Texas Historical Documents

The Journey of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza De Vaca

Translated by Fanny Bandelier (1905)

| Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five |

Part One

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 main land. 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 [Suarez], 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 toughened 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 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, 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 12th 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.

On that same day the clerk, Alonso Enriquez, left and went to an island in the bay and called the Indians, who came and were with him a good while, and by way of exchange they gave him fish and some venison. The day following (which was Good Friday) the Governor disembarked, with as many men as his little boats would hold, and as we arrived at the huts or houses of the Indians we had seen, we found them abandoned and deserted, the people having left that same night in their canoes. One of those houses was so large that it could hold more than 300 people. The others were smaller, and we found a golden rattle among the nets. The next day the Governor hoisted flags in behalf of Your Majesty and took possession of the country in Your Royal name, exhibited his credentials, and was acknowledged as Governor according to Your Majesty's commands. We likewise presented our titles to him, and he complied as they required. He then ordered the remainder of the men to disembark, also the forty-two horses left (the others having perished on account of the great storms and the long time they had been on sea), and these few that remained were so thin and weak that they could be of little use for the time. The next day the Indians of that village came, and, although they spoke to us, as we had no interpreters we did not understand them but they made many gestures and threats, and it seemed as if they beckoned to us to leave the country. Afterward, without offering any molestation, they went away.

After another day the Governor resolved to penetrate inland to explore the country and see what it contained. We went with him the commissary, the inspector and myself, with forty men, among them six horsemen, who seemed likely to be of but little use. We took the direction of the north, and at the hour of vespers reached a very large bay, which appeared to sweep far inland. After remaining there that night and the next day, we returned to the place where the vessels and the men were. The Governor ordered the brigantine to coast towards Florida in search of the port which Miruelo, the pilot, had said he knew, but he had missed it and did not know where we were, nor where the port was. So word was sent to the brigantine, in case it were not found to cross over to Habana in quest of the vessel of Alvaro de la Cerda, and, after taking in some supplies, to come after us again.

After the brigantine left we again penetrated inland, the same persons as before, with some more men. We followed the shore of the bay, and, after a march of four leagues, captured four Indians, to whom we showed maize in order to find out if they knew it, for until then we had seen no trace of it. They told us that they would take us to a place where there was maize and they led us to their village, at the end of the bay nearby, and there they showed us some that was not yet fit to be gathered. There we found many boxes for merchandise from Castilla. In every one of them was a corpse covered with painted deer hides. The commissary thought this to be some idolatrous practice, so he burnt the boxes with the corpses. We also found pieces of linen and cloth, and feather head dresses that seemed to be from New Spain, and samples of gold.

We inquired of the Indians (by signs) whence they had obtained these things and they gave us to understand that, very far from there, was a province called Apalachen in which there was much gold. They also signified to us that in that province we would find everything we held in esteem. They said that in Apalachen there was plenty.

So, taking them as guides, we started, and after walking ten or twelve leagues, came to another village of fifteen houses, where there was a large cultivated patch of corn nearly ready for harvest, and also some that was already ripe. After staying there two days, we returned to the place where we had left the purser, the men and the vessels, and told the purser and pilots what we saw and the news the Indians had given us.

The next day, which was the 1st of May, the Governor took aside the commissary, the purser, the inspector, myself, a sailor called Bartolomé Fernandez and a notary by the name of Jeronimo de Albaniz, and told us that he had in mind to penetrate inland, while the vessels should follow the coast as far as the harbor since the pilots said and believed that, if they went in the direction of the Palms they would reach it soon. On this he asked us to give our opinions.

I replied that it seemed to me in no manner advisable to forsake the ships until they were in a safe port, held and occupied by us. I told him to consider that the pilots were at a loss, disagreeing among themselves, undecided as to what course to pursue. Moreover, the horses would not be with us in case we needed them, and, furthermore, we had no interpreter to make ourselves understood by the natives hence we could have no parley with them. Neither did we know what to expect from the land we were entering, having no knowledge of what it was, what it might contain and by what kind of people it was inhabited, nor in what part of it we were finally, that we had not the supplies required for penetrating into an unknown country, for of the stores left in the ships not more than one pound of biscuit and one of bacon could be given as rations to each man for the journey, so that, in my opinion, we should re-embark and sail in quest of a land and harbor better adapted to settlement, since the country which we had seen was the most deserted and the poorest ever found in those parts.

