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There’s Something About a Soldier

ISSUE:  Autumn 1943

The man who discovered the Grand Canyon never saw it. This paradox is not intended to be witty or fatuous, for it is technically true. It came about because of the political, military, and religious reasoning of the leaders of what was New Spain in 1540 and is Mexico today.

Hernando Cortes had landed at Vera Cruz in 1519, and by 1521 he had successfully subjugated the Aztec Empire of Montezuma. The first viceroy of New Spain, Antonio de Mendoza, was in power at Tenochtitlan—newly renamed Mexico City—as the highest representative of his Catholic Majesty, Charles V, King of Spain; and Charles, in turn, occupied his throne as the mortal representative of God himself. Now God cannot err. Thus Charles V, God’s representative on earth, could not err; and thus Antonio de Mendoza, Charles’ (and God’s) representative in New Spain could not err. Mendoza declared that Captain Francisco Vasquez de Coronado discovered what we call today the Grand Canyon. According to sixteenth-century Spanish reasoning, that was exactly as if Charles V had so declared. And any statement by Charles V was exactly as if God had so declared. Thus there was no doubt about it, the Grand Canyon was discovered by Captain Francisco Vasquez de Coronado—and no matter if he never saw it and didn’t get within two hundred miles of it. You don’t doubt the word of God, do you?

From a point of view four hundred years removed from the culture of New Spain, some of the Spanish proprieties, amenities, manners, and morals seem unnecessarily complex, highly contradictory, and somewhat ridiculous. These were active young men in Mexico City, full of the zest for life, and they had taken on an immense job. The Spanish civilization was at full flower. To be a soldier of Spain was an admirable and coveted ambition for any young man, The Indies (the word America was hardly in use at that time) offered opportunity. To be an adventurer, a conqueror, a hero in the service of Spain was much the same in 1540 as to be a pilot, a gunner, a bombardier in the service of the United Nations today. It was front-line stuff and it had its thrills. We think of the Spanish conquistadores as doughty, rugged men of middle years, callous and cruel, brutal and bold. Instead, they were for the most part young and inexperienced, impatient and impetuous representatives of the sixteenth century stripe of extroverts, bent on one aim—material success.

Columbus was forty years old when he sailed from Palos in 1492, and he was one of the oldest of the men who were to establish Spain in the New World. Marcos de Niza was thirty-nine when he thought he saw the first of the fabulous Seven Cities of Cibola with streets paved with gold and studded with turquoise. Balboa was thirty-eight when he stood on a peak in Panama and discovered the Pacific Ocean. Coronado was thirty-five when he reached Mexico in search of fame and fortune. Cortes, the conqueror of the Aztec Empire, was thirty-four when he marched against Montezuma. Charles V, King of Spain, began his reign at the age of sixteen, and by the time he was twenty-seven, he ruled not only the entire New World, but had sent his armies against Rome and had made Pope Clement VII—to him a poor old man of forty-nine—his prisoner. It was a young man’s world, then, now, and always.

But it must be remembered that the heritage and conditioning of these men who were to leave an indelible mark on the Americas was medieval. We would be in a position today comparable to that of a Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court if we could bridge the centuries, run time backwards, and intrude upon the political policies, mercenary machinations, and religious philosophy at the palace of the Spanish Viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza. Things were done for reasons seemingly illogical, but all behavior and customs were based upon the eternal human frailties, and might seem strange to us only because they appeared in the dress of the times. In 1943 the unaccountable Japanese must “save face” at all cost, a policy which is born of in-fantilistic vanity. A similar vanity, pride, and arrogance were characteristic of conquistador temperaments. New Spain needed its Gilbert and Sullivan.

