Note on the Text
The title of the North American narrative was La Relación (The Relation) . The second edition had a running title, Naufragios (Shipwrecks), which is misleading. There are minor differences in the two editions, and they are noted in the following translation wherever important. The 1542 edition, published at Zamora, has no chapter titles, only periodic breaks in the text. An editor added titles for the 1555 edition, published at Valladolid. They are sometimes inconsistent in style and often miss the crux of the short chapters' content. The chapter divisions, furthermore, sometimes ignore the natural breaks in the narrative. In the following translation, the chapter divisions and titles have occasionally been altered to fit the text better. The paragraphing is also the translator's, on the same principle. (Sixteenth-century books paragraphed infrequently.)
Several passages have been transposed from their original out-of-place locations in the text; all of these transpositions are identified, and the reason for them should appear plain. Interpolated material is given in brackets, which are used in lieu of footnotes to speed and simplify the reading. Clarifying information is kept at a minimum to maintain the continuous flow of the narrative.
Besides the original 1542 edition and the original 1555 edition of the Relación, there is also the valuable, and earlier, supplement known as the Joint Report. It is a thirty-page summary of the sojourn drawn up by Cabeza de Vaca, Castillo, and Dorantes in Mexico City in 1536 and delivered to the Audiencia at Santo Domingo by Cabeza de Vaca on his homeward voyage. Its difference in style from the Relaciónsuggests Castillo as the penman for his superior education. The original of this document is not known to be in existence. The earliest known version of it - from a 1539 copy - appears in volume III, book 35, of Captain Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés: Historia General y Natural de las Indias, Islas y Tierra-Firme del Mar Océano, edited by D. José Amador de los Ríos (Madrid 1853). All three of these primary sources have been collated in the following translation.
The Relación was translated into Italian in 1556, and this Italian version was the source of the first English version, a paraphrase which appeared in Purchas His Pilgrimes in 1613. Spanish reprints came out in 1736, 1749, 1852, and 1906, not counting an 1870 abridgement. A French translation appeared in 1837. Only two full translations have appeared in English: that of Buckingham Smith in 1851 (a revision of which was published posthumously, having been edited by John Gilmary Shea in 1871, and reprinted in Scribner's Original Narratives of Early American History series in 1907, edited by Frederick W. Hodge of the Bureau of American Ethnology), and the 1904 translation of Fanny Bandelier, published in 1905, edited by Adolph Bandelier. The translation that follows has been checked against both of these and is deeply indebted to the more literal Smith version. Translated and paraphrased portions of the Relación by Sauer and Hellenbeck; the text in the Biblioteca de Autores Españoles, XXII (1946); and the abridged Spanish text of José E. Espinosa and E. A. Mercado of 1941, also have proved useful. Morris Bishop, The Odyssey of Cabeza de Vaca (Century, 1933), documents the explorer's early life.
Cabeza de Vaca's dates are Old Style. To correlate them to our present calendar, add ten days. The change of New Year's from March 25 to January 1 has, however, already been made in the translation.
Cabeza de Vaca' s league seems to be the 3.1-mile Spanish league of his time rather than the 2.6-mile, though he may use the latter occasionally. Even his sea distances seem to be in terms of the 3.1-mile league instead of the longer nautical league. In any case, the distances are estimates. They are often amazingly accurate, but starvation, deathly weariness, and oppressive fright more often interfered with mensural judgment. The estimates therefore usually err on the side of exaggeration, though by any reckoning at any time the distances traversed are vast.