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The Texas Coastal Islands

And Port Aransas

Sunrise in PA

Aerial Photo Of Port Aransas and The Aransas Pass.

Alonso Alvarez de Pineda (?-1520) - was a Spanish explorer and map-maker. De Pineda sailed for the Spanish Governor of Jamaica, Francisco de Garay, who sent him to explore and chart the Gulf Coast from Florida to Mexico in 1519. Captain De Pineda and his crew were probably the first Europeans in Texas, claiming it for Spain. One of the regions he explored and mapped was the area around Corpus Christi Bay; De Pineda entered Corpus Christi Bay on the feast day of Corpus Christi, hence the name.

Marcos de Mena (?-1584) - a Catholic priest, marooned on Padre Island after a hurricane caused the sinking of the ship he was on, was the sole member of the party to reach the settlement of Pánuco.

Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca (1490?-1557?) - was a Spanish explorer who sailed to North America from Spain, leaving in 1527. He traveled from Florida to Texas on a raft, then walked from Texas to Mexico City. The ill-fated voyage was doomed from the start and the head of the expedition, Panfilo de Narvaez (1470?-1528), who would lose his life before the party made it to Texas.

René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (1643-1687) - was a French explorer who's expedition built a fort at the mouth of the Lavaca River. La Salle and 17 others set out (25 people remained at the fort); in a few months, a group of five mutineers shot and killed La Salle (near Navasota, Texas) on March 19, 1687.They left his body for the animals to eat. Only 6 or 7 would make it to French settlements. Those ate the fort were either killed off or made slaves by the Indians.

Henri Joutel (ca. 1643-ca. 1725) sailed on the Joy with the La Salle expedition. When La Salle sent the Joy for assistance, Henri stayed in Texas, and was one of the few members to survive the ordeal.

Alonso De León (ca. 1639-1691) would lead four different expeditions to find and subdue any Frenchmen left of the La Salle party. On third expedition, initiated in May 1688, they captured Jean Jarry a naked, almost insane Frenchmen and in April they discovered the ruins of the French settlement, Fort St. Louis. Only a few children survived.

François Simars de Bellisle (1695-1763) was marooned on Galveston Island with four others, the only one to make it out alive, he would return years later to the Texas Coast and back bays with Jean Béranger and Jean Baptiste Bénard de La Harpe.

Jean Béranger (1685-?) - found the Aransas Pass, landed on Harbor Isand, then explored the surrounding bays and the captained the "Subtile" to explore the Bay of St. Bernard with La Harpe, looking for a suitable site for colonization.

Jean Baptiste Bénard de La Harpe (1683- September 26, 1765) - sailed for the the Texas coast (Matagorda Bay) on the ship "Subtile" in 1721. He was supposed to have established a settlement at Saint Bernard, but had mistakenly sailed to Galveston Bay. The local Indians opposed this and La Harpe did not settle the area.

Jean Laffite (1780?-1825?) - led a band of privateers that preyed on Spanish ships and smuggled goods and slaves through New Orleans, then Galveston. He would establish a fort and rather large community there in his later years.

Recognition for the first European discovery of the Gulf of Mexico belongs to Sebastián de Ocampo, the Spaniard who circumnavigated the island of Cuba in 1508-09 and upon returning to Santo Domingo, gave news that Cuba was indeed an island and a major body of water lay beyond it. This event of course led to the preverbal "opening of the gate."
Geologist surmise the islands protecting the Texas Gulf Coast region started out as large sand bars about 4,500 years ago. One of these sand bars, would surface as a barrier island approximately eighteen miles long in the region commonly known as the Texas Coastal Bend, so named after the curve in the southern coastline of Texas on the northwest shores of the Gulf of Mexico.

It was not of course known as the Gulf of Mexico until much later. In fact for many years the gulf was nameless on most maps, regarded of as a part of the Atlantic Ocean also known as the North Sea. The Spanish name most often applied to it was Seno Mexicano (seno="gulf" or "bay"), but from time to time adverted on maps and documents as Golfo de Nueva España, Golfo de México, or a variation of that type. For over 150 years it remained a sacrosanct "sacred or holy" sea, given by divine direction to the Spanish Crown from God and therefore part of the Spanish Seas, forever forbidden to other nations flags and vessels.

