17 Strand C Reading: Excerpts from Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca
About This Reading
In 1527, Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca joined an expedition from Spain to the Americas. The company was stranded in the region now known as Florida. These are excerpts from his account of his experience here over the next eight years.
The journey of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and his companions from Florida to the Pacific, 1528-1536
On the 27th day of the month of June, 1527, the Governor Panfilo de Narvaez departed from the port of San Lucar de Barrameda, with authority and orders from Your Majesty to conquer and govern the provinces that extend from the river of the Palms to the Cape of the Florida, these provinces being on the mainland. The fleet he took along consisted of five vessels, in which went about 600 men. The officials he had with him (since they must be mentioned) were those here named: Cabeza de Vaca, treasurer and alguacil mayor; Alonso Enriquez, purser; Alonso de Solis, factor of Your Majesty and inspector. A friar of the order of Saint Francis, called Fray Juan Gutierrez, went as commissary, with four other monks of the order.
We arrived at the Island of Santo Domingo, where we remained nearly forty-five days, supplying ourselves with necessary things, especially horses. Here more than 140 men of our army forsook us, who wished to remain, on account of the proposals and promises made them by the people of the country.
From there we started and arrived at Santiago (a port in the Island of Cuba) where, in the few days that we remained the Governor supplied himself again with people, arms and horses. It happened there that a gentleman called Vasco Porcallo, a resident of la Trinidad (which is on the same island), offered to give the Governor certain stores he had at a distance of 100 leagues from the said harbor of Santiago. The Governor, with the whole fleet, sailed for that place, but midways, at a port named Cape Santa Cruz, he thought best to stop and send a single vessel to load and bring these stores. Therefore he ordered a certain Captain Pantoja to go thither with his craft and directed me to accompany him for the sake of control, while he remained with four ships, having purchased one on the Island of Santo Domingo. Arrived at the port of Trinidad with these two vessels.
Captain Pantoja went with Vasco Porcallo to the town (which is one league from there) in order to take possession of the supplies. I remained on board with the pilots, who told us that we should leave as soon as possible, since the harbor was very unsafe and many vessels had been lost in it. Now, since what happened to us there was very remarkable, it appeared to me not unsuitable, for the aims and ends of this, my narrative, to tell it here.
The next morning the weather looked ominous. It began to rain, and the sea roughened so that, although I allowed the men to land, when they saw the weather and that the town was one league away, many came back to the ship so as not to be out in the wet and cold. At the same time there came a canoe from the town conveying a letter from a person residing there, begging me to come, and they would give me the stores and whatever else might be necessary. But I excused myself, stating that I could not leave the ships.
At noon the canoe came again with another letter, repeating the request with much insistency, and there was also a horse for me to go on. I gave the same reply as the first time, saying that I could not leave the vessels. But the pilots and the people begged me so much to leave and hasten the transportation of the stores to the ships, in order to be able to sail soon, from a place where they were in great fear the ships would be lost in case they had to remain long. So I determined upon going, although before I went I left the pilots well instructed and with orders in case the south wind (which often wrecked the shipping) should rise, and they found themselves in great danger, to run the vessels ashore, when men and horses might be saved. So I left, wishing for some of them to accompany me, but they refused, alleging the hard rain, the cold and that the town was far away.
On the next day, which was Sunday, they promised to come, God helping, to hear mass. One hour after my departure the sea became very rough and the north wind blew so fiercely that neither did the boats dare to land, nor could they beach the vessels, since the wind was blowing from the shore. They spent that day and Sunday greatly distressed by two contrary storms and much rain, until nightfall. Then the rain and storm increased in violence at the village, as well as on the sea, and all the houses and the churches fell down, and we had to go about, seven or eight men locking arms at a time, to prevent the wind from carrying us off, and under the trees it was not less dangerous than among the houses, for as they also were blown down we were in danger of being killed beneath them. In this tempest and peril we wandered about all night, without finding any part or place where we might feel safe for half an hour. In this plight we heard, all night long and especially after midnight, a great uproar, the sound of many voices, the tinkling of little bells, also flutes and tambourines and other instruments, the most of which noise lasted until morning, when the storm ceased.
Never has such a fearful thing been witnessed in those parts. I took testimony concerning it, and sent it, certified, to Your Majesty. On Monday morning we went down to the harbor, but did not find the vessels. We saw the buoys in the water, and from this knew that the ships were lost. So we followed the shore, looking for wreckage, and not finding any turned into the forest. Walking through it we saw, a fourth of a league from water, the little boat of one of the vessels on the top of trees, and ten leagues further, on the coast, were two men of my crew and certain covers of boxes. The bodies were so disfigured by striking against the rocks as to be unrecognizable. There were also found a cape and a tattered quilt, nothing else. Sixty people and twenty horses perished on the ships. Those who went on land the day we arrived, some thirty men, were all who survived of the crews of both vessels.
We remained thus for several days in great need and distress, for the food and stores at the village had been ruined also, as well as some cattle. The country was pitiable to look at. The trees had fallen and the woods were blighted, and there was neither foliage nor grass. In this condition we were until the 5th day of the month of November, when the Governor, with his four vessels, arrived. They also had weathered a great storm and had escaped by betaking themselves to a safe place in time. The people on board of the ships and those he found were so terrified by what had happened that they were afraid to set to sea again in winter and begged the Governor to remain there for that season, and he, seeing their good will and that of the inhabitants, wintered at that place. He put into my charge the vessels and their crews, and I was to go with them to the port of Xagua, twelve leagues distant, where I remained until the 20th day of February.
AT that time the Governor came with a brig he had bought at Trinidad, and with him a pilot called Miruelo. That man he had taken because he said he knew the way and had been on the river of the Palms and was a very good pilot for the whole northern coast. The Governor left, on the coast of Habana, another vessel that he had bought there, on which there remained, as captain, Alvaro de Cerda, with forty people and twelve horsemen. Two days after the Governor arrived he went aboard. The people he took , along were 400 men and eighty horses, on four vessels and one brigantine.
The pilot we had taken ran the vessels aground on the sands called “of Canarreo,” so that the next day we were stranded and remained stranded for fifteen days, the keels often touching bottom. Then a storm from the south drove so much water on the shoals that we could get off, though not without much danger. Departing from there and arrived at Guaniguanico, another tempest came up in which we nearly perished. At Cape Corrientes we had another, which lasted three days. Afterward we doubled the Cape of Sant Anton and sailed with contrary winds as far as twelve leagues off Habana, and when, on the following day, we attempted to enter, a southerly storm drove us away, so that we crossed to the coast of Florida, sighting land on Tuesday, the I2th day of the month of April. We coasted the way of Florida, and on Holy Thursday cast anchor at the mouth of a bay, at the head of which we saw certain houses and habitations of Indians.
The governor and all of the officers except Cabeza de Vaca want to head inland to explore the territory. Cabeza de Vaca disagrees, stating that it would be inadvisable and against regulations to abandon the ships. The governor will not be disuaded, and entreats Cabeza de Vaca to stay with the ships and take command of them. Out of loyalty to the governor and other officers, Cabeza de Vaca refuses, suspecting that he will never see the ships again.
ON Saturday, the 1st of May, the day on which all this had happened, he ordered that they should give to each one of those who had to go with him, two pounds of ship-biscuit and one-half pound of bacon, and thus we set out upon our journey inland. The number of people we took along was three hundred, among them the commissary, Father Juan Xuarez, another friar called Father Juan de Palos and three priests, the officers, and forty horsemen.