The commissary was of the contrary saying, that we should not embark, but follow the coast in search of a harbor, as the pilots asserted that the way to Panuco was not more than ten or fifteen leagues distant and that by following along the coast it was impossible to miss it, since the coast bent inland for twelve leagues. The first ones who came there should wait for the others. As to embarking, he said it would be to tempt God, after all the vicissitudes of storms, losses of men and vessels and hardships we had suffered since leaving Spain, and until we came to that place. So his advice would be to move along the coast as far as the harbor, while the vessels with the other men would follow to the same port.

To all the others this seemed to be the best, except to the notary, who said that before leaving the ships they should be put into a harbor well known, safe and in a settled country, after which we might go inland and do as we liked.

The Governor clung to his own idea and to the suggestions of the others. Seeing his determination, I required him, on the part of Your Majesty, not to forsake the vessels until they were in a secure port, and I asked the notary present to testify to what I said. The Governor replied that he approved the opinion of the other officials and of the commissary that I had no authority for making such demands, and he asked the notary to give him a certified statement as to how, there not being in the country the means for supporting a settlement, nor any harbor for the ships, he broke up the village he had founded, and went in search of the port and of a better land. So he forthwith ordered the people who were to go with him to get ready, providing themselves with what was necessary for the journey. After this he turned to me, and told me in the presence of all who were there that, since I so much opposed the expedition into the interior and was afraid of it, I should take charge of the vessels and men remaining, and, in case I reached the port before him, I should settle there. This I declined.

After the meeting was over he, on that same evening, saying that it seemed to him as if he could not trust anybody, sent me word that he begged me to take charge of that part of the expedition, and as, in spite of his insistency, I declined, he asked for the reasons of my refusal, I then told him that I refused to accept, because I felt sure he would never see the ships again, or be seen by their crews any more that, seeing how utterly unprepared he was for moving inland, I preferred to share the risk with him and his people, and suffer what they would have to suffer, rather than take charge of the vessels and thus give occasion for saying that I opposed the journey and remained out of fear, which would place my honor in jeopardy. So that I would much rather expose of my life than, under these circumstances, my good name.

Seeing that he could not change my determination, he had others approach me about it with entreaties. But I gave the same answer to them as to him, and he finally provided for his lieutenant to take command of the vessels, an alcalde named Caravallo.

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 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.

That same night, as they went for water, an arrow was shot at one of the Christians, but God willed that he was not hurt. The day after we left this place, without any of the natives having appeared, because all had fled, but further on some Indians were seen who showed signs of hostility, and although we called them they would neither come back nor wait, but withdrew and followed in our rear. The Governor placed a few horsemen in ambush near the trail, who as they (the Indians) passed, surprised them and took three or four Indians, whom we kept as guides thereafter. These led us into a country difficult to traverse and strange to look at, for it had very great forests, the trees being wonderfully tall and so many of them fallen that they obstructed our way so that we had to make long detours and with great trouble. Of the trees standing many were rent from top to bottom by thunderbolts, which strike very often in that country, where storms and tempests are always frequent.

With such efforts we travelled until the day after St. John's Day, when we came in sight of Apalachen, without having been noticed by the Indians of the land. We gave many thanks to God for being so near it, believing what we had been told about the country to be true, and that now our sufferings would come to an end after the long and weary march over bad trails. We had also suffered greatly from hunger, for, although we found corn occasionally, most of the time we marched seven or eight leagues without any. And many there were among us who besides suffering great fatigue and hunger, had their backs covered with wounds from the weight of the armor and other things they had to carry as occasion required. But to find ourselves at last where we wished to be and where we had been assured so much food and gold would be had, made us forget a great deal of our hardships and weariness.

