Quivira is a place named by Spanish conquistador Francisco Vásquez de Coronado in 1541, for the mythical Seven Cities of Gold that he never found. The location of Quivira is believed by most authorities to be in central Kansas near present-day Lyons extending northeast to Salina. The Quivirans were the forebears of the modern Wichita and Caddoan nations, such as the Pawnee and Arikara. The Indigenous city of Etzanoa, which flourished between 1450 and 1700, is thought to be part of Quivira.
In 1540, Spaniard Francisco Vásquez de Coronado led a large expedition north from Mexico to search for wealth and the Seven Cities of Cibola. Instead of wealth, he found Indigenous farmers living in an array of communities and villages in what are today Arizona and New Mexico. These were the Apache, Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, and Rio Grande Pueblo nations of today.
As Coronado arrived at the Rio Grande, he was disappointed by the lack of wealth among the Puebloans, but he heard from an Indigenous informant dubbed “The Turk” of a wealthy nation named Quivira far to the east, whose leader supposedly drank from golden cups hanging from the trees. Hearing of this, Coronado led an expedition of more than 1000 Spanish and Indigenous individuals onto the Great Plains in 1541. The Turk served as the expedition’s adviser.
On his journey, Coronado traversed the Staked Plains, home to two Indigenous nations: the Querecho and Teya. He was heading southeast when the Teyas told him that the Turk was taking him the wrong direction and that Quivira was to the north. It appears the Turk was luring the Spaniards away from New Mexico with tales of wealth in Quivira, hoping perhaps that they would get lost in the vastness of the Plains. Coronado sent most of his slow-moving expeditionary force back to New Mexico. With 30 mounted Spaniards, Indigenous persons, priests, the Turk and Teya captives forced into service, Coronado changed course northward in search of Quivira. After a march of more than 30 days, he found a large river, probably the Arkansas, and soon met several Indigenous bison hunters. They led him to Quivira.
Description of Quivira
Coronado found Quivira "well settled...The land itself being very fat and black and being very 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." It was, he said, the best land he had seen during his long trek north from Mexico. Coronado spent 25 days in Quivira and traveled about 65 miles (25 leagues) from one end of the country to the other. He found nothing more than straw-thatched villages of up to 200 houses each and fields of corn, beans, and squash. He found no gold, other than a single small piece, which he speculated the Indigenous owner acquired from a member of his own expedition.
The Quivirans were described by the Spaniards as being a "large people of good build" with many of the men being over six feet tall. Both sexes wore minimal attire. They seemed like giants compared to the Spaniards.
Coronado was escorted to the border of Quivira at an area called Tabas where the neighboring nation of Harahey began. He summoned the "Lord of Harahey" who, with a retinue of nearly 200, came to meet the Spanish. The Harahey delegation were "all naked—with bows and some sort of things on their heads, and their privy parts slightly covered. It was the same sort of place... and of about the same size as Quivira." Disappointed at his failure to find wealth, Coronado turned his face toward New Mexico and marched back across the plains, met up with the rest of his army there, and the following year returned to Mexico. Before leaving Quivira, Coronado ordered the Turk executed by strangulation. The Coronado expedition had failed in its quest for gold.
Coronado left behind in New Mexico several Catholic priests and their helpers, including Friar Juan de Padilla. Padilla journeyed back to Quivira with a Portuguese assistant and several Indigenous converts. The friar and most of his companions were soon killed by the Quivirans, apparently because he wished to leave their country to visit their enemies, the Guas. The story was reported by the Portuguese and Indigenous survivors.
Later expeditions to Quivira
In 1594, Francisco Leyba (Leyva) Bonilla and Antonio de Humana (Umana) made another attempt to find the Quivira of Coronado, though it was denounced as unauthorized by Spanish officials. Only Jusepe Gutierrez, a Nahua returned from this journey. He related that Leyba had killed Umana in a quarrel and that he (Jusepe) had deserted the expedition.
Following this, in 1601, the governor of New Mexico, Juan de Oñate, undertook another expedition in search of Quivira. He found settlements of the Escanjaque and Rayado in the Central Great Plains, but no gold or silver. He learned that Leyba and other members of the Umana and Lebya expedition had been killed by Indians. In 1606, 800 of these "Quivirans" were said to have visited Oñate in New Mexico to trade.
Quivira is again mentioned in a 1634 expedition of Captain Alonzo Vaca, who found it 300 leagues east of New Mexico (this suggests more than 1000 miles). Another reputed expedition was undertaken in 1662 by Diego Dionisio de Penalosa, who allegedly found a large settlement he called a city, but an examination of his account by a modern scholar has concluded that the story is fanciful. The enemies of the Quivirans in all these accounts were the Escanjaques. In 1675 and 1678 came "two Spanish royal orders for the conquest of Quivira".
The location of Quivira and the identity of the Quivirans
Archaeological evidence has suggested that Quivira was located near the Great Bend of the Arkansas River in central Kansas. The remains of several Indigenous communities have been found near Lyons along Cow Creek and the Little Arkansas River along with articles of Spanish manufacture dating from Coronado's time.
The Quivirans were almost certainly the Wichita. Coronado's meager descriptions of Quivira resemble the Wichita communities of historic times. The Quivirans seem to have been numerous, based on the number of settlements Coronado visited, with a population of at least 10,000 persons. They were good farmers as well as hunters. Judging from Coronado's description, they were a healthy, peaceful people.
The nation of Harahey Coronado found on the borders of Quivira may have been located on the Smoky Hill River near the present city of Salina, Kansas. The citizens of Harahey were probably the Pawnee, a nation whose people are related to the Wichitans.
The next confirmed European visitor to the Great Bend region after Coronado was Étienne de Bourgmont. In 1724, along with a company of Kaw and Indigenous explorers, he traveled westward from the Missouri River to a large Indigenous community believed to have an Apache population. The village was near Lyons, precisely where Quivira had been almost 200 years earlier.
The original Quivirans had moved to eastern Kansas and south to Oklahoma. Their reasons for moving may have been to escape the encroachment of the Apache, whose expansion created war and hostilities among the nations of the Great Plains. It also appears that the Wichita of the 18th century were fewer in number than the Quivirans of the 16th century. It is probable that smallpox and other diseases introduced by Europeans took their toll on the Quivirans as they did on many of the Indigenous people of the Americas.
The origin of the word "Quivira" is uncertain. The inhabitants of Coronado's Quivira called themselves "Tancoa" and "Tabas." These two names are similar to later Wichita subsects called "Tawakonis" and "Taovayas."
Quivira in cartography
On early 16th- and 17th-century maps of North America, a large region including what is now Kansas, Oklahoma, southeastern Colorado, northeastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle was called "Quivira".
The last remnants of the formerly extensive cartographic region of Quivira today is the city of Lake Quivira and the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Kansas. In addition, the "Quivira Council" of the Boy Scouts serves the area of southwestern Kansas around Wichita; the central part of the area that was traditionally called Quivira. The first several yearbooks printed by the University of Kansas were entitled Quivira Also, a major arterial road runs through the Johnson County suburbs of Kansas City named "Quivira Road".
An abandoned pueblo in Torrance County, New Mexico, has been given the name "La Gran Quivira" ("the Great Quivira"). The community was located within Tompiro territory during the early period of the Spanish conquest, when the town was called Pueblo de Las Humanas. The remains of the Gran Quivira settlement are today part of Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument.
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