We marched for fifteen days, living on the supplies we had taken with us, without finding anything else to eat but palmettos like those of Andalusia. In all this time we did not meet a soul, nor did we see a house or village, and finally reached a river, which we crossed with much trouble, by swimming and on rafts. It took us a day to ford the river on account of the swiftness of its current. When we got across, there came towards us some two hundred Indians, more or less; the Governor went to meet them, and after he talked to them by signs they acted in such a manner that we were obliged to set upon them and seize five or six, who took us to their houses, about half a league from there, where we found a large quantity of corn ready for harvest. We gave infinite thanks to our Lord for having helped us in such great need, for, as we were not used to such exposures, we felt greatly exhausted, and were much weakened by hunger.
On the third day that we were at this place the purser, the inspector, the commissary and myself jointly begged the Governor to send out in search of a harbor, as the Indians told us the sea was not very far away. He forbade us to speak of it, saying it was at a great distance, and I being the one who most insisted, he bade me to go on a journey of discovery and search of a port, and said I should go on foot with forty people.
So the next day I started with the Captain Alonso del Castillo and forty men of his company. At noon we reached sandy patches that seemed to extend far inland. For about one and a half leagues we walked, with the water up to the knee, and stepping on shells that cut our feet badly. All this gave us much trouble, until we reached the river which we had crossed first, and which emptied through the same inlet, and then, as we were too ill-provided for crossing it, we turned back to camp and told the Governor what we had found and how it was necessary to ford the river again at our first crossing in order to explore the inlet thoroughly and find out if there was a harbor.
The next day he sent a captain called Valenzuela with sixty footmen and six horsemen to cross the river and follow its course to the sea in search of a port. After two days he came back, reporting that he had discovered the inlet, which was a shallow bay, with water to the knees, but it had there no harbor. He saw five or six canoes crossing from one side to the other, with Indians who wore many feather bushes.
Hearing this, we left the next day, always in quest of the province called Apalachen by the Indians, taking as guides those whom we had captured, and marched until the 17th of June without finding an Indian who would dare to wait for us. Finally there came to us a chief, whom an Indian carried on his shoulders. He wore a painted deerskin, and many people followed him, and he was preceded by many players on flutes made of reeds. He came to the place where the Governor was and stayed an hour. We gave him. to understand by signs that our aim was to reach Apalachen, but from his gestures it seemed to us that he was an enemy of the Apalachen people and that he would go and help us against them. We gave him beads and little bells and other trinkets, while he presented the Governor with the hide he wore. Then he turned back and we followed him.
That night we reached a broad and deep river, the current of which was very strong and as we did not dare to cross it, we built a canoe out of rafts and were a whole day in getting across. If the Indians had wished to oppose us, they could have easily impeded our passage, for even with their help we had much trouble. One horseman, whose name was Juan Velazquez, a native of Cuellar, not willing to wait, rode into the stream, and the strong current swept him from the horse and he took hold of the reins, and was drowned with the animal. The Indians of that chief (whose name was Dulchanchellin) discovered the horse and told us that we would find him lower down the stream. So they went after the man, and his death caused us much grief, since until then we had not lost anybody. The horse made a supper for many on that night. Beyond there, and on the following day, we reached the chief’s village, whither he sent us corn.
Suffering great hardships, the company travels for six months, encountering native peoples who are sometimes friendly and sometimes wage war. One by one, the company kills their horses for food and skins. Starving, many men become sick and die. Finally reaching the coast, the company constructs three barges and embarks on them. One of the barges washes out to sea, and, as the governor had selected the strongest and healthiest men for his crew, Cabeza de Vaca’s crew is not able to keep up with the other barge. Cabeza de Vaca and his crew eventually make it to an island.
To this island we gave the name of the Island of Ill Fate. The people on it are tall and well formed; they have no other weapons than bows and arrows with which they are most dextrous. The men have one of their nipples perforated from side to side and sometimes both; through this hole is thrust a reed as long as two and a half hands and as thick as two fingers; they also have the under lip perforated and a piece of cane in it as thin as the half of a finger. The women do the hard work. People stay on this island from October till the end of February, feeding on the roots I have mentioned, taken from under the water in November and December. They have channels made of reeds and get fish only during that time; afterwards they subsist on roots. At the end of February they remove to other parts in search of food, because the roots begin to sprout and are not good any more.
ON the island I have spoken of they wanted to make medicine men of us without any examination or asking for our diplomas, because they cure diseases by breathing on the sick, and with that breath and their hands they drive the ailment away. So they summoned us to do the same in order to be at least of some use. We laughed, taking it for a jest, and said that we did not understand how to cure.
Thereupon they withheld our food to compel us to do what they wanted. Seeing our obstinacy, an Indian told me that I did not know what I said by claiming that what he knew was useless, because stones and things growing out in the field have their virtues, and he, with a heated stone, placing it on the stomach, could cure and take away pain, so that we, who were wiser men, surely had greater power and virtue.
At last we found ourselves in such stress as to have to do it, without risking any punishment. Their manner of curing is as follows: When one is ill they call in a medicine man, and after they are well again not only do they give him all they have, but even things they strive to obtain from their relatives. All the medicine man does is to make a few cuts where the pain is located and then suck the skin around the incisions. They cauterize with fire, thinking it very effective, and I found it to be so by my own experience. Then they breathe on the spot where the pain is and believe that with this the disease goes away.
The way we treated the sick was to make over them the sign of the cross while breathing on them, recite a Paternoster and Ave Maria, and pray to God, Our Lord, as best we could to give them good health and inspire them to do us some favors. Thanks to His will and the mercy He had upon us, all those for whom we prayed, as soon as we crossed them, told the others that they were cured and felt well again. For this they gave us good cheer, and would rather be without food themselves so as to give it to us, and they gave us hides and other small things. So great was the lack of food then that I often remained without eating anything whatsoever for three days, and they were in the same plight, so that it seemed to me impossible for life to last, although I afterwards suffered still greater privations and much more distress, as I shall tell further on.
I had to remain with those same Indians of the island for more than one year, and as they made me work so much and treated me so badly I determined to flee and go to those who live in the woods on the mainland, and who are called those from Charruco. I could no longer stand the life I was compelled to lead. Among many other troubles I had to pull the eatable roots out of the water and from among the canes where they were buried in the ground, and from this my fingers had become so tender that the mere touch of a straw caused them to bleed. The reeds would cut me in many places, because many were broken and I had to go in among them with the clothing I had on, of which I have told. This is why I went to work and joined the other Indians. Among these I improved my condition a little by becoming a trader, doing the best in it I could, and they gave me food and treated me well.
They entreated me to go about from one part to another to get the things they needed, as on account of constant warfare there is neither travel nor barter in the land.
So, trading along with my wares I penetrated inland as far as I cared to go and along the coast as much as forty or fifty leagues. My stock consisted mainly of pieces of seashells and cockles, and shells with which they cut a fruit which is like a bean, used by them for healing and in their dances and feasts. This is of greatest value among them, besides shell-beads and other objects. These things I carried inland, and in exchange brought back hides and red ochre with which they rub and dye their faces and hair; flint for arrow points, glue and hard canes wherewith to make them, and tassels made of the hair of deer, which they dye red. This trade suited me well because it gave me liberty to go wherever I pleased; I was not bound to do anything and no longer a slave. Wherever I went they treated me well, and gave me to eat for the sake of my wares. My principal object in doing it, however, was to find out in what manner I might get further away. I became well known among them; they rejoiced greatly when seeing me and I would bring them what they needed, and those who did not know me would desire and endeavor to meet me for the sake of my fame.
