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Document Number: AJ-086
Author: Castañeda de Nájera, Pedro de, 16th cent.
Title: Journey of Coronado, 1540-1542
Source: Winship, George Parker (editor and translator). The Journey of Coronado, 1540-1542, from the City of Mexico to the Grand Canon of the Colorado and the Buffalo Plains of Texas, Kansas and Nebraska, As Told by Himself and His Followers. (New York: A.S. Barnes & Company, 1904). Pages i-xxxiv, 1-251.
Pages/Illustrations: 286 / 9 (6 of tables)
Citable URL:

Author Note

Castaneda’s account ranks with the log of Columbus (AJ-062) and the Relation of Soto’s expedition by “A Gentleman of Elvas” (AJ-021) as one of the most important documents on the early European exploration of North America. Unfortunately, little is known about the author himself beyond what he says in this document. He may have been born in Spain, and he lived in the Mexican town of Culiacan from which the expedition set out. He is listed on the muster roll as departing with two horses, one coat of mail, and “native weapons.”

Expedition of 1540-1542

In 1538, Cabeza de Vaca appeared unexpectedly in Mexico (see AJ- 070), sparking interest in the distant territories through which he’d wandered. After hearing Cabeza de Vaca’s story and Fr. Marco's report in 1539 (AJ- 072), Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza outfitted a major military expedition under the command of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado to investigate the northern regions. The main body of the Coronado expedition went overland, some four hundred Spaniards and 1,300 Indian servants, slaves and other “allies” departing at the end of February 1540 with Fr. Marco as their guide. At the same time, supply ships under the command of Hernando de Alarcon sailed north up the California coast, which the Spanish mistakenly thought curved eastward, in order to replenish Coronado’s troops on the trail.

Over the next twenty-seven months, the Coronado expedition divided at times and looped back on itself, so its route is best described on the attached reference map. It first went north to Zuni/Cibola, and sent a smaller party west that stumbled upon the Grand Canyon. Another contingent, hoping to meet Alarcon at the coast, went even further west, to the mouth of the Colorado River (which Alarcon had sailed up for fifty miles), where they found messages from him but never made contact. The main part of the expedition turned east and northeast, through the pueblo country and across the Rio Grande, Pecos, Brazos, Red, and Arkansas rivers, before turning back. In little more than two years, Coronado’s troops visited and described the Southwest from Baja California to the central plains, including parts of present-day California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. En route they had contacted (and in many cases brutally oppressed) the Pima, Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, Tewa, Mohi, Keres, Tejas, Apache, and Wichita Indians.

The Spanish authorities were disappointed. Hoping to repeat their Mexican experience, they had assumed Coronado would find gold, silver and other riches in the Seven Cities of Cibola or the Kingdom of Quivira. Instead he found wide deserts, impassable canyons, and inhabitants who resisted invasion at almost every turn. When, during the same decade, the expedition of Hernando de Soto proved similarly unprofitable (see AJ-021 through AJ-024), the Spanish turned their back on the northern interior for the next forty years.

Document Note

The Spanish text of his memoir is available in The Coronado Expedition, 1540-1542, by George Parker Winship (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1896; U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology. Fourteenth Annual Report, 1892-93) and English translations of all the important documents relating to Coronado are printed in Narratives of the Coronado Expedition, 1540-1542 edited and translated by George P. Hammond and Agapito Rey (Albuquerque, The University of New Mexico Press, 1940). The edition of Castaneda’s text given here is from a popular edition of Winship’s translation, The Journey of Coronado, 1540-1542… (New York, A.S. Barnes & company, 1904).

Other Internet and Reference Sources

The site “Coronado’s Exploration into the American Southwest” at contains background information, maps and texts.

The Estevanico Society in Abilene, Texas maintains a Web site at with excellent primary and secondary materials, as well as useful links to other resources.

A useful timeline of the years 1527-1547 that shows the relationships between the travels of Narvaez, Cabeza da Vaca, DeSoto, Ulloa, and Coronado is available form the University of Arizona at

More information can also be found at

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