Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca Biography

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Who is Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca? Information on Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca biography, life story, explorations and voyages.


Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca;  (1490-1557), Spanish explorer of what is now the southwestern United States. He was born in Jérez de la Frontera, Spain. His name, Cabeza de Vaca (“cow’s head”), had been made famous by a distant ancestor who marked an unguarded pass in the Sierra Morena with the skull of a cow and thus contributed to the Christians’ victory at Las Navas de Tolosa (1212).

Cabeza de Vaca sailed to America in 1527 as second in command with the expedition of Pánfilo de Narváez. Narváez’ attempt to conquer Florida proved as unsuccessful as that of Ponce de León in 1521. Deserted by their ships and having found nothing but disappointment, the adventurers constructed makeshift rafts and headed from the northern Florida coast for Pánuco (Tampico, Mexico). Some reached the Texas coast, but in time death took all but four— Cabeza de Vaca, Alonso del Castillo, Andrés Dorantes, and the Negro Estevánico (or Estevan).

Finally united in 1534 after several years as captives and slaves of Indian tribes in Texas, the four men made their remarkable trek through Texas, through a corner of New Mexico and of Arizona, and on into Sonora and Sinaloa in Mexico. In Mexico City in 1536 they told their story to Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza, and interest in the north flamed.

Cabeza de Vaca went to Spain, where he was made governor of Paraguay. In 1540 he went off to his new post. The rough conquerors of Río de La Plata rebelled against him and shipped him back to Spain in irons in 1543. In 1551 he was censured by the Council of the Indies and condemned to exile in Africa. But King Charles I (Emperor Charles V) cleared him and allowed him to live in well-deserved honor until his death in Spain in 1557.

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