History Timeline 1500s

Above: Painting, entitled Discovery of the Mississippi, by William H. Powell, 1847, is located in the Rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Right: Giovanni de Verrazzano, 1889, engraving by F. Allcarini, Tocchi, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Giovanni da Verrazzano

Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1500s

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  • Detail - 1532

    1532 - Four men associated with the original Narváez expedition attempt to reach posts of the Spanish Empire in Mexico. These men were Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Alonso del Castillo Maldonado, AndrĂ©s Dorantes de Carranza, and a slave, Estevanico. They became the first men from Europe and Africa to enter the American west, traveling across Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

    Cabeza de Vaca


    Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca had been second in command to Pánfilo de Narváez in his expedition to colonize Spanish Florida in 1527. What had started out as six hundred soldiers, sailors, wives, slaves, and priests had been reduced significantly along the way. First, one hundred and forty men deserted even before the Florida landing upon reaching Cuba. Once reaching Florida and spending the next year attempting to fight and survive amongst the Apalachee and other tribes, that number had been reduced to two hundred and forty. They would fashion boats after theirs had been lost and float their way along the Gulf Coast toward their new destination, New Spain in Mexico. But that had not gone well either. After eighty had made it to an island in Texas, the next four years saw that number dwindle to four.

    And they were still stranded, and enslaved, with Cabeza de Vaca and the others often separated amongst the tribes of that island and inland, the Hans, Capoques, Karankawa and Coahuiltecanhoping. Cabeza de Vaca still hoped, and planned, that some day, some year, the remaining men would make it to their second destination, Mexico. In 1532, after thinking about an escape for more than one year, Cabeza de Vaca and the three other men, Alonso del Castillo Maldonado, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, and Estevanico, a slave of Dorantes even before this travail, finally met again and decided to make their way into the backcountry of Texas and travel west toward the colonies of New Spain in Mexico.


    Excerpts from "The Journey of Alvar Núñez Cabeza De Vaca," 1542


    Cabeza de Vaca Meets the Other Survivors

    "An Indian told me that the Christians Dorantes and Castillo had come and that if I wished to see them I should run away to hide on the edge of a grove to which he pointed, as he and some of his relatives were to visit these Indians and would take me along to the Christians. I confided in them and determined to do it because they spoke a different language from that of my Indians. So the next day they took me along. When I got near the site where they had their lodges, Andres Dorantes came out to look who it was, because the Indians had informed him also that a Christian was coming, and when he saw me he was much frightened, as for many days they believed me to be dead, the Indians having told them so. We gave many thanks to God for being together again, and that day was one of the happiest we enjoyed in our time, and going to where was Castillo they asked me whither I went. I told him my purpose was to go to a country of Christians and that I followed this direction and trail. Andres Dorantes said that for many days he had been urging Castillo and Estevanico to go further on, but they did not risk it, being unable to swim and afraid of the rivers and inlets that had to be crossed so often in that country.

    Still, as it pleased God, Our Lord, to spare me after all my sufferings and sickness and finally let me rejoin them, they at last determined upon fleeing, as I would take them safely across the rivers and bays we might meet. But they advised me to keep it secret from the Indians lest they would kill me forthwith, and that to avoid this it was necessary to remain with them for six months longer, after which time they would remove to another section in order to eat prickly pears. These are a fruit of the size of eggs, red and black, and taste very good. For three months they subsist upon them exclusively, eating nothing else." Cabeza de Vaca 1542.


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    After the six months had passed, Cabeza de Vaca and the other men escaped, traveling west through Texas to find the community of Christians that they referred to. It is impossible to know just what route was taken on this journey, but also likely that the four survivors were the first Europeans to travel across Texas and today's states of New Mexico and Arizona as they headed toward the New Spain colonies in Mexico, particularly focused on the Gulf Coast colony of Pánuco. During these years, Cabeza de Vaca developed good relations with the tribes that were encountered, developing the reputation as a faith healer, which allowed them passage. They survived by trading goods.


