The Journey of
Alvar Nuñez Cabeza De Vaca
Translated by Fanny Bandelier (1905)
On the 27th day of the month of June, 1527, the Governor Panfilo de Narvaez
departed from the port of San Lucar de Barrameda, with authority and orders
from Your Majesty to conquer and govern the provinces that extend from
the river of the Palms to the Cape of the Florida, these provinces being
on the main land. The fleet he took along consisted of[five vessels, in
which went about 600 men. The officials he had with him (since they must
be mentioned) were those here named: Cabeza de Vaca, treasurer and alguacil
mayor; Alonso Enriquez, purser; Alonso de Solis, factor of Your Majesty
and inspector. A friar of the order of Saint Francis, called Fray Juan
[Suarez], went as commissary, with four other monks of the order. We arrived
at the Island of Santo Domingo, where we remained nearly forty-five days,
supplying ourselves with necessary things, especially horses. Here more
than 140 men of our army forsook us, who wished to remain, on account
of the proposals and promises made them by the people of the country.
From there we started and arrived at Santiago (a port in the Island of
Cuba) where, in the few days that we remained the Governor supplied himself
again with people, arms and horses. It happened there that a gentleman
called Vasco Porcallo, a resident of la Trinidad (which is on the same
island ), offered to give the Governor certain stores he had at a distance
of 100 leagues from the said harbor of Santiago.
The Governor, with the whole fleet, sailed for that place, but midways,
at a port named Cape Santa Cruz, he thought best to stop and send a single
vessel to load and bring these stores. Therefore he ordered a certain
Captain Pantoja to go thither with his craft and directed me to accompany
him for the sake of control, while he remained with four ships, having
purchased one on the Island of Santo Domingo. Arrived at the port of Trinidad
with these two vessels, Captain Pantoja went with Vasco Porcallo to the
town (which is one league from there) in order to take possession of the
supplies. I remained on board with the pilots, who told us that we should
leave as soon as possible, since the harbor was very unsafe and many vessels
had been lost in it. Now, since what happened to us there was very remarkable,
it appeared to me not unsuitable, for the aims and ends of this, my Narrative,
to tell it here.
The next morning the weather looked ominous. It began to rain, and the
sea toughened so that, although I allowed the men to land, when they saw
the weather and that the town was one league away, many came back to the
ship so as not to be[in the wet and cold. At the same time there came
a canoe from the town conveying a letter from a person residing there,
begging me to come, and they would give me the stores and whatever else
might be necessary. But I excused myself, stating that I could not leave
At noon the canoe came again with another letter, repeating the request
with much insistency, and there was also a horse for me to go on. I gave
the same reply as the first time, saying that I could not leave the vessels.
But the pilots and the people begged me so much to leave and hasten the
transportation of the stores to the ships, in order to be able to sail
soon, from a place where they were in great fear the ships would be lost
in case they had to remain long. So I determined upon going, although
before I went I left the pilots well instructed and with orders in case
the south wind (which often wrecked the shipping) should rise, and they
found themselves in great danger, to run the vessels ashore, when men
and horses might be saved. So I left, wishing for some of them to accompany
me, but they refused, alleging the hard rain, the cold and that the town
was far away.
On the next day, which was Sunday, they promised to come, God helping,
to hear mass. One hour after my departure the sea became very rough and
the north wind blew so fiercely that neither did the boats dare to land,
nor could they beach the vessels, since the wind was blowing from the
shore. They spent that day and Sunday greatly distressed by two contrary
storms and much rain, until nightfall. Then the rain and storm increased
in violence at the village, as well as on the sea, and all the houses
and the churches fell down, and we had to go about, seven or eight men
locking Arms at a time, to prevent the wind from carrying us off, and
under the trees it was not less dangerous than among the houses, for as
they also were blown down we were in danger of being killed beneath them.
In this tempest and peril we wandered about all night, without finding
any part or place where we might feel safe for half an hour.
In this plight we heard, all night long and especially after midnight,
a great uproar, the sound of many voices, the tinkling of little bells,
also flutes and tambourines and other instruments, the most of which noise
lasted until morning, when the storm ceased. Never has such a fearful
thing been witnessed in those parts. I took testimony concerning it, and
sent it, certified, to Your Majesty. On Monday morning we went down to
the harbor, but did not find the vessels. We saw the buoys in the water,
and from this knew that the ships were lost. So we followed the shore,
looking for wreckage, and not finding any turned into the forest. Walking
through it we saw, a fourth of a league from water, the little boat of
one of the vessels on the top of trees, and ten leagues further, on the
coast, were two men of my crew and certain covers of boxes. The bodies
were so disfigured by striking against the rocks as to be unrecognizable.
There were also found a cape and a tattered, nothing else. Sixty people
and twenty horses perished on the ships. Those who went on land the day
we arrived, some thirty men, were all who survived of the crews of both
We remained thus for several days in great need and distress, for the
food and stores at the village had been ruined also, as well as some cattle.
The country was pitiable to look at. The trees had fallen and the woods
were blighted, and there was neither foliage nor grass. In this condition
we were until the 5th day of the month of November, when the Governor,
with his four vessels, arrived. They also had weathered a great storm
and had escaped by betaking themselves to a safe place in time. The people
on board of the ships and those he found were so terrified by what had
happened that they were afraid to set to sea again in winter and begged
the Governor to remain there for that season, and he, seeing their good
will and that of the inhabitants, wintered at that place. He put into
my charge the vessels and their crews, and I was to go with them to the
port of Xagua, twelve leagues distant, where I remained until the 20th
day of February.
At that time the Governor came with a brig he had bought at Trinidad,
and with him a pilot called Miruelo. That man he had taken because he
said he knew the way and had been on the river of the Palms and was a
very good pilot for the whole northern coast. The Governor left, on the
coast of Habana, another vessel that he had bought there, on which there
remained, as captain, Alvaro de Cerda, with forty people and twelve horsemen.
Two days after the Governor arrived he went aboard. The people he took
along were 400 men and eighty horses, on four vessels and one brigantine.
The pilot we had taken ran the vessels aground on the sands called "of
Canarreo," so that the next day we were stranded and remained stranded
for fifteen days, the keels often touching bottom. Then a storm from the
south drove so much water on the shoals that we could get off, though
not without much danger.
Departing from there and arrived at Guaniguanico, another tempest came
up in which we nearly perished. At Cape Corrientes we had another, which
lasted three days. Afterward we doubled the Cape of Sant Anton and sailed
with contrary winds as far as twelve leagues off Habana, and when, on
the following day, we attempted to enter, a southerly storm drove us away,
so that we crossed to the coast of Florida, sighting land on Tuesday,
the 12th day of the month of April. We coasted the way of Florida, and
on Holy Thursday cast anchor at the mouth of a bay, at the head of which
we saw certain houses and habitations of Indians.
On that same day the clerk, Alonso Enriquez, left and went to an island
in the bay and called the Indians, who came and were with him a good while,
and by way of exchange they gave him fish and some venison. The day following
(which was Good Friday) the Governor disembarked, with as many men as
his little boats would hold, and as we arrived at the huts or houses of
the Indians we had seen, we found them abandoned and deserted, the people
having left that same night in their canoes. One of those houses was so
large that it could hold more than 300 people. The others were smaller,
and we found a golden rattle among the nets. The next day the Governor
hoisted flags in behalf of Your Majesty and took possession of the country
in Your Royal name, exhibited his credentials, and was acknowledged as
Governor according to Your Majesty's commands. We likewise presented our
titles to him, and he complied as they required. He then ordered the remainder
of the men to disembark, also the forty-two horses left (the others having
perished on account of the great storms and the long time they had been
on sea), and these few that remained were so thin and weak that they could
be of little use for the time. The next day the Indians of that village
came, and, although they spoke to us, as we had no interpreters we did
not understand them; but they made many gestures and threats, and it seemed
as if they beckoned to us to leave the country. Afterward, without offering
any molestation, they went away.
After another day the Governor resolved to penetrate inland to explore
the country and see what it contained. We went with him&emdash;the
commissary, the inspector and myself, with forty men, among them six horsemen,
who seemed likely to be of but little use. We took the direction of the
north, and at the hour of vespers reached a very large bay, which appeared
to sweep far inland. After remaining there that night and the next day,
we returned to the place where the vessels and the men were. The Governor
ordered the brigantine to coast towards Florida in search of the port
which Miruelo, the pilot, had said he knew, but he had missed it and did
not know where we were, nor where the port was. So word was sent to the
brigantine, in case it were not found to cross over to Habana in quest
of the vessel of Alvaro de la Cerda, and, after taking in some supplies,
to come after us again.
After the brigantine left we again penetrated inland, the same persons
as before, with some more men. We followed the shore of the bay, and,
after a march of four leagues, captured four Indians, to whom we showed
maize in order to find out if they knew it, for until then we had seen
no trace of it. They told us that they would take us to a place where
there was maize and they led us to their village, at the end of the bay
nearby, and there they showed us some that was not yet fit to be gathered.
There we found many boxes for merchandise from Castilla. In every one
of them was a corpse covered with painted deer hides. The commissary thought
this to be some idolatrous practice, so he burnt the boxes with the corpses.
We also found pieces of linen and cloth, and feather head dresses that
seemed to be from New Spain, and samples of gold.
We inquired of the Indians (by signs) whence they had obtained these
things and they gave us to understand that, very far from there, was a
province called Apalachen in which there was much gold. They also signified
to us that in that province we would find everything we held in esteem.
They said that in Apalachen there was plenty.
So, taking them as guides, we started, and after walking ten or twelve
leagues, came to another village of fifteen houses, where there was a
large cultivated patch of corn nearly ready for harvest, and also some
that was already ripe. After staying there two days, we returned to the
place where we had left the purser, the men and the vessels, and told
the purser and pilots what we saw and the news the Indians had given us.
The next day, which was the 1st of May, the Governor took aside the commissary,
the purser, the inspector, myself, a sailor called Bartolomé Fernandez
and a notary by the name of Jeronimo de Albaniz, and told us that he had
in mind to penetrate inland, while the vessels should follow the coast
as far as the harbor; since the pilots said and believed that, if they
went in the direction of the Palms they would reach it soon. On this he
asked us to give our opinions.
I replied that it seemed to me in no manner advisable to forsake the
ships until they were in a safe port, held and occupied by us. I told
him to consider that the pilots were at a loss, disagreeing among themselves,
undecided as to what course to pursue. Moreover, the horses would not
be with us in case we needed them, and, furthermore, we had no interpreter
to make ourselves understood by the natives; hence we could have no parley
with them. Neither did we know what to expect from the land we were entering,
having no knowledge of what it was, what it might contain and by what
kind of people it was inhabited, nor in what part of it we were; finally,
that we had not the supplies required for penetrating into an unknown
country, for of the stores left in the ships not more than one pound of
biscuit and one of bacon could be given as rations to each man for the
journey, so that, in my opinion, we should re-embark and sail in quest
of a land and harbor better adapted to settlement, since the country which
we had seen was the most deserted and the poorest ever found in those
The commissary was of the contrary saying, that we should not embark,
but follow the coast in search of a harbor, as the pilots asserted that
the way to Panuco was not more than ten or fifteen leagues distant and
that by following along the coast it was impossible to miss it, since
the coast bent inland for twelve leagues. The first ones who came there
should wait for the others. As to embarking, he said it would be to tempt
God, after all the vicissitudes of storms, losses of men and vessels and
hardships we had suffered since leaving Spain, and until we came to that
place. So his advice would be to move along the coast as far as the harbor,
while the vessels with the other men would follow to the same port.
To all the others this seemed to be the best, except to the notary, who
said that before leaving the ships they should be put into a harbor well
known, safe and in a settled country, after which we might go inland and
do as we liked.
The Governor clung to his own idea and to the suggestions of the others.
Seeing his determination, I required him, on the part of Your Majesty,
not to forsake the vessels until they were in a secure port, and I asked
the notary present to testify to what I said. The Governor replied that
he approved the opinion of the other officials and of the commissary;
that I had no authority for making such demands, and he asked the notary
to give him a certified statement as to how, there not being in the country
the means for supporting a settlement, nor any harbor for the ships, he
broke up the village he had founded, and went in search of the port and
of a better land. So he forthwith ordered the people who were to go with
him to get ready, providing themselves with what was necessary for the
journey. After this he turned to me, and told me in the presence of all
who were there that, since I so much opposed the expedition into the interior
and was afraid of it, I should take charge of the vessels and men remaining,
and, in case I reached the port before him, I should settle there. This
After the meeting was over he, on that same evening, saying that it seemed
to him as if he could not trust anybody, sent me word that he begged me
to take charge of that part of the expedition, and as, in spite of his
insistency, I declined, he asked for the reasons of my refusal, I then
told him that I refused to accept, because I felt sure he would never
see the ships again, or be seen by their crews any more; that, seeing
how utterly unprepared he was for moving inland, I preferred to share
the risk with him and his people, and suffer what they would have to suffer,
rather than take charge of the vessels and thus give occasion for saying
that I opposed the journey and remained out of fear, which would place
my honor in jeopardy. So that I would much rather expose of my life than,
under these circumstances, my good name.
