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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.
Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1500s
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Detail - 1540
1540-1541 - The first war between native Americans and Europeans in the southwest occurs between troops of Coronado and the Tiwa Indians. The Tiguex war was waged near Bernalillo, New Mexico against the dozen pueblos of the tribe on the American and Mexican sides of the Rio Grande River.
Francisco Vazquez de Coronado was exploring for Spain, looking for gold, and not making lots of friends amongst the Indian tribes of the southwest. His expedition had encountered the Tiwa Indians around the Rio Grande. The Tiwa or Tanoan tribes were clustered in a dozen or so pueblos on both sides of the river, each pueblo a multi-story town with up to one thousand people, reaching to what would be today's Bernalillo, New Mexico, north of Alburquerque, and the surrounding northern Rio Grande region. Coronado would refer to only one of the pueblos by name. His term was Coofer (Ghufoor) or Tiguex; a later reference by others in the 17th century noted it as the Santiago Pueblo. It was one of the largest of the twelve or more Tiwa pueblos.
Coronado had three hundred and fifty soldiers plus three hundred and fifty other Europeans in his party and over one thousand Indian allies from other tribes (Aztec, Purapecha) from Mexico. He also brought along seven thousand head of livestock. Yes, Coronado was searching for gold, as well as silver, silk, spices, and lands to turn into Spanish estates.
Once in what is today's New Mexican territory, Coronado attacked the Zuni at their Hawikuh (Cibola) Pueblo, was almost killed, but prevailed. He was visited by a delegation from the Pecos Pueblo one hundred and fifty miles to the east, who attempted to befriend and offered passage to the buffalo herds of the Great Plains. Coronado sent his aide, Hernando de Alvarado, twenty-three Spanish soldiers, and other Mexican Indians to visit the Pecos Pueblo and see the herds. Pecos was a pueblo of the Towa.
What Alvarado found along the way was the best land of the Tiwa, irrigated acreage around the Rio Grande, north of today's Albuquerque; he suggested that Coronado make his winter headquarters on Tiwa land. Coronado agreed, moving to his chosen location, the Coofer pueblo. At first, the leader of the Tiwa known as Xauian to his people, to the Spanish by the name Juan Aleman, agreed to allow Coronado to build shelters, straw huts, near the pueblo. By winter, with his men unsatisfied with the temporary quarters, Coronado commandeered the structures of the town, forcing the Tiwa (Tewa) people to flee with only their clothes. Of course, this did not please Xauian or his people.
With Coofer as his military base, Coronado traded for supplies from the other pueblos nearby (Keres and Tewa), but when the Tiwa began to refuse due to their own needs, Coronado confiscated the rest, and abused their women. The Tiwas responded by killing forty to sixty horses and mules from the expedition in December 1540.
That was enough for Coronado to declare all out war. For the next year, his men attacked the various pueblos in the region. From Kuaua, now interpreted as Coronado Historic Site, the only actual Tiguex War battle site open to the public, to the battle at Arenal, where all Tiwas engaged in the struggle were killed. At Moho several miles north of Coofer, their last stand atop a large mountain, the Tiwa held out for eighty days as Coronado sieged the pueblo from January to March. Low on supplies, the Tiwas tried to escape. Almost all of the Tiwa warriors and women were killed; albeit a few of the women were spared to become Coronado's slaves. In all, hundreds of Tiwa soldiers and civilians had been killed in the Tiguex War by historic estimates; Coronado lost fewer.
Coronado would leave in the spring to explore the Great Plains, allowing the Tiwa to return. Once the expedition itself came back from their forays east, the Indians of the region battled again, around both the Rio Grande and other areas, losing their high mountain pueblo of Pecos, seven thousand feet in elevation. Guerrilla warfare was waged from their mountaintop hiding places against Coronado through the second winter encampment until Coronado decided in April 1542 to abandon his strategy in Tiwa and Towa territory and return to Mexico. The Spanish would not return for thirty-nine years.
Coronado National Memorial and Coronado Historic Site
Today, vestiges of the area history that surrounds the Tiwa versus Coronado war can be visited at various sites. The Coronado Memorial along the border with Mexico in Arizona tells the story of Coronado's expedition, including the Tiguex War. There are not lasting remnants of the war or expedition there, but a visit to the vistas over the San Pedro River can revive the thoughts of two thousand Spaniards and Allies laying waste or their way to mythical gold cities. The park was founded on August 18, 1941. There is a visitor center, exhibits, trails, bookstore, and campsites at the park.
Coronado Historic Site - Located in Bernalillo at the northernmost pueblo of Kuaua, this site is the only open and interpreted site where you can learn about the Tiguex War on the actual location of one of the battles. There were 1,200 people living in this pueblo upon Coronado's arrival. Established in 1325 A.D., the site was refound in the 1930's with an original kiva and fourteen murals which are available to visit. It became the first New Mexico State Monument in 1935. The Kuaua Pueblo existed after Coronado's expedition left for Mexico in 1542, but was abandoned after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The site contains a Visitor Center and is open year round.
The ruins of Coofer still exist, located on the west side of the Rio Grande River opposite the south end of the town of Bernalillo. There is a debate among historians about whether the pueblo of Coofer is actually today's site of the Santiago Pueblo or another of the Bernalillo area pueblos lost to modern development.
Who was Coronado?
Francisco Vazquez de Coronado was the Spanish explorer who in 1540-1542 headed an expedition into New Mexico and the Great Plains states looking for one of the Seven Lost Cities of Gold named Cibola. He became the first European to site the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. The expedition crossed the boundaries of what today are eight states; Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas.
Coronado had emigrated to the New World from Spain in 1535, headquartered in New Galicia as its Governor within four years. New Galicia (Nuevo Galicia) would be
today's Mexican states of Jalisco, Sinaloa, and Nayarit. His expedition began in the city of Compostela on February 23, 1540. He failed to find Cibola, or another city of expected wealth, Quivera, returning to Mexico in April of 1542. The expedition had cost him a fortune, with crimes of war brought against him resulting from battles with the Indians found along the journey, but he was acquitted.
Image above: "Coronado Sets Out for the North," painting by Frederic Remington, 1890-1900. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Photo below: "Coronado's March," drawing by Frederic Remington, 1897. Courtesy Library of Congress. Source info: "Looking Back 500 Years: The Tiguex War," Ron Stewart, National Park Service; "The Tiguex War of New Mexico," legendsofamerica.com; "Coofor and Juan Aleman," Richard Flint and Shirley Cushing Flint, Newmexicohistory.org; Coronado Historic Site; Wikipedia.
History Photo Bomb
Ponce de Leon meeting the Indian tribes of Florida. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
Christopher Columbus, by Ridalfo Ghirlandaio, 1520. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
America's Best History where we take a look at the timeline of American History and the historic sites and national parks that hold that history within their lands.
Photos courtesy of the Library of Congress, National Archives, National Park Service, americasbesthistory.com & its licensors.