Once in sight of Apalachen, the Governor commanded me to enter the village with nine horsemen and fifty foot. So the inspector and I undertook this. Upon penetrating into the village we found only women and boys. The men were not there at the time, but soon, while we were walking about, they came and began to fight, shooting arrows at us. They killed the inspector's horse, but finally fled and left us. We found there plenty of ripe maize ready to be gathered and much dry corn already housed. We also found many deer skins and among them mantles made of thread and of poor quality, with which the women cover parts of their bodies. They had many vessels for grinding maize. The village contained forty small and low houses, reared in sheltered places, out of fear of the great storms that continuously occur in the country. The buildings are of straw, and they are surrounded by dense timber, tall trees and numerous water-pools, where there were so many fallen trees and of such size as to greatly obstruct and impede circulation.

The country between our landing place and the village and country of Apalachen is mostly level the soil is sand and earth. All throughout it there are very large trees and open forests containing nut trees, laurels and others of the kind called resinous, cedar, juniper, wateroak, pines, oak and low palmetto, like those of Castilla. Everywhere there are many lagoons, large and small, some very difficult to cross, partly because they are so deep, partly because they are covered with fallen trees. Their bottom is sandy, and in the province of Apalachen the lagoons are much larger than those we found previously. There is much maize in this province and the houses are scattered all over the country as much as those of the Gelves. The animals we saw there were three kinds of deer, rabbits and hares, bears and lions and other wild beasts, among them one that carries its young in a pouch on its belly as long as the young are small, until they are able to look for their sustenance, and even then, when they are out after food and people come, the mother does not move until her little ones are in the pouch again. The country is very cold it has good pasture for cattle there are birds of many kinds in large numbers: geese, ducks, wild ducks, muscovy ducks, Ibis, small white herons (Egrets), herons and partridges. We saw many falcons, marsh-hawks, sparrow-hawks, pigeon-hawks and many other birds. Two hours after we arrived at Apalachen the Indians that had fled came back peaceably, begging us to give back to them their women and children, which we did. The Governor, however, kept with him one of their caciques, at which they became so angry as to attack us the following day. They did it so swiftly and with so much audacity as to set fire to the lodges we occupied, but when we sallied forth they fled to the lagoons nearby, on account of which and of the big corn patches, we could not do them any harm beyond killing one Indian. The day after, Indians from a village on the other side came and attacked us in the same manner, escaping in the same way, with the loss of a single man.

We remained at this village for twenty-five days, making three excursions during the time. We found the country very thinly inhabited and difficult to march through, owing to bad places, timber and lagoons. We inquired of the cacique whom we had retained and of the other Indians with us (who were neighbors and enemies of them) about the condition and settlements of the land, the quality of its people, about supplies and everything else. They answered, each one for himself, that Apalachen was the largest town of all that further in less people were met with, who were very much poorer than those here, and that the country was thinly settled, the inhabitants greatly scattered, and also that further inland big lakes, dense forests, great deserts and wastes were met with.

Then we asked about the land to the south, its villages and resources. They said that in that direction and nine days' march towards the sea was a village called Aute, where the Indians had plenty of corn and also beans and melons, and that, being so near the sea, they obtained fish, and that those were their friends. Seeing how poor the country was, taking into account the unfavorable reports about its population and everything else, and that the Indians made constant war upon us, wounding men and horses whenever they went for water (which they could do from the lagoons where we could not reach them) by shooting arrows at us that they had killed a chief of Tezcuco called Don Pedro, whom the commissary had taken along with him, we agreed to depart and go in search of the sea, and of the village of Aute, which they had mentioned. And so we left, arriving there five days after. The first day we travelled across lagoons and trails without seeing a single Indian.

On the second day, however, we reached a lake very difficult to cross, the water reaching to the chest, and there were a great many fallen trees. Once in the middle of it, a number of Indians assailed us from behind trees that concealed them from our sight, while others were on fallen trees, and they began to shower arrows upon us, so that many men and horses were wounded, and before we could get out of the lagoon our guide was captured by them. After we had got out, they pressed us very hard, intending to cut us off, and it was useless to turn upon them, for they would hide in the lake and from there wound both men and horses.

