CHAPTER 44: Rabbit Hunts and Processions of Thousands

WE TRAVELED in that region through so many different villages of such diverse tongues that my memory gets confused. They ever plundered each other, and those who lost were as content as those who gained. We attracted more followers than we could employ or manage.

As we went through these valleys, every Indian carried a club three palms long and kept alert. When a rabbit jumped (the country teems with these animals), they quickly surrounded him and threw their clubs with amazing accuracy, driving him from one man to another. I cannot imagine a sport that is more fun, as often the rabbit runs right into your hand. By the time we stopped for the night, the Indians had provided us with eight or ten backloads of rabbits apiece.

The archers, instead of staying with us, deployed in the mountains after deer and came back at dark with five or six for each of us, besides quail and other game. Whatever the Indians killed or found, they brought before us, not daring to eat anything until we had blessed it, even if they were desperately hungry. They themselves had established this rule when they took up their march with us.

The women brought many mats, of which the men made us houses - a separate one for each of us together with his personal attendants. When these were put up, we ordered the deer and hares roasted, and the rest of what had been taken. They did this efficiently in ovens they constructed for the purpose. We took a little from each ovenload and gave the rest to the principal personage of our procession to divide among his people. Every Indian brought his portion to us to be breathed on and blessed before he would dare touch it. When you consider that we were frequently accompanied by three or four thousand Indians and were obliged to sanctify the food and drink of each one, as well as grant permission for the many things they asked to do, you can appreciate our inconvenience. The women would bring us prickly pears, spiders, worms - whatever they might gather - strictly foregoing even these until we had made the sign of the cross over them, though the women might have been starving at the time.

Our enormous escort still with us, we crossed a large river which flowed from the north [the Pecos, the second day after the Spaniards first saw the mountains; for Cabeza de Vaca, admittedly confused in his recollections in this section, is resummarizing the segment of the trip he has already traced. In both editions of his narrative, in fact, this reminiscence comes after the crossing of the mountains, but is here transposed back to its proper place. The sentence interrupted reviews the sequence where the Indians urged taking the mountain route but the Spaniards kept on up the Pecos.]; we then traversed thirty leagues of plains, to be met by a throng who had come a long way to give us a reception on the trail comparable to the ones we had been receiving in the villages and rancherías lately. They accompanied us on to their dwellings.