Later this eighteen mile long island, no wider then two miles wide at it's greatest width would become known as Mustang Island. It would be cut by two pass, Packery Channel at the south end would separate it from North Padre Island, and the Aransas pass at the north end, separating it from St. Joseph's Island. The first written historical account of the coast of Texas and what is now known as Mustang Island was by a Alonso Alvarez de Piñeda who plotted this portion of the Texas Gulf Coast and bays inland, back in 1519-20. For thousands of years before that, the lands of South Texas were only occupied by the Karankawa, Lipan, and Apache tribes.

Karankawa Indian Tribes played a pivotal part in early Texas history. The meaning of "Karankawa" is a bit misleading. The name Karankawa was the popular naming for various groups of native Americans. The reason was because they all had a common dialect and culture. Those people were the Capoques (Coaques, Cocos), Kohanis, Kopanes (Copanes), and Karankawa (Carancaquacas) bands. They inhabited the Gulf Coast of Texas from Galveston Bay southwestward to far pass Corpus Christi Bay. All spoke a little known about language called Karankawa. There are only one hundred words of that dialect preserved. The significance of the name Karankawa is not known, but it is generally held to mean "dog-lovers" or "dog-raisers." That rendering seems creditable, since the Karankawas had dogs that were a fox or coyote like species. A nomadic type culture existed and they seasonally migrated between the mainland and the barrier islands.

Map of Indian Tribes

They were living that nomadic existence when Spaniards, lead by Alvarez de Piñeda, probed the coast in 1519. Governor Francisco de Garay of Jamaica had commissioned him to explore the Gulf Coast from Florida to Vera Cruz. 1920-Piñeda-map

The heavily tattooed, pierced and painted, nomadic Karankawa tribe, held the Islands for the most part in south Texas. The territory they held was from the west end of Galveston Island down the coast to the mouth of the Rio Grande perhaps, and inland about 25-65 miles depending on the region. Cannibalistic, superb hunters, fisherman, warriors and longbow archery experts, they were a powerful enemy to anyone wishing to take their prime hunting grounds away.

The impression they left on those that wrote of encounters with the tribes were monumental. The men were strikingly tall, described to be between six and almost seven feet. They were tattooed and wore shell ornaments and many greased themselves down with shark liver oil to ward of mosquitoes and other biting insects.

The true origins of this tribe of peoples is unknown to date. Some believed the Karankawa are related to a tribe of "giants Indians" located off the coast of California at the time. This is due to their strikingly tall appearance. 1920-Piñeda-map Still others are of the opinion they're related to an aborigine people from the Big Bend region thousands of years ago, linking them to the "Abilene man," the most ancient known type of human in Texas. Most hold though, that the Karankawa were in relation with the Caribe Tribes of the West Indies. The findings are grounded on similarity of dialect, both tribes had barkless dogs, body sizes and both participating in cannibalistic rituals. The belief is widely held they emigrated to the Florida peninsula, and when persecuted by other naive tribes, struck out hugging the coast and reaching other lands, perhaps Louisiana or extreme East Texas Coast, and likewise, driven from there till they reached the mostly uninhabited coast of Texas. The Karankawas, Coahuiltecan, Tonkawa, and the East Texas Caddoan peoples all had many things in common. They (Karankawas) were known to be the arch enemy of the dreaded Comanches.

As stated, the rendering of Karankawa in their vernacular means dog lover. The speech of the Karankawa belong generally to the Coahiltecan family found to the southwest of them.
The Indian Tribes that lived along the Texas Coast from Galveston Island to a location southward far past Corpus Christi (27.47 N 97.24 W) endured much hardship from the elements. The bays, back bays, lagoons and bayous along the Texas Coast, were the tribal hunting and harvesting grounds. The shallow waters in the bays empowered them to wade out into the deep pools with lances or bow and arrows, to spear fish as the older men, women and children harvested the waters for blue and stone crabs, oysters, mussels, sea turtles, shellfish, and other eatable crustaceans. There are accounts that some Karankawas were seen in Colorado County at Eagle Lake, close to 100 miles from the coastline, but no evidence shows they made permanent camps there.