In this New World of opportunity, it was inevitable that human ambitions were bound to conflict. Cortes had received the lion’s share of the acclaim, and therefore Cortes had more enemies among his cohorts and colleagues than he had among the Aztecs whom he had conquered. It was all Cortes throughout New Spain in the 1520’s, and even those who pretended to be his friends were envious and jealous. The Governor of Cuba, Velasquez, was after his scalp for moral reasons. It is said that Cortes had seduced the sister of Velasquez’s mistress while in Cuba before his sortie to Vera Cruz. No doubt this gave Velasquez a proper reason for damning the young soldier; and Cortes figuratively thumbed his nose at the Governor by turning bis back on Cuba, beaching and burning his ships at Vera Cruz, and making a conquest of the Aztecs a matter of life or death for his army. And to add more fire to the Governor’s fury, Cortes took a new mistress in Mexico, an Indian girl named Malinche, who acted as his interpreter and was important in betraying and double-crossing the Aztec nation by playing other tribes against them. In Mexico Cortes, by instinct, was using the Hitlerian method of divide your enemies and conquer them one by one. Thus, by abandoning one mistress and making love to another, Cortes’ career flourished like the proverbial green bay tree, the Aztec Empire collapsed, New Spain rose over the ashes of Tenochtitlfo, and the Fair God long feared by Montezuma had arrived.

But there were others who wished to play the same game. Velasquez, still in Cuba and furious over the fact that Cort& had outwitted him and outstripped him in the esteem of Charles V in Madrid, sent a boy to do a man’s job. He com-missioned one Panfilo de Narvaez to go to Mexico and place Cortes and his whole army under arrest, maintaining that Cortes had no business to conquer the Aztecs, nobody had told him to do it, and now he was to be called on the diplo-matic carpet.

Cortes, however, was enjoying the exhilaration of success. It was a bad moment to try to stop him. For he simply took the unwitting Narvaez at his own game. The man and an army had come to arrest the Fair God? Very well, the Fair God arrested him as soon as he landed and absorbed his army into the ranks of his own. All that Velasquez’ coup had done was to send Cortes unintentional reinforcements.

Thus it is easy to see that there was considerable confusion as to just who was who in New Spain. All the power plays and diplomatic jockeying took many months. Madrid was the final authority, and Charles V was too wise to let any of these scrambling soldiers of fortune get too far out of hand. He appointed a viceroy for New Spain whose authority was supreme, and in good time Antonio de Mendoza arrived. The army had done its work and now the state took over.

Meanwhile, Cortes had released Narvaez, who went bawling back to Cuba. To pacify him and his Cuban governor, Velasquez, the dextrous Charles V sent Narvaez on a conquest of Florida. If Cortes wouldn’t let him play in Mexico, let the fellow go shoot up Florida, and who knows—he might discover another plum.

Now all of this Spanish land-grab and internal jealousy reached ramifications without end. To carry it further is beside the point, but it is all strikingly significant, and the throwing of a bone to the Velasquez-Narvaez faction in the form of Florida was far more important than even Charles V realized at the time. Not that Narvaez ever amounted to anything—for he successfully wrecked his whole party off the Florida coast in 1527. The important result was that from this fiasco there emerged a small group unable to get back to Cuba. So these redoubtable Spaniards walked overland from Florida, around the Gulf of Mexico, on through Texas, and somehow managed to get to Mexico City by this roundabout route. It was unparalleled and amazing, this famous march of Cabeza de Vaca, and it took eight years. And here we come to an important and thrasonical figure; for with Cabeza de Vaca on this journey was a huge Negro who called himself by several names, usually Esteban de Dorantes.

Now the Viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza, had been appointed by the King, and as we have seen, the King was nobody’s fool. He was a great judge of men. And Mendoza rewarded the King’s confidence by loyalty and far-seeing wisdom in playing on the ambitions of the army. He never showed all his cards, and he held the conquistadores in check and used them to the advantage of the crown. Mendoza had all the skill of a Metternich, but he will never be as well-known.

Cortes had made a trip to Spain, but he was back in 1536 looking for new worlds to conquer. The only area still untouched was the land to the north of New Spain—what is today the American Southwest. It was a question of who was going to be the first to have the honor and glory of conquering it and collecting a goodly share of the gold that it doubtless held.

And at this time, blown on the winds of myth, came the story of the Seven Cities of Cibola. The source of this legend fades back into the limbo of wishful thinking. Probably it began conservatively, but in men’s minds it caught on like a prairie fire. Somewhere to the north were seven cities paved with gold and studded with jewels beyond the farthest stretches of the imagination. And where were these wealthy seven cities? Also beyond the farthest stretches of the imagination. But nobody wanted to believe that. It was all too good not to be true; Cibola must exist. Then find it, Spanish soldier.

