November 6 – Caveza de Vaca

On November 6, 1528, Alvar Nunez Caveza de Vaca became the first European to set foot in the future state of Texas.  However, this landmark in history was created by accident during Caveza de Vaca’s famous adventure.  He was born into nobility in Spain and embarked on an expedition to North America as the treasurer in 1527.  Quickly, things began to not go well for the explorers.  First, a hurricane battered them off the coast of Cuba.  The damage was so bad that they were forced to get a new ship to take them to Florida.  In March of 1528, they landed near modern Tampa Bay, Florida.  However, they were just beginning the troubles they would have.  Pánfilo de Narváez, the leader of the expedition, split his land and sea forces at this point.  This decision proved to be a fatal flaw.  The land forces were never able to reconnect with the sea forces and ended up barely surviving in the coastal swamps.  Eventually, they made crude rafts with the hope of getting back to Cuba.  Caveza de Vaca and the sea group were also having much trouble.  Storms continued to plague the ship as it sailed around the Gulf of Mexico.  These storms also brought starvation and thirst.  Finally, another hurricane took overtook the ship and its 60-80 surviving crew members.  Unable to sail the crippled ship any further, Narvaez and his men made five rafts and set sail for land.  Of the five rafts, three sank, including the one with Narvaez.  The two rafts that made it safely to land faced even more hardships.  However, they did claim the title of the first Europeans to set foot in what is now Texas.  The surviving rafts landed near modern day Galveston, Texas.  Initially, they received a warm welcome, but, due to the number of natives who died from diseases probably brought by the Europeans, tension grew between the Spaniards and Native Americans.  However, Caveza de Vaca was able to find his place in their society by transforming himself from a conquistador to a trader and healer in the community.  Over the years, he watched the climate and hardship claim the lives of most of his comrades until there were only three others left in 1852.  Together, they decided to head west and south in hopes of returning to Spanish held territory.  Finally, in 1536, the group made contact with a group of Spaniards in the Americans to take slaves.  He eventually made his way back to Spain, as one of the four known survivors of Narvaez’s ill-fated expedition.  Because of the kindness of the Native Americans, he went on to petition the Spanish government to modify their policies towards the Native Americans.  He also served in  several political offices, including as governor of the Mexican Territories.  He was sent back to Spain to be tried for corruption and was convicted, but in 1552, he was pardoned and became a judge in Seville, Spain until his death.

Alvar Nuenez Cabeza de Vaca’s approximate journey:





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