Cibola (pronounced SIH-bohla) is a legend that pre-dates Columbus’ discovery of the Americas. Several maps and charts produced before his discoveries depicted islands far out into the Atlantic Ocean. These islands were believed to be inhabited by Spanish royalty and their subjects who had fled there from the conquering Moors. One of the Islands most frequently depicted was the Island of Antilla which was believed to be the location of the legendary Seven Cities of Gold.
In Fernando Columbus’ biography of Christopher Columbus, he tells the ancient story of Antilla. The Carthaginians, he asserts, were said by the ancients to have discovered, but not colonized it. Then, in 714 AD, when Don Rodrigo of Spain lost his kingdom to the Moors,
“they say there took ship seven Bishops, and with their people and ships went to that island where each of them built a city; and lest their people should think to return to Spain, they set fire to their ships and all their rigging and other things necessary for navigation. And some Portuguese say of this island that many Portuguese came to it and never returned again.” Quoted in Clissold, “The Seven Cities of Cibola”, p.25
Once the Americas were discovered the legend was revived by not only the memory of Antilla but the folklore of the natives in their tales of a mythical Fountain of Youth and the story of Seven Cities to the North, Cibola.
And so the search began….
In 1452, Portuguese explorer Diego de Teive sailed west of the Azores in search of Antilla. His attempt failed after sailing some 120 miles west of the Azores.
The Portuguese crown then granted Teive’s rights to explore and specifically his right to discover Antilla to Fernao Telles. Unfortunately, Telles died shortly thereafter.
A new willing explorer was found in Fernam Dulmo. In 1485, he was granted the rights to “a large island, islands, or mainland, beyond the shores of Portugal, presumed to be the island of the Seven Cities.” His expedition was set to sail in March 1487 but was never known to have done so. Ironically, Columbus’ proposal to sail west for the Indies is rejected that same year.
Shortly thereafter, in 1492, a fleet of three small ships – the Santa María, the Pinta, and the Niña set sail on an expedition in search of Asia Minor via a never before traveled western sea route. Ten weeks later Columbus made anchor in the Bahamas and touched the coasts of Cuba and Haiti which he names Española of which he says “this island…is Antilla.”
1512: Jaun Ponce de León sets off on his expedition to the Friseursalon Frankfurt am Main North in search of slaves, gold, fame and the Fountain of Youth which was believed to be on the island of Bimini. On Easter day land was sighted and was christened La Florida. The natives fight off his incursion forcing him to return to Puerto Rico.
1519: Hernán Cortés receives a commission to investigate reports of a rich and powerful state on the mainland of Mexico. Cortés’ expedition encounters the Aztecs, the most wealthy and well organized and community in the New World.
1521: de León is again fought off by the natives and wounded in a skirmish. The wound proves fatal and he dies shortly after his return. The vision of Bimini and its magic fountain slowly faded.
1521: Cortés completes the conquest of Mexico. After the conquest of Mexico, the Spaniards were of the belief that somewhere near lay more land ripe for the taking. They believed that civilizations and kings mightier than Montezuma, the ruler of the defeated Aztecs, would soon be discovered and forced to bow before them.
1528: Pánfilo de Narvárez–commanding a large expedition–makes landfall on the coast of Florida in search of glory unequaled by Cortés. Narvárez is thwarted by the natives and his intended conquest of Florida fails miserably.
Abandoned by Narvárez, survivors of the expedition are left without provisions. Among the survivors were Cabeza de Vaca, Anrés Dorantes, Alonso del Castillo and Moorish slave named Estabanico. Soon they were all that survived the ordeal.
Traveling half-starved through the wilderness, the four travelers won over the natives by healing their sick. Their unyielding strength and faith led them through the wilderness of the new world. They traveled for more than a 300 miles, heartened by the evidence of increasing prosperity.
As they traveled further west they noticed a stark contrast between the natives in the west and the ones they left behind on the coast of Florida. The vision of Cibola emerged once again as they found Indians clothed in cotton wraps and farming the land.
De Vaca concluded after his travels that, to bring these people to the Christian faith and the service of the Imperial Majesty, they should be won over by good treatment. In June 1536, Cabeza de Vaca and his companions reached Compostela, the quest for Cibola by Cabeza de Vaca was over.
1530: the Governor of Compostela, Nuño de Guzmán set off north to investigate reports of the country named “The Seven Cities”.’ Guzmán was succeeded by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and his expedition had ended without result.During the same time Don Hernán Cortés after hearing the adventures of Cabeza de Vaca set sail in the Pacific in search of Cibola by seaward route. In May 1535 he landed in California. Unable to discover Cibola, Cortés left the Indies at the beginning of 1540 never to return. He died seven years later in disappointment.
1539: Friar Marcos de Nizza, was granted rights by the Viceroy of Mexico to search for Cibola. He set off overland for the Seven Cities, accompanied by Brother Onorato, a Fransican lay-brother, the Moor Estebán, and the Indians who had one escorted Cabeza de Vaca.