CHAPTER 46: The Severe Month's March to the Great River

FROM HERE the manner of receiving, us changed, in that those who came out to greet us with presents did not get despoiled or their houses rifled; rather, when we got to their houses, they themselves offered us everything they had, including the houses, and we turned the things over to the chief personages in our escort to distribute. The people who had relinquished their property always, of course, followed us to the next large village to recoup. They would warn the villagers among whom we came to be sure to hold back nothing, since we knew all and could cause them to die; the sun revealed everything to us. For the first few days a new group walked with us they would continually tremble and dared not speak or even look up to the heavens.

They [of the Tularosa village] guided us [down the Tularosa then south] through more than fifty leagues, mostly over rugged mountain desert so dry there was a dearth of game, and we suffered great hunger. [It was necessary to take this hard route over spurs and foothills of the Sacramentos, Hallenbeck points out, because no watering places likely occurred in the flatter country below to the west. As it was, he says, five of the seven watering places along this eighty-mile foothill stretch lay in less accessible places higher up; so that the foothill route amounted to a compromise. Hallenbeck found remains of a rancheríaat each of the seven watering places. Although it was late fall and the prickly pear season past, the Spaniards and their retinue must have been afforded minimal relief at these stages, from pine nut globs (potholes for pine nut beating can be seen at each of the watering sites) and deer, as well as water. Cabeza de Vaca patently means by "fifty leagues" (150 miles more or less) the total distance the Tularosa Indians escorted the Spaniards, not just the mountainous 80-mile stretch. Hallenbeck measured the trail on through the subsequent plain at a total of 140 or 145 miles, or about 170 with detours to watering places.]

Many of the people began to sicken from the privation and exertion of negotiating those sterile, difficult ridge.. Our escort, however, conducted us across a thirty-league plain [between the Sacramentos and the Huecos], and we found many persons come a long distance on the trail to greet us [meaning that heralds had, as usual, hastened ahead of the main party] and welcomed us like those before. They brought double the quantity of goods for our escort that the latter could carry. I told the givers to reclaim what was left so it would not go to waste; but they refused, saying it was not their custom, once they had given something, to take it back; so half the gifts lay where they were to decay.

We told our new hosts that we wished to go where the sun sets; but they said people in that direction were remote. We commanded them to send and make known our coming anyway. They stalled and made various excuses, because the people to the west were their enemies, whom they wanted to avoid. Not daring to disobey, however, they sent two women - one of their own and the other a captive from the "remote" enemy people - for women can deal as neutrals anywhere, even during war. We followed them to a stopping place where we agreed to wait, and waited five days. The Indians who stayed with us concluded the women could not have found anybody.

We told them, then, to conduct us northward. They answered as before: there were no people in that direction for a very long distance, nothing to eat, and no water. When we remained adamant, they still excused themselves as best they could, and our gorge rose. One night I went to sleep in the woods apart from them, but they shortly came to me and stayed awake all night telling me of their terror and pleading with me to be angry no longer, that they would lead us where we would though it meant their death. We still feigned displeasure in order to keep the upper hand, and a singular circumstance strengthened that hand mightily.

That very day, many of the Indians had fallen ill, and the next day eight men died. All over that area, wherever this became known, the natives panicked; they seemed to think they would die at sight of us. They supplicated us to kill no more of them in our wrath, for they believed we caused their death by merely willing it. The truth is, we could hardly have felt more distressedat their loss and also at the possibility that they would either all die off or abandon us in fright and that other tribes ever after would flee from us. We prayed to God our Lord to restore them and, from that moment, the sick began to mend.

We marveled that the parents, brothers, and wives of those who had died should have shown such sympathy for them in their suffering, but no feeling at all once the sick had died. There was no weeping, no speaking among the bereaved, no gestures, or even advancing to the bodies until we ordered them buried.

While we lived with these people, which was more than half a month, we saw no one converse; we did not even see an infant smile. They took away the only infant who cried and scratched it from the shoulders to the legs with sharp mouse teeth. Horrified, I reprimanded them. They said they were punishing the child for crying in my presence. Such an ironclad fear these people imparted to all who lately came to know us, so the latter would give up to us whatever they owned, the former knowing we kept nothing and would pass it on to them. These were the most obedient people we had found anywhere, also in general the best looking.