My sufferings, while trading thus, it would take long to tell; danger, hunger, storms and frost overtaking me often in the open field and alone, and from which through the mercy of God, Our Lord, I escaped. For this reason I did not go out trading in winter, it being the time when the Indians themselves remain in their huts and abodes, unable to go out or assist each other.
Nearly six years I spent thus in the country, alone among them and naked, as they all were themselves.
The reason for remaining so long was that I wished to take with me a Christian called Lope de Oviedo, who still lingered on the island. The other companion, Alaniz, who remained with him after Alonso del Castillo and Andres Dorantes and all the others had gone, soon died, and in order to get him (Oviedo) out of there, I went over to the island every year, entreating him to leave with me and go, as well as we could, in search of Christians. But year after year he put it off to the year that was to follow. In the end I got him to come, took him away, and carried him across the inlets and through four rivers on the coast, since he could not swim. Thence we proceeded, together with several Indians, to an inlet one league wide, very deep everywhere and which seemed to us, from what we saw, to be the one called of the Holy Ghost.
On the opposite shore we saw Indians who had come to meet those in our company. They informed us that further on there were three men like ourselves and told us their names. Upon being asked about the rest of the party, they answered that all had died from cold and hunger and that the Indians beyond had killed Diego Dorantes, Valdivieso and Diego de Huelva wilfully, only because these had gone from one house to another, and their neighbors with whom was now the Captain Dorantes, had, in consequence of some dream dreamt by these Indians, killed Esquivel and Mendez also.
We asked them about those who remained alive, and they said they were in a very sorry condition, as the boys and other Indians, idlers and roughs, kicked them, slapped their faces and beat them with sticks, and such was the life they had to lead.
We inquired about the country further on and the sustenance that mig-ht be found in it. They said it was very thinly settled, with nothing to eat, and the people dying from cold, as they had neither hides nor anything else to protect their bodies. They also told us that, if we wished to meet the three Christians about two days hence, the Indians would come to a place about a league from there on the shore of that river to feed on nuts. And to show us that what they said of the ill-treatment of our people was true the Indians with whom we were kicked and beat my companion. Neither did I remain without my share of it. They threw mud at us, and put arrows to our chests every day, saying they would kill us in the same way as our other companions.
And fearing this, Lope de Oviedo, my companion, said he preferred to go back, with some women of the Indians in whose company we had forded the cove and who had remained behind. I insisted he should not go and did all I could to prevail upon him to remain, but it was in vain. He went back and I remained alone among these Indians, who are named Guevensy whereas those with whom he went away were called Deaguanes.
TWO days after Lope de Oviedo had gone the Indians who kept Alonso del Castillo and Andres Dorantes came to the very spot we had been told of to eat the nuts upon which they subsist for two months in the year, grinding certain small grains with them, without eating anything else. Even of that they do not always have, since one year there may be some and the next year not. They (the nuts) are of the size of those of Galicia, and the trees are very big and numerous.
An Indian told me that the Christians had come and that if I wished to see them I should run away to hide on the edge of a grove to which he pointed, as he and some of his relatives were to visit these Indians and would take me along to the Christians. I confided in them and determined to do it because they spoke a different language from that of my Indians. So the next day they took me along. When I got near the site where they had their, lodges, Andres Dorantes came out to look who it was, because the Indians had informed him also that a Christian was coming, and when he saw me he was much frightened, as for many days they believed me to be dead, the Indians having told them so. We gave many thanks to God for being together again, and that day was one of the happiest we enjoyed in our time, and going to where was Castillo they asked me whither I went. I told him my purpose was to go to a country of Christians and that I followed this direction and trail. Andres Dorantes said that for many days he had been urging Castillo and Estevanico to go further on, but they did not risk it, being unable to swim and afraid of the rivers and inlets that had to be crossed so often in that country.
Still, as it pleased God, Our Lord, to spare me after all my sufferings and sickness and finally let me rejoin them, they at last determined upon fleeing, as I would take them safely across the rivers and bays we might meet. But they advised me to keep it secret from the Indians (as well as my own departure) lest they would kill me forthwith, and that to avoid this it was necessary to remain with them for six months longer, after which time they would remove to another section in order to eat prickly pears. These are a fruit of the size of eggs, red and black, and taste very good. For three months they subsist upon them exclusively, eating nothing else.
Now, at the time they pluck this fruit, other Indians from beyond come to them with bows for barter and exchange, and when those turn back we thought of joining them and escaping in this way. With this understanding I remained, and they gave me as a slave to an Indian with whom Dorantes stayed. This Indian, his wife, their son and another Indian who was with them were all cross-eyed. These are called Mariames, and Castillo was with others, who were their neighbors, called Iguaces.
And so, being here with them, they told me that after leaving the Island of Ill-Fate they met on the coast the boat in which the purser and the monks were going adrift, and that crossing the rivers, of which there were four, all very large and very swift, the barges in which they crossed were swept out into the sea, where four of their number were drowned. Thus they went ahead until they had crossed the inlet, which they did by dint of great efforts. Fifteen leagues from there they met another of our parties, and when they reached there, already two of their companions had died in sixty leagues of travel. The survivors also were very near death. On the whole trip they ate nothing but crawfish and yerba pedrera.
The Governor’s Fate
At this, the last cove, they said they saw Indians eating blackberries, who, upon perceiving the Christians, went away to another promontory. While seeking a way to cross the cove an Indian and a Christian came towards them, and they recognized Figueroa, one of the four we had sent ahead from the Island of Ill-Fate, who there told them how he and his companions had gotten to that place, where two of their number and one Indian had died from cold and hunger, because they had come and remained in the worst weather known. He also said the Indians took him. and Mendez. While with them Mendez fled, going in the direction of Panuco as best he might, but the Indians pursued and killed him. So, as he (Figueroa) was with these same Indians he learned (from them) that with the Mariames there was a Christian who had come over from the other side and had met him with those called Guevenes; and that this Christian was Hernando de Esquivel, from Badajoz, a companion of the commissary. From Esquivel he learned how the Governor, the purser and the others had ended.
The purser, with the friars, had stranded with their barge among the rivers, and, while they were proceeding along the coast, the barge of the Governor and his men came to land also. He (the Governor) then went with his barge as far as the big cove, whence he returned and took his men across to the other side, then came back for the purser, the monks and the rest. He further told him that after disembarking, the Governor revoked the powers he had given to the purser as his lieutenant, giving the office to a captain that was with him called Pantoja. The Governor did not land that night, but remained on his barge with a pilot and a page who was sick. They had neither water nor anything to eat aboard, and at midnight a northerner set in with such violence that it carried the barge out into the sea, without anybody noticing it. They had for an anchor only a stone, and never more did they hear of him. Thereupon the people who had remained on land proceeded along the coast, and, being much impeded by water, built rafts with great trouble, in which they passed to the other side.
Going ahead, they reached a point of timber on the beach, where they found Indians, who, upon seeing them approach, placed their lodges on the canoes and crossed over to the other side of the coast, and the Christians, in view of the season and weather, since it was in the month of November, remained in this timber, because they found water and firewood, some crawfish and other sea-food, but from cold and hunger they began to die.
Moreover, Pantoja, who remained as lieutenant, ill-treated them. On this Sotomayor, brother of Vasco Porcallo (the one from the Island of Cuba, who had come in the fleet as Maestro de Campo), unable to stand it longer, quarreled with Pantoja and struck him a blow with a stick, of which he died. Thus they perished one after another, the survivors slicing the dead for meat. The last one to die was Sotomayor, and Esquivel cut him up and fed on his body until the first of March, when an Indian, of those who had taken to flight previously, came to look if they were dead and took Esquivel along with him. Once in the hands of this Indian, Figueroa spoke to Esquivel, learning from him what we have told here, and he entreated him to go in his company towards Panuco. But Esquivel refused, saying he had heard from the monks that Panuco was in their rear, and so he remained, while Figueroa went back to the coast where he formerly had been.
