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Cabeza de Vaca

Spanish Routes in Texas

A member of a doomed Spanish expedition to explore and conquer Florida for Spain in 1527, Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca wandered the Gulf Coast after his barge overturned, possibly near Galveston Island. The ordeal brought Cabeza de Vaca into the presence of many indigenous groups, as a captive and as a healer. Passing through the lowland marshes and woodlands, he crossed Texas from east to west, making his way to the arid plains along established native routes. He may have passed by the springs around present-day Fort Stockton or Big Spring on his way to Mexico City, where he arrived in 1536.

One of the four known survivors (from 400 involved in the 1527 expedition) was a Moorish slave named Esteban. He miraculously reunited with Cabeza de Vaca on the Gulf Coast and returned to Mexico City. The survivors' accounts spurred the Spanish to extend their search for pueblos rich in gold, as well as a route to China. Esteban was later a member of an expedition with Fray Marcos to the north (modern Arizona and New Mexico) in search of the Seven Cities of Cibola. He was killed in 1539 in an encounter with Zunis who protested the Spanish party's arrival on their sacred ground.

In the years following Esteban's death, Conquistadors under Francisco Vasquez de Coronado ravaged the Indian population as they searched for the mythical cities of gold, entering the high Texas plains from the west. [Read a Spaniard's description of Pueblo Indians.]

About the same time, Hernando de Soto was surveying the mounded Indian cities along the Mississippi and into the Ozarks, approaching Texas from the east. Following his death, De Soto's army crossed Texas, reaching as far as San Antonio before returning to the sea by way of Louisiana.

Get more information from the Virtual Classroom and La Frontera Vieja.

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