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The Kingdom of Quivira

 

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Coronado's Expedition to 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 Coronado Expedition was sent out from New Spain for that purpose in 1540, and while in winter quarters near the present city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Coronado learned from an Indian slave 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 of 1536.

 

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 seen.

 

 

Quivira Kansas


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

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 maize."

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.

The "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."

 

From the 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 Indians, which tribe, of all the plains Indians, were accustomed to thatch their huts with straw.

 

Map of Quivira ExpeditionsBandelier, 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 Indian tribe, 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."

 

If 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."

 

 

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