Teguayo, Great Salt Lake, and Atzlatan

Mannert Map of Teguayo in North America

Mannert, in 1796, maps Teguayo as a both region and a city.

One of the most enduring myths, or perhaps the right term is legends, of the American west is Teguayo. To some, it is a lake, to others a mythical homeland, to still others a lost city of gold, and to others, an outlandish hoax. We shall examine all of these to some extent in this article below, but first, it is best to put Teguayo in cartographic context.

Teguayo was mapped in the American southwest from the mid 17th century well into the 19th century. In most cases, Teguayo is mapped as a region, sometimes called Gran Teguayo, though it is occasionally entered as a city or, in later maps, a lake. The first recorded mention of Teguayo, and this is tenuous as we have not been able to isolate the primary source, is in a document discovered by Theodore Greiner, a Pueblo Indian Agent and territorial administrator during the Civil War. Greiner apparently discovered a hitherto unknown document recording an interview between Cortez and Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec Emperor, regarding Aztec dominions in modern day New Mexico and Arizona. The fascinating snippet is quoted in full below:

I command this province, which is the first of New Mexico, the Pueblo of Tigueyo, which governs one hundred and two pueblos to be the best ship car cross country region. In this pueblo there is a great mine close by, in which they cut with stone hatchets the gold of my crown. The great province of Zuni, where was born the great Malinche. This pueblo is very large, increasing in Indians of light complexion, who are governed well. In this province is a silver mine, and this capital controls eighteen pueblos. The province of Moqui, the province of the Navajos, the great province of the Gran Quivira, that governs the pueblos of the Quercs and the Tanos. These provinces have different tongues, which only Malinche understands. The province of Acoma, in which there is a blackish colored hill, in which there is found a silver mine.”

Homann associates Tigux and Teguayo.

Homann associates Tigux and Teguayo.

Although this statement mentions a number of early place names that bear further research, our concern is with the first line, regarding the “Pueblo of Tigueyo”. While there is no certainty that the above quote is authentic or even traceable, if it is true it seems to be the first recorded reference to Teguayo.

The first hard historical evidence of Teguayo appears in ever fascinating and violent journals of the Coronado expedition. Fought in New Mexico somewhere around 1540, between Coronado’s conquistadores and the Puebla of Tiwa, the Tiguex or Tiwa War is generally considered to be the first armed conflict between Europeans and Native Americans in the American West. The Spanish chroniclers transliterated Tiwa as either Tiguex or Tiguea. This powerful Pueblo is most likely one and the same with the “Tigueyo” described to Cortez by Cuauhtémoc.

The next significant report of Teguayo or Tiguex appears in the celebrated 1630 Benavides Memorial. Alonso de Benavides was a Franciscan missionary active in New Mexico in the early 17th century. Benavides composed the memorial and published it in Madrid in a push for the Spanish crown and the Catholic Church to establish a New Mexico bishopric. Though sincere in his passion for gentle conversion of the indigenous Americans of the southwest, Benavides clearly exaggerates the scale, wealth, and sophistication of the land and peoples he encountered. The pueblo of Tiguex (Teguayo) he describes as being ” by rights the great city of the king of this province” having “four thousand or more houses, all quite large, in each of which live from ten to fifteen neighbors”, with “high corridors and terraces, and very high towers,” and “situated on a plain on the banks of a river and enclosed by rock walls, set not with lime by with Gypsum”. It was a place so remarkable that “the Spaniards were simply awestruck with its beauty”.

Unbeknownst to Benavides, this exaggeration would have a significant impact on the next figure in the Teguayo drama, the nefarious Don Diego Dionisio de Peñalosa. Peñalosa could be generously described as a roguish adventurer but is more accurately a traitorous scoundrel in the true conquistador fashion. Born in Peru, Peñalosa took various positions in the Spanish colonial regime before being dismissed from his position in Lima for “misconduct”. Peñalosa attempted to return to Spain but a shipwreck landed him in Mexico where he seems to have had better luck. Calling himself the Count of Peñalosa, he flattered his way into increasingly powerful positions with the Viceroyalty, eventually being awarded governorship of New Mexico. The former governor, known for his kind and humane treatment of the indigenous population, fell afoul of the Spanish Inquisition for, supposedly, hindering the efforts of the Franciscan friars to convert the natives.

Peñalosa arrived in New Mexico in 1661, eager to take up his position and abuse it for personal enrichment. The constant thorn in his side was his clerical counterpart, the Franciscan friar Alonso de Posada. Both were ambitious and strong-willed men who quickly established a mutual loathing. A number of conflicts followed that ended with Peñalosa being excommunicated and Posada imprisoned. Eventually, Posada returned to Mexico City where he filed charges against Peñalosa who, meanwhile, fled to England.

