Chapter X: The Assault from the Indians (Excerpt)

The Assault from the Indians

Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca

The morning having come,* many natives arrived 
in canoes who asked us for the two that had remained 
in the boat. The Governor replied that he would give 
up the hostages when they should bring the Christians 
they had taken. "With the Indians had come five or six 
chiefs, who appeared to us to be the most comely per- 
sons, and of more authority and condition than any we 
had hitherto seen, although not so large as some others 
of whom we have spoken. They wore the hair loose 
and very long, and were covered with robes of marten 
such as we had before taken. Some of the robes were 
made up after a strange fashion, with wrought ties of 
lion skin, making a brave show. They entreated us to 
go with them, and said they would give us the Christ- 
ians, water, and many other things. They continued 
to collect about us in canoes, attempting in them to 
take possession of the mouth of that entrance ; in con- 
sequence, and because it was hazardous to stay near 
the land, we went to sea, where they remained by us 
until about mid-day. As they would not dehver our 
people, we would not give up theirs ; so they began
to turl clubs at us and to throw stones with slings, 
making threats of shooting arrows, although we had 
not seen among them all more than three or four 
bows. "While thus engaged, the wind beginning to 
freshen, they left us and went back...
When day came, the boats had lost sight of each 
other. I found myself in thirty fathoms. Keeping 
my course until the hour of vespers, I observed two 
boats, and drawing near I found that the first I ap- 
proached was that of the G-overnor. He asked me 
what I thought we should do. I told him we ought 
to join the boat which went in advance, and by no 
means to leave her ; and, the three being together, we 
must keep on our way to where Grod should be pleased 
to lead. He answered saying that could not be done, 
because the boat was far to sea and he wished to reach 
the shore ; that if I wished to follow him, I should 
order the persons of my boat to take the oars and 
work, as it was only by strength of arm that the land 
could be gained. He was advised to this course by a 
captain with him named Pantoja, who said that if he 
did not fetch land that day, in six days more they 
would not reach it, and in that time they must inevit- 
ably famish. Discovering his will I took my oar, and 
so did every one his, in my boat, to obey it. We 
rowed until near sunset ; but the Governor having in 
his boat the healthiest of all the men, we could not by 
any means hold with or follow her. Seeing this, I
asked Mm to give me a rope from his boat, that I 
might be enabled to keep up with him ; but he an- 
swered me that he would do no little, if they, as they 
were, should be able to reach the land that night. I 
said to him, that since he saw the feeble strength we 
had to follow him, and do what he ordered, he must 
tell me how he would that I should act. He answered 
that it was no longer a time in which one should com- 
mand another] but that each should do what he 
thought best to save his own life ; that he so intended 
to act; and saying this, he departed with his boat...
Near the dawn of day, it seemed to me I heard the 
tumbhng of the sea ; for as the coast was low, it roared 
loudly. Surprised at this, I called to the master, who 
answered me that he beheved we were near the land. 
We sounded and found ourselves in seven fathoms. 
He advised that we should keep to sea until sunrise ; 
accordingly I took an oar and pulled on the land side, 
until we were a league distant, when we gave her 
stern to the sea. Near the shore a wave took us, that 
knocked the boat out of water the distance of the 
throw of a crowbar,* and from the violence with which 
she struck, nearly all the people who were in her like 
dead, were roused to consciousness. Finding them- 
selves near the shore, they began to move on hands 
and feet, crawling to land into some ravines. There 
we made fire, parched some of the maize we brought, 
and found rain water.