The most important African explorer of America was Estevanico (also known as Little Stephen), the first foreigner to discover New Mexico. Born in Morocco around 1500, Estevanico left Spain on June 17, 1527, as the slave of Andrés Dorantes, a Spanish explorer. Dorantes and Estevanico had joined a disastrous Spanish expedition led by Pánfilo de Narváez, the Spanish governor of Florida, to explore his new territory. Soon after their arrival in Tampa Bay in 1528, the party fell victim to disease, animal attacks, and Indians vigorously defending their land. When the army of two hundred Spaniards tried to sail from Florida to Mexico, they shipwrecked in Texas. Eventually the party of two hundred was reduced to only four: Dorantes, Stephen, and two other Spaniards. Of these, Stephen was the most important to the success of their eight-year search for the Spanish settlement in Mexico City. Because of his facility for learning new languages quickly, Estevanico became thee spokesperson and negotiated for food, shelter, and directions from the Indians. Once the group reached Mexico City, Estevanico was rewarded by appointment to another expedition, led by Father Marcos Niza, to travel northward and locate the legendary “Seven Cities,” later called the Seven Cities of Cíbola (or God). Although Marcos later claimed to be the first to discover New Mexico, he had in fact sent Estevanico ahead of him as a scout. Disobeying Marco’s orders, Estevanico did not wait for his slower compatriot, but pushed on to become the first non-native American to cross what today is the international border and explore Arizona and New Mexico. In May 1539 Estevanico reached the ridge of the Hauchuca Mountains and surveyed much of southern Arizona. But upon reaching his destination, the city of Cíbola, Estevanico was murdered by the Zuni Indians in 1539, seeking to protect their land from further incursions. Although his death allowed others to claim they had discovered Cíbola, Estevanico remains the first foreign explorer of the southwestern United States.
Note: All excerpts borrowed from 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About African American History by Jeffrey C. Stewart, solely for the intents and purposes to inform and educate.