Estevanico, the Black Conquistador
The story of Estevanico, the first black conquistador in the New World, begins with the Portuguese conquest of the port city of Azemmour, Morocco, in 1513, when Estevanico was only 10 years old. Sold into slavery in Spain, Estevanico became the personal servant and good friend of Andres de Dorantes of Bejar del Castanar.
In 1527, both Dorantes and Estevanico joined Narvaez' expedition to conquer Florida. Out of only 80 men, Estevanico and Dorantes survived after being capsized on the shore near Galveston.
At first the natives were friendly, but later, Estevanico was enslaved for 5 years. He escaped from captivity and joined his master Dorantes, Alonso Castillo, and Cabeza de Vaca to try to return to the Spanish colonies in the New World.
Estevanico was excellent at learning the languages of the various Indian groups. With Cabeza de Vaca, he worked as a healer among the Indians and carried a medicine rattle, a beaded gourd with owl feathers on it, as his symbol.
Three years after completing the journey with Cabeza de Vaca in February 1539, Estevanico agreed to lead an expedition north into New Mexico to prepare the way for Coronado, who was considering going to look for the "Seven Golden Cities of Cibola." Estevanico was the advance scout for Friar Marcos de Niza. He went ahead and sent back runners every day with information and wooden crosses, which were supposed to indicate the excellence of the country. A small cross would mean that things were going well, but nothing important had been found. A larger cross would indicate a land better than Mexico. The exuberant Estevanico only sent back immense crosses!
Estevanico was extremely popular with the Indians he met. Hundreds of admirers, especially women, would follow him along the way.
Finally, in northwest New Mexico, Estevanico came to an impressive Zuni pueblo called Hawikuh. The Zuni people immediately distrusted Estevanico when they saw that his medicine gourd was decorated with owl feathers, which symbolized death to the Zunis. Estevanico was killed there and some reports say his body was cut up into little pieces and sent to all the neighboring villages to show that Estevanico was not superhuman.