ALL this account Figueroa gave after Esquivel’s narrative, and thus, from one to the other, it came to me. Through it the fate of the whole fleet will be learned and known, and what happened to every one in particular. And he said furthermore that if the Christians would go about there for some time they might possibly meet Esquivel, because he knew that he had run away from the Indian with whom he was and gone to others called Mariames, who were their neighbors. And, as I have just said, he and the Asturian wished to go to other Indians further on, but when those with whom they were found it out, they beat them severely, undressed the Asturian and pierced one of his arms with an arrow.
At last the Christians escaped through flight, and remained with the other Indians, whose slaves they agreed to become. But, although serving them, they were so ill-treated, that no slaves, nor men in any condition of life, were ever so abused. Not content with cuffing and beating them and pulling out their beards for mere pastime, they killed three out of the six only because they went from one lodge to another. These were Diego Dorantes, Valdivieso and Diego de Huelva. The three remaining ones expected to meet the same fate in the end.
To escape from that life Andres Dorantes fled to the Mariames, and they were the ones with whom Esquivel had been. They told him how Esquivel stayed with them and how he fled because a woman dreamt he would kill her son, and the Indians pursued and killed him. They also showed Andres Dorantes his sword, his rosary, his prayer book and other things of his.
It is a custom of theirs to kill even their own children for the sake of dreams, and the girls when newly born they throw away to be eaten by dogs. The reason why they do it is (as they say) that all the others of that country are their enemies with whom they are always at war, and should they marry their daughters they might multiply so much as to be able to overcome them and reduce them to slavery. Hence they prefer to kill the girls rather than see them give birth to children who would become their foes.
Cabeza de Vaca, Dorantes, Castillo, and Estevanico head inland to join the Iguaces, a people that subsist on prickly pears and other seasonal foods.
They [the Iguaces] are a very merry people, and even when famished do not cease to dance and celebrate their feasts and ceremonials. Their best times are when “tunas’ (prickly pears) are ripe, because then they have plenty to eat and spend the time in dancing and eating day and night. As long as these tunas last the squeeze and open them and set them to dry. When dried they are put in baskets like figs and kept to be eaten on the way. The peelings they grind and pulverize. While with them it happened many times that we were three or four days without food. Then, in order to cheer us, they would tell us not to despair, since we would have tunas very soon and eat much and drink their juice and get big stomachs and be merry, contented and without hunger. But from the day they said it to the season of the tunas there would still elapse five or six months, and we had to wait that long.
When the time came, and we went to eat tunas, there were a great many mosquitoes of three kinds, all very bad and troublesome, which during most of the summer persecuted us. In order to protect ourselves we built, all around our camps, big fires of damp and rotten wood, that gave no flame but much smoke, and this was the cause of further trouble to us, for the whole night we did not do anything but weep from the smoke that went to our eyes, and the heat from the fires was so insufferable that we would go to the shore for rest. And when, sometimes, we were able to sleep, the Indians roused us again with blows to go and kindle the fires.
Those from further inland have another remedy, just as bad and even worse, which is to go about with a firebrand, setting fire to the plains and timber so as to drive off the mosquitoes, and also to get lizards and similar things which they eat, to come out of the soil. In the same manner they kill deer, encircling them with fires, and they do it also to deprive the animals of pasture, compelling them to go for food where the Indians want. For never they build their abodes except where there are wood and water, and sometimes load themselves with the requisites and go in quest of deer, which are found mostly where there is neither water nor wood.
On the very day they arrive they kill deer and whatever else can be had and use all the water and wood to cook their food with and build fires against the mosquitoes. They wait for another day to get something to take along on the road, and when they leave they are so badly bitten by mosquitoes as to appear like lepers. In this manner they satisfy their hunger twice or thrice a year and at such great sacrifice as I have told. Having been with them I can say that no toil or suffering in this world comes near it. All over this country there are a great many deer, fowl and other animals which I have before enumerated. Here also they come up with cows; I have seen them thrice and have eaten their meat. They appear to me of the size of those in Spain. Their horns are small, like those of the Moorish cattle; the hair is very long, like fine wool and like a pea jacket; some are brownish and others black, and to my taste they have better and more meat than those from here. Of the small hides the Indians make blankets to cover themselves with, and of the taller ones they make shoes and targets. These cows come from the north, across the country further on, to the coast of Florida, and are found all over the land for over four hundred leagues. On this whole stretch, through the valleys by which they come, people who live there descend to subsist upon their flesh. And a great quantity of hides are met with inland.
ON the night we arrived there some Indians came to Castillo complaining that their heads felt very sore and begging him for relief. As soon as he had made the sign of the cross over them and recommended them to God, at that very moment the Indians said that all the pain was gone. They went back to their abodes and brought us many tunas and a piece of venison, something we did not know any more what it was, and as the news spread that same night there came many other sick people for him to cure, and each brought a piece of venison, and so many there were that we did not know where to store the meat. We thanked God for His daily increasing mercy and kindness, and after they were all well they began to dance and celebrate and feast until sunrise of the day following.
They celebrated our coming for three days, at the end of which we asked them about the land further on, the people and the food that there might be obtained. They replied there were plenty of tunas all through that country, but that the season was over and nobody there, because all had gone to their abodes after gathering tunas; also that the country was very cold and very few hides in it. Hearing this, and as winter and cold weather were setting in, we determined to spend it with those Indians. Five days after our arrival they left to get more tunas at a place where people of a different nation and language lived, and having traveled five days, suffering greatly from hunger, as on the way there were neither tunas nor any kind of fruit, we came to a river, where we pitched our lodges.
As soon as we were settled we went out to hunt for the fruit of certain trees, which are like spring bittervetch (orobus), and as through all that country there are no trails, I lost too much time in hunting for them. The people returned without me, and starting to rejoin them that night I went astray and got lost. It pleased God to let me find a burning tree, by the fire of which I spent that very cold night, and in the morning loaded myself with wood, took two burning sticks and continued my journey. Thus I went on for five days, always with my firebrands and load of wood, so that in case the fire went out where there was no timber, as in many parts there is none, I always would have wherewith to make other torches and not be without firewood. It was my only protection against the cold, for I went as naked as a new-born child. For the night I used the following artifice:
I went to the brush in the timber near the rivers and stopped in it every evening before sunset. Then I scratched a hole in the ground and threw in it much firewood from the numerous trees. I also picked up dry wood that had fallen and built around the hole four fires crosswise, being very careful to stir them from time to time. Of the long grass that grows there I made bundles, with which I covered myself in that hole and so was protected from the night cold. But one night fire fell on the straw with which I was covered, and while I was asleep in the hole it began to burn so rapidly that, although I hurried out as quick as possible, I still have marks on my hair from this dangerous accident. During all that time I did not eat a mouthful, nor could I find anything to eat, and my feet, being bare, bled a great deal. God had mercy upon me, that in all this time there was no northern; otherwise I could not have survived.
At the end of five days I reached the shores of a river and there met my Indians. They, as well as the Christians, had given me up for dead, thinking that perhaps some snake had bitten me. They all were greatly pleased to see me, the Christians especially,and told me that thus far they had wandered about famishing, and therefore had not hunted for me, and that night they gave me of their tunas. On the next day we left and went where we found a great many of that fruit with which all appeased their hunger, and we gave many thanks to Our Lord, whose help to us never failed.
