Folklore Friday: Coronado and the Chupacabra

In Vampires: A Field Guide to the Creatures That Stalk the Night, Bob Curran recounts a legend that some believe could be related to modern day stories of the Chupacabra.  Curran writes how, one night, the 16th century conquistador Francisco Coronado had a run-in with a band of livestock-murdering monsters.

“A legend says that as he camped during the night, Coronado’s livestock were attacked. It is told that some of his men drove off the attackers—described as small, dark, horny-skinned men—with torches and spears. In the morning, many of the cattle, which made up the main herd (1,500 animals), were dead, drained of blood. Despite this setback, Coronado was able to buy cattle from local Indians, replacing most of those that he’d lost, and press onward in his quest. In the Zuni Indian pueblo at Hawikuh in Western New Mexico, he heard tales of strange grey men 'with knives on their backs' who had sporadically fought with the Zunis in times long past. They could jump, the Zunis told him, and drop off their warriors from above, killing them with pointed sticks. It was said, the Zunis went on, that they drank blood. These tales were of little interest to Coronado, as his destination was the legendary Cibola, and all this talk of ferocious dwarves was only a distraction.”

This story certainly has its detractors, since, as Benjamin Radford wrote in an article for the Skeptical Inquirer in 2016, “Curran is describing what a legend says that Coronado claims about what he heard from Zuni Indians when they told him about what their forefathers told them they did a half-millennia ago.”

Radford rightly notes that “Spanish conquistador Coronado was of course attacking and killing Zunis, not swapping friendly stories with them,” which places serious doubt as to why the indigenous people would have told him the legend at all; although some speculate that if they did indeed share this story with him, it was to warn him off of their territory.  Of course, Coronado also didn’t speak the same language as the Zunis, and the rough mix of hand signals and approximate translations they used to communicate would not be conducive to good storytelling.

In fact, Curran himself is unsure of the veracity of the tale.

“I’ve used the Coronado story in a couple of books but I’ve no idea whether it’s true or not,” said Curran in response to an inquiry by Radford.  “According to my notes it comes from a book which I was shown in the Biblioteca National in Barcelona a good number of years ago. The book is Las Adventuras del Gran General Francesco de Coronado, Explorador y Goberndor de Nueva Galicia y Otres en America and the date I have for it is 1895.”

Even if the story is true, its connection to the Chupacabra is tenuous at best.  The killing of livestock seems like a fairly effective guerrilla tactic to use against an unwanted invading force, so if the story happened as told, there's no reason to assume the perpetrators were anything other than natives defending their territory.  And the behavior of the "chupacabras" in question don't match what is most commonly described today; hunting in packs with pointy sticks is quite a departure from the Chupacabra's recognized routine of solitary hunting using only its natural weapons.  It's possible, though, that if the indigenous people only saw the chupacabra-like creatures, and then went to investigate the animals wounded or killed in the attack, that they might blame any puncture wounds on a sharpened implement; although, one would also think that they'd likely be able to discern between an animal attack and a wound caused by a weapon, especially a weapon with which they were familiar, like a spear.  At this point, we simply have no way of knowing the truth. 

We must be ever vigilant of confirmation bias when researching fortean topics, and so much of this simply doesn't match the phenomenon with which we are today familiar.  It's easy to find connections when you really want to, and legends from centuries ago lend themselves particularly well to the manipulation of their narratives to match a predetermined phenomenon; but, ultimately, we don't have enough information to determine the truth about any connection this might have to modern day tales of the Chupacabra.  And so it must remain an interesting story from our distant past, and very little else.

Tobias WaylandComment