Seeing that he could not change my determination, he had others approach
me about it with entreaties. But I gave the same answer to them as to
him, and he finally provided for his lieutenant to take command of the
vessels, an alcalde named Caravallo.
On Saturday, the 1st of May, the day on which all this had happened,
he ordered that they should give to each one of those who had to go with
him, two pounds of ship-biscuit and one-half pound of bacon, and thus
we set out upon our journey inland. The number of people we took along
was three hundred, among them the commissary, Father Juan Xuarez, another
friar called Father Juan de Palos and three priests, the officers, and
forty horsemen. We marched for fifteen days, living on the supplies we
had taken with us, without finding anything else to eat but palmettos
like those of Andalusia. In all this time we did not meet a soul, nor
did we see a house or village, and finally reached a river, which we crossed
with much trouble, by swimming and on rafts. It took us a day to ford
the river on account of the swiftness of its current. When we got across,
there came towards us some two hundred Indians, more or less; the Governor
went to meet them, and after he talked to them by signs they acted in
such a manner that we were obliged to set upon them and seize five or
six, who took us to their houses, about half a league from there, where
we found a large quantity of corn ready for harvest. We gave infinite
thanks to our Lord for having helped us in such great need, for, as we
were not used to such exposures, we felt greatly exhausted, and were much
weakened by hunger.
On the third day that we were at this place the purser, the inspector,
the commissary and myself jointly begged the Governor to send out in search
of a harbor, as the Indians told us the sea was not very far away. He
forbade us to speak of it, saying it was at a great distance, and I being
the one who most insisted, he bade me to go on a journey of discovery
and search of a port, and said I should go on foot with forty people.
So the next day I started with the Captain Alonso del Castillo and forty
men of his company. At noon we reached sandy patches that seemed to extend
far inland. For about one and a half leagues we walked, with the water
up to the knee, and stepping on shells that cut our feet badly. All this
gave us much trouble, until we reached the river which we had crossed
first, and which emptied through the same inlet, and then, as we were
too ill-provided for crossing it, we turned back to camp and told the
Governor what we had found and how it was necessary to ford the river
again at our first crossing in order to explore the inlet thoroughly and
find out if there was a harbor.
The next day he sent a captain called Valenzuela with sixty footmen and
six horsemen to cross the river and follow its course to the sea in search
of a port. After two days he came back, reporting that he had discovered
the inlet, which was a shallow bay, with water to the knees, but it had
there no harbor. He saw five or six canoes crossing from one side to the
other, with Indians who wore many feather bushes.
Hearing this, we left the next day, always in quest of the province called
Apalachen by the Indians, taking as guides those whom we had captured,
and marched until the 17th of June without finding an Indian who would
dare to wait for us. Finally there came to us a chief, whom an Indian
carried on his shoulders. He wore a painted deerskin, and many people
followed him, and he was preceded by many players on flutes made of reeds.
He came the place where the Governor was and stayed an hour. We gave him
to understand by signs that our aim was to reach Apalachen, but from his
gestures it seemed to us that he was an enemy of the Apalachen people
and that he would go and help us against them. We gave him beads and little
bells and other trinkets, while he presented the Governor with the hide
he wore. Then he turned back and we followed him.
That night we reached a broad and deep river, the current of which was
very strong and as we did not dare to cross it, we built a canoe out of
rafts and were a whole day in getting across. If the Indians had wished
to oppose us, they could have easily impeded our passage, for even with
their help we had much trouble. One horseman, whose name was Juan Velazquez,
a native of Cuellar, not willing to wait, rode into the stream, and the
strong current swept him from the horse and he took hold of the reins,
and was drowned with the animal. The Indians of that chief (whose name
was Dulchanchellin) discovered the horse and told us that we would find
him lower down the stream. So they went after the man, and his death caused
us much grief, since until then we had not lost anybody. The horse made
a supper for many on that night. Beyond there, and on the following day,
we reached the chief's village, whither he sent us corn.
That same night, as they went for water, an arrow was shot at one of
the Christians, but God willed that he was not hurt. The day after we
left this place, without any of the natives having appeared, because all
had fled, but further on some Indians were seen who showed signs of hostility,
and although we called them they would neither come back nor wait, but
withdrew and followed in our rear. The Governor placed a few horsemen
in ambush near the trail, who as they (the Indians) passed, surprised
them and took three or four Indians, whom we kept as guides thereafter.
These led us into a country difficult to traverse and strange to look
at, for it had very great forests, the trees being wonderfully tall and
so many of them fallen that they obstructed our way so that we had to
make long detours and with great trouble. Of the trees standing many were
rent from top to bottom by thunderbolts, which strike very often in that
country, where storms and tempests are always frequent.
With such efforts we travelled until the day after St. John's Day, when
we came in sight of Apalachen, without having been noticed by the Indians
of the land. We gave many thanks to God for being so near it, believing
what we had been told about the country to be true, and that now our sufferings
would come to an end after the long and weary march over bad trails. We
had also suffered greatly from hunger, for, although we found corn occasionally,
most of the time we marched seven or eight leagues without any. And many
there were among us who besides suffering great fatigue and hunger, had
their backs covered with wounds from the weight of the armor and other
things they had to carry as occasion required. But to find ourselves at
last where we wished to be and where we had been assured so much food
and gold would be had, made us forget a great deal of our hardships and
Once in sight of Apalachen, the Governor commanded me to enter the village
with nine horsemen and fifty foot. So the inspector and I undertook this.
Upon penetrating into the village we found only women and boys. The men
were not there at the time, but soon, while we were walking about, they
came and began to fight, shooting arrows at us. They killed the inspector's
horse, but finally fled and left us. We found there plenty of ripe maize
ready to be gathered and much dry corn already housed. We also found many
deer skins and among them mantles made of thread and of poor quality,
with which the women cover parts of their bodies. They had many vessels
for grinding maize. The village contained forty small and low houses,
reared in sheltered places, out of fear of the great storms that continuously
occur in the country. The buildings are of straw, and they are surrounded
by dense timber, tall trees and numerous water-pools, where there were
so many fallen trees and of such size as to greatly obstruct and impede
The country between our landing place and the village and country of
Apalachen is mostly level; the soil is sand and earth. All throughout
it there are very large trees and open forests containing nut trees, laurels
and others of the kind called resinous, cedar, juniper, wateroak, pines,
oak and low palmetto, like those of Castilla. Everywhere there are many
lagoons, large and small, some very difficult to cross, partly because
they are so deep, partly because they are covered with fallen trees. Their
bottom is sandy, and in the province of Apalachen the lagoons are much
larger than those we found previously. There is much maize in this province
and the houses are scattered all over the country as much as those of
the Gelves. The animals we saw there were three kinds of deer, rabbits
and hares, bears and lions and other wild beasts, among them one that
carries its young in a pouch on its belly as long as the young are small,
until they are able to look for their sustenance, and even then, when
they are out after food and people come, the mother does not move until
her little ones are in the pouch again. The country is very cold; it has
good pasture for cattle; there are birds of many kinds in large numbers:
geese, ducks, wild ducks, muscovy ducks, Ibis, small white herons (Egrets),
herons and partridges. We saw many falcons, marsh-hawks, sparrow-hawks,
pigeon-hawks and many other birds. Two hours after we arrived at Apalachen
the Indians that had fled came back peaceably, begging us to give back
to them their women and children, which we did. The Governor, however,
kept with him one of their caciques, at which they became so angry as
to attack us the following day. They did it so swiftly and with so much
audacity as to set fire to the lodges we occupied, but when we sallied
forth they fled to the lagoons nearby, on account of which and of the
big corn patches, we could not do them any harm beyond killing one Indian.
The day after, Indians from a village on the other side came and attacked
us in the same manner, escaping in the same way, with the loss of a single
We remained at this village for twenty-five days, making three excursions
during the time. We found the country very thinly inhabited and difficult
to march through, owing to bad places, timber and lagoons. We inquired
of the cacique whom we had retained and of the other Indians with us (who
were neighbors and enemies of them) about the condition and settlements
of the land, the quality of its people, about supplies and everything
else. They answered, each one for himself, that Apalachen was the largest
town of all; that further in less people were met with, who were very
much poorer than those here, and that the country was thinly settled,
the inhabitants greatly scattered, and also that further inland big lakes,
dense forests, great deserts and wastes were met with.
Then we asked about the land to the south, its villages and resources.
They said that in that direction and nine days' march towards the sea
was a village called Aute, where the Indians had plenty of corn and also
beans and melons, and that, being so near the sea, they obtained fish,
and that those were their friends. Seeing how poor the country was, taking
into account the unfavorable reports about its population and everything
else, and that the Indians made constant war upon us, wounding men and
horses whenever they went for water (which they could do from the lagoons
where we could not reach them) by shooting arrows at us; that they had
killed a chief of Tezcuco called Don Pedro, whom the commissary had taken
along with him, we agreed to depart and go in search of the sea, and of
the village of Aute, which they had mentioned. And so we left, arriving
there five days after. The first day we travelled across lagoons and trails
without seeing a single Indian.
On the second day, however, we reached a lake very difficult to cross,
the water reaching to the chest, and there were a great many fallen trees.
Once in the middle of it, a number of Indians assailed us from behind
trees that concealed them from our sight, while others were on fallen
trees, and they began to shower arrows upon us, so that many men and horses
were wounded, and before we could get out of the lagoon our guide was
captured by them. After we had got out, they pressed us very hard, intending
to cut us off, and it was useless to turn upon them, for they would hide
in the lake and from there wound both men and horses.
So the Governor ordered the horsemen to dismount and attack them on foot.
The pursuer dismounted also, and our people attacked them. Again they
fled to a lagoon, and we succeeded in holding the trail. In this fight
some of our people were wounded, in spite of their good armor. There were
men that day who swore they had seen two oak trees, each as thick as the
calf of a leg, shot through and through by arrows, which is not surprising
if we consider the force and dexterity with which they shoot. I myself
saw an arrow that had penetrated the base of a poplar tree for half a
foot in length. All the many Indians from Florida we saw were archers,
and, being very tall and naked, at a distance they appear giants.
Those people are wonderfully built, very gaunt and of great strength
and agility. Their bows are as thick as an arm, from eleven to twelve
spans long, shooting an arrow at 200 paces with unerring aim. From that
crossing we went to another similar one, a league away, but while it was
half a league in length it was also much more difficult. There we crossed
without opposition, for the Indians, having spent all their arrows at
the first place, had nothing wherewith they would dare attack us. The
next day, while crossing a similar place, I saw the tracks of people who
went ahead of us, and I notified the Governor, who was in the rear, so
that, although the Indians turned upon us, as we were on our guard, they
could do us no harm. Once on open ground they pursued us still. We attacked
them twice, killing two, while they wounded me and two or three other
Christians, and entered the forest again, where we could no longer injure
In this manner we marched for eight days, without meeting any more natives,
until one league from the site to which I said we were going. There, as
we were marching along, Indians crept up unseen and fell upon our rear.
A boy belonging to a nobleman, called Avellaneda, who was in the rear
guard, gave the alarm. Avellaneda turned back to assist, and the Indians
hit him with an arrow on the edge of the cuirass, piercing his neck nearly
through and through, so that he died on the spot, and we carried him to
Aute. It took us nine days from Apalachen to the place where we stopped.
And then we found that all the people had left and the lodges were burnt.
But there was plenty of maize, squash and beans, all nearly ripe and ready
for harvest. We rested there for two days.
After this the Governor entreated me to go in search of the sea, as the
Indians said it was so near by, and we had, on this march, already suspected
its proximity from a great river to which we had given the name of the
Rio de la Magdalena. I left on the following day in search of it, accompanied
by the commissary, the captain Castillo, Andres Dorantes, seven horsemen
and fifty foot. We marched until sunset, reaching an inlet or arm of the
sea, where we found plenty of oysters on which the people feasted, and
we gave many thanks to God for bringing us there.
The next day I sent twenty men to reconnoiter the coast and explore it,
who returned on the day following at nightfall, saying that these inlets
and bays were very large and went so far inland as greatly to impede our
investigations, and that the coast was still at a great distance. Hearing
this and considering how ill-prepared we were for the task, I returned
to where the Governor was. We found him sick, together with many others.
The night before, Indians had made an attack, putting them in great stress,
owing to their enfeebled condition. The Indians had also killed one of
their horses. I reported upon my journey and on the bad condition of the
country. That day we remained there.
On the next day we left Aute and marched (all day) to the spot I had
visited on my last exploration. Our march was extremely difficult, for
neither had we horses enough to carry the sick, nor did we know how to
relieve them. They became worse every day, and our sufferings were afflicting.
There it became manifest how few resources we had for going further, and
even in case we had been provided we did not know where to go; our men
were mostly sick and too much out of condition to be of any use whatever.
I refrain from making a long story of it. Any one can imagine what might
be experienced in a land so strange and so utterly without resources of
any kind, either for stay or for an escape. Nevertheless, since the surest
aid was God, Our Lord, and since we never doubted of it, something happened
that put us in a worse plight yet.
