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Cabeza de Vaca
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    Born in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain
    Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca
    Spanish nobleman, would-be 'conquistador'
    Covered 6,000 miles (9,656 km) of the Gulf of Mexico region
    Travels covered the area from modern-day Texas, across Northern Mexico, to Sonora, and finally to Mexico City
    Among the four survivors of the 1527 Narváez expedition shipwreck
    Expedition was a 600 person endeavor contracted by King Charles V of Spain, designed to start a colony on the Northwest coast of the Gulf of Mexico, to strengthen to strengthen ties between New Spain and modern-day Florida (then La Florida)
    Was later seized and enslaved by a Native American tribe; eventually escaped and wandered west
    Spent eight years traveling across the American southwest, becoming a trader and perceived 'faith healer' to various indigenous tribes (many of whom regarded him and his fellow survivors as 'children of the sun')
    Would finally reconnect with Spanish colonial forces, in Mexico, in 1536
    Appointed adelantado of modern-day Argentina, where he served as Governor and Captain General of Río de la Plata, in 1540
    Published his written account of the expedition, 'La Relacion'/'Naufragios' following his return to Spain, in 1537
    Published a second chronicle of the Narvaez expedition in South America, 'Comentarios,' in 1555
    School kids get a kick out of heavily enunciating his family name (he's rarely identified by his full name).
    The name 'Cabeza de Vaca' roughly translates to 'cow's head.'
    The dates of both his birth and death are hotly disputed.
    For example, his birthdate has variously been listed 1488, 1490, and 1492 (the last of which he would probably prefer).
    His expedition was a disastrous fiasco that failed on every imaginable level (albeit moreso due to Narvaez's incompetence than his own).
    During his time as a wanderer in the Southwest, he made his living by selling colorful seashells.
    His stories of the seven cities of Cibola furnished Spanish delusions of grandeur and appetite for riches.
    He has been accused of exaggerating his exploits to increase his own standing in the Spanish royal court.
    He was jealous that Hernando De Soto was appointed to governor of New Spain's Florida territory over him. So jealous that he not only declined to travel back with De Soto as second-in-command, but also refused to give any cautionary advice about the dangers in the territory.
    He was arrested, stripped of his title as Argentine governor and shipped back to Spain to stand trial, in 1544, on charges of poor administration (charges which were later expunged).
    Modern geographers have struggled to trace the exact route he took across the Southwest over the eight year period (he wrote his existing account from memory).
    His account is the first known written description of the American Southwest.
    He is recognized as a pioneer in the field of anthropology.
    As the 'la Plata' governor, he discovered the Iguazu Falls.
    His story was featured in the first episode of Ken Burns' 'The West, a PBS Documentary,' in 1996
    He provided the historical template for Dario Fo's fictional Johan Padan character in his 'Discovery of the Americas' one-man play.
    He was the captain of the Golden Hind, which is the name of the ship that Sir Francis Drake sailed around the world in.
    His detailed travel accounts have been invaluable towards modern researchers, particularly those interested in 16th-century American Indian life (he identified over 20 different tribal nations).
    His writings detail how the kindness of the American Indians kept him alive during his lengthy ordeal.
    During his trek, he learned to respect and even love the native tribes. He later actively spoke out against the enslavement of Indians.
    Spencer Herrera classified his 'Relacion' account as 'the first major contribution to Chicano literature.'
    He advocated that kindness/fairness was more effective than force, when dealing with the Indians. This approach didn't exactly endear him to the governing elite who wanted to use them for forced labor.
    Christopher Columbus and the Pilgrims get all the credit for laying the groundwork for US History, despite the fact that the former never set foot on North American mainland and the latter landed on Plymouth close to a century later.
    An outdoor bronze bust, in Houston, was dedicated to his name in 1986, with an enscription reading 'the modern history of Texas began with this explorer from Spain...'

Credit: BoyWiththeGreenHair

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