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The Journey of
Alvar Nuñez Cabeza De Vaca
Published in 1542

Translated by Fanny Bandelier in 1905, Part 2 of 5


Louisiana at the northeastern promontory of the Mississippi River Delta

Painted Image of Cabeza de Vaca

[from the end of last page, "We (had just) navigated (from Cat Island, Mississippi) that day until nightfall, when my bark, which was the foremost, discovered a promontory made by the coast."] ...Louisiana's Isle au Pitre just off the Mississippi River Delta (mapped below) on October 24, 1528.

At the other end (of the Mississippi River Delta - 65 miles south of there) was a very large river (The Mississippi River), and at a small island (Isle au Pitre) on the point (of initial Louisiana approach) I anchored to wait for the other barges."

The Governor did not want to touch, but (proceeded south where he and the others) entered a bay close by (Chandeleur Bay), where there were many small islands (along their way south on a north wind - see below - for five days). There (at the south end of the bay near the Mississippi River) we got together and took fresh water out of the sea, because the river emptied into it like a torrent.

For two days we had eaten the corn raw, and now, in order to toast it, we went ashore on that island (there were many to choose from), but not finding any firewood, agreed to go to the river, which was one league from there behind the point (of Pass A Loutre). However, the current was so strong that it in no way allowed us to land, but rather carried us away from the shore against all our efforts. The north wind that blew off shore freshened so much that it drove us back to the high sea, without our being able to do anything against it, and at about one-half league from shore we sounded and found no bottom even at thirty fathoms. Without being able to understand it, it was the current that disturbed our soundings. We navigated two days yet, trying hard to reach the shore. On the third day, a little before sunrise, we saw many columns of smoke rising on the coast (mapped above). Working towards these, we found ourselves in three fathoms of water, but it being night did not dare to land because, as we had seen so much smoke, we believed that greater danger might be in wait for us there. We were unable to see, owing to the darkness, what we should do. So we determined to wait until morning.

When it dawned the barges had been driven apart from each other (by the strong Mississippi River westward dischage current along that shoreline, where their barges averaged 16 miles per day). I found myself in thirty fathoms and, drifting along at the hour of vespers, I descried two barges, and as I approached saw that the first one was that of the Governor, who asked me what I thought we should do. I told him that we ought to rejoin the other barge, which was ahead of us, and in no manner forsake her, and the three together should continue our way whither God might take us. He replied it was impossible, since the barge was drifting far away into the sea, whereas he wanted to land, but that if I wished to follow I should put the people of my barge at the oars and work hard, as only by the strength of our arms the land could be reached. In this he had been advised by a captain he had along, whose name was Pantoja, who told him that if he did not land that day he would not in six days more, during which time we would of necessity starve.

Seeing his determination, I took to my own oar and the other oarsmen in my craft did the same, and thus we rowed until nearly sunset. But as the Governor had with him the healthiest and strongest men, in no way could we follow or keep up with him. Seeing this, I asked him to give me a rope from his barge to be able to follow, but he answered that it was no small effort on their part alone to reach the shore on that night. I told him that since it was barely possible for us to follow and do what he had ordained, he should tell me what he commanded me to do. He answered that this was no time for orders; that each one should do the best he could to save himself; that he intended to do it that way, and with this he went on with his craft.

As I could not follow him, I went after the other barge, which was out at sea and waited for me, and reaching it I found it was the one of the Captains Penalosa and Tellez. We travelled together for four days, our daily ration being half a handful of raw maize. At the end of these four days a storm overtook us, in which the other barge was lost. God's great mercy preserved us from being drowned in that weather.

It being winter and the cold very great, and as we had been suffering so many days from hunger and from the injuries we received from the waves, that the next day people began to break down, so that when the sun set all those aboard of my barge had fallen in a heap and were so near dying that few remained conscious, and not five men kept on their feet.

When night came the skipper and I were the only ones able to manage the barge. Two hours after nightfall the skipper told me to steer the craft alone, since he felt that he would die that same night. Thereupon I stood at the helm, and after midnight went to see if the skipper was dead, but he said that, on the contrary, he felt better and would steer till daybreak. On that occasion I would have hailed death with delight rather than to see so many people around me in such a condition. After the skipper had taken the barge under his control I went to rest, very much without resting, for I thought of anything else but sleep.

Last Island, Louisiana

Near daybreak I fancied to hear the sound of breakers, for as the coast was low, their noise was greater. Surprised at it, I called to the skipper, who said he thought we were near the shore. Sounding, we found seven fathoms, and he was of the opinion that we should keep off shore till dawn. So I took the oar and rowed along the coast, from which we were one league away, and turned the stern to seaward.

Close to shore a wave took us and hurled the barge a horse's length out of water. With the violent shock nearly all the people who lay in the boat like dead came to themselves, and, seeing we were close to land, began to crawl out on all fours. As they took to some rocks, we built a fire and toasted some of our maize. We found rain water, and with the warmth of the fire people revived and began to cheer up. The day we arrived there was the sixth of the month of November (1528).

After the people had eaten I sent Lope de Oviedo, who was the strongest and heartiest of all, to go to some trees nearby and climb to the top of one, examine the surroundings and the country in which we were. He did so and found we were on an island, and that the ground was hollowed out, as if cattle had gone over it, from which it seemed to him that the land belonged to Christians, and so he told us. I sent him again to look and examine more closely if there were any worn trails, and not to go too far so as not to run into danger. He went, found a footpath, followed it for about one-half league, and saw several Indian huts which stood empty because the Indians had gone out into the field.

