Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 2, Spring 2009, pp. 129-140
In the spring of 1540, Francisco Vazquez de Coronado led an entrada from present-day Mexico into the region we call New Mexico, where the expedition spent a violent winter among pueblo peoples. The following year, after a long march across the Great Plains, Coronado led an elite group of his men north into present-day Kansas where, among other activities, they strangled their principal Indian guide, a man they called El Turco. In the pages that follow, I focus on the events leading up to and including the execution of this Indian guide. Although Coronado, his chroniclers, and modern historians have tended to take the killing of this guide for granted, the violence was far from straightforward. Indeed, the expeditionaries' actions were embedded in sixteenth-century Spanish culture, a milieu that can still reward study by historians of the Great Plains. Working within this context, I explore the ways in which Aesop, the classical master of the fable, may have informed the Spaniards' actions on the Kansas plains.
CONQUISTADORS AND STORYTELLERS
The notion that fierce conquistadors could have any interest in fables of foxes and tortoises will strike many people as improbable. With good reason, David Lavender explains that "Los conquistadores were tough, disciplined, and as ruthless as circumstances required."l To be sure, they were violent men in search of great wealth, but simple portraits do not capture their complexity.