Archie P. McDonald
the first Europeans to see any part of East
Texas never set foot here. An expedition led by Alonso Pineda sailed along
the Texas coast, east to west,
as early as 1528, making maps as he traveled. The first Europeans who actually
spent time in Texas, then, were Alvar Nunez Cabeza
de Vaca, Alonso de Castillo Maldono, Andres Doirantes de Carranza, and the Moor
Estanvanico, or Stephen. |
Cabeza de Vaca's little band arrived in Texas
in 1528 and stayed for approximately seven years before wandering into a Spanish
patrol somewhere near the Baja of southern California.
This group had
never intended to visit Texas. As members of the
Panfilo Narvaez Expedition, they started out to explore Florida from a base in
New Spain, or Cuba. All four survivors were with a landing party that was supposed
to rendezvous with Narvez at a point on the peninsula's western coast.
The exploring party arrived either too soon or too late, and, regarding themselves
stranded, constructed crude vessels from available timber. Using their own clothes
as sails, they set a course westward, hoping to hug the circular beach of the
Gulf of Mexico all the way to Spanish settlements in what is now Mexico.
Some perished at sea, but most made it to an island they called Mulhado,
which Texas historians believed was Galveston.
Some historians of Louisiana think the island was located off the coast of that
state, but hey, an East Texan is writing this, so let us agree that they landed
Within a year their numbers had dropped to about fifteen, so they decided
they had to get to the mainland to survive. When they did so, they were captured
by Karankawas, and seven years later, only four remained.
Vaca survived because he was credited with the first successful surgery performed
in Texas. According to the story, he removed an arrowhead
or spear point from an Indian, who then recovered. The Karankawa thought this
a sign of Devine powers, rather than the simple removal of a foreign object, which
allowed the wound to heal.
Thereafter Cabeza de Vaca, and perhaps the
others, were traded about, rarely seeing each other except when the tribes came
together for annual harvests, and sometimes breaking away only to be recaptured.
Seven years after their ordeal began, they encountered that Spanish patrol, and
at first the soldiers thought the wanderers were Indians because all their Spanish
clothes had long since disappeared.
The best part of the story is that
Cabeza de Vaca's report of his wanderings included stories from the Indians of
cities made of gold. He and the others had never seen these cities, only heard
of them. But nothing quickened the heart of a conquistador more than stories of
gold, and soon many more Spaniards were on their way to East
© Archie P. McDonald
September 19-25, 2004 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Dr. Archie McDonald
is the Association's executive director and author of more than 20 books on Texas