He took away a cooking pot, a little dag and a few ruffs and turned back, but as he seemed to delay I sent two other Christians to look for him and find out what had happened.

They met him nearby and saw that three Indians, with bows and arrows, were following and calling to him, while he did the same to them by signs. So he came to where we were, the Indians remaining behind, seated on the beach. Half an hour after a hundred Indian archers joined them, and our fright was such that, whether tall or little, it made them appear giants to us. They stood still close to the first ones, near where we were.

We could not defend ourselves, as there were scarcely three of us who could stand on their feet. The inspector and I stepped forward and called them. They came, and we tried to quiet them the best we could and save ourselves, giving them beads and bells. Each one of them gave me an arrow in token of friendship, and by signs they gave us to understand that on the following morning they would come back with food, as then they had none.

The next day, at sunrise, which was the hour the Indians had given us to understand, they came as promised and brought us plenty of fish and some roots which they eat that taste like nuts, some bigger, some smaller, most of which are taken out of the water with much trouble.

In the evening they returned and brought us more fish and some of the same roots, and they brought their women and children to look at us. They thought themselves very rich with the little bells and beads we gave them, and thereafter visited us daily with the same things as before. As we saw ourselves provided with fish, roots, water and the other things we had asked for, we concluded to embark again and continue our voyage.

We lifted the barge out of the sand into which it had sunk ( for which purpose we all had to take off our clothes) and had great work to set her afloat, as our condition was such that much lighter things would have given us trouble.

Then we embarked. Two crossbow shots from shore a wave swept over us, we all got wet, and being naked and the cold very great, the oars dropped out of our hands. The next wave overturned the barge. The inspector and two others clung to her to save themselves, but the contrary happened; they got underneath the barge and were drowned.

The shore being very rough, the sea took the others and thrust them, half dead, on the beach of the same island again, less the three that had perished underneath the barge.

The rest of us, as naked as we had been born, had lost everything, and while it was not worth much, to us it meant a great deal. It was in November, bitterly cold, and we in such a state that every bone could easily be counted, and we looked like death itself. Of myself I can say that since the month of May I had not tasted anything but toasted maize, and even sometimes had been obliged to eat it raw. Although the horses were killed during the time the barges were built, I never could eat of them, and not ten times did I taste fish. This I say in order to explain and that any one might guess how we were off. On top of all this, a north wind arose, so that we were nearer death than life. It pleased Our Lord that, searching for the remnants of our former fire, we found wood with which we built big fires and then with many tears begged Our Lord for mercy and forgiveness of our sins. Every one of us pitied not only himself, but all the others whom he saw in the same condition.

At sunset the Indians, thinking we had not left, came to bring us food, but when they saw us in such a different attire from before and so strange-looking, they were so frightened as to turn back. I went to call them, and in great fear they came. I then gave them to understand by signs how we had lost a barge and three of our men had been drowned, while before them there lay two of our men dead, with the others about to go the same way.

Upon seeing the disaster we had suffered, our misery and distress, the Indians sat down with us and all began to weep out of compassion for our misfortune, and for more than half an hour they wept so loud and so sincerely that it could be heard far away.

Verily, to see beings so devoid of reason, untutored, so like unto brutes, yet so deeply moved by pity for us, it increased my feelings and those of others in my company for our own misfortune. When the lament was over, I spoke to the Christians and asked them if they would like me to beg the Indians to take us to their homes. Some of the men, who had been to New Spain, answered that it would be unwise, as, once at their abode, they might sacrifice us to their idols.

Still, seeing there was no remedy and that in any other way death was surer and nearer, I did not mind what they said, but begged the Indians to take us to their dwellings, at which they showed great pleasure, telling us to tarry yet a little, but that they would do what we wished. Soon thirty of them loaded themselves with firewood and went to their lodges, which were far away, while we stayed with the others until it was almost dark. Then they took hold of us and carried us along hurriedly to where they lived.

Against the cold, and lest on the way some one of us might faint or die, they had provided four or five big fires on the road, at each one of which they warmed us. As soon as they saw we had regained a little warmth and strength they would carry us to the next fire with such haste that our feet barely touched the ground.

So we got to their dwellings, where we saw they had built a hut for us with many fires in it. About one hour after our arrival began to dance and to make a great celebration (which lasted the whole night), although there was neither pleasure, feast nor sleep in it for us, since we expected to be sacrificed. In the morning they again gave us fish and roots, and treated us so well that we became reassured, losing somewhat our apprehension of being butchered.

That same day I saw on one of the Indians a trinket he had not gotten from us, and asking from where they had obtained it they answered, by signs, that other men like ourselves and who were still in our rear, had given it to them. Hearing this, I sent two Christians with two Indians to guide them to those people. Very near by they met them, and they also were looking for us, as the Indians had told them of our presence in the neighborhood. These were the Captains Andres Dorantes and Alonso del Castillo, with all of their crew. When they came near us they were much frightened at our appearance and grieved at being unable to give us anything, since they had nothing but their clothes. And they stayed with us there, telling how, on the fifth of that same month, their barge stranded a league and a half from there, and they escaped without anything being lost.

All together, we agreed upon repairing their barge, and that those who had strength and inclination should proceed in it, while the others should remain until completely restored and then go as best they could along the coast, following it till God would be pleased to get us all together to a land of Christians.

