Here is a little known story with tremendous possibilities. It is also a true story, the historical facts having been well documented. The possibilities are exciting when you realize that it could become spectacular summer theater, a movie, a full scale musical show, or grand opera, and as a result bring added luster to the giant of chapter one in American Black History.
When our children are taught that American History jumps from 1492 to Jamestown in 1607 and Plymouth Rock in 1620, there is no incentive to question further. Until History becomes the personal experiences of real people, stumbling across a few random dates will excite no interest.
Our modern history teachers owe all of us in this country an apology. They neglect to cover the series of early explorations that determined the size and physical characteristics of this land. These were the explorations that would encourage its eventual colonization.
As Charles P. Lummis wrote in 1891, "I hope someday to see a real history of the United States - - - a book which will realize that the early history of this wonderful country is not limited to a narrow strip on the Atlantic seaboard, but that it began in the great Southwest; and that before the oldest of the Pilgrim Fathers had been born, swarthy Spanish heroes were colonizing what is now the United States."
Sorry, "Lum", a hundred years hasn't changed anything. These people haven't walked from Cincinnati to Los Angeles in your footsteps and still have a very narrow viewpoint.
What is needed here and now is a personality of great energy, determination, and perseverance, or perhaps another pair equal to Rodgers and Hart or Lerner and Loewe. The talents of composer, songwriter, playwright, choreographer, and historical researcher are the simple necessities. This will not be some journey of the imagination filled with Hollywood hype. The history is available for anyone to use. Someone needs only to grasp the possibilities.
But enough! Let us turn back time to the story of Estevanico.
Turn Back Time
Turn back time; this is no modern tale. Turn back time to the dim and distant days of long ago. Roll back the clock four hundred years and more. Across the mighty seas to a warm and sunny shore. The year of fifteen hundred is when we start our story. Picture then slave caravans, a starved and filthy lot. Six hundred women slaves there were; my mother was among them. Two months they trudged from Timbuktu, across desert fierce and hot. Slave markets of Morocco, were they not evil too? A kindly master bought her/ She lived there for a year. But served no master very long. She died when I was born. And thus begins our narrative, a legend you must hear. I never knew her loving care in sunny Azamur, As I grew strong and healthy to face slave life without fear, Till freedom was my just reward in the New World far away, For I am Estevanico, her son, her golden earring in my ear.
Old, very old, historical records have established the actual dates and pertinent details of this chronicle. There is no intent to write again the astounding story of Estevanico. It has been done at least twice before in a far better style than would be possible here.
This will be a chronology of those dates to establish a framework, a skeleton of massive bones that can support massive drama, a foundation worthy of great imagination.
Two small thin volumes provide most of our information. John Upton Terrell published "Estevanico The Black" in 1968. This reporter, biographer and historian has written numerous books on the early history of our Western areas. Within its 155 pages, he has given us the full story of an extraordinary man.
Then in 1974, "Estebanico" was issued by Helen Rand Parish. It is another slim book of 128 pages. There are some oddities to be noted. While she writes that it is the result of "new historical discovery", it is listed as a book of juvenile fiction. In addition, there are eight pages of Bibliography and eight pages of author's notes. That hardly seems normal for a children's novel. What got mixed up?
Terrell uses the spelling found in the writing of Cabeza de Vaca. That seems perfectly logical since much of the story in found there. Certainly no one would have dared use the literal translation "Little Stevie" except in fun.
The two authors cite at least eleven common references in their Bibliographies. The basic information comes from the "Relacion" of Cabeza de Vaca, the report of Friar Marcos de Niza, the writings of Castaneda, and the early American historians Bancroft, Bolton, and Hodge. Don't expect new and startling revelation on the evening news reports.
In addition, Terrell has written two other books that supply useful and interesting information. "Journey Into Darkness", is the account of Cabeza de Vaca's exploration from Tampa Bay to Culiacan, Sinaloa. "Pueblos Gods and Spaniards" is a history of the Indian Pueblos of Arizona and New Mexico.
Marshall C. Harrold