And who determined to outsmart his enemies and find it first? Hernando Cortes, of course. And all the other conquistadores and would-be conquistadores said to each other, no, they weren’t interested in Cibola—certainly not—and proceeded to hatch every plot and solicit all possible support to finance an expedition to find it.

Two men struck first: Cortes, and his enemy, the Viceroy Mendoza. And they used typically different methods. The extrovert Cortes followed his customary psychology. He banked everything he had on one swift move. This had worked at Vera Cruz, at Mexico City, and it should work again. Independent of the government of New Spain he assembled three ships at Acapulco on the Pacific.

He intended to lead this expedition himself up the west coast of Mexico to the thirty-fourth parallel or thereabouts, and then leave the ships and strike inland to Cibola. It was a costly venture and he put all his fortune into it. His mistress, Malinche, had long since gone and he was now married to a lady of Spain. To finance this expedition Cortes even had to pawn his wife’s jewels.

At the last moment Cortes himself was prevented from sailing, probably on some pretext by Mendoza. So he placed his captain, Ulloa, in charge, and sent him off for Cibola on July 8, 1539. He could not fail; Cortes never failed.

Mendoza, who was only too well aware of what was going on, used a different method. He got hold of the huge Negro, Esteban, and pumped him for information, as the Negro had come down from the north on the long trek around from Florida. It is easy to visualize the interview between the crafty Mendoza and the bragging Negro, with the Viceroy leading him on with pointed questions. For example, had Esteban, in his glorious adventures, by some mere chance, ever heard of a place called—ah—what was that name now? “Cibola !” exploded Esteban.

“Ah, yes, Cibola,” Mendoza purred. “Unusual city—said to be fairly wealthy and lying—ah—somewhere to the north?”

“Yes—full of gold—I was there,” declared Esteban.

“What!” snapped the Viceroy.

“No—I mean to say—I could go there.”

“Ah,” smiled the Viceroy. “Suppose you think carefully about it. To yourself. Until tomorrow.”

Immediately and quietly Mendoza enlisted the services of Fray Marcos de Niza, a Franciscan who had traveled widely in the New World from Mexico to Peru and back. De Niza and Esteban were to march northward, ostensibly carrying the faith into the wilderness, and, who knows, they might go as far as Cibola! By this method the Viceroy would be spared the expense to his government of sending a huge expedition of conquest. And if Esteban could lead the priest to Cibola, they were to profess friendship for the Cibolans, estimate the wealth of the community, and return at once and report. If the report were good, Mendoza would send the full might of New Spain against Cibola at once.

Thus the year 1539 was of great importance to the future history of the American Southwest. Cortes’ man, Ulloa, was sailing up the west coast; Mendoza’s man, de Niza, was trudging overland, guarded by a giant Negro and the power of the cross. And both emissaries were in the field at the same time.

Ulloa had little luck. He obeyed orders and discovered a huge inland sea, together with the fact that Lower California was not an island as supposed, but an immense peninsula. Very properly he called the body of water the Sea of Cortes. Before he reached the thirty-fourth parallel, he came to the landlocked head of the sea. He tried to sail on, not knowing that he was bucking the mouth of the Colorado River, which he found a hellish place of destructive tides, and he wrote in part:

We perceived the sea to run with so great a rage into the land that it was a thing to be marveled at; and with the like fury it returned back again. . . . It seemed there was an inlet whereby the sea went in and out. There were divers opinions amongst us, and some thought that some great river might be the cause thereof.

This is the first description by white men of the temperament of the Colorado River. Ulloa did not actually see the river, but he inferred its existence because of the violent tidal bores at its delta. And for the next three hundred and ninety-seven years the tempestuous violence of this stream continued to baffle men until Elwood Mead’s Boulder Dam tamed it in 1936—supposedly.

Ulloa sailed south out of the Sea of Cortes, around the tip of Lower California, and up the coast. He took two of his three ships and sent the third back to Acapulco to report to Cortes that he was still looking for the thirty-fourth parallel. That was the end of Captain Ulloa; he was never heard of again. All Cortes received for his financial outlay was the honor of having his name bestowed on a landlocked sea, and even that disappeared in time. On a map printed in 1597 it is called by the unattractive name of “The California Sinus,” and this, rather fortunately, was later changed to the Gulf of California.

Luck had run against Cortes at last. He left for Spain, his fortune gone, his enemies triumphant, and his wife desperately ill. It would be interesting indeed to know the thoughts of this remarkable soldier as he stood on the deck and watched the New World recede on the horizon. For he never saw it again.

Meanwhile, Mendoza’s man, Fray Marcos de Niza, was having adventures of his own. On April 12,1539, he crossed the line into what was destined to become Arizona. He had sent Esteban ahead and the two kept in contact by Indian messengers. There is a story that the Franciscan and the Negro were not of one mind. Fray Marcos was a sincere and devout man and he wished to convert the Indian bucks whenever possible. Esteban was sincere about another kind of prowess, and it is said that he wished to seduce the Indian maidens whenever possible. He decorated his giant frame with feathers and gourds and explained that he was a god. This was accepted by the Piman and Papago tribes, but Esteban overstepped when he reached the Zunis.

It is possible that the Negro really believed this pueblo was the first of the cities of Cibola. At any rate, he pranced in and affronted the Zuni people. His invulnerable god-hood did not impress them, and after a brief council they decided the world would be a better place without this invader. What Esteban did in Zufii is not known, but what the Zunis did to Esteban is an historical fact. They shot a few arrows through him and discovered that what they had suspected was true, the black man was mortal after all—unless the Zuiti arrows have made him immortal.

Messengers brought this shocking news back to Fray Marcos de Niza. The priest, believing the Cibolans to be belligerent in order to protect their great wealth, proceeded cautiously and looked at Zufii from a distant hill. He, too, was sure this was Cibola. Why this pueblo of mud and rock should have impressed him is difficult to say, but he reported later to Mendoza, “It has a very fine appearance . . * the best I have seen in these parts. Judging by what I could see from the height where I placed myself to observe it, the settlement is larger than the City of Mexico.”

Mendoza visualized a treasure trove indeed, for hadn’t the Cibolans slain poor Esteban in order to guard the secret of their wealth? And this was but one of the seven richest cities in the New World!

That was information enough for the Viceroy. He prepared two expeditions at once, one to go by sea (following the route of the Cortes-Ulloa fiasco) and the other to go overland retracing the journey of Fray Marcos. And Fray Marcos, of course, would go along.

Quickly the news spread over New Spain that Cibola had been found. Hundreds of young men rushed to join the expedition. They were prepared to attack the Cibolans with fire and sword. These enemies of Spain must perish to the last man. An army of eleven hundred men was assembled in a few days. Arms and armor, guns and powder, doublets and lances, horses, cattle, and supplies were quickly made ready. Everybody was a hero before he started. All they needed was to have Dulcinea del Toboso wave them on while they charged the windmills.

Mendoza approved of this spirit. His next task was to appoint one of these fine blades as the commander in chief and tell him to bring back the bacon—and the gold. He wanted a man who was not a fool, but who, on the other hand, was not too bright. Another Cortes was not desirable. Furthermore, this man must be “somebody”—an officer and a gentleman. Political and social elements had to be considered. At last the Viceroy hit upon the very man. He was a Spanish grandee who had been educated at the University of Salamanca and who had recently married in Mexico City the daughter of the Treasurer. And this Treasurer was said to hold his job because he was the illegitimate son of his late Catholic Majesty, King Ferdinand, grandfather of Charles V and patron of the late Christopher Columbus. Could any man have better qualifications? Spanish customs and the cupidity of Mendoza’s mind thought not. So may God save—ah—what was his name? Oh, yes, may God save Francisco Vasquez de Coronado.

This expedition, bent on loot, was so thoroughly equipped that it even had its own historian, a man named Castaneda, who wrote:

When the Viceroy saw what a noble company had come together, and the spirit and good will with which they all presented themselves, knowing the worth of these men, he would have liked very much to make every one of them captain of an army . . . but he could not do as he would have liked, and so he appointed the captains and officers because it seemed that he was so well obeyed and beloved, nobody would find fault with his arrangements.

That was very sweet of Mendoza. And Castafteda continues:

After everybody heard who the general was, Francisco Vrisquez de Coronado, the Viceroy made Don Pedro de Tovar ensign-general, the guardian and high steward of the Queen Dofia Juana, our demented mistress—may she be in glory.