    Excerpts from "The Journey of Alvar Núñez Cabeza De Vaca," 1542


    The Two Escape Attempts

    "When I had been with the Christians for six months (historians note that time was in 1533), waiting to execute our plans, the Indians went for "prickly pears" at a distance of thirty leagues from there, and as we were about to flee the Indians began fighting among themselves over a woman and cuffed and struck and hurt each other, and in great rage one took his lodge and went his own way. So we Christians had to part, and in no manner could we get together again until the year following. During that time I fared very badly, as well from lack of food as from the abuse the Indians gave me. So badly was I treated that I had to flee three times from my masters, and they all went in my pursuit ready to kill me as they had done with Esquivel and Mendez. But God, Our Lord, in His infinite goodness, protected and saved my life.

    When the time for the prickly pears came we found each other again on the same spot. We had already agreed to escape and appointed a day for it, when on that very day the Indians separated us, sending each one to a different place, and I told my companions that I would wait for them at the prickly pears until full moon. It was the first day of September (1534) and the first day of the new moon, and I told them that if at the time set they did not appear I would go on alone without them. We parted, each one going off with his Indians.

    I remained with mine until the thirteenth of the moon, determined to escape to other Indians as soon as the moon would be full, and on that day there came to where I was Andres Dorantes and Estevanico. They told me they had left Castillo with other people nearby, and how they had suffered many hardships and been lost. On the following day our Indians moved towards where Castillo was and were going to join those who kept him, making friends with them, as until then they had been at war. So we got Castillo also..."

    "... Two days after moving we recommended ourselves to God, Our Lord, and fled, hoping that, although it was late in the season (late October, 1534) and the fruits of the prickly pears were giving out, by remaining in the field we might still get over a good portion of the land. As we proceeded that day, in great fear lest the Indians would follow us, we descried smoke, and, going towards it, reached the place after sundown, where we found an Indian who, when he saw us coming, did not wait, but ran away. We sent the negro after him, and as the Indians saw him approach alone he waited. The negro told him that we were going in search of the people that had raised the smoke. He answered that the dwellings were nearby and that he would guide us, and we followed. He hurried ahead to tell of our coming.

    At sunset we came in sight of the lodges, and two crossbow shots before reaching them met four Indians waiting for us, and they received us well. We told them in the language of the Mariames that we had come to see them. They appeared to be pleased with our company and took us to their homes. They lodged Dorantes and the negro at the house of a medicine man, and me and Castillo at that of another. These Indians speak another language and are called Avavares. They were those who used to fetch bows to ours and barter with them, and, although of another nation and speech, they understand the idiom of those with who we formerly were and had arrived there on that very day with their lodges. Forthwith they offered us many prickly pears, because they had heard of us and of how we cured and of the miracles Our Lord worked through us. And surely, even if there had been no other tokens, it was wonderful how He prepared the way for us through a country so scantily inhabited, causing us to meet people where for a long time there had been none, saving us from so many dangers, not permitting us to be killed, maintaining us through starvation and distress and moving the hearts of the people to treat us well, as we shall tell further on." Cabeza de Vaca 1542.

    For two more years, the four survivors walked across the states of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before traveling into colonial Mexico. In 1536, they finally met fellow Spaniards near today's town of Guasave.

    Image above: Montage of (left) engraving of Cabeza de Vaca, unknown original author and date. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons; (center) statue of Cabeza de Vaca in Houston, Texas, 2009, author unknown. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons CC4.0; (right) Cabeza de Vaca Coat of Arms, 1933, Odyssey of Cabeza de Vaca by Morris Bishop. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Photo below: Montage of the Map of the Narváez and de Vaca Expedition (background), 2008, Lancer and (inset) engraving of Pánfilo de Narváez, date unknown. Both images courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Source info: "The Journey of Alvar Núñez Cabeza De Vaca," 1542; "The Narváez Expedition," historians.org; floridahistory.com; Wikipedia.



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