The Kingdom of Quivira
Coronado's Expedition, Frederic Remington, 1898.
As early as 1530 the Spanish authorities in Mexico
heard reports of the "Seven Cities of Cibola," which were reputed to be
exceedingly opulent, but it was not until ten years later that any systematic
attempt was made to find them and exploit their wealth. The
Expedition was sent out from New Spain for that purpose in 1540, and while
in winter quarters near the present city of
Coronado learned from an
of a province teeming with wealth somewhere in the interior. This province
subsequently became known as Quivira. There is some question as to whether the
name "Quivira" is of Indian origin.
Shea suggests that the original name might have been "Quebira," from the Arabic
word "quebir" -- meaning great -- and that it was probably first used by the
survivors of the Narvaez expedition who found their way to Mexico in the spring
The province of Quivira has been claimed by nearly
every state in the Missouri
Valley, and it was only in the late 19th Century that it has been given anything
like a definite location by archaeologists. Acting upon the information received
from the Indian,
Coronado set out in April, 1541, for the province, which he finally reached
after wandering over the plains for more than two months.
As the season began to wane he returned to his
quarters of the preceding winter, where on October 20, he wrote to the king of
Spain a letter, in which he said:
"The province of Quivira is 950 leagues from Mexico. Where I reached it is
in the 40th degree. The country itself is the best I have ever seen for
producing all the products of Spain, for besides the land itself being very fat
and black and being well watered by the rivulets and springs and rivers, I found
prunes like those of Spain, and nuts, and very good sweet grapes and mulberries.
I had been told that the houses were made of stone and were several storied;
they are only of straw, and the inhabitants are as savage as any that I have
They have no clothes, nor cotton to make them of; they simply tan the hides of
the cows which they hunt, and which pasture around their village and in the
neighborhood of a large river. They eat their meat raw like the Querechos and
Tejas, and are enemies to one another and war among one another. All these men
look alike. The inhabitants of Quivira are the best of hunters and they plant
Jaramillo's account confirms the description given by Coronado and says the only
metal found in Quivira consisted of some iron pyrites and a few pieces of
copper. As the main object of the visit was to find gold and silver, the
disappointment of the Spaniards can be readily imagined.
In that half-forgotten era,
With the avarice of old,
Seeking cities he was told
Had been paved with yellow gold,
In the kingdom of Quivira --
Came the restless Coronado
To the open Kansas plain,
With his knights from sunny Spain;
In an effort that, though vain,
Thrilled with boldness and bravado.
League by league, in aimless marching,
Knowing scarcely where or why,
Crossed they uplands drear and dry,
That an unprotected sky
Had for centuries been parching.
But their expectations, eager,
Found, instead of fruitful lands,
Shallow streams and shifting sands,
Where the buffalo in bands
Roamed o'er deserts dry and meager.
Back to the scenes more trite, yet tragic,
Marched the knights with armor'd steeds;
Not for them the quiet deeds;
Not for them to sow the seeds
From which empires grow like magic.
Thus Quivira was forsaken;
And the world forgot the place
Through the lapse of time and space.
Then the blue-eyed Saxon race
Came and bade the desert waken.
-- Eugene Ware
"prunes" mentioned by Coronado were no doubt the wild plums that abound along
the streams in central and western
Kansas; the "fat," black and well watered land answers the description of
the soil about the junction of the Smoky Hill and Republican Rivers; and the
statement that Quivira was in the 40th degree bears out the belief that the
ancient province was somewhere in central or northeastern Kansas, as the northern boundary of the state is the 40th parallel of north
latitude. Castaneda, the historian of the expedition, bears out the description
of the houses given by Coronado. He says: "The houses are round, without a wall,
and they have one story like a loft, under the roof, where they sleep and keep
their belongings. The roofs are of straw."
fact that the people lived in straw houses, or at least in huts with roofs of
straw, Hodge identifies the inhabitants of Quivira as the Wichita
tribe, of all the plains Indians, were
accustomed to thatch their huts with straw.
in his Gilded Man, after a careful analysis of the various accounts of
Quivira, sums up the results of his research as follows: "I have shown that
Quivira was in central Kansas, in
the region of Great Bend and Newton, and a little north of there. It is also
clear that the name appertained to a roving
and not to a geographical district. Hence, when I say that Coronado's Quivira
was there, the identification is good for the year 1541, and not for a later
time. The tribe wandered with the bison, and with the tribe the name also went
hither and thither."