Most of the horsemen began to leave in secret, hoping thus to save themselves,
forsaking the Governor and the sick, who were helpless. Still, as among
them were many of good families and of rank, they would not suffer this
to happen unbeknown to the Governor and Your Majesty's officials, so that,
when we remonstrated, showing at what an unseasonable time they were leaving
their captain and the sick and, above all, forsaking Your Majesty's service,
they concluded to stay, and share the fate of all, without abandoning
one another. The Governor thereupon called them to his presence all together,
and each one in particular, asking their opinion about this dismal country,
so as to be able to get out of it and seek relief, for in that land there
One-third of our people were dangerously ill, getting worse hourly, and
we felt sure of meeting the same fate, with death as our only prospect,
which in such a country was much worse yet. And considering these and
many other inconveniences and that we had tried many expedients, we finally
resorted to a very difficult one, which was to build some craft in which
to leave the land. It seemed impossible, as none of us knew how to construct
ships. We had no tools, no iron, no smithery, no oakum, no pitch, no tackling;
finally, nothing of what was indispensable. Neither was there anybody
to instruct us in shipbuilding, and, above all, there was nothing to eat,
while the work was going on, for those who would have to perform the task.
Considering all this, we agreed to think it over. Our parley ceased for
that day, and everyone went off, leaving it to God, Our Lord, to put him
on the right road according to His pleasure.
The next day God provided that one of the men should come, saying that
he would make wooden flues, and bellows of deerskin, and as we were in
such a state that anything appearing like relief seemed acceptable, we
told him to go to work, and agreed to make of our stirrups, spurs, cross-bows
and other iron implements the nails, saws and hatchets and other tools
we so greatly needed for our purpose.
In order to obtain food while the work proposed was in progress we determined
upon four successive raids into Aute, with all the horses and men that
were fit for service, and that on every third day a horse should be killed
and the meat distributed among those who worked at the barges and among
the sick. The raids were executed with such people and horses as were
able, and they brought as many as four hundred fanegas of maize, although
not without armed opposition from the Indians. We gathered plenty of palmettos,
using their fibre and husk, twisting and preparing it in place of oakum
for the barges. The work on these was done by the only carpenter we had,
and progressed so rapidly that, beginning on the fourth day of August,
on the twentieth day of the month of September, five barges of twenty-two
elbow lengths each were ready, caulked with palmetto oakum and tarred
with pitch, which a Greek called Don Teodoro made from certain pines.
Of the husk of palmettos, and of the tails and manes of the horses we
made ropes and tackles, of our shirts sails, and of the junipers that
grew there we made the oars, which we thought were necessary, and such
was the stress in which our sins had placed us that only with very great
trouble could we find stones for ballast and anchors of the barges, for
we had not seen a stone in the whole country. We flayed the legs of the
horses and tanned the skin to make leather pouches for carrying water.
During that time some of the party went to the coves and inlets for sea-food,
and the Indians surprised them twice, killing ten of our men in plain
view of the camp, without our being able to prevent it. We found them
shot through and through with arrows, for, although several wore good
armor, it was not sufficient to protect them, since, as I said before,
they shot their arrows with such force and precision. According to the
sworn statements of our pilots, we had travelled from the bay, to which
we gave the name of the Cross, to this place, two hundred and eighty leagues,
more or less.
In all these parts we saw no mountains nor heard of any, and before embarking
we had lost over forty men through sickness and hunger, besides those
killed by Indians. On the twenty-second day of the month of September
we had eaten up all the horses but one. We embarked in the following order:
In the barge of the Governor there were forty-nine men, and as many in
the one entrusted to the purser and the commissary. The third barge he
placed in charge of Captain Alonso del Castillo and of Andres Dorantes,
with forty-eight men; in another he placed two captains, named Tellez
and Penalosa, with forty-seven men. The last one he gave to the inspector
and to me, with forty-nine men, and, after clothing and supplies were
put on board, the sides of the barges only rose half a foot above the
water. Besides, we were so crowded as to be unable to stir. So great is
the power of need that it brought us to venture out into such a troublesome
sea in this manner, and without any one among us having the least knowledge
of the art of navigation.
That bay from which we started is called the Bay of the Horses. We sailed
seven days among those inlets, in the water waist deep, without signs
of anything like the coast. At the end of this time we reached an island
near the shore. My barge went ahead, and from it we saw five Indian canoes
coming. The Indians abandoned them and left them in our hands, when they
saw that we approached. The other barges went on and saw some lodges on
the same island, where we found plenty of ruffs and their eggs, dried,
and that was a very great relief in our needy condition. Having taken
them, we went further, and two leagues beyond found a strait between the
island and the coast, which strait we christened Sant Miguel, it being
the day of that saint. Issuing from it we reached the coast, where by
means of the five canoes I had taken from the Indians we mended somewhat
the barges, making washboards and adding to them and raising the sides
two hands above water.
Then we set out to sea again, coasting towards the River of Palms. Every
day our thirst and hunger increased because our supplies were giving out,
as well as the water supply, for the pouches we had made from the legs
of our horses soon became rotten and useless. From time to time we would
enter some inlet or cove that reached very far inland, but we found them
all shallow and dangerous, and so we navigated through them for thirty
days, meeting sometimes Indians who fished and were poor and wretched
At the end of these thirty days, and when we were in extreme need of
water and hugging the coast, we heard one night a canoe approaching. When
we saw it we stopped and waited, but it would not come to us, and, although
we called out, it would neither turn back nor wait. It being night, we
did not follow the canoe, but proceeded. At dawn we saw a small island,
where we touched to search for water, but in vain, as there was none.
While at anchor a great storm overtook us. We remained there six days
without venturing to leave, and it being five days since we had drank
anything our thirst was so great as to compel us to drink salt water,
and several of us took such an excess of it that we lost suddenly five
I tell this briefly, not thinking it necessary to relate in particular
all the distress and hardships we bore. Moreover, if one takes into account
the place we were in and the slight chances of relief he may imagine what
we suffered. Seeing that our thirst was increasing and the water was killing
us, while the storm did not abate, we agreed to trust to God, Our Lord,
and rather risk the perils of the sea than wait there for certain death
from thirst. So we left in the direction we had seen the canoe going on
the night we came here. During this day we found ourselves often on the
verge of drowning and so forlorn that there was none in our company who
did not expect to die at any moment.
It was Our Lord's pleasure, who many a time shows His favor in the hour
of greatest distress, that at sunset we turned a point of land and found
there shelter and much improvement. Many canoes came and the Indians in
them spoke to us, but turned back without waiting. They were tall and
well built, and carried neither bows nor arrows. We followed them to their
lodges, which were nearly along the inlet, and landed, and in front of
the lodges we saw many jars with water, and great quantities of cooked
fish. The Chief of that land offered all to the Governor and led him to
his abode. The dwellings were of matting and seemed to be permanent. When
we entered the home of the chief he gave us plenty of fish, while we gave
him of our maize, which they ate in our presence, asking for more. So
we gave more to them, and the Governor presented him with some trinkets.
While with the cacique at his lodge, half an hour after sunset, the Indians
suddenly fell upon us and upon our sick people on the beach.
They also attacked the house of the cacique, where the Governor was,
wounding him in the face with a stone. Those who were with him seized
the cacique, but as his people were so near he escaped, leaving in our
hands a robe of marten-ermine skin, which, I believe, are the finest in
the world and give out an odor like amber and musk. A single one can be
smelt so far off that it seems as if there were a great many. We saw more
of that kind, but none like these.
Those of us who were there, seeing the Governor hurt, placed him aboard
the barge and provided that most of the men should follow him to the boats.
Some fifty of us remained on land to face the Indians, who attacked thrice
that night, and so furiously as to drive us back every time further than
a stone's throw.
Not one of us escaped unhurt. I was wounded in the face, and if they
had had more arrows ( for only a few were found) without any doubt they
would have done us great harm. At the last onset the Captains Dorantes,
Penalosa and Tellez, with fifteen men, placed themselves in ambush and
attacked them from the rear, causing them to flee and leave us. The next
morning I destroyed more than thirty of their canoes, which served to
protect us against a northern wind then blowing, on account of which we
had to stay there, in the severe cold, not venturing out to sea on account
of the heavy storm. After this we again embarked and navigated for three
days, having taken along but a small supply of water, the vessels we had
for it being few. So we found ourselves in the same plight as before.
Continuing onward, we entered a firth and there saw a canoe with Indians
approaching. As we hailed them they came, and the Governor, whose barge
they neared first, asked them for water. They offered to get some, provided
we gave them something in which to carry it, and a Christian Greek, called
Doroteo Teodoro (who has already been mentioned), said he would go with
them. The Governor and others vainly tried to dissuade him, but he insisted
upon going and went, taking along a negro, while the Indians left two
of their number as hostages. At night the Indians returned and brought
back our vessels, but without water; neither did the Christians return
with them. Those that had remained as hostages, when their people spoke
to them, attempted to throw themselves into the water. But our men in
the barge held them back, and so the other Indians forsook their canoe,
leaving us very despondent and sad for the loss of those two Christians.
In the morning many canoes of Indians came, demanding their two companions,
who had remained in the barge as hostages. The Governor answered that
he would give them up, provided they returned the two Christians. With
those people there came five or six chiefs, who seemed to us to be of
better appearance, greater authority and manner of composure than any
we had yet seen, although not as tall as those of whom we have before
spoken. They wore the hair loose and very long, and were clothed in robes
of marten, of the kind we had obtained previously, some of them done up
in a very strange fashion, because they showed patterns of fawn-colored
furs that looked very well.
They entreated us to go with them, and said that they would give us the
Christians, water and many other things, and more canoes kept coming towards
us, trying to block the mouth of that inlet, and for this reason, as well
as because the land appeared very dangerous to remain in, we took again
to sea, where we stayed with them till noon. And as they would not return
the Christians, and for that reason neither would we give up the Indians,
they began to throw stones at us with slings, and darts, threatening to
shoot arrows, although we did not see more than three or four bows.
While thus engaged the wind freshened and they turned about and left
us. We navigated that day until nightfall, when my bark, which was the
foremost, discovered a promontory made by the coast. At the other end
was a very large river, and at a small island on the point I anchored
to wait for the other barges.
The Governor did not want to touch, but entered a bay close by, where
there were many small islands. There 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, but not finding any firewood, agreed to
go to the river, which was one league from there behind the point. 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. 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. 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.
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.
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
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
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 &emdash; 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
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
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.
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
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, had gone to
feed on oysters at another point of the mainland, 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, where the channel
is broadest. The island is half a league wide and five long.
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. 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.
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. 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.
On the opposite shore we saw Indians who had come to meet those in our
company. They informed us that further on 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 had killed Diego Dorantes, Valdivieso and Diego de Huelva willfully,
only because these had gone from one house to another, and their neighbors
with whom was now the Captain Dorantes, had, in consequence of some dream
dreamt by these Indians, killed Esquivel and Mendez also. We asked them
about those who 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. They also told us that, if we wished to
meet the three Christians about two days hence, the Indians would come
to a place about a league from there on the shore of that river 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 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 remained alone among these Indians,
who are named Guevenes, whereas those with whom he went away were called
Two days after Lope de Oviedo had gone the Indians who kept Alonso del
Castillo and Andres Dorantes came to the very spot we had been told of
to eat the nuts upon which they subsist for two months in the year, 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 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 from that of my Indians.
So the next day they took me along. When I got near the site where they
had their lodges, 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 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 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, they at last determined upon
fleeing, as I would take them safely across the rivers and bays we might
meet. 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 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
Now, at the time they pluck this fruit, other Indians from beyond 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. 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.
And so, being here with them, they 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, all very large and very swift, the barges in which they crossed
were swept out into the sea, where four of their number were drowned.
Thus they went ahead until they had crossed the inlet, which they did
by dint of great efforts. Fifteen leagues from there they met another
of our parties, and when they reached there, already two of their companions
had died in sixty leagues of travel. The survivors also were very near
death. On the whole trip they ate nothing but crawfish and yerba pedrera.
At this, the last cove, they said they saw Indians eating blackberries,
who, upon perceiving the Christians, went away to another promontory.
While seeking a way to cross the cove an Indian and a Christian came towards
them, and they recognized Figueroa, one of the four 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 had
died from cold and hunger, because they had come and remained in the worst
weather known. He also said the Indians took him and Mendez.
While with them Mendez fled, going in the direction of Panuco as best
he might, but the Indians pursued and killed him. So, as he (Figueroa)
was with these same Indians he learned (from them) that with the Mariames
there was a Christian who had come over from the other side and had met
him with those called Guevenes, and that this Christian was Hernando de
Esquivel, from Badajoz, a companion of the commissary. From Esquivel he
learned how the Governor, the purser and the others had ended.
The purser, with the friars, had stranded with their barge among the
rivers, and, while they were proceeding along the coast, the barge of
the Governor and his men came to land also. He (the Governor) then went
with his barge as far as the big cove, whence he returned and took his
men across to the other side, 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, 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 proceeded along the coast, and, being
much impeded by water, built rafts with great trouble, in which they passed
to the other side.
