Great River


One day in August of that summer the old chief of the pueblo of Pecos, that stood at the gateway to the plains to the east of the river, came to the river pueblos on a journey. With him he brought a few of his people, including a young chief who wore long mustaches. He had heard of what had happened to the Zuñis, and he was going to see for himself. Word had travelled that the new man at Hawikuh would be glad to see chiefs from the country. The newcomers at Hawikuh were strange people, and bold men, and should be met and examined. Travelling by the pueblos on the river, the chief from Pecos and his party crossed over to the west and made their way in the August heat over the desert to the town where the amazing thing had happened.

When he arrived with his party at Hawikuh, he was without delay taken to see the commander of the invasion, whose name was given as General Don Francisco Vásquez de Coronado. The travellers identified themselves. The old chief of the pueblo of Pecos because of his position was at once called Cacique, and the young chief, because of his long mustaches, was called Bigotes. Friendly greetings were exchanged and gifts—on the one hand little glass dishes, and pearl beads, and little bells; on the other, dressed animal skins, and leather shields, and headdresses.

Bigotes spoke for the callers. He was a tall, handsomely made young man, a person of authority. He said they had come in response to the General’s invitation to the people of this land to meet him as friends. He put his hands on himself and then toward the General. If the other soldiers and the General wished to come to his own land—he pointed to the east—then they would be welcomed, and in the air he made designs to enlarge his meaning.

The General was touched, and showed his gratitude. He was himself a tall and handsome young man, with dark gold hair, mustaches and beard, and blue eyes. He gave himself a fine bearing and was beautifully dressed, with leather, velvet, brocade and linen. He indicated that he would know more of the lands from which Bigotes and his friends came.

There to the east, told Bigotes with word and hand, lay the plains, so wide, so flat, so far, where the cattle were, with great bodies, little hooves, heads lowered, short curled horns, and beards, thus, from the chin.

The General knew of those before, from the reports of Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. One by one the pieces of the map fell into place.

Now it was clear that there was much to see and the General wanted to ask one of his first captains to go to see it. He presented Captain Hernando de Alvado, commander of the artillery. Captain de Alvarado, with twenty soldiers, and the chaplain Fray Juan Padilla, was to accompany the Indian visitors on their return to their homelands, and take up to eighty days if necessary to make a proper reconnaissance of the territory to the east.

Bigotes and Cacique found that this could be arranged, and at once proposed to accompany Alvarado as his guides and to sponsor him in friendship among the people they would meet and whose towns they must pass as they went, toward the land of the cattle.

So it was settled. The General had already sent other expeditions to the west and the northwest, who would report back to Hawikuh which he now called Granada, both because it somewhat resembled the town in Spain, and also to honor the Viceroy, who came from the old Granada. Captain de Alvarado now with his little force of sixteen cavalry, four dismounted crossbowmen and a chaplain, along with the Indian party would be able to furnish much information. The General would remain at Granada until he received all reports from his scouting forces in the field. Then, in a position to move wisely, he would decide where to take the bulk of the army, which awaited his word in the Sonora Valley to the south, and establish its winter quarters.

The General saw Alvarado and his company off to the east on Sunday, August 29, 1540, which was the feast day of the beheaded St. John. The unknown lay vastly all about him to the west, the north and the east. His health was restored to him after the wounds he had suffered in the battle for Hawikuh, when because of his gilded armor and his place of command in the vanguard of his troops he had been the chief target of the Indian defenders. Storming the walls among his men, he had suffered piercing arrows and a rain of heavy stones thrown down from the parapets. Alvarado and another captain, Garcia de Cárdenas, had saved his life and borne him away unconscious, and for the duration of the battle they had thought he must die.

But now the town was at peace, the Indians made paintings for him on hides, showing the animals of the region, that he could send to the Viceroy, and he worked on his reports, and awaited news from his field forces.

Not too many years before an odd thing had happened in Salamanca, his home in Spain. It was the kind of thing to which thought now and then returned. It seemed that in his young days he had a friend who was an adept in mathematics and other sciences. One day they had a conversation in which destiny and the future came up. The mathematician looked at him and told him that he was destined in the future to find himself in faraway lands.


Yes, and furthermore, that he would become a man of high position and much power.

Position? Power?

Yes, but alas, he was to suffer a fall from which he would never recover.

A fall?