This Day In History: The Spanish Explorer Of The Southern US dies (1554)

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On this day in history in 1554,  the Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez Conronado died. He died because of injuries received in battle and from his years of exploration.  Coronado had tried for many years to find fabled cities of gold in the modern south-western United Sates. Despite years of exploration, he was  never to find the fabled cities of gold.

Coronado was typical of the Spanish conquistadors who had conquered an Empire in the Americas for Spain. They were motivated by the desire to spread Christianity, especially Catholicism, land and above all gold. In Mexico, he and other Spaniards had heard stories of cities that were rich in gold, north of Mexico. Now the Spanish had discovered many cities in the Americas that were rich in gold and they expected to find more. Coronado was able to gain support and backing from the Mexican Viceroy to launch an expedition to conquer the fabled city of gold.

Coronado began to explore the region some quarter of a century earlier. He led a substantial force with some 300 soldiers and up to one thousand Indians. Coronado left Mexico and explored across the Rio Grander in search of the legendary Seven Cities of Gold, that were believed to be located somewhere in what is now the south-west of the US. These cities were purported to have walls of gold and that they held immense treasures. Coronado arrived in the area between New Mexico and Arizona and he found one of the purported cities. He immediately attacked the ‘city’ and captured it. However, he was to be disappointed as the city only turned out to be only a poor Indian village.  Disheartened he considered abandoning his searches but by chance, he captured an Indian who claimed to come from an area that was rich in gold and other precious metals. The Indian said he came from Quivara, in what is now the Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma. Coronado marched to this area and meets the Quivara people whom he discovered were only poor Indians who lived in huts.  Once again there was no gold.  Enraged he ordered the execution of the Indian who told him there was gold in the area. After strangling the Indian for having lied to him, Coronado gave up and returned to Mexico where he was widely seen as a failure and ridiculed.

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Coronado and his expedition from a 19th century painting

He believed that he had failed and that his expedition had all been a mistake.  Coronado expedition did not discover gold but he did succeed in providing the Spanish and the rest of the world  the first information on the south-west of the United States and he paved the way for future Spanish settlement of the area. In the centuries after his death the Spanish began to slowly settle the areas that Coronado explored.

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