The history of the conquest and colonization of America has large number of surprising events and unique characters, among which the name of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca should appear. However, it represents the paradigm of those who risk everything following a dream , and at the end of their days, they can only count the disappointments and disappointments of life.
Cabeza de Vaca's ancestors were famous in the annals of Spanish history, and his surname dates from 1212  , when the Christian troops were surrounded in the Sierra Morena by the Almohads and could not find an escape, until a man known as Martín Alhaja knew how to find a passage and pointed it out by nailing the skull of a bovine to the ground, so the Castilians could flee , surround the enemy and start winning the battle. This is how that character earned the nickname "Cabeza de Vaca", and that surname was inherited by his descendants until reaching the figure of Doña Teresa Cabeza de Vaca  , married to Francisco de Vera, son of Pedro de Vera, relevant in the conquest of the Canary Islands and Granada  . As a result of their union, our protagonist, Álvar Núñez, was born in Jerez de la Frontera on an uncertain date between 1488 and 1495. In 1512, he enlisted in the army to participate in the battle of Ravenna, and was appointed ensign near Naples. After his return to Spain, he became the chief waiter of the Duke of Medina Sidonia, he faced the revolt of the comuneros in 1520, and two years later he fought against the French in Puente la Reina, Navarra [4 ] .
Cabeza de Vaca leaves for the New World
In 1527 a strong desire awoke in him to enter some transoceanic expedition, after listening on numerous occasions to the stories of those who returned from the Indies. He managed to establish contact with Pánfilo de Narváez, who was sent to the New World to stop the aspirations of Hernán Cortés. Despite his failure, Carlos V appointed him in advance of the territories that he managed to explore in Florida , and managed to obtain a fleet of five ships made up of six hundred men. Among them was Cabeza de Vaca, whose recommendation by the Duke of Medina Sidonia was enough to make him treasurer and chief bailiff on board  . They left Sanlúcar de Barrameda at the end of May 1527, and once in America, the first place where they landed was Santo Domingo  . From there they went to Cuba to spend the winter, after having lost two ships and sixty companions during a strong storm in the port of Trinidad. In April 1528 they arrived at Tampa Bay without knowing where they were or where they should go, since Narváez had made a mistake in his calculations. Therefore, they decided to dock in the peninsula of Florida on the first day of May. The captain was eager to find the gold that the Appalachians supposedly hid, but what he actually found was food shortages, hostility from the natives, and complete disorientation. After fifteen days discontent spread among his ranks and Cabeza de Vaca emerged as the main opponent of Pánfilo .
Faced with such a situation, the group decided to build five boats to leave the area by sea  . For a month and a half they were at the mercy of the Atlantic, carrying out a difficult cabotage navigation. The water in their skins rotted and they became so thirsty that some were forced to drink from the sea, which caused their death. When everyone thought they would perish, they sighted the delta of a river unknown to them:the Mississippi . They landed and went to an Indian camp where they stocked up on water and fish, but in the dark of night, they were attacked and had to take refuge in the ships, setting sail quickly. During the retreat, three of the boats got lost, and the remaining two were found days later. One of them was led by Cabeza de Vaca and the other by Narváez, who decided that each would have to survive by their own means and rowed away.Álvar's group managed to sight the mainland on November 6> , perhaps in what is now Louisiana or Texas, and they met a tribe that supplied them, but, fearing that the same thing would happen to them as before, they decided to leave the area as soon as possible. However, a storm arose that sank the boat and dragged several people to the bottom  . Those who managed to save themselves and reach the coast were received by the same indigenous group, and in their village they met some of the compatriots lost after the ambush. Despite the fear of being sacrificed, they preferred to die of that cause rather than perish slowly from hunger, cold and thirst. However, many began to get sick and die  , and the same thing happened with the natives, who saw their number reduced by half. Faced with this situation, they initially blamed foreigners and tried to end his life, until they realized that the Spanish had no reason to cause harm among their own comrades. They concluded that the survivors must have some special power, and forced them to cure those affected. Cabeza de Vaca made the sign of the cross and they all recovered, which helped him to receive good treatment for a certain time  , until he was enslaved and had to escape towards the territory of the charruco, where he began to carry out the task of acquiring products that the Indians requested in exchange for food  .
