taking a few mounted men and some trade articles, and ordering the army to follow, I joined them. As I arrived with all the horsemen and footmen, and observed the large body of Indians arrayed in front of the city, they began to shoot at us with their arrows. In obedience to Your Lordship's orders and those of the King, I did not let my army attack them, even though the men were begging to begin the attack. I told them they ought not to offend these people, that what they were doing to us was nothing.

But when the Indians saw that we did not move, they grew bolder, coming up almost to the heels of our horses to shoot their arrows. They wouldn't stop shooting arrows at us. Seeing that the Indians were wounding the horses and had hit Friar Luis with an arrow, I saw it was not a time to hesitate. As the priests approved of the action, I ordered them to be attacked. They turned their backs and ran to the pueblos, where they fortified themselves.

Then I ordered that they be summoned anew, asking them to submit peacefully, and giving them assurances that no harm would be done to them, and that they would be well treated. Seeing that they would not agree and that they continued shooting arrows from above, and considering that the army was suffering from hunger, I ordered that the city itself be attacked.


Garcia Lopez de Cardenas described the same events and continued the story at his trial in 1546. I was intrigued that this account involves Marcos in the final order to attack Cíbola.

The Indians rushed our group, shooting many arrows. They pierced the friar's habit with an arrow, and lodged another in the clothing and armor of the notary.

When Francisco Vazquez saw this he came up with all the rest of the army to help. Upon his arrival, but before any more hostilities could begin, Vazquez again summoned them to peace, but they would not submit. Then he ordered an attack because the Indians rejected the offers of peace. In that skirmish, they killed about ten or twelve Indians, but the others fled toward the Pueblo of Cíbola.

After the Indians had taken refuge in the pueblo, Francisco Vazquez again summoned them to accept peace. While this was happening, Father Marcos de Niza, the Franciscan friar who was guiding the army, arrived. Francisco Vazquez explained what had happened and when the friar heard it and saw that the Indians were fortified, he said, "Take your shields and go after them." So Francisco Vazquez and some of the others did so, and began the main attack upon Cíbola.


Arrow Chart

Photograph of copper crossbow arrow points found in the Albuquerque area of New Mexico.  Nearly identical points were excavated from the ruin of Hawikuh around 1920 and were undoubtedly from crossbow arrows, or "bolts," fired by Coronado's soldiers during the skirmish.  Others have been found in the 2000's during metal detector surveys conducted by the Zuni tribe.  The points are typically 1 to 2 inches in length. Compare with the points found at the Blanco Canyon site in Texas in the 1990's [Ellis, B.T., 1957. El Palacio 67].



A few more eyewitness details are included in the account by the anonymous author of Traslado de las Nuevas.

...the province of Cíbola had been deserted by men over sixty and under twenty, and by women and children. The only ones assembled there were the fighting men who were there to defend the city. Many of them came forward, about a crossbow shot away, uttering loud threats. The General himself went forward with two priests and the army-master, to urge them to surrender, as is the custom in new lands. The reply to this was many arrows. They wounded Hernando Bermejo's horse, and pierced the flap on the gown of Friar Luis, the former companion of the Lord Bishop of Mexico.

At this, the army took Sant Iago [Saint James] as their protector, and the General rushed them with the whole force, which he had kept in good order. Although the Indians turned and tried to reach their city, they were overtaken and many of them killed before they could escape. The Indians killed three horses and wounded seven or eight.

When my lord, the General, reached the city, he saw that it was surrounded by stone walls and high buildings, four, five, and even six stories high, with flat roofs and balconies. The Indians had secured themselves within it, and would not let any of us near without shooting arrows at him. But since we could get nothing to eat without capturing the city, his grace decided to enter the city on foot, while surrounding it by horsemen, so that those inside could not get away. Because he stood out from the rest by his gilded arms and armor, and a plume on his headpiece, all the Indians aimed at him, and they knocked him to the ground twice by stones thrown from the flat roofs, stunning him in spite of his headpiece.... Besides knocking him down -- and praised be Our Lord that he came out on his own two feet -- they hit him many times with stones on his head, shoulders, and legs, and he received two small facial wounds plus an arrow wound in the right foot.