Going ahead, they reached a point of timber on the beach, 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, 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, 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 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
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, 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. 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 "tunas" (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 tunas 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 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 tunas 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 tunas there would still elapse
five or six months, and we had to wait that long.
When the time came, and we went to eat tunas, 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.
When I had been with the Christians for six months, waiting to execute
our plans, the Indians went for "tunas," at a distance of thirty
leagues from there, 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. But God, Our Lord, in His infinite goodness,
protected and saved my life.
When the time for the tunas came we found each other again on the same
spot. 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 tunas
until full moon. It was the first of September 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
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, called Anagados, and
how they had suffered many hardships and been lost. On the following day
our Indians moved 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 we ate tunas 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 tunas, 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, 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, who live nearer the coast, and that they were
those who killed all the people that came in the barge of Penalosa and
Tellez. 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. 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 we recommended ourselves to God, Our Lord, and
fled, hoping that, although it was late in the season and the fruits of
the tunas 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, and, going towards
it, reached the place after sundown, 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 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 bows to ours and barter with
them, and, although of another nation and speech, they understand the
idiom of those with whom we formerly were and had arrived there on that
very day with their lodges. Forthwith they offered us many tunas, 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 tunas and a piece of venison,
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. They replied there were plenty of tunas all through that
country, but that the season was over and nobody there, because all had
gone to their abodes after gathering tunas; 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.
Five days after our arrival they left to get more tunas at a place where
people of a different nation and language lived, and having travelled
five days, suffering greatly from hunger, as on the way there were neither
tunas nor any kind of fruit, we came to a river, where we pitched our
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 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, 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, 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, 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
I went to the brush in the timber near the rivers 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; otherwise I could not have survived.
At the end of five days I reached the shores of a river and there met
my Indians. They, as well as the Christians, had given me up for dead,
thinking that perhaps some snake had bitten me. They all were greatly
pleased to see me, the Christians especially, and told me that thus far
they had wandered about famishing, and therefore had not hunted for me,
and that night they gave me of their tunas. On the next day we left and
went where we found a great many of that fruit with which all appeased
their hunger, and we gave many thanks to Our Lord, whose help to us never
Early the next day many Indians came and brought five people who were
paralyzed and very ill, and they came for Castillo to cure them. Every
one of the patients offered him his bow and arrows, which he accepted,
and by sunset he made the sign of the cross over each of the sick, recommending
them to God, Our Lord, and we all prayed to Him as well as we could to
restore them to health. And He, seeing there was no other way of getting
those people to help us so that we might be saved from our miserable existence,
had mercy upon us, and in the morning all woke up well and hearty and
went away in such good health as if they never had had any ailment whatever.
This caused them great admiration and moved us to thanks to Our Lord and
to greater faith in His goodness and the hope that He would save us, guiding
us to where we could serve Him. For myself I may say that I always had
full faith in His mercy and in that He would liberate me from captivity,
and always told my companions so.
When the Indians had gone and taken along those recently cured, we removed
to others that were eating tunas also, called Cultalchuches and Malicones,
which speak a different language, and with them were others, called Coayos
and Susolas, and on another side those called Atayos, who were at war
with the Susolas, and exchanging arrow shots with them every day.
Nothing was talked about in this whole country but of the wonderful cures
which God, Our Lord, performed through us, and so they came from many
places to be cured, and after having been with us two days some Indians
of the Susolas begged Castillo to go and attend to a man who had been
wounded, as well as to others that were sick and among whom, they said,
was one on the point of death. Castillo was very timid, especially in
difficult and dangerous cases, and always afraid that his sins might interfere
and prevent the cures from being effective. Therefore the Indians told
me to go and perform the cure. They liked me, remembering that I had relieved
them while they were out gathering nuts, for which they had given us nuts
and hides. This had happened at the time I was coming to join the Christians.
So I had to go, and Dorantes and Estevanico went with me.
When I came close to their ranches I saw that the dying man we had been
called to cure was dead, for there were many people around him weeping
and his lodge was torn down, which is a sign that the owner has died.
I found the Indian with eyes up turned, without pulse and with all the
marks of lifelessness. At least so it seemed to me, and Dorantes said
the same. I removed a mat with which he was covered, and as best I could
prayed to Our Lord to restore his health, as well as that of all the others
who might be in need of it, and after having made the sign of the cross
and breathed on him many times they brought his bow and presented it to
me, and a basket of ground tunas, and took me to many others who were
suffering from vertigo. They gave me two more baskets of tunas, which
I left to the Indians that had come with us. Then we returned to our quarters.
Our Indians to whom I had given the tunas remained there, and at night
returned telling, that the dead man whom I attended to in their presence
had resuscitated, rising from his bed, had walked about, eaten and talked
to them, and that all those treated by me were well and in very good spirits.
This caused great surprise and awe, and all over the land nothing else
was spoken of. All who heard it came to us that we might cure them and
bless their children, and when the Indians in our company ( who were the
Cultalchulches) had to return to their country, before parting they offered
us all the tunas they had for their journey, not keeping a single one,
and gave us flint stones as long as one and a-half palms, with which they
cut and that are greatly prized among them. They begged us to remember
them and pray to God to keep them always healthy, which we promised to
do, and so they left, the happiest people upon earth, having given us
the very best they had.
We remained with the Avavares Indians for eight months, according to
our reckoning of the moons. During that time they came for us from many
places and said that verily we were children of the sun. Until then Dorantes
and the negro had not made any cures, but we found ourselves so pressed
by the Indians coming from all sides, that all of us had to become medicine
men. I was the most daring and reckless of all in undertaking cures. We
never treated anyone that did not afterwards say he was well, and they
had such confidence in our skill as to believe that none of them would
die as long as we were among them.
These Indians and the ones we left behind told us a very strange tale.
From their account it may have occurred fifteen or sixteen years ago.
They said there wandered then about the country a man, whom they called
"Bad Thing," of small stature and with a beard, although they
never could see his features clearly, and whenever he would approach their
dwellings their hair would stand on end and they began to tremble. In
the doorway of the lodge there would then appear a firebrand. That man
thereupon came in and took hold of anyone he chose, and with a sharp knife
of flint, as broad as a hand and two palms in length, he cut their side,
and, thrusting his hand through the gash, took out the entrails, cutting
off a piece one palm long, which he threw into the fire. Afterwards he
made three cuts in one of the arms, the second one at the place where
people are usually bled, and twisted the arm, but reset it soon afterwards.
Then he placed his hands on the wounds, and they told us that they closed
at once. Many times he appeared among them while they were dancing, sometimes
in the dress of a woman and again as a man, and whenever he took a notion
to do it he would seize the hut or lodge, take it up into the air and
come down with it again with a great crash. They also told us how, many
a time, they set food before him, but he never would partake of it, and
when they asked him where he came from and where he had his home, he pointed
to a rent in the earth and said his house was down below.
We laughed very much at those stories, making fun of them, and then,
seeing our incredulity they brought to us many of those whom, they said,
he had taken, and we saw the scars of his slashes in the places and as
they told. We told them he was a demon and explained as best we could
that if they would believe in God, Our Lord, and be Christians like ourselves,
they would not have to fear that man, nor would he come and do such things
unto them, and they might be sure that as long as we were in this country
he would not dare to appear again. At this they were greatly pleased and
lost much of their apprehension.
The same Indians told us they had seen the Asturian and Figueroa with
other Indians further along on the coast, which we had named of the figs.
All those people had no reckoning by either sun or moon, nor do they count
by months and years; they judge of the seasons by the ripening of fruits,
by the time when fish die and by the appearance of the stars, in all of
which they are very clever and expert. While with them we were always
well treated, although our food was never too plentiful, and we had to
carry our own water and wood. Their dwellings and their food are like
those of the others, but they are much more exposed to starvation, having
neither maize nor acorns or nuts. We always went about naked like they
and covered ourselves at night with deer skins.
During six of the eighteen months we were with them we suffered much
from hunger, because they do not have fish either. At the end of that
time the tunas began to ripen, and without their noticing it we left and
went to other Indians further ahead called Maliacones, at a distance of
one day's travel. Three days after I and the negro reached there I sent
him back to get Castillo and Dorantes, and after they rejoined me we all
departed in company of the Indians, who went to eat a small fruit of some
trees. On this fruit they subsist for ten or twelve days until the tunas
are fully ripe. There they joined other Indians called Arbadaos, whom
we found to be so sick, emaciated and swollen that we were greatly astonished.
The Indians with whom we had come went back on the same trail, and we
told them that we wished to remain with the others, at which they showed
grief. So we remained with the others in the field near their dwellings.
When the Indians saw us they clustered together, after having talked
among themselves, and each one of them took the one of us whom he claimed
by the hand and they led us to their homes. While with those we suffered
more from hunger than among any of the others. In the course of a whole
day we did not eat more than two handfuls of the fruit, which was green
and contained so much milky juice that our mouths were burnt by it. As
water was very scarce, whoever ate of them became very thirsty. And we
finally grew so hungry that we purchased two dogs, in exchange for nets
and other things, and a hide with which I used to cover myself. I have
said already that through all that country we went naked, and not being
accustomed to it, like snakes we shed our skin twice a year. Exposure
to the sun and air covered our chests and backs with big sores that made
it very painful to carry the big and heavy loads, the ropes of which cut
into the flesh of our arms.
The country is so rough and overgrown that often after we had gathered
firewood in the timber and dragged it out, we would bleed freely from
the thorns and spines which cut and slashed us wherever they touched.
Sometimes it happened that I was unable to carry or drag out the firewood
after I had gathered it with much loss of blood. In all that trouble my
only relief or consolation was to remember the passion of our Saviour,
Jesus Christ, and the blood He shed for me, and to ponder how much greater
His sufferings had been from the thorns, than those I was then enduring.
I made a contract with the Indians to make combs, arrows, bows and nets
for them. Also we made matting of which their lodges are constructed and
of which they are in very great need, for, although they know how to make
it, they do not like to do any work, in order to be able to go in quest
of food. Whenever they work they suffer greatly from hunger.
Again, they would make me scrape skins and tan them, and the greatest
luxury I enjoyed was on the day they would give me a skin to scrape, because
I scraped it very deep in order to eat the parings, which would last me
two or three days. It also happened to us, while being with these Indians
and those before mentioned, that we would eat a piece of meat which they
gave us, raw, because if we broiled it the first Indian coming along would
snatch and eat it; it seemed useless to take any pains, in view of what
we might expect; neither were we particular to go to any trouble in order
to have it broiled and might just as well eat it raw. Such was the life
we led there, and even that scanty maintenance we had to earn through
the objects made by our own hands for barter.
After we had eaten the dogs it seemed to us that we had enough strength
to go further on, so we commended ourselves to the guidance of God, Our
Lord, took leave of these Indians, and they put us on the track of others
of their language who were nearby. While on our way it began to rain and
rained the whole day. We lost the trail and found ourselves in a big forest,
where we gathered plenty of leaves of tunas which we roasted that same
night in an oven made by ourselves, and so much heat did we give them
that in the morning they were fit to be eaten. After eating them we recommended
ourselves to God again, and left, and struck the trail we had lost.
Issuing from the timber, we met other Indian dwellings, where we saw
two women and some boys, who were so frightened at the sight of us that
they fled to the forest to call the men that were in the woods. When these
came they hid behind trees to peep at us. We called them and they approached
in great fear. After we addressed them they told us they were very hungry
and that nearby were many of their own lodges, and they would take us
to them. So that night we reached a site where there were fifty dwellings,
and the people were stupefied at seeing us and showed much fear. After
they had recovered from their astonishment they approached and put their
hands to our faces and bodies also. We stayed there that night, and in
the morning they brought their sick people, begging us to cross them,
and gave us of what they had to eat, which were leaves of tunas and green
For the sake of this good treatment, giving us all they had, content
with being without anything for our sake, we remained with them several
days, and during that time others came from further on. When those were
about to leave we told the first ones that we intended to accompany them.
This made them very sad, and they begged us on their knees not to go.
But we went and left them in tears at our departure, as it pained them
From the Island of Ill-Fate on, all the Indians whom we met as far as
to here have the custom of not cohabiting with their wives when these
are pregnant, and until the child is two years old.
Children are nursed to the age of twelve years, when they are old enough
to gather their own food. We asked them why they brought their children
up in that way and they replied, it was owing to the great scarcity of
food all over that country, since it was common (as we saw) to be without
it two or three days, and even four, and for that reason they nursed the
little ones so long to preserve them from perishing through hunger. And
even if they should survive, they would be very delicate and weak. When
one falls sick he is left to die in the field unless he be somebody's
child. Other invalids, if unable to travel, are abandoned; but a son or
brother is taken along.
