Tracking Coronado

In my previous post I discussed the passage of the main body of the expedition and the various narratives we have of their passage. Now I will attempt to put together all the information from the all the various sources into one composite itinerary for this leg of the journey. Then I will overlay that itinerary over the landscape to see how it fits with various proposed Coronado routes.

First Leg: From Ispa to the Nexpa

Jaramillo tells us that they crossed the last south flowing river where it makes a bend to a village called Ispa, they then traveled through unpopulated country for four days in an unspecified direction. We can assume that the direction remained roughly the same north – northeast direction that would be required to reach Zuni.

Second Leg: Along the Nexpa

Jaramillo’s account next states that they came to a river called “Nexpa” and followed this north flowing stream for two days. Note: This crossing from a south flowing stream to a north flowing one can only be a few specific places on the map, this is a key we will use in mapping the route later on.

Third Leg: From the Nexpa to Chichilticalli

From here the route gets more tricky. Jaramillo tells us they turned to the right  (eastward) and traveled for two days to the foot of the mountains, but failed to say how long it took to cross the mountains to the Chichilticalli camp site where he says they found “water and forage for the horses”. Marcos de Niza, however, solves this obvious gaffe on Jaramillo’s part, he reports that it was four days travel from the last village until the beginning of the wilderness, all accounts agree that the wilderness begins at Chichilticalli, therefore it must be two days the the foot of the mountains and four days total to the Chichilticalli camp. Some have put the Chichilticalli camp on the western side of the mountains, but this cannot be so, Jaramillo reports that here, on the west side of the mountains, they “heard news of what is called Chichiltic Calli”, not that it was there. Coronado’s report makes it clear that the camp was on the eastern side when he reports “I rested for two days at Chichilticale, and there was good reason for staying longer, because we found that the horses were becoming so tired”, this correlates with Jaramillo’s account when he says “crossing the mountains, we came to a deep and reedy river, where we found water and forage for the horses”.

So on this leg we should have two days of travel over desert terrain where there was little forage in a more or less easterly direction up to the foot of a mountain range. Then two days travel crossing those mountains to a place that has lots of water and forage, even in June when Coronado visited. This location should be more or less surrounded by mountains, Casteneda reports “the rest of the country is all wilderness, covered with pine forests”.

Fourth Leg: Chichilticalli to the Rio San Juan

We know that the trip from Chichilticalli to where they crossed the San Juan took only one day despite Jaramillo’s ascribing three days for it (possible trying to account for the two days he forgot to include for crossing the mountains). Coronado and Casteneda both say that Chichilticalli is on the border of the wilderness and that it is fifteen days across the wilderness to Cibola, subtracting 15 days from their arrival at Cibola on July 7 tells us they departed the Chichilticalli camp on June 23. The San Juan River was named such because they crossed it on the feast day of San Juan (June 24), therefore it can only be one day from Chichilticalli, actually, it could even be less than that, all we know is that they crossed it on that day, they may have followed it for some time before the terrain dictated that they must cross.

The San Juan can only be the Gila River because Casteneda reports that “the country rises continually from the beginning of the wilderness until Cibola is reached”, this could only describe the rugged country north of the Gila.

So now we have our route laid out for us, let us now apply these features to the map and see how they fit for different proposed Coronado routes.

Eagle Pass Route

For many years the most widely accepted theory was that put forth by Emil Haury that follows the San Pedro north to the vicinity of Tres Alamos Wash then cuts eastward to the base of the Pinaleno Mountains. This route would put Chichilticalli somewhere on the western slopes of Mount Graham and Chichilticalli Pass would equate to Eagle Pass on the north end of those mountains.

Coronado's proposed Eagle Pass route

Once we see this mapped out with the average daily rate of travel for this leg of the expedition it seems a bit preposterous. The trip from the Sonora to the San Pedro is only two days long but Coronado took four days for this leg, then the trip up the San Pedro should take at least four days but Coronado only followed the north flowing river for two days. Chichilticalli is not surrounded by mountains, the country does not rise continuously from there. Once you get past Chichilticalli it gets even harder to believe because if the Gila is Coronado’s deep and reedy river, then one or two days out from there should take them to the San Juan River, but there is no other river in that direction to be the San Juan.

 Apache Pass Route

This theory is one that is currently quite popular, it proposes that Coronado came up the same route as the previous theory but cuts east much sooner, near Tombstone, and travels up Government Draw and across the Sulphur Springs Valley to the base of the Chiricahua Mountains where some have suggested Chichilticalli is. It then crosses Apache Pass, and heads northeast to the Gila.

