For reader convenience, and ease of loading,
this Page is an annotated version of the complete
Source of This Internet Document:
Google Online Books

Presented Here is Part 3 of 5 of that Document - Texas
Index: Florida Alabama Mississippi Louisiana  NEW MEXICO  ARIZONA Mexico Postscript
Maps of All States Trails

The Journey of
Alvar Nuñez Cabeza De Vaca
Published in 1542

Translated by Fanny Bandelier in 1905, Part 3 of 5


Painted Image of Cabeza de Vaca

Entering Texas at the Sabine River into
The Greater Houston Area

(In November, 1534, inside Caddoan Indian country, Vaca said...) At the end of five days (searching for his group in Western Louisiana) I reached the shores of a river (the Sabine River again, part of the Eastern Texas border) 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 (stored) prickly pears. On the next day we left (southwestward, wading the Sabine River into Texas) and went where we found a great many of that fruit (at Kirbyville; Caddoan country) with which all appeased their hunger, and we gave many thanks to Our Lord, whose help to us never failed.

Early the next day many (Caddoan) 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 (at springtime in May, 1535) and taken along those recently cured, we removed to others (at today's Buna and Silsbee) that were eating prickly pears also, called Cultalchuches and Malicones, which speak a different language, (they were Tunicane Indians) and with them were others, called Coayos and Susolas (Coayos near the Neches River and Susolas near the Sabine River), and on another side (of the Sabine River in Louisiana) those called Atayos, who were at war with the Susolas, and exchanging arrow shots (across the Sabine River) 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 (including Caddoanes from the north) 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 (at the Sabine River fording place), 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 prickly pears, and took me to many others who were suffering from vertigo. They gave me two more baskets of prickly pears, 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 prickly pears 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 prickly pears 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 (mostly among Caddoanes, further described below in five paragraphs) for eight months (through June, 1535 - see his "rescue date" statement in Mexico), 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 (six of eight months, as he stated above) we were with them we suffered much from hunger, because they do not have fish either. At the end of that time the prickly pears began to ripen, and without their noticing it we left and went to other Indians further ahead called Malicones (near the Neches River approaching Silsbee), 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 prickly pears are fully ripe (in mid-September). There they joined other Indians called Arbadaos (at today's Kountze), 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 (westward, at the beginning of the Prickley Pear season), 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 (Big Thicket, just west of Kountze - a heavily forested area in Southeast Texas), where we gathered plenty of leaves of prickly pears 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 (3 miles southwest of Saratoga), 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 (at Liberty) 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 prickly pears and green prickly pears 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.

(Over the next seventeen paragraphs, Vaca summarizes observations he had made headed westward from the "Isle of Ill Fate" - Last Island, Louisiana)
(Press Here to skip those seventeen paragraphs)

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 leave them.

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 seen.

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 (he had called them Deaguenes at Morgan City, Louisiana) 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 (of New Iberia, Louisiana) 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.

(Spanish Slave Hunter's would be encountered in Mexico the following year - giving rise to the comments he makes in the next two paragraphs:)

Horses are what the Indians dread most, and by means of which they will be overcome. 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 bide 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 (in the Houston area). 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 Guevenes, in front further inland the Mariames, and following the coast we come to the Guaycones, and in front of them inland the Yeguaces (he called them Iguaces earlier). After those (due west) come the Atayos, and behind them others, called Decubadaos (Caddoanes), of whom there are a great many further on in this direction (he NEVER penetrated that far inland, but, no doubt, later emphasised thier reported "advanced status" to his King, Hernando de Soto and Coronado; the latter two explored north of the Houston area, but neither finding advanced societies, both altered course there). On the coast live the Quitoles (he called them Cajoles earlier), and in front of them, inland, the Chauauares (he called them Avavares earlier). These are joined (to westward) by the Malicones 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 xo.

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 (in October, 1535) we had left in tears, we went with the others to their homes (along their 60 mile way to and through Houston to its westernmost side) and were very well received (in westernmost Houston by Coahuilteco Indians). 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 (Western Houston) some women happened to come, that belonged to Indians living further on (to westward, more Cuchendado Indians), 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 (28 miles), 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.

