History of American Exploration from 1540 to 1542

About the history of American exploration from 1540 to 1542 including voyages of de Vaca and de Orellana.


1540-1542 With 300 "vicious young gentlemen" as well as Indians, blacks, and horses, 29-year-old Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, governor of New Spain's New Galicia, began a trek across the Southwest looking for the Seven Cities so glowingly described by Fray Marcos. He found one-an adobe pueblo, but the Spaniards were refused entry by the Zunis, who pelted the invaders with rocks. Melchior Diaz was sent back to locate the expedition's ships, under command of Hernando de Alarcon. Diaz discovered letters buried under a tree where the Colorado and Gila rivers meet stating that Alacron had given up waiting and had returned to Mexico. Though Diaz started to explore Colorado, he died of a lance wound before he could accomplish much. Another party, led by Garcia Lopez de Cardenas, discovered the Grand Canyon. Meanwhile, yet another group reached as far inland as Tigeux, which became its winter headquarters, and also Cicuye, an Indian village on the Pecos River. There El Turco, an Indian servant, told them of his hometown to the east, where the inhabitants ate from gold bowls. The Spanish governor followed El Turco all the way to his village in what is now Kansas, but it turned out to be just an ordinary Wichita Indian encampment. El Turco was strangled for his lies. In spite of all the land he explored, Coronado had found no gold, so he received no honors when he arrived back in New Spain.

1541-1542 Cabeza de Vaca, governor of the Rio de la Plata territory (parts of present-day Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia), led a cross-country expedition into Asuncion, governed by Domingo de Irala, who had married the seven daughters of a cacique. There Indian girls had been forced into prostitution by the Spanish. Consequently, Asuncion was called "Mohammed's Paradise." The incorruptible Cabeza de Vaca took command and ended such practices.

1541-1542 'C'est un diamant de Canada!" ("It's a Canadian diamond!") is an ironic French expression that typifies the fruitless search for Saguenay, continued by Cartier on his third voyage. This time the expedition was under the command of Jean Francois de la Roque, Sieur de Roberval, who was to follow after Cartier. Cartier established a settlement above Quebec, then set off down the St. Lawrence to look for the fabulous land. At Montreal, some Indians showed him with a map made of sticks that even more rapids lay ahead, so he gave up. When the Indians became hostile in the summer of 1542, Cartier decided to take his group home, but Roberval, whom they found in Newfoundland, ordered them to return to Canada. Cartier refused and sailed back to France.

1541-1542 With one-eyed Francisco de Orellana (1500?-1549), about 200 Spaniards, thousands of chained Indians, and a herd of pigs, Gonzalo Pizarro searched for the "Land of Cinnamon." He headed east from Quito into the Amazon Basin and found the Coca River, which flows into the Napo, a tributary of the Amazon. When supplies ran low, Orellana and 50 men took a boat they had built downriver to look for food, but when they found it, they were unable to sail back against the current and continued on, the first Europeans to navigate the Amazon River as far as the Atlantic. At one point, they ate their belts boiled with herbs to stay alive. They claimed to have seen a tribe of Amazons and certainly did see a cannibal village with dead men's heads affixed to gibbets. Pizarro and his men had turned back and were able to return to Quito--pale, in rags, with rusted swords.

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