Pedro Castañeda also described the final capture of Cíbola.

The Santiago battle charge was given...and the Spaniards attacked the village. It was taken with some difficulty. During the attack they knocked the general down, but Garcia Lopez and Hernando do Alvarado threw themselves on top of him and drew him away, receiving the blows of no few stones themselves.


Coronado tells the same story in his August 3 letter and in his 1544 testimony.

I assembled my whole army and divided it as seemed best for an attack on the city, surrounding it. The hunger which we suffered would not permit any delay. So I dismounted with some of these gentlemen and the soldiers. I ordered the musketeers and crossbowmen to begin the attack and drive back the enemy from their defenses along on the roofs, so they couldn't injure us. But the crossbowmen broke all their strings and the musketeers could do nothing because they had arrived so weak that they could scarcely stand on their feet. Therefore, the Indians up above were not impeded at all from defending themselves and doing injury to us.

As for me, as I tried to enter through a narrow street of the pueblo, the people throwing countless great stones from above knocked me to the ground twice. If I hadn't been protected by the very good headpiece I wore, I think the outcome would have been bad for me! My comrades picked me up from the ground, however, with two small wounds in my face and an arrow in my foot, along with many bruises on my arms and legs. In this condition I retired from the battle, very weak, as if dead. I think that if Don Garcia Lopez had not come to my help, like a good cavalier, throwing his own body atop mine the second time they knocked me to the ground, I would have been in much greater danger....

When I regained consciousness they told me that the Indians had surrendered, and the city was taken. This was through God's will, and inside the city we found a sufficient supply of corn to relieve our necessities.

Army-master Garcia Lopez, Pedro de Tovar, Fernando de Alvarado, and Pablo de Melgosa the infantry captain, also sustained some bruises. Agoniez Quarz was hit in the arm by an arrow, and a soldier named Torres...was hit in the face by another. Two other footmen received slight arrow wounds. The Indians directed their attack mostly against me because my armor was gilded and glittered. That is why I was hurt more than the rest, and not because I had done more or was farther to the front than the others. Two or three more soldiers were hurt in the battle on the plain, three horses killed, and seven or eight horses injured.... All the gentlemen and the soldiers bore themselves well, as was expected....


Pedro Castañeda said that the battle lasted about an hour, and another account indicates that the battle ended in the afternoon. At Coronado's trial in 1544, he was asked about whether any cruelties were inflicted on the men and women of Cíbola, after the surrender.

We did not inflict any cruelties. On the contrary, I ordered that all of the people be well treated, especially the women and children, and I forbade anyone to touch them under severe penalties. I sent for some of the chiefs and explained through the interpreter that they had done wrong in not coming to render obedience peacefully, as they had been asked, but that I would forgive them if they would now agree. Also, if any of them wished to stay there with their women and children, they would be accorded good treatment, and I would leave their belongings and houses undisturbed, and the wounded would be cared for.

They replied that they realized they had done wrong, and that they wanted to go to the nearby pueblo of Masaque in order to return from there with other neighbors to render obedience, because the community of Cíbola included people from all those pueblos.

Next day, or within two days, the chieftain of Masaque and those of the other pueblos came with presents of deer and cattle skins, yucca fiber blankets, and some turquoises, and a few bows and arrows. I gave them some of the barter articles that we had. They went away very pleased, after rendering obedience to his Majesty and saying that they wanted to serve him and become Christians....

Later three or four Indians came from a more distant pueblo and told us they had heard about us -- the strange new people, bold men who punished those who resisted them, but gave good treatment to those who submitted. They too had come to make their acquaintance and be our friends.


