Francisco Vázquez de Coronado y Luján was a Spanish conquistador and explorer, who led a large expedition from Mexico to present-day Kansas through parts of the southwestern United States between 1540 and 1542. Coronado had hoped to reach the Cities of Cíbola, often referred to now as the mythical Seven Cities of Gold, which is a term not invented until American gold-rush days in the 1800s. His expedition marked the first European sightings of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River, among other landmarks. His name is often Anglicized as "Vasquez de Coronado".
Quivira is a place named by explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado in 1541, for the mythical "Seven Cities of Gold" which he never found. The location of Quivira is believed by most authorities to be in central Kansas near present-day Lyons extending northeastern to Salina. The Quivirans were the forebears of the modern day Wichita Indians and Caddoan tribes, such as the Pawnee or Arikara.
"…The Turk said that in his country there was a river in the level country which was 2 leagues wide, in which there were fishes as big as horses, and large numbers of very big canoes, with more than 20 rowers on a side, and that they carried sails, and that their lords sat on the poop under awnings, and on the prow they had a great golden eagle," according to Castenada. "He said also that the lord of that country took his afternoon nap under a great tree on which were hung a number of little gold bells, which put him to sleep as they swung in the air. He said also that everyone had their ordinary dishes made of wrought plate, and the jugs and bowls were of gold."
Coronado wanted to believe The Turk’s tales. On the Great Plains, he might find an opportunity to salvage his expedition, so far, a failure. He had found no treasure at the Zuni or Hopi villages. He saw the possibility of repaying the investors slipping away. He saw his big chance to get rich fading. He fretted about a tarnished reputation in Mexico and Spain. Now, he thought, he had to investigate The Turk’s stories of treasure as a matter of duty to the Spanish monarchy.
Coronado’s party headed east along the Rio Grande, reaching the pueblos near present-day Albuquerque in September. The traveling party spent the winter camped in this land of pueblos. An Indian (thought to be a captured Pawnee) known as El Turco described another rich city, known as Quivara, even farther to the northeast. In April, 1541, the Coronado party set off to find Quivira.
Scholars cannot recreate the exact route, but it is generally agreed that the whole party headed through panhandle of present-day Texas.The next month, Coronado and a small party went north through the panhandle of present-day Oklahoma until they reached a trading center on the Kansas River in what is now central Kansas. Coronado’s men describe the site as filled with mud huts and dogs. There was no sign of transportable riches of any kind. The wealth of Quivira had still not materialized. Some of Coronado’s men reportedly threw down their armor on the spot. This armor, found centuries later, gives important clues to the route of the Coronado expedition.
Eighty years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Spanish explorers visited Kansas. Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, seeking gold in New Mexico, was told of Quivira by an Indian called the Turk. Here were "trees hung with golden bells and people whose pots and pans were beaten gold." With 30 picked horsemen and a Franciscan friar named Juan de Padilla, Coronado marched "north by the needle" from a point in Texas until he reached Kansas. Here he found no gold, but a country he described as "the best I have ever seen for producing all the products of Spain." The Turk confessed he had deceived the Spaniards and one night was strangled. For 25 days in the summer of 1541 Coronado remained among the grass-hut villages of the Quiviran Indians, then returned to New Mexico. Padilla went with him, but the following year came back to Quivira as a missionary. Later he was killed by the Indians, the first Christian martyr in the present United States. Near this marker is the site of one of the largest villages of the "Kingdom of Quivira."
Coronado's expedition remains a paradox of history and an object lesson in not capitalizing on a discovery. On the one hand, they carried out an amazing exploration of central North America several generations before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock! Undeniably, they displayed great courage and stamina. But because they had the idea that "wealth" must be gold and jewels, and because their economic system required that they get rich quick instead of creating self-sustaining agricultural settlements, they did not recognize value in the fertile valleys and mineral-rich hills through which they passed. It was only because of their own world view that they were forced to return home as failures. They were among the first exponents of the peculiarly American slash-and-burn dream of getting rich quick at the expense of the land and the people, without any long term investment - and because of this perverted dream, they failed to recognize their possibilities for success and pursued their own path toward self-perceived failure.