Chapter XI. Of Ancient Zuñi, and how the Conquistadores Came to Discover It


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WITH Zuñi and its picturesque life, the general reader is probably more particularly acquainted than with any of the other pueblos, and this because of the writings of the poet-ethnologist, Frank H. Cushing, who for a time made a Pueblo Indian of himself and dwelt, some thirty years ago, in this terraced town. Though inevitably undergoing modernisation, it is still a place of unique interest, the largest of all the pueblos and, perhaps, the most tenacious of the ancient way.

Zuñi was the first of the Pueblo communities to be seen by Old World eyes, and those eyes were a negro's—one Estévanico's. The way of it was this:

In 1536, there unexpectedly appeared in the Spanish settlements of Mexico, out of the northern wilderness, three Spaniards and this negro, the


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sole survivors of Narvaez's expedition of discovery and conquest which, eight years before, had landed in Florida and later perished miserably of swamps and Indians—all but these four, who had worked their painful way across the entire southern border of what is now the United States. Their tale excited the gold-hunting Spanish in Mexico to the desire of exploring that more northern country; but as the wanderers had come out of it empty-handed, it was thought prudent by the Spanish viceroy in Mexico, before fitting out an expedition, to despatch a small reconnoitring party to ascertain in advance if an expedition were worth while.

This reconnaissance, which was made in 1539, was placed in charge of a Franciscan friar, known to history as Fray Marcos de Niza. His companions were another Franciscan Brother (who, however, soon became ill and had to be left behind), several Mexican Indians, and the negro, Estévanico aforesaid, as guide. After a little, the negro was sent on before, with orders to make report, from time to time, by Indians of what he found. These reports proved very glowing and contained, among other matter, the assertion that a month's journey


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ahead was a province called Cibola, containing seven large cities, all subject to one lord. In them were houses of one, two, and three stories, built terrace-like, and the chief's residence was of four stories; there were many decorations on the houses; the people were well-clothed; and there was wealth of turquoise.

Thus encouraged, the friar pushed on, accompanied by his Indians, all footing it across the midsummer desert of what, in our day, is South-Eastern Arizona. Now and again an Indian runner brought back word from Estévanico of his safe progress until, at last, Fray Marcos was within an easy journey of Cibola's seven cities. Then a great blow befell. Fugitive Indians of Estévanico's escort on a sudden appeared with news of the negro's arrival in Cibola and of his murder there. The African, it seems, left so long to his own devices, had grown arrogant, and upon reaching Cibola, although hospitably received, had set about mistreating the women. This infuriated the men of the pueblo, who incontinently repaid the outrage with death;1 for, as Coronado


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records, "their women the Indians love better than themselves."

Under these circumstances, the place being in a fever of resentment, prudent Brother Marcos decided that, if he was to deliver a report of his findings to the viceroy, he had best stay out of Cibola. Nevertheless, if he might not enter the towns of his quest, he did, like Moses on Nebo's peak, get at least a glimpse of the Promised Land from a hilltop overlooking the great plain in which the villages lay. On that height, he tells us, he planted a wooden cross, symbol of the faith that was some day to be preached there, and then, descending, beat his retreat towards Mexico, carrying such stories of settled towns and fertile valleys that the Spanish adventurers, when they heard the tale, felt sure of the presence there of gold and other treasure.


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So was the ground cleared for the memorable expedition of Coronado, which set out from Mexico the next year (1540) and resulted in the discovery of all the Pueblo towns, which, at that time, numbered upwards of three score. The Cibola of Fray Marcos was what we now know as Zuñi;2 but the seven little cities of that early day are now but rubbish heaps, of interest only to the archæologist and the curio hunter. The present pueblo, ancient as it looks, is post-Coronadian, a consolidation of the original seven, but its human life is essentially unchanged from what that knightly servant of the Spanish King observed and recorded.


Notes

1. How thoroughly the negro's offence aroused the Pueblo men is indicated by Coronado's statement in a letter sent a year later from Cibola to the Viceroy Mendoza, to the effect that, although he had been in the pueblo some time, he had not been permitted to see any of the women, whom the men kept under guard from the strangers. This letter, "given from the Province of Cevola and this city of Granada [Coronado's new christening of the pueblo in which he was quartered], the 3d of August, 1540, by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, who kisses the hand of his most illustrious lordship, the Viceroy," gives a very graphic and readable account of Pueblo life as the first Spaniards found it. It will be found in Winship's Coronado.

2. For an interesting account of the identification of Zuñi with the sixteenth-century mystery of the "Seven Cities of Cibola," see Bandelier's Cibola in The Gilded Man.

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