EARLY the next day many Indians came and brought five people who were paralyzed and very ill, and they came for Castillo to cure them. Every one of the patients offered him his bow and arrows, which he accepted, and by sunset he made the sign of the cross over each of the sick, recommending them to God, Our Lord, and we all prayed to Him as well as we could to restore them to health. And He, seeing there was no other way of getting those people to help us so that we might be saved from our miserable existence, had mercy upon us, and in the morning all woke up well and hearty and went away in such good health as if they never had had any ailment whatever. This caused them great admiration and moved us to thanks to Our Lord and to greater faith in His goodness and the hope that He would save us, guiding us to where we could serve Him. For myself I may say that I always had full faith in His mercy and in that He would liberate me from captivity, and always told my companions so.
When the Indians had gone and taken along those recently cured, we removed to others that were eating tunas also, called Cultalchuches and Malicones, which speak a different language, and with them were others, called Coayos and Susolas, and on another side those called Atayos, who were at war with the Susolas, and exchanging arrow shots with them every day. Nothing was talked about in this whole country but of the wonderful cures which God, Our Lord, performed through us, and so they came from many places to be cured, and after having been with us two days some Indians of the Susolas begged Castillo to go and attend to a man who had been wounded, as well as to others that were sick and among whom, they said, was one on the point of death. Castillo was very timid, especially in difficult and dangerous cases, and always afraid that his sins might interfere and prevent the cures from being effective. Therefore the Indians told me to go and perform the cure. They liked me, remembering that I had relieved them while they were out gathering nuts, for which they had given us nuts and hides. This had happened at the time I was coming to join the Christians. So I had to go, and Dorantes and Estevanico went with me.
When I came close to their ranches I saw that the dying man we had been called to cure was dead, for there were many people around him weeping and his lodge was torn down, which is a sign that the owner has died. I found the Indian with eyes upturned, without pulse and with all the marks of lifelessness. At least so it seemed to me, and Dorantes said the same. I removed a mat with which he was covered, and as best I could prayed to Our Lord to restore his health, as well as that of all the others who might be in need of it, and after having made the sign of the cross and breathed over him many times they brought his bow and presented it to me, and a basket of ground tunas, and took me to many others who were suffering from vertigo. They gave me two more baskets of tunas, which I left to the Indians that had come with us. Then we returned to our quarters.
Our Indians to whom I had given the tunas remained there, and at night returned telling, that the dead man whom I attended to in their presence had resuscitated, rising from his bed, had walked about, eaten and talked to them, and that all those treated by me were well and in very good spirits. This caused great surprise and awe, and all over the land nothing else was spoken of. All who heard it came to us that we might cure them and bless their children, and when the Indian, in our company (who were the Cultalchuches) had to return to their country, before parting they offered us all the tunas they had for their journey, not keeping a single one, and gave us flint stones as long as one and a-half palms, with which they cut and that are greatly prized among them. They begged us to remember them and pray to God to keep them always healthy, which we promised to do, and so they left, the happiest people upon earth, having given us the very best they had.
We remained with the Avavares Indians for eight months, according to our reckoning of the moons. During that time they came for us from many places and said that verily we were children of the sun. Until then Dorantes and the negro had not made any cures, but we found ourselves so pressed by the Indians coming from all sides, that all of us had to become medicine men. I was the most daring and reckless of all in undertaking cures. We never treated anyone that did not afterwards say he was well, and they had such confidence in our skill as to believe that none of them would die as long as we were among them.
These Indians and the ones we left behind told us a very strange tale. From their account it may have occurred fifteen or sixteen years ago. They said there wandered then about the country a man, whom they called “Bad Thing,” of small stature and with a beard, although they never could see his features clearly, and whenever he would approach their dwellings their hair would stand on end and they began to tremble. In the doorway of the lodge there would then appear a firebrand. That man thereupon came in and took hold of anyone he chose, and with a sharp knife of flint, as broad as a hand and two palms in length, he cut their side, and, thrusting his hand through the gash, took out the entrails, cutting off a piece one palm long, which he threw into the fire. Afterwards he made three cuts in one of the arms, the second one at the place where people are usually bled, and twisted the arm, but reset it soon afterwards. Then he placed his hands on the wounds, and they told us that they closed at once. Many times he appeared among them while they were dancing, sometimes in the dress of a woman and again as a man, and whenever he took a notion to do it he would seize the hut or lodge, take it up into the air and come down with it again with a great crash. They also told us how, many a time, they set food before him, but he never would partake of it, and when they asked him where he came from and where he had his home, he pointed to a rent in the earth and said his house was down below.
We laughed very much at those stories, making fun of them, and then, seeing our incredulity they brought to us many of those whom, they said, he had taken, and we saw the scars of his slashes in the places and as they told. We told them he was a demon and explained as best we could that if they would believe in God, Our Lord, and be Christians like ourselves, they would not have to fear that man, nor would he come and do such things unto them, and they might be sure that as long as we were in this country he would not dare to appear again. At this they were greatly pleased and lost much of their apprehension. The same Indians told us they had seen the Asturian and Figueroa with other Indians further along on the coast, which we had named of the figs. All those people had no reckoning by either sun or moon, nor do they count by months and years; they judge of the seasons by the ripening of fruits, by the time when fish die and by the appearance of the stars, in all of which they are very clever and expert. While with them, we were always well treated, although our food was never too plentiful, and we had to carry our own water and wood. Their dwellings and their food are like those of the others, but they are much more exposed to starvation, having neither maize nor acorns or nuts. We always went about naked like they and covered ourselves at night with deer skins.
During six of the eighteen months we were with them we suffered much from hunger, because they do not have fish either. At the end of that time the tunas began to ripen, and without their noticing it we left and went to other Indians further ahead, called Mdiacones, at a distance of one day’s travel. Three days after I and the negro reached there I sent him back to get Castillo and Dorantes, and after they rejoined me we all departed in company of the Indians, who went to eat a small fruit of some trees. On this fruit they subsist for ten or twelve days until the tunas are fully ripe. There they joined other Indians called Arhadaos, whom we found to be so sick, emaciated and swollen that we were greatly astonished. The Indians with whom we had come went back on the same trail, and we told them that we wished to remain with the others, at which they showed grief. So we remained with the others in the field near their dwellings.
When the Indians saw us they clustered together, after having talked among themselves, and each one of them took the one of us whom he claimed by the hand and they led us to their homes. While with those we suffered more from hunger than among any of the others. In the course of a whole day we did not eat more than two handfuls of the fruit, which was green and contained so much milky juice that our mouths were burnt by it. As water was very scarce, whoever ate of them became very thirsty. And we finally grew so hungry that we purchased two dogs, in exchange for nets and other things, and a hide with which I used to cover myself. I have said already that through all that country we went naked, and not being accustomed to it, like snakes we shed our skin twice a year. Exposure to the sun and air covered our chests and backs with big sores that made it very painful to carry the big and heavy loads, the ropes of which cut into the flesh of our arms.
The country is so rough and overgrown that often after we had gathered firewood in the timber and dragged it out, we would bleed freely from the thorns and spines which cut and slashed us wherever they touched. Sometimes it happened that I was unable to carry or drag out the firewood after I had gathered it with much loss of blood. In all that trouble my only relief or consolation was to remember the passion of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and the blood He shed for me, and to ponder how much greater His sufferings had been from the thorns, than those I was then enduring. I made a contract with the Indians to make combs, arrows, bows and nets for them.
