The World of the Pueblos
The World of the Pueblos
The search for El Dorado, the fabled land of gold, brought Spanish conquistadors north from New Spain into the harsh deserts of the North American Southwest. They were searching for the Seven Lost Cities of Cibola, cities said to have been founded as long ago as the eighth century by a legendary bishop who had fled west from Lisbon, Portugal, in fear of the Moors and Islam. When a Franciscan friar, Fray Marcos of Niza, returned to Mexico City from a preliminary expedition in 1539 with stories of a “faire citie with many houses builded in order” and gold and silver in abundance, the viceroy of New Spain quickly organized a major expedition under Francisco Coronado. The expedition ranged widely over the Southwest and far into the interior plains from 1540 to 1542. The disappointed Spaniards found no gold, however, just crowded pueblos “looking as if [they] had been crumpled all up together.” Coronado and his men visited Zuñi pueblos, as well as Pecos in what is now northern New Mexico, where the pueblo was “square, situated on a rock, with a large court or yard in the middle, containing the steam rooms. The houses are all alike, four stories high. One can go over the whole village without there being a street to hinder.” Coronado returned to Mexico City empty-handed from a seemingly desolate and unproductive land. The pueblos were largely forgotten until a sparse population of Catholic friars and then colonists moved northward into the arid lands about a century later. By the early nineteenth century, the great pueblos of Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde were but vague memories, except to the Native Americans who claimed ancestry from them, and were never visited by outsiders. In 1823, José Antonio Vizcarra, governor of the Mexican province of New Mexico, rode through Chaco Canyon with a small military party during a campaign against the local Navajo. He was in a hurry and contented himself with the observation that the great houses were built by unknown people. Sixteen years later, an American government expedition against the Navajo descended into the Chaco Canyon drainage and sighted “a conspicuous ruin” on a low hill.
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