What's in a name? Marcos de Niza

  • When the Tempe Union High School District made plans to build a third high school in what was then the southern tip of the city's urban development, the name "Marcos de Niza High School" was proposed and unanimously accepted.  Historians and longtime city residents knew the saga behind the search for the Seven Cities of Cibola and the role played by Fray Marcos de Niza.


    In the early 1500's many Europeans believed the wealth found in Mexico and Peru was also abundant in the vast north country of the newly discovered land.  There was a great deal of squabbling between New Spain and Old Spain as to who should have the privilege of leading an entrada  or expedition. Few had the resources or experience.  Finally, Antonio de Mendoza, Viceroy of Mexico, hit upon the idea of employing  a  priest for the job, thus giving the expedition the color of a missionary exploration.  He selected a Franciscan friar named Marcos de Niza who was from an Italian town called Nice (thus the name de Niza).  The friar had a reputation as a man of many talents, supposedly among them proficiency in cartography and cosmography. Mendoza also purchased a slave, Estaban, to serve as a guide.  In 1539, along with several Indians serving as porters, servants and interpreters, de Niza left to fulfill his four instructions:


    • Take possessions of everything seen or heard.
    • Spot a good location for a military outpost.
    • Be on the lookout for signs of material wealth
    • Whatever seen or not seen, bring back an intriguing report.


    Like all good explorers, de Niza kept a detailed journal (a copy of which is available in the MdN LRTC).  If his narrative is to be  believed, he and his men may have crossed the present site of the high school which now bears his name.  One can find at the mouth of the Pima Canyon, overlooking the present community of Guadalupe, the name "Frey Marcos de Niza" inscribed on a sheltered rock along with a Spanish legend and the date "1539."  However, history has not been kind to the friar.  His narrative contains exaggerations, inaccuracies, elaborate assertions and brazen omissions, indicating he may not have made it this far.


    Despite the uncertainty of the Friar's ultimate destination, the Tempe Union High School District chose the name for its new school which would reflect the history, mystery, and flavor of the southwest.  The first group of students researched the padre's history and used it to select their mascot and school colors of Padre Brown & Gold.