Narváez expedition was a Spanish attempt to
install Pánfilo de
Narváez as adelantado
(governor) of Spanish Florida during
the years 1527 – 1528.
The crew initially numbered about 400. Making stops along the
way to Florida at Hispaniola and Cuba, the
expedition suffered a hurricane among
After landing near Tampa Bay, they were
subject to attacks by American Indians
food and disease. Over the years, only five of the original party
The survivors were Álvar Núñez Cabeza de
, notable for writing about the ill-fated expedition in his
(The Report), published in 1542, later called
; the Moorish
, Alonso del Castillo Maldonado
and Andrés Dorantes
. Juan Ortiz
rejoining Europeans after about 12 years.
On December 11, 1526, Carlos Ⅰ of Spain
Pánfilo de Narváez
license to claim what is now the Gulf Coast of the United States.
The contract gave him one year to gather an army, leave Spain, be
large enough to found at least two towns of one hundred people
each, and garrison two more fortresses anywhere along the
Narváez was largely responsible for funding the expedition himself.
He accomplished this mostly by securing outside investors with the
lure of riches comparable to those found by Hernán Cortés
. He also called in
many debts owed to him, and paid for much of it out of his own
Núñez Cabeza de Vaca
was appointed the treasurer and acted as
the king's eyes and ears. He was responsible for making sure the
king got 5% of any wealth acquired during the expedition and acted
as second in command. Other members of the expedition included
Alonso de Solís as royal inspector of mines, Alonso Enríquez as
comptroller, an Aztec prince named Don Pedro, and a contingent of
priests led by Father Juan
17, 1527, the expedition departed Spain from the port of Sanlúcar de
Barrameda at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River.
force were about 450 troops, officers, and slaves. About 150 others
were sailors, wives (married men could not travel without wives to
the Indies), and servants.
stop on the voyage was the Canary Islands 850 miles into the Atlantic and about a
Here they stopped to gather more supplies
such as water, wine, firewood, meats, and fruit.
Hispaniola and Cuba
arrived in Santo
Domingo sometime in August of 1527.
During the stay,
troops began deserting. Although always a problem on such
expeditions, it was exacerbated by the recent return of a similar
journey led by Lucas
Vázquez de Ayllón
in which 450 of the 600 men perished. Nearly
one hundred men deserted in the first month in Santo Domingo. The
main reasons for the stop was the purchase of two small ships for
exploring the coastline and the purchase of as many horses as
possible. Although he was only able to get one more ship, they set
sail once again.
arrived in Santiago in late
As Cuba was the home of Narváez and his family,
he had many contacts through which he could collect more supplies,
horses, and men. After meeting with his wealthy friend Vasco
Porcallo, Narváez sent part of the fleet to Trinidad to collect horses and other supplies from his
put Cabeza de Vaca and a captain named Pantoja in charge of the two
ships sent to Trinidad, while he took the other four ships to the Gulf of
On about 9 November, the two ships arrived
in Trinidad to collect the supplies. Unfortunately, a hurricane
arrived shortly after them. The storm
sank both ships, killed 60 of the men onboard, drowned a fifth of
all the expedition's horses, and destroyed all the new supplies
Recognizing the need to regroup, Narváez sent
the four remaining ships to Cienfuegos under the command of Cabeza de Vaca.
stayed ashore in order to gather recruits and purchase more ships.
After nearly four months, on February 20, 1528, he arrived in
Cienfuegos with one of two new ships and a few more recruits.
ship he sent to Havana ahead of
They had, at this point, about 400 men and 80 horses.
The winter layover caused a depletion of supplies and they were to
restock in Havana on the way to the Florida coast.
One of the new men Narváez hired was a master pilot named Miruelo
who claimed detailed knowledge of the Gulf Coast. The debate has
lasted centuries over his identity and knowledge. In any case, only
two days after leaving Cienfuegos on the way to Havana, every ship
in the fleet ran aground on the Canarreos shoals just off the coast
of Cuba. There they stayed for two to three weeks, stuck and slowly
depleting their already meager supplies. Not until a storm raised
large seas were they able to escape the shoals in the second week
After battling more storms, they rounded the Western tip of Cuba
and made their way towards Havana. They were near enough to the
port that they could see the masts of other ships when the wind
kicked up. The fleet was blown into the Gulf of Mexico without
reaching Havana. Narváez decided not to try to get back to Havana.
Instead, he decided to press on with his colonization plans.
The next month was spent trying to reach the Mexican coast, but
they could not overcome the Gulf
's powerful current.
Arrival in Florida
April 12 of 1528, they spotted land north
of what is now Tampa
They turned south and traveled for two days
looking for a great harbor the master pilot Miruelo knew of.