Of importance to our story is that despite near constant conflict, both Posada and Peñalosa published narratives describing presumed explorations of the region. Peñalosa’s account is by far the most interesting; claiming, among other things, that he discovered an outlet to the “North Sea” and the gold-rich indigenous empires of Teguayo and Quivara. Modern researchers have put forth strong evidence that both men, involved in their own ambitious and petty disputes, fabricated part or all of their journals. Most likely Peñalosa (and possibly Posada) discovered manuscript versions of the Benavides Memorial in the official archives of the New Mexico governor and used these documents to further their own ends. Peñalosa extracted Benavides’ exaggerated account of Teguayo and took it one (or more likely 10) steps further. Posada, on the other hand, is the first to clearly and directly associate Teguayo with the Aztec homeland of Atzlatan and with the Lake of Copala (Copala was recorded as the home of the Aztecs in the journals of the 1628 Onate expedition and in the 1563 journals of the Ibarra Expedition. It is sometimes erroneously associated with Cibola).

Leaving Atzatlan - the Codes Boturini

Leaving Atzatlan – the Codes Boturini

Briefly, Atzatlan is the semi-mythical homeland of the Aztec or Mexica peoples. It appears in a number of early Aztec codices including the Tiera de Peregrinacion, Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca, Codex Boturini, and the Codex Aubin. Translated directly it means “Place of Reeds” or “Place of Egrets”. It was supposedly a vast, populous, and wealthy land rich in gold, silver, and precious stones. It was even claimed that sickness did not touch those who dwelt there. The legend of the Aztec migration suggests that some natural or political disaster forced the Aztecs to flee their paradisiacal homeland, Atzatlan, which was a large shallow lake full of reeds and waterbirds. According to the detailed Aztec calendar, this event and the beginning of the Aztec migration occurred around May 24, 1064 CE. This date is not only contemporary with the beginning of the Aztec calendar, but also roughly coincides with the massive volcanic eruptions of Sunset Crater, Arizona. The migration seems to have lasted some 250 years before the Aztec, now Mexica, peoples settled on the shores of Lake Texcoco and founded Tenochtitlan. Lake Texcoco, today buried under the sprawling urban center of Mexico City, was once a vast shallow lake rich in fish and bird life. To the itinerant Mexica, Texcoco must have seemed very similar to “the Place of Egrets”, or Atzatlan.

The association of Teguayo with Atzatlan had two important results. First, it attached the legendary wealth of Atzatlan and the known wealth of the Aztecs to a new conquerable and unexplored land. Secondly, it associated Teguayo with the Lake of Copala, the legendary lake of Atzatlan. Peñalosa, likely having never explored the region himself, may even have believed in both his own exaggerations and those of the Benavides Memorial. Even so, he was not about to share his discoveries with the Spanish, whose Inquisition had excommunicated him and whose colonial viceroy in Mexico, spurred by Posada, was eager to execute him. Instead he presented a plan to the King of England. With a small force of men, Peñalosa argued, he could travel up the Rio Bravo and seize control of New Mexico, including the fabulously wealthy empires of Teguayo and Quivara. In his own mind, Peñalosa was the next Cortez. The King of England, busy with his own colonial efforts in New England, had little interest in Peñalosa’s designs and dismissed them entirely. Peñalosa next took his plan to Louis XIV of France who also dismissed his plans, denying him the troops and logistic support such a mission would have required. Ultimately, though no European prince ever embraced Peñalosa’s plans for the conquest of New Mexico, his claims were not ignored. The important French cartographer Guillaume Delisle, among others, embraced the idea of a wealthy indigenous province roughly where Peñalosa places Teguayo and it subsequently found its way into the mainstream European cartographic lexicon. (it is also of interest that the Penalosa’s fictive narrative reports the discovery of a “North Sea”, which may have influenced Delisle’s speculative mapping of the Sea of the West).

Humboldt Maps Teguayo as Great Salt Lake.

The next figure to take up an active interest in Teguayo was none other than the great German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. Humboldt strongly advocated cartographic interpretation and incorporation of indigenous knowledge. While in Mexico, Humboldt had access to both historical accounts by conquistadors and explorers and indigenous knowledge preserved through missionary reports and oral legend. His remarkable map of 1811 Mexico and New Spain, the most accurate yet seen, was compiled entirely from these sources. Just as Humboldt compiled indigenous and colonial reports into his great map of Mexico, he also compiled the legends of Teguayo and Atzatlan. From the Aztec Codices he mapped the Aztec migration, noting each stop on his map; from the journals of Peñalosa and Posada he associates Teguayo with legendary Atzatlan and Onate’s Lake of Copala; based upon Escalante’s travel notes he recognizes a similarity between descriptions of the Utah Lake and Great Salt Lake with indigenous descriptions of Atzatlan; Humboldt thus takes the leap of identifying one of the Great Basin lakes as Teguayo, the homeland of the Aztecs. Humboldt’s reasoning is, as always sound, though it is unlikely in this case that he was correct, for he relied too heavily upon the fictitious reports of ambitious conquistadores. Nonetheless, Humboldt’s significance and fame, as well as the overall superiority and accuracy of his great map of Mexico and New Spain, influenced maps of the region for the next 50 years.

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