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A Jerezan explorer in Florida, (two)

Arrival at Malhado island.

Álvar Núñez and his solo journey.

Little or nothing remained of Pánfilo Narváez’s ambitious expedition, which lay in the sea alongside his dreams of glory and riches…

At this point, our man from Jerez begins his own expedition, this time on his own.

Injured and sick, he is taken care of by indigenous people who had a settlement on the coast where the ships wrecked. As his health improved, he quickly realized he had to learn something within the tribe to avoid being their slave.

Álvar set his sights on the tribe’s shamans, thinking that with his medical knowledge gained during his training as a soldier, he might be able to heal.

And thus, combining his medical know-how with the laying on of hands and prayers, he healed some of the villagers.

His reputation quickly spread to the nearby settlements, and it wasn’t long before the sick arrived seeking this new healer.

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca.

Strengthened in his health, Álvar decides to venture inland, to the Charrucos, to engage in trading seashells, leather, flint, reeds… He first traded with the nearest villages and gradually moved towards more distant areas. This is how he survived for six years.

During this time, he sought news of his companions and managed to reunite with three other survivors in the southern United States.

These were:

  • Andrés Orantes de Carranza, originally from Béjar.
  • Alonso Castillo Maldonado, from Salamanca.
  • Esteban, a Berber and slave of Alonso, better known as “Estebanico,” the first African man in the Americas.

Once reunited, over a period of ten months, they devised a plan to escape, during which Álvar taught them everything he had learned as a shaman.

In the summer of 1535, the four explorers crossed Texas and the Sonora region. There, they encountered indigenous people who had houses made of grass and cultivated beans and squash.

However, not all the tribes they encountered were civilized. In the Sierra Madre, they encountered one that subsisted on deer hearts, a village they baptized as the “Village of Hearts.”

Open-heart surgery performed by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca.

One of the most astonishing feats…

While passing through Arizona, Álvar successfully performed an open-heart surgery on a Native American who had been wounded by an arrow. Some claim that this was the first recorded instance of open-heart surgery in history.

The beginning of the journey back to Spain…

The adventure of these four intrepid men was coming to an end in 1537.

Following their planned route, they encountered a Native American equipped with a talid, and the horse he was riding wore horseshoes, unmistakable signs that the presence of Spaniards was nearby.

Indeed, as they ventured southwest into Sinaloa, they came across Diego de Alcaraz, a Spaniard leading a group dedicated to capturing slaves. The pleasant reunion between Spaniards turned into a confrontation when Alcaraz’s men attempted to enslave the indigenous people in the group following the four explorers.

Continuing their journey, around mid-year, they managed to reach Culiacán and from there to Compostelas, covering a distance of 300 miles.

Back in Mexico, it was Hernán Cortés himself who received these four fearless survivors of the Florida expedition.

Before long, they all traveled back to Spain from Veracruz, except for Estebanico, who decided to stay with Cortés.

The journey to Spain…

Our man from Jerez set course for the Peninsula from Havana in 1537, ten years after joining Narváez’s expedition.

And as if ten years of adventures weren’t enough, while sailing near the Azores islands, some French corsairs attempted to seize his ship… Álvar disembarked with the help and escort of several Portuguese vessels in Lisbon.

Upon returning to Spain, he met with Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo in Madrid to seek explanations for what had happened during those 10 years.

It was then that Álvar composed a written account of his exploits to provide evidence to the Royal Audiencia of the Council of the Indies, a narrative that he later expanded, giving rise to his work “Naufragios” (“Shipwrecks”).

And thus concludes the conquest adventure of Florida, but fear not, for the one of the Río de la Plata follows next… TO BE CONTINUED…


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