So we set to work, but ere the barge was afloat Tavera, a gentleman in our company, died, while the barge proved not to be seaworthy and soon sank. Now, being in the condition which I have stated - that is, most of us naked and the weather so unfavorable for walking and for swimming across rivers and coves, and we had neither food nor any way to carry it, we determined upon submitting to necessity and upon wintering there, and we also agreed that four men, who were the most able-bodied, should go to Panuco, which we believed to be nearby, and that, if it was God, Our Lord's will to take them there, they should tell of our remaining on the island and of our distress. One of them was a Portuguese, called Alvaro Fernandez, a carpenter and sailor; the second was Mendez; the third, Figueroa, a native of Toledo; the fourth, Astudillo, from Zafra. They were all good swimmers and took with them an Indian from the island.

A few days after these four Christians had left, the weather became so cold and tempestuous that the Indians could no longer pull roots, and the canebrake in which they used to fish yielded nothing more. As the lodges afforded so little shelter, people began to die, and five Christians, quartered on the coast, were driven to such an extremity that they ate each other up until but one remained, who being left alone, there was nobody to eat him. Their names are: Sierra, Diego, Lopez, Corral, Palacios and Gonzalo Ruiz. At this the Indians were so startled, and there was such an uproar among them, that I verily believe if they had seen this at the beginning they would have killed them, and we all would have been in great danger. After a very short time, out of eighty men who had come there in our two parties only fifteen remained alive.

Then the natives fell sick from the stomach, so that one-half of them died also, and they, believing we had killed them, and holding it to be certain, they agreed among themselves to kill those of us who survived.

But when they came to execute it an Indian who kept me told them not to believe we were the cause of their dying, for if we had so much power we would not have suffered so many of our own people to perish without being able to remedy it ourselves. He also told them there remained but very few of us, and none of them did any harm or injury, so that the best was to let us alone. It pleased Our Lord they should listen to his advice and counsel and give up their idea.

To this island we gave the name of the Island of Ill-Fate. The people on it are tall and well formed; they have no other weapons than bows and arrows with which they are most dexterous. The men have one of their nipples perforated from side to side and sometimes both; through this hole is thrust a reed as long as two and a half hands and as thick as two fingers; they also have the under lip perforated and a piece of cane in it as thin as the half of a finger. The women do the hard work. People stay on this island from October till the end of February, feeding on the roots I have mentioned, taken from under the water in November and December. They have channels made of reeds and get fish only during that time; afterwards they subsist on roots. At the end of February they remove to other parts in search of food, because the roots begin to sprout and are not good any more.

Of all the people in the world, they are those who most love their children and treat them best, and should the child of one of them happen to die, parents and relatives bewail it, and the whole settlement, the lament lasting a full year, day after day. Before sunrise the parents begin to weep, after them the tribe, and the same they do at noon and at dawn. At the end of the year of mourning they celebrate the anniversary and wash and cleanse themselves of all their paint. They mourn all their dead in this manner, old people excepted, to whom they do not pay any attention, saying that these have had their time and are no longer of any use, but only take space, and food from the children.

Their custom as to bury the dead, except those who are medicine men among them, whom they burn, and while the fire is burning, all dance and make a big festival, grinding the bones to powder. At the end of the year, when they celebrate the anniversary, they scarify themselves and give to the relatives the pulverized bones to drink in water. Every man has a recognized wife, but the medicine men enjoy greater privileges, since they may have two or three, and among these wives there is great friendship and harmony.

When one takes a woman for his wife, from the day he marries her, whatever he may hunt or fish, she has to fetch it to the home of her father, without daring to touch or eat of it, and from the home of the father-in-law they bring the food to the husband. All the while neither the wife's father nor her mother enter his abode, nor is he allowed to go to theirs, or to the homes of his brothers-in-law, and should they happen to meet they go out of each other's way a crossbow's shot or so, with bowed heads and eyes cast to the ground, holding it to be an evil thing to look at each other or speak. The women are free to communicate with their parents-in-law or relatives and speak to them. This custom prevails from that island as far as about fifty leagues inland (see below).

There is another custom, that when a son or brother dies no food is gathered by those of his household for three months, preferring rather to starve, but the relatives and neighbors provide them with victuals. Now, as during the time we were there so many of them died, there was great starvation in most of the lodges, due to their customs and ceremonials, as well as to the weather, which was so rough that such as could go out after food brought in but very little, withal working hard for it. Therefore the Indians by whom I was kept forsook the island and in several canoes went over to the mainland to some bays where there were a great many oysters and during three months of the year they do not eat anything else and drink very bad water. There is lack of firewood, but great abundance of mosquitoes. Their lodges are made of matting and built on oyster shells, upon which they sleep in hides, which they only get by chance. There we remained to the end of April, when we went to the seashore, where we ate blackberries for a whole month, during which time they danced and celebrated incessantly.

On the island I have spoken of they wanted to make medicine men of us without any examination or asking for our diplomas, because they cure diseases by breathing on the sick, and with that breath and their hands they drive the ailment away. So they summoned us to do the same in order to be at least of some use. We laughed, taking it for a jest, and said that we did not understand how to cure.

Thereupon they withheld our food to compel us to do what they wanted. Seeing our obstinacy, an Indian told me that I did not know what I said by claiming that what he knew was useless, because stones and things growing out in the field have their virtues, and he, with a heated stone, placing it on the stomach, could cure and take away pain, so that we, who were wiser men, surely had greater power and virtue.

