The Misadventures of PŠnfilo de NarvŠez and
NuŮez de Cabeza de Vaca
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Misadventures of PŠnfilo de NarvŠez and
NuŮez de Cabeza de Vaca

Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca had a feeling something bad was going to happen. If PŠnfilo de NarvŠez had listened, his expedition wouldnít have been decimated and he would not have spent eight years wandering the Southeastern part of the present-day USA.. Cabeza de Vaca urged the expedition's leader, Narvaez, not to split up their men and to approach the new lands they were exploring with caution.

Cabeza was a member of an expedition
led by Panfilo de NarvŠez exploring the area around Tampa Bay in 1528. Narvaez, you mayThis map is from 1697. Much later than 1528--when this story takes place. It's still interesting to see how inaccurate thae maps still were. recall, had a hand in stranding Juan Ortiz and thereby being at least partially responsible for creating the John Smith--Pocahontas myth. You may want to go back and reread the section on the Tocobaga Indians for more information on this fascinating story.

Meanwhile, back with this story:

The expedition leader NarvŠez wanted to look for the gold he heard existed in north Florida. Cabeza thought it was a bad idea but lost the argument. They marched through the interior of Florida, all the way to an area near present-day Tallahassee. From your studies of Florida History you know this region was occupied by the Apalachee. You also know that the Apalachee are a pretty fierce group of people that are very well adapted to their environment. Something the Spanish definitely were not.


Conditions were harsh and many in the expedition became ill.
Eventually, the lost Spanish expedition decided to return to Tampa
Bay. Their only hope was to return by sea, but they had no boats.

NarvŠez led his men to a bay on the Gulf of Mexico (assumed to be present day St. Marks). There they built five barges. The barges, pretty crude vessels, were made using pine trees and the pitch from longleaf pine mixed with palmetto fiber to fill in the cracks. The men sewed their shirts together to make sails.

In September 1528, NarvŠez and approximately two hundred and forty men set sail towards a Spanish Settlement in Mexico on their fragile barges. Just about everything went wrong. The five boats became separated, and the crew members on Cabezaís boat began to fall ill and die.

Unfortunately, a violent storm caused the barges to capsize and many men lost their lives. Fewer than one hundred men finally made it to an island off the coast of Texas. NarvŠez did not survive, and by spring, de Vaca and the few men who were still alive set off to walk to Mexico City. Seven years later, four of them, including de Vaca, eventually arrived there.

Nearly seven weeks after leaving Florida, Cabeza landed on an island off the coast of what is now Texas. He and his men stayed there for a year, unable to refloat their boat. The Indians proved friendly and gave them shelter and food.

As the second winter arrived, the weather turned unusually harsh and food was in short supply. Cabezaís men began to starve. Only three of the eighty men who landed on the island survived.

Eventually, Cabeza reached the mainland. For several years he roamed throughout Texas. Another group of Indians made him a slave. He was one of those guys that if it weren't for bad luck he'd have no luck at all. He waited two years before escaping with two companions. They walked to the Pacific Ocean, then south to Mexico City.

Finally, on July 24, 1536, eight years after they had left Tampa Bay, Cabeza and his companions arrived in Mexico City. The Spanish assumed Cabeza had died with the rest of the party and were stunned to see him.

In Mexico City there was a huge celebration for Cabeza, and he returned to Spain a hero. Cabeza figured he might turn his fame into a gov≠ernorship of Florida. Instead, he became Floridaís first unsuccessful politician. The post went to Hernando de Soto, and Cabeza responded bitterly.

He became the first European to lie about Florida real estate. He gave people in Spain the impression that there was gold and silver in mountains in Florida. As a result of what he said, some early maps show a mountain range in Florida.

So de Soto went off to Florida looking for the gold and silver. He ended up dying of fever on the Mississippi. Other explorers dismissed the idea of finding gold in Florida and wrote instead that it was ďfull of bogs and poisonous fruits, barren, and the very worst country that is warmed by the sun.

Meanwhile, in Spain, the king soon found work for Cabeza, but it was not the significant position he had anticipated. Cabeza went to Paraguay to eliminate a fierce Indian tribe. The Indians had already killed the previous Spaniard sent to bring them under control.

Just when you thought things might be looking up for Cabeza de Vaca... In Paraguay, a rival group of Spaniards seeking gold and power arrested Cabeza, put him in chains, and sent him to Spain to be tried for malfeasance. He was convicted and spent six years in jail. The king took away his royal titles. Cabeza died, probably in 1556, he's buried where so many other cast-offs of history end up, in obscurity.