Garcia Lopez Cardenas, during his trial in 1546, reaffirmed independently that the Indians left peacefully after the battle, and there were no cruelties inflicted. This sounds very idyllic. Could it have been sweetened by hindsight, for the purposes of the court enquiries? Coronado's letter of August 3, written only about three weeks after the events, confirms the basic story but gives a grittier account of the Zunis' departure.

Three days after I captured the city, some of the Indians who live here came with an offer of peace. They brought me some turquoises and poor blankets, and I received them in the King's name, with as good a speech as I could. I tried to make them understand the purpose of my coming, which is, in His Majesty's name and by the commands of Your Lordship, that they and all others in this province should become Christians and should know the true God as their Lord, and His Majesty as their King on earth.

After this, they returned to their houses, and suddenly, the next day, packed up all their goods and fled to the hills! They left their towns deserted, with only a few people remaining in them.


Another of the anonymous accounts, probably written a year later in 1541, describes the immediate aftermath.

When the Indians...left their buildings, we made ourselves at home. Friar Marcos understood, or told us, that the region and neighborhood, in which there are seven villages, was a single settlement which he called Cíbola, but actually it is the whole settled region that is called Cíbola. The villages have from 150 to 200 or 300 houses; in most villages the dwellings are joined in one large structure, but in others they are divided into two or three segments.


About a week later, on July 19, Coronado was able to get out into the province and take a look around, according to the Tralado de las Nuevas.

Despite two small facial wounds plus an arrow wound in the right foot, his grace recovered, and on July 19th he was able to make an eight league (ca. 22 mile) round trip to see a high rock where the Indians of that province had fortified themselves.


According to many sources, this must have been the great mesa which the Zunis call Toyolana, and which later Anglos called Thunder Mountain. It is several miles across and rises a thousand feet above the plain, a few miles east of the modern town. Even in later centuries, Zunis retreated and barricaded themselves at its top in times of stress.


Coronado was interested in finding out more about what he had conquered. As Castañeda said, the soldiers were already disgusted with Cíbola and hurled insults at Marcos when they first saw from a distance that it was modest-sized stone walled pueblo, not a glorious walled city or mighty castle. In his letter of August 3, he tells more about his first few weeks' attempts to unravel the secrets of Cíbola, which he spelled "Cevola" – each Spaniard making his own attempt to transliterate the Native words that they heard.

The Seven Cities are seven little villages, all having the kind of houses that have been described. The are within a radius of 5 leagues (ca. 12 miles). They are all called the kingdom of Cevola. Each has its own name and no single one is called Cevola....

The Indians say that the kingdom of Totonteac, which Father Provincial Marcos praised so much and said was something marvelous and of great size, is only a hot lake, on the edge of which are a mere five or six houses....

Coronado was in a bad mood -- a mood to debunk everything that Marcos said. Yet some of the "facts" Coronado reported in this letter proved incorrect, such as his claim that Marcos had erred in report big cities beyond Cíbola, like Totonteac. In the weeks and months after the above letter was written, a party sent out by Coronado discovered the real Totonteac in northern Arizona. Totonteac turned out to be the large group of Hopi villages, with which Zuni traded, and were also referred to by Castañeda by the similar name Tutahaco. Marcos also correctly referred to a nearby town called Ácus which turned out to be the pueblo of Acoma, still thriving on a hill not far beyond Cíbola/Zuni. A few months later, Coronado's whole army traveled farther east and discovered still larger pueblo communities, on the Rio Grande. Thus, Marcos' 1539 Relación, which described these provinces from the second hand accounts he gathered from Indians to the south, was more correct than Coronado's downhearted assessment of August 3, 1540.

The Rio Grande pueblos had vigorous trade with plains Indians. They were the source of the buffalo robes and skins that Marcos had seen traded from Cíbola all the way into Sonora. This was the origin of Cíbola's name, a Mexican word referring to buffalo or buffalo skins.

