THE MYSTERY OF MELCHIOR DIAZ
— Part 4 —
Bruce F. Barber
Bruce F. Barber, published author of “…Of Sea and Sand” A Drama of Two Living Deserts –
No doubt about it, the men of early 16th century Estremadura, Spain—those who became “Conquistadores”—were different from all other men before or since. Circumstance created the difference at precisely those moments in history, and a rugged, capable, murderous group of men emerged to perpetrate themselves on the New World. And then they were gone.
Gone? Yes, including what many believed a precedence they’d set. That is, second-born sons had no birthright to inheritance in Spain but if the Conquistadors, most of whom were second-, third- and fourth-born sons, could become millionaires in the New World, so could other men. Or, so other men thought. The problem was, a majority of them had no backbone.
This is a story of my search for the grave of Melchior Díaz, one of those rugged, capable, (albehim not so murderous) men.
**Part I of this series introduced the story with a description of Díaz, a Conquistador, the first Mayor and Military Commander of the Mexican city of Culiacán, and the first European to set foot on Baja California (Norte).
**Part II presented portions of the history of the early 16th-century to enable the reader to understand the part Díaz played in history.
**Part III described the team I assembled for my search for his grave.
**This unit entreats Díaz’s presence in the Californias.
At the end of Part III, Díaz had just learned the supply ships he’d been ordered to find were anchored in the Colorado River (near Yuma). In preparation for his journey toYuma, he selected 25 men from an expedition formed in Mexico to find the Seven (supposedly golden) Cities of Cíbola. 20 years later, a member of that same expedition identified those men as “weaklings.” I mention this because I believe Díaz was murdered in Baja California to enable “the weaklings” to return to the mainland.
The Cíbola expedition was formed, in large part, of young men who’d come to the New World believing there was gold for the taking. Columbus returned from his voyage of discovery with enough gold to suggest its abundance in the New World. When Cortez conquered his gold in Mexico, and Pizarro in Peru, a gold rush to the ‘New World’ began in Europe.
Most of the newcomers were spoiled brats who had never done a day’s work. But, when the Viceroy requested volunteers to participate in an expedition to anew source of gold, not only did he have an eager pool to draw from, he offered a small ranch property to each man who saw the expedition through to its end.
Finally, with men and supplies amassed, the only item delaying the expedition was Melchior Díaz’s return from his mission to verify the existence of Cíbola. As the delay grew longer, and the lust for gold stronger, tempers flared sufficiently to force the Viceroy to start the expedition that, in the minds of every man and woman in Mexico, was to make them all rich.
This is a key point: The belief in Cíbola’s gold was based on
1) A falsely interpreted report of the one man who’d been there.
2) The lust the men and women of Mexico harbored since the days they first dreamed of coming to the New World. So powerful was that lust, and so rampant the rumors describing Cíbola, that many believed no man had the right to delay him from the wealth waiting somewhere beyond the cobblestone road to Compostela. It reminds me of Dorothy’s Yellow Brick Road …to where? Brigadoon? Camelot? Cíbola?
Whereas the march to Compostela was uneventful, once the muster had been taken and the blessing bestowed, the expedition was officially underway although a last minute change placed Coronado at the head of the column in place of Viceroy Mendoza. Beyond the “yellow brick road”, beyond the comforts most these worthless men had known their entire lives—men who’d never been in the wilds—they now decided carrying their own luggage was beneath them and tried every trick in the book to coerce Indians and Mestizos accompanying them to carry their loads.
Painfully (referring to their pride), as each man learned he had to fend for himself, he also learned previously unknown hardship in place of his envisioned lap of luxury. What’s more, when news of Díaz’s Cíbola Verification Report was leaked in Culiacán, a report meaning the hardships they suffered were for naught, attitudes worsened, the men turned hostile, and some demanded their return to Mexico.
If you read Part III of this series, you’ll recall the letter Coronado sent to the leader of the expedition, who was then encamped at San Gerónimo de Corazones. I’d like you to think what you’d do if you found yourself saddled with a hostile bunch of “boys” and a letter is placed in your hand offering an opportunity to rid yourself of them. Whereas we can only imagine who was selected to remain in San Gerónimo, of greater importance are the men Díaz selected from them for his expedition to Yuma.
From the time of Díaz’s departure to the time of his arrival in Yuma, the record includes no mention of trouble with the single exception of an event that occurred two weeks later. Upon reaching the Colorado River, Díaz met an Indian who told him of the Alarcon’s departure and the burial of a cache of letters at the base of a prominent tree near where those ships had been anchored.
Standing beside that tree three days later, he held the only document needed to declare his mission ended. Of prime importance, however, was the level of the Coronado expedition’s need for supplies and the mood of the men in San Gerónimo. Consequently, believing his empty-handed return to San Gerónimo could cause an uprising, he decided to act upon the second of the three letters (the third described Alarcon ‘s 60-day stay among Colorado River Indians) which declared California, previously thought to be an island, a peninsula.
That is, Díaz decided to cross the untamed Colorado and beat a path to La Paz, the site of Cortez’ 1535 pearl-harvesting colony, where he would build a ship for his return to Mexico. Thinking again of men whose dreams of wealth had been dashed, whose supplies had sailed away, and whose leader refused to allow their return to San Gerónimo, we have no choice but to question the accident Díaz was reported to have had ten or eleven days after this decision.
Because I was involved, at one time in my life, in more than 1,000 accident investigations, I studied this accident and discovered it had to have been—for the past 4,000 years—the most common among horse-mounted warriors. That is, in the case of a warrior who spurs his horse to a gallop and thrusts his spear at a target but misses, we will find that spear traversing a predictable trajectory enabling it to up-end in certain soils.
As the horse continues forward, it and its mounted warrior will come upon the upended spear at a speed making it impossible to avoid. In such cases, the elevated end of the spear comes in contact with the warrior’s upper leg. While the resistance to the upper leg forces the point farther into the ground, forward motion comes into play involving the six foot length of the shaft which travels along the inner thigh (ripping trousers and skin), penetrates the groin, tears the femoral artery, the ureter and everything else in its path before exiting through the lower back.
As the spear rotates to a vertical position, the impaled warrior is ejected from his horse, falls to the ground and dies in less than three weeks. (Verified by comparing similar untreated wounds received in Korea and Viet Nam.)
This is the accident Melchior Díaz was reported to have had. That is, angered by a soldier’s dog pestering sheep reportedly accompanying the group, Díaz lost his cool, spurred his horse to a gallop and… violà. In my opinion, it is the one accident most likely to be believed by those to whom it was reported.
As regards each of the men in his company, however, laws governing the human conscience of men in a group dictate at least one of the 25 can be counted on to tell the secret. Because no secret was divulged, I believe Díaz was murdered by one man who faked the accident, called it to the attention of the others, assigned subordinates to stand over the wounded Diaz throughout the night, bury him with ceremony, and return to San Gerónimo.
The ideal time to perpetrate this crime is when the others are creating a campsite for the night. In such case, the second in command could have drawn Díaz aside, stabbed him through the heart or clubbed him to unconsciousness, placed the spear and, displaying shock and grief, called his subordinates to the scene.
One of the many I surrounded myself with was a forensic pathologist who, if enough of the skeleton remained, could have ascertained from the skull or ribs surrounding the heart, whether foul play is indicated. Remember, the official record states Díaz was carried for 20 days on a litter. If that’s true, then what is the curious pile of rocks found in the Sierra Pinta?
TO BE CONTINUED