There is also a custom for husbands to leave their wives if they do not
agree, and to remarry whom they please; this applies to the young men,
but after they have had children they stay with their women and do not
When, in any village, they quarrel among themselves, they strike and
beat each other until worn out, and only then do they separate. Sometimes
their women step in and separate them, but men never interfere in these
brawls. Nor do they ever use bow and arrow, and after they have fought
and settled the question, they take their lodges and women and go out
into the field to live apart from the others till their anger is over,
and when they are no longer angry and their resentment has passed away
they return to the village and are as friendly again as if nothing had
happened. There is no need of mediation. When the quarrel is between unmarried
people they go to some of the neighbors, who, even if they be enemies,
will receive them well, with great festivities and gifts of what they
have, so that, when pacified, they return to their village wealthy.
They all are warriors and so astute in guarding themselves from an enemy
as if trained in continuous wars and in Italy. When in places where their
enemies can offend them, they set their lodges on the edge of the roughest
and densest timber and dig a trench close to it in which they sleep. The
men at arms are hidden by brushwood and have their loopholes, and are
so well covered and concealed that even at close range they cannot be
To the densest part of the forest they open a very narrow trail and there
arrange a sleeping place for their women and children. As night sets in
they build fires in the lodges, so that if there should be spies about,
these would think the people to sleep there. And before sunrise they light
the same fires again. Now, ditches, without being seen or discovered.
In case there are no forests wherein they can hide thus and prepare their
ambushes, they settle on the plain wherever it appears most appropriate,
surrounding the place with trenches protected by brushwood. In these they
open loopholes through which they can reach the enemy with arrows, and
those parapets they build for the night. While I was with the Aguenes
and these not on their guard, their enemies surprised them at midnight,
killing three and wounding a number, so that they fled from their houses
to the forest. As soon, however, as they noticed that the others had gone
they went back, picked up all the arrows the others had spent and left
and followed them as stealthily as possible. That same night they reached
the others' dwellings unnoticed, and at sunrise attacked, killing five,
besides wounding a great many. The rest made their escape, leaving homes
and bows behind, with all their other belongings.
A short time after this the women of those calling themselves Guevenes
came, held a parley and made them friends again, but sometimes women are
also the cause of war. All those people when they have personal questions
and are not of one family, kill each other in a treacherous way and deal
most cruelly with one another.
Those Indians are the readiest people with their weapons of all I have
seen in the world, for when they suspect the approach of an enemy they
lie awake all night with their bows within reach and a dozen of arrows,
and before one goes to sleep he tries his bow, and should the string not
be to his liking he arranges it until it suits him. Often they crawl out
of their dwellings so as not to be seen and look and spy in every direction
after danger, and if they detect anything, in less than no time are they
all out in the field with their bows and arrows. Thus they remain until
daybreak, running hither and thither whenever they see danger or suspect
their enemies might approach. When day comes they unstring their bows
until they go hunting.
The strings of their bows are made of deer sinews. They fight in a crouching
posture, and while shooting at each other talk and dart from one side
to the other to dodge the arrows of the foe. In this way they receive
little damage from our crossbows and muskets. On the contrary, the Indians
laugh at those weapons, because they are not dangerous to them on the
plains over which they roam. They are only good in narrows and in swamps.
Horses are what the Indians dread most, and by means of which they will
Whoever has to fight Indians must take great care not to let them think
he is disheartened or that he covets what they own; in war they must be
treated very harshly, for should they notice either fear or greed, they
are the people who know how to abide their time for revenge and to take
courage from the fears of their enemy. After spending all their arrows,
they part, going each their own way, and without attempting pursuit, although
one side might have more men than the other; such is their custom.
Many times they are shot through and through with arrows, but do not
die from the wounds as long as the bowels or heart are not touched; on
the contrary, they recover quickly. Their eyesight, hearing and senses
in general are better, I believe, than those of any other men upon earth.
They can stand, and have to stand, much hunger, thirst and cold, being
more accustomed and used to it than others. This I wished to state here,
since, besides that all men are curious to know the habits and devices
of others, such as might come in contact with those people should be informed
of their customs and deeds, which will be of no small profit to them.
I also do wish to tell of the nations and languages met with from the
Island of Ill-Fate to the last ones, the Cuchendados. On the Island of
Ill-Fate two languages are spoken, the ones they call Capoques, the others
Han. On the mainland, facing the island, are others, called of Charruco,
who take their name from the woods in which they live. Further on, along
the seashore, are others, who call themselves Deguenes, and in front of
them others named those of Mendica. Further on, on the coast, are the
Quevenes, in front further inland the Mariames, and following the coast
we come to the Guaycones, and in front of them inland the Yeguaces. After
those come the Atayos, and behind them others, called Decubadaos, of whom
there are a great many further on in this direction. On the coast live
the Quitoles, and in front of them, inland, the Chauauares. These are
joined by the Maliacones and the Cultalchulches and others called Susola
and Comos, ahead on the coast are the Camolas, and further on those whom
we call the people of the figs.
All those people have homes and villages and speak different languages.
Among them is a language wherein they call men mira aca, arraca, and dogs
In this whole country they make themselves drunk by a certain smoke for
which they give all they have. They also drink something which they extract
from leaves of trees, like unto water-oak, toasting them on the fire in
a vessel like a low-necked bottle. When the leaves are toasted they fill
the vessel with water and hold it over the fire so long until it has thrice
boiled; then they pour the liquid into a bowl made of a gourd cut in twain.
As soon as there is much foam on it they drink it as hot as they can stand,
and from the time they take it out of the first vessel until they drink
they shout, "Who wants to drink ?" When the women hear this
they stand still at once, and although they carry a very heavy load do
not dare to move. Should one of them stir, she is dishonored and beaten.
In a great rage they spill the liquid they have prepared and spit out
what they drank, easily and without pain. The reason for this custom,
they say, is that when they want to drink that water and the women stir
from the spot where they first hear the shouts, an evil substance gets
into the liquid that penetrates their bodies, causing them to die before
long. All the time the water boils the vessel must be kept covered. Should
it be uncovered while a woman comes along they pour it out and do not
drink of it. It is yellow and they drink it for three days without partaking
of any food, each consuming an arroba and a half every day.
When the women are ill they only seek food for themselves, because nobody
else eats of what they bring.
During the time I was among them I saw something very repulsive, namely,
a man married to another. Such are impotent and womanish beings, who dress
like women and perform the office of women, but use the bow and carry
big loads. Among these Indians we saw many of them; they are more robust
than the other men, taller, and can bear heavy burthens.
After parting from those we had left in tears, we went with the others
to their homes and were very well received. They brought us their children
to touch, and gave us much mesquite-meal. This mezquiquez is a fruit which,
while on the tree, is very bitter and like the carob bean. It is eaten
with earth and then becomes sweet and very palatable. The way they prepare
it is to dig a hole in the ground, of the depth it suits them, and after
the fruit is put in that hole, with a piece of wood, the thickness of
a leg and one and a half fathoms long they pound it to a meal, and to
the earth that mixes with it in the hole they add several handfuls and
pound again for a while. After that they empty it into a vessel, like
a small, round basket, and pour in enough water to cover it fully, so
that there is water on top. Then the one who has done the pounding tastes
it, and if it appears to him not sweet enough he calls for more earth
to add, and this he does until it suits his taste. Then all squat around
and every one reaches out with his hand and takes as much as he can. The
seeds and peelings they set apart on hides, and the one who has done the
pounding throws them back into the vessel, pouring water over them again.
They squeeze out the juice and water, and the husks and seeds they again
put on hides, repeating the operation three or four times at every pounding.
Those who take part in that banquet, which is for them a great occasion,
get very big bellies from the earth and water they swallow.
Now, of this, the Indians made a great feast in our behalf, and danced
and celebrated all the time we were with them. And at night six Indians,
to each one of us, kept watch at the entrance to the lodge we slept in,
without allowing anybody to enter before sunrise.
When we were about to leave some women happened to come, that belonged
to Indians living further on, and, informing ourselves where their abodes
were, we left, although the Indians entreated us to remain a day longer,
since the place we wanted to go to was very far away, and there was no
trail to it. They showed us how the women who had just arrived were tired,
but that if we would let them rest until the next day, they then would
accompany and guide us. We left, nevertheless, and soon the women followed
with others of the village.
There being no trails in that country, we soon lost our way. At the end
of four leagues we reached a spring, and there met the women who had followed
us, and who told us of all they had gone through until they fell in with
us again. We went on, taking them along as guides.
In the afternoon we crossed a big river, the water being more than waist-deep.
It may have been as wide as the one of Sevilla, and had a swift current.
At sunset we reached a hundred Indian huts and, as we approached, the
people came out to receive us, shouting frightfully, and slapping their
thighs. They carried perforated gourds filled with pebbles, which are
ceremonial objects of great importance. They only use them at dances,
or as medicine, to cure, and nobody dares touch them but themselves. They
claim that those gourds have healing virtues, and that they come from
Heaven, not being found in that country; nor do they know where they come
from, except that the rivers carry them down when they rise and overflow
So great was their excitement and eagerness to touch us that, every one
wanting to be first, they nearly squeezed us to death, and, without suffering
our feet to touch the ground, carried us to their abodes. So many crowded
down upon us that we took refuge in the lodges they had prepared for our
accommodation, and in no manner consented to be feasted by them on that
The whole night they spent in celebration and dancing, and the next morning
they brought us every living soul of that village to be touched by us
and to have the cross made over them, as with the others. Then they gave
to the women of the other village who had come with their own a great
many arrows. The next day we went on, and all the people of that village
with us, and when we came to other Indians were as well received as anywhere
in the past; they also gave us of what they had and the deer they had
killed during the day. Among these we saw a new custom. Those who were
with us took away from those people who came to get cured their bows and
arrows, their shoes and beads, if they wore any, and placed them before
us to induce us to cure the sick. As soon as these had been treated they
went away contented and saying they felt well.
So we left there also, going to others, by whom we were also very well
received, and they brought us their sick, who, after we had made the sign
of the cross over them, would say they were healed, and he who did not
get well still believed we might cure him. And at what the others whom
we had treated told they rejoiced and danced so much as not to let us
After we left those we went to many other lodges, but thence on there
prevailed a new custom. While we were received very well everywhere, those
who came with us would treat those who received us badly, taking away
their belongings and plundering their homes, without leaving them anything.
It grieved us very much to see how those who were so good to us were abused.
Besides, we dreaded lest this behavior might cause trouble and strife.
But as we could not venture to interfere or punish the transgressors,
we had to wait until we might have more authority over them. Furthermore,
the sufferers themselves, noticing how we felt, comforted us by saying
we should not worry; that they were so happy at seeing us as to gladly
lose their own, considering it to be well employed, and besides, that
further on they would repay themselves from other Indians who were very
rich. On that whole journey we were much worried by the number of people
following us. We could not escape them, although we tried, because they
were so anxious to touch us, and so obtrusive that in three hours we could
not get through with them.
The following day they brought us all the people of the village; most
of them had one eye clouded, while others were totally blind from the
same cause, at which we were amazed. They are well built, of very good
physique, and whiter than any we had met until then. There we began to
see mountains, and it seemed as if they swept down from the direction
of the North Sea, and so, from what the Indians told us, we believe they
are fifteen leagues from the ocean.
From there we went with the Indians towards the mountains aforesaid,
and they took us to some of their relatives. They did not want to lead
us anywhere but to their own people, so as to prevent their enemies having
any share in the great boon which, as they fancied, it was to see us.
And as soon as we would arrive those that went with us would sack the
houses of the others; but as these knew of the custom before our coming,
they hid some of their chattels, and, after receiving us with much rejoicing,
they took out the things which they had concealed and presented them to
us. These were beads and ochre, and several little bags of silver. We,
following the custom, turned the gifts immediately over to the Indians
who had come in our company, and after they had given these presents they
began their dances and celebrations, and sent for others from another
village near by to come and look at us. In the afternoon they all came,
and brought us beads, bows, and other little things, which we also distributed.
The next day, as we were going to leave, they all wanted to take us to
others of their friends, who dwelt on a spur of the mountains. They said
there were a great many lodges, and people who would give us much, but,
as it was out of our way, we did not want to go there, and continued on
the plain, though near the mountains, thinking them to be not far from
the coast. All the people there are very bad, and we preferred to cross
the country, as further inland they were better inclined, and treated
us better. We also felt sure to find the country more thickly settled
and with more resources. Finally, we did it because, in crossing the country,
we would see much more of its particulars, so that, in case God our Lord
should be pleased to spare one of us and take him back to a land of Christians,
he might give an account of it.
When the Indians saw we were determined not to go whither they wanted,
they said that nobody lived where we intended to go, neither were there
tunas nor any other food, and they entreated us to tarry one day longer
with them, to which we consented. Two Indians were sent out to look for
people on our proposed route.
The next day we departed, taking many of them along, the women carrying
water, and so great had become our authority that none dared to drink
without our permission. After going two leagues we met the men sent out
in search of people, but who had not found any. At this the Indians seemed
to show grief, and again begged us to take the way of the mountains, but
we persisted, and, seeing this, they took mournful leave of us and turned
back down the river to their homes, while we proceeded along the stream
Soon we met two women carrying loads. As they descried us they stood
still, put down their loads, and brought us of what these contained, which
was cornmeal, and told us that higher up on the river we would meet with
dwellings, plenty of tunas, and of that same meat. We left them as they
were going to those from whom we had just taken leave, and walked on until
at sunset we reached a village of about twenty lodges, where they received
us with tears and deep sorrow. They already knew that, wherever we arrived,
the people would be robbed and plundered by those in our company. But,
seeing us alone, they lost their fear, and gave us tunas, though nothing
else. We stayed there over night.
