Pánfilo de Narváez (1478–1528) was a Spanish conquistador and soldier in the Americas. Born in Spain, he first embarked to Jamaica in 1510 as a soldier. He is most remembered as the leader of two failed expeditions: In 1520 he was sent to Mexico by the Governor of Cuba Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, with the objective of stopping the invasion by Hernán Cortés which had not been authorized by the Governor. Even though his 900 men outmanned those of Cortés 3 to 1, Narváez was outmaneuvered and taken prisoner. After a couple of years in captivity in Mexico he returned to Spain where King Carlos V named him adelantado with authority to explore and colonize Florida. In 1527 Narváez embarked for Florida with five ships and 600 men, among them Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca who later described the expedition in his Naufragios. A storm south of Cuba wrecked several of the ships; the rest of the expedition continued on to Florida, where the men were eventually stranded among hostile natives. The survivors worked their way along the US gulf coast trying to get to the province of Pánuco. During a storm Narváez and a small group of men were carried out to sea on a raft and were not seen again. Only four men survived the Narváez expedition.
The expedition arrived on the west coast of Florida in April 1528, weakened by storms and desertions. He landed with 300 men near Tampa Bay—at what is currently known as the Jungle Prada Site in St. Petersburg—among hostile natives. From there, his expedition marched northward through interior Florida until it reached the territory of the powerful Apalachee Indians. Unable to find the gold and other riches he sought and tired of the hostilities with the Indians, Narváez ordered the construction of four rafts to return to the sea from the interior. He manned one raft for himself with the strongest men, the other led by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca the second in command, who had had several heated confrontations with Narvaez over his strategy. Cabeza de Vaca pleaded with Narváez not to let the rafts become separated, but Narváez did so anyway. Narváez party moved slowly westwards with some men on land and others on the raft. As the party was crossing a river the wind pulled the raft to sea, with Narváez on board, and he was never seen again.
The storm wrecked two of the four rafts, and the other two made it to the island of Galveston where they were captured by the local Indians. Only four of the 86 survivors escaped their captivity, the others having been either killed or starved to death. Only four men survived the trek: Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, Alonso del Castillo Maldonado and the Berber slave Estevanico (Esteban). Cabeza de Vaca wrote a narration entitled Naufragios (Castaways), in which he described the journey made by these four survivors on foot across the present day southwestern United States and northern Mexico. This trek took eight years before they arrived in Culiacán (Sinaloa), where they found a Spanish settlement.
Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca was a Spanish explorer of the New World, and one of four survivors of the 1527 Narváez expedition. During eight years of traveling across the US Southwest, he became a trader and faith healer to various Native American tribes before reconnecting with Spanish colonial forces in Mexico in 1536. After returning to Spain in 1537, he wrote an account, first published in 1542 as La Relación ("The Relation", or in more modern terms "The Account"), which in later editions was retitled Naufragios ("Shipwrecks"). Cabeza de Vaca has been considered notable as a proto-anthropologist for his detailed accounts of the many tribes of American Indians that he encountered.
After several months of fighting native inhabitants through wilderness and swamp, the party decided to abandon the interior and try to reach Pánuco. Slaughtering and eating their remaining horses, they gathered the stirrups, spurs, horseshoes and other metal items. They fashioned a bellows from deer hide to make a fire hot enough to forge tools and nails. They used these in making five primitive boats to use to get to Mexico. Cabeza de Vaca commanded one of these vessels, each of which held 50 men. Depleted of food and water, the men followed the coast westward. But when they reached the mouth of the Mississippi River, the powerful current swept them out into the Gulf, where the five rafts were separated by a hurricane. Some were lost forever, including that of Narváez. Two crafts with about 40 survivors each, including Cabeza de Vaca, wrecked on or near Galveston Island (now part of Texas). Out of the 80 or so survivors, only 15 lived past that winter.
As the number of survivors dwindled rapidly, they were enslaved for a few years by various American Indian tribes of the upper Gulf Coast. The tribes to which Cabeza de Vaca was enslaved included the Hans and the Capoques, and tribes later called the Karankawa and Coahuiltecan. After escaping, only four men, Cabeza de Vaca, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, Alonso del Castillo Maldonado, and an enslaved Moroccan Berber named Esteban (later called Estevanico), survived to reach Mexico City.
Traveling mostly with this small group, Cabeza de Vaca explored what is now the U.S. state of Texas, as well as the northeastern Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León and Coahuila, and possibly smaller portions of New Mexico and Arizona. He traveled on foot through the then-colonized territories of Texas and the coast. He continued through Coahuila and Nueva Vizcaya; then down the Gulf of California coast to what is now Sinaloa, Mexico, over a period of roughly eight years. Throughout those years, Cabeza de Vaca and the other men adapted to the lives of the indigenous people they stayed with, whom he later described as Roots People, the Fish and Blackberry People, or the Fig People, depending on their principal foods.
After finally reaching the colonized lands of New Spain, where he first encountered fellow Spaniards near modern-day Culiacán, Cabeza de Vaca and the three other men reached Mexico City. From there he sailed back to Europe in 1537. Numerous researchers have tried to trace his route across the Southwest. As he did not begin writing his chronicle until back in Spain, he had to rely on memory. Cabeza de Vaca was uncertain of his route. Aware that his account has numerous errors in chronology and geography, historians have worked to put together pieces of the puzzle to discern his paths.
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