Great River


The army lived in the field, and its tents and settled ways and traffic of supply between the camp and Alcanfor suggested the existence of a new town. The besiegers were as troubled as the besieged. The weather continued cold. It was wearing to be vigilant yet inactive. Twice it appeared that the water within Moho must be all gone, and that peace would follow at once; and twice, the Indians were saved by what gave the soldiers such discomfort: it snowed. The Indians melted the snow and stored the water in their clay vessels.

Keeping siege, the General yet had time for other duties. One of these was to listen to the Turk, who still a prisoner continued to show great eagerness to interest his jailers. What he said filtered through the camp. The siege of Moho seemed to be an irritating obstacle in the way of the proper business of the army, which lay to the east, in the land called Quivira, where—

Why, yes, there was gold, the Turk said, there was so much of it that they could load not only horses with it, but wagons.

What else?

In Quivira, on a lake, the royal canoes had golden oarlocks. The ruler lived in a great palace, hung with cotton cloth.


Yes, Quivira where there was much gold and silver, but not as much as could be seen even farther east, in other kingdoms, called Harahey and Guaes.

Even more? It sounded like the richest country of all the Indies so far, including Mexico and Peru.

Yes, even more, and in that land, lived the king—the Turk even knew his name, which was Tattarax—who said his prayers from a book, and addressed them to a woman who was queen of heaven.

Then it was, surely it was, a Christian country?

During the siege of Moho the General made a friendly trip to Pecos. When the war on the river should be ended, he would start for Quivira. Pecos lay on the way. It would be well to resume friendly relations with so powerful a city on his line of march. He took with him the aged Cacique whom he restored to his people amid their acclamations. But where, they wondered, was Bigotes, and where the Turk and Isopete, the slaves?

He could answer that. They were still at the great river, but had actually presented him with a plan to lay before their countrymen, which was this: if the people of Pecos helped in the conquest of Tiguex, the General would reward them with the gift of one of the conquered pueblos. At the victorious end of the war, Bigotes and the others would be released.

The people thought, and replied that it was not convenient to do as he proposed. It was early spring. The planting had begun with prayer and observance. But if he commanded them, they would obey.

The General did not insist since they hesitated to volunteer. He returned to the river where he found his people suffering from the cold, and inaction, and impatience. In the third week of February, 1541, he ordered another attack upon Moho. It was inconclusive, like the first, and it lost the army five killed, including its well-loved young Captain Francisco de Ovando, who while crawling on his hands and knees toward an opening in the defenses was seized by the enemy and taken within the walls where he was put to death, despite the efforts of his soldiers to save him.

This event was sad, and it became mysterious, and all things seemed related in odd powerful ways when something was discovered about the Turk in connection with it.

Cervantes, a soldier who was the guard at the Turk’s prison, looked in at him one day, whereupon the Turk asked how many Spaniards had been killed in a recent fight.

Cervantes stonily replied that no soldiers had been killed.

No, said the Turk, Cervantes was lying, for the Indians had killed five Christians, including a captain.

Yes, admitted the guard, now that he was forced to say so, the Turk was correct. But how could it be? The Turk was under lock and key, he saw no one, talked to no one, heard nothing.

All the Turk would say was that he knew it already, and needed no one else to tell him.

Cervantes was not satisfied, and when opportunity came, he spied upon the Turk and was dumfounded at what he saw, and saw at once that it explained everything. He swore under oath that he saw the Turk talking to the Devil who was enclosed in a jug filled with water. It must have been the Devil who told him what he knew. What a mystery. What if everything else the Turk knew—gold, silver, little bells in trees, wagons full of treasure—were just as true as the death of Captain de Ovando?

The siege dragged on. Soldiers experimented with building some cannons out of heavy timber, thickly bound with ropes. But these were a failure.

The General sent to the pueblo of Zia, to the west of the river, asking for clothing for his shivering army. The people were generous, and sent back some cloaks, hides and blankets.