Portada » A Jerezan explorer in the River Plate (third)

A Jerezan explorer in the River Plate (third)

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca.

As you probably already know from the previous entries, the Jerez-born Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who was part of the expedition to Florida led by Pánfilo Narváez, spent 10 years exploring the northern parts of America.

During that decade, he learned a great deal about the native tribes, earned a good reputation as a shaman, and made a living as a trader among the coastal tribes initially, and later among those inland.

In 1537, he returns to Spain and writes an account of what happened for the Audience of the Council of the Indies, which he later expanded into his first work, “Shipwrecks” (Naufragios).

The Recognition

King Charles V decided to grant the Jerez native the position of General Captain, the governorship, and the title of Adelantado of La Plata.

These titles were perfectly suited for another expedition that the king was already considering granting him, related to that place…

Background

First circumnavigation. Magallanes and Elcano.

Since the discovery of the New World, the goal was to find the passage that connected the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean towards the Moluccas, the spice islands.

Between 1515 and 1516, Ferdinand the Catholic orders an expedition led by Juan Díez de Solís.

During this expedition, the discovery of the Río de la Plata was accurately documented, and it was baptized as the River of Solís.

It was there that the explorer met his demise, without achieving the objective of the expedition, which had to return to Spain.

According to the Treaty of Tordesillas, Solís was the first to take possession of the territories to the south of Portuguese Brazil.

Following Magellan and Elcano’s first circumnavigation and the discovery of the long-awaited passage between the two seas (Strait of Magellan) in 1535, another expedition, led by Pedro de Mendoza, set out for the Río Solís with eleven ships.

Pedro de Mendoza in the River Plate.

This expedition also did not end well for Pedro Mendoza, who, like Solís, fell ill and met the same fate, this time while sailing back to Spain.

The eleven ships of Mendoza’s expedition were scattered by a storm, with some reaching Rio de Janeiro and others the Río de la Plata. Once regrouped, they founded the “Port of Our Lady of Good Air,” an extremely hostile area where attacks were constant.

Before departing for Spain, Pedro de Mendoza appointed Juan de Ayolas as his lieutenant to assume his position.

Álvar Núñez departed for the Americas for a second time.


Due to the desperate situation in the Río de la Plata region, where Juan de Ayolas was exercising his power in an abusive manner without respecting the natives or the Spanish, King Charles V considered Cabeza de Vaca to be the suitable candidate to come to the aid of the unfinished expedition due to Mendoza’s death.

The Agreement for the Expedition to the Río de la Plata.


Surprisingly, Álvar was obligated to finance it, having to disburse 8,000 ducats stipulated for weapons, ships, crew, and all necessary supplies. The upside was that the Jerez native would retain one-twelfth of all the profits yielded from the expedition.

Heading to the Americas for the second time.


Gathering in Seville two ships and one caravel, along with 400 soldiers and their pilots, along with 40 horses, the expedition set off at the end of 1540 towards the port of Cádiz, and from here to the Canary Islands to proceed to Cape Verde in Africa, as the flagship needed repairs.

Finally, by early 1541, they set sail with four ships to Santa Catalina, where they arrived five months later.

In Rio de Janeiro.


Upon arrival, two friars rushed towards the men on the ships, seeking help, followed by other Spaniards who were suffering from attacks by the natives and the unbearable situation they were enduring.

Álvar managed to bring peace among the indigenous people and sent the friars to evangelize them. As for the Spaniards, he welcomed them among his men because they possessed good nautical and ship piloting knowledge.

Towards Asunción

The expedition along the Río de la Plata by canoe.

To reach the north, to Asunción, Álvar decides to divide the expedition by land and by sea. Our Jerez native, ignoring the natives who urged them to return to the sea to avoid the fierceness of the Indians in that area, ventured inland for the adventure.

Discovery of the Iguazu Falls

Iguazu falls.

Continuing the journey with the Guarani Indians and equipped with canoes, they navigate the Paraná River, baptized as the River of Solís or the Silver River.

