Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Piersen. Piersen Wonders, “What are the golden cities” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Piersen!

The western United States is full of beautiful and interesting places. The Mojave Desert. The Grand Canyon. The Redwood National State Park. And that’s just to name a few! Today, we’ll talk about another place on that list: the Cities of Cibola.

Where are the Cities of Cibola? For many Europeans, this was the question of the 16th century. Also called the “Seven Cities of Gold,” Cibola was a legendary place. It was said to be rich with gold. Stories told that the people there even built their homes with the precious material. 

This may sound familiar to Wonder Friends who know about the legend of El Dorado. However, these seven cities were said to be much farther north. Colonizers from Spain searched the regions that are now northern Mexico and the southwestern United States looking for the Cities of Cibola.

For another group of people, though, Cibola was anything but a legend—it was home! The Zuni people, an American Indian nation, have lived in the southwestern U.S. for thousands of years. They built Hawikuh, one of the seven Cities of Cibola, at least as early as 1200 CE. 

By the time the Europeans came, the Zuni people had been in the region for a long time. Many Zuni people work by farming maize and wheat. Making jewelry was—and still is—another common trade among the people of this nation. They have always kept a close relationship with the land and nature through religious and cultural traditions.

In 1539, a Moroccan man named Esteban arrived in Hawikuh. Esteban was an enslaved person. He traveled with Friar Marcos de Niza in search of the Seven Cities of Gold. Esteban was familiar with several American Indian nations and spoke many languages. As such, he was sent to Hawikuh ahead of the rest of his group.

Accounts of what happened next vary. Most report that Zuni warriors killed Esteban. However, it’s possible that he simply never returned to Friar de Niza. Regardless, de Niza and the rest of the party went back to Mexico City, which was then part of New Spain. 

There, de Niza told Spanish leaders that Esteban had been killed. He also claimed that he had seen Hawikuh and that it was a city full of gold. It’s possible that de Niza was simply mistaken. However, many historians today think he was willfully lying. 

Spanish leaders couldn’t have been more excited. Finally! They thought they had found the legendary Seven Cities of Gold. Greedy and anxious to take these mythical riches away from the Zuni people, they formed the Coronado Expedition.

Led by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, this group’s goal was to return to Hawikuh and pillage its gold. Friar de Niza traveled with the expedition to show them the way. When they arrived, though, the Coronado Expedition did not find the riches it came in search of.

Instead, Coronado and his group found the Zuni people and their pueblo homes. However, the expedition wasn’t ready to give up. They were convinced that the Zuni people must be hiding their riches. Coronado led a team who tortured and murdered countless Zuni people in search of gold that didn’t exist. This was the first recorded contact of Europeans with Pueblo Indians. 

The Zunis who survived fled into the nearby mountains and forests. The Coronado Expedition stayed in Hawikuh after driving the Zunis out. They made it their main base in the region. From there, they roamed the southern U.S., colonizing most of the area for Spain.

Today, Zuni Pueblo is still home to the Zuni people. The Zuni Tribe is governed by legislative, executive, and judiciary departments. The people continue to farm, make jewelry, and respect the land. The Zuni Pueblo is a beautiful place west of Albuquerque. It contains about 450,000 acres.

Sadly, the story of the Zuni people and the Coronado Expedition isn’t unique. Many European colonizers, largely driven by greed, brought violence to American Indian nations. How could these conflicts have been avoided? What might they have done differently? How would the world we know be different if these colonizers made different choices?

Standards: C3.D2.Geo.6, C3.D2.His.2, C3.D2.His.4, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.W.9, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2

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