Lest We Forget - African American Military History by Researcher, 
					Author and Veteran Bennie McRae, Jr.

South to Mexico City

South to Mexico City

 

The Story of Estevanico

Fall, 1535:
Late in the fall, the marchers were led to the Rio Grande river just below the mouth of the Conchos river flowing north out of Chihuahua, This was enemy territory for the Plains Indian followers who were persuaded to turn back, Guided by two Indian women, Estevanico and Castillo forged ahead to explore the area, Looking down from the hills, they saw the buildings of a town.** It was a Pueblo of the Jumanos. The wanderers were well received and hurried back to get the others, The "Relacion" reports, 'They gave us beans, many pumpkins, calabashes, blankets of cowhide and other things�" Here were fixed structures, rigid walled houses, permanent buildings and people more civilized than any seen in seven years, It was a memorable meeting, For three weeks they enjoyed moving up the Rio Grande valley from one Jumano village to another, A few miles south of present Cuidad Juarez they learned of a trail. that went over great mountains and beyond to a sea, That had to be their route, It; had to lead to Mexico on the South Sea.

The Jumanos warned that it was winter (December), a vast desert, very little water, and very few people. They were still kindly enough to act as guides, The march across the desert of Chihuahua began. Seventeen days to the Santa Maria, a small stream that rose and died in the desert, seventeen more days and the high northern end of the Sierra Madre came into view, Gradually climbing, they would clear the continental divide and begin the long descent toward sea level. Passing down the valley along the Senora river they came again to a village of permanent buildings near the present site of Ures, Sonora. When they were given grain, flour, pumpkins, beans, and shawls of cotton, these in turn were blessed by Cabeza de Vaca and given to their Jumano guides, who were happy to receive them and return home.

This was a pueblo of the Opata tribe which belonged to the large Piman family. In the "Relacion" it became El Pueblo de los Corazones, the Pueblo of the Hearts, after they were offered at a banquet, the hearts of six hundred deer. Along with feasts, they were given pieces of turquoise and coral. Coral from the South Sea? They were told that it was not too far distant.

Of particular interest to Cabeza de Vaca were five arrowheads given him which appeared to be Emeralds (probably malachite). He was told they came from the north where there were large towns of large houses. Plumes and feathers of parrots had been traded for them.

After three days, they moved out southward with the Opatas guiding them over easy trails away from the lowlands along the sea. At the Yaqui river a delay of two weeks became necessary while the river receded from flood stage. While there, hundreds of Indians visited the camp. One day Castillo was surprised to see on a thong around a native's neck a buckle that had to have come from a Spanish sword belt with a horseshoe nail sewn to it. direct questions would not do with the Indians. After subtle and devious inquiry they were convinced that Spaniards had actually been in the area.

They quickly crossed the Yaqui and continued south. The "Relacion" says, "We made greater speed." With hundreds of Indians following, they were moving into the region of another of the dark chapters in Spanish history. Today the fertile farmland of Sinaloa is beautiful country. They found it burned, deserted, and desolated. The Christians had been there. Spanish slavers had destroyed the towns, taken half of the men, and all the women and boys. Those who remained were starving regugees.

Why the Indians accepted and trusted these four wanderers is hard to understand. Cabeza de Vaca was indignant, sorrowful, and then furious. this was a section that could be a prosperous colonial empire that was being ruined. Terrell states, "He swore before God that he would restore peace to the land."

Finally, someone has said March 9, 1536, they came upon twenty Spanish horsemen along the Sinaloa tiver. Who can say who was the most surprised? Estevanico and Cabeza de Vaca were the advance pair who hailed them after eight years of struggling to stay alive. To the horsemen, they were a bearded skinny white man who spoke Spanish and a huge, half naked Negro with red feather plumes in his hair who suddenly appeared out of the bushes. The six hundred Indians following with Dorantes and Castillo brought on a disquieting conflict. Should they be made slaves or allowed to continue? In the end Cabeza de Vaca prevailed and they moved on to Culiacan.

May 15, 1536:
With twenty mounted horsemen and five hundred slaves, the four started the last leg of their long journey, to first confront Governor Guzman in Campostela, and then on to Mexico city. Let us hope that Estevanico, though a slave in name only, did not have to walk those last eight hundred miles.

June 24, 1536:
The procession entered Mexico City to the cheers and waving flags of the crowds along the streets. Terrell says that the next day there was a great celebration and a jousting of bulls.

**Historical note: This was the first sighting of Pueblo Indian houses by any Europeans.

NEXT: THE COURT OF THE VICEROY

 


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Category: General History | Subcategory: The Story of Estevanico | Tags: Mexico , estevanico
Related Topics / Keywords / Phrases: 1535, 1536, Calaba, DE, Indians, Maine, Mexico, Ohio, Oran, Plains, Pueblo, Rio Grande River (Texas), Territory,