Coronado’s Quest: The Discovery of the American Southwest by Arthur Grove Day, Reviewed by Mark D. Walker


I share a fascination with Arthur Grove Day, for the Southwest, with its mix of Native American and Spanish cultures in the desert’s spectacular but harsh environment. He begins this spectacular history with,

The American southwest, that region of sunlit mesas and deep-shadowed canyons, of snow-topped continental rooftrees of rock, of sandy flats and high piney parks, is a land that has never been conquered. It is called the Coronado Country.

 He published this book in May 1940 when he was at Stanford University to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Coronado’s journey, explored many years before the English colonies were settled on the Atlantic, yet it was still a frontier. “One can best understand the present and future development of the Southwest by comprehending its beginnings when the forces making its destiny first germinated. The modern history of the American Southwest opens with the epic of Francisco Vásquez Coronado.”

This is a thorough and reliable account of Frances Vasquez de Coronado, the Spanish protégé of the Mexican viceroy, who was the first white explorer of the Southwest in 1540. Four hundred years ago, he led a band through parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas and became the pathfinder for future exploration.

This pageant of exploration included not only Hispanic adventurers and valiant Indians of a dozen tribes but also the gray-robed friars like Marcos de Niza, one of the missionaries who would represent the advance agents of the conquest— “an economic combination of spiritual and worldly aims.” It would become the chief method of extending Spanish dominion into unknown territories. One of the most exciting figures in this history was Esteban, the black Moorish enslaved person who was a famous figure among the Indians, could speak many of their tribal tongues, and was an expert in the sign language of the prairie. And was “by a whim of destiny to become the undisputed discoverer of the states of New Mexico and Arizona, the black ambassador of the white race and the red men of the walled pueblos. He would live to prance arrogantly, plumed rattle in hand, into the Seven Cities to meet a curious doom that is recounted beside tribal campfires in the heart of the American Southwest.” He’d be slain among the Zuni pueblos he discovered before Coronado’s arrival.

The hero of the story was a young hidalgo by the name of Francisco Vásquez Coronado. Eventually, he led the most significant and best-equipped exploration ever to set foot on the soil of what is now the United States, penetrating the heart of the American continent in search of the legendary gold that Fray Marcos de Niza would make famous, claiming to have seen the “Seven Cities of Gold.”

Tragically, many of the cradles of Puebloan peoples, like Mesa Verde, had ceased to exist as of 1250 when a combination of a thirty-year drought and persistent ravaging nomads resulted in a significant exodus southward. This included Chaco, Cañon del Muerto, and Cañon de Chelly—only 100 miles from Zuni and Coronado came two hundred and fifty years later and didn’t even learn of the legend of the Great Houses.

Some of the communities Coronado’s men entered resisted, especially when Captain Cardenas interpreted his orders to mean that not a man of a village should be left alive. Those who resisted were burnt alive. “The tumult summoned all the Spaniards to the spot. The Indians were ringed about by the musketeers and the infantry with their swords, but still, they fought, almost barehanded, against their butchers. It was one of the most terrible and cold-blooded massacres of southwest Indians in all history, a horrible shamble…”

After three years of wandering, Coronado “had to kiss the hand of the viceroy and to confess that the venture was lost. “Sixty thousand golden ducats had been spent by Mendosa and another fifty thousand by Coronado himself, with nothing to redeem the sums except a much-battered suit of gilded mail.”  (Antonio de Mendoza was Viceroy.)

The author ends his story with, “A last glint of sunset touches the gilded, plumed helmet of the leader – Francisco Vásquez Coronado, crusader, gold-hunter, legend-chaser, finder of the American Southwest but still a fascinating history.

The author’s writing style was engaging. It sometimes reads like a historical novel like “Marcos could hardly believe his ears.” The book has been reprinted multiple times, and the notes are written in a more scholarly language. Unfortunately, I had the mass-market paperback edition, which omitted “Notes, Chronology, Bibliography, and Index.”

“A thorough and reliable account…very readable. The author…consulted all the known Spanish sources and retraced the greater part of his hero’s march…even scholars will glean new information from his book.” Christian Science Monitor

 Product Details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Praeger (February 22, 1982)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 442 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0313232075
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0313232077
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 56 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5 x 1.12 x 8.5 inches

The Author

Arthur Grove Day (1904 in Philadelphia – March 26, 1994 in Hawaii) wrote or edited over fifty books. He was a writer, teacher, and authority on the history of Hawaii.

He earned his bachelor’s and graduate degrees from Stanford University, where he befriended John Steinbeck. He moved to Hawaii in 1944 and was a professor in the English department of the University of Hawaii. He chaired the English department from 1948 to 1953. In 1979, he won the Hawaii Award for Literature. He co-wrote Rascals in Paradise with James Michener.

The Reviewer

Mark D. Walker was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala and spent over forty years helping disadvantaged people in the developing world with agencies like Food for the Hungry, Make A Wishing International, and Hagar USA. His book, Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond, was recognized by the Arizona Literary Association. His second book, My Saddest Pleasures: 50 Years on the Road, was the 2023 Peace Corps Writers’ Award for Best Travel Book winner. He’s a contributing writer for Literary Traveler, Wanderlust Journal, and The Authors’ Show. “The Million Mile Walker Review: What We’re Reading And Why” can be found in the Arizona Authors’ Association Newsletter, Authors Digest.  His wife and three children were born in Guatemala. You can learn more at


Posted in All, Book Reviews: Latin America, Book Reviews: Non-fiction, Book Reviews: Travel, Travel and tagged , , , , .