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The Journey and Ordeal of Cabeza de Vaca

3.61  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,257 Ratings  ·  126 Reviews
Of the 300 Spanish explorers who set out to discover and conquer the wilderness of North America, only four returned — after covering about 6,000 miles in the course of eight harrowing years. Cabeza de Vaca's incredible account of his 1528-1536 expedition of what is now the southern and southwestern United States and northern Mexico is unparalleled in the history of explor ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published November 2nd 2011 by Dover Publications (first published 1542)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,442)
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Michelle Burgard
Aug 21, 2015 Michelle Burgard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book to be especially interesting. I am taking a class on this time period right now and i loved the first-hand account you get. There is so much detail and excitement that you can read in Cabeza de Vaca's "voice". Its beautiful
Baal Of
The volume I've read is not actually in the goodreads database, so I'm marking this one as the closest to what I've read. It's hard to put a rating on this, since it is a narrative of events, not intended to be literary. The writing is mundane, but it provides interesting insight into this failed expedition. Cabeza de Vaca invokes thanks to god about every 3 to 4 pages, presumably sparing him the death, even though hundreds around him die, and he suffers starvation, disease, and numerous other h ...more
Rachel Ninnette
Sep 22, 2012 Rachel Ninnette rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Why, oh why was I forced to read this?
Yann
Deux excellents témoignages, rares, de Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca,un conquistador espagnol qui va se retrouver un première fois perdu en Floride et va errer pendant 10 ans parmi les natifs, de 1527 à 1536, tour a tour esclave, colporteur puis guérisseur miraculeux. Cet exemple montre très admirablement tout l'avantage qu'on peut trouver à abuser la crédulité des hommes pour sauver sa vie, sa liberté et convertir ses persécuteurs en serviteurs dévoués.

Le narrateur finit par retrouver des chrétien
...more
Mike
Jan 31, 2015 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-owned
Considering the number of years Cabeza de Vaca wandered, the narrative seemed brief. For me, the most interesting part was his description of how the natives of the Gulf Coast lived day-to-day in search of any type of food or rainwater, relying on each other for trading and protection. I didn't realize how rare it was to eat meat, considering deer hunts happened only two or three times a year because of the difficulty of the hunt. It's a fascinating account of a native nomadic lifestyle, with th ...more
Marti
While much of this story is true, the author (whose name literally means Cow's Head) seems to have embellished to the point where he portrays himself as almost a Christ like faith healer among the Native Americans of 1527 (he had a reason to want to make himself look good to the King of Spain). It's still pretty amazing that he survived this disastrous expedition at all. He seems to have spent 10 years wandering the southern U.S. from the Florida Panhandle to what is Modern Day California or Mex ...more
John
Feb 24, 2014 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating first-hand account of Cabeza de Vaca's wandering exploration of North America in the early 1500s. Essentially abandoned in NW Florida, Cabeza de Vaca wanders the gulf coast as far as Galveston, then heads inland through northern Mexico, where he develops a reputation as a faith healer. He eventually reunites with Spanish colonials in Culiacan in NW Mexico, after wandering for 9 years and learning more about he native populations of the New World than anyone. His book was wr ...more
poingu
Breathtaking, amazing. Cabeza de Vaca's first person account allowed me to glimpse what it was like for Europeans to encounter a hurricane for the first time, for example, or to realize how utterly helpless the Spaniards were, how lost, when they were first exploring new territory. I've watched Nicolás Echevarría's extraordinary film and have also read three biographies now of Cabeza de Vaca's experiences, but reading the man's own words moved me in a completely different way. I was worried the ...more
Invadozer Misothorax Circular-thallus Popewaffensquat

Having seen the movie with the same title a few times I
found out this amazing book and slammed my head between
the pages like a maniac. I, expecting a pagan
psychotic ranting El Topo type, read that the Spaniard Cabeza
explores the North American continent addled and spun with
thoughts stuck in the Catholic religion. In the movie he's
made into a witch doctor. In the book he's made into a
witch doctor. However, he does everything in God's name
with the sign of the cross over the sick and heals
them. He
...more
Benjamin
A pretty fascinating book, the true recollections of the Cabeza de Vaca, a Spanish explorer whose 1527 expedition goes horribly wrong, and he ends up living with native peoples and traveling by foot from the shores of Texas to the Pacific Ocean and down to Mexico City. He spends much time discussing the strange customs of the Indians he encounters and describes how he set himself up as a trader between tribes and became something of a faith healer in the process.

