In 1539 the viceroy of New Spain don Antonio de Mendoza, at the head of a group of financial backers, organized, financed, and launched an expedition aimed at completing the Columbian Project of reaching East Asia, the source of much desired luxury goods such as silk and porcelain, by traveling west from Iberia. Because European knowledge of world geography was sorely incomplete at the time, the expedition—led by the viceroy's protégé Francisco Vázquez de Coronado—did not reach beyond what is now the American Southwest and central Kansas. Frustration among the expeditionaries, coupled with severe physical conditions and resistance by Native groups, led to frequent violent confrontation with Native Americans. After nearly three years the highly disappointed expedition returned south to Mexico City, its point of origin, in 1542.
The people who made up the expedition fell into three main groups: Europeans (especially from Castilla and Portugal); north and west Africans, who were almost all slaves or servants; and Native American allies, who comprised the largest component of the expedition. Information obtained during this project, while seeking data about the members of the expedition, solidly confirmed that the true goal of the enterprise was, indeed, East Asia, especially China. Another major result of the project was to show that the Coronado Expedition was the first of three successive attempts to reach Asia that were organized and financed by Viceroy Mendoza and associates of his. They were all undertaken between 1539 and 1542. All departed from New Spain. Only one reached Asia, but because of contrary winds and currents was unable to sail back to New Spain. Nevertheless, information obtained during that third attempt, led by Ruy López de Villalobos—a relative of the viceroy, eventually led to establishment of round-trip trade because Spain and countries of East Asia. Known as the "Manila Galleon," that trade was carried on for about three hundred years.
Integral to the Flints' research have been efforts to identify and define connections between members of the expedition and their linkages to Viceroy Mendoza and to the very powerful and politically influential Mendoza family in Spain. That investigation—and other associated research—has led to the conclusion that recruitment of random participants in the Coronado Expedition was overshadowed in importance by selection of expeditionaries who had pre-existing allegiance to Mendoza and his family. The Mendoza family had a lengthy history of supporting the efforts of Columbus to reach Asia by sailing west from Spain. They viewed success in those efforts as tied to their own continued financial and political power, and that of Spain as a whole. In this light, the Coronado Expedition appears as part of long-range strategy for aggrandizement of Spain's and the Mendozas' position in the world. By extension, individuals who helped fund and who participated in the expedition stood to partake in any resulting elevated status.