Also we made matting of which their lodges are constructed and of which they are in very great need, for, although they know how to make it, they do not like to do any work, in order to be able to go in quest of food. Whenever they work they suffer greatly from hunger. Again, they would make me scrape skins and tan them, and the greatest luxury I enjoyed was on the day they would give me a skin to scrape, because I scraped it very deep in order to eat the parings, which would last me two or three days. It also happened to us, while being with these Indians and those before mentioned, that we would eat a. piece of meat which they gave us, raw, because if we broiled it the first Indian coming along would snatch and eat it; it seemed useless to take any pains, in view of what we might expect; neither were we particular to go to any trouble in order to have it broiled and might just as well eat it raw. Such was the life we led there, and even that scanty maintenance we had to earn through the objects made by our own hands for barter.
Cabeza de Vaca, Dorantes, Castillo, and Estevanico travel west, received as healers by the people they encounter.
So we left there also, going to others, by whom we were also very well received, and they brought us their sick, who, after we had made the sign of the cross over them, would say they were healed, and he who did not get well still believed we might cure him. And at what the others whom we had treated told they rejoiced and danced so much as not to let us sleep.
After we left those we went to many other lodges, but thence on there prevailed a new custom. While we were received very well everywhere, those who came with us would treat those who received us badly, taking away their belongings and plundering their homes, without leaving them anything. It grieved us very much to see how those who were so good to us were abused. Besides, we dreaded lest this behavior might cause trouble and strife. But as we could not venture to interfere or punish the transgressors, we had to wait until we might have more authority over them. Furthermore, the sufferers themselves, noticing how we felt, comforted us by saying we should not worry; that they were so happy at seeing us as to gladly lose their own, considering it to be well employed, and besides, that further on they would repay themselves from other Indians who were very rich.
On that whole journey we were much worried by the number of people following us. We could not escape them, although we tried, because they were so anxious to touch us, and so obtrusive that in three hours we could not get through with them. The following day they brought us all the people of the village; most of them had one eye clouded, while others were totally blind from the same cause, at which we were amazed. They are well built, of very good physique, and whiter than any we had met until then. There we began to see mountains, and it seemed as if they swept down from the direction of the North Sea, and so, from what the Indians told us, we believe they are fifteen leagues from the ocean.
In this village we stayed three days, and at a day’s journey from it was another one, where such a rain overtook us that, as the river rose high, we could not cross it, and remained there fifteen days. During this time Castillo saw, on the neck of an Indian, a little buckle from a sword belt, and in it was sewed a horseshoe nail. He took it from the Indian, and we asked what it was; they said it had come from Heaven. We further asked who had brought it, and they answered that some men, with beards like ours, had come from Heaven to that river; that they had horses, lances and swords, and had lanced two of them.
As cautiously as possible, we then inquired what had become of those men; and they replied they had gone to sea, putting their lances into the water and going into it themselves, and that afterwards they saw them on top of the waves moving towards sunset.
We gave God our Lord many thanks for what we had heard, for we were despairing to ever hear of Christians again. On the other hand, we were in great sorrow and much dejected, lest those people had come by sea for the sake of discovery only. Finally, having such positive notice of them, we hastened onward, always finding more traces of the Christians, and we told the Indians that we were now sure to find the Christians, and would tell them not to kill Indians or make them slaves, nor take them out of their country, or do any other harm, and of that they were very glad.
We traveled over a great part of the country, and found it all deserted, as the people had fled to the mountains, leaving houses and fields out of fear of the Christians. This filled our hearts with sorrow, seeing the land so fertile and beautiful, so full of water and streams, but abandoned and the places burned down, and the people, so thin and wan, fleeing and hiding; and as they did not raise any crops their destitution had become so great that they ate tree-bark and roots. Of this distress we had our share all the way along, because they could provide little for us in their indigence, and it looked as if they were going to die. They brought us blankets, which they had been concealing from the Christians, and gave them to us, and told us how the Christians had penetrated into the country before, and had destroyed and burnt the villages, taking with them half of the men and all the women and children, and how those who could escaped by flight. Seeing them in this plight, afraid to stay anywhere, and that they neither would nor could cultivate the soil, preferring to die rather than suffer such cruelties, while they showed the greatest pleasure at being with us, we began to apprehend that the Indians who were in arms against the Christians might ill-treat us in retaliation for what the Christians did to them. But when it pleased God our Lord to take us to those Indians, they respected and held us precious, as the former had done, and even a little more, at which we were not a little astonished, while it clearly shows how, in order to bring those people to Christianity and obedience unto Your Imperial Majesty, they should be well treated, and not otherwise.
They took us to a village on the crest of a mountain, which can be reached only by a very steep trail, where we found a great many people, who had gathered there out of dread of the Christians. These received us very well, giving us all they had: over two thousand loads of .maize, which we distributed among the poor, famished people who had led us to the place. The next day we dispatched (as we were wont to do) four runners, to call together as many as could be reached, to a village three journeys away; and on the next day we followed with all the people that were at the place, always meeting with signs, and vestiges where the Christians had slept.
At noon we met our messengers, who told us they had not found anybody, because all were hidden in the woods, lest the Christians might kill or enslave them; also that, on the night before, they had seen the Christians and watched their movements, under cover of some trees, behind which they concealed themselves, and saw the Christians take many Indians along in chains. At this the people who were with us became frightened, and some turned back to give the alarm through the land that Christians were coming, and many more would have done the same had we not told them to stay and have no fear, at which they quieted down and were comforted. We had Indians with us at the time who came from a distance of a hundred leagues, and whom we could not induce to go back to their homes.
So, in order to reassure them, we slept there that night, and the next day went further and slept on the road; and the day after those we had sent to explore guided us to where they had seen the Christians. Reaching the place in the evening, we clearly saw they had told the truth, and also, from the stakes to which the horses had been tied, that there were horsemen among them.
From here, which is called the river of Petutan, to the river which Diego de Guzman reached, there may be, from the place where we first heard of the Christians, eighty leagues; thence to the village where the rain overtook us, twelve leagues; and from there to the South Sea twelve leagues. Throughout all that country, wherever it is mountainous, we saw many signs of gold, antimony, iron, copper and other metals. Where the permanent houses are it is so hot that even in January the air is very warm. From there to the southward the land, which is uninhabited as far as the Sea of the North, is very barren and poor. There we suffered great and almost incredible starvation; and those who roam through that country and dwell in it are very cruel people, of evil inclinations and habits. The Indians who live in permanent houses and those in the rear of them pay no attention to gold nor silver, nor have they any use for either of these metals.
Having seen positive traces of Christians and become satisfied they were very near, we gave many thanks to our Lord for redeeming us from our sad and gloomy condition. Any one can imagine our delight when he reflects how long we had been in that land, and how many dangers and hardships we had suffered. That night I entreated one of my companions to go after the Christians, who were moving through the part of the country pacified and quieted by us, and who were three days ahead of where we were. They did not like my suggestion, and excused themselves from going, on the ground of being tired and worn out, although any of them might have done it far better than I, being younger and stronger. Seeing their reluctance, in the morning I took with me the negro and eleven Indians and, following the trail, went in search of the Christians. On that day we made ten leagues, passing three places were they had slept. The next morning I came upon four Christians on horseback, who, seeing me in such a strange attire, and in company with Indians, were greatly startled. They stared at me for quite awhile, speechless; so great was their surprise that they could not find words to ask me anything. I spoke first, and told them to lead me to their captain, and we went together to Diego de Alcaraz, their commander.
