Imagine a boy of Spain named Miguel. Ever since he was a child, he heard tales of adventure. These adventures happened in a new world far across the sea decades before he was even born. In 1513, Nunez de Balboa discovered and claimed the Pacific Ocean for the King of Spain. Ponce de Leon sought a fountain of youth in an exotic land that he named Florida. Hernando Cortez traveled across an ocean to conquer the natives, claim new lands and amass a treasure of gold and silver.
And so, as he grew up Miguel wanted nothing more in life than the chance to embark on such great adventures. As soon as he reached adulthood, he joined the King’s army, the Army of Vazquez de Coronado. He left Spain to seek a life of conquest and riches found in New Spain.
In February of 1540, Miguel found himself on the verge of realizing his childhood dream. The Army of His Majesty left for an expedition from a location in New Spain that was close to Mexico City. It was an impressive expedition … 250 horsemen, 70 foot soldiers armed with crossbows and spears, more than 300 native allies, plus 1,000 servants, workers and herdsmen for the livestock. This great army had just one quest…. to find the Seven Cities of Gold.
The soldiers reached New Mexico in July and camped by the reported site of the first of these seven cities. However, there was no gold and no great city. The natives were simple people and lived a rigorous life that Miguel perceived as being hardship. What disappointment. Alone with his comrades in the unknown world, Miguel wondered if the tales told by his chaplain and guide, Marcos de Niza, were true. Had the padre actually seen the golden cities rich with wealth beyond compare? Did he know of a place where people are served upon dishes of gold? After disillusionment, Miguel desperately wanted to know if he would ever find his treasure.
Miguel was a restless young man. So, as the main bulk of the army camped, Miguel joined an expedition that traveled northward. He journeyed for weeks, across icy streams and wide rivers, through rough, barren terrain. Finally, they could travel no farther because his group reached a massive canyon. It was remarkably deep with layers of multicolored rock. They could not cross such a grand canyon and were forced to turn around.
By the time Miguel was reunited with the rest of the army, winter had arrived. The cold was bitter, the wind ceaseless and the snow piled high. When the weather changed, they marched across vast plains, a place so endless that there seemed to be no limit. On these great plains, Miguel saw a number of strange cows, humpbacked creatures with fur, beards and very tough hide. As he traveled across the plains, there was not one day when he lost sight of these cows.
Eventually, the Army reached to a settlement of Indians called Querechos, who traveled with the cows. They didn’t plant crops, but lived by eating the raw flesh and blood of the cows they killed. They tanned the skins of the cows and used every bit for clothing and shelter. They had dogs to carry their tents and poles and belongings. It was such a sight to behold.
Then, the Army traveled across deserts where Miguel was always thirsty. He drank liquid that seemed to be more mud than water. He saw stretches of wilderness with no landmarks. One day, he overheard Coronado say that it was as if they had been swallowed up in the sea because there was not a stone, nor a bit of rising ground, nor a tree, nor a shrub, nor anything to go by.
Eventually, the Army reached areas of very fine pasture land with grass that stretched out on an endless plain. And while Miguel went scouting with his companions, he became lost on this plain. Soon, Miguel and his men met Natives who were out hunting. Their bodies and faces were painted. They were a large people, well built men who also ate the raw cow flesh as they traveled along with the endless herd.
The villages that Miguel visited were not at all what the guides had told Coronado. There were no houses built of stones, with many stories, with golden possessions. No. The houses were made with straw and rocks. There was little food. Only a small supply of corn was found in the villages.
Eventually, Miguel became discouraged and tired. His life was lived in a strange world of unfamiliar people and bizarre countryside. He wanted to return home. He yearned to see common faces and recognizable places. But his journey went on for years. The Army trudged through blistering heat that brought agonizing thirst. Then, the harsh seasons arrived with bitter cold and high snow. Treachery, lies and legends propelled his army from one place to another. No gold was ever found, just a small amount of copper. No jewels were seen, just a few garnets and turquoise.
Miguel journeyed with Coronado from the mouth of the Colorado River to the Grand Canyon; from the Great Plains to the Rio Grande and the Gulf of California. And they found no treasures. Peculiar native people, strange animals and a world of wilderness were Miguel’s only discoveries.
And so, the Army returned home. The men were tired, defeated with little glory. But as Miguel thought of all he’d seen and done, he sensed that somehow this journey, had indeed, provided a greater treasure than he knew.