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El Turco and Ysopete

Native American Nations | Indian Warriors

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 riches.

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 known.
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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Collection of books and papers, 1922-1925

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