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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Fray Marcos de Niza

The party headed by Cabeza de Vaca related tales of a populated area far to the north in which the natives spoke of the fabulously rich “Seven Cities of Cíbola.” This stirred hopes of another Mexico awaiting conquest. Antonio de Mendoza, the first viceroy of New Spain, sent the Franciscan Fray Marcos to explore the area, guided by Estévan, Cabeza de Vaca’s black companion. Estévan took to breaking the trail, advancing well beyond Fray Marcos and the main party. It was thus that he was killed, under circumstances difficult to confirm, although Fray Marcos would narrate the event as if he had thorough knowledge of it. In the same fashion, Fray Marcos claimed he had seen Cíbola, somewhat as Moses had been allowed to glimpse the promised land he could not enter. His narrative bolstered Cabeza de Vaca’s claims, and moved Coronado, the Governor of New Galicia, to organize a massive expedition (see Casteñeda). When it was found, however, that the pueblos, though extraordinary in their construction, were not centers of great wealth, Fray Marcos lost both his reputation and his position with Coronado. Yet his text stands as an example of the rhetoric of promise just over the horizon that would become essential to the American experience, drawing waves of immigrants in search of their fortunes.

Juan Bruce-Novoa
University of California at Irvine

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