Many of their campsites have been discovered in recent years , giving us better clues on daily life and activities. Disease, 'land acquisitions", troubles with the new comers to the land, wars and general genocide condemned them to extinction before 1860 arrived.
It is now known that they wintered around the coastal bays, eating oysters, clams, shellfish, Blackdrum, Redfish Seatrout and the other abundant species of fish. During the summer months, and hot weather the oysters, clams and other shellfish are not safe to eat, and the fish make their yearly migration out the pass, which in turn would send the tribal bands migrating further inland as well. Undoubtedly summer tropical storms and hurricanes would have a impact on this decision to move further inland as well.
They would traverse the bays in dugouts "canoes they dug out of logs" and lived in round thatch huts. Some of the camp sites show a population of several hundred. The discarded clam and oyster shells would make huge mounds around this camp site. There most prizes hunting tool was the long bow, some well over six foot long and arrow shafts as long as three foot, making it easier to spot and retrieve them from the shallow waters. Their major inland game was the deer and bison, as the many discarded remains of these animals has been found at these camp sites. They also harvested local roots, berries and nuts.

In 1768 a Spanish Padre gave detail to their ritual flesh eating ceremonies. The "savages" would lash a captive to a stake and then, dancing around the sacrifice, they would dart in, slice off a piece of flesh with a sharp blade, then roast it in front of the victim, in an already prepared campfire. Then they would devour it, as the victim watched in horror at consumption of himself, before his very eyes. A slow and horrific death indeed.

In the summer of 1519, Piñeda, took a fleet of four ships east to west around the Gulf Coast.

The Piñeda map of the Gulf of Mexico (1519) appears to have at least five passes marked on the Texas Coast line. One is indicated close to where the Aransas pass is located today and thought to be the pass. Piñeda's voyage was also made to check on the remote possibility that a strait, not discovered but already named the Strait of Anian, extended from the northern Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific. Of course this canal did not exist.
Then early in 1520 the navigators who had sailed with Pineda drafted a somewhat primitive sketch of the Gulf of Mexico. This unpolished version, which survives in the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, symbolizes the upstart of mapping the Coast of Texas by the Spaniards. This natural inlet later to be known as the Aransas Pass, that crossed a sand bar between Mustang and St. Joseph Islands was first recorded on the Bratton map of 1528. The sandbar that had to be crossed would become known as one of the most treacherous on the Texas Gulf Coast.


On an expedition from Cuba to Florida in 1527, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca [Cabeza de Vaca means "head of a cow"] c. 1490–c. 1557, vacamap and three shipmates, were the only members of the tragic event to survive. Álvar Núñez, Estevanico, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, and Alonzo del Castillo Maldonado crossed Texas. They were the only survivors of the ill fated expedition of Panfilo de Narviez c. 1470–1528 who lost his own life before reaching the Texas Coast.

Cabeza de Vaca left Spain for the Americas in June 1527. In April 1528, Narváez landed near present-day Tampa Bay, Florida with his large army of soldiers and settlers. A series of hurricanes and fights with Native Americans killed many of the crew, and the pilot of the ship sailed to Mexico without the 250 to 300 men. Plagued by shortages of food, the Spanish force made its way first north and then west along the southern coast of Florida to the Gulf of Mexico in Florida's panhandle. By this time only 242 Spaniards remained. The stranded men hastily made 5 make shift rafts on which they planned to sailed west, hoping to reach a Spanish settlement in Mexico.

Then, Narváez's decimated army after building the boats, sailed haltingly along the coasts of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. Three rafts were lost, and many of the Spanish explorers also, including the expedition leader, Narváez. Others of the explorers landed, only to die of starvation or Indian attack. So after sailing along the coast from Florida to the mouth of the Mississippi, a storm separated the lashed together vessels and soon the one Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca was on, landed on the Texas Coast (probably San Luis, now known as Follets Island on southwest of Galveston Island in southern Brazoria County at 29°03' N, 95°10' W, though some believe it was Mustang Island.) The frail boat had been demolished by a storm in late November of 1528.

From 1529 to 1534, Cabeza de Vaca and these others (about 80 men) lived a meagre life with the Karankawa Indians, in a state of semi-slavery and often separated from each other. During this time Cabeza de Vaca used his moderate medical abilities, making himself healer. He explored this small section of the East Texas coast in hopes of finding a way to Mexico and the Spanish colonies there. In 1534, he and the other Spanish survivors, Alfonso de Castillo, Andres Dorantes, and Esteván or Estebanico, started west across Texas and Mexico.

Following over five years of living with the Indians and two years of transcending across bizarre lands the four triumphant men finally turned south, moving inland. In April 1536, a Spanish slaving party found the four Spaniards. Soon after Cabeza de Vaca was in Mexico City.