Most interesting was the fact th
...more
Teressa
Apr 25, 2015 Teressa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The introduction to this narrative is a little over an hour in length however, it is greatly insightful. I thought I was getting lost in names, dates, and locations but alas, I remembered that it was just the intro. I especially liked the beginning quote from Thomas Jefferson from the year 1787 stating that citizens of the new U.S. should study Spanish because the ancient part of American history is written chiefly in Spanish. I couldn’t agree more.

I really enjoy the publications by University P
...more
Christopher
Sep 01, 2014 Christopher rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Cabeza de Vaca went to Florida in 1528, wound up marooned probably on Galveston Island, lived among Native American groups for many years, and basically walked to Mexico. It's an astonishing story, full of interesting ethnographic details. He draws a very clear portrait of the Capoques, a hunter-gatherer group with whom he lived for over a year, and the last segment of his journey through the southwest and northern Mexico was just amazing. He and the three remaining members of his expedition wer ...more
David
Apr 05, 2014 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca was a Spanish nobleman and conquistador, stranded in Galveston, Texas after the failure of the Narvaez expedition in 1528. He and several companions then spent the next 8 years living and traveling in various parts of the American Southwest and Mexico, sometimes trading and sometimes being enslaved. His detailed accounting of the geography, flora and fauna, peoples, languages, and customs he encountered during his nearly 6,000 mile trek make him an early anthropologist ...more
Alvaro Soffia
Jun 06, 2016 Alvaro Soffia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Un relato asombroso de la primera exploración europea por Norteamérica, actuales Estados Unidos y México, atravesando desde la actual Florida al Pacífico, a lo largo de años de travesía por tierras ignotas, con hombres, costumbres y animales desconocidos (el bisonte aparece como "vaca").

Son incontables las penurias que Cabeza de Vaca y los suyos tuvieron que sortear (el título ya lo indica), desde la zozobra de sus embarcaciones a hambrunas, sed extrema, falta de abrigo, abusos y esclavitud por
...more
diana
Jun 18, 2016 diana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: los que se alegraron cuando Kinski/Aguirre se volvió loco en la selva.
…Y viendo nuestra porfía, un indio me dijo a mí que yo no sabía lo que decía en decir que no aprovecharía nada aquello que él sabía, que las piedras y otras cosas que se crían por los campos tienen virtud. Que él con una piedra caliente, trayéndola por el estómago, sanaba y quitaba el dolor, y que nosotros, que éramos hombres, cierto era que teníamos mayor virtud y poder. (Cáp. XV)

Texto apasionante, aunque de un cinismo y un cretinismo insoportable. Páginas y páginas contando sus sufrimientos p
...more
Silvina
Sep 07, 2015 Silvina rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: letras, ficción, papel
Me pareció muy aburrido. Pero a la vez interesante por la historia que cuenta. No podía creer que todo haya sido real. Pobre Alvar Nuñez que tuvo que pasar todo eso y sobrevivir sin conocer nada y aprovechandose de los indios (obviamente).
Me alegró que sobreviviera y que volviera a Castilla. Aunque ya sabia que eso sucedia.
Es un libro que no leería por placer (lo hice por mis estudios). Pero es interesante sin dudas.
Gabriel Oak
Cabeza de Vaca's narrative is among the most idiosyncratic of any first contact narrative. He spent nine years wandering what is now northern Mexico and the southwestern US after the Narvaez expedition met with disaster on the gulf coast of Florida. In comparison with other explorers, Cabeza de Vaca is remarkable for his openness to native cultures and his acknowledgment of the brutality and greed characterizing the conquest. It's an incredible story of survival, and Cabeza de Vaca's narrative v ...more
Lydia
Feb 02, 2016 Lydia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Synopsis: We killed Indians. Indians killed us. We didn't eat. Then we ate corn.
Cabeza de Vaca is an entry-level explorer in 16th century Texas/Mexico, and he's not a writer, and so this is no stylistic marvel. He's a regular guy, not a remarkable guy or any kind of hero, and no one would ever make a movie about him. Through his own stylistic monotony and relentlessness, he manages to communicate the monotony and relentlessness of travel in lands unknown. In his world, time, seasons and setting
...more
Jessica
Feb 19, 2010 Jessica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
300 men go on a journey to explore Florida. Four survive. One of these lucky few is Cabeza de Vaca, who provides this enthralling account of the thousands of Native American tribes that inhabit the region between the Florida panhandle and the Pacific Coast of Mexico.
Michelle Boyer
de Vaca may not be the best source... since he likes himself a lot...

