Images de page
PDF
ePub

journeys were made to Auté for maize, and every third day a horse was killed for food. The skins of the horses' legs were removed entire, tanned, and used for water bottles. In the course of this work ten men were slain by Indians, and forty others died from disease and hunger. At last five boats were completed, each twenty-one cubits long. By the 22d of September the last horse was eaten, and on that day two hundred and forty-two men set sail in those five frail craft of horsehide, not one among them knowing how to handle a boat. In memory of the diet of horseflesh they named the harbor where they embarked the Bay of Horses.

Rowing along the coast, occasionally passing a village of fishermen — “a poor miserable lot,” says Vaca — at the end of thirty days they were detained at an island by a storm. Next day they had a battle with some Indians near a large inlet, perhaps Pensacola Bay. Three or four days farther west a Greek and a negro went ashore for food and fresh water and never returned. Farther along the coast they came to the mouth of a large river, no doubt the Mississippi. The combined strength of its current and of a storm which now arose was

i Eleven years later De Soto found the Greek's dagger in the possession of Indians near Mobile Bay.

so great that the flotilla was driven far out to sea, and the boats became separated and were never again all together. It is known, however, from Vaca's narrative that they again drew in to the shore. Three of them, Vaca's boat and two others, were wrecked, on the 6th of November, on an island — Galveston Island, or one near it, by Vaca named Malhado, or Misfortune. Another boat, carrying the commissary and the friars, was wrecked on the mainland farther west. .

One of the five boats yet remained afloat, the commander's own. Narváez bore on westward, hugging the coast. One day he descried on land some of the castaways of the fourth boat which had been wrecked, making their way painfully on foot. He landed some of his own crew to lighten his boat and proceeded by water, while the destitute band with the friars marched slowly along the shore. At evening he hove to, after ferrying the pedestrians across a bay that cut off their route, and landed the rest of his people. Dropping a stone for anchor, Narváez then prepared to spend the night in his boat with his page, who was dangerously ill. But a wild wind came down with the dark and swept his frail craft out upon the deep. And Narváez followed Ayllón to "sepulchre in the ocean-sea."

CHAPTER II

CABEZA DE VACA

ALVAR NUÑEZ CABEZA DE VACA, now a castaway on “Malhado” Island, on the wild coast of Texas, was a noble of old lineage. He had relinquished high official position in Spain to join Narváez in his adventure. Of the disaster and its remarkable sequel Vaca wrote a circumstantial account which enables us to get his story at first hand. On the island Vaca took command of his comrades in adversity. His first need was to learn if the country was inhabited. So he ordered Lope de Oviedo, who had “more strength and was stouter than any of the rest,” to climb a tree to spy out the land. Oviedo discovered Indians and brought them to where the Spaniards lay shivering and exhausted on the beach, some of them too frail to crawl among the rocks for shelter from the biting winds. The castaways must have looked forlorn, indeed; for Vaca, who had a nice literary touch, says that their

bodies had “become the perfect figures of death”; and that the Indians “at sight of what had befallen us, and our state of suffering and melancholy destitution . . . began to lament so earnestly that they might have been heard at a distance and continued so doing more than half an hour.” Even in his weakness and misery, for Vaca was in a worse condition than many of his companions, his imagination was caught by the strange scene those savages 'wild and untaught” presented as they sat among the white men “howling like brutes over our misfortunes.” Vaca besought the Indians to take the Spaniards to their dwellings. Thirty savages loaded themselves with driftwood and immediately set off at a run for their camp some distance away. The other Indians, holding up the emaciated white men so that their feet barely touched the ground, followed in short swift marches, pausing occasionally to warm the Spaniards at great fires built by the thirty wood carriers at intervals along the trail. In the village they lodged their guests in huts where they had also built fires, fed them with roasted fish and roots, and sang and danced and wept about them until far into the night. In the morning they brought more cooked fish and in all ways showed much hospitality.

The very next day, much to his delight, Vaca learned that other white men were on the same island. A messenger being sent out, soon Vaca was joined at the village by some of his former companions, Dorantes, Castillo, and their men, who had been wrecked on the island the day before Vaca landed there. Three of the castaways, numbering at this time about eighty, had been drowned in an ineffectual attempt to recover one of the horsehide boats. Terrible as the sea had been to them, they would have dared its storms once more in the desperate hope of coming at last somewhere into a Spanish harbor.

As December waned, bitter cold and heavy storms descended on this coast, stopped the fish supply, and prevented the Indians from digging for the edible roots which grew under water. Starvation and exposure thinned the ranks of the Spaniards. The survivors, to the horror of the Indians, ate the flesh of their own dead. When spring came, Vaca had with him but fifteen men.

A new danger now assailed them. Disease attacked the Indians and destroyed half their number. In their panic the natives accused the Spaniards of having brought the plague upon them by occult means; and they were only prevented from

« PrécédentContinuer »