It should also be noted to his credit that Cabeza de Vaca did returned to Spain in 1537 and expressed much outrage at the Spanish treatment of Indians.

Excerpt: ( Cabeza de Vaca came to the New World as treasurer in the expedition of Pánfilo de Narváez that reached Florida (probably Tampa Bay) in 1528. When hardship and native hostility caused the end of the expedition, he was one of the survivors whose barges were shipwrecked on an island off the Texas coast, possibly Galveston or Mustang Island. Their story is one of the most remarkable in the annals of exploration.
Source: The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2003, Columbia University Press )


Excerpt: . . . the sun set all those aboard of my barge had fallen in a heap and were so near dying that few remained conscious, and not five men kept on their feet. When night came the skipper and I were the only ones able to manage the barge. Two hours after nightfall the skipper told me to steer the craft alone, since he felt that he would die that same night. Thereupon I stood at the helm, and after midnight went to see if the skipper was dead, but he said that, on the contrary, he felt better and would steer till daybreak. On that occasion I would have hailed death with delight rather than to see so many people around me in such a condition. After the skipper had taken the barge under his control I went to rest, very much without resting, for I thought of anything else but sleep. Near daybreak I fancied to hear the sound of breakers, for as the coast was low, their noise was greater. Surprised at it, I called the skipper, who said he thought we were near the shore. Sounding, we found seven fathoms, and he was of the opinion that we should keep off shore till dawn. So I took (53)

the oar and rowed along the coast, from which we were one league away, and turned the stern to seaward. Close to shore a wave took us and hurled the barge a horse's length out of water. With the violent shock nearly all the people who lay in the boat like dead came to themselves, and, seeing we were close to land, began to crawl out on all fours. As they took to some rocks, we built a fire and toasted some of our maize. We found rain water, and with the warmth of the fire people revived and began to cheer up. The day we arrived there was the sixth of the month of November. AFTER the people had eaten I sent Lope de Oviedo, who was the strongest and heartiest of all, to go to some trees nearby and climb to the top of one, examine the surroundings and the country in which we were. He did so and found we were on an island, and that the ground was hollowed out, as if cattle had gone over it, from which it seemed to him (54)

that the land belonged to Christians, and so he told us. I sent him again to look and examine more closely if there were any worn trails, and not to go too far so as not to run into danger. He went, found a foot- path, followed it for about one-half league, and saw several Indian huts which stood empty because the Indians had gone out into the field. He took away a cooking pot, a little dag and a few ruffs and turned back, but as he seemed to delay I sent two other Christians to look for him and find out what had hap- pened. They met him nearby and saw that three Indians, with bows and arrows, were following and calling to him, while he did the same to them by signs. nbsp; So he came to where we were, the Indians re- maining behind, seated on the beach. Half an hour after a hundred Indian archers joined them, and our fright was such that, whether tall or little, it made them appear (55)
(footnote) The word ""campo"" means literally field, but in the present instance may as well apply to the surrounding country in general, whether level or accidented, wooded or a grassy plain. The idea of cultivated land is, of course excluded.

giants to us. They stood still close to the first ones, near where we were. We could not defend ourselves, as there were scarcely three of us who could stand on their feet. The inspector and I stepped for- ward and called them. They came, and we tried to quiet them the best we could and save ourselves, giving them beads and bells. Each one of them gave me an arrow in token of friendship, and by signs they gave us to understand that on the following morning they would come back with food, as then they had none. T HE next day, at sunrise, which was the hour the Indians had given us to understand, they came as prom- ised and brought us plenty of fish and some roots which they eat that taste like nuts, some bigger, some smaller, most of which are taken out of the water with much trouble. In the evening they returned and brought us more fish and some of the same roots, (56)

and they brought their women and children to look at us. They thought themselves very rich with the little bells and beads we gave them, and thereafter visited us daily with the same things as before. As we saw ourselves provided with fish, roots, water and the other things we had asked for, we concluded to embark again and continue our voyage. We lifted the barge out of the sand into which it had sunk (for which purpose we all had to take off our clothes) and had great work to set her afloat, as our condi- tion was such that much lighter things would have given us trouble. Then we embarked. Two crossbow shots from shore a wave swept over us, we all got wet, and being naked and the cold very great, the oars dropped out of our hands. The next wave overturned the barge. The inspector and two others clung to her to save themselves, but the contrary happened; they got underneath the barge and were drowned. The shore being very rough, the sea took the others and thrust them, half dead, on the (57)

