Hawikuh was one of the rumored “Seven Cities of Gold” that first tempted the Spanish to venture north from Mexico into the present-day American Southwest.
Conquered by the Francisco Vásquez de Coronado expedition in 1540, Hawikuh would quickly become an important Spanish stronghold and headquarters for both Coronado and his successors.
Hawikuh reflects the interactions and cultural tensions mounting in the Southwest during the 16th and 17th centuries – particularly after missionary efforts began at the pueblo with the construction of La Purísima Concepción de Hawikuh Mission Church in 1629.
Esteban (Estevanico), a black Spanish slave originally from Morocco, was the first non-native explorer to discover Hawikuh. He was the first African in Texas and what would become the Western United States. As Juan Flores and others recount, he was one of the four survivors in the ill-fated journey of Panfilo de Narvaez in 1528 from Cuba to the Florida coast.
When a shipwreck off the coast of Texas left Esteban as one of few survivors, he began traveling across the Southwest, noting languages, cultural practices, and locations of pueblos. He eventually reached Spanish territory in 1536.
The Viceroy of New Spain, Antonio de Mendoza, sent the first Spanish expedition into present-day New Mexico on hearing Esteban’s accounts of great riches to the north – particularly the purported Seven Cities of Gold.
Esteban led the way, acting as a scout to his Spanish companions. In 1539, Esteban first glimpsed Hawikuh and likely visited. The historic record and oral histories differ on the exact sequence of events that followed.
It is agreed, however, that shortly after Esteban made contact with the Zunis in Cibola he was killed by tribesmen – within either the Hawikuh pueblo or a neighboring village. When news of his death reached his entourage, they feared for their lives and returned to New Spain.
Hawikuh was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966, and later included in the Zuni-Cibola Complex National Historic Landmark in 1974.
The Hawikuh ruins are on the Zuni Indian Reservation. The Zuni Pueblo offers tours of the site for a fee. Visitors should make reservations at least a week in advance to ensure availability. For tour information, please see the Zuni Pueblo Department of Tourism website.