by Donald E. Sheppard
In 1527 the Panfilo de Narvaez expedition left Spain with 5 ships, 600 men and Cabeza de Vaca as the King's Agent. They were to establish a colony in North America. 300 men and 42 horses landed in South Florida in 1528 then they wandered northwest fighting Indians, malaria and dysentery. To escape that hostile country they built four boats to transport 242 survivors. They coasted west along the Gulf of Mexico toward Mexico, Spain's nearest outpost on the continent.
That fall two of the boats containing 80 sick men wrecked on Last Island, Louisiana. All but 15 of those men died due to cold weather, starvation and disease. The fate of the other three boats was worse. Cabeza de Vaca spent nearly six years on Last Island before heading west with three other survivors, traveling naked like natives thru Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico. Passing from village to village, eating whatever they could find. They practiced the science of healing then moved on, often accompanied by 1000's of natives. In 1536 they arrived in Mexico City. The following year Vaca sailed back to Spain where he wrote our oldest history of America's Gulf Coast.