In the spring of 1536, European horsemen surveyed the plain between the Sierra Madre and the Pacific Ocean, northwest of present-day Mexico. In the distance, they see a group of Indians “barefoot and covered with skins”, like those they track. But instead of running away, they come towards them and one of them speaks to them in perfect Spanish. “His hair hung down to his waist and his beard covered his chest. Her tanned skin was peeling.” He is accompanied by a black man. For historian Andrés Reséndez, this meeting marks a tipping point: the moment when the relationship between white settlers and natives could have changed, from predation to collaboration.
On one side, Indian prey hunters, on the other, the survivors of an expedition launched almost ten years earlier to colonize Florida. Of the approximately 300 men who left the Gulf of Mexico, only four survived: three Spaniards – Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and two other nobles, as well as Estebanico, the African slave of one of them. They owe much of their survival to the Indians, whom they have come to consider as human beings. “Their journey therefore embodies a fork in the road of exploration and conquest, a path which, had it been taken, could have transformed the brutal takeover of America’s land and wealth by Europeans”, writes Andrés Reséndez [Andrés Reséndez, Un si étrange pays. Le voyage extraordinaire de Cabeza de Vaca dans l’Amérique indienne. éd. Anacharsis].
This was not the case, as we know, and the report drawn up by the three Spaniards, as well as the report made by Cabeza de Vaca, have been eclipsed by the triumphalist accounts of the conquests of Cortés and Pizarro. History prefers victors, and the Florida Expedition is a series of disasters. Originally, the frustration
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