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Alva Nunez Cabeza de Vaca ( 1490 - 1557 )  Category ( Explorers ) [suggest a correction]

Cabeza de Vaca was the son of Pedro Nunez de Vera y de Hinojosa (a distant relative of Francisco Pizarro) of Jerez de la Frontera and his wife, Teresa Cabeza de Vaca y de Zurita in 1490. Little of his early life is known, except that he made his career in the military. In early 1527 he left Spain as a part of a royal expedition, three hundred men and forty horses, intended to occupy the mainland of North America.

The expedition was subject to a hurricane before they landed in March 1528 near what is now Tampa Bay. While claiming the land as lawful possession of the Spanish Empire, they also took the leader of the Apalachee Indians hostage. This action did not bode well, as the expedition was expelled and pursued by the tribe. The members of this expedition also sufferd numerous diseases and - eventually - the party was reduced to eating their horses. In efforts to regain their footing in what is now Cuba, Cabeza de Vaca and his remaining eighty companions were diverted by yet another hurricane, which deposited the remaining party near what is now Galveston, Texas. While the remaining forty nearly naked, nearly starved and completely delirious survivors were welcomed by the natives initially in 1528, they transmitted a disease that killed half the Karankawas from a "disease of the bowels." 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.

By 1532, only forty members of the original party were alive - Cabeza de Vaca, Alonso del Castillo Maldonando, Andrés Dorantes de Carranca, and Estevan, an African slave. The four men headed west and south in hopes of reaching the Spanish Empire's outpost in Mexico, thereby becoming the first men from the Old World to enter the American West. They apparently traveled across present-day Texas, perhaps into New Mexico and Arizona and through Mexico's northern provinces. The four men finally reached the Spanish settlement of Culiacan in early 1536, and later that year they reached Mexico City, where they were welcomed by the Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza. But, this welcome came only after some speculative curiosity at the men's appearances. 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."

Appalled by the Spanish treatment of Indians, in 1537 Cabeza de Vaca returned to Spain to publish an account of his experiences and to urge a more generous policy upon the crown. He served as a Mexican territorial governor from 1540 on the Rio de la Plata (now called Paraguay). He explored along the Paraguay River in 1542, and he was the first European to see Iguacu Falls. But he soon was accused of corruption, perhaps for his enlightened conduct toward Indians, and he returned to Spain and was convicted in 1545; a 1552 pardon allowed him to become a judge in Seville, Spain, a position which he occupied until his death in 1556 or 1557.

Cabeza de Vaca wrote two works. One is the story of his first trials in America as a member of the expedition of Narvaez, which was published at Zamora in 1542, and is known under the title of Naufragios (reprinted 1555 and several times translated into English); the other is on his career in South America (published 1555) and called Comentarios. Both are valuable for the history of Spanish colonization, the former also for the customs and manners of North American Indians. An original 1555 edition of his work, La relación, resides at the Southwestern Writers Collection, Alkek Library, Texas State University-San Marcos.

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Title :PBS - THE WEST - Alvar Nu
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Title :CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca
Description : Born at Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain; dates of birth and death uncertain
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