At last we found ourselves in such stress as to have to do it, without risking any punishment. Their manner of curing is as follows: When one is ill they call in a medicine man, and after they are well again not only do they give him all they have, but even things they strive to obtain from their relatives. All the medicine man does is to make a few cuts where the pain is located and then suck the skin around the incisions. They cauterize with fire, thinking it very effective, and I found it to be so by my own experience. Then they breathe on the spot where the pain is and believe that with this the disease goes away.

The way we treated the sick was to make over them the sign of the cross while breathing on them, recite a Pater noster and Ave Maria, and pray to God, Our Lord, as best we could to give them good health and inspire them to do us some favors. Thanks to His will and the mercy He had upon us, all those for whom we prayed, as soon as we crossed them, told the others that they were cured and felt well again. For this they gave us good cheer, and would rather be without food themselves so as to give it to us, and they gave us hides and other small things. So great was the lack of food then that I often remained without eating anything whatsoever for three days, and they were in the same plight, so that it seemed to me impossible for life to last, although I afterwards suffered still greater privations and much more distress, as I shall tell further on.

The Indians that kept Alonso del Castillo, Andres Dorantes and the others, who were still alive, being of another language and stock (probably Atakapas from Marsh Island), had gone to feed on oysters at another point of the mainland (probably at Big Oyster Bayou on Point au Fer Island, 24 miles northwest of Last Island), where they remained until the first day of the month of April. Then they came back to the island, which was from there nearly two leagues off(shore), where the channel is broadest. The island is half a league wide and five long (mapped below).

All the people of this country go naked; only the women cover part of their bodies with a kind of wool that grows on trees. The girls go about in deer skins. They are very liberal towards each other with what they have. There is no ruler among them. All who are of the same descendancy cluster together. There are two distinct languages spoken on the island; those of one language are called Capoques, those of the other Han. They have the custom, when they know each other and meet from time to time, before they speak, to weep for half an hour. After they have wept the one who receives the visit rises and gives to the other all he has. The other takes it, and in a little while goes away with everything. Even sometimes, after having given and obtained all, they part without having uttered a word. There are other very queer customs, but having told the principal ones and the most striking, I must now proceed to relate what further happened to us.

After Dorantes and Castillo had come back to the island, they gathered together all the Christians, who were somewhat scattered, and there were in all fourteen. I, as told, was in another place, on the mainland, whither my Indians had taken me and where I suffered from such a severe illness that, although I might otherwise have entertained some hope for life, this was enough to take it away from me completely. When the Christians learned of it they gave an Indian the robe of marten we had taken from the cacique, as stated, in order that he should guide them to where I was, to see me, and so twelve of them came, two having become so feeble that they did not dare to take them along.

The names of those who came are: Alonso del Castillo, Andres Dorantes and Diego Dorantes, Valdivieso, Estrada, Tostado, Chaves, Gutierrez, an Asturian priest; Diego de Huelva, Estevanico, the negro Benitez, and as they reached the mainland they found still another of our men named Francisco de Leon, and the thirteen went along the coast. After they had gone by, the Indians with whom I was told me of it, and how Hieronimo de Alaniz and Lope de Oviedo had been left on the island.

My sickness prevented me from following or seeing them. I had to remain with those same Indians of the island for more than one year, and as they made me work so much and treated me so badly I determined to flee and go to those who live in the woods on the mainland, and who are called those from (of) Charruco.

I could no longer stand the life I was compelled to lead. Among many other troubles I had to pull the eatable roots out of the water and from among the canes where they were buried in the ground, and from this my fingers had become so tender that the mere touch of a straw caused them to bleed. The reeds would cut me in many places, because many were broken and I had to go in among them with the clothing I had on, of which I have told. This is why I went to work and joined the other Indians. Among these I improved my condition a little by becoming a trader, doing the best in it I could, and they gave me food and treated me well.

They entreated me to go about from one part to another to get the things they needed, as on account of constant warfare there is neither travel nor barter in the land.

So, trading along with my wares I penetrated inland as far as I cared to go and along the coast as much as forty or fifty leagues (from Last Island to today's Lafayette - mapped below). My stock consisted mainly of pieces of seashells and cockles, and shells with which they cut a fruit which is like a bean, used by them for healing and in their dances and feasts. This is of greatest value among them, besides shell-beads and other objects. These things I carried inland, and in exchange brought back hides and red ochre with which they rub and dye their faces and hair; flint for arrow points, glue and hard canes where-with to make them, and tassels made of the hair of deer, which they dye red. This trade suited me well because it gave me liberty to go wherever I pleased; I was not bound to do anything and no longer a slave. Wherever I went they treated me well, and gave me to eat for the sake of my wares. My principal object in doing it, however, was to find out in what manner I might get further away. I became well known among them; they rejoiced greatly when seeing me and I would bring them what they needed, and those who did not know me would desire and endeavor to meet me for the sake of my fame.

My sufferings, while trading thus, it would take long to tell; danger, hunger, storms and frost overtaking me often in the open field and alone, and from which through the mercy of God, Our Lord, I escaped. For this reason I did not go out trading in winter, it being the time when the Indians themselves remain in their huts and abodes, unable to go out or assist each other.

Escape Plans made in 1533     Escape
Nearly six years I spent thus in the country, alone among them and naked, as they all were themselves.