Upon reaching a certain point, they notice how the navigation becomes much faster, a sign of a potential waterfall. Continuing on foot, they discovered that waterfall, an impressive cascade that they named “Salto de Santa María.”

Arrival in Asunción.


The scene that Cabeza de Vaca encountered was truly chaotic due to the abusive mistreatment by Governor Domingo Martínez de Irala.

Finally, in 1542, Álvar took up his position and attempted to bring peace to the entire region.

The natives, who already held him in high regard, were pleased to have someone who understood and treated them as equals. Someone who actually upheld the laws given by the Catholic Monarchs to treat the natives as equal to the Spanish.

However, this displeased Irala’s supporters. These were unscrupulous men, blinded by the pursuit of wealth and fame. And the fair treatment the natives received was a significant obstacle to the realization of their plans.

Through tricks and schemes, Irala and his followers revolted against Cabeza de Vaca, who ended up being captured and accused of trying to strip them of all their rights and desiring more power than the king, declaring himself as such in the region.

There was little that the supporters of the Jerez native could do, and even less the natives, who couldn’t provide assistance.

They held him in prison for eleven months until, in 1545, severely ill, he was sent back to Spain in shackles to stand trial.

The Shaman Who Calmed Storms.


As could not be otherwise, the return journey experienced a terrible tempest that terrified every last crew member aboard the ship where Álvar was.

Amidst the storm, Cabeza de Vaca stood up, without hesitation, and raised his voice proclaiming that if they set him free, he would calm the tempest… We don’t know if this cry was due to his own ill health, but what is certain is that, although he didn’t achieve his goal, the storm subsided instantly.

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca.

As you probably already know from the previous entries, the Jerez-born Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who was part of the expedition to Florida led by Pánfilo Narváez, spent 10 years exploring the northern parts of America.

During that decade, he learned a great deal about the native tribes, earned a good reputation as a shaman, and made a living as a trader among the coastal tribes initially, and later among those inland.

In 1537, he returns to Spain and writes an account of what happened for the Audience of the Council of the Indies, which he later expanded into his first work, “Shipwrecks” (Naufragios).

The Recognition

King Charles V decided to grant the Jerez native the position of General Captain, the governorship, and the title of Adelantado of La Plata.

These titles were perfectly suited for another expedition that the king was already considering granting him, related to that place…

Background

First circumnavigation. Magallanes and Elcano.

Since the discovery of the New World, the goal was to find the passage that connected the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean towards the Moluccas, the spice islands.

Between 1515 and 1516, Ferdinand the Catholic orders an expedition led by Juan Díez de Solís.

During this expedition, the discovery of the Río de la Plata was accurately documented, and it was baptized as the River of Solís.

It was there that the explorer met his demise, without achieving the objective of the expedition, which had to return to Spain.

According to the Treaty of Tordesillas, Solís was the first to take possession of the territories to the south of Portuguese Brazil.

Following Magellan and Elcano’s first circumnavigation and the discovery of the long-awaited passage between the two seas (Strait of Magellan) in 1535, another expedition, led by Pedro de Mendoza, set out for the Río Solís with eleven ships.

Pedro de Mendoza in the River Plate.

This expedition also did not end well for Pedro Mendoza, who, like Solís, fell ill and met the same fate, this time while sailing back to Spain.

The eleven ships of Mendoza’s expedition were scattered by a storm, with some reaching Rio de Janeiro and others the Río de la Plata. Once regrouped, they founded the “Port of Our Lady of Good Air,” an extremely hostile area where attacks were constant.

Before departing for Spain, Pedro de Mendoza appointed Juan de Ayolas as his lieutenant to assume his position.

Álvar Núñez departed for the Americas for a second time.


Due to the desperate situation in the Río de la Plata region, where Juan de Ayolas was exercising his power in an abusive manner without respecting the natives or the Spanish, King Charles V considered Cabeza de Vaca to be the suitable candidate to come to the aid of the unfinished expedition due to Mendoza’s death.

The Agreement for the Expedition to the Río de la Plata.