After I had addressed him he said that he was himself in a plight, as for many days he had been unable to capture Indians, and did not know where to go, also that starvation was beginning to place them in great distress. I stated to him that, in the rear of me, at a distance of ten leagues, were Dorantes and Castillo, with many people who had guided us through the country. He at once dispatched three horsemen, with, fifty of his Indians, and the negro went with them as guide, while I remained and asked them to give me a certified statement of the date–year, month and day–when I had met them, also the condition in which I had come, with which request they complied. From this river to the village called San Miguel, which pertains to the government called New Galicia, there are thirty leagues.
Five days later Andres Dorantes and Alonso del Castillo came with those who had gone in quest of them. They brought along more than six hundred Indians, from the village, the people of which the Christians had caused to flee to the woods, and who were in hiding about the country. Those who had come with us as far as that place had taken them cut of their places of concealment, turning them over to the Christians. They had also dispatched the others who had come that far.
When they arrived at where I was Alcaraz begged me to send for the people of the villages along the banks of the river, who were hiding in the timber, and he also requested me to order them to fetch supplies. There was no occasion for the latter, as the Indians always took good care to bring us whatever they could; nevertheless, we sent our messengers at once to call them, and six hundred persons came with all the maize they had, in pots closed with clay, which they had buried for concealment. They also brought nearly everything else they possessed, but we only took of the food, giving the rest to the Christians for distribution among themselves.
Thereupon we had many and bitter quarrels with the Christians, for they wanted to make slaves of our Indians, and we grew so angry at it that at our departure we forgot to take along many bows, pouches and arrows, also the five emeralds, and so they were left and lost to us. We gave the Christians a great many cow-skin robes, and other objects, and had much trouble in persuading the Indians to return home and plant their crops in peace. They insisted upon accompanying us until, according to their custom, we should be in the custody of other Indians, because otherwise they were afraid to die; besides, as long as we were with them, they had no fear of the Christians and of their lances. At all this the Christians were greatly vexed, and told their own interpreter to say to the Indians how we were of their own race, but had gone astray for a long while, and were people of no luck and little heart, whereas they were the lords of the land-, whom they should obey and serve. The Indians gave all that talk of theirs little attention. They parleyed among themselves, saying that the Christians lied, for we had come from sunrise, while the others came from where the sun sets; that we cured the sick, while the others killed those who were healthy; that we went naked and shoeless, whereas the others wore clothes and went on horseback and with lances. Also, that we asked for nothing, but gave away all we were presented with, mean-while the others seemed to have no other aim than to steal what they could, and never have anything to anybody. In short, they recalled all our deeds, and praised them highly, contrasting them with the conduct o£ the others.
This they told the interpreter of the Christians, and made understood to the others by means of a language they have among them, and by which we understood each other. We call those who use that language properly Primahaitu, which means the same as saying Bizcayans. For more than four hundred leagues, of those we traveled, we found this language in use, and the only one among them over that extent of country. Finally, we never could convince the Indians that we belonged to the other Christians, and only with much trouble and insistency could we prevail upon them to go home.
We recommended to them to rest easy and settle again in their villages, tilling and planting their fields as usual, which, from lying waste, were overgrown with shrubbery, while it is beyond all doubt the best land in these Indies, the most fertile and productive of food, where they raise three crops every year. It has an abundance of fruit, very handsome rivers, and other waters of good virtues. There are many evidences and traces of gold and silver; the inhabitants are well conditioned, and willingly attend to the Christians, that is, those of the natives that are friendly. They are much better inclined than the natives of Mexico; in short, it is a country that lacks nothing to make it very good. When the Indians took leave of us they said they would do as we had told them, and settle in their villages, provided the Christians would not interfere, and so I say and affirm that, if they should not do it, it will be the fault of the Christians.
After we had dispatched the Indians in peace, and with thanks for what they had gone through with and for us, the Christians (out of mistrust) sent us to a certain Alcalde Cebreros, who had with him two other men. He took us through forests and uninhabited country in order to prevent our communicating with the Indians, in reality, also, to prevent us from seeing or hearing what the Christians were carrying on. This clearly shows how the designs of men sometimes miscarry. We went on with the idea of insuring the liberty of the Indians, and, when we believed it to be assured, the opposite took place. The Spaniards had planned to fall upon those Indians we had sent back in fancied security and in peace, and that plan they carried out.
They took us through the timber for two days, with no trail, bewildered and without water, so we all expected to die from thirst. Seven of our men perished, and many friends whom the Christians had taken along could not reach before noon the following day the place, where we found water that same night. We traveled with them twenty-five leagues, more or less, and at last came to a settlement of peaceable Indians. There the Alcalde left us and went ahead, three leagues further, to a place called Culiacan, where Melchor Diaz was chief Alcalde, and the captain of the province.
As soon as the chief Alcalde became informed of our arrival, on the same night he came to where we were. He was deeply moved, and praised God for having delivered us in His great pity. He spoke to us and treated us very well, tendering us, in his name, and in behalf of the Governor, Nuno de Guzman, all he had and whatever he might be able to do. He appeared much grieved at the bad reception and evil treatment we had met at the hands of Alcaraz and the others, and we verily believe that had he been there at the time, the things done to us and the Indians would not have occurred.
Passing the night there, we were about to leave in the morning of the next day, but the chief Alcalde entreated us to stay. He said that by remaining we would render a great service to God and to Your Majesty, as the country was depopulated, lying waste, and well nigh destroyed. That the Indians were hiding in the woods, refusing to come out and settle again in their villages. He suggested that we should have them sent for, and urge them, in the name of God and of Your Majesty, to return to the plain and cultivate the soil again.
This struck us as difficult of execution. We had none of our Indians with us, nor any of those who usually accompanied us and understood such matters. At last we ventured to select two Indians from among those held there as captives, and who were from that part of the country. These had been with the Christians whom we first met, and had seen the people that came in our company, and knew, through the latter, of the great power and authority we exercised all through the land, the miracles we had worked, the cures we had performed, and many other particulars. With these Indians we sent others from the village, to jointly call those who had taken refuge in the mountains, as well as those from the river of Petlatlan, where we had met the Christians first, and tell them to come, as we wished to talk to them. In order to insure their coming, we gave the messengers one of the large gourds we had carried in our hands (which were our chief insignia and tokens of great power).
Thus provided and instructed, they left and were absent seven days. Then they came back, and with them three chiefs of those who had been in the mountains, and with these were fifteen men. They presented us with beads, turquoises, and feathers, and the messengers said the people from the river whence we had started could not be found, as the Christians had again driven them into the wilderness.
Melchor Diaz told the interpreter to speak to the Indians in our name and say that he came in the name of God, Who is in heaven, and that we had traveled the world over for many years, telling all the people we met to believe in God and serve Him, for He was the Lord of everything upon earth, Who rewarded the good, whereas to the bad ones He meted out eternal punishment of fire. That when the good ones died He took them up to heaven, where all lived forever and there was neither hunger nor thirst, nor any other wants–only the greatest imaginable glory. But that those who would not believe in Him nor obey His commandments he thrust into a huge fire beneath the earth and into the company of demons, where the fire never went out, but tormented them forever. Moreover, he said that if they became Christians and served God in the manner we directed, the Christians would look upon them as brethren and treat them very well, while we would command that no harm should be done to them; neither should they be taken out of their country, and the Christians would become their great friends. If they refused to do so, then the Christians would ill treat them and carry them away into slavery.
To this they replied, through the interpreter, that they would be very good Christians and serve God.
Upon being asked whom they worshipped and to whom they offered sacrifices, to whom they prayed for health and water for the fields, they said, to a man in Heaven. We asked what was his name, and they said Aguar, and that they believed he had created the world and everything in it.