Westbound from Houston, across the Brazos River (Texas Trail Map)

There being no trails (SOUTHWEST FROM HOUSTON TO MEXICO CITY, Vaca's destination) in that country (but 300 miles of today's WILD HORSE DESERT instead, spanning the Rio Grande into today's Mexico, on maps above), we soon lost our way. At the end of four leagues we reached a spring (there are several around Katy), 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 Brazos River), the water being more than waist-deep. It may have been as wide as the one of Sevilla (the Guadalquiver River), and had a swift current. At sunset we reached a hundred Indian huts (at Sealy, the firt village among many along that southernmost trail from Houston to San Antonio, today's route of Interstate 10 which Vaca would continue to follow, within 15 miles, through Sanora to the Rio Grande below El Paso) 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 (especially the Brazos) carry them down when they rise and overflow the land.

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 night.

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 (toward Columbus on the Colorado River), and all the people of that (last) village with us, and when we came to other Indians (along the twisted Colorado River approaching Columbus) 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 (still up the Colorado River), 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.

After we left those we went to many other lodges (up that same river), 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 (nearing La Grange, still along the Colorado River) we began to see mountains, and it seemed as if they swept down from the direction of the North Sea (the Gulf of Mexico), and so, from what the Indians told us, we believe they are fifteen leagues from the ocean (it's twice that distance to the Gulf at Port LaVaca).

From there we went with the Indians (northwest) towards the mountains aforesaid, and they took us to some of their relatives (at La Grange). They did not want to lead us anywhere but to their own people (northwest of there, farther up the ), 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 (to northwestward, probably at Smithville, up the ). 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 (due west then southwest up Buckners Creek onto Blackland Prairie: rich agricultural soil verses desert toward Mexico City, on map above), though near the mountains, thinking them to be not far from the coast.

(The comments Vaca makes in the next paragraph might better have been placed six paragraphs further on, just before he says "Thence we turned inland...")

All the people there are very bad, and we preferred to cross the country (to the West Coast of Mexico), as further inland they were better inclined, and treated us better (as he had learned in East Texas during eight months of that year: 1535). 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 (northwestward) they said that nobody lived where we intended to go, neither were there prickly pears 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 (west then southwestward, up Buckners drying Creek).

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 (south of the "mountains" beyond La Grange) 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 (northwest from there to Smithville), but we persisted, and, seeing this, they took mournful leave of us and turned back down the river to their homes (down Buckners Creek to and down the to Columbus), while we proceeded along the stream upwards (southwestward, up Buckners Creek).

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 (Buckners and Oaks Creeks) we would meet with dwellings (near Cistern), plenty of prickly pears, 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 prickly pears, 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 (traveling 55 miles). They took us to where there were many Indians (through Harwood and Luling to Sequin), and went ahead (30 miles to San Antonio) 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 (from San Antonio) 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 (160 miles up today's Interstate-10 route, for the most part, but passing through Medina 20 miles south of it), and at the end of them (the mountain slopes) met forty dwellings (at Sonora in Dry Devils River Valley, Athapaskane Indians).

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 (probably of San Angelo). 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 (high-grade copper was smelted 170 miles north of San Angelo in 1864). 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 (200 feet high, between Dry Devils River and Granger Draw Vallies), 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 river (Granger Draw, dry today).

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 prickly pears 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 (the Pacific Ocean, south of Panama where it was dicovered by Balboa), for we always heard that sea was richer (in metals) than the one of the north (of Panama, the Atlantic Ocean).

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 us.

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 prickly pears, 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 (the Pacos River, 60 miles west of Granger Draw) 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 ones.

Thence on there was a change in the manner of reception (being Uto-Azteques over the next four hundred leagues, 1140 miles, of his trail deep into Mexico), 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.

Cabeza de Vaca in West Texas

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 (the Rio Grande at Esperanza, passing into Mexico, having traveled 670 miles from West Houston, all within 25 miles of today's Interstate-10). 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 (Mexico's Sierra de Juarez to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, adjoining today's El Paso, Texas, along about Christmastime, 1535), 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 (westward), and they replied that in that direction people lived very far away (80 miles). 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.

Part 4 of 5 - New Mexico, Arizona & Mexico

Cabeza de Vaca's Trails