Francisco Vásquez de Coronado (1510-1554) was a Spanish explorer and colonial official who is credited with one of the first European explorations of Arizona, New Mexico, and the Great Plains of North America.
Francisco Vásquez de Coronado was born in Salamanca, the second son of Juan Vásquez de Coronado, a wealthy nobleman. As a younger son, Francisco could not inherit the family estates. He therefore went to the court of Charles I, where he secured a place in the service of Don Antonio de Mendoza, newly appointed viceroy of Mexico.
After his arrival in Mexico in 1535 Coronado rose rapidly in viceregal favor. In 1537 he married the wealthy Doña Beatriz de Estrada, daughter of the former treasurer of New Spain. In 1538 Mendoza appointed the young Coronado governor of the northern province of Nueva Galicia.
These were exciting times. The famous survivor of the Narváez expedition, Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, arrived at the viceregal court with stories he had heard of seven great cities in "Cíbola," far to the north. Mendoza, anxious to locate and conquer this reputedly golden land, dispatched Father Marcos de Niza and Cabeza de Vaca's companion Estevánico north. When Father de Niza returned in 1539 with a report that he had found the cities, the viceroy immediately outfitted a great expedition and named Coronado to lead it.
In February 1540 the army of more than 230 mounted Spanish gentlemen, 62 foot soldiers, several friars, and nearly 1,000 Indian allies headed north from Compostela. After a long march across northern Mexico and southern Arizona the army reached the Zuñi pueblo of Hawikuh in July. This spot Father de Niza identified as Cíbola, but to the disappointed Spaniards it was only "a little unattractive village" of mud and stone. Although discouraged by the lack of golden cities, Coronado dispatched several small exploring parties. One group marched west to the Colorado River, while another, under Pedro del Tovar, succeeded in reaching the Moqui (Hopi) pueblos north of Zuñi. A third group under García López de Cárdenas pushed northwest to the Grand Canyon. A fourth party under Hernando de Alvarado explored the upper Rio Grande. In the winter of 1540 Coronado moved his army to the Rio Grande and conquered the Tiguex pueblos near present-day Albuquerque.
At the Tiguex villages the Spaniards heard of a rich land called Quivira somewhere to the north. In the spring of 1541 Coronado set out to try to find this fabled kingdom. Marching eastward across the Pecos River, he turned north onto the Llano Estacado, the great grassland plains of North America; but when he arrived at Quivira on the Arkansas River, he discovered only a poor Indian village. Sickened by his failure to find gold and riches, Coronado left three missionaries to convert the Indians of Quivira and returned to Tiguex, where he gathered the remnants of his army and turned homeward. He arrived in Mexico in 1542, a bitter and disappointed man. For the next 2 decades the Spaniards forgot the northern lands and concentrated on developing their Mexican possessions.
In 1544 Coronado faced charges of neglect of duty and cruelty to the Indians and lost the governorship of Nueva Galicia. He returned to Mexico City, where he managed his estates and served as regidor, or member of the city council, until his death.
Further Reading on Francisco Vásquez de Coronado
The diaries and documents pertaining to Coronado's expedition can be found in such collections as George P. Winship, ed., The Coronado Expedition, 1540-1542 (1896; repr. 1964), and George P. Hammond and Agapito Rey, eds., Narratives of the Coronado Expedition, 1540-1542 (1940). The best biography of Coronado is Herbert E. Bolton, Coronado: Knight of Pueblos and Plains (1949). Also helpful are Arthur Grove Day, Coronado's Quest: The Discovery of the Southwestern States (1940; repr. 1964), and his brief Coronado and the Discovery of the Southwest (1967).