On my April trip to Zuni Pueblo, in western New Mexico, I took an archeological tour of Hawikku, one of the original six villages built by the A:shiwi (Zuni). I am always interested in learning more about the Pueblos and Tribes whose art I represent. I had just finished reading Cities of Gold, A Journey Across the American Southwest in Pursuit of Coronado, by Douglas Preston. It is an account of two men from Santa Fe who, in 1988, decide to try to retrace Don Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s first expedition on horseback from Mexico to find the fabled “Seven Cities of Cibola”. Even this modern day journey was extraordinarily difficult because of the vast desert and mountain wilderness to be crossed.
In 1539 Fray Marcos de Niza returned from an exploratory trek into the far northern reaches of what was then Mexico and reported that there were multi-storied villages that “contained riches beyond compare!” Coronado’s full expedition set out to find these Cities of Gold. On July 7, 1540, Coronado and his army of mounted conquistadors confronted the A:shiwi Village of Hawikku. There was a brief fierce battle and the Zuni resistance gave way to Spanish horses, crossbows, lances, swords and cannons. There was no gold as Fray Marcos had reported. And, the Seven Cities turned out to be six villages. Coronado continued his march eastward to explore the Rio Grande Pueblos. The Zuni villages of Cibola slipped back into their accustomed isolation.
Hawikku looks out across a vast grass plain with the Zuni River cutting across it. There are rolling hills of mesquite bushes and a sky that is as wide open as it was in 1540. The peaceful silence is broken only by the sound of hawks and other birds. There is a distinct feeling that something important happened there. It was the first European contact with the First Americans of the Southwest. All before Plymouth Rock. Life would never be the same there.
As I stood on the ruin of what was once the thriving Village of Hawikku, I imagined this huge column of soldiers, horses, cattle, supply wagons and Spanish slaves approaching across the grassland. The Zuni had never seen anything like this oncoming display of power. They had to know for days that there was something headed their way. The dust stirred up into the sky. The rumbling of thousands of hooves and feet. I could only imagine what they must have thought.