Spanish law required official records to be kept by conquistadors, including the Francisco Vasquez de Coronado Expedition of the American Southwest in 1540.
Before the expedition began, a muster roll and inventory of armaments was written by a notary, Juan de Cuevas. This official record has survived in the Archive of the Indies, providing valuable historic information.
Castaneda Narrative 1554, Winship Translation 1896
Soldier historian Pedro de Castaneda, wrote a Spanish narrative of the expedition around 1554. It was translated into English in 1896, by George Parker Winship, as The Coronado Expedition, 1540-1542.
Coronado Expedition Route
The expedition traveled north along the western side of the Sierra Madre Mountains of New Spain (Mexico) and current day Arizona, then east across New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas in search of the Seven Cities of Cibola, a fabled region of gold, stopping for winter camp on the Rio Grande near current day Bernalillo. The exact route is disputed by scholars. There were also excursions made away from the main route by Garcia Lopez de Cardenas to the Grand Canyon, and by Hernando de Alvarado along the Rio Grande and to the buffalo plains.
Large Size Coronado Expedition Map
Muster List Discovered in Archives by Aiton
The muster list was discovered in archives during research by Arthur S. Aiton, of the University of Michigan, and published in 1939, for the 400th anniversary of the Coronado Expedition. The list includes the name of each man, rank, number of horses assigned, and personal armament.
Coronado Expedition Army
The muster list for the Coronado Expedition to Cibola includes 225 horse soldiers, 62 foot soldiers, 558 horses, and one mule. Accompanying the soldiers were 800 or more native Indian allies from Mexico.
The horsemen carried lances and swords, some carried extra daggers. The foot soldiers carried 22 harquebuses (muskets), 15 crossbows, and a variety of swords, daggers and native weapons from Mexico.
Only a few soldiers had a full suit of armor. Nearly all soldiers had one or two pieces of armor, kneepieces, coat of mail, helmet, corselet (body armor), bevor (neck armor) or gauntlets (glove armor). Most wore native buckskin suits of armor, for more comfort, while still effective against Indian weapons.
Of the 300 soldiers that began, only 100 survived the journey.
Accompanying the army were supplies, including thousands of livestock, and slaves, servants, Moors, and support staff.
Main Body and Advanced Departure from Compostela, New Galicia
The expedition assembled in the city of Compostela, New Galicia, a province of New Spain, in February, 1540. The muster was reviewed by the Viceroy. According to Castaneda’s narrative, 37 men, including Coronado, the religious leaders, and a small military escort left in advance.
Notarized Oaths of Allegiance
Before the journey, each member was required to take a sworn oath, to serve God and His Majesty. The muster roll closes with an attested copy of the oaths of fealty (vassal allegiance to a lord), administered to Coronado and the members of the expedition. It is dated several days after the muster, when the notaries had time to get the papers in order. It is attested by Juan de Cuevas, Chief Notary of Mines and Reports.
Translation from 16th Century Spanish
The muster roll was written with many abbreviations, in the Spanish language of the 16th century, which varies from modern day Spanish in accents, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling. Below are some excerpts, translated from the muster roll:
Muster Roll, Cibola Soldiers
1. I, Juan de Cuevas, Chief Notary for Mines and Reports for His Majesty in this New Spain, declare and attest, that in the city of Compostela in New Galicia, in New Spain [near current day Guadalajara, on the Pacific Ocean in western Mexico], with the illustrious lord Don Antonio de Mendoza present, who is Viceroy and Governor of this New Spain for His Majesty, and Gonzalo de Salazar (factor), Peralmindez Cherino (veedor of New Spain), Cristobal de Onate (veedor of the said province), and many other people, the muster was conducted of all the people who are going to the land newly discovered by Father Provincial fray Marcos de Niza. Francisco Vasquez de Coronado is going as Captain General of the expedition.
The muster was conducted on the 22nd day of February, in the year 1540, in the following form and manner, with the lord licenciado Maldonado being present:
2. Captain General Francisco Vazquez de Coronado swore that he is taking on this expedition, in the service of His Majesty, twenty-two or twenty-three horses and three or four sets of armored horse trappings for riding with long and short stirrups.
3. Hernando de Alvarado, Captain of Artillery, is taking four horses, a chain mail vest with sleeves, and native arms and armor.
4. Captain General Francisco Coronado swore by Almighty God, by his Holy Mother, by a cross that was there, and by the words of the Holy Gospels, (where he placed his right hand in a missal book, in the hands of Reverend Father fray Francisco de Vitoria, a professed brother of the Order of the Lord Saint Francis), that he will exercise the office of Captain General, (to which he has been appointed by his lordship in His Majesty’s name for the said expedition and land), as a good Christian, vassal, and servant of His Majesty. And he will act in the service of God and His Majesty. As a good caballero hidalgo must do, he will, to the best of his knowledge and judgment, obey and fulfill the King’s directives and those of the Lord Viceroy in his royal name.
5. Then the field master, alferez mayor, captains, knights, and the rest of the people gave their oaths, each one for himself and in the form required by law, exactly as described above, placing their right hands on the cross and missal book. Under this obligation they promised to obey Francisco Vazquez de Coronado, their Captain General, and to any other Captain General whom His Majesty, or the said Lord Viceroy, in his royal name, might commission. And they pledged not to abandon their captaincies and banners without his royal order. And they will do everything they are obligated to do as good captains, people, and vassals of His Majesty.
This took place in the presence of His Lordship, and the said knights, and those people mentioned above, and before me, Juan de Cuevas, Chief Notary of Their Majesties mines.
6. In confirmation of this, and by order of the illustrious Lord Viceroy of New Spain, I drew up the present muster roll in the city of Compostela, on the 27th day of February, 1540. It is set down in writing on ten folios of paper in manuscript.
Juan de Cuevas [rubric]
Juan de Cuevas, Notary for Coronado Expedition
Juan de Cuevas, Chief Notary, recorded the details and took sworn statements from Coronado and his soldiers for the muster roll, which is an important surviving document in the history of the American Southwest.
Cuevas was from Aranda de Duero, Spain, son of Licenciado Alonso Cuevas, and served under Hernando Cortes in the conquest of Mexico from 1519 to 1521. He arrived in New Spain with royal treasurers and financed people going on entradas. He was penanced and reconciled during the Spanish Inquisition. He later acquired an encomienda southeast of Mexico City.
Search for Gold Treasure
Coronado did not find the Seven Cities of Gold at Cibola or Quivira, but gold and silver was later discovered and mined at several locations in the region. There are legends of lost Spanish gold mines. Some modern explorers continue to study art and symbols made by Spanish explorers, found on large rocks in Arizona and New Mexico, for clues on the location of gold treasure.
1. “Coronado Sets Out to the North“, Frederic Remington, circa 1890 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
2. Map of Coronado Expedition, National Park Service, [Public domain]
3. Soldier with harquebus, by Pearson Scott Foresman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
4. Book cover, The Journey of Fray Marcos de Niza, by Cleve Hallenbeck