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 may
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
expedition leader NarvŠez wanted
to look for the gold he heard existed in north Florida. Cabeza thought
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.