Great River


Cardenas came to the twelve towns of Tiguex, and near the most southerly, on the west bank, he began to prepare campsites in the open, opposite the site of modern Bernalillo. It was October, and the bosky cottonwoods were turning to pale bronze above the brown run of the river. The days were golden and warm, but the nights were beginning to turn cold. The soldiers shivered in their open camp.

Now and then, when the light was gone, and all was quiet, and the smokes of evening no longer dawdled in the still air above the pueblo near-by, an Indian here, and another there, would quietly appear among the soldiers in their camp. They looked to see where the sentries were, and if they were on guard. In their expressionless way the Indians would seek out soldiers and communicate a suggestion to them. Did they want to wrestle? And a soldier or two, off duty, would get up, and with every appearance of good will, take up the challenge. The wrestling pairs went at their game. Something about the way of the Indian wrestlers made the Spaniards think. It was almost as though the Indians with a buried idea were trying out the strength of the soldiers. The nights were cold. The soldiers shivered.

A hard winter was coming. One October night the snow fell on the soldiers in the open fields. What would the whole army do when it arrived to camp on the river?

Cardenas presented himself to the chief of the nearby pueblo on the west bank, which was called Alcanfor, and asked him to move his people into other pueblos of the province, to leave the Spaniards a town to themselves, where not only the small advance guard but the main body of the army, when it arrived, could be given shelter. The Indian governor gazed upon him and finally agreed to do as he asked. Taking nothing but their clothes the Indians left their houses, and the soldiers moved in, settling themselves and making arrangements for the arrival of the General. The garrison —only fourteen cavalry soldiers and a handful of Indian infantry from the west and south—hoped for the early arrival of the General and the whole army. Amidst the pueblos they felt alien and uneasy.

There was, somehow, a feeling of more trouble in the air. It was something of a relief when Captain de Alvarado returned to the river from the eastern cattle plains. He came dragging four people in iron collars and chains, and he had an animated story of his adventures to tell Cárdenas and the others at Alcanfor:

Eastward, through a mountain pass, beyond which were many other pueblos in ruins, and a turquoise mine, and another spine of mountains, there was the largest town yet to be seen by any of the explorers. It was Pecos, where Bigotes and Cacique had come from. There the chiefs and their Spanish friends were received with drums and flageolets, and gifts of clothing and turquoises. There the soldiers rested for a few days, feasting, and listening to stories of the kingdoms of the plains that lay beyond.

The stories were told by two captive Indian slaves who came from the plains and belonged to Bigotes and Cacique. One, a young man, was called Isopete. The other, because he looked like one, was named the Turk by Alvarado. These two must be the guides for a march to the cattle country. Bigotes decided to stay behind when the rest of them set out.

They went south by a river (the Pecos) with red rock and water and then left it to follow a smaller river, eastward. The Turk learned to speak a little Spanish. With that, and by gestures, he began to talk about a land of Quivira far to the east. Gold, silver, silks. Rich harvests. Great towns. Alvarado listened as they travelled. Soon they were in sight of endless herds of buffalo, and they hunted among them, bringing the big running bulls down with lances. Several horses were killed by the charging buffalo and others were wounded. If the cattle stood and stared with their bulging eyes sidewise, the soldiers killed them with harquebuses.

Gold, continued the Turk, and for proof, there was a gold bracelet that he himself had brought from Quivira when captured by Bigotes.

Where was the bracelet then?

Bigotes had it, at home, in Pecos.

Was he sure?

Very sure, and he added other details of precious wealth in the far plains kingdom.

Alvarado’s commission of eighty days was then over half spent, and he decided to turn back to Pecos to take from Bigotes the Turk’s golden bracelet as proof of what lay waiting for the General in Quivira. He ordered his party back to Pecos. The Turk cautioned him. He must on no account mention the bracelet to Bigotes. But on arrival, after receiving new gifts of provisions, Alvarado demanded the bracelet.

Bigotes and Cacique were bewildered. What bracelet?

The bracelet of gold they had taken from the arm of the Turk, here.

They declared that the Turk was lying. There was no such bracelet.