Surprisingly, Álvar was obligated to finance it, having to disburse 8,000 ducats stipulated for weapons, ships, crew, and all necessary supplies. The upside was that the Jerez native would retain one-twelfth of all the profits yielded from the expedition.

Heading to the Americas for the second time.


Gathering in Seville two ships and one caravel, along with 400 soldiers and their pilots, along with 40 horses, the expedition set off at the end of 1540 towards the port of Cádiz, and from here to the Canary Islands to proceed to Cape Verde in Africa, as the flagship needed repairs.

Finally, by early 1541, they set sail with four ships to Santa Catalina, where they arrived five months later.

In Rio de Janeiro.


Upon arrival, two friars rushed towards the men on the ships, seeking help, followed by other Spaniards who were suffering from attacks by the natives and the unbearable situation they were enduring.

Álvar managed to bring peace among the indigenous people and sent the friars to evangelize them. As for the Spaniards, he welcomed them among his men because they possessed good nautical and ship piloting knowledge.

Towards Asunción

The expedition along the Río de la Plata by canoe.

To reach the north, to Asunción, Álvar decides to divide the expedition by land and by sea. Our Jerez native, ignoring the natives who urged them to return to the sea to avoid the fierceness of the Indians in that area, ventured inland for the adventure.

Discovery of the Iguazu Falls

Iguazu falls.

Continuing the journey with the Guarani Indians and equipped with canoes, they navigate the Paraná River, baptized as the River of Solís or the Silver River.

Upon reaching a certain point, they notice how the navigation becomes much faster, a sign of a potential waterfall. Continuing on foot, they discovered that waterfall, an impressive cascade that they named “Salto de Santa María.”

Arrival in Asunción.


The scene that Cabeza de Vaca encountered was truly chaotic due to the abusive mistreatment by Governor Domingo Martínez de Irala.

Finally, in 1542, Álvar took up his position and attempted to bring peace to the entire region.

The natives, who already held him in high regard, were pleased to have someone who understood and treated them as equals. Someone who actually upheld the laws given by the Catholic Monarchs to treat the natives as equal to the Spanish.

However, this displeased Irala’s supporters. These were unscrupulous men, blinded by the pursuit of wealth and fame. And the fair treatment the natives received was a significant obstacle to the realization of their plans.

Through tricks and schemes, Irala and his followers revolted against Cabeza de Vaca, who ended up being captured and accused of trying to strip them of all their rights and desiring more power than the king, declaring himself as such in the region.

There was little that the supporters of the Jerez native could do, and even less the natives, who couldn’t provide assistance.

They held him in prison for eleven months until, in 1545, severely ill, he was sent back to Spain in shackles to stand trial.

The Shaman Who Calmed Storms.


As could not be otherwise, the return journey experienced a terrible tempest that terrified every last crew member aboard the ship where Álvar was.

Amidst the storm, Cabeza de Vaca stood up, without hesitation, and raised his voice proclaiming that if they set him free, he would calm the tempest… We don’t know if this cry was due to his own ill health, but what is certain is that, although he didn’t achieve his goal, the storm subsided instantly.

In Spain.

As he was already aware that he would be summoned to testify before the Audience of the Council of the Indies, Álvar drafted the report during the return journey to present upon his arrival. This time, he also had to present his defense effectively.

The Council of the Indies initially sentenced him to exile from the Americas and to serve in Oran. However, Cabeza de Vaca was not willing to accept either, so he appealed the sentence.

In 1552, the Council issued a final verdict, now favorable to the Jerez native, granting him an annual stipend of 2,000 ducats and the position of supreme judge of the court in Seville. Nevertheless, he was entirely prohibited from setting foot on American soil again.

The last years.


Unable to fulfill his desires of returning, Álvar settled again in Seville and decided to take holy orders. He became a prior in one of the numerous convents in the city, where he likely passed away years later, in 1558.

And now my review of the life of this courageous fellow countryman of mine truly comes to an end, a mere fraction of what he actually experienced, I’m afraid…

If you’ve enjoyed it, as a final touch, I will talk about his monuments, especially the one erected in his city.


THANK YOU!

Carolina

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