Gloria Smith is a local historian and a former lecturer in the University of Arizona's Black Studies Program.
The numerous Spanish explorers who traveled to the New World in the early 1500s had an enormous impact on the development of the region that would one day become Arizona, and they left behind many legacies.
Tucson historian Gloria Smith recalls the story of the man sometimes called "The Black Conquistador". Juan Garrido was born around 1480 and is believed to have lived until around 1550. He hailed from West Africa, and as a free man he chose to lead the dangerous but eventful life of a Spanish conquistador.
Smith says that Garrido traveled through Arizona on his way to Baja California in 1533 on the final expedition led by Hernán Cortés. The expedition, which had been in search of Indian gold and treasure, was considered a disaster. Following its end, Garrido returned to live out his life in Mexico City, where he had a wife and three children.
Today, historians regard Garrido as the first person in Mexico to ever sow wheat. Around 1522, he started his own crop from just three wheat seeds that he had brought with him from Spain.
In September 1538, Garrido filed a probanza, or petitionary proof of merit, to establish his eligibility for military benefits. The scant pieces of biographical information included in that document are the source of most of the information that Smith and other historians have been able to verify about Juan Garrido's life.