CHAPTER 50: The Buckle and the Horseshoe Nail

A FEW DAYS farther on [thirty leagues, according to the Joint Report] we came to another town [Soyopa] where rain was falling so heavily that we could not cross the swollen [Yaqui] river and had to wait fifteen days. [The Joint Report says Christmas came while they waited, all other evidence points to its being late January (1536), but the Spaniards may well have been about a month off in their reckoning by now.]

In this time [which we learn later from Cabeza de Vaca and also from the Joint Report was not during the fifteen-day wait but at the next stop twelve leagues on, which would have been Onovas] Castillo happened to see an Indian wearing around his neck a little sword-belt buckle with a horseshoe nail stitched to it.

He took the amulet, and we asked the Indian what it was. He said it came from Heaven. But who had brought it? He and the Indians with him said that some bearded men like us had come to that river from Heaven, with horses, lances, and swords, and had lanced two natives.

Casually we inquired what had become of those men. They had gone to sea, said the Indians. They had put their lances into the water, got into the water themselves, and finally were seen moving on top of the water into the sunset.

We gave many thanks to God our Lord. Having almost despaired of finding Christians again, we could hardly restrain our excitement. Yet we anxiously suspected that these men were explorers who had merely made a flying visit on their voyage of discovery. But having at last some exact information to go on, we quickened our pace and, as we went, heard more and more of Christians. We told 122 the natives we were going after those men to order them to stop killing, enslaving, and dispossessing the Indians; which made our friends very glad.

We hastened through a vast territory, which we found vacant, the inhabitants having fled to the mountains in fear of Christians. With heavy hearts we looked out over the lavishly watered, fertile, and beautiful land, now abandoned and burned and the people thin and weak, scattering or hiding in fright. Not having planted, they were reduced to eating roots and bark; and we shared their famine the whole way. Those who did receive us could provide hardly anything. They themselves looked as if they would willingly die. They brought us blankets they had concealed from the other Christians and told us how the latter had come through razing the towns and carrying off half the men and all the women and boys; those who had escaped were wandering about as fugitives. We found the survivors too alarmed to stay anywhere very long, unable or unwilling to till, preferring death to a repetition of their recent horror. While they seemed delighted with our company, we grew apprehensive that the Indians resisting farther on at the frontier would avenge themselves on us.

When we got there, however, they received us with the same awe and respect the others had - even more, which amazed us. Clearly, to bring all these people to Christianity and subjection to Your Imperial Majesty, they must be won by kindness, the only certain way.

They took us to a village on the crest of a range of mountains [probably the mountains northeast of San José de Delicias. - Hallenbeck]; it was a difficult ascent. The many people who had taken refuge there from the Christians received us well, giving us all they had: over 2,000 backloads of corn, which we distributed to the distressed, pathetic beings who had guided us to that place.

Next day, we despatched four heralds through the country, according to our custom, to call together all the rest of the Indians at a town three jornadas distant. We set out, ourselves, the day after that, with all who had congregated on the montain top.

All along the way we could see the tracks of the Christians and traces of their camps. We met our messengers at noon. They had been unable to contact any Indians, who roved the woods out of sight, eluding the Christians. The night before, our heralds had spied on the Christians from behind trees and seen them marching many Indians in chains.

This intelligence terrified our escort, some of whom ran to spread the news that the Christians were coming, and many more would have followed if we had not managed to forbid them and to palliate their fright. We had with us [Pima] Indians from [the Town of Hearts] a hundred leagues back whom we could not at this time discharge with the recompense due them.

For further reassurance to our escort, we held up where we were for the night. The following day we slept on the trail at the end of the jornada. The day after that, our heralds guided us to the place they had watched the Christians. We got there that afternoon and saw at once they had told the truth. We noted by the stakes the horses had been tied to that the men were mounted.

From this point, on the Río Pertután [Petatlán, later called the Sinaloa] back to the point where we first heard of the Christians, on the [Yaqui] river which Diego de Guzmán discovered [in 1531], may be as far as eighty leagues [one hundred, according to the Joint Report ]. From there back to the village where the rams overtook us is another twelve leagues, and this latter place is twelve leagues [actually about forty-five in a straight line] from the South Sea [the Gulf of California].

Throughout this region, wherever we encountered mountains, we saw undeniable indications of gold, antimony, iron, copper, and other metals.

Where the permanent habitations are, the climate is so hot that the weather is quite warm even in January. South from them, the country is mostly uninhabited and barren all the way across to the North Sea [the Gulf of Mexico]. Through that barren country we suffered nearly unendurable hunger. The [Jumano] Indians who roam this region as home are mean beyond belief. Both they and the sedentary Indians, by the way, regard gold and silver with indifference, seeing no use for either.