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The Journey of
Alvar Nuñez Cabeza De Vaca
Published in 1542
Since giving this circumstantial account of events attending the voyage to Florida, the invasion, and our going out thence until the arrival in these realms, I desire to state what became of the ships and of the people who remained with them. I have not before touched on this, as we were uninformed until coming to New Spain, where we found many of the persons, and others here in Castile, from whom we learned everything to the latest particular.
At the time we left, one of the ships had already been lost on the breakers, and the three others were in considerable danger, having nearly a hundred souls on board and few stores. Among the persons were ten married women, one of whom had told the Governor many things that afterwards befell him on the voyage. She cautioned him before he went inland not to go, as she was confident that neither he nor any going with him could ever escape; but should any one come back from that country, the Almighty must work great wonders in his behalf, though she believed few or none would return. The Governor said that he and his followers were going to fight and conquer nations and countries wholly unknown, and in subduing them he knew that many would be slain; nevertheless, that those who survived would be fortunate, since from what he had understood of the opulence of that land, they must become very rich. And further he begged her to inform him whence she learned those things that had passed, as well as those she spoke of, that were to come; she replied that in Castile a Moorish woman of Hornachos had told them to her, which she had stated to us likewise before we left Spain, and while on the passage many things happened in the way she foretold.
After the Governor had made Caravallo, a native of Cuenca de Huete, his lieutenant and commander of the vessels and people, he departed, leaving orders that all diligence should be used to repair on board, and take the direct course to Panuco, keeping along the shore closely examining for the harbor, and having found it, the vessels should enter there and await our arrival. And the people state, that when they had betaken themselves to the ships, all of them looking at that woman, they distinctly heard her say to the females, that well, since their husbands had gone inland, putting their persons in so great jeopardy, their wives should in no way take more account of them, but ought soon to be looking after whom they would marry, and that she should do so. She did accordingly: she and others married, or became the concubines of those who remained in the ships.
After we left, the vessels made sail, taking their course onward; but not finding the harbor, they returned. Five leagues below the place at which we debarked, they found the port (Charlotte Harbor), the same we discovered when we saw the Spanish cases containing dead bodies, which were of Christians. Into this haven and along this coast, the three ships passed with the other ship that came from Cuba, and the brigantine, looking for us nearly a year, and not finding us, they went to New Spain.
The port of which we speak is the best in the world. At the entrance are six fathoms of water and five near the shore. It runs up into the land seven or eight leagues. The bottom is fine white sand. No sea breaks upon it nor boisterous storm, and it can contain many vessels. Fish is in great plenty. There are a hundred leagues (260 miles) to Havana, a town of Christians in Cuba, with which it bears north and south (both this distance and bearing are remarkably precise). The north-east wind ever prevails and vessels go from one to the other, returning in a few days; for the reason that they sail either way with it on the quarter.
As I have given account of the vessels, it may be well that I state who are, and from what parts of these kingdoms come, the persons whom our Lord has been pleased to release from these troubles. The first is Alonzo del Castillo Maldonado, native of Salamanca, son of Doctor Castillo and Dona Aldonca Maldonado. The second is Andres Dorantes, son of Pablo Dorantes, native of Bejar, and citizen of Gibraleon. The third is Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, son of Francisco de Vera, and grandson of Pedro de Vera who conquered the Canaries, and his mother was Dona Tereca Cabeza de Vaca, native of Xerez de la Frontera. The fourth, called Estevanico, is an Arabian black, native of Acamor.