Francisco Coronado Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

One of the great explorers in history, Francisco Coronado was the first European to travel through much of the American southwest, including the Grand Canyon. Learn about his life and his expedition through the United States in this lesson.

First Contact

Did you know that there were cities in the southern United States built fifty years before the Pilgrims ever came ashore at Plymouth Rock? That's because Spain controlled all of modern-day Mexico and launched expeditions, or search parties, into the modern-day United States during the 1500s and 1600s to discover new people and build new places to live. A Spanish explorer named Francisco Coronado was the first non-native to visit the southeastern United States and to make a map of the area.

Coronado on Expedition
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Coronado was born in Spain in 1510. You may remember this was just 18 years after Columbus discovered the New World, and the idea of exploring more of this brand-new continent still excited Europeans. Coronado traveled to New Spain (what we now call Mexico) in 1535 as part of the army. He did so because his family was wealthy, but he would not inherit, or receive any money, so he was looking for new opportunities. Once there, Coronado quickly became rich, marrying a wealthy man's daughter and becoming a governor. Still, he wanted more.

Legendary Cities

One of the great myths that the Spanish dreamed of in the New World was the fabled Seven Golden Cities of Cibola (pronounced see-bowl-uh). You can imagine how the Spanish dreamed about finding such a legend and seeing an entire city built out of solid gold. Coronado decided that he would try to reach this legendary place and began an expedition in 1539. He took 300 Spanish soldiers, 1000 Native Americans, and enough livestock to provide food, heading north into the region that today is Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

Route taken by Coronado
Coronado expedition

The Trek

As Coronado and his expedition traveled north, they discovered the Zuni tribe of Native Americans. Coronado was excited, believing their home to be one of the famous seven cities, but became disappointed when they found out that the Zuni had no treasure. Coronado attempted to convert the Native Americans to Christianity and convince them that they were now servants of the King and Queen of Spain. The Zuni didn't take fondly to the idea and attacked the Spanish with arrows, almost killing Coronado.

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