Narrative of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and Estevanico Dorantes – Mustafa Zemmouri

In 1513 Azemmour’s governor Moulay Zayam refused to pay the tribute and mustered a powerful, well-equipped army. Manuel responded to this challenge by sending a massive fleet of 500 ships and 15 thousand soldiers (Bergreen, 19). James, Duke of Braganza led this army and on September 1st he conquered the city with no resistance from its inhabitants. 

Ferdinand Magellan, the man famed for leading the first-ever circumnavigation of the earth, was among the Portuguese soldiers there; he lost his horse in skirmishes outside the city.[3Portuguese control of the city lasted only for a short period; it was abandoned by João III of Portugal in 1541 due to his court’s economic difficulties. [4]

The first enslaved African to arrive in America! Mustafa Zemmouri or Estevanico (1500 – 1539) was a Moroccan-Amazigh-Berber. His aliases included Esteban Al-Dornati, Estebano, Estebao El-Mori, Saeed Bin Haddou, and Said Bin Haddou Al-Azmouri.

Estevanico, also known as Esteban the Moor, was enslaved and traveled with a Spanish expedition to North America in 1527. He is the first African to travel with explorers in North America and was one of four men out of several hundred to survive shipwrecks on the Florida and Texas coasts, Native American slavery and attacks, and other setbacks over a six-year period before he and his party reached safety in a Spanish colonial town. [1] [9

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca  (c.1490-c.1557) with Estevanico

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca was born about 1490 near Cádiz, Spain. His parents were Francisco de Vera and Teresa Cabeza de Vaca. Cabeza served in the Spanish army under Charles V and his fame in the Americas began with his appointment as treasurer for the expeditions of Pánfilo de Narváez, who has served with Cortez in the conquest of Mexico. Narváez was commissioned to colonize Florida. 

In April 1528, Narváez landed near present-day Tampa Bay, Florida with his large army of soldiers and settlers. 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. There, Narváez’s decimated army built boats, and sailed haltingly along the coasts of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. Three boats 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. Cabeza de Vaca, however, and a few companions survived. They landed finally at a place they named the Island of Misfortune, perhaps Galveston Island, Texas.

From 1529 to 1534, Cabeza de Vaca and these others 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 took advantage of his slight medical skills and remade himself as 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. With the help of many native Americans along the way, they crossed the Pecos and Colorado rivers and made their way towards Spanish outposts by 1536. Despite the arduous trip, Cabeza de Vaca continued to note the wonders of the American west and the inhabitants’ impressive survival skills. Finally they turned south, moving inland. In April 1536, a Spanish slaving party found the four Spaniards. Soon after Cabeza de Vaca was in Mexico City.

Cabeza de Vaca returned to Spain in 1537 and expressed outrage at the Spanish treatment of Indians. He led an expedition in 1541 and 1542 from Santos, Brazil to Asuncion, Paraguay. There, he was appointed governor of Rio de la Plata, but a rebellion of his men overthrew him, and in 1545 he was forced back to Spain, where he was convicted of malfeasance in office-perhaps for advocating kinder treatment of Indians-and sent to Africa. Pardoned in 1552, he became a judge in Seville, Spain, until his death around 1557.

Document Note

The narrative of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca  is the first European book devoted completely to North America. Though his descriptions were modest, his account fed rumors of a vastly wealthy civilization north of Mexico, inspiring a number of later explorers seeking riches. Cabeza de Vaca’s account is distinguished from later accounts by a greater level of detail about, and a greater respect for, the native inhabitants. Unlike the authors of later accounts, who sought conquest and wealth, Cabeza de Vaca spent years simply trying to survive, and as a result learned much about how the region’s inhabitants themselves lived. His account also includes references to the devastating diseases Europeans would bring to the Americas; he reported that in 1528, when the Spanish landed in Texas, “half the natives died from a disease of the bowels and blamed us.”

Like Las Casas (see AJ-66), Cabeza de Vaca urged the Spanish to exhibit greater humanity towards the Indians. His account of these adventures was first published in Spain in 1542. The narrative prompted expeditions soon thereafter by Hernando de Soto and Francisco Vasquez Coronado. The earliest English translation appeared in Samuel Purchas’ volumes in 1625 and 1626.