Sometime during these two days, one of the five remaining ships was
lost. Finally, after spotting a shallow bay, Narváez ordered they
enter it. They passed through a small pass into Boca Ciega Bay
north of the entrance to Tampa
Bay. They spotted buildings set upon earthen mounds, indicating
encouraging signs of culture (and wealth), food, and water. The
natives were, in fact, members of the Safety Harbor Culture
. The Spaniards
dropped anchors and prepared a shore party.
One of the first ashore was the comptroller, Alonso Enríquez. He
made his way to the nearby village and traded small trinkets such
as glass beads, brass bells, and cloth for fresh fish and venison.
He reported to Narváez that, although there was little wealth among
the people, they seemed peaceful. For reasons unknown, the
villagers deserted their homes that night. Several members of the
expedition spent the next day exploring the empty village. The only
thing of note which they found was a small gold disc or rattle
among some fishing nets. This was enough for Narváez to order the
rest of the company to debark and establish a camp.
The next day, the royal officials assembled ashore and performed
the highly ritualized formal declaration and authentication of
Narváez as royal governor of La Florida. He then read the
, that explained
to any natives listening that their land belonged to Charles V by
order of the pope. He also explained that natives had the choice of
converting to Christianity. If they chose to convert, they would be
loved and welcomed with open arms. If they chose not to, war would
be made against them. Pleas and threats by a party of natives the
next day were ignored.
along with some other officers discovered Old Tampa Bay after some exploring.
They headed back to
the camp and ordered Miruelo to pilot a brigantine
in search of his harbor, which he
still had not found, and if unsuccessful, to return to Cuba.
However, Narváez never heard from Miruelo or the brigantine again.
Meanwhile, he took another party inland where they found another
village. Here they found some Spanish freight boxes being used as
coffins (which they destroyed) and a very little food and gold, and
were told by the locals that in Apalachee
to the north, there was plenty of both. They returned to the base
camp in Boca Ciega Bay and made plans to head north.
Narváez splits land and sea forces
On May 1
, 1528, Narváez decided to split the
force into land and sea contingents. The plan was to march an army
of 300 overland to the north while the ships, with the remaining
100 people, sailed up the coast to meet them. He believed the mouth
to Tampa Bay to be a short distance to the north (it was south).
Cabeza de Vaca argued against this plan, but was outvoted by the
rest of the officers. Narváez wanted Cabeza de Vaca to lead the sea
force, but he refused as a matter of honor, as Narváez had implied
he was a coward.
They marched in near starvation for two weeks before coming upon a
village north of the Withlacoochee River
enslaved more people and fed on the corn from the village's fields
for three days. Two exploratory parties were sent downstream on
both sides of the river to search for signs of the ships. After not
finding the ships, Narváez ordered they continue north to
Several years later, Cabeza de Vaca learned what became of the
ships. After not finding Narváez's party in Old Tampa Bay, Miruello
had gone to Havana to pick up the fifth ship waiting there with
supplies, and headed back to Tampa Bay. The other three ships had
headed north for some time without finding the land party and
decided to go back to Tampa Bay also. After meeting up, the fleet
went in search of the land party for nearly a year before turning
around and heading to Mexico. Juan
, a member of the naval force, was captured by the Safety
Harbor people and lived as a slave at Uzita
for nearly twelve years before being rescued by Hernando de Soto
They meet the Timucua
From scout reports, the Timucua
party of Europeans was nearing their territory. They decided to
meet the Europeans as they came near on June 17. Through hand signs
and gestures, Narváez communicated to their chief, Dulchanchellin,
that they were headed to Apalachee. Dulchanchellin was apparently
excited by this as the Apalachee were his enemies.
two leaders exchanged gifts, the expedition followed the Timucua
into their territory, crossing the Suwannee River.
During the crossing of the river, an
officer named Juan Velázquez charged into it with his horse,
drowning them both. His was the first non-shipwreck casualty of the
expedition, and it grieved them greatly. His horse was eaten that
night by the starving army.
When the Spaniards arrived at the Timucua village on the 18th, the
chief sent provisions of maize. That night, an arrow was shot past
one of Narváez's men near a watering hole, for unknown reasons. The
next morning, the Spaniards found the natives had left the village
deserted, so they set out once again for Apalachee. They soon found
themselves being followed by the hostile natives. Narváez laid a
successful trap for the pursuing natives, and they captured three
or four, whom they used as guides. They had no further contact with
On June 25, 1528, they entered Apalachee territory. They soon found
a small community of only about forty houses, but thought it was
the capital of Apalachee. In fact, it was only a small outlying
village of a much larger culture. The Spanish attacked, took
several hostages including the village's cacique
, and occupied the village. Although the
villagers had no riches as Narváez was expecting, they did have
Soon after Narváez took the village, the Apalachee began attacking
the Europeans. The first attack was a force of 200 warriors who
employed burning arrows to set fire to the houses the Europeans
occupied. The warriors quickly dispersed and only lost one man. The
next day a second force of 200 warriors equipped with large bows
attacked from the opposite side of the village. This force also
quickly dispersed and only lost one man.
