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Coronado's Report to Viceroy Mendoza, Part I
Digital History ID 1250

Author:   Francisco Vázquez de Coronado and Francisco Vázquez de Coronado
Date:1540

Annotation: Beginning in 1598 in New Mexico, 1700 in Arizona, 1716 in Texas, and 1769 in Alta California, Spain planted permanent missions, military posts, towns, and ranchos in the Far North. As early as the 1700s, Spanish explorers had mapped most of the territory of the Southwest and established over three hundred towns. Today, the American Southwest is a region of enormous geographical and cultural diversity. The small village of northern New Mexico differ radically from the border cities and commercial farms of south Texas or the crowded barrios of Los Angeles. This diversity was apparent during the years of first settlement. From the sixteenth to the early nineteenth century, Spain regarded the northern frontier as a buffer zone between empires. Worry about English and Russian inroads into California and French movements into the lower Mississippi Valley led Spain to dispatch soldiers and missionaries into Mexico's northern frontier. Over time, about 1,600 Hispanic settlers moved into New Mexico, 1,700 to Texas, and 1,750 to Baja and Alta California. A tiny settlement also emerged in Arizona around Tucson.

Spain used three basic institutions to settle the northern frontier: the religious mission, the presidio or military installation, and the pueblo or civil town. In contrast to central Mexico, where the Spanish developed an economy based on agriculture and mining using Indian labor, the northern frontier commonly relied on missions or presidios. In New Mexico, missions were usually built at the edge of Indian villages. In Texas, missionaries succeeded to a greater degree than in New Mexico in drawing in nomadic Indians to new settlements. Missions merged with settlements established around military presidios and new cities emerged. San Antonio arose out of a combination of five missions, a presidio, and a civilian town. In California, a mission was a self-sustaining community where friars and Indian "neophytes" (converts) lived. In California, the mission was the basic institution of settlement. Within mission communities, Native Americans were taught blacksmithing, candle making, leatherworking, and livestock tending, and were forced to work in workshops, orchards, and fields for long hours. At the end of Spanish rule in 1821, there were 21 missions, four presidios, and three pueblos.

New Mexico, the first target of colonization, resembled central Mexico in having fertile lands and distinct Indian settlements. Spanish towns remained separate from the Indian countryside and intermarriage and interaction were limited. These distinctions continued into the twentieth century, Indian tribes retaining much of their distinctive cultural heritage.

Throughout the Spanish Southwest, a caste society emerged, though it was far less rigid and hierarchical than that of central Mexico. Most colonists were of mixed racial backgrounds. Between 1540 and 1542, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado explored New Mexico, Texas and Kansas, searching for precious metals. His letter provides one of the first detailed European descriptions of the Southwestern environment and the inhabitants' attitudes toward the Spanish newcomers.


Document: ON THE 22d of the month of April last, I set out from the province of Culiacan with a part of the army, having made the arrangements of which I wrote to Your Lordship. Judging by the outcome, I feel sure that it was fortunate that I did not start the whole of the army on this undertaking, because the labors have been so very great and the lack of food such that I do not believe this undertaking could have been completed before the end of this year, and that there would be a great loss of life if it should be accomplished. For, as I wrote to Your Lordship, I spent eighty days in traveling to Culiacan, during which time I and the gentlemen of my company, who were horsemen, carried on our backs and on our horses a little food, in such wise that after leaving this place none of us carried any necessary effects weighing more than a pound. For all this, and although we took all possible care and forethought of the small supply of provisions which we carried, it gave out. And this is not to be wondered at, because the road is rough and long, and what with our harquebuses, which had to be carried up the mountains and hills and in the passage of the rivers, the greater part of the corn was lost. And since I send Your Lordship a drawing of this route, I will say no more about it here.

Thirty leagues before reaching the place which the father provincial spoke so well of in his report, I sent Melchior Diaz forward with fifteen horsemen, ordering him to make but one day's journey out of two, so that he could examine everything there before I arrived. he traveled through some very rough mountains for four days, and did not find anything to live on, nor people, nor information about anything, except that he found two or three poor villages, with twenty or thirty huts apiece. From the people here he learned that there was nothing to be found in the country beyond except the mountains, which continued very rough, entirely uninhabited by people. And, because this was labor lost, I did not want to send Your Lordship an account of it. The whole company felt disturbed at this, that a thing so much praised, and about which the father had said so many things, should be found so very different; and they began to think that all the rest would be of the same sort.

When I noticed this, I tried to encourage them as well as I could, telling them that Your Lordship had always thought that this part of the trip would be a waste of effort, and that we ought to devote our attention to those Seven Cities and the other provinces about which we had information-that these should be the end of our enterprise. With this resolution and purpose, we all marched cheerfully along a very bad way, where it was impossible to pass without making a new road or repairing the one that was there, which troubled the soldiers not a little, considering that everything which the friar had said was found to be quite the reverse; because, among other things which the father had said and declared, he said that the way would be plain and good, and that there would be only one small hill of about half a league. And the truth is, that there are mountains where, however well the path might be fixed, they could not be crossed without there being great danger of the horses falling over them. And it was so bad that a large number of the animals which Your Lordship sent as provisions for the army were lost along this part of the way, on account of the roughness of the rocks. The lambs and wethers lost their hoofs along the way, and I left the greater part of those which I brought from Culiacan at the river of Lachimi, because they were unable to travel, and so that they might proceed more slowly.

Four horsemen remained with them, who have just arrived. They have not brought more than 24 lamb and 4 wethers; the rest died from the toil, although they did not travel more than two leagues daily. I reached the Valley of Hearts at last, on the 26th day of the month of May, and rested there a number of days. Between Culiacan and this place I could sustain myself only by means of a large supply of corn bread, because I had to leave all the corn, as it was not yet ripe. In the Valley of Hearts we found more people than in any part of the country which we had left behind, and a large extent of tilled ground. There was not corn for food among them, but as I heard that there was some in another valley called Senora, which I did not wish to disturb by force, I send Melchior Diaz with goods to exchange for it, so as to give this to the friendly Indians whom we brought with us, & to some who had lost their animals along the way & had not been able to carry the food which they had taken from Culiacan. By the favor of Our Lord, some little corn was obtained by this trading, which relieved the friendly Indians and some Spaniards. Ten or twelve of the horses had died of overwork by the tie that we reached this Valley of Hearts, because they were unable to stand the strain of carrying heavy burdens and eating little. Some of our negroes and some of the Indians also died here, which was not a slight loss for the rest of the expedition. They told me that the Valley of Hearts is a long five days' journey from the Western Sea. I sent to summon Indians from the coast in order to learn about their condition, and while I was waiting for these the horses rested. I stayed there four days, during which the Indians came from the sea, who told me that there were seven or eight islands two days' journey from that seacoast, directly opposite, well populated with people, but poorly supplied with food, and the people were savages. They told me they had seen a ship pass not very far from the land. I do not know whether to think that it was the one which was sent to discover the country, or perhaps some Portuguese.

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