The translation shown here is taken from Bandalier, Adolph Francis (editor). The Journey of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and His Companions from Florida to the Pacific 1528-1536Translated from His Own Narrative by Fanny Bandelier. (New York: A.S. Barnes & Company, 1905).

First Black man in North America was born around 1500 in Azemmour, on the Atlantic shore of Morocco and originally named Mustafa Zemmouri. He could probably read and write, spoke fluent Arabic and Latin plus Spanish and Portugese, and have been raised in the Muslim faith. In 1513, the Portuguese took control of this area, capturing and selling some of the Africans to Europeans. The youth was sold to a Spanish nobleman named Andrés de Dorantes de Carranza, baptized into the Catholic Church and given the Christian name Estevanico.

In 1527, Dorantes signed them up to join a 600 member expedition organized by Pánfilo de Narváez to explore the Gulf of Mexico. First they landed on Hispaniola, went on to Cuba then landed near what is now Tampa Bay, Florida claiming the land for Spain on April 12, 1528. Hurricanes and attacks by natives reduced the crew to half. After a failed attempt at marching overland they built five barges to continue the journey by water. Three sank. After a month at sea, the craft with Estevanico and Dorantes aboard wrecked near Galveston Island, Texas.

Only 15 men were still alive in the spring of 1529. They headed west along the Rio Grande hoping to reach a Spanish settlement in Mexico. Most were captured and enslaved by coastal Indians. By the autumn of 1530 death from escape attempts, hard work, disease and unfamiliar food caused all but 4 members to die. They became captives of different tribes however reunited at a fall gathering and made plans to meet again the following year. They met, but were unable to escape. They returned with their different captors until the fall of 1534 when they were finally able to escape.

They encountered a camp of the Avavares tribe, where they were welcomed as medicine men with special powers. When the four men left the Avavares in the spring of 1535, they found that their reputation as healers had preceded them and they were treated as dignitaries wherever they went. When they reached the Rio Grande at the end of 1535, Castillo and Estevanico headed upstream until they came upon the Jumano tribe and then were joined by Cabeza de Vaca and Dorantes.

With his facility for languages, Estevanico learned many native languages and served as an ambassador and translator in dealing with natives they met. The castaways managed to survive in the interior of Texas by conducting faith healings for illnesses ranging from headaches to nearly fatal diseases. During their travels, they had seen a metal bell and medicine gourds made by the Pueblo tribes of New Mexico which seemed to be symbols of prestige. Estevanico took one of these gourds and used it in his healing work then placed bells and feathers on his feet and arms.

The small party traveled west-by-northwest and were nicknamed « children of the sun » because they traveled from east to west. As they moved south, they began to see evidence of contact with Europeans and met a party of Spaniards in March of 1536, north of Culiacán in New Spain. That may be where Estevanico got the two Castilian greyhounds and the set of green plates referred to in some sources. They reached Tenochtitlán (present-day Mexico City) the following July, more than eight years after landing on the Florida coast.

When they entered Mexico City on July 24, 1536 the four men met with Viceroy Antonio Mendoza, who was intrigued by their tales of wealthy cities to the north called the Seven Cities of Cibola. Dorantes sold Estevanico to Mendoza who then assigned him to Fray Marcos de Niza, a Franciscan. Based on his tales, Estevanico and Fray Marcos began their journey on March 7, 1539 although Estevanico traveled ahead as an advance scout.

Estevanico headed through the large desert region of the Mexican state of Sonora and southern Arizona; he was the first Westerner to enter what are now the states of Arizona and New Mexico. Wherever he traveled, Estevanico sent his medicine gourd ahead of him to announce his arrival. He walked well over five thousand miles in exploring the southern parts of this country.

Messengers returned to Fray Marcos to report when Estevanico was 30 days’ march from Cibola and asked Fray Marcos to join him. Fray Marcos headed northward, but when the friar entered each new village, he found a message from Estevanico saying that he had continued on. Fray Marcos chased after him for weeks but was unable to catch up.

Estevanico was supposed to send runners with information and post wooden crosses as signs to indicate what he had found. A small cross would mean that things were going well, but nothing important had been found. A larger cross would indicate a land with more wealth than Mexico. Estevanico only posted immense crosses.

