Coronado Expedition stamp
US #898 – This stamp features a reproduction of Gerald Cassidy’s painting, Coronado and His Captains.  The top right corner of the stamp features the Coronado coat of arms.

On February 23, 1540, Francisco Vazquez de Coronado embarked on a large expedition through the American Southwest in search of the Seven Cities of Gold.  Though he didn’t find the mythical cities, his was the first European expedition to see a number of sights in the area.

Francisco Vazquez de Coronado was born in Salamanca, Spain, in 1510, just as Spain was discovering and exploring the New World.  In 1535, he first traveled to New Spain (present-day Mexico) with Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza.  Three years later, he was appointed governor of New Galicia.  In this position, he heard numerous stories from native Indians about the Seven Cities of Cibola, reportedly filled with gold.  In 1539, he sent Friar Marcos de Niza to search for the city.  De Niza returned and said that he hadn’t entered the city, but saw it standing on a high hill and appeared large and full of riches.

Coronado First Day Cover
US #898 – Classic First Day Cover

Coronado set out from Compostela, Mexico on February 23, 1540.  He led a large expedition of about 400 European soldiers, up to 2,000 Mexican Indians, four Franciscan friars, and a number of family members.  They traveled north to Culiacan and then followed the coast to the Sinaloa River.  After finding a pass through the Huachuca Mountains, they followed the San Pedro River to Chichilticalli.  This was the settlement that de Niza had seen from a distance and claimed to be Cibola.  Upon entering, they found it was a small village of Zuni pueblos.

In spite of this disappointment, Coronado continued his expedition.  They traveled along the present-day Arizona-New Mexico border to the Little Colorado River and then the Zuni River.  Coronado’s starved expedition then reached the Zuni village of Hawikuh.  When the Zuni’s refused them entrance, fighting broke out, and the expedition then stayed there for several weeks.  While recuperating from injuries there, Coronado sent some of his men out to find the Colorado River.  Some of them did, and also became the first Europeans to see the Grand Canyon.  They attempted to climb down the canyon to cross the river, but it was too deep, and they had to turn back.

US #741 – Coronado’s men were the first Europeans to reach the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Coronado’s expedition then reached the Rio Grande, where they again fought with the natives in the Tigeux War.  In early 1541, an Indian they called the Turk told Coronado about a rich settlement called Quivira (in present-day Kansas) to the east.  Along the way, Coronado was astonished at the large number of bison and met a settlement of Apaches.  He eventually reached Quivira, which was a large settlement, but not filled with riches as he’d hoped.  He spent some time in the area asking about other possible wealthy cities but had no success.  Coronado then decided to start the journey back to Mexico.

In all, Coronado’s expedition had traveled through the future American states of New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.  They were the first Europeans to see the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River, as well as other notable landmarks.

Rio Grande airmail stamp
US #C134 – Coronado set up winter quarters along the Rio Grande.

Coronado returned to Mexico empty-handed, disappointing the Spanish government.  He lost the governorship, was investigated for his conduct as a leader, and was largely bankrupted from the expedition.  He died from an infection on September 22, 1554.  Several years after Coronado’s death, people began to realize just what an impressive journey he had made and how valuable the territory he claimed could be.

Click here to view a map of Coronado’s expedition.

FREE printable This Day in History album pages
Click here to download a PDF of today’s article.
Click here for a binder and other supplies to create your This Day in History album.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

Did you like this article? Click here to rate:
4.7/5 - (21 votes)
Share this Article


  1. This must have been one of the longest & far-reaching explorations on foot ever – and of immense significance to the eventual European occupation of the southwest. Strange how they were so strongly enticed by the promises of pie-in-the-sky golden riches. Great map of the expedition’s route, too.

    1. Just like many today: They all think it is about the money rather than what can I do to make the be helpful to those living and making things better for all.

  2. I salute you and thank you, Mr Jim Vornberg. If only more of our selves would see the world in a different light, and not this massive greed and corruption we find ourselves entangled, in our current society.

  3. The first European visit to north America– the cost? Just millions of native people, maybe 2 or 3 empires, all that destruction and death for some shiny metal– personally I think we lost far more than what ever might have been gained. Gold by,for,and from death. what is the karmic load for that?

  4. This summary is not inaccurate but it totally omits the aggression and brutality inflicted upon Native Americans by Coronado and the Spanish explorers/invaders. Not much there to honor this man of one balances it out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *