Cabeza de Vaca described and, out of sheer necessity, took part in the critical lifeways and agricultural practices of the peoples throughout the lands where he traveled. His accounts included several primary anthropological interests, including foods, trade goods, customs, languages, and more.
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Indian Tribes - Cabeza de Vaca named a wide array of peoples, particularly during the extensive time he spent in the Gulf Coast region. Most of the names, however, are difficult, if not impossible, to trace in historic documents that follow his own experience. It is somewhat difficult to know, in some cases, whether the names he used are the tribes' names, or other inter-tribal clan names, place names or languages, though he described one group of people who used a name that described the forests where they were from (Charruco) and a social dynamic where two languages he named (Han and Capoque) were spoken by peoples who subsisted on an island. Whether he used their clan names or place names, some of the indigenous peoples may have been mostly or completely decimated by diseases, for which they had no immunity, brought by the Europeans. He described the genocide unfolding within days after the Europeans and Africans were shipwrecked on the "Island of Doom".
He was adamant that the island was inhabited, or shared seasonally, by two tribes. Popular history that maintains he was stranded on Galveston Island requires considering the Karankawa one of the tribes. The two tribes might then be two clans of the Karankawa, or the Karankawa and Atakapa, who were documented to inhabit coastal lands that are now part of southwest Louisiana and southeast Texas.
Based on the position of Galveston and the obstacle and natural barrier the Galveston Bay provides in the region, it would be surprising if Galveston was partially inhabited by a tribe from the east side of the bay (the Atakapa are described in that region).
If the island where Cabeza de Vaca's boat capsized was off the Louisiana coast, near Vermillion Parish, the two tribes may be the Atakapa and Chitimacha, or even two different clans or societies within the Atakapa and Chitimacha. The Chitimacha were historically reported to be divided into two social classes. A unique custom Cabeza de Vaca reported could be related to that possibility, as he described:
"They have a strange custom when acquaintances meet or occasionally visit, of weeping half an hour before they speak. This over, the one who is visited rises and gives his visitor all that he has. The latter accepts it and, after a while, carries it away, often without a word."
Cabeza de Vaca became a traveling merchant, in order to live better, as he saw it, since he so disliked the daily work of foraging for foods - fish and roots - in the brackish waters and swamps. He desired to live among more settled and prosperous peoples to the north in the forests, so it seems highly likely that he traded with the Caddo and Natchez, roaming between their settlements. They were the predominant peoples, grouped by culture, who inhabited the forests of east Texas, and west and central Louisiana. Though their territories reached into Arkansas and Oklahoma, Cabeza de Vaca surely did not roam that far, since he didn't report seeing the Kiamichi or Ouachita Mountains.
Depending on the width of his territorial range and the origin of his starting place on the coast, since he claimed to roam 100-150 miles, he may have met and dealt with inland neighbors of the Caddo, including the Natchez and possibly Houma. He did not report seeing the Mississippi River again, which he likely would have mentioned, so he may not have traded past the Atchafalaya Basin to the east, where the Natchez and Houma settled from the Red River to the Mississippi, and beyond it to the east.
When Cabeza de Vaca determined to leave the interior and travel west along the coast, he encountered an indigenous people he considered to be violent and mean. Their cruelty even inspired one survivor, Lope de Oviedo, to return to the "Island of Doom", where he had already lived among its inhabitants for four years, rather than attempt to escape to Mexico City. He described their treatment:
"We asked about the others (expedition members) and were told that they were all dead. Most had died of cold and hunger. But our informants' own tribe had murdered Diego Dorantes, Valdevieso, and Diego de Huelva for sport because they left one house for another; and the neighboring tribe, where Captain Dorantes now resided, had, in obedience to a dream, murdered Esquivel and Méndez. We asked how the living Christians fared. Badly, they replied; the boys and some of the Indian men enlivened their dreary idleness by constantly kicking, cuffing and cudgeling the three slaves; such was the life they led.
On the west side of the bay were people Cabeza de Vaca knew as Quevenes. Between there and the "Island of Doom" were Deaguanes. On the island were people who used the languages he called Han and Capoque. An inland group near the "Island of Doom" were called Yguaces (Castillo and Esteban lived with them after leaving the island). The farther inland group in the forests where Cabeza de Vaca went to work as a traveling merchant were named for a place called Charruco.
So we would know they had spoken the truth about the bad treatment of our fellows, they commenced slapping and batting Oviedo and did not spare me either. They would keep throwing clods at us, too, and each of the days we waited there they would stick their arrows to our hearts and say they had a mind to kill us the way they had finished our friends. My frightened companion Oviedo said he wanted to go back with the women who had just forded the bay with us."
The reputation of the coastal people for being mean (or more violent) beyond the significant bay (the "great bay"), all along the coast to as far as the Rio Grande Valley, convinced Cabeza de Vaca and his three companions to set their course west into the interior, which eventually led them across the modern state of Chihuahua, México, en route to the Pacific Ocean to reach Mexico City.
He reasoned, "Having found the people of the interior better off and milder toward us, we preferred to bear inland."
If the "Island of Doom" was located in the region inhabited by Atakapa and Chitimacha Indians, where Cabeza de Vaca reported that the Indians were shocked by an episode of cannibalism by the Spanish castaways, the second site of cannibalism (which he reportedly learned about from other survivors west on the coast, possibly in the vicinity of Galveston Bay), may have been in the region where Karankawa Indians lived.
Their reaction was not described. The second incident of cannibalism, if studied further, could possibly account for evidence of cannibalism attributed to the Karankawa or Atakapa Indians. It might be mistakenly attributed to them.
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Foods and Environment - Cabeza de Vaca reported the foods consumed by the indigenous peoples, as well as himself and the survivors. Their foods were mostly seasonal.
With his adventure divided by extremely different experiences while on the "Island of Doom", on the nearby coast and in the interior forests, and later after crossing four large streams to a bay, reported to be challenging to cross (possibly Espíritu Santo), after which many things they experienced changed, as the ecological regions changed. Most notable, as they left the immediate coastal plain, it is important to consider the foods he had access to and what the diverse environments produced. The zones Cabeza de Vaca described ranged as widely as canebrakes and grassland prairies.
Before going to the prominent bay, winter foods included roots from the sea, fish and oysters, followed by blackberries in the spring, and acorns and persimmons in the fall.
After reaching the bay, pecans, available every other year, become an important staple and were found in large groves 25 to 37 miles north of the bay. Blackberries remained a food source, as well as crabs and shellfish.
An important difference, perhaps among the most revealing evidence of his whereabouts, was the addition of the prickly pear cactus. Their fruit, known as tunas, attracted tribes from all around to feast on them seasonally. Given their historic range across south and central Texas, the tunas would have been an important food and trade commodity that he certainly would have been aware of if he lived in the interior and traveled west of Galveston Bay while he was a merchant.
Later in the journey, traveling over south Texas, probably over the South Texas Sand Sheet, as he continued to seek a route to Mexico City, he cited an array of foods: deer, fish, roots (two or three kinds), spiders, ant eggs, worms, lizards, snakes, salamanders, and ground bones of animals. He quipped: "I honestly believe that if there were stones in that land, they would eat them."
He learned of mesquite bean flour, peyote, and saw mountains that rose near the sea. At that point, he and his companions (the three with him who survived) determined to leave the coastal region and set their course inland, partly based on what they knew of the peoples Cabeza de Vaca traded with in the interior forests above the Gulf Coast.
The tunas continued to be the most desired, sustaining and sought-after food. They were dried and carried for nourishment by migrating peoples.
In a similarly revealing category that covered foods and trade goods, Cabeza de Vaca did not report the buffalo (American bison) before he traveled west of what was likely Galveston Bay. He reported that he was aware of them and noted two different colors of hides ("tawny" or brown, and black), which may indicate he had at least seen hides from the subspecies of plains and wood bison. His lack of dialogue about the buffalo before traveling to the prominent bay indicates he may not have fully considered their importance or abundance until he truly left the coast. As he toured the region as a merchant north of the "Island of Doom", he would have been acutely aware of buffalo while ranging from Galveston Island as a point of origin into the interior west of Galveston, but he may have had limited ability to see them or perceive their importance had he originated on an island on the central Louisiana coast and roamed into the interior by way of the more dense forests and especially while hugging the marsh-like Red and Sabine rivers
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Trade Goods - As a merchant, Cabeza de Vaca carried various types of sea shells (sea snails, cones, conchs, etc.) into the interior.
He brought products from the interior with him to the coast, including red ochre, flint, animal hides, deer tassels, canes and sinews.
From 1528-1532, he didn't eat, mention or refer to the fruit of the prickly pear cactus (tunas) as a trade good. He mentioned trading hides, as well as deer tassels, but specifically described the buffalo later in the escape, following the bay he considered to possibly be Espíritu Santo.
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Interior Travel - Journeying into the interior over several years made Cabeza de Vaca the best informed among the survivors. Though he crossed the four large streams long after the other three survivors, since (as he said) he wanted to convince Lope de Oviedo to go with him, he likely already knew of the four large streams and had a basic understanding of them from his travels. But he was likely farther inland.
Given the prominence of the streams featured in their reporting, in a land where the survivors crossed hundreds of them, the streams were surely unique - possibly important travel ways, or imposing natural obstacles. They may have been very unique features and/or an impediment to their travel. They may not have merited descriptions that would repeat the descriptions of swamps and lakes in Florida, but they surely weren't easy to cross, either.
Four lakes exist on the Louisiana coast (Sabine Lake, Calcasieu Lake, Grand Lake and White Lake), which are filled by interior watersheds and drain to the Gulf of Mexico. They appear on nearly every historic map of the area. A smaller, narrow body of water (a marsh, actually) bordering Pecan Island is sometimes shown (as on the map above), rather than White Lake, but in its same vicinity.
Given that Cabeza de Vaca had witnessed the Mississippi River in its natural, uncontrolled state (not channeled by levees as it is today, it spread out to a much greater extent), and he may have seen the Atchafalaya Basin (though it was not clearly described in the narrative, as far as we know), and since the four lakes are set in the swamps and marshes, he may have considered the brackish inland bays to be completely integrated with their watersheds. In fact, they were less defined five centuries ago in a way that is difficult to imagine today, due to many man-made changes to the modern Louisiana coast.
Crossing the four large streams, in this critical detail of the journey, Cabeza de Vaca reported:
"So we (Cabeza de Vaca and Lope de Oviedo) worked along, with some Indians, until we came to a bay a league wide and uniformly deep. From its appearance, we presumed it to be Espíritu Santo."
The passage, though vague, probably indicates he worked with local Indians, utilizing their method of travel in the region - since they worked together and traveled with a group of Indians much of the way - transporting goods and supplies in their canoes on water and portaging them over land between lakes and rivers. In south Louisiana, this was the best way to move about; the method was famously adopted by Acadian immigrants ("Cajuns").
Cabeza de Vaca didn't make it clear if the bay, or a section of the bay, or the inlet to the bay, is a league wide. And it is not clear if he ever saw or heard of the bay during his merchant career before he traveled to it by crossing the four large streams.
Additionally, there were descriptions of the Spanish who came to the area before the De Soto/Moscoso expedition, which were heard by Moscoso after the De Soto expedition crossed the Mississippi River, the Ouachita region (Arkansas), and traveled into modern East Texas (under Moscoso, following De Soto's death), but Moscoso apparently came to doubt the Indians who told the stories. There was probably a real base to the Indians' accounts, though maybe not from first-hand experiences.
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The evidence presented and described is mostly from the words of Cabeza de Vaca himself, in La Relación, and from him and two other survivors in the "Joint Report" they made upon reaching Mexico City in 1536. Material evidence may be found if new ideas are considered to locate the whereabouts of the castaways and the key sites they described in the existing texts. Some evidence may have been found and could be better assigned if new ideas are considered.
When possible, some of the evidence is confirmed by modern events and the work of current researchers who have gathered massive amounts of observations and data to basically "water map" the Gulf of Mexico.
Based on clues to his rate of travel, possible assistance from currents and other tropical climate and water dynamics, weather conditions, survey measurements (particularly of the island and between waterways), description of the land and bays, indigenous peoples, foodways, trade goods and networks, and his experience as a traveler and merchant, as well as the experience of others in the same locations during the historic time period, it is highly unlikely that the shipwreck site for Cabeza de Vaca's boat was Galveston Island. Evidence, however, may exist on or in the region of Galveston Bay.
The site of the shipwreck of Solis (who drowned while attempting to relaunch) and Cabeza de Vaca's boat, as well as Dorantes and Castillo's boat, was more likely on an island off the coast of Vermillion Parish, Louisiana. A third boat (that of Enríquez and Suárez) was likely wrecked on the coast, close to an inland waterway near the coastal center of Cameron Parish, Louisiana. A fourth boat (commanded by Governor Narváez) traveled farther west and met an unknown fate, though most of the participants aboard his boat were known to have died. A fifth boat, the first one to sink (carrying Tellez and Penalosa), went down at sea off the coast of Louisiana, between the Mississippi River Delta and Marsh Island (Iberia Parish, Louisiana).
For reference, the boats under the following officers sank or capsized in the following order: 1. Tellez and Penalosa; 2. Dorantes and Castillo (November 5); 3. Cabeza de Vaca and Solis (November 6); 4. Enriquez and Suarez; and, 5. Governor Narváez.
From the shipwreck site, the four survivors (Cabeza de Vaca, Castillo, Dorantes and Esteban) traveled over four waterways to reach Galveston Bay, which may be the bay described on a 1519 map made by Alfonso Álvarez de Pineda as Espíritu Santo. They gained access or increased access to new foods, including the prickly pear cactus (opuntia) and its fruit (referred to as tuna), and mesquite beans, which were not previously described in the text as a source of food or a trade commodity. They left behind a much more challenging and problematic coastal environment of marshes and thickets in southwest Louisiana and southeast Texas. Mountains, prairies, buffalo and peyote became some of the new clues to the four survivors' whereabouts.
From the time Cabeza de Vaca's boat was separated from the boat commanded by Governor Narváez and shipwrecked on the Gulf Coast, and he became one of four survivors who walked to Mexico City and lived to tell their perilous tale, he also became the earliest chronicler of Texas peoples and places, as he traveled from the modern state boundary on the east side of the state, to the modern international boundary with México, which he likely crossed somewhere in west Texas.
While Cabeza de Vaca became the highest ranking leader of the expedition by default, after the disappearance of the Governor, his accounts during the flight for survival toward Mexico City revealed that he and the other two Spanish and one African survivor, who came with the expedition as a slave, became relative equals. Cabeza de Vaca later led an expedition as the Governor into the indigenous lands of South America, where new ideas gained and tested during his survival in North America played a role.
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Summary of Evidence
Concise overviews of evidence are provided:
Scientific Evidence - The available evidence that we would call scientific evidence at this time is based on speed, or rate of travel, and the geology and hydrology of the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River, as well as Cabeza de Vaca's interest and ability to survey and provide measurements for places he visited. New science and technology, like DNA testing, will improve our ability to locate the places visited by the survivors of the Narváez expedition. [Read More]
Known Places - Based on his description, as well as the account of the De Soto/Moscoso expedition years later, the Mississippi River Delta is a known location the expeditions visited. Geological evidence reveals its growing prominence (generally in its current channel) in the Gulf of Mexico five centuries ago. Provided Cabeza de Vaca's dates during the time he and the Narváez expedition members attempted to flee on the Gulf of Mexico (in their poorly built boats), the Mississippi River is a reliable point for distance measurements. [Read More]
Rate of Travel - To travel to Galveston Island, Cabeza de Vaca's boat would have traveled six times (6X) faster after crossing the Mississippi River than it did in the same distance before reaching the Mississippi River. He would have traveled twice (2X) as fast as the boats of the De Soto/Moscoso expedition only a few years later. Both are highly improbable, since Cabeza de Vaca's crew was in extremely poor physical condition (which turned much worse toward the end of their time on the Gulf of Mexico) and the boat (one of the boats of the Narváez expedition) was likely inferior to the boats of the De Soto/Moscoso expedition. [Read More]
Gulf Coast Currents - Ocean currents may have helped and hampered the westward progress of the boats. Cabeza de Vaca described northern fronts, which were generally not helpful to move a boat west at an increased speed. [Read More]
Weather Conditions - Cabeza de Vaca consistently referred to cold, even bitter cold, and the castaways dying from exposure to the cold, rather than the kinds of conditions more likely to be present in tropical weather that could have spawned a hurricane to drive Cabeza de Vaca's boat farther west. When his boat was shipwrecked, the people of the island were living as normal, with no evidence of a tropical storm, hurricane, destructive winds or high tides. He lived through a hurricane in Cuba and did not later note any kind of damage or destruction like it. Read More
The Island's Measurements - Galveston is twice the length of the measurement Cabeza de Vaca gave for the "Island of Doom". His measurement is close to the length of Marsh Island. There weren't many clues in the description to gage the elevation of the island, but the ones he offered indicate a very low, flat island, more like a flat marsh or promontory built up of river sediment, rather than a barrier island. He mentioned that the inhabitants built their huts on oyster shells, rather than on sand or dry soil above the water line. And he described what were possibly deep impressions made by foot traffic in mud or a wet marsh (which one of the Spaniards thought might be made by cattle). [Read More]
Geographic Evidence - It is important to consider the geography and ecozones that exist today, as well as the many changes to the environment that have ocurred over 500 years, and even over the thousands of years before that, when the Mississippi River met the Gulf of Mexico as far west as Vermillion Bay. Like the modern Mississippi River Delta, land similar to its promontories formed from silt carried by the river, along with river gravel. [Read More]
Location of Bays - While on the "Island of Doom" he didn't describe a major bay behind it, which he certainly would have done if he was shipwrecked on Galveston Island - either for its impressive size, as it is larger than Tampa Bay (which is likely one the expedition first viewed) and Matagorda Bay; or for the major obstacle it presented for inland travel and trade, as well as its prominence as an seasonally inhabited place. [Read More]
Topographical/Physical Features - The rivers between Vermillion Parish and Galveston Bay are proportionally closer in distance (to distances provided in the "Joint Report") and more suitable to the described challenge than the rivers between Galveston Island and Matagorda Bay. The four watersheds between Vermillion Bay and the Sabine River are also dominant features of the landscape. [Read More]
Description of the Bay - Given the similar shape and topography of Galveston Bay and Matagorda Bay, Cabeza de Vaca's description could be of either one. Galveston Bay, however, has a more prominent access pass between Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston Island. Though Cabeza de Vaca did not directly describe the pass (but rather a three-step crossing that may have involved going from Bolivar Peninsula to Galveston Island, to the mainland), there is reasonable likelihood that Galveston Bay was seen by Pineda and noted on his 1519 map (which Cabeza de Vaca was familiar with) as Espíritu Santo. [Read More]
Cultural Evidence - Archaeological sites in several locations on the coast consider the time period of the Narváez expedition, but yield only artifacts atributed to the indigenous culture. One aspect is cannibalism, which may need to be re-examined. Additional material evidence of the Spaniards likely exists and can be found by looking in newly considered locations. Some of those, however, are below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. [Read More]
Indian Tribes - Given what is known of indigenous peoples of the time and the geographic location of Galveston Island, it seems unlikely that the neighboring tribe to the Karankawa, the Atakapa, would share the island, with Galveston Bay as a major obstacle. It seems more likely that two peoples might have inhabited Marsh Island. It is also possible that two clans or social divisions within a tribe shared the island where Cabeza de Vaca was shipwrecked.
The Karankawa were reported in Texas history to be cannibals, or practice cannibalistic rituals, but the tribe Cabeza de Vaca lived with, on and off, for four years after being shipwrecked were against cannibalism. They may have been strongly against it, as Cabeza de Vaca reported he and the other survivors would have been put to death by the Indians had the discovered that some of the Spanish castaways turned to cannibalism in their attempt to survive. [Read More]
Foods and Environment - Had Cabeza de Vaca been shipwrecked on Galveston Island and traded goods in the interior, he would have had access to one of the most important seasonal food sources, tunas, the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. Though the prickly pears were found on the Gulf Prairies, east of the Edwards Plateau and the South Texas Plains, even if it was necessary to travel west from the Katy Prairie to find them in abundance, they would have been in both the range he claimed to travel as a merchant and the range he noted that Indians would travel to eat and collect them.
It was only after he traveled over four large streams to a bay (Espíritu Santo) that he described the buffalo (American bison) and its range, rather than simply noting its hides, which he had done earlier in his text. [Read More]
Trade Goods - Based on the trade goods Cabeza de Vaca was familiar with and traded over a wide range during his years in the interior, some of it east and some of it west of the bay he believed to be Espíritu Santo, it is much more likely he was far east of Galveston Bay for the first four years, rather than east Matagorda Bay (closer to Galveston Bay), and west of Galveston Bay for the latter two years. As an important example, tunas, the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, would have been an important trade commodity west of Galveston Bay. [Read More]
Interior Travel - Some of the survivors expressed that they had a fear of going forward to try to escape to Mexico City, as if they were not aware of the land ahead, which Cabeza de Vaca would have traveled and worked as a merchant. The Louisiana coast would have reminded them of their devastating experiences in Florida. Had their future consideration been based on the ecozone west of Galveston Bay, with more arid lands and more easily passable rivers, the concern would not have been so strongly amplified. [Read More]
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The Potential Landing Site in Louisiana
Cabeza de Vaca and the crew of his boat were most likely shipwrecked on an island in the vicinity of Vermillion Parish, Louisiana, along with a boat commanded by Castillo and Dorantes. The island may be Marsh Island. However, it may be one that has submerged and mostly washed away, such as a remnant of a promontory of the ancient course of the Mississippi River (the Teche Delta region that formed approximately 4,000 to 8,000 years ago), or Shell Keys (an area that is vanishing and was once formed of many islets with much greater connectivity), or a barrier island that was in the place of several shoals that are found below the surface of the ocean today (of particular interest are Tiger Shoal and Trinity Shoal).
The possibility that the island does not exist above water today is a strong possibility. The modern Louisiana coast is famously losing land at a high rate due to sea level rise, but it started with another highly impactful phenomenon - subsidence - caused by loss of sediment from rivers that have been channeled by levees and a natural environment that has been crisscrossed by numerous man-made canals and the Intracoastal Waterway.
500 years ago, the coast was gaining ground and losing ground. The Mississippi River Delta in its modern position was growing from the sediment it carried, its banks and promontories were extending farther into the Gulf of Mexico, but as the ocean level was rising slightly during the end of the Little Ice Age, the coast was losing some of its shorelines, particularly the lowest islands. This continues to affect the coast today, as wetlands and even many important coastal archaeological sites that were active camps back when Cabeza de Vaca was there are threatened.
Though the historic boundaries of each of the four large streams (or watersheds) are not precisely known today, historic maps have nearly always depicted the four important marshland lakes that were an important part of the watersheds. They were also pretty certainly similar in similar character as the Atchafalaya and even Mississippi River, meaning they were common and their crossing presented a significant challenge.
Based on scientific evidence, the Vermillion Parish coast is the outside distance that two of the expedition's boats may have reached in ordinary circumstances, based on the days they were known to travel and the speed of their travel from the Mississippi River to the landing site (compared with their own earlier performance and the experience of the later De Soto/Moscoso expedition). Largely based on the narrative, geographic evidence is critical to the story, particularly the lack of notation or description of a substantial bay on the coast, just above the island, as the relationship of Galveston Island and Galveston Bay should merit. And based on cultural evidence, Galveston Bay (an important divider between distinctive ecoregions) is the strongest candidate for the one the survivors believed to be Espíritu Santo.
Based on the measurements given by the survivors in the "Joint Report", the distance from the first stream to the bay is about 68-86 miles. Half of that, 45 miles, is an excellent measurement between the fourth stream and the bay. The other measurements roughly suit the distances between the other streams, particularly proportionally. Depending on where the measurements are made based on the modern position of the channels, the distance to the first stream and the possible site of the island is slightly more than the total estimated by the survivors in the "Joint Report". Potentially, some of the full distance was not measured if the survivors traveled by canoe over the waterways, using some of the widest bodies of water or the closest points for portage. They may have even entered and exited the rivers and swamps at various points, nearer and farther, from the coast in order to use the waterways for their travel most efficiently.
Of the various possibilities throughout the central Gulf Coast region, the four watersheds - Sabine, Calcasieu, Mermentau, and Vermillion-Teche - are the best candidate for the four large streams described.
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Coordinates of the Potential Landing Site
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Following are coordinates of potential (theoretical, not confirmed) landing sites and near vicinities:
Marsh Island, geo:29.566389,-91.846111 (exact, area)
Shell Keys, geo:29.420833,-91.845833 (exact, area)
Tiger Shoal and Trinity Shoal, 29.4, -92.3 (area, region)
The potential locations are listed so that geotags of archaeological finds may be compared.
Support for the Galveston Landing Theory
Evidence that the boats carrying Cabeza de Vaca and the three other survivors capsized on the Gulf Coast near Vermillion Parish is substantial. There is also evidence, though less convincing, that indicates it was possible for their boats to reach Galveston. The odds are very low and the likelihood is that it didn't happen. However, it can't be ruled out with absolute certainty.
The highly accelerated rate of travel after the Mississippi River, compared with the rate of travel before the Mississippi, is one of the most challenging problems.
One drifter buoy set out in the Gulf of Mexico in 1995 (pictured above) traced a similar course that was possibly followed by Cabeza de Vaca's boat and, though it reached Galveston Island in a much longer timeframe, it demonstrated that the Gulf of Mexico currents are sometimes favorable for travel on the westward route to Galveston Island. Drifters, however, are generally intended to measure the current of water and not the movement of objects on the surface, since those are also affected by their weight, buoyancy, wind direction, as well as wave height and frequency.
Other drifters and maps of currents indicate that there are times (usually periods of one to three days) when currents are favorable nearer to the coast, where Cabeza de Vaca's and the other boats likely tried to travel, to varying degrees, on their westward course.
While the men who were to power and navigate the boats were described as sick, lethargic and near death, they may have exerted tremendous effort out of their desperation (though the effort was not described in Cabeza de Vaca's narrative) during the week following their crossing of the Mississippi River in order to achieve a greatly faster rate of travel than their own earlier effort (during the month before they reached the Mississippi), and also accomplish twice as much as speed as De Soto/Moscoso's crews.
Though the conditions or signs of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico were not described in Cabeza de Vaca's narrative, as it is a suggestion some historians have made to explain Galveston as a point of landing, it is a slight possibility and the timeframe is consistent with what we presently consider the end of hurricane season, or actually about a week past its end. On record, tropical storms and hurricanes have formed as late as the end of December (Tropical Storm Zeta, December 30, 2005, and Hurricane Alice, December 30, 1954). From the time he and his fellow survivors were shipwrecked, he described the cold of a harsh winter that seemed to come early (compared with modern experience on the Gulf Coast) and get worse. While hurricanes are most often followed by hot and humid days, when the air is stagnant and still, Hurricane Ike, which made landfall in Galveston on September 13, 2008 and tracked over Houston, was followed by an unusual cold front that brought flooding rains and below normal temperatures (60°-79°, rather than the normal 70°-90°, with highs known to reach the upper 90s, or even 100°) for at least a couple of days to the Houston area.
The boats may have left from a point farther east on the Florida coast, which would improve slightly the extreme imbalance in the expedition's rate of travel before and after the Mississippi River. But given the distance estimate of the original surveyors, who swore they traveled 280 leagues (about 800-840 miles), from the original landing site ("The Cross") to the place where they departed (the "Bay of Horses") to try to escape the mainland, it seems they must have at least traveled to Apalachicola Bay. A site near the mouth of the St Marks River was reportedly corroborated by a contingent during the De Soto Expedition.
Some of the evidence of cannibalism found on the Texas coast could be from the incidents of the Spanish explorers turning to cannibalism that were described by Cabeza de Vaca.
His failure to mention Galveston Bay, if it was Galveston Island where he was first stranded, may be an oversight, though there would be no conceivable way to be unaware of it (and seemingly less reason to not report it), due to its massive presence in the region and its array of watersheds (Buffalo Bayou, San Jacinto River, Trinity River, and others). His delayed coverage of the importance of the fruit of the prickly pear cactus and the range of the buffalo would indicate his range as a merchant might then have been significantly smaller than he reported and his readers imagine.
It is important to note, however, that even if Cabeza de Vaca's boat did not reach Galveston Island, his was not the boat the lead boat. It was the third to sink or capsize of the five boats. If his, along with Solis and crew, was capsized in the vicinity of Vermillion Parish, on the same island where Dorantes and Castillo's boat capsized the day before, then the boat carrying Tellez, Penalosa and their crew might have sank (the first to sink) off the coast of Terrebonne Parish (or neighboring parishes of La Fourche or St Mary). The other two boats arrived at places farther west on the coast. The boat with Enriquez, Suarez and their crew was reported by three of the survivors to have capsized near a third large stream on the coast, likely along Cameron Parish. The fifth boat, reported to be carrying Governor Narváez and only a crew of two others when it drifted away from the coast, likely somewhere along the southeast Texas coast, may have capsized or drifted away. Its fate was not known, though its small crew was never heard from again.
In various efforts, the surviving crew members attempted to travel west on the coast to eventually escape to Mexico. The governor was reported to have transported many of the survivors of two of the boat (his and the crew of the fourth to become disabled, commanded by Enriquez and Suarez). Those who survived for a while on the coast were likely in position to reach Galveston Bay. Some of the ones who later left their "Island of Doom" reported on the others, including an incident of cannibalism. When considering the historic whereabouts of Cabeza de Vaca, it is important to understand the larger picture of the Narváez expedition and the fates of about 240 people, whose demises were spread out over 300-400 miles on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Texas.
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Cabeza de Vaca and the crew of his boat were most likely shipwrecked on an island in the vicinity of Vermillion Parish, Louisiana, along with a boat commanded by Castillo and Dorantes. The island may be Marsh Island. However, it may be one that has submerged and mostly washed away, such as a remnant of a promontory of the ancient course of the Mississippi River (where the Mississippi River Delta was once in the area of Vermillion Bay), Shell Keys (an area that is vanishing and was once formed of many islets with much greater connectivity), or even a barrier island that was in the place of several shoals that are found below the surface of the ocean today (of particular interest are Tiger Shoal and Trinity Shoal).
The four survivors crossed four large streams that are the diverse and iconic watersheds of southwest Louisiana, which appear on most historic maps as a series of four lakes, though they were combinations of rivers, lakes, marshes, swamps and floodways to the coast. One of the boats may have landed near the mouth of the third stream and the Governor's boat may have ferried stranded survivors across it (the Calcasieu River) and the fourth stream (the Sabine River). None of the Narváez expedition members in those two boats are believed to have survived for very long on the coast.
Castillo, Dorantes and Esteban (three survivors who would later walk with Cabeza de Vaca to Mexico City) crossed the four streams to reach Galveston Bay. They were later joined by Cabeza de Vaca, who brought another of the Spanish survivors, Lope de Oviedo, over the same streams, though not necessarily crossing at the same points as the other three. Cabeza de Vaca mentioned working with some Indians (neighbors of the ones he knew on the island) to make the journey over the four streams, likely utilizing their canoes, since the "large streams" refer to significantly more complex watersheds. Not liking his treatment by the local tribe who inhabited the lands around Galveston Bay, Lope de Oviedo chose to return with women of the neighboring tribe to the "Island of Doom", the place where he was originally shipwrecked.
Once the four survivors rendezvoused west of Galveston Bay, they planned and eventually made an escape to México, where they sought refuge in the colony of New Spain. Passing between the prairies and the coast, eventually reaching the South Texas Plains, their foodways increasingly centered around gathering the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, tunas, and Cabeza de Vaca described the buffalo. Finally seeing mountains, a short journey from the coast, those of northern México, Cabeza de Vaca and his three companions set out to cross the continent, partly based on the experience they had with indigenous peoples in the inland forest environments of Louisiana and Texas. They preferred the interior peoples to those on the coast, both for their more comfortable lifeways (fixed dwellings, reliable food sources, etc.) and more favorable treatment of the castaways.
Based on extensive evidence, this version makes the most sense. But even if Cabeza de Vaca's landing site was Galveston Island, as Texas popular history maintains, Texas history needs to be re-examined. The tribe Cabeza de Vaca lived among for several years, and must have come to know quite well, strongly opposed cannibalism. Cabeza de Vaca noted the Spanish castaways would have been put to death by the local Indians had they discovered sooner that some of the Spaniards turned to cannibalism to survive.
As for what Cabeza de Vaca's more probable landing on the Louisiana coast means to the Texas story: his experiences are even more relative to the modern land that is today Texas, since they cover the entire Texas coast, starting with Southeast Texas (crossing the Sabine River and Galveston Bay) and following a route along the coast and, at times, roaming into the interior prairies and plains, all the way to the state's modern border with México, the Rio Grande. His written adventures, complete with mysterious encounters and bizarre anecdotes, continued to describe the Rio Grande Valley and Trans-Pecos Region.
In addition to being the first European to see the Mississippi River and American bison, he was also most certainly the first to see the mountains and canyons of Big Bend.
In the larger context of North America, Cabeza de Vaca's historic narrative ranks among the most important historic documents that covers critical events and an important period of time in the political and cultural development of New Spain, and the emergence of the modern nations of México and the United States.
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Why it Matters
The Americas were not born in the best of circumstances. The events of five centuries ago set its course to become a nation that would be a world leader in diversity, though one that struggles as much or more than any place in the world for the very conditions it made for itself.
Those who chronicled their earlier travels from Europe and Africa to the Middle East and Asia told wondrous stories of the relatable and the bizarre. Their adventures somewhat gradually transitioned over each neighboring peoples and their kind-of unique cultures, where there was at least a level of awareness and familiarity from one to the next. But that wasn't the case with the Narváez expedition and their surprise entrada into what is today the interior of the modern United States. Their goal at that time to colonize and form an empire, from the distant and unknown place where they originated, could not be imagined by the local peoples, who had not previously seen a man on a horse or utilized written language. There was no gradual cultural or racial transition, or relative cultural knowledge, along the way - only a most stark difference in lifeways and beliefs.
The coming of the diverse Europeans and Africans, with at least a couple of Aztec Indians in their group, was an omen - a portent of everything good and bad it would take for many generations to arrive in an inevitable, fully culturally integrated, pluralistic future.
As the outcome of the failed Narváez expedition to conquer and claim governorship of La Florida (the unknown extent of the southeastern United States), Cabeza de Vaca's journal of his travels, La Relación, is the earliest description of the people and places in the modern boundaries of the United States.
There are numerous important and even critical aspects of Cabeza de Vaca's narrative that concern modern people in the U.S. and México, and should also interest people around the world.
Descendents - As Cabeza de Vaca reported, numerous participants on the Narváez expedition abandoned the mission in Santo Domingo. He stated they spent 45 days gathering supplies for the expedition, "during which time the local inhabitants, by promises and proposals, seduced more than 140 of our men to desert."
Though he doesn't report further incidents where expedition members may have sought marriage or other companionship, they are likely to have happened. They are even possibly the reason for some of the conflicts between the indigenous populations and the Spanish foreigners once they entered the mainland. He reported abrupt and sudden changes in the treatment of the Spanish by the Indians. He noted an incident where a member of the expedition was attacked by members of a tribe the Spanish had just allied with. Cabeza de Vaca stated:
"The following day we made the chief's village, where he gave us corn. In the night, one of the Christians who had gone for water got shot with an arrow... All the Indians fled overnight... Apparently they had prepared for battle..."
Why the soldier would go on his own to get water, away from the relative safety of the larger group, is a mystery with few rational answers. In another mysterious night time event, Cabeza de Vaca reported:
"...many canoes of big, well-built Indians - unarmed - came out to speak, then paddled back ahead of us. We followed them to their houses at the water's edge close by, and stepped ashore. In front of the dwellings stood many clay jars of water and a great quantity of cooked fish, all which the cacique of this land offered our Governor before leading us to his "palace"... In the middle of the night, the Indians fell on us without warning - not only the Governor's party in the cacique's lodge, but also our sick men strewn on the beach... Not one of us escaped injury."
In another instance, a Greek and an African left the expedition with local Indians, whether by choice or by force, to possibly escape into the interior of the central Gulf Coast, maybe for safety and a chance to survive. One Spaniard, Lope de Oviedo, chose to remain with the indigenous people who inhabited the island ("Island of Doom") where he was originally shipwrecked with Cabeza de Vaca.
With modern technology, DNA testing of indigenous peoples could help identify sites visited by the Narváez expedition members by helping identify the full range of their ancestry.
The story is important to provide context to stories handed down and DNA test results that may be found in deep-rooted populations across the modern southern United States. Since the source of some information, or even legend, can be confused with other expeditions and settlements (such as De Soto's or Coronado's expeditions), it is even more important to understand a complete picture of the Spanish entradas.
Indigenous Peoples - The book reveals the names of tribes and clans that were not ever reported again in history. They may have been lost to extinction by disease, or by military and cultural dominance by invaders, including colonial powers and other indigenous tribes. Substantial indigenous history has been written and assigned based on the descriptions Cabeza de Vaca provided. Many Indian peoples (their lifeways and traditions, as well as positive and negative practices, ideas and attitudes that linger) are described based on earlier interpretations of his history and popular beliefs about the whereabouts of Cabeza de Vaca when he wrote the first accounts. Locating his route in the lands where he traveled, or at least considering its difficulty (or even impossibility) to locate, is critical.
Accurate History - Through its clues and fantastic twist of motives (where desperation for survival replaced the role of the conquerors), as well as a slight inclination toward objectivity (note that Cabeza de Vaca doesn't present a particularly flattering account of the Spanish colonizers, though he somewhat hopelessly wants to return to the world he knows, and present widely varied descriptions and opinions of the Indian tribes and their cultural and religious practices), the text presents extensive opportunities to try to determine accurate history.
Sociology - Cabeza de Vaca's narrative is a useful beginning point in the study of women in indigenous society, as he described the role and actions of women in numerous instances across several tribal cultures. The book also lightly touches on race relations and attitudes about slavery in lands where survival was dominated by necessity, as Cabeza de Vaca even thought himself a slave among some of the indigenous peoples he lived among and was very unhappy with his working conditions.
Historic Locations - Archaeological sites, specifically related to the Narváez expedition that was completed by only four survivors, might be located with new and potentially more accurate information. And some that are known might be better preserved and explored. At this time, indigenous archaeology sites that date back 500 years (and possibly many more centuries), to the very real possibility that Cabeza de Vaca sighted or even visited them, are being lost due to water erosion on the edge of the coastal bays and marshes.
Interest in History - The oldest account in Louisiana and Texas history is highly relative to world history. Cabeza de Vaca's gripping story of survival, along with his concise discussion of colonial intentions and the impacts on native peoples, provides tangible interest and incentive for more people to study history.
Interest in Literature - La Relación is among the most interesting historic accounts and travel journals, and is a highly inspirational entryway to other forms of literature. It has the potential ability to revive interest in reading important literature and pursuing life-long interests in knowledge of history and culture.
Moral Dilemmas - The book and other episodes in the life of Cabeza de Vaca present moral dilemmas that are important to history and the modern world. It raises questions about religious values in its historic time period and demonstrates the faith many people experience and can identify with today in any struggle for survival or to overcome extreme hardship.
Human Interest - The story and descriptions of interactions between peoples of diverse cultures, and their varied states of social and technological advance, are critical to the understanding of the history of civilizations and the modern world. The account covers two civilizations in many very different states of progress, as the Spanish were people with written language and forged metal tools, and the indigenous peoples practiced an array of community and agricultural development to limited subsistence in harsh environments.
Cabeza de Vaca's account also serves as a study in the states of development of civilizations, as all peoples of the world experienced the conditions of the indigenous peoples and the technologically advanced European invaders, including their foodways, economies, changing motives, propensities for conflict, religions and beliefs, and even their perilous existence.
Interest in Science - Cabeza de Vaca's account provides clues (broad and specific) and opens the door to extensive scientific study using many new technologies and modern applications.
Stories of Survival - In modern terms, as we try to relate the experiences of the past to modern people, it is a reminder that the Gulf of Mexico was a dangerous place and remains so today (as most wilderness places are). Tropical Storm Nate forced the abandonment of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico on September 9, 2011, leaving workers stranded in an escape craft for three days. Four of the ten men died while waiting rescue on the sea.
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There are possible descendents of several noted members, including Lope de Oviedo, of the Narváez expedition whose heritage may originate on the central Gulf Coast.
For people with indigenous ancestry of tribes of the Gulf Coast - Atakapa, Chitimacha, Choctaw, Biloxi, Apalachee, and others - or southeast and southcentral interior tribes - Wichita, Caddo, Natchez, and others - who have taken DNA tests and gotten results that indicate their heritage includes Spanish, Morrocan, Greek, or broader regions including the Iberian Peninsula, Mediterranean Europe, Middle East or North Africa (that is not believed to solely derive from recent relatives of the past two centuries; i.e. African, European or Middle Eastern ancestry from earlier than the past six to eight generations), Project misisipi is interested to hear from you.
Contact us by sending a message to the Texas Museum of Culture or Imagine a Museum Facebook Pages.
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More about the Story
Cabeza de Vaca's account is a study in humanities and social sciences: places and peoples; roles of women and slaves; religions, beliefs and moral values; and conflicts and strategies (for peace and violence). Even more so, it is a basis to think about the fateful decisions of the expedition leaders, and the implications of the blatant intentions of the colonial powers (their quest for power and riches, supported by their self-righteous civil credentials and their faith), and the simultaneously abrupt and slow motion genocide of the indigenous peoples that was set in motion.
The cultural exchange and conflicts launched with the Narváez expedition, as well as others during the earliest entradas, resulted in significant and impactful legacies in the history and culture of Texas, New Mexico and México (such as the demotion of Spanish aristocracy in México during the Mexican War of Independence, 1810-1821), and continues to have bearing on issues of the modern United States and México.
While the expedition failed, it led directly to the conquest of the southeastern and southwestern United States by De Soto and Coronado, whose parties coincidentally neared each other (Coronado to the central Texas Panhandle and Moscoso to east Texas), coming just a few hundred miles apart, in 1541 and 1542.
In its unusual way of providing insight into loosely associated topics, the book even foreshadowed the decline of the Spanish Armada, as Cabeza de Vaca noted the poor condition of the Spanish galleons upon leaving Veracruz on his return to Europe.
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From the time Hernán Cortés conquered México (specifically, Tenochtitlan, the greater Mexico City region) (1519-1521) to the excursions nearly two decades later of Hernando de Soto and Luis de Moscoso Alvarado (1539-1543), and Francisco Vásquez de Coronado (1540-1542), relatively few people know what happened in between and what set those events in motion, The story of Panfilo de Narváez and his quest for La Florida is deeply entwined with Hernán Cortés and his success in México, and what followed. The Narváez expedition and Cabeza de Vaca's participation, which resulted in his direct witness and the account that survived the unknown, but most certain death of Narváez near the Texas Gulf Coast, is the comprehensive link and history that unfolded between the conquests of Hernán Cortés and those of Hernando de Soto and Francisco Vásquez de Coronado.
Where Narváez had a bad falling out with Hernán Cortés in México, and set out to conquer La Florida in 1527, the four survivors of his failed expedition retuned to Cuba and Spain by way of the growing Spanish empire in México, where Hernán Cortés was still exploring and expanding the limits of the future nation of México. In 1539, one of the four survivors of the Narváez expedition, Esteban (aka Estevánico) (an African who came to the "New World" as a slave), led the excursion, headed by Fray Marcos de Niza, into modern Arizona and New Mexico that would result in Esteban's death and Coronado's invasion, and the eventual Spanish colonization of Nuevo México, or what is now the American Southwest.
Clearly, by the time of the entradas, as Ferdinand Magellan had already circumnavigated the globe, the Spanish conquistadores were not looking for a passage to India, but rather to establish colonies led by powerful governorships, and to extract the material riches and slaves from the land. Cabeza de Vaca noted trade goods and metals, and even valued animal skins and hides, but also (possibly strategically) withheld information.
Cabeza de Vaca's own story is multifaceted and deviated from the trend, beginning with government service and participation in Spanish military campaigns in Italy, and seemingly ending with his harrowing journey over thousands of miles across the southern United States and northern México, covering roughly 5,000 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific (and unknown hundreds or thousands of miles as a merchant in the Louisiana and Texas interior), on foot and raggedy, barely seaworthy craft.
He went on to survive an almost equally surreal episode in the Rio de la Plata (a colony covering parts of modern Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) as the Adelantado Governor, becoming an enemy of the Spanish aristocracy, which resulted in his imprisonment by established, wealthy landowners in the region. They did not like his notions of fairness in dealing with the indigenous peoples, who they fully intended to exploit. Though complex, his downfall was brought about by his many years and cultural experience, living among indigenous peoples of the Gulf Coast and northern México (where he admired some and truly disliked others), his desire for peaceful interaction with them, and possibly by his deepened faith following his survival over a decade in North America.
Born in Spain about 1490, Cabeza de Vaca first came to the Americas in his mid to late 30s, surviving ten years of the Narváez expedition (1527-1536), often in peril or near death, into his mid to late 40s. After his second cross-continent adventure in the "New World", working to establish a camino real overland from the Atlantic Ocean to Peru, for which he was appointed in 1540 and started in 1541 at about age 50, he returned to Spain as a prisoner in 1545. Though exonerated, he lived in poverty and died at about age 70. He published a new book - a combination of the adventures - La Relación and Commentarios.
La Relación is the earliest written description of the interior of the modern United States. It is a skewed, winding account, bouncing between overwhelming despair at times and other moments of the most wondrous adventure. In it, Cabeza de Vaca tried to be even handed, giving positive and negative assessments, and to provide for government and anthropological interests. Near the end of the journey, the epic story develops into an editorial statement. Profoundly (and angrily), Cabeza de Vaca stated his disagreement with the Spanish enslavement of the Indians.
There were earlier visits to the coast, known as La Florida, by other would-be colonizers, though they were generally short lived and revealed very little information about the people or places. In fact, Cabeza de Vaca described the grave sites or coffins of what were possibly Spanish visitors to the coast of Florida sooner, though their story was unknown.
Among the earlier visitors to the coast were:
-Juan Ponce de León, Florida, 1513 and 1521
The Spanish conquests in the "New World" were tumultuous, to say the least, but they were also central to the larger international events of the times, including Spanish and Portuguese competition for wealth throughout the world, and the contradictory means of war, invasion, inquisition, slavery and religious reverence used to secure it.
-Pedro de Salazar (or Diego de Salazar), possibly South Carolina (scout for Ayllón colony), 1514-17
-Alfonso Álvarez de Pineda (mapped the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, but made no known journal or report), 1519
-Lucas Vazquez de Ayllón, possibly South Carolina (died in the new colony in 1526), 1526
In 1537, Pope John III declared indigenous peoples of the Americas are humans, leading to laws that prohibit their enslavement.
The Spanish entradas and globalization of the Americas brought profound and irreversible changes to the indigenous peoples' isolated lands. Many vignettes - as the Indians first saw men on horses, the Spanish first described the American bison and opossum, and crossed the Mississippi River, experienced a deadly Caribbean hurricane, and even practiced surgery - make up the big picture of change that no one in that time could have understood or foreseen, though some warned of it and Cabeza de Vaca attempted to steer it in his later exploration of South America.
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There are a series of goals associated with the effort to more thoroughly consider the landing site of the two boats carrying Cabeza de Vaca, and about 90 other Europeans and Africans, at a place called the "Island of Doom", as well as where two of the other boats may have landed, and where one sank in the Gulf of Mexico (potentially two of them sank in the Gulf). They include:
-To further academic research on the subject of Cabeza de Vaca and his book, La Relación
Note: Given the impact of Cabeza de Vaca's account as the oldest comprehensive story written about the people and places in the modern United States, the perilous expedition's impact on the indigenous peoples and its own members, and its ranking as one of the most fascinating travel adventures and survival stories in the world, several major cities in the region - where many of the epic's true hardships were described - should be interested to create such an important educational center or museum.