The reason for remaining so long was that I wished to take with me a Christian called Lope de Oviedo, who still lingered on the island. The other companion, Alaniz, who remained with him after Alonso del Castillo and Andres Dorantes and all the others had gone, soon died, and in order to get him (Oviedo) out of there, I went over to the island every year, entreating him to leave with me and go, as well as we could, in search of Christians. But year after year he put it off to the year that was to follow. In the end I got him to come, took him away, and carried him across the inlets and through four rivers on the coast, since he could not swim (the Atchafalaya River). Thence we proceeded, together with several Indians, to an inlet one league wide, very deep everywhere and which seemed to us, from what we saw, to be the one called of the Holy Ghost (the Atchafalaya River, which discharges the Holy Ghost River - the Mississippi).

On the opposite shore (at Morgan City) we saw Indians (later he would call them the Deaguanes) who had come to meet those in our company. They informed us that further on (toward Lafayette, powerful Choctaw people) there were three men like ourselves and told us their names. Upon being asked about the rest of the party, they answered that all had died from cold and hunger and that the Indians beyond (at Crowley, called Iquaces, also Choctaw) had killed Diego Dorantes, Valdivieso and Diego de Huelva willfully, only because these had gone from one house to another, and their neighbors (later called the Mariamies of Lafayette) with whom was now the Captain Dorantes, had, in consequence of some dream dreamt by these Indians, killed Esquivel and Mendez (one of four Christian scouts sent west upon thier arrival at Last Island). We asked them about those who (had fled Last Island over the years) remained alive, and they said they were in a very sorry condition, as the boys and other Indians, idlers and roughs, kicked them, slapped their faces and beat them with sticks, and such was the life they had to lead.

We inquired about the country further on and the sustenance that might be found in it. They said it was very thinly settled, with nothing to eat, and the people dying from cold, as they had neither hides nor anything else to protect their bodies (as Vaca would witness later). They also told us that, if we wished to meet the three Christians about two days hence (at New Iberia, who spoke their Chitamacha language), the Indians would come to a place about a league from there on the shore of that river (the Bayou Teche) to feed on nuts.

And to show us that what they said of the ill-treatment of our people was true the Indians with whom we were (Chitamacha) kicked and beat my companion. Neither did I remain without my share of it. They threw mud at us, and put arrows to our chests every day, saying they would kill us in the same way as our companions. And fearing this, Lope de Oviedo, my companion, said he preferred to go back, with some women of the Indians in whose company we had forded the cove and who had remained behind. I insisted he should not go and did all I could to prevail upon him to remain, but it was in vain. He went back and I (advanced to New Iberia, seeking the three Christians) remained alone among these Indians, who are named Guevenes, whereas those with whom he went away were called Deaguanes (of Morgan City).

Two days after Lope de Oviedo had gone the Indians who kept Alonso del Castillo and Andres Dorantes (the Iguaces of Crowley and their close Choctaw neighbors, the Mariamies of Lafayette, respectively) came to the very spot we had been told of to eat the nuts upon which they subsist for two months in the year (just northeast of New Iberia), grinding certain small grains with them, without eating anything else. Even of that they do not always have, since one year there may be some and the next year not. They (the nuts) are of the size of those of Galicia, and the trees are very big and numerous.

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 (Choctaw) from that of my Indians (Chitamachas of New Iberia and Morgan City). So the next day they took me along. When I got near the site where they had their lodges (above New Iberia), 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 (somewhere in the same field) 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 (the negro) 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 (Dorantes, Castello and Estevanico), they at last determined upon fleeing, as I would take them safely across the rivers and bays we might meet (to westward along the Gulf of Mexico). But they advised me to keep it secret from the Indians (as well as my own departure) 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 (today's Lake Charles township, 70 miles west of there) 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.

The People of Lafayette

Now, at the time they pluck this fruit, other Indians from beyond (who Vaca would describe, first hand, later) come to them with bows for barter and exchange, and when those turn back we thought of joining them and escaping in this way. With this understanding I remained, and they gave me as a slave to an Indian with whom Dorantes stayed (at Lafayette). This Indian, his wife, their son and another Indian who was with them were all cross-eyed. These are called Mariames, and Castillo was with others, who were their neighbors, called Iguaces (at Crowley, both groups Choctaw).

And so, being here with them, they (Dorantes, Castello and Estevanico) told me that after leaving the Island of Ill-Fate they met on the coast the boat in which the purser and the monks were going adrift, and that crossing the rivers, of which there were four (the Atchafalaya River's mouth), all very large and very swift, the barges in which they crossed were swept out into the sea (to Marsh Island), where four of their number were drowned. Thus they (the purser, the monks and the surviving Narvaez barge crew, as we shall see) went ahead until they had crossed the inlet (Southwest Pass), which they did by dint of great efforts.

(Likewise, Dorantes, Castello and Estevanico had heard that) Fifteen leagues (40 miles) from there they (the purser, the monks and the surviving Narvaez barge crew) met another of our parties (at Pecan Island - it was Mendez, one of the four Christian scouts from Last Island), and when they (the scouts) reached there, already two of their companions (Fernandez and Astudillo, below) had died in sixty leagues of travel (from Last Island to the Calcasieu River at Cameron, below Calcasieu Lake - 40 miles west of Pecan Island). The survivors also were very near death. On the whole trip they ate nothing but crawfish and yerba pedrera (small onions).

