Much has been written about and much conjecture has taken place concerning Coronado’s path through Northern Sonora and Southern Arizona. I will now attempt to spell out my ideas on this route through several installments on this blog. Many scholars that have undertaken to trace Coronado’s route have the advantages of an understanding of medieval Spanish, or of the culture and ways of the people living in New Spain at that time. But I have the advantage of being able to read the works of many of these scholars and another advantage that most of them don’t have, something as difficult to acquire as a degree in cultural anthropology or medieval languages, I have an intimate understanding of the land. I spent most of my teens and twenties walking over this land, both for recreation and as part of my job as a wildland firefighter for the Coronado National Forest. How many Coronado scholars can say they have walked the length of the San Pedro River between the border and Benson? How many know the springs marking the major passes over the Dragoon or Chiricahua Mountains other than just those marked on a topographical map? Maybe I am being arrogant to think this counts for as much as their degrees, but none of them have so far been able to locate Chichilticalli using their diplomas and Charles Polzer once told me that if Coronado’s route was to be discovered it would be by people out there on the ground. That point is well illustrated by the history of the Jimmy Owens site.
A Bit About Kuykendall Ruins
I strongly doubt that the Kuykendall Ruins are Chichilticalli, and nobody would like it to be true more than I. I was among the first (as far as I know) to suggest that Chichilticalli may have been Kuykendall or some other of the ruins in the West Turkey Creek area, suggesting this as early as 1990. I was also among the first to suggest Coronado’s route from the San Pedro across Government Draw and over Apache Pass. There are a number of reasons I am skeptical about Kuykendall, but this article is about my theory so I won’t go into detail here, the main reason is the sheer number of artifacts. Simply compare the artifacts found at the Jimmy Owens site with those found at Kuykendall, it is my opinion that when Chichilticalli is actually found it will make Blanco Canyon look like a second rate lithic scatter in comparison.
Coronado’s Trail – A Bad Premise
Over the years there have been a lot of really weird and hard to believe ideas about Coronado’s route, placing Chichilticalli everywhere from Casa Grande to Pleasant Valley to the San Bernardino Valley. Most of these have made a couple of the same big mistakes. The first is that they assume the “Señora” Valley of Coronado’s route is the Sonora Valley of today. The second is that they build on each others mistakes, for example Udall built on Haury who built on Bolton’s work. When what really needs to happen is to throw out all previous assumptions and start fresh.
The Rarely Considered “Eastern Route”
I intend to suggest, through this series of articles, that Coronado followed a more eastern route than is commonly considered. That Coronado followed an ancient trade-route between Mesoamerica and the Northern Pueblos, a trade-route that took a more practical and direct route through the heart of Opata country and north to Zuni along the Rio Yaqui. There are many good reasons to examine this route which I will explore in future articles here. When this route is compared to the narratives of Jaramillo and others it fits as good in some places and better in others, than the more westerly, Sonora Valley route.
This trail, which had probably been in use for generations led through a recently (past 100 year) abandoned country, the heart of the Mogollon/Salado homeland, and past a famed pueblo. This great trading pueblo which had controlled the trade route for who knows how long, was still famed when Coronado passed through and was still a good stopping place along the path. Hopi legends speak of a famed “Red House” in the south from which some of their clans originated called Palatkwapi, could the red house of Hopi lore be the same as the “famed” red house of Chichilticalli?
The route I suggest would approach what is now the United States along the Rio Bavispe, then cross into the United States and follow either the San Simon River or Animas Creek north before crossing the Burro Mountains and traveling north to the Gila River. This would put Chichilticalli somewhere in the vicinity of the Burro Mountains west of Silver City New Mexico. To support this theory I will reference the writings of Cabeza de Vaca, Fray Marcos de Niza, Melchior Diaz, Pedro Castañeda, Juan Jaramillo and Coronado himself, along with documentation on historic and prehistoric trails in the area.