« PrécédentContinuer »
writes: “Oftentimes they overtook me alone and in the wilderness; but I came forth from them all by the great mercy of God our Lord.”
Three times Vaca saw "cattle” and tasted their meat. And he has contributed to historical narrative the first description of the American buffalo:
I think they are about the size of those in Spain. They have small horns like the cows of Morocco; the hair is very long and flocky like the merinos. Some are tawny, others black. To my judgment the flesh is finer and fatter than that of this country (Spain). Of the skins of those not full grown the Indians make blankets, and of the larger they make shoes (moccasins) and bucklers. They come as far as the seacoast of Florida, from a northerly direction, ranging through a tract of more than four hundred leagues; and throughout the whole region over which they run, the people who inhabit near, descend and live upon them, distributing a vast many hides into the interior country.
From these travels Vaca returned each year to the island to see how Oviedo fared and to urge him again to dare the wilderness with him. History gives us few instances of greater loyalty than Vaca's. It was not in him to deal with comrades as Narváez had dealt with his followers after leaving the Bay of Horses, saying that “each should do
what he thought best to save his own life; that he so intended to act.” At last Vaca overcame Oviedo's timidity and the two men set forth. Perhaps Vaca swam to the mainland with Oviedo on his back, or towed him over on a piece of driftwood; for he says, “I got him off, crossing him over the bay, and over four rivers in the coast, as he could not swim.” The two men were naked, armed only with bows and arrows and conch-shell knives, and Vaca carried his trader's pack of shell trinkets. After crossing the fourth river they went to the sea at Matagorda Bay, where they met with a tribe whom Vaca calls the Quevenes. These Indians told him that they had seen men like himself in the custody of another tribe farther down the coast. Vaca knew that the men must be his old companions, who had left the island four years previously; and he resolved at once to seek them and with them to escape. But this new peril in prospect, added to the rough manner of the Quevenes, was too much for the timid soul of Oviedo. And, deaf to all Vaca's imploring, he turned back toward the island — and out of history - leaving the man who had stood by him so faithfully to pursue his dangerous way alone. Who knows but that some giant Karankawa chief, of those who in the
nineteenth century pestered Austin's colonists in Texas, was a descendant of this Oviedo?
The Quevenes intended to hold Vaca as a slave; but he slipped away and stole out along the river bank — the Colorado, it seems — where, as he had heard, the Indians who had white men with them were gathering pecans for their winter's food store. Here he found Dorantes and Castillo and a Christianized Moor named Estevanico. These three were all that now remained of the twelve who had left the island; some had been lost in the wilds, others drowned in an attempted escape, and five the Indians had killed "for their diversions.” Says the devout Vaca: “We gave many thanks at seeing ourselves together, and this was a day to us of the greatest pleasure we had enjoyed in life. Thus the Almighty had been pleased to preserve me . . . that I might lead them over the bays and rivers that obstructed our progress.
Dorantes told Vaca the melancholy history of Narváez's end. He had heard it from a captive in another tribe who was presumably the sole survivor; and he had learned later that this survivor had been slain because a native woman had dreamed he was about to kill her son. Of those three hundred adventurers who had landed with
Narváez on the west coast of Florida, some the sea had swallowed up, others had fallen prey to bitter weather, disease, cannibalism, Indian “diversion, and superstition; and now but three Spaniards and the Moor Estevanico were left alive, and these were naked, destitute, the slaves of a fierce and savage tribe. Vaca, on his appearance among the two tribes at the pecan gathering, had been seized as a slave by the cross-eyed master of Dorantes. This was a contingency he had been prepared to face. It was in the knowledge that the effort to escape might mean enslavement, or even death, that Oviedo had turned back — and Vaca gone on.
Secretly the captives laid plans for their escape, which they would postpone, however, until the summer, when their masters would go westward to gather prickly pears. Then “people would arrive from parts farther on, bringing bows to barter and for exchange, with whom, after making our escape, we should be able to go on their return.”
Summer came. On the prickly pear plains, somewhere west of the Colorado, the captives had made all ready for escape when their plan was balked by an Indian quarrel. One of the factions departed at once, taking Castillo with them. So the Spaniards were again separated; and again
Vaca postponed his journey for another year. Next summer the Indians would return to the prickly pear plains and, if Castillo were still alive, then he should find that his comrades had not abandoned him. That Vaca himself and the two with him might be done away with for Indian “diversion,” or by the blasts and want of another winter, was also a probability. But Vaca seems to have brooded little over his own dangers. His actions prove his words that he ever had trust that God would lead him “out from that captivity, and thus I always spoke of it to my companions."
Another year was passed in slavery, during which time Vaca led a pitifully hard life. Three times he ran away, so badly was he used, but each time he was pursued and taken back. In September of the following year - it was now 1534 — a third time the Spaniards met on the prickly pear plains. Escaping at last they fled west to the Avavares, whom Vaca had met farther east when a trader. At this village there was a sick native in one of the tents, and his tribesmen demanded that Vaca cure him. He restored the patient to health and was rewarded with a supply of meat and fruit. As the Indians told him that the country to the westward was cold and predicted from certain