At this, the last cove (at Cameron), they said they saw Indians eating blackberries, who, upon perceiving the Christians, went away to another promontory (the west side of the Calcasieu River below Calcasieu Lake). While seeking a way to cross the cove an Indian and a Christian came towards them, and they recognized Figueroa, one of the four (Spanish scouts) we had sent ahead from the Island of Ill-Fate, who there told them how he and his companions had gotten to that place, where two of their number and one Indian (Fernandez and Astudillo, plus their Indian guide) had died from cold and hunger, because they had come and remained in the worst weather known. He also said the Indians (the powerful Choctaw Iguaces of Crowley) took him and Mendez (thereby accounting for all scouts from Last Island).

While with them (the Choctaw Mariamies of Lafayette, close neighbors of the Choctaw Iguaces of Crowley) Mendez fled, going in the direction of Panuco as best he might, but the Indians pursued and killed him (as mentioned above). So, as he (Figueroa) was with these same Indians (also mentioned above) he learned (from them) that with the Mariames there was a Christian who had come over from the other side (from the Iguaces of Crowley) and had met him with those called Guevenes (gathering nuts at New Iberia), and that this Christian was Hernando de Esquivel (who was later killed by the Mariames of Lafayette, also mentioned above), from Badajoz, a companion of the commissary. From Esquivel he (Figueroa) learned how the Governor, the purser and the others had ended.

(Over the next five paragraphs, Vaca relates what he learned, third person, from Dorantes, who heard it from Figueroa, who heard it from Esquivel.)

The purser, with the friars, had stranded with their barge among the rivers (discharging the Atchafalaya River), and, while they were proceeding along the coast, the barge of the Governor (Narvaez) and his men came to land also. He (the Governor) then went with his barge as far as the big cove (East Cote Blanche Bay), whence he returned (to Point Chevreuil) and took his men across to the other side (12 miles to Marsh Island), then came back for the purser, the monks and the rest. He further told him that after disembarking, the Governor revoked the powers he had given to the purser as his lieutenant, giving the office to a captain that was with him called Pantoja.

The Governor did not land that night (on Marsh Island), but remained on his barge with a pilot and a page who was sick. They had neither water nor anything to eat aboard, and at midnight a northerner set in with such violence that it carried the barge out into the sea, without anybody noticing it. They had for an anchor only a stone, and never more did they hear of him. Thereupon the people who had remained on land (the purser, friars, monks and the Governor's wraft survivors) proceeded along the coast (of Marsh Island for 20 miles west from their landing place), and, being much impeded by water, built rafts with great trouble, in which they passed to the other side (of Southwest Pass).

Going ahead (through Pecan Island), they reached a point of timber on the beach (at Cameron), where they found Indians, who, upon seeing them approach, placed their lodges on the canoes and crossed over to the other side of the coast (of the Calcasieu River), and the Christians, in view of the season and weather, since it was in the month of November, remained in this timber, because they found water and firewood, some crawfish and other sea-food, but from cold and hunger they began to die.

Moreover, Pantoja, who remained as lieutenant, ill-treated them. On this Sotomayor, brother of Vasco Porcallo (the one from the Island of Cuba, who had come in the fleet as Maestro de Campo), unable to stand it longer, quarreled with Pantoja and struck him a blow with a stick, of which he died. Thus they perished one after another, the survivors slicing the dead for meat. The last one to die was Sotomayor, and Esquivel cut him up and fed on his body until the first of March, when an Indian, of those who had taken to flight previously (the powerful Iguaces of Crowley), came to look if they were dead and took Esquivel along with him.

Once in the hands of this Indian, Figueroa spoke to Esquivel, learning from him what we have told here, and he entreated him to go in his company towards Panuco. But Esquivel refused, saying he had heard from the monks that Panuco was in their rear, and so he remained, while Figueroa went back to the coast where he formerly had been.

All this account (to Vaca from Dorantes, third person) Figueroa gave after Esquivel's narrative, and thus, from one to the other, it came to me. Through it the fate of the whole fleet will be learned and known, and what happened to every one in particular. And he said furthermore that if the Christians would go about there for some time they might possibly meet Esquivel, because he knew that he had run away from the Indian with whom he was and gone to others called Mariames, who were their neighbors. And, as I have just said, he and the Asturian wished to go to other Indians further on, but when those with whom they were found it out, they beat them severely, undressed the Asturian and pierced one of his arms with an arrow.

At last the Christians escaped through flight, and remained with the other Indians, whose slaves they agreed to become. But, although serving them, they were so ill-treated, that no slaves, nor men in any condition of life, were ever so abused. Not content with cuffing and beating them and pulling out their beards for mere pastime, they killed three out of the six only because they went from one lodge to another. These were Diego Dorantes, Valdivieso and Diego de Huelva. The three remaining ones expected to meet the same fate in the end.

To escape from that life Andres Dorantes fled to the Mariames, and they were the ones with whom Esquivel had been. They told him how Esquivel stayed with them and how he fled because a woman dreamt he would kill her son, and the Indians pursued and killed him. They also showed Andres Dorantes his sword, his rosary, his prayer book and other things of his.

It is a custom of theirs to kill even their own children for the sake of dreams, and the girls when newly born they throw away to be eaten by dogs. The reason why they do it is (as they say) that all the others of that country are their enemies with whom they are always at war, and should they marry their daughters they might multiply so much as to be able to overcome them and reduce them to slavery. Hence they prefer to kill the girls rather than see them give birth to children who would become their foes.

