Turkin' Back and Forth
I previously asserted that History is, by definition, a written record of the past. By that definition, the history of Oklahoma began in 1540 and Francisco Vásquez de Coronado was its first historian.
He set out to find untold riches by following rumors of lavish cities inhabited by wondrous people. His exact route is debatable, but he seems to have started north from what is now Mexico and traveled into New Mexico and/or Arizona in search of these “Seven Cities of Cibola.”
He got into a few scraps with the locals, but his journey was otherwise unexciting until he encountered a young man the Spanish quickly nicknamed “The Turk.”
The Turk, most likely a Wichita or Pawnee, assured Coronado that the real treasures were to be found in “Quivira,” far to the east. He offered to lead them there, and each time they encountered other tribes the Turk would communicate with them briefly before they, too, would eagerly insist that “Quivira” was totally the place to be and begin using signs and making other vigorous efforts at communication to indicate that the riches there were impressive indeed – in a no-sense-waiting-‘round-here-you-prolly-wanna-get-going kinda way.
What follows is a fairly accurate transcription of my total guesswork as to what these conversations must have been like – never before published on a major education blog.
Turk (to NewTribeGuys): Hey, I guess you probably noticed the, um, conquistadors and hundreds of soldiers and thousands of ‘allies’ just behind me here…
NewTribeGuys (to Turk): Why are you pointing? Are you trying to trick us into looking behind us? That’s completely lame.
Turk (to NewTribeGuys): I realize you don’t know me, but you’re gonna want to trust me on this. These guys are looking for Quivira, a city of gold and other untold riches and topless virgins and whatnot. Now, turn and point the same direction I am so it looks convincing. Maybe nod a bit and tell me with enthusiasm that we’re on the right track.
NewTribeGuys (to Turk): The hell are you talking about? There’s no ‘city of gold’ or whatever in that direction, or any other for that matter. Why did you bring these people here?!
Turk (to Cornado): He says we’re on the right track and honors the great Coronado on his amazing journey!
Turk (to NewTribeGuys): Look, you see how many tense foreign-looking fellows are behind me? Think about them eating your food. Taking your goods. Forcing themselves on your women. It’s not pretty, brother – I’ve seen it. Several times, actually. Now either get all excited about how close we are to Quivira or go ahead and bring out your daughters and stew because they’re starting to get restless.
NewTribeGuys (look at Coronado and his men, back at Turk, at Coronado and his men, back at Turk, and murmur briefly to one another)
NewTribeGuys (loudly, to Turk, Coronado, the rest of their tribe, and most of the neighbors): Ooohh, yes – Quivira! The one (gesturing dramatically) way over that way! Yes, yes – you’re very close! We thought you’d said you were looking for, um… Chi Berra, the famous atlatl maker. He, of course, is the other direction entirely. But not Quivira – nope, that crazy city and its golden virgins or whatever are ACTUALLY RATHER NEAR! (more gesturing)
Turk (to Coronado): They say it’s this way.
This worked for a ridiculously long time, despite being a rather obvious ploy. Unfortunately, it relied heavily on the cooperation of strangers. Eventually, one of the tribes they encountered – the Teyas, an intriguing name later given to a future state whose name escapes me at the moment – started letting Coronado know that they had no idea what this Turk lad was talking about, and that he wasn’t even translating properly.
Despite his suspicions, Coronado let “The Turk” lead him all the way to what is now Wichita, Kansas, where they found Quivira. That part, at least was true.
It was not a city of gold, however, so much as a village of farmers living in grass huts. They were alarmingly tall for Indians, and very close to naked most of the time. Untold riches, though? Not so much.
Coronado spent several weeks hoping perhaps they were, somehow, close to some cities of gold if only he’d poke around a bit more, but finally reconciled himself to the truth – he’d been had.
Coronado ordered that the Turk be garroted – the thing you see in action movies when they strangle someone with wire. To be fair, he had fibbed rather extensively and wasted months of their time, not to mention substantial resources. His sacrifice had not been in vain, at least – he’d led Coronado and crew far, far from his own people and their homes.
Coronado took a different route back to Tiguex in what is now New Mexico, where he wrote a letter to the King of Spain, dated October 20, 1541. It’s arguably the first written record of Oklahoma, and rich in both tone and detail. As primary sources go, it’s golden.
Unlike, say… Quivira.
Coronado went home frustrated and weakened after several armed conflicts and a serious fall from his horse along the way. He lost his fortune and much of his honor and died in 1554 – which I get is a total downer.
But while he’d hardly draw much comfort from it, he was the first Oklahoma Historian and a generally fine observer and record-keeper of much of the geography, the people, the wildlife, and the tribulations of the American Southwest in the 16th century.
There’s no record whether he ever got back that nifty copper necklace.
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