Lindsay Baker is an author and professor of history at Tarlton State University. He joins us courtesy of the studios of KTRL, Tarleton Public Radio.
In 1541 the Coronado Expedition, which had set out from Mexico the year before, made its way from present-day New Mexico onto the unexplored High Plains of the Texas Panhandle.
The Spanish conquistadores had come to the plains seeking the fabled golden cities of Quivira, where they hoped to find untold riches. All they discovered was destitute Indians living in grass lodges. In their efforts to find the elusive wealth, Coronado and his men crossed the Panhandle. It left them with some of the same impressions that it does on visitors today.
Modern tourists comment on the flatness and monotony, and so did Coronado. The explorer wrote, “I reached some plains with no more landmarks than as if we had been swallowed up in a sea… there was not a stone, nor a bit of rising ground, nor a tree, nor a shrub, nor anything to go by.”
Pedro de Castaneda, the chronicler of the expedition, described the flat Texas Panhandle this way: “The country is like a bowl, so that when a man sits down, the horizon surrounds him around at a distance of a musket shot.”
So little impression was left on the grassy plains that expedition members had to build up piles of buffalo bones and dung so that the rear guard could follow the army. Castaneda wrote that even the passage of the expedition made no mark. “The grass never failed to become erect after it had been trodden down. Although it was short, it was as fresh and straight as before.”