We asked them why they did not wed the girls among themselves. They replied it was bad to marry them to their own kin, and much better to do away with their daughters than to leave them to relatives or to enemies. This custom they have in common with their neighbors, the Iguaces (Choctaw's at Crowley), and no other tribe of that country has it. When they want to get married they buy their wives from their enemies. The price paid for a woman is a bow, the best to be had, with two arrows, and if he has no bow he gives a net as much as a fathom in width and one in length. They kill their own children and buy those of strangers. Marriage only lasts as long as they please. For a mere nothing they break up wedlock.

Dorantes remained only a few days with those Indians and then escaped. Castillo and Estevanico went inland to the Iguaces (at Crowley). All those people are archers and well built, although not as tall as those we had left behind us, and they have the nipple and lip perforated. Their principal food are two or three kinds of roots, which they hunt for all over the land; they are very unhealthy, inflating, and it takes two days to roast them. Many are very bitter, and with all that they are gathered with difficulty. But those people are so much exposed to starvation that these roots are to them indispensable and they walk two and three leagues to obtain them. Now and then they kill deer and at times get a fish, but this is so little and their hunger so great that they eat spiders and ant eggs, worms, lizards and salamanders and serpents, also vipers the bite of which is deadly. They swallow earth and wood, and all they can get, the dung of deer and more things I do not mention; and I verily believe, from what I saw, that if there were any stones in the country they would eat them also. They preserve the bones of the fish they eat, of snakes and other animals, to pulverize them and eat the powder.

The men do not carry burdens or loads, the women and old men have to do it, for those are the people they least esteem. They have not as much love for their children as those spoken of before. Some among them are given to unnatural vices. The women are compelled to do very hard work and in a great many ways, for out of twenty-four hours of day and night they get only six hours' rest. They spend most of the night in stirring the fire to dry those roots which they eat, and at daybreak they begin to dig and carry firewood and water to their houses and attend to other necessary matters. Most of these Indians are great thieves, for, although very liberal towards each other, as soon as one turns his heads his own son or the father grabs what he can. They are great liars and drunkards and take something in order to become intoxicated. They are so accustomed to running that, without resting or getting tired, they run from morning till night in pursuit of a deer, and kill a great many, because they follow until the game is worn out, sometimes catching it alive. Their huts are of matting placed over four arches. They carry them on their back and move every two or three days in quest of food; they plant nothing that would be of any use.

They are a very merry people, and even when famished do not cease to dance and celebrate their feasts and ceremonials. Their best times are when prickly pears are ripe, because then they have plenty to eat and spend the time in dancing and eating day and night. As long as these last they squeeze and open them and set them to dry. When dried they are put in baskets like figs and kept to be eaten on the way. The peelings they grind and pulverize.

While with them (the Mariames at Lafayette) it happened many times that we were three or four days without food. Then, in order to cheer us, they would tell us not to despair, since we would have prickly pears very soon and eat much and drink their juice and get big stomachs and be merry, contented and without hunger. But from the day they said it to the season of the prickly pears there would still elapse five or six months, and we had to wait that long.

When the time came, and we went to eat prickly pears, there were a great many mosquitoes of three kinds, all very bad and troublesome, which during most of the summer persecuted us. In order to protect ourselves we built, all around our camps, big fires of damp and rotten wood, that gave no flame but much smoke, and this was the cause of further trouble to us, for the whole night we did not do anything but weep from the smoke that went to our eyes, and the heat from the fires was so insufferable that we would go to the shore for rest. And when, sometimes, we were able to sleep, the Indians roused us again with blows to go and kindle the fires.

Those from further inland have another remedy, just as bad and even worse, which is to go about with a firebrand, setting fire to the plains and timber so as to drive off the mosquitoes, and also to get lizards and similar things which they eat, to come out of the soil. In the same manner they kill deer, encircling them with fires, and they do it also to deprive the animals of pasture, compelling them to go for food where the Indians want. For never they build their abodes except where there are wood and water, and sometimes load themselves with the requisites and go in quest of deer, which are found mostly where there is neither water nor wood.

On the very day they arrive they kill deer and whatever else can be had and use all the water and wood to cook their food with and build fires against the mosquitoes. They wait for another day to get something to take along on the road, and when they leave they are so badly bitten by mosquitoes as to appear like lepers. In this manner they satisfy their hunger twice or thrice a year and at such great sacrifice as I have told. Having been with them I can say that no toil or suffering in this world comes near it.

All over this country there are a great many deer, fowl and other animals which I have before enumerated. Here also they come up with cows; I have seen them thrice and have eaten their meat. They appear to me of the size of those in Spain. Their horns are small, like those of the Moorish cattle; the hair is very long, like fine wool and like a peajacket; some are brownish and others black, and to my taste they have better and more meat than those from here. Of the small hides the Indians make blankets to cover themselves with, and of the taller ones they make shoes and targets. These cows come from the north, across the country further on, to the coast of Florida, and are found all over the land for over four hundred leagues. On this whole stretch, through the valleys by which they come, people who live there descend to subsist upon their flesh. And a great quantity of hides are met with inland.

Escape Attempt

When I had been with the Christians (at Lafayette) for six months (of 1533), waiting to execute our plans, the Indians went for "prickly pears" at a distance of thirty leagues (78 miles west) from there (at Lake Charles township), 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 each 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.