Coronado's letter of August 3 continues:

When I recovered from my wounds, eight or ten days later, I went to a town that was larger than the first one, I found a few of the Indians there, and told them they shouldn't be afraid. I asked them to summon their lord or governor. From what I can see, none of these towns seems to have a single chief, because I haven't seen any principal house by which any superiority of one over others could be shown.

Later, an old man, who said he was their governor, came wearing a mantle or blanket of many pieces; I argued with him as long as he stayed with me. He said he'd come and see me with the rest of the chiefs in three days, to arrange the terms that would exist among us. He did so, and they brought some small ragged blankets and turquoises. I said they should come down from their hilltop strongholds and return to their houses with their wives and children, and become Christians, and recognize the King. But they still remain in their strongholds with their wives and all their property.

I ordered them to have a cloth painted for me with all the animals in that country. Although they are poor painters, they soon painted two for me, one with animals and the other with the birds and fishes. They say they will bring their children so that our priests may instruct them, and that they do desire to know our laws. They say it was foretold among them more than fifty years ago that people like us would come, and from what direction, and that the whole country would be conquered.

As far as I can tell, these Indians worship water, because it makes the corn grow and sustains their life, and the only other reason they have for it is that their ancestors did so.

I send you the two painted cloths and a buffalo skin, some turquoises, two earrings of the same, fifteen Indian combs, some plates decorated with turquoise, two baskets, and coils that the women wear on their heads to carry jars of water. With one of these coils, a woman can carry a jar of water on her head up a ladder without touching the jar with her hands....

As far as I can judge, there is little chance of getting gold or silver, but I trust in God that if there is any, we will get our share of it.... Some gold and silver has been found in this place, and those who know minerals say it is not bad. But I have not yet been able to learn from these people where they get it. I perceive they don't tell me the truth in everything, because they anticipate I will depart soon, as I have told them....

I can't give Your Lordship any certain information about the dress of the women, because the Indians keep them guarded so carefully that I have not seen any, except two old women....


Around 1560, Bartolomé de las Casas recorded more information on the lifestyles and religious practices of the people at Cíbola, compiled from accounts generated during the Coronado expedition. These are similar to practices recorded centuries later, in the late 1800s.

The province of Cíbola is the nation which we found worshiping the sun and sources of water. When they worship toward the sun, they raise their hands and rub their faces and the rest of their bodies. In the case of the water sources, they bring many feathers of various colored birds and place them around the water sources, close to the water. They also sprinkle ground cornmeal and other yellow powders.

They made the same offerings and the same ceremonies to the cross, after seeing that our Christian people venerated it. They touched it with their hands, and then they rubbed their faces and their entire bodies. After that, they made offerings to it, including many vessels, such as bowls of cornmeal.


Coronado reserved the bitterest words in his August 3 letter for Marcos de Niza. In his disappointment, Coronado wanted someone to take the blame for the fact that Cíbola was not an Aztec-like city of gold. His letter of August 3 was his first after the realization that there was little treasure to be had, and that he and Mendoza had sunk their fortune into conquering only a quiet community of sophisticated and contemplative people pursuing their age-old agricultural practices and worship of nature around them. Marcos was to be the scapegoat.

It now remains for me to tell about this city and kingdom, of which the Father Provincial gave Your Lordship an account. In brief, I can assure you that in reality he has not told a single truth in what he said, and everything is the reverse of what he said -- except about the name of the city and the large stone houses. Although they are not decorated with turquoises, nor made of lime or good bricks, nevertheless they are very good houses, with three, four, and five stories, where there are very good apartments... and some very good rooms underground, paved, which are made for winter and have something like hot baths.

The people are of ordinary size, and intelligent, although I don't see how they can have the judgment and intelligence to build these houses, for most of them are naked except for the coverings of their private parts.... Cotton thread was found in their houses.... I think they have a quantity of turquoises, which they had removed with the rest of their goods...when I arrived. Two points of emerald and some broken garnet-like stones were found in a paper, along with other stone crystals, which I gave to one of my servants to keep until they could be sent to Your Lordship. He lost them, or so he tells me.

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