The Northward Advance
toward Texas, 1543–1680
Legends died hard for Spaniards. Despite the unfavorable reports of Coronado and Moscoso about the North Country, Tierra Nueva, as it was then called, continued to attract the attention of gold-hungry men in New Spain. Within five years after Coronado’s return to Mexico, the presumed wealth of Gran Quivira once again piqued the interest of colonial officials. By then Coronado had fallen on hard times, and it was commonly held that a more resourceful captain could do better.1
How does one explain such persistent, chimerical visions? Spaniards who came to the New World saw it “through medieval spectacles.” Some of them were influenced by St. Augustine, who had devoted an entire chapter of The City of God to the question of whether descendants of Adam and Noah had produced monstrous and bizarre offspring. All of them remembered the facades of medieval churches that sprouted griffins, gargoyles, and a mixture of man and beast. Accordingly, beyond every mountain and horizon, Spanish captains looked for mythical and fabulous creatures. Their expectations, which included finding giants, white-haired boys, bearded ladies, human beings with tails, headless folk with an eye in their navel, and trumpetblowing apes, were heightened by the very real discoveries of enormous wealth within the Aztec and Inca Empires.2 Texas, too, had its share of the fantasies that beckoned Spaniards into unknown realms. Explorers would look for the Seven Hills of Aijados, where gold reportedly was so plentiful that Indians tipped their arrows and spears with it, for the Pearls of the Jumanos, and for the Great Kingdom of the Tejas.3
These expectations and other motivations prompted adventurers, prospectors, ranchers, missionaries, and soldiers to expand New Spain northward from 1543 to 1680, and during this time they compiled considerable information about Texas and its potential for settlement (see Figure 8).
The expansion of New Spain toward Texas had been pioneered by Nuño