Names can create powerful memories. Names such as Lexington and Concord rightfully stir strong patriot feelings with visions of minutemen rushing to the Old North Bridge in Massachusetts on April 19, 1775. So too does the name Gettysburg conjures up the specter of hundreds of canons roaring to life while thousands of men wearing the blue and the grey battle across the farmlands of Pennsylvania on July 1 – 3, 1863.
Here in our part of this great country, July 7 marks the anniversary of an armed conflict that took place in 1540 at the Zuni pueblo named Hawikuh. And even though the Battle of Hawikuh has not been remembered in history books as “the shot heard around the world” or the turning point of a civil war, it surely did signal the beginning of tragic armed conflicts between Europeans and the Native American people in the American Southwest that would last until the surrender of Geronimo on September 4, 1886 - some 346 years.
The Pueblo of Hawikuh (Hi-wah-koo) was located on the high plains of what today is northwestern New Mexico some 85 miles east of Greer, Az. and near today’s Pueblo of Zuni. The Spanish thought it to be one of the fabled Seven Cities of Gold – Cibola. On July 7, 1540 an army of about 350 Spanish conquistadors, many on horseback and led by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, was rapidly marching toward it.
The thirty-year-old Coronado had led his army from deep in the interior of Mexico since February. Accompanying this army was Fray Marcos de Niza who had walked these northern lands in 1539 and had reported that he had indeed seen cities whose homes and streets were made of gold – the fabled Cibola. Who could deny such an eyewitness report?
But after 4 months traveling over the desert lands of what is now northern Mexico and Arizona, Coronado’s army arrived at the first City of Gold tired, hungry and gazing upon a multi-storied pueblo made of mud, not gold. Chronologists wrote that “such were the curses hurled at Friar Marco” but food and water were primarily on the soldiers’ minds on this late afternoon of July 7.
Coronado tried to “negotiate” with the warriors of Hawikuh. His lieutenant read a decree ( in Latin) informing the people of the pueblo that they were now under the protection of the King of Spain and that they should follow whatever direction given them by the King’s representative - Francisco Vasques de Coronado.
The message was not well received and most probably not even understood, for soon a shower of arrows were descending upon the tired Spanish army. The Spanish battle cry was sounded, and three hundred years of conflict began. Coronado himself took one of those arrows in his right leg and was felled from his horse by a large stone thrown from the upper floors of the pueblo. But after some three hours of battle, Spanish armor, muskets and lancers on horseback drove the Hawikuhans from the village.
Coronado and his army would soon discover that Cibola was totally a myth. No cities of gold existed in this land although treasures of gold lied buried within its soil. His army, over the next two years, would explore parts of our modern states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. They surely completed a most impressive "Road Trip!"
For today’s explorers who would like to visit this historic battle site, that trip is possible by making arrangements with the tourist office at the Zuni Pueblo. For a fee, a Zuni guide will take you to the ruins of Hawikuh. It is not much to see today, just a high mound of adobe and stone rubble. But what once happened here, at Cibola, one of the fabled Seven Cities of Gold, is truly a moment in our Arizona and American history - and a great modern road trip for those who like to get out and stand upon such historic ground.
|The Spanish came from this direction.|
|Stones re-stacked during a more modern time|
|Looking back up at the pueblo|
|They came from here|
|Historical marker at Zuni|
|The old church at Zuni|
|Historical marker in Kansas about the Coronado Expedition|