The Curious Adventures of Cabeza de Vaca

By | July 4, 2019

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Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca. Source: (

The circuitous travels of a shipwrecked conquistador have passed on to us the most detailed information of the peoples who lived in the southeast and southwest of North America before the European conquest. In the process, he was transformed from conquistador to an advocate of Indian rights.

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Panfilo de Narvaez. Source: (Wikimedia)

In April 1528, the Spanish conquistador, Pánfilo de Narváez landed an expedition of 300 men near modern-day Tampa Bay, Florida. They set off into the interior to ruthlessly search for gold but instead found only disease, hostile natives, starvation, and ultimately death. By September, only 60 men remained alive. These would-be conquerors decided to craft boats to sail west to New Spain (modern-day Mexico), melting down their own equipment so that they could escape. But the boats were swept out to sea by the powerful current of the Mississippi River. Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, the treasurer and Chief Constable of the expedition, commanded one of the boats. He was shipwrecked on Galveston or some other island off the coast of Texas with fifty men. By the spring of 1529, only fifteen of these survived.