In 1533, during one of the searches for him, he recognized three former companions who were subjugated by a tribe, helping them to escape. In September 1534, they entered the area controlled by the Avavars, who were aware of the healing powers attributed to those whites. Also, different groups requested their services, such as the susolas, who needed help with an apparently dead man. Álvar Núñez knelt down next to him, made the sign of the cross, and blew on him, and after a while, the patient got up healthy. After this fact, he achieved such fame that he and his companions were considered "Children of the Sun" . Thus, they toured present-day Texas, always being well received. However, a certain fear towards his person also arose, since one day, Cabeza de Vaca got angry with a group that was hosting them and retired to sleep outside the camp. During the night, numerous inhabitants began to feel unwell and several died, so the next morning they all came crying and asking for forgiveness  .
Over time, the Spanish ended up exploring Arizona and California . In this last place they found an Indian with a buckle around his neck, who assured them that it belonged to bearded men who had come from heaven on horseback  . That fact told them that there would be some Spaniard nearby, and shortly they managed to meet several men. They were taken to San Miguel de Culiacán, and from there they left in mid-May 1536 for Compostela, the capital of Nueva Galicia  . Two weeks later they met with Hernán Cortés, who by then had received the title of Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca  . In the summer of 1537, Cabeza de Vaca decided to return to Spain and began his journey from Havana. Off the Azores, some French corsairs tried to seize his ship, until several Portuguese ships helped and escorted him, reaching Lisbon on August 9, 1537  . After his return to Spain, he considered his deeds worthy of a prize from the king. Encouraged by such conviction, interested in exculpating himself from the failure of the mission, and intending to clarify Narváez's responsibility, he decided to write a report on the matter, which from the 18th century was entitled Shipwrecks. At the same time that he was writing his work between 1537 and 1540, the man from Jerez became a figure with whom it was convenient to talk if you wanted to know the New World or obtain information about El Dorado , since there was a rumor that he had information about that mythical city  .
Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, advance, governor and captain
Meanwhile, Charles V was considering the possibility of sending an expedition to Río de la Plata, where Pedro de Mendoza had founded Buenos Aires in 1536. On the way to Spain he died, so he could not inform the emperor. Since 1539 there was also no news about Mendoza's lieutenant who had remained in command, Juan de Ayolas. Given this, Cabeza de Vaca convinced the monarch to organize a trip in November 1540, and if Ayolas had died, he would be given the position of advance, governor and captain general. As soon as they arrived, they learned that the lieutenant had perished and was replaced by Domingo Martínez de Irala, who had taken power from the seat of government in Asunción. Álvar Núñez decided to go there, but instead of following a sea route, he undertook a journey by land and traveled two thousand kilometers through jungles, rivers and ravines . In February 1542 he sailed down the Iguazú, encountering its impressive waterfalls, and already on March 11, 1542 they arrived in Asunción, where he showed the governor's credentials and appointed Martínez de Irala as his lieutenant. Taking advantage of his new position, he organized an exploration so that, following the course of the Paraguay River, Irala and several people in charge of him could locate a communication route with Peru. The governor was eager to find the precious metals and the golden cities that filled the collective imagination, but he could not join the group, since he had to face the uprising of a Guarani leader who was trying to convince his people to collaborate with the Spanish It brought them no benefit. After capturing him, trying him and ordering his execution, suspicions arose among the Indians, and the occasion was taken advantage of by the Spaniards opposed to him, calling him an abuser. Several officials and religious even tried to flee to the metropolis to inform the emperor about the negative management of the man from Jerez  .
Martínez de Irala returned to Asunción shortly after time, and claimed to have found a route, so that Cabeza de Vaca gathered a large contingent of Spaniards and indigenous people who left in September 1543. During the journey they suffered bites from poisonous species and ran out of provisions, which led to the death of one hundred soldiers and two hundred natives. The discontent was increasing, and after seven months of travel they had to abandon their company and return to the city, where the governor secluded himself in his palace. On April 25 there was an insurrection, the rebels arrested him, and named Martínez de Irala captain  . After ten months of captivity, Álvar Núñez was sent as a prisoner to Spain, and arrived in August 1545. The Council of the Indies initiated a process against him in February 1546 and lost all his charges and privileges. Furthermore, he was under house arrest until 1552, the date on which the trial concluded  . From this moment on, little is known about him, except that in 1555 he was residing in Seville and the idea of making a third trip to America was raised, but he was aware that he had no chance  . Ruined and with a great feeling of failure, he died between 1559 and 1564 in Seville or Valladolid , depending on the author being consulted  . For Inca Garcilaso de la Vega he perished in Valladolid  , while Ruy Díaz de Guzmán affirms that he was in Seville  . Be that as it may, and taking stock of his life, we must bear in mind that he became a benchmark when embarking for America, and was the first European to explore the course of the Paraguay River and the first white man to contemplate the Iguazu Falls. During his adventures, he traveled through Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, Arizona, Texas, the Gulf of California and New Mexico, territories that were annexed to the Viceroyalty of New Spain, thus expanding the Empire. But Cabeza de Vaca does not occupy a place next to great conquerors like Hernán Cortés or Francisco Pizarro, and when he perished, he was already a forgotten character.
