Spain authorizes Coronado’s conquest in the Southwest, 1540

A primary source by Francisco García de Loaysa

Francisco García de Loaysa to to Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, June 21, 1540 (Gilder Lehrman Collection)This letter, written on behalf of King Charles V by Francisco Garcia de Loaysa, the president of the Council of the Indies, acknowledges Francisco Coronado’s report of the famous Niza expedition of the previous year and authorizes Coronado to explore the northern lands, in the search for wealth and resources, and in the hope that “through your excellent efforts you will bring the natives of that province under our sway and dominion and will bring them into the knowledge of the holy catholic faith.” This letter is possibly the earliest surviving official authorization by any European regent to explore the lands that became the United States.

The Niza expedition, named after its leader, the Franciscan friar Marcos de Niza, recorded the enduring myth of Cibola—a city or series of cities in the American Southwest rich with gold. The Niza expedition is also significant in that Niza’s Moorish manservant, Estevan Dorantes, also called Estevan the Black, was the first African documented in the New World. His presence predated English and Spanish African slaves by decades, and his ability to communicate with Native tribes proved to be vital to Niza’s expedition.

Coronado, spurred by dreams of wealth, was shortly authorized to mount an impressive campaign to seek out Cibola. Setting out from Compostela (in present-day Sonora, Mexico), he reached the Zuni country in New Mexico that most scholars suspect to be the location to which “Cibola” referred. Coronado’s quest for wealth carried him farther into America, later in search of another mythically rich land called Quivira. The area referred to as Quivira proved to be the lands occupied by the Wichitas in present-day Kansas. Some anthropological research supports the claim that Coronado traveled as far as Kansas, but scholars are divided. Nevertheless, this authorization spurred one of the most famous explorations of the New World.

An English translation is available.


(translated from original in Spanish)

Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, new Governor and Captain General of the Province of Galicia of New Spain, we saw your letter of July 15 of the year prior to 1540, in which we became aware of the state of things of that province and the things that you have worked on to bring peace to the natives of the land who remained in revolt for which I thank you and have in service the notice that you had and have of the pacification and population of the land and of the good treatment of the natives that reside in the land and if you continue to be in charge of them, that you continue according to the letters of Don Antonio de Mendoza, my viceroy of New Spain, through whom I have made known by my name that I send you through as the Captain General of this population of the conquest and land that was discovered by Fray Marcos de Niza, that we have given to you because we hope, that through the giving of this title, with your life, my lord, you will be of service and the crown be royally presented; and that with your good management you place the land under my rule and bring its natives to the knowledge of my Holy Catholic faith and we do order you to, with all prudence and good order, work on making sure that the orders and provisions that have been ordered by us and the order that has been given by my son, the viceroy, by which we inform you that my son, the viceroy, has been sent in your absence so he may be able to watch your governance and provide what is beneficial to the service of my God.

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