Master your Minecraft
 
 

Special Offers see all

Enter to WIN a $100 Credit

Subscribe to PowellsBooks.news
for a chance to win.
Privacy Policy

Tour our stores


    Recently Viewed clear list


    Contributors | November 26, 2014

    Chris Faatz: IMG The Collected Poems of James Laughlin



    Fall has brought us a true gift in the publication of the massive The Collected Poems of James Laughlin, published by New Directions in an... Continue »

    spacer
Qualifying orders ship free.
$18.99
New Trade Paper
Ships in 1 to 3 days
Add to Wishlist
available for shipping or prepaid pickup only
Available for In-store Pickup
in 7 to 12 days
Qty Store Section
25 Remote Warehouse World History- General
4 Remote Warehouse Native American- General Native American Studies

More copies of this ISBN

Brutal Journey: Cabeza de Vaca and the Epic First Crossing of North America

by

Brutal Journey: Cabeza de Vaca and the Epic First Crossing of North America Cover

 

 

Excerpt

Introduction

 

On Good Friday of 1528 an army of four hundred Spaniards, Africans, and Caribbean natives landed in the vicinity of Tampa Bay, Florida, under the command of a middle-aged conquistador with a last-chance license to conquer North America. They promptly disappeared without a trace into the swamps and, except for a small contingent that remained on board the ships, were soon assumed to be dead. But then, eight years and thousands of miles later, three Spaniards and a Moroccan wandered out of what is now the United States into what was then Cortés's gold-drenched Mexico.

 

They brought nothing back from their sojourn in the "unknown" north other than their story, for as one of them said later, "This alone is what a man who came away naked could carry out with him." But what a tale it was. Since leaving Tampa Bay, they and their dwindling company of comrades had become killers and cannibals, torturers and torture victims, slavers and enslaved. They became faith healers, arms dealers, canoe thieves, spider eaters, and finally, when there were only the four of them left trudging across the high Texas desert, they became itinerant messiahs. They became, in other words, whatever it took to stay alive long enough to inch their way across the continent toward Mexico, the only place they were certain they would find an outpost of the Spanish Empire.

 

Though well known to scholars of the European invasion of the New World, Pánfilo de Narváez's expedition to Florida is surprisingly unfamiliar to most North Americans. Part of the reason, no doubt, is the relative dearth of eyewitness accounts, a not-unexpected situation given the small number of survivors and the absence of even oral traditions reflecting the Native American perspective. There are only two firsthand narratives of the mission, both flawed in their own way and both European in origin. Best known is the astonishing personal memoir of the expedition's treasurer, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, whose primary goal in writing was to convince the king that he deserved to be rewarded for his sufferings and services to the crown. The other is a shorter, official report that was prepared jointly by the survivors not long after their return; unfortunately, it exists only in a paraphrased form in an early Spanish history of the Indies.

 

Attempting to bring some possible version of the truth into focus through these two documents alone would be like trying to discern the craters of the moon through a telescope rigged out of two lenses salvaged from two different optical devices. It's a useful and theoretically possible exercise, but often more tantalizing in the questions it opens up than authoritative about some objective "reality." Fortunately, further details about the expedition can be inferred from the many other, better-documented Spanish intrusions into the region during the same period. Decisions made by Narváez can be compared and contrasted to those of his peers in similar situations, giving rise to a far more nuanced image of the commander than the traditional one of a bungling and vicious buffoon. Likewise, Cabeza de Vaca is not, in the end, quite as unerringly faithful and righteous as his own memory might suggest.

 

Hints about the lives and livelihoods of the various Native Americans encountered by the travelers surface in archeological reports and dissertations. What's been learned in the last fifty years about the original inhabitants of Florida, in particular, opens the door to a more evenhanded image of the encounter between the conquistadors and the Indians. Likewise, high-tech research into the nature and volume of pre-Columbian trade within the Americas sheds new light on Cabeza de Vaca's temporary career as a peddler. In Texas and Mexico, meanwhile, a century of academic debates over the probable route of the survivors has finally coalesced into something resembling consensus.

 

And finally, for the interested person, the saw grass shallows of the Florida Panhandle are still there to wade out into. Thunderous downpours still roll in off the baked lands outside Laredo, Texas. Some of the plants may have changed, but the Sierra Madre remain.