At daybreak the same Indians we had left the day before surprised the
lodges, and, as the people were unprepared, in fancied security, and had
neither time nor place to hide anything, they were stripped of all their
chattels, at which they wept bitterly. In consolation, the robbers told
them that we were children of the sun, and had the power to cure or kill,
and other lies, bigger even than those which they invent to suit their
purposes. They also enjoined them to treat us with great reverence, and
be careful not to arouse our wrath; to give us all they had and guide
us to where there were many people, and that wherever we should come to
they should steal and rob everything the others had, such being the custom.
After giving these instructions, and teaching the people how to behave,
they returned, and left us with these Indians, who, mindful of what the
others had said, began to treat us with the same respect and awe, and
we travelled in their company for three days. They took us to where there
were many Indians, and went ahead to tell them of our coming, repeating
what they had heard and adding much more to it, for all these Indians
are great gossipers and liars, particularly when they think it to be to
their benefit. As we neared the lodges all the inmates came out to receive
us, with much rejoicing and display, and, among other things, two of their
medicine-men gave us two gourds. Thence onward we carried gourds, which
added greatly to our authority, since they hold these ceremonial objects
very high. Our companions sacked the dwellings, but as there were many
and they only few in number, they could not carry away all they took,
so that more than half was left to waste. Thence we turned inland for
more than fifty leagues, following the slopes of the mountains, and at
the end of them met forty dwellings.
There, among other things which they gave us, Andres Dorantes got a big
rattle of copper, large, on which was represented a face, and which they
held in great esteem. They said it had been obtained from some of their
neighbors. Upon asking these whence it had come, they claimed to have
brought it from the north, where there was much of it and highly prized.
We understood that, wherever it might have come from, there must be foundries,
and that metal was cast in molds. Leaving on the next day, we crossed
a mountain seven leagues long, the stones of which were iron slags. At
night we came to many dwellings, situated on the banks of a very beautiful
The inmates of these abodes came to receive us halfways, with their children
on their backs. They gave us a number of pouches with silver and powdered
antimony (or lead), with which they paint their faces, and many beads
and robes of cow-skins, and loaded those who came with us with all their
chattels. These people ate tunas and pine-nuts; there are in that country
small trees of the sweet pine, the cones of which are like small eggs,
but the nuts are better than those of Castilla, because the husks are
thin. When still green they grind them and make balls that are eaten.
When dried they grind the nuts with the husks, and eat them as meal. And
those who received us, as soon as they had touched our bodies, returned
to their houses on a run, then came again, and never stopped running back
and forth. In this way they brought us a great many things for our journey.
Here they brought to me a man who, they told, a long time ago had been
shot through the left side of the back with an arrow, the head of which
stuck close to his heart. He said it gave him much pain, and that on this
account he was sick. I touched the region of the body and felt the arrowhead,
and that it had pierced the cartilage. So, with a knife, I cut open the
breast as far as the place. The arrow point had gotten athwart, and was
very difficult to remove. By cutting deeper, and inserting the point of
the knife, with great difficulty I got it out; it was very long. Then,
with a deer-bone, according to my knowledge of surgery, I made two stitches.
After I had extracted the arrow they begged me for it, and I gave it to
them. The whole village came back to look at it, and they sent it further
inland that the people there might see it also.
On account of this cure they made many dances and festivities, as is
their custom. The next day I cut the stitches, and the Indian was well.
The cut I had made only showed a scar like a line in the palm of the hand,
and he said that he felt not the least pain.
Now, this cure gave us such fame among them all over the country as they
were capable of conceiving and respecting. We showed them our rattle,
and they told us that where it had come from there were a great many sheets
of the same (metal) buried, that it was a thing they valued highly, and
that there were fixed abodes at the place. We believe it to be near the
South Sea, for we always heard that sea was richer (in metal) than the
one of the north.
After leaving these people we travelled among so many different tribes
and languages that nobody's memory can recall them all, and always they
robbed each other; but those who lost and those who gained were equally
content. The number of our companions became so large that we could no
longer control them.
Going through these valleys each Indian carried a club three palms in
length. They all moved in a front, and whenever a hare (of which there
are many) jumped up they closed in upon the game, and rained such blows
upon it that it was amazing to see. Thus they drove the hare from one
to the other, and, to my fancy, it was the most agreeable chase that could
be thought of, for many a time they would come right to one's hands; and
when at night we camped they had given us so many that each one of us
had eight or ten loads. Those of the Indians who carried bows would not
take part, but went to the mountains after deer, and when at night they
came back it was with five or six deer for each one of us, with birds,
quails, and other game; in short, all those people could kill they set
before us, without ever daring to touch anything, even if dying of hunger,
unless we blessed it first. Such was their custom from the time they joined
The women brought many mats, with which they built us houses, one for
each of us and those attached to him. After this we would order them to
broil all the game, and they did it quickly in ovens built by them for
the purpose. We partook of everything a little, giving the rest to the
principal man among those who had come with us for distribution among
all. Every one then came with the share he had received for us to breathe
on it and bless it, without which they left it untouched. Often we had
with us three to four thousand persons. And it was very tiresome to have
to breathe on and make the sign of the cross over every morsel they ate
or drank. For many other things which they wanted to do they would come
to ask our permission, so that it is easy to realize how greatly we were
bothered. The women brought us tunas, spiders, worms, and whatever else
they could find, for they would rather starve than partake of anything
that had not first passed through our hands.
While travelling with those, we crossed a big river coming from the north
and, traversing about thirty leagues of plains, met a number of people
that came from afar to meet us on the trail, who treated us like the foregoing
Thence on there was a change in the manner of reception, insofar as those
who would meet us on the trail with gifts were no longer robbed by the
Indians of our company, but after we had entered their homes they tendered
us all they possessed, and the dwellings also. We turned over everything
to the principals for distribution. Invariably those who had been deprived
of their belongings would follow us, in order to repair their losses,
so that our retinue became very large. They would tell them to be careful
and not conceal anything of what they owned, as it could not be done without
our knowledge, and then we would cause their death. So much did they frighten
them that on the first few days after joining us they would be trembling
all the time, and would not dare to speak or lift their eyes to Heaven.
Those guided us for more than fifty leagues through a desert of very
rugged mountains, and so arid that there was no game. Consequently we
suffered much from lack of food., and finally forded a very big river,
with its water reaching to our chest. Thence on many of our people began
to show the effects of the hunger and hardships they had undergone in
those mountains, which were extremely barren and tiresome to travel.
The same Indians led us to a plain beyond the chain of mountains, where
people came to meet us from a long distance. By those we were treated
in the same manner as before, and they made so many presents to the Indians
who came with us that, unable to carry all, they left half of it. We told
the givers to take it back, so as not to have it lost, but they refused,
saying it was not their custom to take back what they had once offered,
and so it was left to waste. We told these people our route was towards
sunset, and they replied that in that direction people lived very far
away. So we ordered them to send there and inform the inhabitants that
we were coming and how. From this they begged to be excused, because the
others were their enemies, and they did not want us to go to them. Yet
they did not venture to disobey in the end, and sent two women, one of
their own and the other a captive. They selected women because these can
trade everywhere, even if there be war.
We followed the women to a place where it had been agreed we should wait
for them. After five days they had not yet returned, and the Indians explained
that it might be because they had not found anybody. So we told them to
take us north, and they repeated that there were no people, except very
far away, and neither food nor water. Nevertheless we insisted, saying
that we wanted to go there, and they still excused themselves as best
they could, until at last we became angry.
One night I went away to sleep out in the field apart from them; but
they soon came to where I was, and remained awake all night in great alarm,
talking to me, saying how frightened they were. They entreated us not
to be angry any longer, because, even if it was their death, they would
take us where we chose. We feigned to be angry still, so as to keep them
in suspense, and then a singular thing happened.
On that same day many fell sick, and on the next day eight of them died!
All over the country, where it was known, they became so afraid that it
seemed as if the mere sight of us would kill them. They besought us not
to be angry nor to procure the death of any more of their number, for
they were convinced that we killed them by merely thinking of it. In truth,
we were very much concerned about it, for, seeing the great mortality,
we dreaded that all of them might die or forsake us in their terror, while
those further on, upon learning of it, would get out of our way hereafter.
We prayed to God our Lord to assist us, and the sick began to get well.
Then we saw something that astonished us very much, and it was that, while
the parents, brothers and wives of the dead had shown deep grief at their
illness, from the moment they died the survivors made no demonstration
whatsoever, and showed not the slightest feeling; nor did they dare to
go near the bodies until we ordered their burial.
In more than fifteen days that we remained with them we never saw them
talk together, neither did we see a child that laughed or cried. One child,
who had begun to cry, was carried off some distance, and with some very
sharp mice-teeth they scratched it from the shoulders down to nearly the
legs. Angered by this act of cruelty, I took them to task for it, and
they said it was done to punish the child for having wept in my presence.
Their apprehensions caused the others that came to see us to give us what
they had, since they knew that we did not take anything for ourselves,
but left it all to the Indians.
Those were the most docile people we met in the country, of the best
complexion, and on the whole well built.
The sick being on the way of recovery, when we had been there already
three days, the women whom we had sent out returned, saying that they
had met very few people, nearly all having gone after the cows, as it
was the season. So we ordered those who had been sick to remain, and those
who were well to accompany us, and that, two days' travel from there,
the same women should go with us and get people to come to meet us on
the trail for our reception.
The next morning all those who were strong enough came along, and at
the end of three journeys we halted. Alonso del Castillo and Estevanico,
the negro, left with the women as guides, and the woman who was a captive
took them to a river that flows between mountains, where there was a village,
in which her father lived, and these were the first abodes we saw that
were like unto real houses. Castillo and Estevanico went to these and,
after holding parley with the Indians, at the end of three days Castillo
returned to where he had left us, bringing with him five or six of the
Indians. He told how he had found permanent houses, inhabited, the people
of which ate beans and squashes, and that he had also seen maize.
Of all things upon earth this caused us the greatest pleasure, and we
gave endless thanks to our Lord for this news. Castillo said that the
negro was coming to meet us on the way, near by, with all the people of
the houses. For that reason we started, and after going a league and a
half met the negro and the people that came to receive us, who gave us
beans and many squashes to eat, gourds to carry water in, robes of cowhide,
and other things. As those people and the Indians of our company were
enemies, and did not understand each other, we took leave of the latter,
leaving them all that had been given to us, while we went on with the
former and, six leagues beyond, when night was already approaching, reached
their houses, where they received us with great ceremonies. Here we remained
one day, and left on the next, taking them with us to other permanent
houses, where they subsisted on the same food also, and thence on we found
a new custom.
The people who heard of our approach did not, as before, come out to
meet us on the way, but we found them at their homes, and they had other
houses ready for us. They were all seated with their faces turned to the
wall, the heads bowed and the hair pulled over the eyes. Their belongings
had been gathered in a heap in the middle of the floor, and thence on
they began to give us many robes of skins. There was nothing they would
not give us. They are the best formed people we have seen, the liveliest
and most capable; who best understood us and answered our questions. We
called them "of the cows," because most of the cows die near
therein and because for more than fifty leagues up that stream they go
to kill many of them. Those people go completely naked, after the manner
of the first we met. The women are covered with deer-skins, also some
men, especially the old ones, who are of no use any more in war.
The country is well settled. We asked them why they did not raise maize,
and they replied that they were afraid of losing the crops, since for
two successive years it had not rained, and the seasons were so dry that
the moles had eaten the corn, so that they did not dare to plant any more
until it should have rained very hard. And they also begged us to ask
Heaven for rain, which we promised to do. We also wanted to know from
where they brought their maize, and they said it came from where the sun
sets, and that it was found all over that country, and the shortest way
to it was in that direction. We asked them to tell us how to go, as they
did not want to go themselves, to tell us about the way.
They said we should travel up the river towards the north, on which trail
for seventeen days we would not find a thing to eat except a fruit called
chacan, which they grind between stones; but even then it cannot be eaten,
being so coarse and dry; and so it was, for they showed it to us and we
could not eat it. But they also said that, going upstream, we would always
travel among people who were their enemies, although speaking the same
language, and who could give us no food, but would receive us very willingly,
and give us many cotton blankets, hides and other things; but that it
seemed to them that we ought not to take that road.
In doubt as to what should be done, and which was the best and most advantageous
road to take, we remained with them for two days. They gave us beans,
squashes and calabashes. Their way of cooking them is so new and strange
that I felt like describing it here, in order to show how different and
queer are the devices and industries of human beings. They have no pots.
In order to cook their food they fill a middle-sized gourd with water,
and place into a fire such stones as easily become heated, and when they
are hot to scorch they take them out with wooden tongs, thrusting them
into the water of the gourd, until it boils. As soon as it boils they
put into it what they want to cook, always taking out the stones as they
cool off and throwing in hot ones to keep the water steadily boiling.
