CHAPTER 53: The Parley at Culiacan

THE ALCALDE MAYOR happened to know of the Narváez expedition and, hearing now of our return from it, rushed that very night to where we were, and wept with us amid praises to God our Lord.

He provided for us handsomely. In behalf of the governor, Nuño de Guzmán, and himself he put at our disposal everything he had and any service in his power. He greatly regretted our having been seized [arrested] and the general injustice Alcaraz and others had meted us. We felt certain that, had Diaz been there, what the Indians suffered would never have occurred.

Next morning - l April 1536 - after baptizing the children, we set out with Diaz for Culiacán, where the Alcalde Mayor prevailed on us to tarry; for, he said, we could do an eminent service to Your Majesty: restore the deserted, wasted, untilled land by sending to and commanding the Indians in the name of God and King to return to their valleys and tend the soil.

This struck us as doubtful of success. We had brought with us neither a servant native nor any of those who had escorted us according to custom who were versed in these procedures. But at last we decided to try it with two Indians from that sorrowful region, who had been captives of the Christians when we first overtook the latter. They had seen the multitude who escorted us and learned from them the great authority we exercised all through their homeland, the wonders we had worked, the sick we had cured, etc. We ordered that they, together with some Indians of Culiacán, go forth and summon the offended natives of the mountains and the Río Petachán [Sinaloa], where we had come upon the Christians, and tell them to come to us for we wanted to speak to them. For our messengers' protection, and as proof that they acted on our authority, we gave them one of the gourds we were used to carrying as our principal symbol of rank.

This delegation was gone seven days. They came back with three caciques of the rebel refugees on the ridges, attended by fifteen men. The caciques presented us beads, turquoises, and feathers. Our messengers said they had not found the river people where we had been; the Christians had obliged them to scatter to the mountains.

Melchior Diaz bade the interpreter tell the natives that we had come in the name of God in Heaven; that we had journeyed over the world for many years enjoining all the people we met to believe in God and serve Him; for He was master of all things on earth, rewarding the good and punishing the bad in perpetual fire; that when the good die He takes them to Heaven where none die or feel cold, hunger, thirst, or the least inconvenience, but enjoy the greatest conceivable felicity; that those who refuse to believe in Him or obey His commands He casts under the earth to the company of demons, in a great fire that never goes out, in unceasing torment; that if they would like to be Christians and serve God as we required, the Christians would accept them as brothers and treat them kindly - we would command them to give no offense and take no territory from them but be their true friends. If the Indians chose otherwise, the Christians would treat them hard and carry them away to strange lands as slaves.

The caciques answered through the interpreter that they would be faithful Christians and serve God. Asked whom they sacrificed to [Cabeza de Vaca shortly says he found no sacrificing among any Indians], worshiped, and entreated for rain and health, they replied: a man in Heaven. We asked his name. Aguar. They said they believed he created the whole world and everything in it. How did they know this? Their fathers and grandfathers had told them; it had been passed down from a distant time; the old men knew that Aguar sent rain and all good things.

We told them we called this deity they spoke of, Dios, and if they would call Him this and worship Him as we specified, it would go well with them. They replied they understood well and would do as we said. We ordered them to come down from the mountains fearlessly and peacefully, reinhabit the country and rebuild their houses and, among the latter, they should build one for God with a cross placed over the door like the one we had in the room and that, when Christians came among them, they should go to greet them with crosses in their hands instead of bows or other weapons, take them to their houses and feed them, and the Christians would not harm them but be friends. The Indians told us they would comply.

The Captain [Diaz] concluded with a presentation of shawls and a repast, and they went back, taking the two captives who had served as emissaries. This parley took place before a notary in the presence of many witnesses.