After this attack, the Apalachee changed to guerilla warfare
tactics. It suited the
Apalachee as they could fire their bows five or six times while the
Spanish loaded a crossbow
. They harassed the Spanish continuously
for the next three weeks with their large powerful bows. During
this time, Narváez sent out three scouting missions in search of
larger or wealthier towns. All three came back without good news.
Frustrated by the lack of good fortune and his own failing health,
Narváez ordered the expedition to head south. Their Apalachee and
Timucua captives told him the people of Aute had a great deal of
food and the village was near the sea. To get there, they had to
cross a large swamp.
For the first two days out of the village, the Spaniards were not
attacked. When they were up to their chests in water, the first
attack came. They were showered with arrows and could do very
little about it. Nearly everything the Spanish had was useless or
made the situation worse. Horses could not attack, crossbows and
harquebusiers could not be reloaded, and their heavy armor was
dangerous in the deep water. They were able to reach solid ground
in time to drive off the attackers, though. For the next two weeks,
they made their way through the swamp, occasionally being attacked
by the Apalachee.
When the Spanish finally reached Aute
found it already deserted and burnt, but they harvested enough
corn, beans, and squash
from the garden there to feed their party, many of whom were
starving, wounded and sick. After two days, Narváez sent Cabeza de
Vaca to look for an opening to the sea. He didn't find the open
sea, but after half a day's march along the Wakulla River
and St. Marks River
, he found shallow, salty
water filled with oyster beds. Two more days of scouting produced
no better results, and the men returned to tell Narváez the
He decided the company would travel to the oyster beds because they
were food. As the horses carried the sick and wounded, the Spanish
realized they were struggling for survival. Some were thinking of
cannibalism. During the march to the shallow bay, some of the
contemplated stealing their horses
and abandoning everyone else. Although Narváez was too ill to take
action, Cabeza de Vaca got word of the plan and convinced them to
Bay of Horses
After a few days stuck near the shallow waters, a member of the
group came up with a plan. He detailed how they could melt down the
weaponry and armor to make tools to construct new boats. The party
agreed and started action on it August 4, 1528.
They constructed a forge out of a log and used deerskins for the
bellows. They cut down trees and made charcoal for the forge. Then
they made hammers, saws, axes, and nails out of their melted-down
iron gear. Caulking was made from the pitch
of pine trees, and palmetto leaves were
used as oakum
. Shirts were sewn together into
sails. They made occasional raids on the Aute village and stole 640
of corn to sustain themselves during
the construction. As de Vaca related it, twice, within sight of
their camp, they lost ten men gathering shellfish to Apalache
The horses were killed off during the course of construction, one
every three days. They were used as a source of food and
construction materials. For instance, the horsehair was used for
making rope and the skins were used to make bags to store water for
the voyage. As horses were very important to the Spanish,
especially the nobility, they named the bay in honor of their
They finished building five boats on September 20 and left
September 22. After being ravaged by disease, starvation, and
attacks by the various peoples they intended to conquer, 242 men
were still alive. About fifty men were carried by each boat, which
were thirty to forty feet long and had a shallow draft
, sail, and oars.
A second hurricane
thirst and starvation had reduced the expedition to about eighty
survivors when a hurricane dumped Cabeza de Vaca and his companions
on the western shore of a barrier island, which historians believe
For the next four years, Cabeza de Vaca and
a steadily dwindling number of his comrades lived in the complex
native world of what is now South
Four survivors finally reach fellow Spaniards
By 1532, only three other members of the original expedition were
still alive -- Alonso del
, Andrés Dorantes de
, and Estevanico
, an African
slave. Together with Cabeza de Vaca, they headed west and south in
hopes of reaching the Spanish Empire's outpost in Mexico. They were
the first men of Europe and Africa to enter the American West.The
precise route of the survivors has been difficult to ascertain, but
they apparently traveled across present-day Texas, perhaps into New
Mexico and Arizona and through Mexico's Northern provinces.
1536, near Culiacán in present-day Sinaloa, the survivors finally met
fellow Spaniards on a slave-taking expedition.
As Cabeza de
Vaca records, his countrymen were "dumbfounded at the sight of me,
strangely dressed and in the company of Indians. They just stood
staring for a long time."
- , 3 vols.
- Cabeza de
Vaca, Álvar Núñez.
- Maura, Juan Francisco. Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca: el gran
burlador de América. Parnaseo/Lemir. Valencia:Universidad de