Not many people have heard of the amazing journey of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and his three companions in the New World in the 1530’s. He was part of a fleet of five ships and 600 men who left port in Spain on June 27th, 1527, as a part of a royal expedition intended to occupy the mainland of North America.
De Vaca was on the expedition as a treasurer for the king of Spain assigned the task of collecting a 20% tax on any wealth discovered. Instead of discovering wealth though, he and his three companions would undergo one of the “most extraordinary adventures of all time” during the next eight years.
An article by PBS on Cabeza De Vaca (see here) tells us this:
After their fleet was battered by a hurricane off the shore of Cuba, the expedition secured a new boat and departed for Florida. They landed in March 1528 near what is now Tampa Bay, which the expedition leader, Pánfilo de Narváez, claimed as the lawful possession of the Spanish empire.
Despite this confident declaration, the expedition was on the verge of disaster. Narváez’s decision to split his land and sea forces proved a grievous error, as the ships were never able to rendezvous with the land expedition. The party soon overstayed its welcome with the Apalachee Indians of northern Florida by taking their leader hostage. Expelled and pursued by the Indians, suffering from numerous diseases, the surviving members of the expedition were reduced to huddling in a coastal swamp and living off the flesh of their horses. In late 1528, they built several crude rafts from trees and horse hides and set sail, hoping to return to Cuba.
Storms, thirst and starvation had reduced the expedition to about eighty survivors when a hurricane dumped Cabeza de Vaca and his companions on the Gulf Coast near what is now Galveston, Texas. They were initially welcomed, but, as Cabeza de Vaca was to remember, “half the natives died from a disease of the bowels and blamed us.” For the next four years he and a steadily dwindling number of his comrades lived in the complex native world of what is now East Texas, a world in which Cabeza transformed himself from a conquistador into a trader and healer.
It’s that last word there that is the real zinger. Healer?
Yes, healer. You see, De Vaca was enslaved by an Indian medicine man who ordered him and his companions to heal sick Indians. De Vaca insisted that they had no power to heal or do miracles but the medicine man took their food away telling them to heal the sick or starve.
What would you do in such a situation?
Well, De Vaca and his companions did the only thing they knew how to do. They prayed any and all prayers they knew and to their complete surprised God healed the Indians they prayed for!
Now this was a BIG deal. Word of these white men and the miracles they could performed spread far and wide. When De Vaca and his companions eventually escaped being held as slaves and started a long trek from East Texas to the Pacific Coast of central Mexico, Indians began to follow them seeking healings and miracles. At some points, over two thousand Indians followed them asking for prayers for healing and blessings over all their possessions.
De Vaca and his three companions eventually met up with Spaniards in Mexico, or as PBS tell us:
In July 1536, near Culiacán in present-day Sinaloa, they finally encountered a group of fellow Spaniards who were on a slave-taking expedition. As Cabeza de Vaca remembered, his countrymen were “dumbfounded at the sight of me, strangely dressed and in company with Indians. They just stood staring for a long time.”
Upon his return to Spain, De Vaca wrote a book on his adventures.
As a side note, one of the three companions who accompanied De Vaca on his cross-country trek of miracles was an African slave by the name of Estéban. He returned to accompany Francisco Vázquez de Coronado and a party of 300 men searching for the “Seven Golden Cities of Cibola”, the fabulous cities reported by de Vaca apparently based on information he obtained from Indians.
The cities of gold were never found, and Estéban was killed by the Indians on that trip, but his name is the one that lives on and most people remember. Estéban’s name was even mentioned in the recent movie National Treasure: Book of Secrets.
The cool thing for me is that Estéban led Coronado into what is now Arizona at the San Pedro River valley at the southern end of the Huachuca Mountains, which would have brought their party fairly close to where I live in Tucson today.
At any rate, the following are some of De Vaca’s actual writings excerpted from his book available in full here. Sorry for the length, but this is pretty interesting stuff.
[After many disasters, a number of the Spanish become stranded on an island where the Indians compel Cabeza de Vaca to heal the sick…]
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…
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…
[Eventually, all of the original 600 Spaniards were lost except for four. Cabeza de Vaca spends years naked and as a slave to Indians, often near starvation and treated horribly. But, he finally escapes with the remaining two other Spaniards and a Moorish Negro.]
At sunset we came in sight of the lodges, and… 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… Forthwith they offered us many tunas [prickly pear fruit], 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.
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.
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.
[Cabeza de Vaca continued to meet other Indians who would beg them to stay.]
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 tunas baked.
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 greatly.
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…
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 sleep.
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.
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… 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 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.
[It became the “custom” of the accompanying Indians to steal from the next ones.]
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 traveled 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…
[Cabeza de Vaca performs surgery…]
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…
After leaving these people we traveled 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 us…
[Blessing everything became a major chore…]
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…
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…
[Feigning anger, the Indians comply with de Vaca’s requests…]
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…
[The explorers brought peace to the “whole country”…]
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 traveling 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; 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.
[They run into Indians who had experienced other Spanish enslaving them…]
We traveled 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… 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…
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…
[Cabeza de Vaca meets fellow Spaniards…]
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…
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…
[The Spanish commander wants to enslave the Indians…]
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…
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 home…
[Spanish deceive de Vaca…]
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.
[Other Spanish authorities wanted the Indians to return and cultivate their fields…]
[Melchior Diaz] 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.
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… 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.
[Spanish call on Indians to become friends and Christians…]
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 traveled 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; 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 told.
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.
At the end… we sailed, all together, for the port of Lisbon, where we arrived on the ninth of August…, 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
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