Chapter XXXII: The Indians Give Us the Hearts of Deer (Excerpt)

The Indians Give Is the Hearts of Deer

Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca

In the town where the emeralds were presented to 
us, the people gave Dorantes over six hundred open 
hearts of deer.' They ever keep a good supply of them 
for food, and we called the place Pueblo de los Cora- 
zones. It is the entrance into many provinces on the 
South sea.^ They who go to look for them and do 
not enter there, will be lost. On the coast is no maize : 
the inhabitants eat the powder of rush and of straw, and 
fish that is caught in the sea from rafts not having 
canoes. "With grass and straw the women cover their 
nudity.^ They are a timid and dejected people...
We were in this town three days. A day's journey 
farther was another town, at which the rain fell heavily 
while we were there, and the river became so swollen 
we could not cross it, which detained us fifteen days. In 
this time Castillo saw the buckle of a sword-belt on the 
neck of an Indian and stitched to it the nail of a horse 
shoe. He took them, and we asked the native what 
they were : he answered that they came from heaven. 
"We questioned him further, as to who had brought 
them thence : they all responded, that certain men 
who wore beards like us, had come from heaven and 
arrived at that river; bringing horses, lances, and 
swords, and that they had lanced two Indians. In a 
manner of the utmost indifference we could feign, we 
asked them what had become of those men : they 
answered us that they had gone to sea, putting their 
lances beneath the water, and going themselves also 
under the water; afterwards that they were seen on 
the surface going towards the sunset.
For this we gave many thanks to God our Lord. We had before de- 
spaired of ever hearing more of Christians. Even yet 
we were left in great doubt and anxiety, thinking 
those people were merely persons who had come by 
sea on discoveries. However, as we had now such 
exact information, we made greater speed, and as we 
advanced on our way, the news of the Christians con- 
tinually grew. We told the natives that we were 
going in search of that people, to order them not to kill 
nor make slaves of them, nor take them from their 
lands, nor do other injustice. Of this the Indians were 
very glad.
We passed through many territories and found them 
all vacant : their inhabitants wandered fleeing among 
the mountains, without daring to have houses or till 
the earth for fear of Christians. The sight was one of 
infinite pain to us, a land very fertile and beautiful, 
abounding in springs and streams, the hamlets deserted 
and burned, the people thin and weak, all fleeing or in 
concealment.
As they did not plant, they appeased 
their keen hunger by eating roots, and the bark of 
trees. We bore a share in the famine along the whole 
way ; for poorly could these unfortunates provide for 
us, themselves being so reduced they looked as though 
they would willingly die. They brought shawls of those 
they had concealed because of the Christians, present- 
ing them to us ; and they related how the Christians, at 
other times had come through the land destroying and 
burning the towns, carrying away half the men, and 
all the women and the boys, while those who had been 
able to escape were wandering about fugitives. We 
found them so alarmed they dared not remain any- 
where. They would not, nor could they till the earth ; 
but preferred to die rather than live in dread of such 
cruel usage as they received. Although these showed 
themselves greatly delighted with us, we feared that 
on our arrival among those who held the frontier and 
fought against the Christians, they would treat us 
badly, and revenge upon us the conduct of their ene- 
mies ; but when God our Lord was pleased to bring 
us tbere, they began to dread and respect us as the 
others had done, and even somewhat more, at which 
we no httle wondered. Thence it may at once be 
seen, that to bring all these people to be Christians and 
to the obedience of the Imperial Majesty, they must 
be won by kindness, which is a way certain, and no 
other is.

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