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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  • Timeline

  • Detail - 1536

    July 1536 - Survivors of the Narváez expedition reach fellow Spaniards near Sinaloa, Mexico.

    Cabeza de Vaca

    Six hundred soldiers, sailors, wives, slaves, and priests had left Spain on June 17, 1527 on the Narváez expedition. By the time they had reached their destination of what they were to make colonial Florida, but would not succeed at, in April 1528, that number had dwindled to four hundred. By September in northern Florida after battles with the Apalachee, it was two hundred and forty-two; in November, the expedition was down to eighty men, shipwrecked again off the coast of Texas. Four years later, there were only four.

    But those four survivors, enslaved by the natives of the Texas coast, were determined to make their way west and eventually meet up with fellow Spaniards in the colonies established in Mexico. Led by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, their trek began with an escape while picking prickly pears and would continue for two years.

    After their initial escape, they remained with the Avavares Indians for eight months through June 1535. By the end of October 1535, the men were still in the area of Houston. Over the next two months, they walked the deserts of Texas until reaching the Rio Grande River in late December, befriending the Indian tribes of each area, acting as medicine men and traders. After crossing the Rio Grande into Mexican territory, the men headed west/northwest, thought by some historians into today's states of New Mexico and Arizona. The four men, Cabeza de Vaca, Alonso del Castillo Maldonado, AndrĂ©s Dorantes de Carranza, and slave Estevanico then turned south until they finally reached the Mexican provinces of New Spain (Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Coahuila, and Nueva Vizcaya), crossing back into that territory near Nogales. They would meet with fellow Spaniards, Christians, near today's town of Guasave in Sinoloa in the spring of 1536. Later, they met up with Melchior Diaz, who later explored Arizona and New Mexico prior to the Coronado expeditions. On July 24, 1536, the men arrived in Mexico City.

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

    Traveling Across Texas

    "After parting from those (in October, 1535) we had left in tears, we went with the others to their homes and were very well received. They brought us their children to touch, and gave us much mesquite-meal. This mezquiquez is a fruit which, while on the tree, is very bitter and like the carob bean. It is eaten with earth and then becomes sweet and very palatable. The way they prepare it is to dig a hole in the ground, of the depth it suits them, and after the fruit is put in that hole, with a piece of wood, the thickness of a leg and one and a half fathoms long they pound it to a meal, and to the earth that mixes with it in the hole they add several handfuls and pound again for a while. After that they empty it into a vessel, like a small, round basket, and pour in enough water to cover it fully, so that there is water on top. Then the one who has done the pounding tastes it, and if it appears to him not sweet enough he calls for more earth to add, and this he does until it suits his taste. Then all squat around and every one reaches out with his hand and takes as much as he can. The seeds and peelings they set apart on hides, and the one who has done the pounding throws them back into the vessel, pouring water over them again. They squeeze out the juice and water, and the husks and seeds they again put on hides, repeating the operation three or four times at every pounding. Those who take part in that banquet, which is for them a great occasion, get very big bellies from the earth and water they swallow.

    Now, of this, the Indians made a great feast in our behalf, and danced and celebrated all the time we were with them. And at night six Indians, to each one of us, kept watch at the entrance to the lodge we slept in, without allowing anybody to enter before sunrise ...

    ... There being no trails in that country, we soon lost our way. At the end of four leagues we reached a spring, and there met a woman who had followed us, and who told us of all they had gone through until they fell in with us again. We went on, taking them along as guides." Cabeza de Vaca 1542.

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

    Crossing the Rio Grande

    "Those guided us for more than fifty leagues through a desert of very rugged mountains, and so arid there there was no game. Consequently we suffered much from lack of food, and finally forded a very big river, with its water reaching to our chest (Rio Grande River at Esperanza). Thence on many of our people began to show the effects of the hunger and hardships they had undergone in those mountains, which were extremely barren and tiresome to travel.

    The same Indians led us to a plain beyond the chain of mountains, where people came to meet us from a long distance. By those we were treated in the same manner as before, and they made so many presents to the Indians who came with us that, unable to carry all, they left half of it. We told the givers to take it back, so as not to have it lost, but they refused, saying it was not their custom to take back what they had once offered, and so it was left to waste. We told these people our route was towards sunset, and they replied that in that direction people lived very far away. So we ordered them to send there and inform the inhabitants that we were coming and how. From this they begged to be excused, because the others were their enemies, and they did not want us to go to them. Yet they did not venture to disobey in the end, and sent two women, one of their own and the other a captive. They selected women because these can trade everywhere, even if there be war." Cabeza de Vaca 1542.

    Meeting Fellow Spaniards in New Spain

    "Seeing their reluctance, in the morning I took with me the negro and eleven Indians, following the trail (today's Highway 15), went in search of the Christians. On that day we made ten leagues, passing three places where they had slept. The next morning I came upon four Christians on horseback, who, seeing me in such a strange attire, and in company with Indians, were greatly startled. They stared at me for quite a while, speechless; so great was their surprise that they could not find words to ask me anything. I spoke first, and told them to lead me to their captain, and we went together to Diego de Alcaraza, their commander...

    ... We reached Mexico (city) on Sunday (July 24, 1536), the day before the vespers of Saint James, and were very well received by the Viceroy and the Marquis of the Valley, who presented us with clothing, offering all they had. On the day of Saint James there was a festival, with bull-fight and tournament." Cabeza de Vaca 1542.

    What Happened to the Men After

    Cabeza de Vaca - Sailed for Europe and arrived in Lisbon on August 9, 1537. Returned to South America in 1540, appointed the adelantado of the Río de la Plata colony, which consisted of Argentina, Paraguay, and Uraguay. In March 1542, he became governor of Asuncion in Paraguay and later explored for gold and silver in Peru. Eventually replaced by former Governor Domingo Martínez de Irala, returned to Spain in 1545, and placed on trial for poor administration. He was exonerated, but never returned to South America.

    Alonso del Castillo Maldonado - Became owner of an encomienda with his wife in the Mexican province of Puebla. Returned to Spain briefly, but returned to New Spain. Eventually served as the treasurer of Guatemala.

    Andrés Dorantes de Carranza - Intended to return to Europe, but when his ship was deemed unfit, returned and remained in New Spain. Sold slave Estevanico to the Viceroy of New Spain, Antonio de Mendoza.

    Estevanico - Moroccan explorer became the slave of the Viceroy and was chosen by him to serve as the guide for the expedition of Fray Marcos de Niza, during the first quest of the Spanish to find the Seven Cities of Cibola in 1539.

    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.

    Narvaez Expedition

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