beach of the same island again, less the three that had perished underneath the barge. The rest of us, as naked as we had been born, had lost everything, and while it was not worth much, to us it meant a great deal. it was in November, bitterly cold, and we in such a state that every bone could easily be counted, and we looked like death itself. Of myself I can say that since the month of May I had not tasted anything but toasted maize, and even sometimes had been obliged to eat it raw. Although the horses were killed during the time the barges were built, I never could eat of them, and not ten times did I taste fish. This I say in order to explain and that any one might guess how we were off. On top of all this, a north wind arose, so that we were nearer death than life. It pleased Our Lord that, searching for the remnants of our for- mer fire, we found wood with which we built big fires and then with many tears begged Our Lord for mercy and forgiveness of our sins. Every one of us pitied not only himself, but all the others whom he saw in the same condition. (58)

At sunset the Indians, thinking we had not left, came to bring us food, but when they saw us in such a different attire from before and so strange-looking, they were so frightened as to turn back. I went to call them, and in great fear they came. I then gave them to understand by signs how we had lost a barge and three of our men had been drowned, while before them there lay two of our men dead, with the others about to go the same way. Upon seeing the disaster we had suffered, our misery and distress, the Indians sat down with us and all began to weep out of compassion for our misfortune, and for more than half an hour they wept so loud and so sincerely that it could be heard far away. Verily, to see beings so devoid of reason, untutored, so like unto brutes, yet so deeply moved by pity for us, it increased my feelings and those of others in my company for our own misfortune. When the lament was over, I spoke to the Christians and asked them if they would like me to beg the In- dians to take us to their homes. Some of (59)

the men, who had been to New Spain, an- swered that it would be unwise, as, once at their abode, they might sacrifice us to their idols. Still, seeing there was no remedy and that in any other way death was surer and nearer, I did not mind what they said, but begged the Indians to take us to their dwellings, at which they showed great pleasure, telling us to tarry yet a little, but that they would do what we wished. Soon thirty of them loaded themselves with fire- wood and went to their lodges, which were far away, while we stayed with the others until it was almost dark. Then they took hold of us and carried us along hurriedly to where they lived. Against the cold, and lest on the way some one of us might faint or die, they had provided four or five big fires on the road, at each one of which they warmed us. As soon as they saw we had regained, a little warmth and strength they would carry us to the next fire with such haste that our feet barely touched the ground. So we got to their dwellings, where we (60)

saw they had built a hut for us with many fires in it. About one hour after our arrival they began to dance and to make a great cel- ebration (which lasted the whole night), al- though there was neither pleasure, feast nor sleep in it for us, since we expected to be sac- rificed. In the morning they again gave us fish and roots, and treated us so well that we became reassured, losing somewhat our apprehension of being butchered. T IHAT same day I saw on one of the Indians a trinket he had not gotten from us, and asking from where they had obtained it they answered, by signs, that other men like ourselves and who were still in our rear, had given it to them. Hear- ing this, I sent two Christians with two In- dians to guide them to those people. Very near by they met them, and they also were looking for us, as the Indians had told them of our presence in the neighborhood. These were the Captains Andres Dorantes and Alonso del Castillo, with all of their crew. When they- came near us they were much (61)

frightened at our appearance and grieved at being unable to give us anything, since they had nothing but their clothes. And they stayed with us there, telling how, on the fifth of that same month, their barge strand- ed a league and a half from there, and they escaped without anything being lost. All together, we agreed upon repairing their barge, and that those who had strength and inclination should proceed in it, while the others should remain until completelyre- stored and then go as best they could along the coast, following it till God would be pleased to get us all together to a land of Christians. So we set to work,but ere the barge was afloat Tavera, a gentleman in our com- pany, died, while the barge proved not to be seaworthy and soon sank. Now, being in the condition which I have stated-that is, most of us naked and the weather so un- favorable for walking and for swimming across rivers and coves, and we had neither food nor any way to carry it, we determined upon submitting to necessity and upon win- tering there, and we also agreed that four (52)

men, who were the most able-bodied, should go to Panuco, whichwe believed to be nearby, and that, if it was God, Our Lord's will to take them there, they should tell of our re- maining on the island and of our distress. One of them was a Portuguese, called Al- varo Fernandez, a carpenter and sailor; the second was Mendez; the third, Figueroa, a native of Toledo; the fourth, Astudillo, from Zafra. They were all good swimmers and took with them an Indian from the island. FEW days after these four Chris- tians had left, the weather became so cold and tempestuous that the Indians could no longer pull roots, and the canebrake in which they used to fish yielded nothing more. As the lodges afforded so little shelter, people began to die, and five Christians, quartered on the coast, were driven to such an extremity that they ate each other up until but one remained, who being left alone, there was nobody to eat him. Their names are; Sierra, Diego, (63)