In May he reached the Zuni pueblo of Hawikuh, the first of the legendary « Seven Cities of Cibola ». The entourage was described in John Upton Terrell’s Estevanico the Black « It was a colorful, wild procession. Some three hundred Indians accompanied him. On he strode with a regal manner at the head of the column. In one hand he carried the sacred gourd rattle. His powerful ebony legs and arms were adorned with feathers. A crown of plumes accentuated his height. Tiny bells tinkled on his ankles. Turquoises strung on deer thongs dripped over his broad chest. Immediately behind him his harem straggled through the dust of the high desert. These were girls he had found especially pleasing. Near him a personal servant carried four green dinner plates on which his meals were served, two lean greyhounds trotted by his side. »

The chief threw the gourd down in anger and told Estevanico to leave the town. The village elders were suspicious of his claims of coming from a land of white men with many weapons and resentful of his demands and demanded he be killed. The chief took away all his possessions and put him in a house on the edge of the town without food or water. The next morning he was killed.

When Fray Marcos was told about Estevanico’s death, he went back to New Spain stating Hawikuh was a huge source of gold. The Friar’s report inspired Mendoza to send out the Coronado expedition to retrieve the gold which introduced horses to North America. When they returned to the small village of Hawikuh they found the chief had Estevanico’s green dinner plates, his greyhound dogs, and his metal bells and learned they had cut up his body into little pieces and distributed the parts among the chiefs.

One of the few reminders of this explorer’s existence is the name of Estevan Park on Main Avenue in Tucson, Arizona, named during World War II. A name on a board is the sole monument dedicated to the first non-native to enter Arizona who led Spaniards into the territory and forged the way for Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, whose name appears on a national monument and a forest.

Count Antonio de Mendoza and Estevanico

​Antonio de Mendoza, third count of Tendilla (1495, Granada – 1552, Lima), was the first viceroy of New Spain, from 1535 to 1549. 

​In 1539 he sent Fray Marcos de Niza accompanied by Estevanico the Moor to the north from what is now Arizona and New Mexico.

​This mission earned Estevanico the title of being one of the first discoverers of Arizona and New Mexico.

Comte Antonio de Mendoza et Estevanico

Antonio de Mendoza, troisième comte de Tendilla (1495, Grenade-1552, Lima), fut le premier vice-roi de Nouvelle-Espagne, de 1535 à 1549. 

​En 1539, il envoie Fray Marcos de Niza accompagné du maure Estevanico vers le nord de ce qui est maintenant l’Arizona. 

​Cette mission fait obtenir a Estevanico le titre d’être  l’un des premiers découvreurs de l’Arizona et du Nouveau-Mexique. ​


Esteban Dorantes Mostafa Estavanico Zemouri – Doukkalais – Maroc

Andrés Dorantes, Alonso del Castillo, Estevanico Dorantes (Mustapha Zemmouri) and Cabeza de Vaca

Estevanico, the Great African Conquistador

Estevanico; also known as Estevan, Esteban, Estebanico, Black Stephen, and Stephen the Moor,  was born in Azamor, Morocco around the year 1500. In 1513, the Portuguese took control of this area. When they fell on hard times during a drought in the early 1520s, the Portuguese started selling Moroccans as slaves to European customers. Estevanico was sold to Andres de Dorantes. Estévanico was fluent in many languages spoken in Spain, including Arabic, Spanish, Berber, and Portuguese.  This ability allowed Estevanico and Andres de Dorantes to develop a very positive relationship, and the two were said to be friends. ​


The Slave Who Found a New World
 Reviewed by David Blight – Sunday, December 14, 2008

CROSSING THE CONTINENT, 1527-1540: The Story of the First African-American Explorer of the American SouthBy Robert Goodwin – Harper. 414 pp.

Many American history textbooks mention the African explorer Esteban Dorantes. Some voice certainty about his participation in the first, ill-fated Spanish expedition across the American South in 1528 and his discovery in 1538-39 of Arizona and New Mexico. Others cautiously place him in a mixture of fact and mythology.

In Crossing the Continent, Robert Goodwin, a British historian and expert on the Spanish colonial empire, takes us on a scholarly and geographical journey in search of the real Esteban. And Esteban was real. He was born somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa around 1500. He was sold into slavery in the coastal town of Azemmour, Morocco, and arrived in Spain in 1522. In the large slave market in the teeming city of Seville, he was sold again, this time to Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, a captain and conquistador. And that, in short, is how Esteban came to be aboard one of five ships that sailed from Spain in 1527, first to Santo Domingo and then on to Florida in search of gold and glory.