We again asked how they came to know this, and they said their fathers and grandfathers had told them, and they had known it for a very long time; that water and all good things came from him. We explained that this being of whom they spoke was the same we called God, and that thereafter they should give Him that name and worship and serve Him as we commanded, when they would fare very well.
They replied that they understood us thoroughly and would do as we had told.
So we bade them come out of the mountains and be at ease, peaceable, and settle the land again, rebuilding their houses. Among these houses they should rear one to God, placing at its entrance a cross like the one we had, and when Christians came, they should go out to receive them with crosses in their hands, in place of bows and other weapons, and take the Christians to their homes, giving them to eat of what they had. If they did so, the Christians would do them no harm, but be their friends. They promised to do as we ordered, and the captain gave them blankets, treating them handsomely, and they went away, taking along the two captives that had acted as our messengers.
This took place in presence of a scribe (notary) and of a great many witnesses.
As soon as the Indians had left for their homes and the people of that province got news of what had taken place with us, they, being friends of the Christians, came to see us, bringing beads and feathers. We ordered them to build churches and put crosses in them, which until then they had not done. We also sent for the children of the chiefs to be baptized, and then the captain pledged himself before God not to make any raid, or allow any to be made, or slaves captured from the people and in the country we had set at peace again. This vow he promised to keep and fulfil so long until His Majesty and the Governor, Nuno de Guzman, or the Viceroy, in 1iis name, would ordain something else better adapted to the service of God and of His Majesty. After baptizing the children we left for the village of San Miguel, where, on our arrival, Indians came and told how many people were coming down from the mountains, settling on the plain, building churches and erecting crosses; in short, complying with what we had sent them word to do. Day after day we were getting news of how all was being done and completed.
Fifteen days after our arrival Alcaraz came in with the Christians who had been raiding, and they told the captain how the Indians had descended from the mountains and settled on the plain; also that villages formerly deserted were now well populated, and how the Indians had come out to receive them with crosses in their hands, had taken them to their houses, giving them of what they had, and how they slept the night there. Amazed at these changes and at the sayings of the Indians who said they felt secure, he ordered that no harm be done to them, and with this they departed. –May God in His infinite mercy grant that in the days of Your Majesty and under your power and sway, these people become willingly and sincerely subjects of the true Lord Who created and redeemed them. We believe they will be, and that Your Majesty is destined to bring it about, as it will not be at all difficult.
For two thousand leagues did we travel, on land, and by sea in barges, besides ten months more after our rescue from captivity; untiringly did we walk across the land, but nowhere did we meet either sacrifices or idolatry. During all that time we crossed from one ocean to the other, and from what we very carefully ascertained there may be, from one coast to the other and across the greatest width, two hundred leagues. We heard that on the shores of the South there are pearls and great wealth, and that the richest and best is near there.
At the village of San Miguel we remained until after the fifteenth of May, because from there to the town of Compostela–where the Governor, Nuno de Guzman, resided–there are one hundred leagues of deserted country threatened by hostiles, and we had to take an escort along. There went with us twenty horsemen, accompanying us as many as forty leagues; afterwards we had with us six Christians, who escorted five hundred Indian captives. When we reached Compostela, the Governor received us very well, giving us of what he had, for us to dress in; but for many days I could bear no clothing, nor could we sleep, except on the bare floor. Ten or twelve days later we left for Mexico. On the whole trip we were well treated by the Christians; many came to see us on the road, praising God for having freed us from so many dangers. We reached Mexico on Sunday, the day before the vespers of Saint James, and were very well received by the Viceroy and the Marquis of the Valley, who presented us with clothing, offering all they had. On the day of Saint James there was a festival, with, bull-fight and tournament.
After taking two months’ rest at Mexico I desired to come over to this realm, but when ready to sail in October, a storm, wrecked the vessel and it was lost. So I determined to wait until winter would be over, as in these parts navigation is then very dangerous on account of storms.
When winter was past, Andres Dorantes and I left Mexico, during Lent, for Vera Cruz, to take a ship there, but had again to wait for favorable winds until Palm Sunday. We embarked and were on board more than fifteen days, unable to leave on account of a calm, and the vessel began to fill with water. I took passage on one of the ships which were in condition to leave, while Dorantes remained on the first one, and on the tenth day of the month three craft left port.
We navigated together for one hundred and fifty leagues; afterwards two of the ships dropped behind, and in the course of a night we lost track of them. It seems that, as we found out later, their pilots and skippers did not venture any further, and returned to port without giving us any warning; neither did we hear any more from them. So we kept on, and on the fourth o£ May reached the port of Habana, on the Island of Cuba, where we waited until the second of June, still hoping for the other two vessels to arrive. Then we left.
We were afraid of falling in with French craft that only a few days before had captured three of ours.
At the altitude of the Island of Bermuda a storm overtook us, as is quite usual in. those parts–according to the people who are wont to travel in them–and for a whole night we considered ourselves lost. But it pleased God that, when morning came, the storm abated and we could proceed on our way. Twenty-nine days after sailing from Habana we had made eleven hundred leagues, said to be the distance from it to the settlement of the Azores, and the next day we passed the island called of the raven, and met with a French vessel at noon. She began to follow us, having with her a caravel taken from the Portuguese, and gave us chase. That same evening we saw nine more sail, but at such a distance that we could not distinguish whether they were of the same nation as our pursuer, or Portuguese. At nightfall the Frenchman was but a cannon-shot from our ship, and as soon as it was dark we changed our course so as to get away from him. As he was close upon us he saw our manoeuvre and did the same, and this happened three or four times.
The Frenchman could have taken us then, but he preferred to wait until daylight. It pleased God that, when morning came, we found ourselves, as well as the French ship, surrounded by the nine craft we had seen the evening before, and which turned out to belong to the Portuguese navy. I thank Our Lord for having allowed me to escape from peril on land and sea.
When the French saw it was the fleet of Portugal they released the caravel, which was filled with negroes. They had taken it along in order to make us believe they were Portuguese and to induce us to expect them. On separating from the caravel the Frenchman told the skipper and pilot we were French also, belonging to their own navy; then they put into their vessel sixty oarsmen, and thus, by oar and sail, went away with incredible swiftness.
The caravel then approached the galley warning its captain that both our vessel and the other were French, so that when we came up to the galley and the squadron saw it, believing us to be French, they cleared for action and came to attack us. But when we were near enough to them we saluted and they saw we were friends. They had been deceived, suffering the privateer to escape by means of his strategy in telling that we were also French. Four caravels went in pursuit of him. Having come up with the galley and presented our respects, the captain, Diego de Silveira, asked where we came from and what we had on board. We told him from New Spain, and that we carried silver and gold. He inquired how much it might be, and the skipper informed him that we had about three hundred thousand Castellanos. Thereupon the captain exclaimed: “Faith, you come back very rich, although you have a bad craft and miserable artillery. That dog of a French renegade has lost a fat morsel, the bastard! Now, go ahead, since you escaped; follow me closely, and, God helping, I shall lead you back to Spain.”
The caravels that had gone in pursuit of the French soon returned because the latter mailed too fast for them and they did not want to leave their squadron, which was escorting three ships loaded with spices.
We reached the Island of Tercera, where we rested fifteen days and took in supplies, also waiting for another ship from India, with the same kind of cargo as the three our fleet was escorting. At the end of the fifteen days we sailed, all together, for the port of Lisbon, where we arrived on the ninth of August, vespers of Saint Laurentius day, of the year 1537.
And, in Testimony of, that what I have stated in the foregoing narrative is true, I hereunto sign my name:
CABEZA de VACA.
The document which this is taken from was signed with his name and bore the seal with his coat of arms.