Two of the first American Indians whose names are known to
history were the men who, in 1540-41 guided the Spanish explorer
Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in his ill-fated search for New World
Both men were captive slaves at Pecos Pueblo in New Mexico, and it
is not known what tribes they came from originally. One of them was
named Yospete, and he was described in the journals of Coronado's
expedition as "a painted Indian" and was supposed to be a native of
the fabled city of Wuivera. This province was said to have a large
population and a great deal of gold, although it actually was a
group of villages belonging to the Wichita tribe. The location of
Wuivera is a matter of dispute, but it may have been in central
Kansas on the Arkansas River or possibly in the upper Texas
Panhandle. The other slave was called El Turco (The Turk) by the
Spanish and his origins were said by the Pueblans to be in "a land
three hundred leagues east toward Florida." His actual name is not
El Turco regaled Coronado and his officers with tales of riches in
Quivera, and the Spaniards were impelled by these tall claims to
make him their guide. The Pecos people, hoping to rid themselves
forever of the troublesome Paniards, gave them both slaves along
with their best wishes for a successful journey. It appears that
Ysopete, either through jealousy of his fellow slave or through a
desire to actually help the Spaniards, tried to warn Coronado that
El Turco was not be trusted, but the Spaniards were blinded by their
desire to bring back riches for their king.
As he had promised, El Turco led the expedition to the bison country
of the Plains, for Coronado needed the "hump-backed oxen" to feed
his army. During the early part of the journey it is evident that
the Spaniards had complete faith in El Turco's guidance. He led the
expedition on a wandering path through much of the Plains country,
which proved disastrous in loss of morale and even of men. The
Spaniards found the country uninhabitable by their standards-only
the Indians had the ecological knowledge and combination of skills
necessary to survival there.
Somewhere in Texas, again at a position that is in dispute, the
expedition arrived at a gigantic canyon where they made camp and met
with Indians of some Plains tribe. The site might have been near
Lubbock or possibly higher in the Panhandle, at Palo Duro Canyon.
The description in the expedition journal applies equally well to
either location, and Spanish armor and artifacts have been found in
both canyons. Unfortunately for El Turco, the information given by
the Plains Indians suggested that Ysopete's allegations concerning
El Turco's treachery might very well be correct.
Under Questioning (and probably torture-this was, after all, during
the time of the Holy Inquisition and the Indian was obviously a
heathen), El Turco confessed that he was following the command of
his captors at Pecos. He had been told to lead the Spaniards onto
the Plains so that they would either die there or become so weakened
that they could easily be defeated. He was garroted with an iron
collar, which was tightened gradually until he died.
Ysopete now led Coronado and 36 men north to Quivera, which proved
to be nothing but villages with rude huts occupied by a people who
practiced agriculture and hunted bison. They found no gold or riches
of any kind. Coronado's army, under Tristan de Arellano, meantime,
went from the canyons to the Pecos River to an area believed to be
at the site of Fort Sumner, New Mexico, then up the river where they
encountered a hostile tribe. The expedition was reassembled at
Tiguex on the Rio Grande, where they spent the winter of 1541-42.
During this time Coronado received a serious head injury. In the
spring of 1542 the tragic expedition returned to Mexico and thence
to Spain. It is not known what became of Ysopete after the journey
to Quivera. Inasmuch as he was considered honest and faithful, he
doubtlessly fared better than had his companion, El Turco.
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