17 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.