Coronado's proposed Apache pass route


This theory is much easier to fit to the pattern of Coronado’s travels through this country, but it has a few issues too. As far as I can determine, this theory was first proposed by me and Grady Cook in the early 90s, and I strongly advocated this route for years, but the inconsistencies of this option eventually led me to look elsewhere. First of all there is the same one we started with on the previous map, the trip to the Nexpa should be four days long but the distance between the Sonora and the San Pedro is not far enough. Then, the distance from the San Pedro to the foot of the Chiricahuas is way too far for them to have crossed it in two days. Nugent Brasher has postulated that Chichilticalli is the Kuykendall Ruin on the western side of the Chiricahuas, but this location is miles from Apache Pass, his supposed Chichilticalli Pass, it is not surrounded by mountains and the country does not rise continually from there. Some postulating this theory say the San Simon River must be Jaramillo’s deep and reedy river, others say that Apache Pass is the deep, high-banked arroyo which is the Flint’s translation of the same passage. However I take exception in that the San Simon is not deep enough and Apache Pass is not narrow enough.

Burro Mountains Route

This is the new route I am proposing, it builds on the work of Charles Di Peso and Charles Polzer, these two well know and respected scholars suggested a route for Coronado that would have brought him up the Rio Bavispe and over a much more eastern path than most have considered. This route brings Coronado’s party from the upper Bavispe River to the San Simon, then down this river for two days. They would have turned to the east around San Simon Cienega and traveled across the Lordsburg Playa to the foot of the Burro Mountains, crossing these mountains they would have found Mangus Creek, in the area around Mangus Spring to be deep and reedy, and the canyon beyond the spring could be termed a deep, high-banked arroyo. From here it is a short trip to the Gila to make it there by the feast day of San Juan.

Coronado's proposed Burro Mtn. route

This proposed route fits the narrative like a glove with no inconsistencies. The days of travel fit the distance and their rate of travel perfectly with the slight exception of the two day march east from the Nexpa to the foot of the mountains. Evidence in the narratives indicates that this was a dry route with little or no forage so they would have stepped up to cross this barren area quickly. The description of the Chichilticalli area fits perfectly here like no other place in the region, the country rises continually from here, the Mangus Valley is surrounded by mountains with pine forests, it is lush and well watered with a deep and reedy creek only one day from the next river, the Gila, there is even a narrow defile like that described by Mota-Padilla.


The different narrative of Coronado’s journey through this are each paint a different picture, but by overlaying them all we can get a more complete description of the route. This route creates a series of topographic features and landmarks that are like a fingerprint, it can really only match one place in the landscape. It is my contention that these clues all point towards the Burro Mountains and Mangus Creek being the true location of Chichilticalli. In my next article I will focus on this area and show the evidence of prehistoric and historic trails using this same pass and many other historic and native groups that used the Mangus Creek area as a camping spot because of its abundant water and ample forage.

To be continued…


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About Andy Ward

I am an independent researcher, writer and artist interested in all things Southwestern. Southeast Arizona is my home and area of primary interest.

6 thoughts on “The Chichilticalli Trail Part IV – The Map”

  1. JP says:

    Thank you so much for the wonderful work you are doing on this website. I am currently studying the Coronado Expedition for my own personal research project and I have found your website incredibly useful.

  2. Andy Ward says:

    Thank you for the words of encouragement JP.


  3. K. J. Schroeder says:

    I personally favor a route that passes through Safford and then south of the San Carlos Reservoir based on the recovery of glass beads from late prehistoric and/or proto-historic contexts (see Orchard 1975; Schroeder 1992; Tuohy 1960 for details). More excavations by qualified archaeologists are needed at late prehistoric sites along the various suggested routes. Keep up the good work!

    Orchard, William C.
    1975 Beads and Beadwork of the American Indians, 2nd edition. Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, New York.

    Schroeder, K. J.
    1992 Mortuary Analysis of a Small Salado Cemetery Near Safford, Arizona. In Proceedings of the Second Salado Conference, Globe, AZ, edited by Richard C. Lange and Stephen Germick, pp. 201-205. Ocassional Paper, Arizona Archaeological Society, Phoenix.

    Tuohy, Donald R.
    1960 Archaeological Survey and Excavation in the Gila River Cahnnel between Ervin Dam Site and Buttes Reservoir Site, Arizona. Ms on file, Arizona State Museum Library, University of Arizona, Tucson.


    And there are red rocks in the Burro Mountains:

  5. Andy Ward says:

    Unfortunately far too little effort has been put into the archeology of the Safford Valley. The ruins there equal those of the Phoenix Valley but are less well know and less understood because they are not near a major population center and a major university. Many of the great ruins in that area whose walls were still standing when the first Americans came through and that could be contenders for Chichilticalli have been lost, completely destroyed and plowed over.

  6. niel says:

    i wasted hour on another post lol, after seeing this new Information. If they went west to San carlos, then the ruins has to be Point of Pines, Point of Pines cause it rises off the nantane valley to the Top of the Nantanes where you get out of the Desert for the last time to the High Country and I can see snow there in a late spring. Point of Pines was known to trade with Hopi and Zuni. And might have been inhabited at the time 1540. by a scant few. I see articles that sugest the great migration to the hopi was from Palawaptki. And some suggest it was Chichilticalli

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