Apparently Mendoza wasn’t missing tributes to any of the royalty, even the mentally unfit. And the historian continues:

It might be clearly seen . . . that they had on this expedition the most brilliant company ever collected in the Indies . . . but they were unfortunate in having a leader who left in New Spain estates and a pretty wife, a noble and excellent lady, which were not the least causes for what was to happen.

So this gay band of jolly fellows, consecrated to the rapine of what was a sleepy Indian village of dried-mud houses basking in sunshine, started off on their great crusade with all the excitement of a rush to the Yale Bowl for the Harvard game. They were the mighty legions of Spain, indomitable, indefatigable, and, without really knowing it, ethically indecent. They were out to whip Cibola, chanting the Santiago, the battle cry of Spain, and it must have been quite a shock to the cheering section back home when the score turned out to be something like Cibola 74, Mexico City 0.

The ridiculous, however, is not a fair light in which to examine this expedition. The values may have been empty and the machinations Machiavellian, but it took brave and hardy men to buck the mountains and deserts of Mexico and Arizona. It must have been a long and impressive safari, colorful to the extreme, with eleven hundred soldiers and as many animals winding slowly northward over this raw land. Coronado took his leadership very seriously, and while he had no talent for this kind of thing, he was not aware of this lack. He considered himself another Cortes.

The importance of this expedition to the history of the American Southwest cannot be over-estimated, for it was these soldiers who brought the first cattle and horses into a country that was to make these animals its trademark. The great-umpty-great grandparents of Kansas City beef, a million-dollar industry, were brought into a desert country by an unknowing soldier who came only because he hoped to take a million in gold out of it. Coronado, of course, could have only the immediate point of view. And the farther he went, the more disappointing it became. This arida zona looked worse with every league. He could give it nothing but a name; and those who came later contracted it to Arizona.

At last the party came to Cibola. And here was bitter disappointment, for not only was the city barren of gold, but Coronado himself was wounded. And his injury occurred not in glorious battle as he led his troops against the resistant phalanx of the Cibolans—far from it, for the Cibolans offered no resistance at all. Coronado was hurt merely by falling off his horse. No sooner had he marched ingloriously into Cibola than he had to spend a month in bed. One can almost wish that this news could have been flashed to the once-valiant Cortes. It might have won a sardonic smile.

While the Spaniards tarried at Cibola—Zufii pueblo in New Mexico—some pertinent questions must have been fired at Fray Marcos de Niza. How the Franciscan justified his former appraisal of Cibola is not known. Rut the priest’s reputation was pretty well shattered and his name never figured again in any explorations of New Spain. He died, unwept and unsung except by those members of his own order, in Jalapa, Mexico, some years later. But he died with a smile on his lips, for he well knew that the Cibola of bis dreams was the carrying of the faith into the unknown— and this he had accomplished by his overly-optimistic report to Mendoza. The church had made good use of the state.

Coronado sent his second-in-command, Pedro de Tovar, to investigate other Indian pueblos to the northwest with the faint hope that these might be the real Cibola after all. Tovar reached Oraibi and Walpi and found the Hopis chary but friendly. Castaneda states:

It is governed like Cibola . . . This was where they [the Spaniards] obtained information about a large river, and that several days down the river there were some people with very large bodies.

Since these men of opposite worlds could not converse in a common tongue, it is doubtful if the Castaneda version of a Hopi legend was at all clear. The Hopis believe that deep in the Grand Canyon is the orifice from which man emerged upon earth. Hence the canyon leads into the nether world and the home of the gods. This is what they were trying to tell the Spaniards, but to get that from the Shoshonean roots into a romance language with any clarity was understandably beyond Castaneda.

Tovar had been ordered to meet these people, but he had no orders to explore further. So, being a good soldier, he returned with this tale to Coronado, whereupon the incapacitated leader sent another officer to investigate the river. This man was Don Garcia Lopez de Cardenas. He took twelve men, making thirteen in all, and they went to Oraibi, picked up Hopi guides, and sought the great river.

