Marco Da Nizza
Marco da Nizza and the era of land exploration in the future Southwestern United States.

Among the Italians whose life and travels expanded knowledge of the United States were Catholic missionaries such as Franciscan friar Marco da Nizza (Niza) (1495-1558) who, after spending several years in Central America and Mexico, explored the southwestern part of what is now the United States. He accompanied Spanish explorer Francisco Coronado into Arizona and is said to have sighted the "Seven Cities of Cibola" in New Mexico. Although his reports about a rich kingdom were erroneous, they led others to explore the Grand Canyon and central Kansas.

Jesuit Fr. Eusebio Kino (Chino or Chini) from Northern Italy, was a priest-explorer, scientist, chronicler, farmer, and missionary who traveled through Arizona and California from 1681 to 1711. He made major improvements in maps of the area and is credited with establishing settlements in what was then Spain's colonial empire. He built many churches and self-sustaining missions that laid the foundations for the cattle industry, and was considered perhaps the greatest missionary of his time. In 1965 the state of California unveiled his statue in the United States Capitol as a symbol of the many Jesuits who contributed their learning and lives to the development of this region. One historian says of these men, "Without their contribution to knowledge about the approaches to California and the American Southwest it would have taken decades longer to occupy."

Enrico (Henri in French) de Tonty (Tonti) (1649-1704) together with Robert LaSalle, the great Frenchman, were the first Europeans to explore the Mississippi River when in 1682 they canoed the Mississippi River from Illinois River to its delta. Descended from a highly respected family in Gaeta, Italy, Henri was invaluable as the great LaSalle's most able lieutenant, one whose estimable accomplishments included effecting successful peace treaties with local Indian peoples that subsequently facilitated the entry of hundreds of French settlers to the Middle West. Tonti had but one hand -the other blown off in the Sicilian wars -but the bearer of a strong constitution, he was well suited to aid LaSalle in the task entrusted to him to expand France's claims in North America. Some historians recognize Tonti as the true founder of Illinois. His brother Alfonse Tonty is regarded as co-founder of the Detroit.

Explorer Enrico Tonti

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