As a travel narrative, Cabeza de Vaca’s Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America has quite a lot of action, adventure, and dramatic death sequences, all of which clearly fascinated readers upon his return to Spain. It is no doubt notable that only three of the original group survived, traveling over 6,000 miles in an eight-year period (145). The interactions between Cabeza de Vaca and the different Indigenous groups that
...more
William
Feb 19, 2009 William rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is amazing. If by some random chance you read this tag, you owe it to yourself to read this book. Simply amazing.
Mateo R.
Aug 29, 2015 Mateo R. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aventura, memorias, literatura-española, siglo-xvi, religión, no-ficción, supervivencia, epistolar-bitácora-o-similar, precolonial, canibalismo, xenofobia, guerra, t-racismo, documento-histórico, esclavitud, lugar-estados-unidos, lugar-cuba, t-abuso-de-poder, leídos-a-los-26-años, lugar-méxico, miseria, lugar-florida-eeuu, lugar-río-misisipi-eeuu, indios, religión-cristianismo, lugar-texas-eeuu, enfermedad-no-especificada, religión-crist-catolicismo, indios-aztecas-o-mexicas-o-nahuas, ev-conquista-de-méxico, lugar-méxico-tenochtitlán-méxico, lugar-la-habana-cuba, ph-pánfilo-de-narvaez, lugar-san-gabriel-jalisco-méxico, ph-álvar-nuñez-cabeza-de-vaca, lugar-isla-de-galveston-texas-eeuu, lugar-isla-la-española, lugar-santiago-cuba, lugar-trinidad-cuba, lugar-golfo-de-méxico, lugar-bahía-de-tampa-florida-eeuu, lugar-bahía-de-apalache-florida-eeu, lugar-tamaulipas-méxico, lugar-nuevo-león-méxico, lugar-coahuila-méxico, lugar-sinaloa-méxico, lugar-culiacán-sinaloa-méxico, indios-apalaches, indios-karankawa, indios-tónkawa, indios-coahuiltecos, lugar-golfo-de-california, naufragio, religión-apalache, fabulación-mística, cultura-española, cultura-apalache, cultura-coahuilteca, cultura-karankawa, cultura-tónkawa, lugar-islas-bermudas, ph-carlos-i-de-españa-o-iv-del-sir, indios-shoshones, indios-caddos, indios-apaches, indios-navajos, indios-pueblos, indios-tunica, indios-muscogi, cultura-muscogi, cultura-tunica, cultura-cadda, cultura-shoshón, indios-comanches, cultura-comanche, cultura-navaja, cultura-apache, cultura-puebla, cultura-azteca-o-mexica-o-náhuatl, chovinismo-religioso, hambruna-o-inanición, apelación-a-rey
Desafío de lectura 2015: Un libro con una sola palabra en el título.
Bob Schnell
This slip of a book is the memoir of a Spanish conquistador who failed to conquer. Cabeza de Vaca writes the story of his travails in the New World as a kind of explanation to King Charles I of what he was doing and why he should be allowed to lead another expedition. During his time in what is now the American Southwest, he learned to live with the Native tribes and find himself occupation, first as a trader then as a faith healer. There are plenty of wild exaggerations to make the modern reade ...more
Marty
Jun 12, 2014 Marty rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yes, I love the history of the great explorers, cultures, and conquerers of the new world, but in that vast historiography, Cabeza de Vaca's account seemed low on the totem pole for me. Instead of exploring the historically rich and advanced cultures of Mesoamerica or the Andes region, he wandered around in Texas. (If that sounded like a slight to Texas, it wasn't meant that way, but I have a feeling I'm going to offend some Texans by the end of this anyhow, so prepare yourselves Lone Star State ...more
Franklin Atherton
Jun 14, 2014 Franklin Atherton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is an excellent rendition of the story of Cabeza de Vaca's epic journey through what would become south Texas and Mexico. Published by R. R. Donnelley and Sons of Chicago, Illinois as another in their Lakeside Classics series, it was distributed to the employees of that fine company as a Christmas gift. The book itself could be difficult to find as it is not for sale to the public. Half Price Books or eBay might be an option, but once found, it is worth the trouble. This volume, and every v ...more
Bob
Jan 19, 2014 Bob rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: western
First published 4 years after Cabeza de Vaca's remarkable reappearance in Culiacan (and 12 after the start of his odyssey across North America) the narrative is disappointing because it lacks specificity. Only one native name is given in the book, and customs and places are described in vague terms.
The editor, who sees his role as interpreting "el fin con que fue escrita la obra," fails by putting so more stress on the work's style than the simple narrative can bear. Turning to dogs to preven
...more
Jeff
Jul 05, 2012 Jeff rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
My students have to read a section of this from their textbook. It's their first assignment of the year for my class. So I thought I might read through the entire journal. It's as dry as you might expect, but there are some interesting things that reveal themselves through the course of the book. Most importantly is the change in de Vaca's interaction and attitude with the native population. The natives that he encounters near Galveston Island are described as much more vicious and savage than t ...more
Daniel L.
Apr 28, 2013 Daniel L. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An Interesting Travel Story and an Important Anthropological Document

Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca's account certainly offers a fascinating tale of exploring - and surviving - an extremely hard and hazardous journey through what is now Florida, Texas, New Mexico, and Sinaloa (Mexico). However, it is more than that. Cabeza de Vaca offers a good deal of valuable information on the customs of various Native American tribes that lived in the geographic areas he surveyed, falling short only in the area
...more
Patrick Sprunger


The narrative of Cabeza de Vaca is short enough to read every few years. I've read two translations (and bogged down in the original 16th century Spanish original) and now believe it's a good idea to read a couple of different scholars' take on connotation and nuance.

Though on the surface the narrative seems to be a thrilling survival story (a la raft of the Medusa, Endurance), the real point of interest is how Cabeza de Vaca interpreted his perceived ability to perform miracles, on cue, in Go
...more
aPriL does feral sometimes
A short, but informative report to a Spanish king by a real conquistador who explored North America in the early 1500's. After nine years of death defying travel, he returns to Spain 'naked'. De Vaca is one of four survivors from five ships that set out from Spain with 600 men. This was written before the invention of novels, so the narrative is not satisfactory in terms of "well-written", and it is an English translation of 16th century Spanish, and it is a basically a cut and paste version of ...more
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Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca was a Spanish explorer of the New World, and one of four survivors of the 1527 Narváez expedition. During eight years of traveling across the US Southwest, he became a trader and faith healer to various Native American tribes before reconnecting with Spanish colonial forces in Mexico in 1536. After returning to Spain in 1537, he wrote an account, first published in 1542 ...more
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“If one lives where all suffer and starve, one acts on one's own impulse to help. But where plenty abounds, we surrender our generosity, believing that our country replaces us each and several. This is not so, and indeed a delusion. On the contrary the power of maintaining life in others, lives within each of us, and from each of us does it recede when unused. It is a concentrated power. If you are not acquainted with it, your Majesty can have no inkling of what it is like, what it portends, or the ways in which it slips from one.” 1 likes
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