- Bishop, M. (1971):The Odyssey of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca . Connecticut:The Century Co.
- Díaz de Guzmán Irala, R. (1986):La Argentina, Enrique de Gandía edition . Madrid:History 16.
- Garcilaso de la Vega, I. (1986):La Florida del Inca, Silvia Hilton edition. Madrid:History 16.
- Moreiro Prieto, J. (2008):Excessive Spaniards. Cabeza de Vaca, The 1st Duke of Lerma, Balmis, Sor Patrocinio, The 12th Duke of Osuna, Aurora Rodríguez and Millán Astray . Madrid:Editorial Edaf S.L.
- Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, A. (2009):Shipwrecks and comments, edition by Roberto Ferrando Pérez. Madrid:Dastin S.L.
- Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, A. (2012):Shipwrecks, Trinidad Barrera edition . Madrid:Publishing Alliance.
- Rodríguez Carrión, J. (1985):Notes for a biography of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, from Jerez, the first white man in North America. Jerez de la Frontera:CSIC – CECEL.
- Sancho De Sopranis, H. (1947):"Data for the study of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca", in AA.:Revista of the Indies, no. 27. Madrid:CSIC.
 Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, A. (2012):Shipwrecks, Trinidad Barrera edition . Madrid:Publishing Alliance, p. 12.
 Moreiro Prieto, J. (2008):Excessive Spanish. Cabeza de Vaca, The 1st Duke of Lerma, Balmis, Sor Patrocinio, The 12th Duke of Osuna, Aurora Rodríguez and Millán Astray . Madrid:Editorial Edaf S.L., p. 18.
 Sancho De Sopranis, H. (1947):“Data for the study of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca”, in VV.AA.:Revista of the Indies, no. 27. Madrid:CSIC, p. 7.
 Bishop, M. (1971):The Odyssey of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca . Connecticut:The Century Co., pp. 8 – 10.
 Ibid , p. 27 – 28.
 Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, A. (2012):Shipwrecks… op. cit., p. 67.
 Moreiro Prieto, J. (2008):Excessive Spanish. Cow's Head…op. quote ., p. 31 – 34.
 Rodríguez Carrión, J. (1985):Notes for a Biography of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, from Jerez, the first white man in North America. Jerez de la Frontera:CSIC-CECEL, pp. 52 – 55.
 Moreiro Prieto, J. (2008):Excessive Spanish. Cow's Head… op. quote ., p. 36 – 37.
 Rodríguez Carrión, J. (1985):Notes for a Biography… op. cit., pp. 56 – 58.
 Moreiro Prieto, J. (2008):Excessive Spanish. Cow's Head… op. quote ., p. 39.
 Rodríguez Carrión, J. (1985):Notes for a Biography… op. cit. , p. 59 – 64.
 Moreiro Prieto, J. (2008):Excessive Spanish. Cow's Head… op. quote . p. 47.
 Rodríguez Carrión, J. (1985):Notes for a Biography… op. cit., p. 65.
 Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, A. (2009):Shipwrecks and comments, edition by Roberto Ferrando Pérez. Madrid:Dastin S.L., p. 15.
 Rodríguez Carrión, J. (1985):Notes for a Biography… op. cit. , p. 65.
 Moreiro Prieto, J. (2008):Excessive Spanish. Cow's Head…op. quote ., p. 49 – 50.
 Ibid , p. 51 – 59.
 Ibid , p. 60 – 62.
 Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, A. (2012):Shipwrecks… op. cit., p. 15.
 Moreiro Prieto, J. (2008):Excessive Spanish. Cow's Head… op. quote ., p. 66.
 Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, A. (2012):Shipwrecks… op. cit., p. 16.
 Garcilaso de la Vega, I. (1986):La Florida del Inca, Silvia Hilton edition. Madrid:History 16, p. 17.
 Díaz de Guzmán Irala, R. (1986):La Argentina, Enrique de Gandía edition . Madrid:History 16, p. 56.