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America's History in the Making

Resource Archive: Search Results

How We Followed the Corn Route

How We Followed the Corn Route
We enjoyed a great deal of authority and dignity among them, and to maintain this we spoke very little to them. The black man always spoke to them, ascertaining which way to go and what villages we would find and all the other things we wanted to know. We encountered a great number and variety of languages; God Our Lord favored us in all these cases, because we were able to communicate always. We would ask in sign language and be answered the same way, as if we spoke their language and they spoke ours. We knew six languages, but they were not useful everywhere, since we found more than a thousand differences.

Throughout these lands those who were at war with one another made peace to come to greet us and give us all they owned. In this way we left the whole country in peace. We told them in sign language which they understood that in heaven there was a man whom we called God, who had created heaven and earth, and that we worshipped him and considered him our Lord and did everything that he commanded. We said that all good things came from his hand and that if they did the same, things would go very well for them.

We found that they were so well disposed for it that, if we could have communicated perfectly in a common language, we could have converted them all to Christianity. We tried to communicate these things to them the best we could. From then on at sunrise, with a great shout they would stretch their hands towards heaven and run them over their entire bodies. They did the same thing at sunset.

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca,La Relación, the narrative of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca (1555),Chapter 31. Courtesy of the Southwestern Writers Collection, Alkek Library, Texas State University-San Marcos.

Creator Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca
Context Cabeza De Vaca was one of a few survivors of an ambitious Spanish expedition to Florida in 1528 and wandered thousands of miles over several years.
Audience Spanish readers
Purpose To win readers, fame, and sympathy

Historical Significance

The Pánfilo de Narváez expedition of 1528 vividly illustrates how Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans could assume very different roles as conditions shifted. The contingent of 300 plundered its way through Florida before fleeing on makeshift barges from the powerful Apalachee Indians. They landed many miles west, on or near Galveston Island, where they were enslaved by the Karankawa Indians.

Years later, in 1534, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and three other survivors of the Narváez expedition slipped away from their captors and set out for Spanish territory in Mexico. They gained renown as holy men and healers, particularly Esteban, a Moorish slave. In 1836 they ran across some Spaniards—though the quartet's escort, Pimas, could not believe that the band of Spanish slave hunters could be of the same culture. De Vaca drew a stark contrast between the two groups of outsiders: "We healed the sick, they killed the sound: we came naked and barefoot, they clothed, horsed and lanced; we coveted nothing but gave whatever we were given, while they robbed whomever they found." Cabeza De Vaca had traveled a long way—in miles, years, and experiences—from the days of when he had done his part in ravaging the Indians of Florida.

Cabeza De Vaca's account was published in Spain just six years later and depicted indigenous peoples who were at once exotic and humane. The excerpt describes Cabeza de Vaca's arrival on or near Galveston Island, in what would become Texas, and the small party's travels in the interior.

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