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Prior to the coming of the Spanish in 1541, the Kansas country was known only to the Indians nomadic bands of hunters and warriors, and the indigenous tribes. Of the latter, Coronado mentions three, the Wichita, Kansa, and Pawnee, and vaguely infers that there may have been more. 


For a decade, the "seven cities of Ci-bola" had been in the minds of Spanish conquistadors; to find and plunder these supposed centers of wealth had been the cherished hope of many adventurers. But only Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, Governor of New Galicia in New Spain, Mexico, comes into the Quivira quest, which grew out of the disappointing Ci-bola experience and is the colorful prelude to Kansas history. 

In 1539 Friar Marcos de Nica, whom Coronado had sent on a preliminary search for the Ci-bola cities, returned with the good news that he had espied one of these wonderful places of "high houses," though only from a safe distance. An expedition was organized, and 300 Spanish "men of quality" gathered at the rendezvous, Compostela (on the Pacific coast below lower California), by Shrovetide of 1540. With Coronado as captain-general, the army started northward, crossed the mountains, and spent the whole of that year in futile marches through what are now Arizona and New Mexico. Winter overtook them at Tiguex (near Bernalillo, New Mexico). By this time they had found that the cities of Ci-bola were merely poor pueblo structures; but one of Coronado's captains, Hernando de Alvarado, while on a minor search, had been told by "an Indian slave" whom he called "The Turk," that far beyond "toward Florida" lay the slave's own land, Quivira, which was rich in gold and silver. He could guide the white strangers to it. 

In the spring of 1541 (April 23) Coronado and his army left Tiguex, hoping to find in Quivira the precious metals Ci-bola could not supply. The Turk led them through "the cow country" into western Texas so far southeastward that at a village on the Colorado River the captain-general called a halt. Their supplies had fallen dangerously low. For 37 days they had followed the Turk and, to conserve their grain supplies, had lived mainly on buffalo meat. Tiguex was "250 leagues" away, and the unknown country beyond might prove barren. Coronado divided his force. Taking with him only "thirty horsemen and six footmen," he headed north to pursue the quest, sending the remainder of his men back to Tiguex to await his return. 

With Coronado went the Turk and another guide. Across the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma Coronado proceeded "until he reached Quivira." His report, October 20, 1541, to his king, reads: "I traveled for forty-two days after I left the force, living all the while solely on the flesh of the bulls and cows which we killed . . . and going many days without water and cooking the food with cow dung, because there is no other kind of wood in all these plains, away from the gullies and rivers, which are few." The chronicler Suceso placed Quivira as "in the fortieth degree," but another authority, mapping the "Province of Quivira," puts it in the thirty- ninth, between the Arkansas River at Great Bend and the confluence of the Republican and Kansas Rivers, at Junction City. 

It was near this place that the Turk was strangled for his treachery, after Coronado had heard that he had tried to incite the Quivira people (Wichita tribe) to kill them. The Turk might have been killed anyway, for by this time one fact was obvious to the angry captain-general: Quivira contained no gold or silver. "These provinces . . ." Coronado wrote, "are a very small affair . . . there is not any gold, nor any metal at all in that country." But he found some satisfaction "on seeing the good appearance of the earth. . . . The province of Quivira ... 950 leagues from Mexico," he conceded, "is the best I have seen for producing all the products of Spain, for besides the land itself being very fat and black, and being well watered by the rivulets and springs and rivers, I found prunes like those of Spain, and nuts and very sweet grapes and mulberries." 

After a stay of 25 days in Quivira, Coronado and his men returned to Tiguex, but by a shorter southwestward route, approximating what later became the Santa Fe Trail. In the summer of 1542, "with less than a hundred men," he reached Mexico City, where he was shorn of his rank and soon died. But the seemingly fruitless journey introduced the horse to the Plains and, by right of discovery, established Spanish claim in the entire western region. 

A Franciscan monk, Juan de Padilla, who had been with Coronado in Quivira, returned to that country in 1542, but was killed by the Indians. For a half century Spanish interest in the far north remained inactive. Then, in 1594, Francisco Levya de Bonilla and Antonio Gutierrez de Humana ventured beyond the Arkansas, traveling northward for twelve days and reaching another river. On their way back they were overtaken and murdered. Don Juan de Onate, in 1601, was the next Spaniard to traverse Quivira. It is probable that more than a century passed before another Spanish party came so far north. 

In the late decades of the seventeenth century, however, the French from Canada began to show active interest in the land west of the Mississippi. In 1673 Louis Jolliet, a trader, accompanied by Father Jacques Marquette, descended the Mississippi River from the mouth of the Wisconsin River to below the mouth of the Arkansas;on the return trip they left the Mississippi at the Illinois. So it hardly seems likely that, as some suppose, Jolliet and Marquette ever reached the Kansas region. Neither did La Salle who, in 1682, descended the Mississippi from the Illinois to its mouth, returning along the same rivers. But there is a Marquette map upon which some Kansas authorities seem to recognize certain topographical features descriptive of Kansas. It was probably drawn from information gained by interrogating Indians with whom the priest came in contact. Marquette in this way learned much about native peoples he never visited. On his map of the Missouri and Kansas region, he marked the names Ouemessourit (Missouri), Kanza (Kaw), Ouchage (Osage), Paneassa (Pawnee), and some others. 

In 1694 "Canadian traders were among the Osage and Missouri tribes," and during the next few years the Spanish authorities in New Mexico had several indications that the French traders were on good terms with the Pawnee. By 1706, when Juan de Ulibarri headed a Spanish expedition out of Santa Fe, it was apparent that the French, operating from the north, were becoming rivals of the Spanish of New Mexico for the trade of the interior.