Bandelier is correct in his deductions, as he probably is, the fact that the
name wandered with the tribe may account for the various locations of the
province of Quivira, though, as he shows, the Quivira visited by Coronado in
1541 was unquestionably somewhere within the present limits of the State of
Kansas. Bandelier also says: "With
the return to Mexico of the little army that Coronado commanded, the name of
Cibola lost its fascination. But Quivira continued to exercise an unperceived
influence on the imagination of men. Notwithstanding, or perhaps because
Coronado had told the unadorned truth concerning the situation and conditions of
the place, the world presumed that he was mistaken, and insisted on continuing
the search for it."
many of the Spaniards in Mexico held to the view that vast wealth was to be
found in Quivira, no attempt was made to visit the province for more than half a
century after the expedition or Coronado. Then came the expedition of Bonilla in
1595 and Oñate in 1601, but both of these were undertaken without adequate
preparations and conducted in such a lax and desultory manner that nothing was
After the insurrection of 1680 and the reconquest
New Mexico by Diego de Vargas in 1692-94 the name
Quivira, as applied to an
interior province or the tribe inhabiting it, seems to have been lost. But the
recollection of the golden stories was not allowed to perish, and the myth was
transferred to some ruins in what is now Socorro County, New Mexico, about 150
miles south of
Santa Fe, which ruins became popularly known as "La Gran
To quote again from Bandelier: "The treasure city had lain in ruins since the
insurrection of 1680; but its treasures were supposed to be buried in the
neighborhood, for it was said there had once been a wealthy mission there, and
the priests had buried and hidden the vessels of the church. Thus the
kingdom of Quivira of 'the Turk' was metamorphosed in the course of two
centuries into an opulent Indian mission, and its vessels of gold and silver
into a church service. But where Quivira should be looked for was forgotten."
In the late 19th century efforts were made to
ascertain the location of the lost Quivira. The translation of Castaneda's
narrative of the Coronado Expedition by Winship; the work of the Hemenway
archaeological expedition; the investigations and researches of Simpson, Hodge
and others, who have studied and carefully compared the directions and distances
given in the relations concerning the movements of Coronado, all point to the
region between the Arkansas and Kansas Rivers as the site of the ancient
Jacob V. Brower, an archaeologist of St. Paul,
Minnesota, made three trips to Kansas for the purpose of determining if possible the
location of the original Quivira. The first of these trips was made in November,
1896, the second in March, 1897, and the third in March, 1898. Mr. Brower
explored the valleys of the Kansas and Smoky Hill Rivers from the mouth of Mill
Creek in Wabaunsee County to Lyon Creek in Dickinson County, and also the
valleys of the Arkansas River in the vicinity of Great Bend. Through the testimony of
stone implements -- a method that has been criticized as untrustworthy -- he
determined the location of six ancient villages. Of these 11 were in
Pottawatomie County, 10 in Wabaunsee, 11 in Riley, 20 in Geary, 4 in Dickinson,
6 in McPherson, and 1 each in Marion, Rice and Barton Counties. On October 29,
1901, the Quivira Historical Society was organized at Alma, the county seat of
Wabaunsee County. One of the principal objects of the society was to erect
monuments marking certain historical sites, and on August 12, 1902, the first of
these monuments was unveiled at Logan Grove, near Junction City. More monuments
were also erected in Dickinson, Riley and Wabaunsee Counties.
Today, a historical marker is located on U.S.
Highway 56 between Lyons and Chase in Rice County. The marker reads:
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
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
A museum is also dedicated to the site in
Lyons, Kansas. The Coronado-Quivira Museum displays artifacts and
information on early inhabitants, Spanish explorers, the Sante Fe Trail, and the
coming of homesteaders and permanent settlers. It is located at 105 West Lyon in
Coronado's description of "straw houses" led
and historians to believe he had encountered
Indians, who built houses like the one above.
of Kansas, updated March, 2017.
the Article: The majority of this historic text was published in Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History,
Volume I; edited by Frank W. Blackmar, A.M. Ph. D.; Standard Publishing
Company, Chicago, IL 1912. However, the text that appears on these page is not verbatim,
as additions, updates, and editing have occurred.
Legends' General Store
America National Parks - A collection of video essays about the
National Park Service and the magnificent resources they have been
mandated to protect. This series is more than just abut the several dozen
officially designated "National Parks", but also includes the estimated
401 official units of the National Park System including National
Monuments, Preserves, Historical Parks, Historic Sites, Battlefield Parks,
Military Parks, Battlefields, Battlefield Sites, Memorials, Recreation
Areas, Seashores, Lakeshores, Rivers, Reserves, Parkways, Historic &
Scenic Trails, Cemeteries & Heritage Areas.