Lopez, Corral, Palacios and Gonzalo Ruiz. At this the Indians were so startled, and there was such an uproar among them, that I verily believe if they had seen this at the beginning they would have killed them., and we all would have been in great danger. After a very short time, out of eighty men who had come there in our two parties only fifteen remained alive. Then the natives fell sick from the stom- ach, so that one-half of them died also, and they, believing we had killed them, and hold- ing it to be certain, they agreed among them- selves to kill those of us who survived. But when they came to execute it an Indian who kept me told them not to believe we were the cause of their dying, for if we had so much power we would not have suffered so many of our own people to perish without being able to remedy it ourselves. He also told them there remained but very few of us, and none of them did any harm or injury, so that the best was to let us alone. It pleased Our Lord they should listen to his advice and counsel and give up their idea. (64)

To this island we gave the name of the Island of III Fate.23 The people on it are tall and well formed; they have no other weapons than bows and arrows with which they are most dextrous. The men have one of their nipples perforated from side to side and sometimes both; through this hole is thrust a reed as long as two and a half hands and as thick as two fingers; they also have the under lip perforated and a piece of cane in it as thin as the half of a finger. The women do the hard work. People stay on this island from October till the end of February, feeding on the roots I have men- tioned, taken from under the water in No- vember and December. They have channels made of reeds and get fish only during that time; afterwards they subsist on roots. At the end of February they remove to other parts in search of food, because the roots begin to sprout and are not good any more. (65)

them best, and should the child of one of them happen to die, parents and relatives bewail it, and the whole settlement, the la- ment lasting a full year, day after day. Be- fore sunrise the parents begin to weep, after them the tribe, and the same they do at noon and at dawn. At the end of the year of mourning they celebrate the anniversary and wash and cleanse themselves of all their paint. They mourn all their dead in this manner, old people excepted, to whom they do not pay any attention, saying that these have had their time and are no longer of any use, but only take space, and food from the children. Their custom is to bury the dead, ex- cept those who are medicine men among them, whom they burn, and while the fire is burning, all dance and make a big fes- tival, grinding the bones to powder. At the end of the year, when they celebrate the anniversary, they scarify themselves and give to the relatives the pulverized bones to drink in water. Every man has a recognized wife, but the medicine men enjoy greater privileges, since they may have two or three, (66)

and among these wives there is great friend- ship and harmony. When one takes a woman for his wife, from the day he marries her, whatever he may hunt or fish, she has to fetch it to the home of her father, without daring to touch or eat of it, and from the home of the father- in-law they bring the food to the husband. All the while neither the wife's father nor her mother enter his abode, nor is he allowed to go to theirs, or to the homes of his brothers- in-law, and should they happen to meet they go out of each other's way a crossbow's shot or so, with bowed heads and eyes cast to the ground, holding it to be an evil thing to look at each other or speak. The women are free to communicate with their parents- in-law or relatives and speak to them. This custom prevails from that island as far as about fifty leagues inland. There is another custom, that when a son or brother dies no food is gathered by those of his household for three months, prefer- ring rather to starve, but the relatives and neighbors provide them with victuals. Now, as during the time we were there so many (67)

of them died, there was great starvation in most of the lodges, due to their customs and ceremonials, as well as to the weather, which was so rough that such as could go out after food brought in but very little, withal working hard for it. Therefore the Indians by whom I was kept forsook the island and in several canoes went over to the mainland to some bays where there were a great many oysters and during three months of the year they do not eat anything else and drink very bad water. There is lack of firewood, but great abundance of mos- quitoes. Their lodges are made of matting and built on oyster shells, upon which they sleep in hides, which they only get by chance. There we remained to the end of April, when we went to the seashore, where we ate blackberries for a whole month, dur- ing which time they danced and celebrated incessantly. N the island I have spoken of they wanted to make medicine men of us without any examination or ask- ing for our diplomas, because they cure . . . (68)

