History Timeline 1500s

Above: Painting, entitled Discovery of the Mississippi, by William H. Powell, 1847, is located in the Rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Right: Giovanni de Verrazzano, 1889, engraving by F. Allcarini, Tocchi, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Giovanni da Verrazzano

Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1500s


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  • Timeline

  • Detail - 1539

    November 17, 1539 - Precursor to Coronado expedition is sent toward Cibola under Melchior Diaz, searching for the Lost Cities of Gold mentioned by a previous Marcos de Niza expedition into New Mexico and Arizona.

    Zuni Pueblo

    He's not nearly as well known as the man who came after in his own explorations of the desert southwest for the Lost Cities of Gold, yes, Coronado, but Melchior Diaz, the Spanish explorer, actually came first. Okay, maybe not exactly first either. That could be claimed by Marcos de Niza. Geez, maybe somebody associated with the Narvaez expidition, or even somebody else altogether in a smaller fashion, can make their own claims, but there's no doubt that Coronado got the benefit of better public relation and later notoriety, albeit good and bad. However, that does not mean that Melchior Diaz in 1539 or Marcos de Niza early in that year don't have their own historic role. Let's look into them further.

    Marcos de Niza Expedition

    Marcos de Niza was a Francisan friar who had emigrated to the New World in 1531. He served as a priest in the Americas, i.e. Peru and Guatemala, before making his way to Sonora, Mexico, and Mexico City in 1537. He had been intrigued by the Narvaez expedition and the words of Álvar NĂșñez Cabeza de Vaca, one of the four survivors of that exploration. Cabeza de Vaca had spoken of the wealth of the areas explored, his fondness for the indigenous peoples, and perhaps the viability of towns of gold, known as Apalachen and Aute, during the Narvaez exploits. Neither had gold.

    This did not stop Marcos de Niza from wanting to explore the continent north of Mexico City. On March 21, 1539, de Niza and his small party, including the slave Estevanico, crossed the River Mayo in Sonora, then into the territory of the state of Arizona, becoming what is thought to be the first Europeans to explore that land. Estevanico, restless from the slow progress of the party, had gone ahead, but was killed by the Zuni Indians at or nearby Hawikuh, or Hawikku (Cibola). The party, three days to two weeks behind, reached near the Zuni-Cibola complex and the rumoured Seven Lost Cities of Gold (Hawikuh (Cibola), Halona, Matsaki, Quivira, Kiakima, and Kwakina, a seventh city has not been named) Marcos de Niza only sighted Cibola from a distance, afraid that a further approach with his small party would gain the same fate as Estevanico. His report, written with more speculation than accuracy, noted that it was a town the size of Mexico City, perhaps accurate, and seemed gold worthy.

    Melchior Diaz Expedition

    Once Marcos de Niza had returned from his initial 1539 exploration, noting that Cibola, a city the size of Mexico City, existed and may be that city of gold, the Viceroy of New Spain, Antonio de Mendoza, wanted to know more. On November 17, 1539, he sent Melchior Diaz, then in charge of the city of San Miguel de Culiacan, with a small expedition, to see if the reports were true, as well as to prepare for a larger expedition that would be headed by Coronado the next year.

    However, Melchior Diaz did not return by the date that Coronado's expedition was scheduled to start. Coronado left without him on February 23, 1540 and without the Diaz reports on what to expect. They met en route, with both expeditions joining together. Diaz became a trusted ally of Coronado, a captain often sent ahead to explore villages, secure feed for their livestock, and make contact with the fleet of Coronado, headed by Hernando de Alarcon, in the Gulf of California. Melchoir Diaz is often credited with becoming the first European to cross the Colorado River, near Yuma, Arizona, and may have reached the Imperial Valley.

    Marcos de Niza would also accompany Coronado in 1540 as a guide and find out, first hand, that Cibola was not one of the Lost Cities of Gold. He was branded a liar due to the mistake, and sent back to Mexico in disgrace in July 1540, escorted by Melchior Diaz.

    Hawikuh (Cibola) remains a National Historic Landmark, as part of the Zuni-Cibola Complex and is located on the Zuni Indian Reservation. You can visit the Zuni Reservation by first stopping at the Visitor Center for orientation, tours, and permits. Photography is discouraged.

    Image above: Zuni Pueblo, 1873, Timothy O'Sullivan. Courtesy Library of Congress. Image below: Painting of what is thought the Battle for Hawikuh Pueblo by Coronado in 1540, Jan Mastaert. Courtesy Rijksmuseum via Wikipedia Commons. Source info: Planetary Science Institute; National Park Service; Zuni Pueblo Department of Tourism; Texas State Historical Association; Wikipedia.

    Battle of Hawikuh

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