Panfilo de Narvaez









The text of the Relaciůn of Alvar NuŮez Cabeza de Vaca (that's Cabeza pictured above) is his narrative of the ill-fated 1527 NarvŠez expedition. He describes the shipwreck of the expedition on the coast of Florida and his landing on an island near what is now the Texas coast.

Here is the entire text!



Cabeza de Vaca Stranded Among the Indians
by Frederic Remington

The first Europeans to explore the Southwest were Spanish conquistadors searching for gold. Cabeza de Vaca sailed to Florida in 1528 with an ill-fated expedition. The men built boats and tried to sail home around the coast but were shipwrecked off Galveston Island. Cabeza de Vaca (that's him in the middle) spent years as a captive of the Indians in Texas before he and three other survivors walked through the area of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, to reach Spanish settlements in New Spain (Mexico) in 1536.


Panfilo de Narvaez

PŠnfilo de NarvŠez arrived near Tampa Bay with a large army from Spain on April 14, 1528. The Spanish government had given him permission to settle and rule the land along the Gulf Coast from Northern Mexico to the Florida peninsula and as far inland as he was able to control.

When NarvŠez landed, he took three hundred soldiers and forty horses with him to explore the interior of the state. The ships, which were carrying food and supplies, were sent ahead to a harbor north of where they had originally landed.

A Terrible Mistake!
This turned out to be a terrible mistake. Instead of landing at the harbor described by NarvŠez, the ships landed somewhere else. NarvŠez and his men waited for the ships at the harbor where NarvŠez intended the ships to have landed, but the ships could never find him and his men. The ships' captains searched up and down the coast for almost a year, then gave up and returned to Spain.

Stranded, NarvŠez along with his treasurer and provost marshal, NuŮez de Cabeza de Vaca, led his men northward up the peninsula to the chiefdom of the Apalachee. This would have been near present-day Tallahassee. The Spaniards met hostility and violence in the Apalachee territory. This was not surprising since along their route the Spaniards had seized an Apalachee village, stolen maize and other crops, and even held a chief hostage.

After about a month, NarvŠez and the Spaniards gave up their hope of ever finding the ships and receiving their supplies. They were getting low on rations and many of the men were weak from illnesses.

Panfilo de Narvaez, the leader of a Spanish expedition, entered the territory in 1528. The expedition's chronicles, recorded by Cabeza de Vaca (see sidebar), offer not only the earliest information concerning Indians of the southeast, but also reveal the Spanish cruelty and total lack of respect for other cultures. Their preoccupation with finding gold, and their fanatical religious attitude prevented them from attempting to learn about the newly discovered people. Cabeza de Vaca wrote some very critical reports of what the Spanish were doing to the Native American populations they encountered.

After entering the Apalachee territory, Cabeza says the expedition encountered some Indians who led the Spaniards to their village. He doesn't say if the Indians invited them out of friendliness or coercion. But upon entering the village he reports:

"There we found many boxes ... 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."

Actually, the bodies were being preserved until an appropriate burial time. This desecration of remains did not create a favorable impression of the "hairy invaders" among the North Florida tribes.

The Spaniards then proceeded to the Indian town of Apalachen where Cabeza entered with nine horsemen and fifty foot soldiers. There were only women and children in the town, but the Indian men soon returned and started shooting arrows at the intruders. No doubt, word had already reached them of the Spanish desecration at the first village two hours earlier. After a skirmish, the Indian warriors fled, but later returned asking for the release of their women and children. The Spaniards did so, but kept a Caciques, or chief, as prisoner. This angered the Indians, of course, and they attacked again the following day. The Apalachees continued to attack daily, losing only two warriors in the twenty five days the Spaniards occupied their village. The Spaniards were exposed to guerrilla warfare wherein their horses and men were frequently wounded or killed when they went for water. Pursuit of the Indians was futile, as they would disappear into the big patches of corn or a shallow lake or pond. Cabeza reported that in one 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. Those people (of Florida) are wonderfully built, very gaunt and of great strength and agility. Their bows are as thick as an arm, from eleven to twelve spans (hands) long, shooting an arrow at 200 paces with unerring aim."

The Spanish finally made it back to the Gulf coast where they made five barges and sailed west, having nothing further to do with the inhabitants or the Apalachee territory. Narvaez, with four ships and about 400 men, had originally set out to explore the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Many of the men were killed by Indians; Navarez himself was drowned near the mouth of the Mississippi River. In the end there were only four men left, Cabeza de Vaca and three companions. The great army had wandered about for eight years, traveled over two thousand miles across the continent, with only four survivors finally reaching a Spanish settlement on the western coast of Mexico...

Florida TreasureThe story lives on.
Cabeza de Vaca shared this information of NarvŠez's journey with the Spanish Viceroy. (See the sidebar.) This story was read by Hernando de Soto, who was about to make his first journey to Florida.

By 1728, there were only two Apalachee towns surviving in the territory. One, called Hamaste, was about six miles from Fort San Marcos (St. Marks), and had about 200 people living there. The other one was San Juan de Guacara with about 20 people...

The Apalachean language appears to have been related to Choctaw. In Choctaw, Apelachi means helper or ally, and Apelichi means the place in which to rule, preside, or govern. The second, Apelichi, appears to reflect the situation as the Spaniards found it, as Elvas (Portuguese traveling with De Soto) reported that Anahayca Apalache was "where the lord of all that country and province resided"...

Swanton, a historian back in 1922, claimed Apalachee means "on the other side" in Hichiti. This may be the true meaning, and the Apalachee may have just coincidentally been the dominant tribe in the region at that particular time. The largest geographic feature preserving the name of this tribe is the Appalachian Mountains.