The King’s Fifth, by Scott O’Dell, was published in 1966 by Houghton Mifflin.
Esteban de Sandoval, a mapmaker, follows Captain Mendoza and his cohorts in the latter’s search for Cίbola and gold. Along the way, he is caught between the greed of the Spaniards and the peace of Zia, their Indian guide, and Father Francisco, a monk.
O’Dell shows very well the lengths men will go to for
gold, as well as the terrible things that happen as a result. Coronado invades
the city of Hawikuh, Mendoza steals from and kills several Indians, and the
party starts to splinter from within because of greed. Even Esteban is not
immune to it, as he starts acting more callous and selfish the more gold is
I didn’t remember much of the set-up of The King’s Fifth, beyond the trial
sections, which were more interesting, but the last half of the book I thought
was pretty good. It’s a good look at the way gold shaped the exploration of
Mexico/the current Southern US, as well as how it shaped the treatment of the
natives (and of people in general). The hint of romance between Esteban and Zia
is, perhaps, a bit too sentimental and predictable, but that is a core part of
what led him to resist greed at the end, so I suppose I can see why it was
there (otherwise, there is only one other cause for Esteban to hide the gold,
which I don’t think would have been enough to make it believable).