. . . All the people of this country go naked; only the women cover part of their bodies with a kind of wool that grows on trees. The girls go about in deer skins. They are very liberal towards each other with what they have. There is n.o ruler among them. All who are of the same descendancy clus- ter together. (71)

. . . Nearly six years I spent thus in the coun- try, alone among them and naked, as they all were themselves. The, reason for remaining so long was that I wished to take with me a Chris- tian called Lope de O'viedo, who still lin- gered on the island. The other compan- ion, Alaniz, who remained with him. after Alonso del Castillo, and Andres Dorantes and all the others had gone, soon died, and in order to get him (Oviedo) out of there, I went over to the island every year, entreat- ing him to leave with me and go, as well as we could, in search of Christians. Eut year after year he put it off to the year that was to follow. In the end I got him to come, took him away, and carried him across the inlets and through four rivers on the coast, (76)

since he could not swim. Thence we pro- ceeded, together with several Indians, to an inlet one league wide, very deep everywhere and which seemed to us, from what we saw, to be the one called of the Holy Ghost.25 On the opposite shores we saw Indians who had come to meet those in our com- pany. They informed us that further on there were three men like ourselves and told us their names. Upon being asked about the rest of the party, they answered that all had died from cold and hunger and that the Indians beyond had killed Diego Dorantes, Valdivieso and Diego de Huelva wilfully, only because these had gone from one house to another, and their neighbors with whom was now the Captain Dorantes, had, in con- sequence of some dream dreamt by these Indians, killed Esquivel and Mendez also.
(footnote) ""Espiritu Santo."" This was the name given to a bay, and probably to the mouth of a large river. The Letter to the Audiencia, Oviedo (p. 593), describes it as follows: ""This inlet (or bay) was wide, almost a league across, and it makes a point toward the direction of Panuco, that juts out into the sea nearly a quarter of a league, with some great dunes of white sand vis- ible at a great distance from the sea; and from this they suspected that it must have been the Espiritu Santo river."" (77)

We asked them about those who remained alive, and they said they were in a very sorry condition, as the boys and other In- dians, idlers and roughs, kicked them, slapped their faces and beat them with sticks, and such was the life they had to lead. We inquired about the country further on and the sustenance that might be found in it. They said it was very thinly set- tled, with nothing to eat, and the people dying from cold, as they had neither hides nor anything else to protect their bodies. They also told us that, if we wished to meet the three Christians about two days hence, the Indians would come to a place about a league from there on the shore of that river to feed on nuts. And to show us that what they said of the ill-treatment of our people was true the Indians with whom we were kicked and beat my companion. Neither did I remain without my share of it. They threw mud at us, and put arrows to our chests every day, saying they would kill us in the same way as our other companions. And fearing this, Lope de Oviedo, my com- (78)

panion, said he preferred to go back, with some women of the Indians in whose com- pany we had forded the cove and who had remained behind. I insisted he should not go and did all I could to prevail upon him to remain, but it was in vain. He went back and I remained alone among these Indians, who are named Guevenes, whereas those with whom he went away were called Deaguanes. TWO days after Lope de Oviedo had gone the Indians who kept Alonso del Castillo and Andres Dorantes came to the very spot we had been told of to eat the nuts upon which they subsist for two months in the year, grinding certain small grains with them, without eating any- thing else. Even of that they do not al- ways have, since one year there may be some and the next year not. They (the nuts) are of the size of those of Galicia, and the trees are very big and numerous. An Indian told me that the Christians had come and that if I wished to see them (79)

I should run away to, hide on the edge of a grove to which he pointed, as he and some of his relatives were to visit these Indians and would take me along to the Christians. I confided in. them and determined to do it because they spoke a different language from that of my In- dians. So the next day they took me along. When I got near the site where they had their. lodges, Andres Dorantes came out to look who it was, because the Indians had informed him also that a Christian was com- ing, and when he saw me he was much frightened, as for many days they believed me to be dead, the Indians having told them so. We gave many thanks to God for being together again, and that day was one of the happiest we enjoyed in our time, and going to where was Castillo they asked me whither I went. I told him my purpose was to go to a country of Christians and that I followed this direction and trail. Andres Dorantes said that for many days he had been urging Castillo and Estevanico to go further on, but they did not risk it, being unable to swim and afraid of the rivers and inlets that (80)

