The Journey of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza De Vaca – Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca.
Alvar Nuñez joined the expedition of Pámfilo de Narvaez to Florida in 1526 as treasurer. With two other Spaniards and an Arab Moor, he was the only survivor who remained on the mainland. For eight years they roamed along the coasts of Louisiana and Texas under the greatest of hardships, their position among the Indians being wellnigh intolerable. In utter despair, Cabeza de Vaca at last tried his scanty knowledge of medicine and, his cures proving successful, he became a renowned medicine man among the natives, his companions following the example. The treatment to which they resorted partook of the nature of a faith-cure. He declares the sign of the cross to be a seldom-failing remedy. The belief of the outcasts in miracles was sincere, while acknowledging that they also employed indigenous Indian remedies with simple Christian religious ceremonials. After nine years they reached the Pacific coast in Sonora, Mexico, thus being the first Europeans to travel across the North American continent.
The Journey of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza De Vaca.
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Narváez Expedition and early Native American relations (from Wikipedia):
In 1527, Pánfilo de Narváez was sent by Spain’s King Charles V to explore the unknown territory which the Spanish called La Florida (present-day Florida in the United States). Cabeza de Vaca was attached to this expedition as the expedition’s treasurer. Records indicate that he also had a military role as one of the chief officers on the Narváez expedition, noted as sheriff or marshal. On June 17, 1527, the fleet of five ships set sail towards the province of Pánuco (which was on the western border of Florida). When they stopped in Hispaniola for supplies, Narváez lost approximately 150 of his men, who chose to stay on the island rather than continue with the expedition.
The expedition continued to Cuba, where Cabeza de Vaca took two ships to recruit more men and buy supplies. Their fleet was battered by a hurricane, resulting in the destruction of both ships and loss of most of Cabeza de Vaca’s men. Narváez arrived days later to pick up the survivors. By February 1528, the remaining ships and men resumed their expedition, reaching Florida in April. They anchored near what is now known as the Jungle Prada Site in St. Petersburg claiming this land as a possession of the Spanish empire.
After communicating with the Native Americans, the Spanish heard rumours that a city named Apalachen was full of food and gold. Against the advice of Cabeza de Vaca, Narváez decided to split up his men. Some 300 were to go on foot to Apalachen and the other would sail to Pánuco. Apalachen had no gold but had only corn, but the explorers were told a village known as Aute, about 5 or 9 days away, was rich. They pushed on through the swamps, harassed by the Native Americans. A few Spanish men were killed and more wounded. When they arrived in Aute, they found that the inhabitants had burned down the village and left. But the fields had not been harvested, so at least the Spanish scavenged food there. After several months of fighting native inhabitants through wilderness and swamp, the party decided to abandon the interior and try to reach Pánuco.
Slaughtering and eating their remaining horses, they gathered the stirrups, spurs, horseshoes and other metal items. They fashioned a bellows from deer hide to make a fire hot enough to forge tools and nails. They used these in making five primitive boats to use to get to Mexico. Cabeza de Vaca commanded one of these vessels, each of which held 50 men. Depleted of food and water, the men followed the coast westward. But when they reached the mouth of the Mississippi River, the powerful current swept them out into the Gulf, where the five rafts were separated by a hurricane. Some were lost forever, including that of Narváez.
Two crafts with about 40 survivors each, including Cabeza de Vaca, wrecked on or near Galveston Island (now part of Texas). Out of the 80 or so survivors, only 15 lived past that winter. The explorers called the island Malhado (“Ill fate” in Spanish), or the Island of Doom. They tried to repair the rafts, using what remained of their own clothes as oakum to plug holes, but they lost the rafts to a large wave.
As the number of survivors dwindled rapidly, they were enslaved for a few years by various American Indian tribes of the upper Gulf Coast. Because Cabeza de Vaca survived and prospered from time to time, some scholars argue that he was not enslaved but using a figure of speech. He and other noblemen were accustomed to better living. Their encounters with harsh conditions and weather, and being required to work like native women must have seemed like slavery. The tribes to which Cabeza de Vaca was enslaved included the Hans and the Capoques, and tribes later called the Karankawa and Coahuiltecan. After escaping, only four men, Cabeza de Vaca, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, Alonso del Castillo Maldonado, and an enslaved Moroccan Berber named Esteban (later called Estevanico), survived to reach Mexico City.
Traveling mostly with this small group, Cabeza de Vaca explored what is now the U.S. state of Texas, as well as the northeastern Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León and Coahuila, and possibly smaller portions of New Mexico and Arizona. He traveled on foot through the then-colonized territories of Texas and the coast. He continued through Coahuila and Nueva Vizcaya; then down the Gulf of California coast to what is now Sinaloa, Mexico, over a period of roughly eight years. Throughout those years, Cabeza de Vaca and the other men adapted to the lives of the indigenous people they stayed with, whom he later described as Roots People, the Fish and Blackberry People, or the Fig People, depending on their principal foods.
During his wanderings, passing from tribe to tribe, Cabeza de Vaca later reported that he developed sympathies for the indigenous peoples. He became a trader and a healer, which gave him some freedom to travel among the tribes. As a healer, Cabeza de Vaca used blowing (like the Native Americans) to heal, but claimed that God and the Christian cross led to his success. His healing of the sick gained him a reputation as a faith healer. His group attracted numerous native followers, who regarded them as „children of the sun“, endowed with the power to heal and destroy. As Cabeza de Vaca grew healthier, he decided that he would make his way to Pánuco, supporting himself through trading. He finally decided to try to reach the Spanish colony in Mexico. Many natives were said to accompany the explorers on their journey across what is now known as the American Southwest and northern Mexico.
After finally reaching the colonized lands of New Spain, where he first encountered fellow Spaniards near modern-day Culiacán, Cabeza de Vaca and the three other men reached Mexico City. From there he sailed back to Europe in 1537.
Numerous researchers have tried to trace his route across the Southwest. As he did not begin writing his chronicle until back in Spain, he had to rely on memory. Cabeza de Vaca was uncertain of his route. Aware that his recollection has numerous errors in chronology and geography, historians have worked to put together pieces of the puzzle to discern his paths.
(The text of the last section was taken from a Wikipedia entry and is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)
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