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Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, an early explorer and first historian of Texas, was born in 1490 in Jerez de la Frontera, in Andalusia, Spain a province in the south of Spain near Cadiz. In early 1527, Cabeza de Vaca departed Spain as a part of a royal expedition to occupy the mainland of North America. As treasurer, he was one of the chief officers on the Narváez expedition. The Narváez expedition is an expedition based on a famous conquistador Narváez was also included on the expedition. Within several months of their landing near Tampa Bay, Florida on April 15, 1528 the expedition included a party of 600 men. As the navigators were unsure of their location, Cabeza de Vaca thought it prudent to keep the land and sea forces together. Narváez and the other officers, excited by rumors of gold, overruled him and started off on a march through Florida, promptly getting lost. After several months of fighting native inhabitants through wilderness and swamps, the party reached Apalachee Bay with 242 men. They believed they were near other Spaniards in Mexico, but there were in fact 1500 miles of coast between them. The men were starving, wounded, sick, and lost in swampy terrain, but came up with a plan for escape. Slaughtering and eating their horses, they melted down stirrups, spurs, horseshoes and other metal items, and fashioned a bellows from deerhide to make a fire hot enough to forge tools and nails. They constructed five primitive boats to use in search of Mexico. Cabeza de Vaca commanded one of these vessels, each of which had room for only 50 men. Depleted of food and water, they followed the coast westward, until they reached the mouth of the Mississippi River. The current swept them into the Gulf and the five rafts were separated by a hurricane, some lost forever, including that of Narváez. Two craft with about 40 survivors, including Cabeza de Vaca, wrecked on or near Galveston Island. The explorers called it Malhado ("Misfortune"), or the Island of Doom. They had made an attempt to repair the rafts, using what remained of their own clothes as oakum to plug holes, but they lost the rafts to a large wave. As the number of survivors dwindled rapidly, they were enslaved for a few years by various American Indian tribes of the upper Gulf Coast. These included the Hans and the Capoques, and tribes later called the Karankawa and Coahuiltecans. Only four men, Cabeza de Vaca, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, Alonso del Castillo Maldonado, and an enslaved Moroccan Berber named Esteban (later called Estevanico), survived and escaped to reach Mexico City. Traveling mostly in this small group, Cabeza de Vaca explored what is now the U.S. state of Texas, as well as the northeastern Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León and Coahuila, and possibly smaller portions of New Mexico and Arizona. He traveled on foot along the then-Spanish territories of Texas and the coast. He continued through Coahuila and Nueva Vizcaya; then down the Gulf of California coast to what is now Sinaloa, Mexico, over a period of roughly eight years. He lived in conditions of abject poverty and, occasionally, in slavery.
During his wanderings, passing from tribe to tribe, Cabeza de Vaca developed sympathies for the indigenous population. He became a trader, which allowed him freedom to travel among the tribes. Cabeza de Vaca comprehended his survival and journey in religious terms, in that he claimed to have been guided by God to learn to heal the sick. He gained such notoriety as a faith healer that he and his companions gathered a large following of natives who regarded them as "children of the sun", endowed with the power to both heal and destroy. Many natives accompanied the men across what is now the American Southwest and Northern Mexico. After finally reaching the colonized lands of New Spain where he encountered fellow Spaniards near modern-day Culiacán, Cabeza de Vaca went on to Mexico City. From there he sailed back to Europe in 1537....
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