In the mid-1540s, the Spanish Viceroy sent an expedition of men hundreds of miles north led by conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. Their job was to search for the seven cities rumored to be filled with endless amounts of gold, as reported by a Franciscan priest named Friar Marcos de Niza. The seven cities of gold—also called the seven cities of cibola—filled the Spanish explorers’ heads with fantastical images of wealth beyond belief.
For months, Coronado and his men followed old Indian trails across the rugged terrain until they reached the Zuni settlement. Rather than one of the fabled cities of gold, it was a pueblo that was home to an agricultural community. Coronado took over the village at gunpoint, stealing the Zuni’s food, demanding that they convert to Christianity, and punishing those who resisted his efforts. But it did not change the fact that no gold was discovered in the settlement.
Coronado then split up the group and the smaller expeditions went out in different directions to find the seven cities. They searched as far as present-day Kansas but again, no cities of gold were discovered. Instead, they found only more pueblo villages inhabited by Native Americans.
After three years of fruitless searching, Coronado ordered his men to begin marching back to Mexico when their supplies ran too low. Though they were the first Europeans to explore the southwestern region of North America, their mission failed and they returned home heavily in debt.
Scholars and historians have long considered the friar’s claim about seeing golden cities. Some think that perhaps he saw the pueblo village at dusk or dawn, when the swathe of sunlight might make the city appear to be golden. Others think that the friar simply passed on a tale he heard from Native Americans. Some think that the friar lied, telling the Spanish officials what they wanted to hear after conquering the Aztec and the Inca.
Either way, the Spaniards’ hopes of finding cities lined with gold were dashed and the expedition all but ruined them. Yet another quest for treasure that was left unsatisfied.
What would you do if you were to find a city made of gold?