So the Governor ordered the horsemen to dismount and attack them on foot. The pursuer dismounted also, and our people attacked them. Again they fled to a lagoon, and we succeeded in holding the trail. In this fight some of our people were wounded, in spite of their good armor. There were men that day who swore they had seen two oak trees, each as thick as the calf of a leg, shot through and through by arrows, which is not surprising if we consider the force and dexterity with which they shoot. I myself saw an arrow that had penetrated the base of a poplar tree for half a foot in length. All the many Indians from Florida we saw were archers, and, being very tall and naked, at a distance they appear giants.

Those people are wonderfully built, very gaunt and of great strength and agility. Their bows are as thick as an arm, from eleven to twelve spans long, shooting an arrow at 200 paces with unerring aim. From that crossing we went to another similar one, a league away, but while it was half a league in length it was also much more difficult. There we crossed without opposition, for the Indians, having spent all their arrows at the first place, had nothing wherewith they would dare attack us. The next day, while crossing a similar place, I saw the tracks of people who went ahead of us, and I notified the Governor, who was in the rear, so that, although the Indians turned upon us, as we were on our guard, they could do us no harm. Once on open ground they pursued us still. We attacked them twice, killing two, while they wounded me and two or three other Christians, and entered the forest again, where we could no longer injure them.

In this manner we marched for eight days, without meeting any more natives, until one league from the site to which I said we were going. There, as we were marching along, Indians crept up unseen and fell upon our rear. A boy belonging to a nobleman, called Avellaneda, who was in the rear guard, gave the alarm. Avellaneda turned back to assist, and the Indians hit him with an arrow on the edge of the cuirass, piercing his neck nearly through and through, so that he died on the spot, and we carried him to Aute. It took us nine days from Apalachen to the place where we stopped. And then we found that all the people had left and the lodges were burnt. But there was plenty of maize, squash and beans, all nearly ripe and ready for harvest. We rested there for two days.

After this the Governor entreated me to go in search of the sea, as the Indians said it was so near by, and we had, on this march, already suspected its proximity from a great river to which we had given the name of the Rio de la Magdalena. I left on the following day in search of it, accompanied by the commissary, the captain Castillo, Andres Dorantes, seven horsemen and fifty foot. We marched until sunset, reaching an inlet or arm of the sea, where we found plenty of oysters on which the people feasted, and we gave many thanks to God for bringing us there.

The next day I sent twenty men to reconnoiter the coast and explore it, who returned on the day following at nightfall, saying that these inlets and bays were very large and went so far inland as greatly to impede our investigations, and that the coast was still at a great distance. Hearing this and considering how ill-prepared we were for the task, I returned to where the Governor was. We found him sick, together with many others. The night before, Indians had made an attack, putting them in great stress, owing to their enfeebled condition. The Indians had also killed one of their horses. I reported upon my journey and on the bad condition of the country. That day we remained there.

On the next day we left Aute and marched (all day) to the spot I had visited on my last exploration. Our march was extremely difficult, for neither had we horses enough to carry the sick, nor did we know how to relieve them. They became worse every day, and our sufferings were afflicting. There it became manifest how few resources we had for going further, and even in case we had been provided we did not know where to go our men were mostly sick and too much out of condition to be of any use whatever. I refrain from making a long story of it. Any one can imagine what might be experienced in a land so strange and so utterly without resources of any kind, either for stay or for an escape. Nevertheless, since the surest aid was God, Our Lord, and since we never doubted of it, something happened that put us in a worse plight yet.

Most of the horsemen began to leave in secret, hoping thus to save themselves, forsaking the Governor and the sick, who were helpless. Still, as among them were many of good families and of rank, they would not suffer this to happen unbeknown to the Governor and Your Majesty's officials, so that, when we remonstrated, showing at what an unseasonable time they were leaving their captain and the sick and, above all, forsaking Your Majesty's service, they concluded to stay, and share the fate of all, without abandoning one another. The Governor thereupon called them to his presence all together, and each one in particular, asking their opinion about this dismal country, so as to be able to get out of it and seek relief, for in that land there was none.