Final Escape

When the time for the prickly pears came we found each other again on the same spot (at today's Lake Charles township on the east bank of the Calcasieu River). 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 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 (on the west bank of Lake Charles), called Anagados (of the Atakapa language group), and how they had suffered many hardships and been lost. On the following day our Indians moved (in canoes of various tribes gathered there to collect prickley pears) 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.

During all the time (in various fields) we ate prickly pears we felt thirsty. To allay our thirst we drank the juice of the fruit, pouring it first into a pit which we dug in the soil, and when that was full we drank to satisfaction. The Indians do it in that way, out of lack of vessels. The juice is sweet and has the color of must. There are many kinds of prickly pears, and some very good ones, although to me all tasted well alike, hunger never leaving me time to select, or stop to think which ones were better. Most of the people drink rainwater that collects here and there, for, as they never have a fixed abode, they know no springs nor established watering places, although there are rivers.

All over the land are vast and handsome pastures (from Lafayette to Lake Charles), with good grass for cattle, and it strikes me the soil would be very fertile were the country inhabited and improved by reasonable people. We saw no mountains as long as we were in this country. These Indians told us that further on there were others called Cajoles (on the west shore of Calcasieu Lake - who he later calls Quitoles - of the Atakapa language group), who live nearer the coast (probably at Hackberry, 18 miles below Lake Charles), and that they were those who killed all the people that came in the barge of Penalosa and Tellez (near Holly Beach, just west of the Calcasieu River). They had been so emaciated and feeble that when being killed they offered no resistance. So the Indians finished with all of them, and showed us some of their clothes and weapons and said the barge was still there stranded. This is the fifth of the missing ones. That of the Governor we already said had been swept out into the sea, the one of the purser and the monks was seen stranded on the beach and Esquivel told us of their end (at Cameron, on the east shore of the Calcasieu River). Of the two in which Castillo, I and Dorantes were I have told how they sank close to the Isle of Ill-Fate.

Two days after moving (across Lake Charles to find Castillo) 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 (above Vinton), and, going towards it, reached the place after sundown (having fled 22 miles that day), 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 Indian 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 (of Lafayette) 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 (Caddoan) bows to ours and barter with them (at Lafayette), and, although of another nation and speech (they were Atakapa natives with close Caddoan ties), they understand the idiom of those with whom we formerly were (the Mariames of Lafayette, Choctaw people) and had arrived there (from the northern Caddoan country) 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.

On the night we arrived there some Indians came to Castillo complaining that their heads felt very sore and begging him for relief. As soon as he had made the sign of the cross over them and recommended them to God, at that very moment the Indians said that all the pain was gone. They went back to their abodes and brought us many (stored) prickly pears and a piece of venison (from the north), something we did not know any more what it was, and as the news spread that same night there came many other sick people for him to cure, and each brought a piece of venison, and so many there were that we did not know where to store the meat. We thanked God for His daily increasing mercy and kindness, and after they were all well they began to dance and celebrate and feast until sunrise of the day following.

They celebrated our coming for three days, at the end of which we asked them about the land further on, the people and the food that there might be obtained (to westward along the Gulf of Mexico coast). They replied there were plenty of prickly pears all through that country, but that the season (ending in late-October) was over and nobody there, because all had gone to their abodes after gathering prickly pears; also that the country was very cold and very few hides in it. Hearing this, and as winter and cold weather were setting in, we determined to spend it with those Indians (the Avavares, for eight months, mostly in Caddoan country).

Northward to the Sabine River

Five days after our arrival they left to get more prickly pears at a place (northward) where people of a different nation and language (Caddoan) lived, and having travelled five days, suffering greatly from hunger, as on the way there were neither prickly pears nor any kind of fruit, we came to a river (the easternmost point of the Sabine River), where we pitched our lodges.

As soon as we were settled we went out to hunt for the fruit of certain trees, which are like spring bittervetch (orobus), and as through all that country there are no trails, I lost too much time in hunting for them. The people returned (probably from the Fort Polk South area, east of there, where they traded valuable goods, seashells, with Caddoans) without me, and starting to rejoin them that night I went astray and got lost. It pleased God to let me find a burning tree (probably lit by natives of his very group), by the fire of which I spent that very cold night, and in the morning loaded myself with wood, took two burning sticks and continued my journey. Thus I went on for five days (zigzagging the Caddoan countryside searching for his group), always with my firebrands and load of wood, so that in case the fire went out where there was no timber, as in many parts there is none (southbound), I always would have wherewith to make other torches and not be without firewood. It was my only protection against the cold, for I went as naked as a newborn child. For the night I used the following artifice:

I went to the brush in the timber near the rivers (down the winding Sabine River) and stopped in it every evening before sunset. Then I scratched a hole in the ground and threw in it much firewood from the numerous trees. I also picked up dry wood that had fallen and built around the hole four fires crosswise, being very careful to stir them from time to time. Of the long grass that grows there I made bundles, with which I covered myself in that hole and so was protected from the night cold. But one night fire fell on the straw with which I was covered, and while I was asleep in the hole it began to burn so rapidly that, although I hurried out as quick as possible, I still have marks on my hair from this dangerous accident. During all that time I did not eat a mouthful, nor could I find anything to eat, and my feet, being bare, bled a great deal. God had mercy upon me, that in all this time there was no norther (north winter wind blast); otherwise I could not have survived.


Part 3 of 5                      Cabeza de Vaca's Trails