Panfilo de Narvaez

Panfilo de Narvaez, who was sent to Mexico to supersede Cortez, had extraordinary adventures afterwards as a discoverer in Florida. He was a man of wealth, tall and muscular in form, commanding in appearance, with a red beard, a fine voice, and was an expert horseman. He went to Spain to complain of Cortez, where he remained several years, and finally, in June, 1527, he sailed from San Lucar, under the authority of the monarch, with six hundred men in five vessels, commissioned to conquer and govern Florida. After long detention in San Domingo and Cuba, he sailed from the latter island with four hundred men and eighty horses, accompanied by Cabeca de Vaca, as treasurer of the expedition and a sort of deputy governor. With less than four hundred men and only forty-two horses, he landed on the west side of the present Tampa Bay, on the 13th of April, 1528. The Indians fled from their wigwams or rude huts; and when all of his followers; with the horses, were on the shore, Narvaez raised the standard of Spain, and with the usual formula took possession of the country in the name of his monarch. His officers then took an oath of allegiance to him as their governor; and had he known how potent kind treatment would have been in securing the friendship of the Indians, he might have ruled the province in peace and good will and with abundant prosperity. Instead of pursuing this wise course, he relied upon force and cruelty to effect the subjugation of the natives. The consequences were disastrous to him and those who came after him. His cruel mutilation of a captive chief after his first hostile encounter with the natives, by causing his nose to be cut off; and his making Cuban bloodhounds tear in pieces the mother of the cacique in the presence of her children, created such intense horror and hatred among the people in all that Gulf region, that vengeance followed the footsteps of the Spaniards closely and implacably, with the tenacity of their own Indian dogs.

Narvaez marched with high hopes from Tampa, to explore the country, directing his ships to sail along the coasts for the same purpose. He had been told that not far off he would find Apalachee, a city and country of plenty. He crossed the Suwanee high up, and then the Ocktockonee. Every day he expected to come upon a city sparkling with wealth--filled with gold and food, like those of Mexico and Peru; and palaces of caciques with magnificent courts, and a country in which they might riot in luxury won by plunder as Cortez and Pizarro had done. Alas! it was an idle dream. All before him were but creations of imagination; all behind him were the dark realities of disappointment. The captives whom Narvaez forced to act as guides, led the invaders into dark forests, tangled morasses, and arid sands. Men and horses suffered dreadfully from the pangs of hunger. When a horse died from starvation, these cavaliers were compelled to eat it to avoid starvation themselves. At every rood they met hostility and treachery; and when they came to Apalachee, instead of a splendid city and fields and granaries burdened with food, they found a village of forty thatched huts in the midst of scattered fields of growing maize or Indian corn. There were no roads nor bridges, nor other evidences of civilization; and poverty was the common aspect of nature and people. The men had fled, but soon returned for their women and children with offers of friendship. These offers were accepted, and all might have been well had not Narvaez, in imitation of Cortez in Mexico, seized the principal cacique of the Apalacheeans, and held him as a hostage for the good behavior of his people. Narvaez believed this spirited act would awe the inhabitants; but he had a more warlike people to deal with than the soft Aztecs of Mexico. They flew to arms to avenge the wrong; attacked the Spaniards with great fury; burned their own houses that they might not give shelter to their enemies, and then fled to their cornfields and the forests with their families.

Narvaez was now on the Appalachicola River. He learned from the captive cacique that he was in the richest region of that whole country; that forests and lakes and morasses everywhere abounded, and that he would be met at every step by expert and hostile bowmen. He told him that nine days journeying southward would bring him to the sea-coast and a better country, and assured him that gold had never been found in the region which he had penetrated. Misfortune made Narvaez listen patiently to these discouraging words, and he and his followers turned their faces toward the sea. Their sufferings on that march were dreadful. The country was broken into lakes, swamps, morasses and forests. They were compelled to wade through water sometimes waist deep and work their way through tangled vines and bristling brambles, every moment exposed to the arrows of expert bowmen who hung upon their flanks and rear. When they reached the sea--the Gulf of Mexico--at near the mouth of the Appalachicola, sickness was rapidly wasting Narvaez and nearly all his men. They had devoured for food all but one of their horses, and they were in the most pitiable plight. All thoughts of gold and dominion had left their minds, and they stood upon that shore with no signs of their fleet visible, the victims of a cruel policy of their own. They had now no thought but the question, How shall we save our lives?

There was no other way of escape from death than by the sea. Surmounting the greatest difficulties, they built some frail boats, and provisioned them with Indian corn. With this, and some water in half-tanned horse-hides, they embarked, and coasted toward the Mississippi. Their food and water soon failed, and their sufferings were horrible. One by one they died, when a storm--a "norther"--struck and dispersed the flotilla. The boat that bore Treasurer de Vaca was stranded on an island, and he and his companions were kindly treated by the Indians. Narvaez was never heard of afterward. De Vaca seems to have been the only Spaniard who survived and returned to Spain. After eight years of captivity amongst the Indians, he made his way on foot, from tribe to tribe, until he had crossed the continent, and arrived at a port occupied by his countrymen on the Gulf of California. Thence he made his way to Spain, where he appeared at the court as one risen from the dead. His narrative was soon published, and it was read with an appetite such as the most marvelous romance creates. His revelations of the heroism of Narvaez made the deeds of that adventurer compare favorably with those of Cortez and Pizarro. Narvaez had not only fought hostile men with a handful of followers, but he had fought the climate and topography of Florida. Cortez had struggled in a salubrious climate seven thousand feet above the sea, and Pizarro had marched into the country of the Incas of Peru over a splendid highway built by that extra-ordinary people along the summits of the Andes. Narvaez was never, probably, one hundred feet above tide-water, in Florida, and much of the time he was breathing the deadly malaria of the Everglades.

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