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April 23, 1541, Coronado left the Tiguex country and marched toward the northeast, to the plains where lay the rich land of Quivira. Every member of the army accompanied the general, for no one was willing to be left behind when such glorious prospects of fame and fortune lay before them.

A few of the officers suggested the wisdom of verifying these Indian tales in some measure before setting the whole force in motion and abandoning their only sure base of supplies. It seems as if there must have been other reasons influencing Coronado beyond those revealed in Castañeda’s narrative; but, if so, we do not know what they were. The fear lest he might fail to accomplish any of the things which had been hoped for, the absence of results on which to base a justification for all the expense and labor, the thought of what would await him if he should return empty-handed, are perhaps enough to account for the determination to risk everything and to allow no possible lack of zeal or of strength to interfere with the realization of the hopes inspired by the stories of Quivira.

Guided by the Turk, the army proceeded to Cicuye, and in nine days more they reached the buffalo plains. Here began the long march which was to be without any guiding landmarks. Just where, or how, or how far the Spaniards went, I can not pretend to say. After a month and more of marching—very likely just thirty-five days—their patience became exhausted. A second native of the plains, who accompanied the Spaniards from the pueblo country, had declared from the first that the Turk was lying, but this had not made them trust the latter any less. When, however, the Indians whom they found living among the buffalo herds began to contradict the stories of their guide, suspicion was aroused. The Turk, after much persuasive cross-questioning, [p396] was at last induced to confess that he had lied. Quivira, he still insisted, existed, though it was not as he had described it. From the natives of the plains they learned that there were no settlements toward the east, the direction in which they had been traveling, but that toward the north, another good month’s journey distant, there were permanent settlements. The corn which the soldiers had brought from Tiguex was almost gone, while the horses were tired and weak from the constant marching and buffalo chasing, with only grass for food. It was clearly impossible for the whole force to attempt this further journey, with the uncertain prospect of finding native tribes like those they had already seen as the only incentive. The general held a council of his officers and friends and decided to select 30 of the best-equipped horsemen who should go with him and attempt to verify the new information.

After Coronado had chosen his companions, the rest of the force was sent back to Tiguex, as Castañeda relates. The Indians whom they met on the plains furnished guides, who led the soldiers to the Pueblo settlements by a more direct route than that which the Turk had taken. But the marches were short and slow so that it was the middle of July before they were again encamped alongside the Rio Grande. So far as is known, nothing of interest happened while they were waiting there for the return of the general.

Coronado and his companion horsemen followed the compass needle for forty-two days after leaving the main force, or, as he writes, “after traveling across these deserts for seventy-seven days in all,” they reached the country of Quivira. Here he found some people who lived in permanent settlements and raised a little corn, but whose sustenance came mainly from the buffalo herds, which they hunted at regular seasons, instead of continuously as the plains Indians encountered previously had done.[75]

Twenty-five days were spent among the villages at Quivira, so that Jaramillo, one of the party, doubtless remembered correctly when he said that they were thereafter the middle of August.[76] There was [p397] nothing here except a piece of copper hanging from the neck of a chief, and a piece of gold which one of the Spaniards was suspected of having given to the natives, which gave any promise of mineral wealth, and so Coronado determined to rejoin his main force. Although they had found no treasures, the explorers were fully aware of the agricultural advantages of this country, and of the possibilities for profitable farming, if only some market for the produce could be found.

Students of the Coronado expedition have very generally accepted the location of Quivira proposed by General Simpson, who put the northern point reached by Coronado somewhere in the eastern half of the border country of Kansas and Nebraska. If we take into account the expeditions which visited the outer limits of the Quivira settlements, this is not inconsistent with Bandelier’s location of the main seat of these Indians “in northeastern Kansas, beyond the Arkansas river, and more than 100 miles northeast of Great Bend.”[77]

It is impossible to ignore the question of the route taken by Coronado across the great plains, although the details chiefly concern local historians. The Spanish travelers spent the summer of 1541 on the prairies west of the Mississippi and south of the Missouri. They left descriptions of these plains, and of the people and animals inhabiting them, which are of as great interest and value as any which have since been written. Fortunately, it is not of especial importance for us to know the exact section of the prairies to which various parts of the descriptions refer.

From Cicuye, the Pecos pueblo, Coronado marched northeast until he crossed the Canadian river, probably a little to the east of the present river and settlement of Mora.[78] This was about the 1st of May, 1541. From this point, General Simpson, whose intimate knowledge of the surface of the country thirty-five years ago makes his map of the route across the plains most valuable, carried the line of march nearly north, to a point halfway between Canadian and Arkansas rivers. Then it turned east, or a trifle north of east, until it reached one of the tributaries of the Arkansas, about 50 miles or so west of Wichita, Kansas. The army returned by a direct route to Cicuye or Pecos river, striking that stream nearly east of Bernalillo-Tiguex, while Coronado proceeded due north to Quivira on the Kansas-Nebraska boundary.

Mr. Bandelier has traced a route for the march across the plains which corresponds with the statements of the contemporary narratives somewhat more closely than does that of General Simpson.[79] Crossing [p398] Canadian river by a bridge, just south, of where Mora river enters it, the Spaniards, according to Bandelier, marched toward the northeast for ten days, until they met the first of the plains Indians, the Querecho or Tonkawa. Thence they turned almost directly toward the rising sun. Bandelier thinks that they very soon found out that the guides had lost their reckoning, which presumably means that it became evident that there was some difference of opinion among the Indians. After marching eastward for thirty-five days or so, the Spaniards halted on the banks of a stream which flowed in the bottom of a broad and deep ravine. Here it was computed that they had already traveled 250 leagues—650 miles—from Tiguex. They had crossed no other large river since leaving the bridge over the Canadian, and as the route had been south of east, as is distinctly stated by one member of the force, they had probably reached the Canadian again. There is a reference to crossing what may have been the North Fork of the Canadian, in which case the army would now be on the north bank of the main river, below the junction of the two forks, in the eastern part of Indian Territory. Here they divided. The Teya guides conducted the main force directly back to the Rio Grande settlements. Coronado went due north, and a month later he reached a larger river. He crossed to the north bank of this stream, and then followed its course for several days, the direction being northeast. This river, manifestly, must be the Arkansas, which makes a sharp turn toward the northeast at the Great Bend, east of Fort Dodge, flowing in that direction for 75 miles. Jaramillo states that they followed the current of the river. As he approached the settled country, Coronado turned toward the north and found Quivira, in northeastern Kansas, not far south of the Nebraska boundary.[80]

The two texts of the Relacion del Suceso differ on a vital point;[81] but in spite of this fact, I am inclined to accept the evidence of this anonymous document as the most reliable testimony concerning the direction of the army’s march. According to this, the Spaniards traveled [p399] due east across the plains for 100 leagues—265 miles[82]—and then 50 leagues either south or southeast. The latter is the reading I should prefer to adopt because it accommodates the other details somewhat better. This took them to the point of separation, which can hardly have been south of the Red River, and was much more likely somewhere along the North Fork of the Canadian, not far above its junction with the mainstream. From this point, the army returned due west to Pecos river, while Coronado rode north “by the needle.” From these premises, which are broad enough to be safe, I should be inclined to doubt if Coronado went much beyond the south branch of Kansas river if he even reached that stream. Coronado probably spent more days on his march than General Simpson allowed for, but I do not think that he traveled nearly so far as General Simpson supposed. Coronado also returned to Cicuye by a direct route, which was about two-thirds as long as that of the outward march. The distances given for various portions of the journey have a real value because each day’s march was paced off by a soldier detailed for the purpose, who carefully recorded the distance covered.