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Post Remembering Estebanico, Explorer and Pioneer
Created by John Eipper on 09/25/19 2:27 PM

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Remembering Estebanico, Explorer and Pioneer (Richard Hancock, USA, 09/25/19 2:27 pm)

This is the first time I have posted to WAIS in two weeks. On September 13, I had a pacemaker placed in my heart to raise a slow heartbeat to normal. I have almost completely recovered, but am still wearing a sling to keep me from raising my arm above my heart. This action is troubling but is a part of growing old and is better than the alternative. I will be 94 on January 19, 2020.

I have always been interested in the history of the 3,000-mile trip in 1528-1536 from Florida to the west coast in Mexico made by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Alonso del Castillo, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza and his Moorish slave Estevanico, who was born a Muslim on Morocco's Atlantic coast. These four were all that survived Pánfilo Narváez's attempt to colonize Florida. They spent 4 years as slaves on the Texas barrier coast islands, before they escaped and made their way to Sonora on the west coast of New Spain. They encountered a slave-hunting group of Spaniards who directed them to travel 1,000 miles south to Mexico City, where they arrived in July of 1536.

Estevanico was key to their survival of this group of four. He was multilingual in Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese and several African dialects and had an expertise in sign language. He helped them all to become shamans with the power to heal and advise their Indian associates on a variety of problems.

In Mexico City, the survivors told of the fabled Seven Cities of Cíbola. When the three Spaniards refused to guide an expedition to discover those cities, Estevanico was sold or given to Antonio de Mendoza, the Viceroy of New Spain, who appointed him as a guide to Friar Marcos de Niza to lead a group to the Seven Cities of Cíbola. He went out ahead of the group and sent messages back to Marcos de Niza. When he arrived at Hawikuh, on the present Zuni reservation in New Mexico, word came that he had been killed by the Zunis. Marcos de Niza promptly returned to Mexico City.

More recent historians have found evidence that Estevanico faked his death in order to escape his slavery. One of these is Zacarías Márquez Terrazas, who I worked with in Chihuahua (2001-2004) publishing 8 books on Chihuahua for Governor Patricio Martínez. He states that Estevanico traveled to Tesia, on the banks of the Río Mayo in Sonora. Here he stayed, married to four or five Indian women as was the custom in that tribe. He had a son named Aboray, who became an important person in Tesia. This information comes from volume 25 of Misiones del Archivo General of the Mexican government. Zacarías passed away on December 21, 2013.

The most recent book on this subject is Esteban, The African Slave Who Explored America, by Dennis Herrick, published by the University of New Mexico in 2018. In El Paso, Texas, there is a sculpture of Esteban in a predominately black area called the McCall neighborhood. There is also a park honoring Esteban in Tucson, Arizona and another similar park in Phoenix.

Since the age of 18, I have traveled all over Mexico, including the area of Tesia, near Navajoa, Sonora. Nancy and I have also visited the Zuni reservation in New Mexico. Moreover, I have traveled Mexico below the border with Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona from the Gulf Coast to the Gulf of California. This area is still a wild, lonesome country, and to me, greatly enhances the mythical legend of Estebanico.

JE comments:  Estebanico is one of the unsung heroes of the Conquest or "Encounter" period.  He is represented very sympathetically in one of my all-time favorite films, Cabeza de Vaca by the director Nicolás Echeverría (1992).  The Narváez/Cabeza de Vaca expedition landed in "Florida" but this is not to be confused with the present-day state.  Most historians believe the landing site was on or near Galveston Island in Texas.

And it's no secret that Richard Hancock is one of my personal heroes.  Stay well, Richard!  WAIS needs you hale and hearty.


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