OAKAH L. JONES JR.
By the mid- sixteenth century, one of the most brilliant periods of exploration in North America had concluded with the great entradas of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and Hernando de Soto. From Juan Ponce de León's discovery of the Florida peninsula in 1513 through the last gasp of early exploration in the American Southeast following Soto's journey, Spanish explorers such as Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón had discovered much of the Atlantic coastline of North America from present-day South Carolina southward to the tip of the Florida peninsula. Alonso Alvarez de Pineda had explored the Gulf coast of La Florida and westward to the Mississippi River and beyond, along the Texas coast to Pánuco in northeastern New Spain. Soto and his successor Luis Moscoso had penetrated the interior of the continent, exploring much of the present southeastern United States, crossing overland to the Mississippi River, and penetrating westward into the interior of eastern Texas and Oklahoma. Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and his companions, on an epic trek, had moved across the coastline of Texas and penetrated the interior of northern New Spain between today's states of Tamaulipas and Sonora and had moved into the American Southwest. And Coronado had journeyed from northern Mexico across present-day Arizona and New Mexico into the western interior of the continent, coming to a stop in central Kansas and giving Europeans their first glimpse of the North American Great Plains.
These early explorers had searched for mythical kingdoms (albeit ones probably patterned after actual Native American towns): Cíbola and Quivira in the Southwest; Chicora, Coosa, and Cofitachequi in the Southeast. They had sought to identify regions, particularly in the Southeast, as "new Andalucias" or other American analogues of Spanish provinces. They had searched for precious metals and gems. And they had looked for the water passage across the continent to the Pacific, a passage that had become a prime objective of most European explorers since the continental character