By Martha Frost: Quay County Sun
In August 1940 Tucumcari and cities all over New Mexico were celebrating the journey of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado through New Mexico and the Southwest.
The Spanish explorer expected to find streets paved with gold and houses studded with turquoise, but the only gold Coronado and his men found were the sunflowers that dotted the land. In the pueblos, they found not riches but a simple agricultural people.
“As the catus country became rougher and more difficult, the shining armor and expensive luggage were scattered along the way. The spring turned to a blazing hot summer, rains fell, and the barren country turned green,” a July 29 article from the Tucumcari Daily News reported.
Although Coronado felt his expedition had been a failure since he found no riches, his expedition brought livestock, which is today one of Tucumcari’s chief industries.
Coronado’s journey was so momentous, the U.S. government appropriated a hefty $200,000 for Entradas to be performed in New Mexico, West Texas, Arizona and Oklahoma.
Tucumcari’s $100,000 pageant of the exploration of New Mexico in 1540, “The Entrada de Coronado — History 400 Years in the Making,” was set to be staged three nights in a row beginning Aug. 1 at the City Stadium after a rain-drenched dress rehearsal the night before.
More than 500 Tucumcarians made up the cast that filled the 300-foot stage. In addition to the fanfare surrounding the performance, disaster struck when the horse ridden by Coronado, played by City Clerk Jim Stark, stumbled and fell. Stark broke his wrist in the fall; few in the audience knew it was a mistake.
Overall, the play was considered an artistic success. Financially, it was a bust, netting a measly $150, with $40 of it going to repair damage to the stadium when a short-circuited wire started a fire.
1940 pageant by the numbers:
• 3 – number of days pageant ran at Tucumcari Stadium
• 20 – number of horses used
• 1,000 – number of historically accurate costumes
• 18,000 – dollar amount of the costumes used
• 5 tons – weight of lighting equipment used
Source: Tucumcari Daily News