The expedition, under the command of Pánfilo Narváez, landed near Tampa Bay and almost immediately fell apart. Most of its 300 members succumbed to starvation, disease or drowning. But a few traversed what is today Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana before arriving in small vessels on the coast of Texas, where for nearly five years a dwindling number (first eight, then only four) lived among the Karankawa Indians. Besides Esteban, the survivors were his owner, Dorantes; Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, a Spanish nobleman who lived to write a famous account of the adventure; and Alonso del Castillo Maldonado, a greedy and ambitious conquistador. The four traveled across northeastern Mexico and then south until they encountered Spanish slave traders with ghastly gangs of Mexican Indians in shackles. Soon they reached the stunningly cosmopolitan Mexico City, the seat of Spanish power in the New World, where they became « celebrities, » as Goodwin nicely shows, by living off their greatest possession: their story.

And that story — not just the reality of their journey — is Goodwin’s subject. He presents at least three narratives: one, the actual history of the great crossing and Esteban’s place in it; two, the way history and myth have intertwined in this particular tale; and three, the author’s own adventures as he tried to sift fact from fantasy. The book is, he acknowledges, a mixture of « uncertainty, conjecture, and historical truth. » Goodwin’s prose is studded with such caveats as « perhaps, » « it seems » and « must have, » and while he often dispels myths, he sometimes adopts them. He hyperbolically calls Esteban the « first African-American, » for instance, even though Esteban was neither the first African to come to the Americas nor the first to die here. He was merely the first to achieve fame.

At times, the triple narrative drags, weighted down by long digressions on the architecture and festivals of Seville, the exotic cosmopolitanism of Mexico City and the aridity of the Southwest. But we do learn a good deal about slaving and war-mongering in the Spanish colonies, and the book contains as vivid a description of sickness and disease during a 16th-century Atlantic crossing as one would ever want to read. Goodwin’s commentary on the two published versions of the four survivors’ story — Cabeza de Vaca’s Shipwrecks and Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo’s General and Natural History of the Indies — is an unusually engaging treatment of the differences between popular and scholarly history in their day. (Oviedo was a Spanish court historian who sought out real sources and, according to Goodwin, fully deserves the label of « first European historian of America. »)

Among the book’s most engaging passages are Goodwin’s account of his research in Spain and Havana, his excursions to northern Mexico and the ancient Zuni pueblos in Arizona where Esteban died, and especially his discoveries in New York City, where he read an original edition of Oviedo’s History, long hidden away at the Hispanic Society of America on 155th Street, and Cabeza de Vaca’s romantic Shipwrecks, preserved at the more glitzy New York Public Library. Goodwin’s personal travelogue, though jarring to the historical narrative, is nevertheless interesting.

But Esteban’s exploits are the heart of the book. By an imaginative reading of the evidence, Goodwin argues that Esteban became the leader of the « famous four » and their « great communicator » to the many Indian groups they met. Cabeza de Vaca, Castillo and Dorantes may have gone native, but, according to Goodwin, Esteban was the real thing: Adorned with strings of sea shells on his arms, feathers on his head, bright-colored clothing and a rattle made from a dried gourd, he became a successful shaman who practiced healing arts on sick and dying Indians and gained access to their villages and food supplies.

​In so doing, Goodwin argues, Esteban achieved a kind of frontier equality with other Spaniards. When he led the expedition into what is now the southwestern United States, he became, in Goodwin’s view, a « runaway slave » seeking not a conquistador’s wealth and glory but his own freedom and a new home. This is surely a plausible interpretation, though much is uncertain. The author gave up in frustration, for example, after trying to discern exactly how Esteban died in 1539.

In Crossing the Continent, Goodwin succeeds in lifting an important historical figure out of the fog of myth. But in building up such a heroic portrait of Esteban from the maddeningly partial evidence, he is left with his own verdict on this romantic story: « Esteban now lives on in the modern mythology of the American dream, another heroic protagonist in some semi-documented legend about the origins of a stolen continent. » ·

David W. Blight teaches American history at Yale University and is the author of « A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped from Slavery, Including Their Narratives of Emancipation. »

© 2008 The Washington Post Company


« L’esclave » qui a trouvé un nouveau monde

​Commenté par David Blight – dimanche 14 décembre 2008

PASSANT LE CONTINENT, 1527-1540: Histoire du premier explorateur afro-américain du sud américain – Par Robert Goodwin – Harper. 414 pp.