This is their way of cooking.
After two days were past we determined to go in search of maize, and
not to follow the road to the cows, since the latter carried us to the
north, which meant a very great circuit, as we held it always certain
that by going towards sunset we should reach the goal of our wishes.
So we went on our way and traversed the whole country to the South Sea,
and our resolution was not shaken by the fear of great starvation, which
the Indians said we should suffer (and indeed suffered) during the first
seventeen days of travel. All along the river, and in the course of these
seventeen days we received plenty of cowhides, and did not eat of their
famous fruit (chacan) but our food consisted (for each day) of a handful
of deer-tallow, which for that purpose we always sought to keep, and so
endured these seventeen days, at the end of which we crossed the river
and marched for seventeen days more. At sunset, on a plain between very
high mountains, we met people who, for one-third of the year, eat but
powdered straw, and as we went by just at that time, had to eat it also,
until, at the end of that journey we found some permanent houses, with
plenty of harvested maize, of which and of its meal they gave us great
quantities, also squashes and beans, and blankets of cotton, with all
of which we loaded those who had conducted us thither, so that they went
home the most contented people upon earth. We gave God our Lord many thanks
for having taken us where there was plenty to eat.
Among the houses there were several made of earth, and others of cane
matting; and from here we travelled more than a hundred leagues, always
meeting permanent houses and a great stock of maize and beans, and they
gave us many deer (-hides?) and blankets of cotton better than those of
New Spain. They also gave us plenty of beads made out of the coral found
in the South Sea; many good turquoises, which they get from the north;
they finally gave us all they had; and Dorantes they presented with five
emeralds, shaped as arrow-points, which arrows they use in their feasts
and dances. As they appeared to be of very good quality, I asked whence
they got them from, and they said it was from some very high mountains
toward the north, where they traded for them with feather-bushes and parrot-plumes,
and they said also that there were villages with many people and very
Among those people we found the women better treated than in any other
part of the Indies as far as we have seen. They wear skirts of cotton
that reach as far as the knee, and over them half-sleeves of scraped deerskin,
with strips that hang down to the ground, and which they clean with certain
roots, that clean very well and thus keep them tidy. The shirts are open
in front and tied with strings; they wear shoes.
All those people came to us that we might touch and cross them; and they
were so obtrusive as to make it difficult to endure since all, sick and
healthy, wanted to be crossed. It happened frequently that women of our
company would give birth to children and forthwith bring them to have
the sign of the cross made over them and the babes be touched by us. They
always accompanied us until we were again in the care of others, and all
those people believed that we came from Heaven. What they do not understand
or is new to them they are wont to say it comes from above.
While travelling with these we used to go the whole day without food,
until night, and then we would eat so little that the Indians were amazed.
They never saw us tired, because we were, in reality, so inured to hardships
as not to feel them any more. We exercised great authority over them,
and carried ourselves with much gravity, and, in order to maintain it,
spoke very little to them. It was the negro who talked to them all the
time; he inquired about the road we should follow, the villages &emdash;
in short, about everything we wished to know. We came across a great variety
and number of languages, and God our Lord favored us with a knowledge
of all, because they always could understand us and we understood them,
so that when we asked they would answer by signs, as if they spoke our
tongue and we theirs; for, although we spoke six languages, not everywhere
could we use them, since we found more than a thousand different ones.
In that part of the country those who were at war would at once make peace
and become friendly to each other, in order to meet us and bring us all
they possessed; and thus we left the whole country at peace.
We told them, by signs which they understood, that in Heaven there was
a man called God, by us, who had created Heaven and earth, and whom we
worshipped as our Lord; that we did as he ordered us to do, all good things
coming from his hand, and that if they were to do the same they would
become very happy; and so well were they inclined that, had there been
a language in which we could have made ourselves perfectly understood,
we would have left them all Christians. All this we gave them to understand
as clearly as possible, and since then, when the sun rose, with great
shouting they would lift their clasped hands to Heaven and then pass them
all over their body. The same they did at sunset. They are well conditioned
people, apt to follow any line which is well traced for them.
In the village where they had given us the emeralds, they also gave Dorantes
over six hundred hearts of deer, opened, of which they kept always a great
store for eating. For this reason we gave to their settlement the name
of "village of the hearts." Through it leads the pass into many
provinces near the South Sea, and any one who should attempt to get there
by another route must surely be lost, as there is no maize on the coast,
and they eat powdered fox-tail grass, straw, and fish, which they catch
in the sea in rafts, for they have no canoes. The women cover their loins
with straw and grass. They are a very shy and surly people.
We believe that, near the coast, in a line with the villages which we
followed, there are more than a thousand leagues of inhabited land, where
they have plenty of victuals, since they raise three crops of beans and
maize in the year. There are three kinds of deer, one kind as large as
calves are in Castilla. The houses in which they live are huts. They have
a poison, from certain trees of the size of our apple trees. They need
but pick the fruit and rub their arrows with it; and if there is no fruit
they take a branch and with its milky sap do the same. Many of those trees
are so poisonous that if the leaves are pounded and washed in water near
by, the deer, or any other animal that drinks of it burst at once. In
this village we stayed three days, and at a day's journey from it was
another one, where such a rain overtook us that, as the river rose high,
we could not cross it, and remained there fifteen days.
During this time Castillo saw, on the neck of an Indian, a little buckle
from a swordbelt, and in it was sewed a horseshoe nail. He took it from
the Indian, and we asked what it was; they said it had come from Heaven.
We further asked who had brought it, and they answered that some men,
with beards like ours, had come from Heaven to that river; that they had
horses, lances and swords, and had lanced two of them.
As cautiously as possible, we then inquired what had become of those
men; and they replied they had gone to sea, putting their lances into
the water and going into it themselves, and that afterwards they saw them
on top of the waves moving towards sunset.
We gave God our Lord many thanks for what we had heard, for we were despairing
to ever hear of Christians again. On the other hand, we were in great
sorrow and much dejected, lest those people had come by sea for the sake
of discovery only. Finally, having such positive notice of them, we hastened
onward, always finding more traces of the Christians, and we told the
Indians that we were now sure to find the Christians, and would tell them
not to kill Indians or make them slaves, nor take them out of their country,
or do any other harm, and of that they were very glad.
We travelled over a great part of the country, and found it all deserted,
as the people had fled to the mountains, leaving houses and fields out
of fear of the Christians. This filled our hearts with sorrow, seeing
the land so fertile and beautiful, so full of water and streams, but abandoned
and the places burned down, and the people, so thin and wan, fleeing and
hiding; and as they did not raise any crops their destitution had become
so great that they ate tree-bark and roots. Of this distress we had our
share all the way along, because they could provide little for us in their
indigence, and it looked as if they were going to die. They brought us
blankets, which they had been concealing from the Christians, and gave
them to us, and told us how the Christians had penetrated into the country
before, and had destroyed and burnt the villages, taking with them half
of the men and all the women and children, and how those who could escaped
by flight. Seeing them in this plight, afraid to stay anywhere, and that
they neither would nor could cultivate the soil, preferring to die rather
than suffer such cruelties, while they showed the greatest pleasure at
being with us, we began to apprehend that the Indians who were in arms
against the Christians might ill-treat us in retaliation for what the
Christians did to them. But when it pleased God our Lord to take us to
those Indians, they respected us and held us precious, as the former had
done, and even a little more, at which we were not a little astonished,
while it clearly shows how, in order to bring those people to Christianity
and obedience unto Your Imperial Majesty, they should be well treated,
and not otherwise.
They took us to a village on the crest of a mountain, which can be reached
only by a very steep trail, where we found a great many people, who had
gathered there out of dread of the Christians. These received us very
well, giving us all they had: over two thousand loads of maize, which
we distributed among the poor, famished people who had led us to the place.
The next day we dispatched (as we were wont to do) four runners, to call
together as many as could be reached, to a village three journeys away;
and on the next day we followed with all the people that were at the place,
always meeting with signs and vestiges where the Christians had slept.
At noon we met our messengers, who told us they had not found anybody,
because all were hidden in the woods, lest the Christians might kill or
enslave them; also that, on the night before, they had seen the Christians
and watched their movements, under cover of some trees, behind which they
concealed themselves, and saw the Christians take many Indians along in
chains. At this the people who were with us became frightened, and some
turned back to give the alarm through the land that Christians were coming,
and many more would have done the same had we not told them to stay and
have no fear, at which they quieted down and were comforted. We had Indians
with us at the time who came from a distance of a hundred leagues, and
whom we could not induce to go back to their homes. So, in order to reassure
them, we slept there that night and the next day went further, and slept
on the road; and the day after those we had sent to explore guided us
to where they had seen the Christians. Reaching the place in the evening,
we clearly saw they had told the truth, and also, from the stakes to which
the horses had been tied, that there were horsemen among them.
From here, which is called the river of Petutan, to the river which Diego
de Guzman reached, there may be, from the place where we first heard of
the Christians, eighty leagues; then to the village where the rain overtook
us, twelve leagues; and from there to the South Sea twelve leagues. Throughout
all that country, wherever it is mountainous, we saw many signs of gold,
antimony, iron, copper and other metals. Where the permanent houses are
it is so hot that even in January the air is very warm. From there to
the southward the land, which is uninhabited as far as the Sea of the
North, is very barren and poor. There we suffered great and almost incredible
starvation; and those who roam through that country and dwell in it are
very cruel people, of evil inclinations and habits. The Indians who live
in permanent houses and those in the rear of them pay not attention to
gold nor silver, nor have they any use for either of these metals.
Having seen positive traces of Christians and become satisfied they were
very near, we gave many thanks to our Lord for redeeming us from our sad
and gloomy condition. Any one can imagine our delight when he reflects
how long we had been in that land, and how many dangers and hardships
we had suffered. That night I entreated one of my companions to go after
the Christians, who were moving through the part of the country pacified
and quieted by us, and who were three days ahead of where we were. They
did not like my suggestion, and excused themselves from going, on the
ground of being tired and worn out, although any of them might have done
it far better than I, being younger and stronger.
Seeing their reluctance, in the morning I took with me the negro and
eleven Indians and, following the trail, went in search of the Christians.
On that day we made ten leagues, passing three places where they had slept.
The next morning I came upon four Christians on horseback, who, seeing
me in such a strange attire, and in company with Indians, were greatly
startled. They stared at me for quite a while, speechless; so great was
their surprise that they could not find words to ask me anything. I spoke
first, and told them to lead me to their captain, and we went together
to Diego de Alcaraza, their commander.
After I had addressed him he said that he was himself in a plight, as
for many days he had been unable to capture Indians, and did not know
where to go, also that starvation was beginning to place them in great
distress. I stated to him that, in the rear of me, at a distance of ten
leagues, were Dorantes and Castillo, with many people who had guided us
through the country. He at once dispatched three horsemen, with fifty
of his Indians, and the negro went with them as guide, while I remained
and asked them to give me a certified statement of the date &emdash;
year, month and day &emdash; when I had met them, also the condition
in which I had come, with which request they complied.
From this river to the village called San Miguel, which pertains to the
government called New Galicia, there are thirty leagues.
Five days later Andres Dorantes and Alonso del Castillo came with those
who had gone in quest of them. They brought along more than six hundred
Indians, from the village, the people of which the Christians had caused
to flee to the woods, and who were in hiding about the country. Those
who had come with us as far as that place had taken them our of their
places of concealment, turning them over to the Christians. They had also
dispatched the others who had come that far.
When they arrived at where I was Alcaraz begged me to send for the people
of the villages along the banks of the river, who were hiding in the timber,,
and he also requested me to order them to fetch supplies. There was not
occasion for the latter as the Indians always took good care to bring
us whatever they could; nevertheless, we sent our messengers at once to
call them, and six hundred persons came with all the maize they had, in
pots closed with clay, which they had buried for concealment. They also
brought nearly everything else they possessed, but we only took of the
food, giving the rest to the Christians for distribution among themselves.
Thereupon we had many and bitter quarrels with the Christians, for they
wanted to make slaves of our Indians, and we grew so angry at it that
at our departure we forgot to take along many bows, pouches and arrows,
also the five emeralds, and so they were left and lost to us. We gave
the Christians a great many cow-skin robes, and other objects, and had
much trouble in persuading the Indians to return home and plant their
crops in peace. They insisted upon accompanying us until, according to
their custom, we should be in the custody of other Indians, because otherwise
they were afraid to die; besides, as long as we were with them, they had
no fear of the Christians and of their lances. At all this the Christians
were greatly vexed, and told their own interpreter to say to the Indians
how we were of their own race, but had gone astray for a long while, and
were people of no luck and little heart, whereas they were the lords of
the land, whom they should obey and serve.
The Indians gave all that talk of theirs little attention. They parleyed
among themselves, saying that the Christians lied, for we had come from
sunrise, while the others came from where the sun sets; that we cured
the sick, while the others killed those who were healthy; that we went
naked and shoeless, whereas the others wore clothes and went on horseback
and with lances. Also, that we asked for nothing, but gave away all we
were presented with, meanwhile the others seemed to have no other aim
than to steal what they could, and never gave anything to anybody. In
short, they recalled all our deeds, and praised them highly, contrasting
them with the conduct of the others.
