CHAPTER I. EARLY SPANISH EXPLORATIONS.
Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca—Andres Dorantes—Alonzo del Castillo Maldonado—Estevan—Narvaez—Indians— Avavares—Faith Cures—Route of de Vaca—"Cow Country"—Don Joseph de Basçonzales—El Moro—(Inscription Rock).
The journey of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and his companions, Andres Dorantes, Alonzo del Castillo Maldonado, and Estevan, the Arab negro slave of Dorantes, across the continent from near what is now Galveston, Texas, to Culiacan and San Miguel, a few miles from the Pacific coast, as published in the Relacion of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, and translated by Fanny Bandelier, with an introduction by Ad. F. Bandelier, is a story full of romance and adventure, exceeded by none of the early Spanish explorers.
These men were the sole survivors of the Narvaez expedition of four hundred men and eighty horses which, in February, 1528, sailed from the coast of Cuba to explore the peninsula of Florida. All the rest lost their lives at the hands of hostile Indian tribes, by disease, or by shipwreck.
By such acts as these the Spaniards established a reputation as healers, and they, themselves, were impressed with the belief that the blessings of God were resting upon them, and that they would, in due time, again reach the confines of civilization.
The Spaniards remained among these Indians eight months, going naked during the day, and covering themselves with deer skins at night. Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca also developed the scientific art of healing. One day Castillo was summoned by some Indians to go to their lodges and cure the sick, one of whom was at death's door. Castillo declined to go, and de Vaca and the negro Estevan went in his stead. Arriving at the lodges the Indians declared that the sick man was dead. De Vaca removed the mat that
At another time a man was brought to him badly wounded. The head of an arrow was imbedded in his flesh. Cabeza de Vaca cut out the arrow, sewed up the wound with stitches, which he cut the next day, after which the Indian was fully restored to health.
When the Spaniards left one tribe, they were accompanied by Indians, who promulgated to the next tribe the wonderful powers of these demi-gods, or "Children of the Sun," as they were called. They were received with open arms by all of the natives, and when they reached the Valle de los Corazones, the "Village of the Hearts," their commissary was supplied with six hundred deer hearts.
When they reached the Pacific coast where the Indians, probably the Opata and Pima tribes, showed signs of civilization, living in houses covered with straw, wearing cotton clothes and dressed skins, with belts and ornaments of stone, and cultivating their fields, but had been driven therefrom by the brutal Spanish soldiery and had taken refuge in the mountains, de Vaca and his comrades, being regarded as emissaries from the Almighty, exercised such power over these untutored savages that, at their bidding, the Indians returned to their deserted habitations, and
There is some doubt as to the route pursued by Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and his companions. Twitchell, in his History of New Mexico, contends that they crossed the Rio Grande about fifty or sixty miles above the present town of El Paso, thence traveled west to within about the same distance of what is now the eastern border of the State of Arizona, then going south in a southerly direction through Sonora to Culiacan and San Miguel in the State of Sinaloa, Mexico.
Bandelier is very positive that they never touched New Mexico at all, but, after going a little northwest from their starting point and crossing the Rio Colorado in Texas, that they continued their journey in a southwesterly direction, crossing the Pecos river just north of its junction with the Rio Grande and crossing the Rio Grande itself about one hundred and fifty miles south of the present town of El Paso, then continuing west through the Sierra Madre Mountains in Chihuahua and Sonora to the Arras and Mulatos Rivers, which form the headwaters of the Yaqui River, thence south to the Spanish settlements of Culiacan and San Miguel, arriving there on the first of April, 1536, where they were received with open arms by their fellow countrymen.
Cabeza de Vaca must have been a man of great determination and force of character. Never, at any time, did he despair, but, with his three companions, forced his way across the continent. The journey was not fruitless; it was rich in exploration; it gave the Spaniards the first insight into what they called the "cow (buffalo) country," of the rich plains, the rivers and mountains which are fully described in his Relacion. While he did not claim that the country was rich in precious metals, yet, from other standpoints, it was a great acquisition to the Crown of Spain. He also brought some confirmatory news of the Seven Cities of the Cibola, which excited the cupidity of the Spaniards to such an extent that other expeditions were formed to discover these cities, which were reported to have a wealth of gold and silver as great as that of the Incas of Peru. With the exception of the negro, Estevan, none of the companions of Cabeza de Vaca ever prominently appeared thereafter in Spanish history.
Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca went from Culiacan and San Miguel to the city of Mexico, from which place he returned to Spain, making his report to his royal master, Charles the Fifth. Subsequently he was appointed ‘‘Governor of the
While the "Relacion" of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca is the first authentic account of a journey across the North American continent, there seems to have been an earlier expedition, concerning which William A. Bell in his book New Tracks in North America on page 205, has the following to say:‘‘Early in the spring of 1526—ninety-four years before the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers in New England, and thirty-four years after the shores of St. Salvador delighted the eyes of Columbus—Don Joseph de Basçonzales crossed the center of Arizona towards the Great Cañon, and penetrated at least as far as Zuni. No record remains of this, the first expedition into the country, but the bare memento of the fact carved on the side of El Moro (Inscription Rock); for none of the expedition ever returned to tell of their adventures. They perished either by the hands of the Indians, or met a more miserable end amongst the labyrinths of chasms still further north, across which naught living but the birds can successfully pass.’’