That this party of Spaniards in 1540 were the first white men to look into the Grand Canyon, there is no doubt. But the exact spot where they stood and looked into the brink is not fixed in geography. It has been identified as anywhere from Marble Canyon near Lee’s Ferry to Havasu Point, twenty miles west of the present Grand Canyon village and Bright Angel Trail. Probably these extremes are wrong. Judging from Castafieda’s record again, it is likely that the Hopis led the Spaniards to one of the points near Desert View. This, in some respects, is more stunning than the view from the present hotel and lodge at the head of Bright Angel Trail, which are located deep in the side canyon caused by the Bright Angel fault. But no matter where one looks for the first time from the south rim, he is due for a shock, and the Spaniards were no exception. Castaneda wrote conservatively and was never guilty of willful exaggeration. His matter-of-fact style is often naive, but never mendacious. Since he was not one of the thirteen who went to the canyon, this part of his journey was written from hearsay. Pedro de Sotomayor, being a kind of under-secre-tary to the chronicler, went with Cardenas on this side trip, and from Sotomayor Castaneda reconstructed the junket and wrote:

. . . they came to the banks of the river, which seemed to be more than three or four leagues above the stream which flowed between them. This country was elevated and full of low twisted pines, very cold, and lying open toward the north [an excellent description of the Coconino Forest] so that, this being the warm season, nobody could live there because of the cold. They spent three days . . . looking for a passage down to the river, which looked from above as if the water was six feet across, although the Indians said it was half a league wide [There is some discrepancy here, as half a Spanish league would be one and two-fifths miles and the Colorado is actually about a hundred yards wide, or about the length of an American football gridiron]. It was impossible to descend, for after these three days Captain Melgosa and one Juan Galeras and another companion, who were the three lightest and most agile men, made an attempt to go down at the least difficult place, and went down until those who were above were unable to keep them in sight.

They returned about four o’clock in the afternoon, not having succeeded in reaching the bottom on account of the great difficulties which they found, because what seemed to be easy from above was not so, but instead very hard and difficult. They said that they had been down about a third of the way and that the river seemed very large from the place that they reached, and that from what they saw the Indians had given the width correctly.

Those who stayed above had estimated that some huge rocks on the side of the cliffs seemed to be about as tall as a man, but those who went down swore that when they reached these rocks they were bigger than the great tower at Seville.

They did not go farther up the river [meaning that the whole party did not try to follow the rim any farther] because they could not get water. Before this they had to go a league or two inland every day late in the evening in order to find water, and the guides said if they should go four days farther, it would not be possible to go on, because there was no water within three or four days, for when they [the Hopis] travel across this region themselves, they take with them women loaded with water in gourds, and bury the gourds of water along the way to use when they return, and besides this, they travel in one day what it takes us two days to accomplish.

This was the Tizon River, much nearer its source than when Melchior Diaz and his company crossed it.

The last casual sentence needs some explanation. It should be remembered that the meticulous Mendoza never did anything by halves. He sent not only a land expedition to conquer Cibola, but also one by sea. It was supposed in 1540 that both routes would run parallel, and in order to ease the land burden, many supplies were sent by boat under the command of Hernando de Alarcon up the west coast. The two expeditions were supposed to keep in contact by overland messengers.

Because the geography of North America was so little understood in 1540, Mendoza did not know that Coronado would be marching due north, and that Alarcon would be following a north-northwest coast line. The farther they went, the greater became the distance between them.

Alarcon, nevertheless, did not intend to fail the Viceroy. When he reached the head of the Sea of Cortes, which had frightened Ulloa, he kept on and fought his way up the Colorado River. The current was too strong for him to sail against, so his crews (he had three ships) were obliged to tow the boats from the bank. The naked Cocopah Indians looked on in amazement, but Alarcon knew that Coronado was counting on the supplies on shipboard and he dared not fall back at the first adversity.

Alarcon was not at all sure of Cocopah friendship, but a clever ruse outwitted the natives. He discovered that they worshipped the sun. Promptly he made them understand that he had come from the sun and was the god of it. It was fast thinking and the Cocopahs swallowed the bait, hook, line, and sinker. After that they quarreled for the honor of towing the Sun God upstream in his water chariot, and the Spanish crews relaxed on the decks while the red men sweated.