This they told the interpreter of the Christians, and made understood
to the others by means of a language they have among them, and by which
we understood each other. We call those who use that language properly
Primahaitu, which means the same as saying Bizcayans. For more than four
hundred leagues of those we travelled, we found this language in use,
and the only one among them over that extent of country. Finally, we never
could convince the Indians that we belonged to the other Christians, and
only with much trouble and insistency could we prevail upon them to go
We recommended to them to rest easy and settle again in their villages,
tilling and planting their fields as usual, which, from lying waste, were
overgrown with shrubbery, while it is beyond all doubt the best land in
these Indies, the most fertile and productive of food, where they raise
three crops every year. It has an abundance of fruit, very handsome rivers,
and other waters of good virtues. There are many evidences and traces
of gold and silver; the inhabitants are well conditioned, and willingly
attend to the Christians, that is, those of the natives that are friendly.
They are much better inclined than the natives of Mexico; in short, it
is a country that lacks nothing to make it very good. When the Indians
took leave of us they said they would do as we had told them, and settle
in their villages, provided the Christians would not interfere, and so
I say and affirm that, if they should not do it, it will be the fault
of the Christians.
After we had dispatched the Indians in peace, and with thanks for what
they had gone through with and for us, the Christians (out of mistrust)
sent us to a certain Alcalde Cebreros, who had with him two other men.
He took us through forests and uninhabited country in order to prevent
our communicating with the Indians, in reality, also, to prevent us from
seeing or hearing what the Christians were carrying on.
This clearly shows how the designs of men sometimes miscarry. We went
on with the idea of insuring the liberty of the Indians, and, when we
believed it to be assured, the opposite took place. The Spaniards had
planned to fall upon those Indians we had sent back in fancied security
and in peace, and that plan they carried out.
They took us through the timber for two days, with no trail, bewildered
and without water, so we all expected to die from thirst. Seven of our
men perished, and many friends whom the Christians had taken along could
not reach before noon the following day the place, where we found water
that same night. We travelled with them twenty-five leagues, more or less,
and at last came to a settlement of peaceable Indians. There the Alcalde
left us and went ahead, three leagues further, to a place called Culiacan,
where Melchior Diaz was chief Alcalde and the captain of the province.
As soon as the chief Alcalde became informed of our arrival, on the same
night he came to where we were. He was deeply moved, and praised God for
having delivered us in His great pity. He spoke to us and treated us very
well, tendering us, in his name, and in behalf of the Governor, Nuño
de Guzman, all he had and whatever he might be able to do. He appeared
much grieved at the bad reception and evil treatment we had met at the
hands of Alcaraz and the others, and we verily believe that, had he been
there at the time, the things done to us and the Indians would not have
Passing the night there, we were about to leave in the morning of the
next day, but the chief Alcalde entreated us to stay. He said that by
remaining we would render a great service to God and Your Majesty, as
the country was depopulated, lying waste, and well nigh destroyed. That
the Indians were hiding in the woods, refusing to come out and settle
again in their villages. He suggested that we should have them sent for,
and urge them, in the name of God and of Your Majesty, to return to the
plain and cultivate the soil again.
This struck us as difficult of execution. We had none of our Indians
with us, nor any of those who usually accompanied us and understood such
matters. At last we ventured to select two Indians from among those held
there as captives, and who were from that part of the country. These had
been with the Christians whom we first met, and had seen the people that
came in our company, and knew, through the latter, of the great power
and authority we exercised all through the land, the miracles we had worked,
the cures we had performed, and many other particulars. With these Indians
we sent others from the village, to jointly call those who had taken refuge
in the mountains, as well as those from the river of Petlatlan, where
we had met the Christians first, and tell them to come, as we wished to
talk to them. In order to insure their coming, we gave the messengers
one of the large gourds we had carried in our hands (which were our chief
insignia and tokens of great power.)
Thus provided and instructed, they left and were absent seven days. They
came back, and with them three chiefs of those who had been in the mountains,
and with these were fifteen men. The presented us with beads, turquoises,
and feathers, and the messengers said the people from the river whence
we had started could not be found, as the Christians had again driven
them into the wilderness.
Melchior Diaz told the interpreter to speak to the Indians in our name
and say that he came in the name of God, Who is in heaven, and that we
had travelled the world over for many years, telling all the people we
met to believe in God and serve Him, for He was the Lord of everything
upon earth, Who rewarded the good, whereas to the bad ones He meted out
eternal punishment of fire. That when the good ones died He took them
up to heaven, where all lived forever and there was neither hunger nor
thirst, nor any other wants &emdash; only the greatest imaginable
glory. But that those who would not believe in Him nor obey His commandments
he thrust into a huge fire beneath the earth and into the company of demons,
where the fire never went out, but tormented them forever. Moreover, he
said that if they became Christians and served God in the manner we directed,
the Christians would look upon them as brethren and treat them very well,
while we would command that no harm should be done to them; neither should
they be taken out of their country, and the Christians would become their
great friends. If they refused to do so, then the Christians would ill
treat them and carry them away into slavery.
To this they replied through the interpreter that they would be very
good Christians and serve God.
Upon being asked whom they worshipped and to whom they offered sacrifices,
to whom they prayed for health and water for the fields, they said, to
a man in Heaven. We asked what was his name, and they said Aguar, and
that they believed he had created the world and everything in it.
We again asked how they came to know this, and they said their fathers
and grandfathers had told them, and they had known it for a very long
time; that water and all good things came from him. We explained that
this being of whom they spoke was the same we called God, and that thereafter
they should give Him that name and worship and serve Him as we commanded,
when they would fare very well.
They replied that they understood us thoroughly and would do as we had
So we bade them come out of the mountains and be at ease, peaceable,
and settle the land again, rebuilding their houses. Among these houses
they should rear one to God, placing at its entrance a cross like the
one we had, and when Christians came, they should go out to receive them
with crosses in their hands, in place of bows and other weapons, and take
the Christians to their homes, giving them to eat of what they had. If
they did so, the Christians would do them no harm, but be their friends.
The promised to do as we ordered, and the captain gave them blankets,
treating them handsomely, and they went away, taking along the two captives
that had acted as our messengers.
This took place in presence of a scribe (notary) and of a great many
As soon as the Indians had left for their homes and the people of that
province got news of what had taken place with us, they, being friends
of the Christians, came to see us, bringing beads and feathers. We ordered
them to build churches and put crosses in them, which until then they
had not done. We also sent for the children of the chiefs to be baptized,
and then the captain pledged himself before God not to make any raid,
or allow any to be made, or slaves captured from the people and in the
country we had set at peace again. This vow he promised to keep and fulfill
so long until His Majesty and the Governor, Nuño de Guzman, or
the Viceroy, in his name, would ordain something else better adapted to
the service of God and of His Majesty.
After baptizing the children we left for the village of San Miguel, where,
on our arrival, Indians came and told how many people were coming down
from the mountains, settling on the plain, building churches and erecting
crosses; in short, complying with what we had sent them word to do. Day
after day we were getting news of how all was being done and completed.
Fifteen days after our arrival Alcaraz came in with the Christians who
had been raiding, and they told the captain how the Indians had descended
from the mountains and settled on the plains; also that villages formerly
deserted were not well populated, and how the Indians had come out to
receive them with crosses in their hands, had taken them to their houses,
giving them of what they had, and how they slept the night there. Amazed
at these changes and at the sayings of the Indians who said they felt
secure, he ordered that no harm be done to them, and with this they departed.
May God in his infinite mercy grant that in the days of Your Majesty and
under your power and sway, these people become willingly and sincerely
subjects of the true Lord Who created and redeemed them. We believe they
will be, and that your Majesty is destined to bring it about, as it will
not be at all difficult.
For two thousand leagues did we travel, on land, and by sea in barges,
besides ten months more after our rescue from captivity; untiringly did
we walk across the land, but nowhere did we meet either sacrifices or
idolatry. During all that time we crossed from one ocean to the other,
and from what we very carefully ascertained there may be, from one coast
to the other and across the greatest width, two hundred leagues. We heard
that on the shores of the South there are pearls and great wealth, and
that the richest and best is near there.
At the village of San Miguel we remained until after the fifteenth of
May, because from there to the town of Compostela, where the Governor,
Nuño de Guzman, resided, there are one hundred leagues of deserted
country threatened by hostiles, and we had to take an escort along. There
went with us twenty horsemen, accompanying us as many as forty leagues;
afterwards we had with us six Christians, who escorted five hundred Indian
captives. When we reached Compostela, the Governor received us very well,
giving us of what he had, for us to dress in; but for many days I could
bear no clothing, nor could we sleep, except on the bare floor. Ten or
twelve days later we left for Mexico. On the whole trip we were well treated
by the Christians; many came to see us on the road, praising God for having
freed us from so many dangers. We reached Mexico on Sunday, the day before
the vespers of Saint James, and were very well received by the Viceroy
and the Marquis of the Valley, who presented us with clothing, offering
all they had. On the day of Saint James there was a festival, with bull-fight
After taking two months' rest at Mexico I desired to come over to this
realm, but when ready to sail in October, a storm wrecked the vessel and
it was lost. So I determined to wait until winter would be over, as in
these parts navigation is then very dangerous on account of storms.
When winter was past, Andres Dorantes and I left Mexico, during Lent,
for Vera Cruz, to take a ship there, but had again to wait for favorable
winds until Palm Sunday. We embarked and were on board more than fifteen
days, unable to leave on account of a calm, and the vessel began to fill
with water. I took passage on one of the ships which were in condition
to leave, while Dorantes remained on the first one, and on the tenth day
of the month three craft left port.
We navigated together for one hundred and fifty leagues; afterwards two
of the ships dropped behind, and in the course of a night we lost track
of them. It seems that, as we found out later, their pilots and skippers
did not venture any further, and returned to port without giving us any
warning; neither did we hear any more from them. So we kept on, and on
the fourth of May reached the port of Habana, on the second of June, still
hoping for the other two vessels to arrive. Then we left.
We were afraid of falling in with French craft that only a few days before
had captured three of ours.
At the altitude of the Island of Bermuda a storm overtook us, as is quite
usual in those parts, according to the people who are wont to travel in
them, and for a whole night we considered ourselves lost. But it pleased
God that, when morning came, the storm abated and we could proceed on
our way. Twenty-nine days after sailing from Habana we had made eleven
hundred leagues, said to be the distance from it to the settlement of
the Azores, and the next day we passed the island called of the raven,
and met with a French vessel at noon. She began to follow us, having with
her a caravel taken from the Portuguese, and gave us chase. That same
evening we saw nine more sail, but at such a distance that we could not
distinguish whether they were of the same nation as our pursuer, or Portuguese.
At nightfall the Frenchman was but a cannon-shot from our ship, and as
soon as it was dark we changed our course so as to get away from him.
As he was close upon us he saw our maneuver and did the same, and this
happened three or four times.
The Frenchman could have taken us then, but he preferred to wait until
daylight. It pleased God that, when morning came, we found ourselves,
as well as the French ship, surrounded by the nine craft we had seen the
evening before, and which turned out to belong to the Portuguese navy.
I thank Our Lord for having allowed me to escape from peril on land and
When the French saw it was the fleet of Portugal they released the caravel,
which was filled with negroes. They had taken it along in order to make
us believe they were Portuguese and to induce us to expect them. On separating
from the caravel the Frenchman told the skipper and pilot we were French
also, belonging to their own navy; then they put into their vessel sixty
oarsmen, and thus, by oar and sail, went away with incredible swiftness.
The caravel then approached the galley warning its captain that both
our vessel and the other were French, so that when we came up to the galley
and the squadron saw it, believing us to be French, they cleared for action
and came to attack us. But when we were near enough to them we saluted,
and they saw we were friends. They had been deceived, suffering the privateer
to escape by means of his strategy in telling that we were also French.
Four caravels went in pursuit of him. Having come up with the galley and
presented our respects, the captain, Diego de Silveira, asked where we
came from and what we had on board. We told him from New Spain, and that
we carried silver and gold. He inquired how much it might be, and the
skipper informed him that we had about three hundred thousand Castellanos.
Thereupon the captain exclaimed: "Faith, you come back very rich,
although you have a bad craft and miserable artillery. That dog of a French
renegade has lost a fat morsel, the bastard! Now, go ahead, since you
escaped; follow me closely, and, God helping, I shall lead you back to
The caravels that had gone in pursuit of the French soon returned because
the latter sailed too fast for them and they did not want to leave their
squadron, which was escorting three ships loaded with spices.
We reached the Island of Tercera, where we rested fifteen days and took
in supplies, also waiting for another ship from India, with the same kind
of cargo as the three our fleet was escorting. At the end of the fifteen
days we sailed, all together, for the port of Lisbon, where we arrived
on the ninth of August, vespers of Saint Laurentius day, of the year 1537.
And, in testimony of, that what I have stated in the foregoing narrative
is true, I hereunto sign my name:
Cabeza de Vaca