Who Was Cabeza De Vaca?

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca was an explorer to the New World on behalf of Spain. Born in Extremadura, Spain in 1490, he served as treasurer on the expedition of Pánfilo de Narváez that reached present-day Tampa Bay, Florida in 1528. He died in 1557 in Seville.

The expedition proved fatal to all but de Vaca and approximately 60 other members. The explorer reached present-day Galveston, Texas, before living amongst the Native Americans in the area and working with them as a trader and healer. While spending time in northern Florida, de Vaca’s expedition group took the leader of the Apalachee Indians hostage, which prompted a violent response from the natives.

De Vaca traveled through present-day Texas, Mexico and New Mexico in 1532 on a search for fellow Spaniards exploring the region. In 1536, he met up with Spanish slavers and disagreed with their treatment of Native Americans. Due to that experience, he returned to Spain and advocated for better treatment of Native Americans. He served as provincial governor in Mexico; however, his term was riddled with corruption charges. Upon returning to Spain, authorities arrested him, but he was pardoned in 1552 and used that experience to become a judge in Seville.