It is not established how far up the Colorado the Cocopahs pulled the Spaniards, but it is certain from Alarcon’s records that he ascended beyond the site of the present city of Yuma and even beyond the mouth of the Gila. And nowhere did he hear any news of Coronado, who was in New Mexico more than four hundred miles to the east. The two expeditions never made contact, though they came surprisingly close to it.

Coronado sent another side party overland to find Alarcon, and a man named Melchior Diaz was in charge of this. At Alarcon’s farthest penetration upstream, he had a large cross constructed and gave the natives many small crosses made of sticks and parchment. He called the Colorado el Rio de Buena Gum (River of Good Guidance) in honor of the motto on Viceroy Mendoza’s coat of arms. Then he sailed south again and gave up as a bad job any further effort to act as a source of supply for Coronado.

He had been gone about a month when the Melchior Diaz party found the river and discovered Indians wearing crosses made of sticks and parchment. Thus Diaz learned that Alarcon had come and gone. Diaz marched up and down the river and called it Rio del Tizon when he observed natives warming themselves with a firebrand. Diaz did not find the large cross, but the fact that the two parties came as close as they did to actual contact was remarkable in itself. While exploring the adjacent desert country and fighting the hostile Mojaves, Diaz was mortally wounded, and he died before he could get back to report to Coronado. When his men returned to Cibola with this news, it was one more blow for the gentleman from Salamanca, who was now heartily sick of the whole thing.

Castaneda’s narrative was written in full at a later date. The Diaz men had returned, and this is why he says that the stream in the bottom of the Grand Canyon was the Tizon River. He knew that Diaz had called it this, but he did not know that Alarcon had previously given it another name.

Coronado was at last able to travel again. So far everything had been a failure. De Niza was a palpable liar; Cibola was made of mud; Tovar found the Hopi villages likewise; Cardenas found a river so inaccessible that it was useless; Diaz had lost his life in a futile effort to meet Alar-con; and not an ounce of gold had been found anywhere.

More rumors came from beyond the blue New Mexican horizon—rumors of a great golden city in a place called Quivira. Coronado heaved a long sigh and the eleven hundred, less a few casualties, marched again.

For two years the Spaniards traveled and searched and hoped—and none of the hopes were realized. They worked their way over the plains as far east as Kansas—and it was all, to them, a vast, empty, worthless, God-forsaken country. In 1542 they straggled back to Mexico City. Some left their bones in the American Southwest; some were wounded from skirmishes with the war-like Apaches and Comanches; some were ill; and all were discouraged and exhausted. Coronado, erstwhile emulator of Cortes, was disgraced and discarded. No proud welcome awaited him, and his pretty wife had lost her heart to another man.

Nothing succeeded with Viceroy Mendoza except success. Pie had no time for dolts and fools. He was so disgusted that he would not even see the gentleman from Salamanca. Coronado had been given every chance to find Cibola and he had failed. The fault was entirely Coronado’s. In a report on the expedition, Mendoza had credited all discoveries to the leader, regardless of who saw the prize first, Since Coronado had explored for two years and discovered nothing, he got credit for that, too. About all that the Viceroy could glean that this piffling picaroon had done was to discover a big hole in the ground. Well, it was too bad his men hadn’t carried him all the way from Zufii, bed and all, and tossed him into this canyon grande. And with that the Viceroy looked around to find a new hero.

Coronado died a broken man at the age of forty-nine. He never understood that he had opened a vast new area, rich in natural resources beyond estimation. He had none of the fight and fire of Cortes; he humbly accepted his failure. He never knew how to tell a Viceroy to go to hell. And if he had known, it wouldn’t have helped. For Cortes knew full well how to do that, and he was a broken man, too.

This pattern is not uncommon with the soldiers who pioneered America, and it is especially true for the explorers of the American Southwest. It was a stark and terrible country, and it was greater than any single man. The land was there when they came and there when they left. It left its mark on its invaders, but it took hundreds of years before the invaders could leave their mark on it.

The silence at the abysmal brink of the Grand Canyon was not broken again by white men for two hundred and thirty-six years. This awful and gorgeous maw was a hostile force that the soldier could not conquer or even understand. He preferred not to think of it and the very existence of the Grand Canyon was ignored and forgotten. The Spanish soldier knew how to attack an enemy, but before the Grand Canyon country he was as powerless as an infant Its deep and mysterious silence was the sound for retreat.


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