had to be crossed so often in that country. Still, as it pleased God, Our Lord, to spare me after all my sufferings and sickness and finally let me rejoin them, they at last deter- mined upon fleeing, as I would take them safely across the rivers and bays we might meet. But they advised me to keep it secret from the Indians (as well as my own de- parture) lest they would kill me forthwith, and that to avoid this it was necessary to remain with them for six months longer, after which time they would remove to an- other section in order to eat prickly pears. These are a fruit of the size of eggs, red and black, and taste very good. For three months they subsist upon them. exclusively, eating nothing else. Now, at the time they pluck this fruit, other Indians from beyond come to them with bows for barter and exchange, and when those turn back we thought of joining them and escaping in this way. With this understanding I remained, and they gave me as a slave to an Indian with whom Dor- antes stayed. This Indian, his wife, their (81)

Source: The Journey of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca.
Citable URL:

Cabeza de Vaca goes on in detail in explaining the rest of the ordeal he has crossing Texas after leaving the coastal plains. The exact location of the stranding on the Texas Coast and the route they took out of Texas are both very much in dispute even today.

Large detailed map of the Cabeza de Vaca Expedition (1528-1535)

Luis de Moscoso Alvarado (1505-1551), leader of the Hernando De Soto's expedition (after Soto's death) and a group of 322 survivors of about 600 soldiers, servants and slaves who had landed in Florida four years previously, followed the coastlines of Louisiana and Texas and probably entered Matagorda and Aransas or Corpus Christi bays. Moscoso wrote two brief letters, which gave surprisingly little detail about the expedition.

In 1553 a another renowned occurrence befell a Spanish Galleon Fleet loaded with New World riches when it happened upon a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico and washed off course to just off the coast of Padre Island.


Numerous ships were lost, and only two of the marooned survivors managed to make it back to Mexico alive.

Four ships found themselves off the coast and in distress. Three of the ships would go down. Some 300 survivors went into the cold Gulf waters. It is believed one-half to two-thirds drowned before reaching the beach. A small party started out immediately for Mexico in one of the small ship's lifeboats. The largest group of survivors remained ashore and started out on what would soon become a death march. The castaways, after staying at the site for five or six days, started to march in search of Pánuco, thinking they would be able to find it within a week. The greatest fear, the Indians of the coast who earned themselves great notoriety for being cruel, blood thirsty and cannibalistic. Once setting out down the beach, awhile passed, then they met Indians, who pretending to be friendly, brought them fish, made a fire and while the marooned ate, the Indians attacked them. The Spaniards had two crossbows and killed three and wounded several more, with that the Indians left, for the time being.


Another one of the castaways, Francisco Vázquez returned through the same trail which all had taken, retracing his steps to return to where the fleet had been lost. He stayed there a few days, then to his amazement and utter delight, a ship from Mexico arrived, the first of the salvage ships.

Fray Marcos de Mena was the only one to succeed in reaching a Spanish settlement at Pánuco. Everyone else other then Francisco Vázquez who returned to the site of the ships and thirty or so, who sailed in a ship's boat to Veracruz, died on the march southward. Most of them were slain by the local Indians.

Hearing of the disastrous shipwreck, authorities in Mexico immediately sent out a salvage expedition, it arrived at the wreck site within sixty days of the tragedy. One of the ships was still visible above the water, salvage workers began dives and recovered about 40 percent of all lost cargo. It was this expedition that saved Francisco Vázquez as well.


Excerpt: (1553: A fleet of 20 ships of the New Spain Flota, loaded with silver and gold along the Texas coast, were struck by a hurricane. The three heaviest vessels sunk early in the storm. Most of the others were either scattered widely across the Western Gulf of Mexico, grounded, or capsized just offshore Padre Island. Only 300 of the original 2000 crew made it ashore on the four remaining ships.
Unfortunately, the natives to the area known as the Karankawa had a hostile relationship with the Spaniards. Thus a battle ensued between the survivors and the tribe and the Europeans tried valiantly to fight their way south into what is today known as Mexico. Only two of the original 2000 ever lived long enough to tell of their ordeal.

National Weather Service)

Excerpt: (Early November 1590: A hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico caused one of the worst maritime disasters in the history of this region. Over 1000 people lost their lives at sea while aboard ship.
National Weather Service)

Excerpt: (October 21st, 1631: A hurricane moved through the Gulf of Mexico, taking over 300 lives at sea.
National Weather Service)

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