 

The end result is a mosaic of pedigreed "facts" that when viewed as a whole bring a plausible rendering of the story to life. It's a daunting and occasionally frustrating undertaking; in a work of nonfiction there are always some tiles missing from the mosaic. Nonetheless, the story of the Narváez expedition is well worth the effort, and not only because the ordeal of the four who survived constitutes one of the greatest survival epics of all time. Or because they were arguably the first from the "Old World" to cross the continent of North America. Or that their journey and their stories inspired the better-known expeditions of De Soto and Coronado that followed them.

 

Beyond the day-to-day drama of the journey, what the Narváez survivors saw and said they saw provides a tantalizing glimpse of native North America in the moments before the waves of disease and dislocation began to change forever the human makeup of the continent. When fleshed out with what is known from other sources, the glimpse becomes something closer to a vision, and the journeyers--lost though they mostly were--become unintentional guides to a now lost New World.

 

It was a world populated by neither "noble savages" nor "bad Indians." As the survivors made their way from Florida to the Pacific, and then south, they met a dizzying array of peoples, some cruel enough to pluck men's beards out for pleasure, others kind enough to carry dying strangers to warm fires. Some were seemingly well off, dressed in fine furs and extravagant feather-work, others were desperately poor, their bellies bloated from hunger. And it wasn't just the residents of the New World that confronted the audacious newcomers; there were hurricanes and lightning, raging rivers, scorching deserts, and venomous vipers. This precontact North America--land, water, weather, and people--is the true protagonist of the story, against which the lives and dreams of the four hundred would-be conquerors are bent and twisted and, in all but a very few cases, extinguished.

 

For the expeditionaries setting out from Spain in 1527, North America began as an imagined place where they would find fabulous empires of gold: perhaps the seven lost cities supposedly settled by Portuguese bishops fleeing Muslim invaders in the early Middle Ages, or the fabled lands of the Amazon warriors, or even the fictional island of California. They would find nations of peoples waiting to be "liberated" from their heathen ways and ultimately thankful to be brought into the fold of "civilization," even if blood had to be spilled to convince them. In the process, the adventurers believed they would become wealthy beyond anything possible if they stayed home. Coming out of a seven-hundred-year tradition of privateer warfare against the Islamic Moors in Spain--the "reconquest"--they saw no conflict between fighting for their ideals and their pocketbooks at the same time. They were going to North America "to serve God and the king," as one of their contemporaries said, "and also to get rich."

 

As citizens of the strongest nation in Europe, an empire entering its golden age with a destiny ordained by the pope himself, the conquistadors had everything they needed to make it happen. They had the superior weapons, the legal structure, the philosophical framework, the experience, the private capital, and most of all they had the desire, hubris, and zeal. But in the end, on the ground in North America, for Narváez and his followers it wasn't enough. Even before they landed in Florida, reality slowly but methodically began stripping them of everything they thought they were and remaking them into something altogether strange and new. In the case of one of the survivors, the Moroccan slave Esteban, also called "the Black," the change was apparently irreversible.

 

All history is hindsight, of course, and in hindsight it's easy to say the hundreds who followed Narváez to their doom in the quagmire were fools following a fool. They probably were. But history also attempts to understand, and in 1527 there were plenty of reasons to leave the land of no-opportunity that was home and to believe in Narváez and join his mission to America. He was a seasoned and well-connected commander who had already played a major and bloody role in conquering the Caribbean, and had gotten rich doing so. More importantly to the rank and file, only seven years had passed since Cortés had conquered Montezuma's empire, and the fleets stuffed with treasure and rumor arriving from Mexico reignited the frenzy of interest in New World conquests that had flagged in the disappointing decades immediately following Columbus's discoveries. Where there was one such bonanza, there was sure to be another; and if Narváez and his army didn't go find it, others inevitably would. So the hundreds signed on to go to La Florida and told their loved ones not to worry.

 

Such historical "inevitabilities," driven as they are by great economic forces and social trends, are modern history's stock in trade. But in the end, they are only the stage on which real lives of pain and pleasure were played out, lives that were defined by various egos and varying abilities, and to some measure by chance. For Narváez himself, the connection to Cortés and Mexico was far more than simply inspirational. It was personal and direct, remembered with a wince each day whenever he put a hand up to his ruined eye socket. No, it was beyond personal; it was obsessive.

 

So the story begins not in Spain or in Florida, but in the Totonic city of Cempoallan, on the Gulf Coast of Mexico in the year 1520, not long after Cortés had placed Montezuma under house arrest up in Mexico City.

 

Copyright © 2006 by Paul Schneider. All rights reserved.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780805083200
Author:
Schneider, Paul
Publisher:
Owl Books (NY)
Subject:
North American
Subject:
Europe - Spain & Portugal
Subject:
General History
Subject:
Expeditions & Discoveries
Subject:
World History-General
Subject:
North America
Subject:
Americas (North Central South West Indies)
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Publication Date:
20070531
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
2 maps; 7 bandw illustrations
Pages:
384
Dimensions:
8.32 x 5.65 x 0.95 in

Other books you might like

  1. Mergers & Acquisitions Sale Hardcover $1.00
  2. Neptune's Ark: From Ichthyosaurs to... Used Trade Paper $6.95
  3. Outerbridge Reach Used Mass Market $1.00
  4. What Is the What
    Used Hardcover $10.95
  5. The Sun Also Rises
    Used Trade Paper $5.50
  6. One Man's Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey
    Used Trade Paper $7.95

Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Exploration » New World
History and Social Science » Native American » General Native American Studies
History and Social Science » US History » Colonial America
History and Social Science » World History » General
History and Social Science » World History » Spain
Travel » Travel Writing » Exploration

Brutal Journey: Cabeza de Vaca and the Epic First Crossing of North America Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$18.99 In Stock
Product details 384 pages Owl Books (NY) - English 9780805083200 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , The journey of the Narvaez expedition is one of the greatest survival epics in the history of American exploration. By combining the accounts of the explorers with the most recent findings of archaeologists and academic historians, this work offers an authentic narrative to replace a legend of North American exploration.
"Synopsis" by ,
“Schneiders thorough research and vivid writing create a fast-paced, moving story, one that is difficult to believe and impossible to forget.” 
The New York Times Book Review
 
A gripping survival epic, Brutal Journey tells the story of an army of would-be conquerors, bound for glory, who landed in Florida in 1528. But only four of the four hundred would survive: eight years and some five thousand miles later, three Spaniards and a black Moroccan wandered out of the wilderness to the north of the Rio Grande and into Cortess gold-drenched Mexico. The survivors brought nothing back other than their story, but what a tale it was. They had become killers and cannibals, torturers and torture victims, slavers and enslaved. They became faith healers, arms dealers, canoe thieves, spider eaters. They became, in other words, whatever it took to stay alive.
One part Lewis and Clark, one part Heart of Darkness, Brutal Journey tells the story of an army of would-be conquerors who came to the New World on the heels of Cortés. Bound for glory, they landed in Florida in 1528. But only four of the four hundred would survive: eight years and a 5,000-mile journey later, three Spaniards and a black Moroccan wandered out of the wilderness to the north of the Rio Grande and into Cortés's gold-drenched Mexico.
 
The survivors brought nothing back other than their story, but what a tale it was. They had become killers and cannibals, torturers and torture victims, slavers and enslaved. They became faith healers, arms dealers, canoe thieves, spider eaters, and finally, when there were only the four of them left in the high Texas desert, they became itinerate messiahs. They became, in other words, whatever it took to stay alive long enough to reach Mexico, the only place where they were certain they would find an outpost of the Spanish empire.

The journey of the Narváez expedition is one of the greatest survival epics in the history of American exploration. By combining the accounts of the explorers with the most recent findings of archaeologists and academic historians, Brutal Journey offers an authentic narrative to replace a legend of North American exploration.

"Brutal Journey is first-rate. Weaving anthropology, archeology, climatology, geography, and a half-dozen other disciplines into a riveting tale of courage, cruelty, and ultimately survival, Schneider does for Cabeza de Vaca and his comrades what the late Stephen Ambrose did (with Undaunted Courage) for Lewis and Clark."H. W. Brands, The Boston Globe

 