One-third of our people were dangerously ill, getting worse hourly, and we felt sure of meeting the same fate, with death as our only prospect, which in such a country was much worse yet. And considering these and many other inconveniences and that we had tried many expedients, we finally resorted to a very difficult one, which was to build some craft in which to leave the land. It seemed impossible, as none of us knew how to construct ships. We had no tools, no iron, no smithery, no oakum, no pitch, no tackling finally, nothing of what was indispensable. Neither was there anybody to instruct us in shipbuilding, and, above all, there was nothing to eat, while the work was going on, for those who would have to perform the task. Considering all this, we agreed to think it over. Our parley ceased for that day, and everyone went off, leaving it to God, Our Lord, to put him on the right road according to His pleasure.

The next day God provided that one of the men should come, saying that he would make wooden flues, and bellows of deerskin, and as we were in such a state that anything appearing like relief seemed acceptable, we told him to go to work, and agreed to make of our stirrups, spurs, cross-bows and other iron implements the nails, saws and hatchets and other tools we so greatly needed for our purpose.

In order to obtain food while the work proposed was in progress we determined upon four successive raids into Aute, with all the horses and men that were fit for service, and that on every third day a horse should be killed and the meat distributed among those who worked at the barges and among the sick. The raids were executed with such people and horses as were able, and they brought as many as four hundred fanegas of maize, although not without armed opposition from the Indians. We gathered plenty of palmettos, using their fibre and husk, twisting and preparing it in place of oakum for the barges. The work on these was done by the only carpenter we had, and progressed so rapidly that, beginning on the fourth day of August, on the twentieth day of the month of September, five barges of twenty-two elbow lengths each were ready, caulked with palmetto oakum and tarred with pitch, which a Greek called Don Teodoro made from certain pines. Of the husk of palmettos, and of the tails and manes of the horses we made ropes and tackles, of our shirts sails, and of the junipers that grew there we made the oars, which we thought were necessary, and such was the stress in which our sins had placed us that only with very great trouble could we find stones for ballast and anchors of the barges, for we had not seen a stone in the whole country. We flayed the legs of the horses and tanned the skin to make leather pouches for carrying water.

During that time some of the party went to the coves and inlets for sea-food, and the Indians surprised them twice, killing ten of our men in plain view of the camp, without our being able to prevent it. We found them shot through and through with arrows, for, although several wore good armor, it was not sufficient to protect them, since, as I said before, they shot their arrows with such force and precision. According to the sworn statements of our pilots, we had travelled from the bay, to which we gave the name of the Cross, to this place, two hundred and eighty leagues, more or less.

In all these parts we saw no mountains nor heard of any, and before embarking we had lost over forty men through sickness and hunger, besides those killed by Indians. On the twenty-second day of the month of September we had eaten up all the horses but one. We embarked in the following order: In the barge of the Governor there were forty-nine men, and as many in the one entrusted to the purser and the commissary. The third barge he placed in charge of Captain Alonso del Castillo and of Andres Dorantes, with forty-eight men in another he placed two captains, named Tellez and Penalosa, with forty-seven men. The last one he gave to the inspector and to me, with forty-nine men, and, after clothing and supplies were put on board, the sides of the barges only rose half a foot above the water. Besides, we were so crowded as to be unable to stir. So great is the power of need that it brought us to venture out into such a troublesome sea in this manner, and without any one among us having the least knowledge of the art of navigation.

That bay from which we started is called the Bay of the Horses. We sailed seven days among those inlets, in the water waist deep, without signs of anything like the coast. At the end of this time we reached an island near the shore. My barge went ahead, and from it we saw five Indian canoes coming. The Indians abandoned them and left them in our hands, when they saw that we approached. The other barges went on and saw some lodges on the same island, where we found plenty of ruffs and their eggs, dried, and that was a very great relief in our needy condition. Having taken them, we went further, and two leagues beyond found a strait between the island and the coast, which strait we christened Sant Miguel, it being the day of that saint. Issuing from it we reached the coast, where by means of the five canoes I had taken from the Indians we mended somewhat the barges, making washboards and adding to them and raising the sides two hands above water.

End Part One

The Journey of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza De Vaca
| Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five |

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