De nombreux manuels d’histoire américains mentionnent l’explorateur africain Esteban Dorantes. Certains ont exprimé des certitudes quant à sa participation à la première expédition espagnole malheureuse à travers le sud des États-Unis en 1528 et à sa découverte de l’Arizona et du Nouveau-Mexique entre 1538 et 1539. D’autres le placent prudemment dans un mélange de faits et de mythologie.

Dans Crossing the Continent, Robert Goodwin, historien britannique et expert de l’empire colonial espagnol, nous emmène dans un voyage scientifique et géographique à la recherche du véritable Esteban. Et Esteban était réel. Il est né quelque part en Afrique subsaharienne vers 1500. Il a été vendu comme esclave dans la ville côtière d’Azemmour, au Maroc, et est arrivé en Espagne en 1522. Sur le grand marché aux esclaves de la ville grouillante de Séville, il a été revendu, cette fois à Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, capitaine et conquistador. En bref, c’est ainsi qu’Esteban est arrivé à bord d’un des cinq navires qui ont quitté l’Espagne en 1527, débarquant d’abord à Saint-Domingue, puis en Floride à la recherche d’or et de gloire.

L’expédition, sous le commandement de Pánfilo Narváez, a atterri près de Tampa Bay et s’est presque immédiatement effondrée. La plupart de ses 300 membres ont succombé à la famine, à la maladie ou à la noyade. Mais quelques-uns ont traversé l’Alabama, le Mississippi et la Louisiane d’aujourd’hui avant d’arriver à bord de petits bateaux sur les côtes du Texas, où depuis près de cinq ans un nombre décroissant (huit premiers, puis quatre seulement) vivait chez les Indiens Karankawa. Outre Esteban, les survivants étaient son propriétaire, Dorantes; Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, un noble espagnol qui a vécu pour écrire un compte rendu célèbre de l’aventure; et Alonso del Castillo Maldonado, un conquistador avide et ambitieux. Les quatre hommes ont traversé le nord-est du Mexique, puis le sud, jusqu’à rencontrer des marchands d’esclaves espagnols avec des gangs effroyables d’Indiens mexicains attachés à des chaînes. Bientôt, ils atteignirent l’étonnante cosmopolite de Mexico, siège du pouvoir espagnol dans le Nouveau Monde, où ils devinrent «célébrités», comme le montre joliment Goodwin, en vivant de leur plus grande richesse: leur histoire.

Et cette histoire – et pas seulement la réalité de leur voyage – est le sujet de Goodwin. Il présente au moins trois récits: l’un, l’histoire actuelle de la grande traversée et la place d’Esteban dans celle-ci; deuxièmement, la manière dont l’histoire et le mythe se sont mêlés dans ce conte particulier; et troisièmement, les propres aventures de l’auteur alors qu’il tentait d’éliminer les faits de la fantaisie. Il reconnaît que le livre est un mélange « d’incertitude, de conjectures et de vérité historique ». La prose de Goodwin est parsemée de mises en garde telles que « peut-être », « il semble » et « doit avoir », et s’il dissipe souvent les mythes, il les adopte parfois. Il appelle hyperboliquement Esteban le « premier Afro-Américain », par exemple, même si Esteban n’était pas le premier Africain à venir dans les Amériques ni le premier à mourir ici. Il était simplement le premier à devenir célèbre.

Parfois, le triple récit traîne, alourdi par de longues digressions sur l’architecture et les festivals de Séville, le cosmopolitisme exotique de Mexico et l’aridité du Sud-Ouest. Cependant, nous en apprenons beaucoup sur l’esclavage et la guerre dans les colonies espagnoles, et le livre contient une description aussi vivante de la maladie que l’on aurait jamais aimé lire lors d’une traversée de l’Atlantique au XVIe siècle. Le commentaire de Goodwin sur les deux versions publiées de l’histoire des quatre survivants – Les épaves de Cabeza de Vaca et l’Histoire générale et naturelle des Indes de Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo – est un traitement particulièrement engageant des différences entre l’histoire populaire et l’histoire savante de leur époque. (Oviedo était un historien de la cour de justice espagnole qui a recherché de vraies sources et, selon Goodwin, mérite pleinement l’étiquette de « premier historien européen de l’Amérique ».)