"The journals of Lewis and Clark are famed for their account of what was not just the unknown but the barely believable. And yet they weren't the first whites to cross the continent. A small band of Europeans had traversed it on foot and in a handful of jerry-built small boats almost 275 years before Lewis and Clark. Their route was far to the south, and only four of the 400 who started were to walk out alive. One of them, Álvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, provided history with a dramatic chronicle of the ordeal. The story of that expedition, a would-be mission of conquest run to ground, 'is surprisingly unfamiliar to most North Americans,' asserts Paul Schneider in the introduction of his engaging Brutal Journey: The Epic Story of the First Crossing of North America. That may be so in a popular sense, but scholars have debated aspects of the journey for generations, studying its ethnographic implications, its probable route and other questions, and in that sense the basics are known and have been the subject of other books. Schneider is to be commended, however, for wrapping significant context around the bare bones of the historical record, for he rightly calls the travails described by Cabeza de Vaca 'one of the greatest survival epics of all time.' Brutal Journey extends out from what is a stark account of some 80 pages in Cabeza de Vaca's original by drawing on the opinions of scholars, filling in cultural details, pointing out debate that has occurred where questions arise from primary texts, quoting extensively from reports of Hernando De Soto's expedition about a dozen years later for comparison (similar terrain, encounters with the same native tribes, better recorded) and, frankly, inserting educated guesses by Schneider where he finds no certainty but hazards an assertion anyway (watch for qualifiers such as 'most likely' and 'probably')."Art Winslow, Chicago Tribune

 

"When Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca staggered home to Spain in 1537 after a spectacularly failed expedition to the New World, he brought his king not the customary gifts of gold or new territory, but simply a story. 'This alone,' he explained, 'is what a man who came away naked could carry out with him.' Cabeza de Vaca's classic memoir has since become a treasure in its own right. One of two known firsthand narratives of this early expedition to Florida, it is illuminating and riveting. However, like any survivor's account, it does not, and cannot, tell the whole story. In his fascinating new book Brutal Journey, Paul Schneider fills in the missing pieces, bringing to life a nearly 500-year-old tale of disaster, misery and the wages of greed and arrogance . . . Schneider, the author of The Adirondacks: A History of America's First Wilderness and The Enduring Shore: A History of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket, deftly describes the striking reversal of roles between the native North Americans and their would-be enslavers. Having come to the New World believing that they were not only conquerors but also saviorsbringing civilization and Christianity to the savagesthe Spaniards soon found themselves objects of the Indians' pity and disgust. Sick, naked and starving, they moved one tribe to tears. And when they resorted to cannibalism, they were nearly massacred for the abomination . . . In addition to Cabeza de Vaca's memoir and a version of an official report written by the expedition's survivors, Schneider uses accounts of other Spanish expeditions to North America, modern-day archaeological evidence and his own travels in the region to broaden and richen the narrative . . . Schneider's thorough research and vivid writing create a fast-paced, moving story, one that is difficult to believe and impossible to forget."Candice Millard, The New York Times

 
"[Schneider has] a vigorous, clear style, and his use of contextualizing sourcesarchaeology, ethnology, histories of other explorations of the periodis judicious and economical."Brian Hall, The Washington Post
 
"Schneider's polished narrative draws on both [chronicles of the Narvaez debate], and he tries to square them with archaeological reports, dissertations and academic debates . . . [He] captures the terrible urgency of their situation with a smooth, professorial voice that mingles color with reserve.”Peter Lewis, San Francisco Chronicle

“The voids and vagaries in certain parts of Cabeza de Vacas account are cleverly and judiciously filled by information from later expeditions to the same places by other Spanish conquistadors.”Norman N. Brown, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, Illinois)

"Brutal Journey is a wond

"Synopsis" by ,
“Schneiders thorough research and vivid writing create a fast-paced, moving story, one that is difficult to believe and impossible to forget.” 
—The New York Times Book Review
 
A gripping survival epic, Brutal Journey tells the story of an army of would-be conquerors, bound for glory, who landed in Florida in 1528. But only four of the four hundred would survive: eight years and some five thousand miles later, three Spaniards and a black Moroccan wandered out of the wilderness to the north of the Rio Grande and into Cortess gold-drenched Mexico. The survivors of the Narváez expedition brought nothing back other than their story, but what a tale it was. They had become killers and cannibals, torturers and torture victims, slavers and enslaved. They became faith healers, arms dealers, canoe thieves, spider eaters. They became, in other words, whatever it took to stay alive.
spacer
spacer
  • back to top

FOLLOW US ON...

     
Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.