-To further educate the population about the historic journey and its broader context
-To seek additional evidence related to the Narváez expedition, including DNA test results and archaeological finds
-To promote academic symposiums on the Narváez expedition and Cabeza de Vaca's account
-To achieve designation of a National Historic Trail on the Narváez/Cabeza de Vaca route
-To promote interpretive centers in key sites on the historic trail, including one located near the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Houston (the region covered by this project)
-To promote an international educational and interpretive trail for academic and cultural exchange
-To advocate for a museum about the early Spanish entradas and indigenous peoples
-To advocate for a system to add geotag metadata to information needed for research of historic subjects and places
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The initial source for the translation of Cabeza de Vaca's La Relación is Cabeza de Vaca's Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America, Translated and Edited by Cyclone Covey, 1983, Reprinted by University of New Mexico Press from 1961 print edition by The Cromwell-Collier Company. It is utilized in the quotes above, though other translations have been accessed and compared to best understand the story, including:
Álvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca: His Account, His Life and the Expedition of Panfilo de Narváez, (Three-volume set), 1999, University of Nebraska Press
The Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca, edited and translated by Rolena Adorno and Patrick Charles Pautz, 2003, University of Nebraska Press
La Relación, 1905 translation by Fannie R. Bandelier (aka Fanny Ritter Bandelier), originally published in The Journey of Álvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca: From Florida to the Pacific, 1528-1536, by Adolph Francis Alphonse Bandelier, reprinted by Houston Institute for Culture for limited educational and research uses
The Mapping of the Entradas into the Greater Southwest, by Dennis Reinhartz and Gerald D. Saxon, 1999, University of Oklahoma Press
The Account: Álvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca's Relación, Translated and Edited by José Fernández and Martin Favata, 1993, Arte Público Press
The De Soto Chronicles: The Expedition of Hernando de Soto to North America in 1539-1543, by Lawrence A. Clayton, Edward C. More, Vernon James Knight, Jr, Charles Hudson, et al., 1995, University of Alabama Press
Knights of Spain, Warriors of the Sun: Hernando de Soto and the South's Ancient Chiefdoms by Charles Hudson, 1998, University of Georgia Press
Note: Cyclone Covey is one of the translators whose transcript has been utilized to understand the narrative and journey of Cabeza de Vaca. However, from the point that the expedition crossed the Mississippi River Delta as it traveled west, utilizing earlier information by Cleve Hallenbeck and others, Covey generally locates Cabeza de Vaca and the other survivors in places that are quite far off the path that Lacy accepts. While the assertation of evidence covered in this document - that the boat carrying Cabeza de Vaca, and the boat carrying Castillo, Dorantes and Esteban (which wrecked near the same island), may not have reached Galveston Island, though others in the expedition may have - is limited to that region, the path discussed by Covey and the path Lacy thinks was more likely are highly divergent.
Covey's information describes Cabeza de Vaca traveling west across the Edwards Plateau and High Plains into and across New Mexico, while Lacy is inclined to believe the survivors generally crossed the South Texas Plains and Trans-Pecos Region, and the northern Mexican states on their route toward the Pacific Ocean. Lacy more strongly supports Cabeza de Vaca's ability (from his travel and communication with tribes) to gauge distances and his awareness of his position in relationship to the coast in the evidence, or clues, Cabeza de Vaca presented about the journey.
Though more than 100 sources were used for historic information and scientific data, key additional sources include:
Louisiana State University, Coastal Studies Institute (maps, graphs and data)
The National Academies Press, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (historic Louisiana coastal information and data)
University of South Alabama, Department of Civil, Coastal and Environmental Engineering (maps and data)
University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (maps and data)
United States Geological Survey (USGS) (historic and modern topographical maps)
National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (maps and data)
National Weather Service (Division of NOAA), Houston Intercontinental (Airport) Temperature and Climate Graphs (September 2008 climate data for Houston, Texas, and other location data)
National Hurricane Center (Division of NOAA) (historic information and data)
U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (Gulf of Mexico topographical mapping)
Botanical Research Institute of Texas
Key in-person field work: Study of Gulf of México currents and drift; Visual survey of Galveston Bay and Matagorda Bay; Visual survey of the Mississippi River Delta; Visual survey of Galveston Island and San Luis Pass; Measurements of Louisiana and Texas coastal rivers and estuary/bay systems; Travel experience over coastal lands (on foot) and waterways (using canoes, rafts and motorized craft); Visual survey of Newmans Lake (near Gainesville, Florida), a historic production site of cypress dugout canoes; and, Research visits to archaeological sites in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and New Mexico.
Further sources accumulated and utilized include: historic maps, state historic markers, NASA and NOAA scientific images and information, and much more. They are being sorted and referenced to determine which are most relative to the specific assertion of this article and the region it covers. Additional specific information from them will be added to web pages and social media that will be linked to this article.
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Research Background and Bio
Lacy has worked as a researcher, journalist and photojournalist. He started as a scientific Photographer for the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering, where he studied methods to capture images for research and documentation purposes.
He gained his earliest experience as a surveyor and mapmaker, working from age 14 through is college years for his father's civil engineering company. As the founder of Lost Dutchman Expeditions (aka Expediciones fotográficas de las barrancas y los rios), he additionally worked as a travel planner and tour organizer, learning logistic and safety practices, with most of the educational adventures involving hiking and boating, from the Sierra Madre mountain ranges of México to the American Southwest and Gulf Coast, among many other dramatic locations.
Lacy was the executive director of Houston Institute for Culture for 17 years, during which he researched and produced radio programs on historic subjects, and published the 1905 translation of La Relación by Fannie Bandelier for educational use in classrooms and workshops he taught. He funded, organized and presented more than 600 public programs (more than 800 including relative university programs), and offered additional educational classes, workshops, academic conferences and youth programs.
He has been a presenter of numerous cultural, economic, historic and recreational topics, including cultural literacy, digital storytelling, genealogy, music, photography, travel, and history of pilgrimages and long-distance walking, as well as many others.
Lacy is director of the Digital Story Resource Center and a founder of Imagine a Museum and the Mile Zero Trail Association, and is presently involved in other non-profit organizations, and research and archive efforts.
He developed concepts and presently advocates for visionary projects, including a Houston Museum of Culture, or Texas Museum of Culture, and a museum based on the first Spanish entradas and their records and impact on indigenous peoples of the southern United States, among other interesting projects. Lacy is working to achieve an innovative, new National Recreation Trail, as well as a National Historic Trail, to also serve as part of an international educational and interpretive trail, based on the narrative of Cabeza de Vaca and the other survivors of the failed Narváez expedition.
Lacy conducted cultural resource surveys and inventories for Gulf Coast communities following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and compared the cultural assets and interests of cities across the U.S. He advocates for civic and social/anthropological action (like development of programs, research, interpretive centers and museums), in the fields of community improvement, environmental education, social sciences, quality of life and meritorious visitor interests.
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This Website is hosted by the Digital Story Resource Center.
Promotion of the goals described above is conducted by Imagine a Museum and Texas Museum of Culture through websites and Facebook.
Mile Zero Trail Association is working to achieve designation of a National Historic Trail and an International Educational and Interpretive Trail on the historic route of the Narváez expedition, and Cabeza de Vaca's escape to Mexico City and eventual return to Spain.
Additional support is provided by Houston Story, Vision for Houston, and others.
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Just as Cabeza de Vaca's account, La Relación, was the oldest written descriptions of people, places and events in the modern boundaries of the United States, the first Spanish-language newspaper was titled El Misisipí. Originally published in New Orleans in 1808, the periodical took its name from the Spanish spelling of the indigenous word for the Mississippi River.
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The project is conducted by volunteers of several organizations. We generally utilize social media for contacts with the public, due to the functionality for people who are interested to engage in discussions. You may be interested to help, or you may have specific information to share, which may need consideration or expert interpetation. From a message (posted in the "Send Message" feature) in one of the groups listed below, an appropriate volunteer will contact you if you would like to provide information by email or phone.
Join us at one or more of these social media websites:
Texas Museum of Culture Facebook Page
Imagine a Museum Facebook Page
Mile Zero Trail Association Meetup Group
Mile Zero Trail Association Facebook Group
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