What was the context of the Muster Roll?

By the year 1535, less than half a century after Columbus arrived in America; Spain had established its control over a large part of the continent from their bases in the Caribbean. In 1521 Hernán Cortés completed the capture of Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Aztec empire in Central Mexico, and gained control over the territory the Spanish called New Spain. In South America, 1532, Francisco Pizarro had taken Cusco, capital of the Inca Empire in Peru, a conquest that had produced enormous quantities of gold and silver for the Spanish coffers. These actions, together with the promise of riches and land and the opportunity to climb the ladder of the Spanish social hierarchy attracted innumerable adventurers willing to join the emperor’s army and reap the benefits of the Spanish exploitation of the land and its inhabitants. Despite fierce resistance, the Spanish continued to advance through terra incognita (unknown lands).

In western New Spain, the collapse of the Tarascan kingdom gave Spain control of the Pacific coastline north, into the present state of Nayarit, rich agricultural land where the Spanish established villages and continued to push norward into modern day Sinaloa, gaining control of the town of Culiacan, a beachhead from which they sent expeditions farther north to capture indigenous people to be sold as slaves. It was during one of these slave raids that, in 1536, Diego de Guzmán encountered the sole four survivors of an expedition lost in Florida 8 years earlier. The four men, led by Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, had wandered westward along the Gulf Coast and into the territory of current Texas and Arizona trying to return to Mexico, and had lived among numerous groups of indigenous people. They told stories of a rich land to the Northeast of Culiacán where people lived in large villages with tall houses and traded emeralds and turquoise for tropical birds and feathers. Coming at a time when the conquest of gold-rich Peru was fresh in the mind of the Spanish, and as increased trade also brought wealth to the administrators of the Spanish colonies, New Spain´s viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza, organized an expedition to the north.

Mendoza sent a Franciscan Friar into the unknown territory. With him went Mustafa Azemmouri, also known as Esteban Dorantes, Estevanico, an African slave who was one of the four survivors of the Cabeza de Vaca expedition. De Niza returned confirming the stories of seven wealthy cities, including Cibola, what today are known to be the pueblos around Zuni, in Northwestern New Mexico.  Mendoza then designated Antonio Vazquez de Coronado, the young governor of the province of New Galicia, to lead a large expedition to this Tierra Nueva, New Land, and settle the territory. This is the story of that expedition that invaded and settled what we know today as New Mexico. It begins in Compostela de Indias, formerly and later known as Tepic, the capital of Nueva Galicia, where the forces of the expedition are arriving from Mexico City. It’s February, 1540.

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