​Parmi les passages les plus intéressants du livre, on peut citer le récit de ses recherches en Espagne et à La Havane, ses excursions dans le nord du Mexique et les anciens pueblos Zuni en Arizona, où décéda Esteban, et ses découvertes à New York, où il lut une édition originale d’Oviedo. L’histoire, longtemps cachée à la Hispanic Society of America, sur la 155e rue, et les naufrages romantiques de Cabeza de Vaca, conservés à la plus fastueuse bibliothèque publique de New York. Le récit de voyage personnel de Goodwin, bien que discordant avec le récit historique, est néanmoins intéressant.

Mais les exploits d’Esteban sont au cœur du livre. Par une lecture imaginative des preuves, Goodwin affirme qu’Esteban est devenu le chef de file des « quatre célèbres » et leur « grand communicateur » pour les nombreux groupes indiens qu’ils ont rencontrés. Cabeza de Vaca, Castillo et Dorantes sont peut-être devenus des indigènes, mais, selon Goodwin, Esteban était le personnage central: ornée de rangées de coquillages sur les bras, de plumes sur la tête, de vêtements aux couleurs vives et d’un hochet fait d’un gourde, il est devenu un chaman prospère qui a pratiqué l’art de guérir les Indiens malades et mourants et a eu accès à leurs villages et à leurs réserves de nourriture.

Ce faisant, estime Goodwin, Esteban a atteint une sorte d’égalité de frontière avec les autres Espagnols. Lorsqu’il a dirigé l’expédition dans ce qui est maintenant le sud-ouest des États-Unis, il est devenu, selon Goodwin, un « esclave en fuite » cherchant non pas la richesse et la gloire d’un conquistador, mais sa propre liberté et un nouveau domicile. C’est sûrement une interprétation plausible, même si en d’autres cas elle demeure incertaine. L’auteur, par exemple, après avoir tenté de déterminer exactement comment Esteban était mort en 1539, renonça de le suggérer succombant à la frustration de trouver une explication plausible selon ses suppositions.

En traversant le continent, Goodwin réussit à sortir un personnage historique important du brouillard du mythe. Mais en construisant un portrait aussi héroïque d’Esteban à partir de preuves exagérément partielles, il se retrouve avec son propre verdict sur cette histoire romantique: «Esteban vit toujours dans la mythologie moderne du rêve américain, un autre protagoniste héroïque dans certains légende sur les origines d’un continent volé ». ·

David W. Blight enseigne l’histoire américaine à l’Université de Yale et est l’auteur de « A Slave No More: Deux hommes qui ont échappé à l’esclavage, y compris leurs récits d’émancipation ».

© 2008 The Washington Post Company

Coronado is available from the University of Arizona at:

The PBS website on the American West at:

Other Internet and Reference Sources

A useful timeline of the years 1527-1547 that shows the relationships between the travels of Narváez, Cabeza da Vaca, DeSoto, Ulloa, and contains biographies, maps, timelines, and lesson plans on the exploration of the west and includes several helpful entries on Cabeza de Vaca.

More information on the Spanish explorers of Florida can be found at

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Andres Dorantes de Carranza was a young Spanish soldier when he began hearing colorful stories about adventure and fortune in the New World that piqued his curiosity and left him yearning for an opportunity to get a first hand look. To begin his quest, he secured an appointment as a captain on the Panfilo de Narváez expedition to explore and colonize for Spain territories along the Gulf Coast, beginning in Florida and extending to the Rio Grande. Narváez led five ships from Sanlucar de Barremeda, Spain on June 17, 1527 with 600 brave souls eager, like Dorantes, to claim riches, fame, and whatever else the New World had to offer.

However, seven years prior to the expedition, Dorantes had purchased a personal slave from a Portuguese enclave on Morocco’s Atlantic coast.

Esteban, (aka, Estevanico, Estebanico, Esteban Dorantes, Black Stephen, and Stephen the Moor, al-Zemmouri – the man from Azemmour), a Muslim from North Africa, had been enslaved at an early age by the Portuguese, and in 1520 became Dorantes’ property when both men were in their 20s. Esteban’s fate, however, was beyond servitude though his most pressing concern, in November, 1528, would be surviving a stormy ride in one of several crudely-made, shallow boats being tossed about in the wildly undulating surf of the Gulf of Mexico. When he and about 80 others, including Dorantes, Alonso Castillo Maldonado and Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, finally waded ashore near what is now Galveston Island, the first European explorers had set foot in the territory that would become Texas.

