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Narvaez was deserted by his soldiers and became a prisoner in the City of Mexico, where he was detained during the two years which followed. Cortes was at the height of his power, and Narvaez must have felt a longing to rival the successes of the conqueror, who had won the wealth of the Mexican empire. After Cortes resumed his dutiful obedience to the Spanish crown, friends at home obtained a royal order which effected the release of Narvaez, who returned to Spain at the earliest opportunity. Almost as soon as he had established himself anew in the favor of the court, he petitioned the King for a license which should permit him to conduct explorations in the New World.
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After some delay, the desired patent was granted. It authorized Narvaez to explore, conquer, and colonize the country between Florida and the Rio de Palmas, a grant comprising all that portion of North America bordering on the Gulf of Mexico, which is now included within the limits of the United States. Preparations were at once begun for the complete organization of an expedition suitable to the extent of this territory and to the power and dignity of its governor. He went first to Cuba, where he refitted his fleet and replaced one vessel which had been lost in a hurricane during the voyage.
When everything was ready to start for the unexplored mainland, he ordered the pilots to conduct his fleet to the western limits of his jurisdiction—our Texas. They landed him, April 15, , on the coast of the present Florida, at a bay which the Spaniards called Bahia de la Cruz, and which the map of Sebastian Cabot enables us to identify with Apalache bay. The pilots knew that a storm had driven them out of their course toward the east, but they could not calculate on the strong current of the gulf stream.
They assured the commander that he was not far from the Rio de Palmas, the desired destination, and so he landed his force of 50 horses and men—just half the number of the soldiers, mechanics, laborers, and priests who had started with, him from Spain ten months before. He sent one of his vessels back to Cuba for recruits, and ordered the remaining three to sail along the coast toward the west and to wait for the army at the fine harbor of Panuco, which was reported to be near the mouth of Palmas river.
The fate of these vessels is not known.
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Narvaez, having completed these arrangements, made ready to lead his army overland to Panuco. The march began April For a while, the Spaniards took a northerly direction, and then they turned toward the west. Progress was slow, for the men knew nothing of the country, and the forests and morasses presented many difficulties to the soldiers p unused to woodcraft. Little help could be procured from the Indians, who soon became openly hostile wherever the Spaniards encountered them. Food grew scarce, and no persuasion could induce the natives to reveal hidden stores of corn, or of gold.
On May 15, tired and discouraged, the Spaniards reached a large river with a strong current flowing toward the south. They rested here, while Cabeza de Vaca, the royal treasurer accompanying the expedition, took a small party of soldiers and followed the banks of the river down to the sea. The fleet was not waiting for them at the mouth of this stream, nor could anything be learned of the fine harbor for which they were searching.
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Disappointed anew by the report which Cabeza de Vaca made on his return to the main camp, the Spanish soldiers crossed the river and continued their march toward the west. They plodded on and on, and after awhile turned southward, to follow down the course of another large river which blocked their westward march. On the last day of July they reached a bay of considerable size, at the mouth of the river. They named this Bahia de los Cavallos, perhaps, as has been surmised, because it was here that they killed the last of their horses for food.
The Spaniards, long before this, had become thoroughly disheartened. Neither food nor gold could be found. The capital cities, toward which the Indian captives had directed the wandering strangers, when reached, were mere groups of huts, situated in some cases on mounds of earth. Not a sign of anything which would reward their search, and hardly a thing to eat, had been discovered during the months of toilsome marching.
The Spaniards determined to leave the country. They constructed forges in their camp near the seashore, and hammered their spurs, stirrups, and other iron implements of warfare into nails and saws and axes, with which to build the boats necessary for their escape from the country. Ropes were made of the tails and manes of the horses, whose hides, pieced out with the shirts of the men, were fashioned into sails.
By September 22, five boats were ready, each large enough to hold between 45 and 50 men.
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In these the soldiers embarked. Scarcely a man among them knew anything of navigation, and they certainly knew nothing about the navigation of this coast. They steered westward, keeping near the land, and stopping occasionally for fresh water. Sometimes they obtained a little food. Toward the end of October they came to the mouth of a large river which poured forth so strong a current that it drove the boats out to sea.
Two, those which contained Narvaez and the friars, were lost. The men in the other three boats were driven ashore by a storm, somewhere on the coast of western Louisiana or eastern Texas. These four men, with a single exception, 3 were the only survivors of the three hundred who had entered the continent with Narvaez eight years before. Cabeza de Vaca and his companions stayed in Mexico for several months, as the guests of the viceroy, Don Antonio de Mendoza.
At first, it was probably the intention of the three Spaniards to return to Spain, in order to claim the due reward for their manifold sufferings. Mendoza says, in a letter dated December 10, , 4 that he purchased the negro Estevan from Dorantes, so that there might be someone left in New Spain who could guide an expedition back into the countries about which the wanderers had heard.
An earlier letter from the viceroy, dated February 11, , commends Cabeza de Vaca and Francisco Dorantes—he must have meant Andres, and perhaps wrote it so in his original manuscript—as deserving the favor of the Empress. Maldonado is not mentioned in this letter, and no trace of him has been found after the arrival of the four survivors in Mexico. All that we know about him is that his home was in Salamanca. Cabeza de Vaca and Dorantes started from Vera Cruz for Spain in October, , but their vessel was stranded before it got out of the harbor.
This accident obliged them to postpone their departure until the following spring, when Cabeza de Vaca returned home alone. He told the story of his wanderings to the court and the King, and was rewarded, by , with an appointment as adelantado, giving him the command over the recently occupied regions about the Rio de la Plata. The position was one for which he was unfitted, and his subordinates p sent him back to Spain. The complaints against him were investigated by the Council for the Indies, but the judgment, if any was given, has never been published.
