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La Frontera Vieja
Spanish America
HOUSTON INSTITUTE FOR CULTURE | www.cultural-crossroads.com

"The sea is dangerous and its storms terrible, but these obstacles have never been sufficient reason to remain ashore... Unlike the mediocre, intrepid spirits seek victory over those things that seem impossible... It is with an iron will that they embark on the most daring of all endeavors... to meet the shadowy future without fear and conquer the unknown."

--Ferdinand Magellan


Spanish documents tell polarizing tales of adventure into the unknown and destruction of the unknown. The Spanish Entradas permanently altered the people, the landscape and the limits of the land in the Americas. The accounts of the Conquistadors largely promote their vision for "New Spain" -- their quest for gold and glory, and their methods to make the indigenous population work to support their efforts.

Some accounts, however, reveal unique vignettes to Indian life in this unknown world. Gaspar Perez de Villagra wrote this observation in 1610 while visiting the Pueblos of the Rio Grande:
We visited a good many of these pueblos. They are all well built with straight, well-squared walls. Their towns have no defined streets. Their houses are three, five, six and even seven stories high, with many windows and terraces. The men spin and weave and the women cook, build houses and keep them in good repair. They dress in garments of cotton cloth, and the women wear beautiful shawls of many colors. They are quiet, peaceful people of good appearance and excellent physique, alert and intelligent. They are not known to drink, a good omen indeed. We saw no maimed or deformed people among them. The men and women alike are excellent swimmers. They are also expert in the art of painting, and are good fishermen. They live in complete equality, neither exercising authority nor demanding obedience.
Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca gives us perhaps the most intriguing account of the inhabitants of the continent during the earliest contact with the Spanish. His report covers eight years, from 1528 - 1536, and his route over the bays, rivers, marshes, prairies, woodlands and along major Indian trails may have spanned 6,000 miles or more. Through his accounts we learn that there were important centers of Indian cultural within our modern boundaries. Though De Vaca himself did not visit them, he would later misrepresent the great pueblos in the interior as places of wealth. Within a few years of De Vaca's arrival in Mexico City, Spaniards such as Coronado and De Soto would terrorize the interior lands. The conquest would be in full motion by 1540 and many indigenous populations would seek refuge from the Conquistadors in the new church settlements, where they hoped Dios (God) would save them from the killing.

If you would like to read Cabeza de Vaca's journal of his travels in America, please send us an email and we will return to you a passcode allowing you to review the book on line. The Virtual Classroom may further interest you as you are reading the historic journal. The on-line version, Fanny Bandelier's translation from 1905, differs some from Cyclone Covey's more recent translation, Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America, which we are reading for the Virtual Classroom.

The email address is info@houstonculture.org.

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