And so had the first African. It was a soggy, chilly landfall for what would be an eight-year odyssey for Esteban and company that would have them walking a trailblazing path from the central coast of Texas to Mexico City, a journey that would firmly establish Esteban as the first Black Texan, and as the first African American. He would also be acknowledged, by some, as the first non-native to enter what is now Arizona (possibly) and New Mexico. His arrival in Texas didn’t open the floodgates for Africans immigrating to Texas – no matter the circumstances, in fact there were no other reported Africans in the territory for almost two centuries (until 1691) before another Spanish expedition found people of African heritage, possibly the survivors of other expeditions or shipwrecks, living with Indians near the mouth of the Rio Grande.

Alonso Alverez de Pineda had explored and mapped the Texas coastline in 1519, but the survivors of the Narváez  expedition would set out from there and into the interior on a grand adventure that would become a remarkable tale of survival and a severe test of the human spirit. Their trek across Texas, encountering both friendly and hostile Indians, was nothing if not implausible. For much of their journey, they were bare foot, naked, at times severely starved, yet the four intrepid men – including Esteban – would indeed walk through dense vegetation, rugged mountains and other challenging terrain unknown to them, from Galveston to Mexico City. Along the way, they would become godlike “children of the sun,” as the curious Indian tribes would dub the strange men who performed medical miracles (did Cabeza de Vaca really raise a man from the dead?) and became revered shamans with literally thousands of followers.

Their tales would be incredulous, and even Cabeza de Vaca would explain in his narrative, La Relación (the account): “I wrote it with great certainty that though many things are to be read in it, and things very difficult for some to believe, they may believe them without any doubt.”

Esteban became a central figure. He was along as Dorantes’ slave, but as the journey unfolded, Esteban would become a scout and diplomat, often making the initial contacts with new tribes the men encountered, and acting as the lead communicator because of his noted skill for quickly picking up new languages and using sign languages.

Yet, in the two main accounts of the ordeal – Cabeza de Vaca’s narrative, La Relación, and the Joint Report delivered in Mexico City to Antonio de Mendoza, the Viceroy of New Spain – Esteban’s contributions are marginalized. There is no formal account from Esteban and given his status as a servant none was expected. It is conjectured that the accounts from Cabeza de Vaca and Dorantes were written, in part, to glorify their bravery and discoveries hoping to elevate their status and gain favor with the Spanish Crown for future explorations and governorships in the New World. There are other flaws in their accounts, as well, including contradictions and omissions on locations, distances, dates, activities, and their route, in general, has been widely debated.

However, any hope that Cabeza de Vaca had of returning and further exploring the New World were immediately dashed when he was informed, upon his return to Spain, that such a commission had already been granted to Hernando de Soto who would indeed explore Florida and the Southeastern territories as well as Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Some credit him as the discoverer of the Mississippi River.

So, there is no direct account from Esteban and he doesn’t become a focal point of the explorations of Northern Mexico and the Southwest until after he is sold by Dorantes in Mexico City to Mendoza and leads Fray Marcos de Niza’s expedition to find the mythical Seven Cities of Cibola and their supposed abundance of gold and other treasures. For all that he and the others had survived in their previous travels, for their fame among the Indians, for Esteban’s proficiency as a communicator, this journey would end in his death, “full of arrows,” outside a village in Hawikuh in northern New Mexico at the hands of the very wary Zuni Indians in 1539.

Read historian Rayford W. Logan’s essay “Estevanico — Negro Discoverer of the Southwest: a critical reexamination , ” in which Logan addresses the questions of Estevanico’s race (African or European?) and his death. The essay appeared in 1940 in one of the first editions (Vol. 1, No. 4) of the scholarly journal “Phylon,” a publication started and edited by W.E.B. DuBois at Atlanta University. Logan received his doctorate in history from Harvard in 1936 and went on to a distinguished career at Howard University where he became one of the foremost black scholars and intellects of the 20th century. It was said of Logan that he “wrote and otherwise taught about the history of black people in this country many years before it became fashionable to do so.”

For further reading about Esteban:

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