He certainly was not punished, and soon settled down in Seville, where he was still living, apparently, twenty years later.
While Dorantes was stopping at Vera Cruz during the winter of —37, he received a letter from Mendoza, asking him to return to the City of Mexico. After several interviews, the viceroy induced Dorantes to remain in New Spain, agreeing to provide him with a party of horsemen and friars, in order to explore more thoroughly the country through which he had wandered. Mendoza explains the details of his plans in the letter written in December, , and declares that he expected many advantages would be derived from this expedition which would redound to the glory of God and to the profit of His Majesty the King.
This reform in the collection of rents and other royal exactions and the careful attention to all the details of the fiscal administration were among the most valuable of the many services rendered by Mendoza as viceroy. The three Spaniards wrote several narratives of their experiences on the expedition of Narvaez, and of their adventurous journey from the gulf coast of Texas to the Pacific coast of Mexico. The story of their eight years of wandering must have been often repeated—of their slavery, their buffalo-hunting expeditions, of the escape from their Indian masters, and their career as traders and as medicine men.
These were wonderful and strange p experiences, but the story contained little to arouse the eager interest of the colonists in New Spain, whose minds had been stirred by the accounts which came from Peru telling of the untold wealth of the Incas. A few things, however, had been seen and heard by the wanderers which suggested the possibility of lands worth conquering. The effects of his careful and intelligent administration were already beginning to appear in the increasing prosperity of the province and the improved condition of the colonists and of their lands.
The authority of the viceroy was ample and extensive, although he was limited to some extent by the audiencia, the members of which had administered the government of the province since the retirement of Cortes. The viceroy was the president of this court, which had resumed more strictly judicial functions after his arrival, and he was officially advised by his instructions from the King to consult with his fellow members on all matters of importance.
Within a year he had made himself so deservedly unpopular that when he heard that Cortes was coming back to Mexico from Spain, with the new title of marquis and fresh grants of power from the King, he thought it best to get out of the way of his rival. Without relinquishing the title to his position in the capital p city, Guzman collected a considerable force and marched away toward the west and north, determined to win honor and security by new conquests. He explored and subdued the country for a considerable distance along the eastern shores of the Gulf of California, but he could find nothing there to rival the Mexico of Motecuhzoma.
Meanwhile reports reached Charles V of the manner in which Guzman had been treating the Indians and the Spanish settlers, and so, March 17, , 11 the King appointed the Licentiate Diego Perez de la Torre to take the residencia 12 of Guzman. At the same time Torre was commissioned to replace Guzman as governor of New Galicia, as this northwestern province had been named. After his trial he was detained in Mexico until June 30, , when he was enabled to leave New Spain by an order which directed him to surrender his person to the officers of the Casa de Contratacion, 13 at Seville.
Guzman lost no time in going to Spain, where he spent the next four years in urging his claims to a right to participate in the northern conquests. This was merely a temporary appointment, however, until a new governor could be selected. Cortes had been engaged, ever since his return from Spain, in fitting out expeditions which came to nothing, 15 but by which he hoped to accomplish his schemes for completing the exploration of the South sea.
His leisure was more than occupied by his efforts to outwit the agents of the viceroy and the audiencia, who had received orders from the King to investigate the extent and condition of the estates held by Cortes. In the spring of , Cortes established a colony on the opposite coast of California, the supposed Island of the Marquis, at Santa p Cruz, 16 near the modern La Paz.
Storms and shipwreck, hunger and surfeiting, reduced the numbers and the enthusiasm of the men whom he had conducted thither, and when his vessels returned from the mainland with the news that Mendoza had arrived in Mexico, and bringing letters from his wife urging him to return at once, Cortes went back to Mexico. A few months later he recalled the settlers whom he had left at Santa Cruz, in accordance, it may be, with the command or advice of Mendoza.
Pedro de Alvarado was the least known of these rival claimants. He had been a lieutenant of Cortes until he secured an independent command in Guatemala, Yucatan and Honduras, where he subdued the natives, but discovered nothing except that there was nowhere in these regions any store of gold or treasures.
Abandoning this field, he tried to win a share in the conquests of Pizarro and Almagro.
He approached Peru from the north, and conducted his army across the mountains. This march, one of the most disastrous in colonial history, so completely destroyed the efficiency of his force that the conquerors of Peru easily compelled him to sell them what was left of his expedition. They paid a considerable sum, weighed out in bars of silver which he found, after his return to Panama, to be made of lead with a silver veneering.
This was in While at court Alvarado must have met Cabeza de Vaca. He changed his plans for making a voyage to the South seas, and secured from the King, whose favor he had easily regained, a commission which allowed him to build a fleet in Central America and explore the South sea—the Pacific—toward the west or the north. He returned to America early in , bringing with him everything needed in the equipment of a large fleet.
Mendoza, meanwhile, —, had been making plans and preparations. He had not come to the New World as an adventurer, and he lacked the spirit of eager, reckless, hopeful expectation of wealth and fame, which accomplished so much for the geographical unfolding of the two Americas. Mendoza appears to have arranged his plans as carefully as if he had been about to engage in some intrigue at court. He p recognized his rivals and their strength. Cortes was active, but he was where Mendoza could watch everything that he tried to do. So long as he kept to the water there seemed to be little danger.
Representing the Crown and its interests, he felt sure of everything else. The viceroy had no ambition to take the field in person as an explorer, and he selected Alvarado as the most available leader for the expedition which he had in mind, probably about the time that the latter came back to the New World.
He wrote to Alvarado, suggesting an arrangement between them, and after due consideration on both sides, terms and conditions mutually satisfactory were agreed on. Mendoza succeeded in uniting Alvarado to his interests, and engaged that he should conduct an expedition into the country north of Mexico.