by Stewart L. Udall; photographs by Jerry Jacka; Doubleday: 222 pages.
In this book two separate stories—first, that of the early Spanish in America and, second, the specific explorations of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado—work together to challenge the standard view of America’s beginnings. Spain’s contribution to the exploration and settlement of the continent is vastly underrated, Udall contends; in fact, only grudgingly acknowledged, if at all. He suggests that the “ Mayflower folk move over and allow the authentic first families … to share their symbolic front-row pew.”
The historical blinders that filter out a century of our history, says Udall, were the handiwork of Richard Hakluyt, the English “evangelist-patriot” who loudly championed English exploration and colonization at a time when anti-Spanish sentiment ran high in Queen Elizabeth’s court. Hakluyt managed to muddle events, dates, and what individual nations were doing until his concept of the “European experience” was accepted. Even today most Anglo-Saxons believe that their ancestors were the principal explorers of the New World.
Udall grew up in St. Johns, Arizona, where Coronado had passed in 1540 on his misguided search for the seven golden cities of Cfbola. Always fascinated with the landmarks described by Coronado and his men, Udall has traced the discernible footsteps and puzzled out the routes that the conquistadors must have taken. Jerry Jacka’s beautiful photographs move along with the text, specifically illustrating the vast spaces, the pueblos, the petroglyphs, the vegetation that the explorers might have seen.
One of the Spaniards describes his first encounter with those “monstrous beasts”—buffalo—so plentiful that he compared them to the fish in the sea. Coronado’s men were the first to explore the awesome grasslands that covered the center of the North American continent. His expedition also gave the Plains Indians their first look at a horse, the animal that would, within a few generations, change their civilization.
Udall ends his forcefully argued reinterpretation of America’s earliest years with a suggestion that the quincentennial, in 1992, of Columbus’s first voyage, sponsored by the Iberian monarchs, would be a fine time to “widen our horizons and pluck our Spanish century from the wastebasket of history.”