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Florida's First Encounters: Panfilo de Narváez (Part 2)

Narvaez survivors of the storm near Galveston 1529
Narvaez survivors of the storm near Galveston 1529

Under constant attack by the Apalachee in the fall of 1528, and discouraged because they had found no gold, Spanish explorer Narváez made his second and fatal mistake: escape.

The plan was to march to the nearest coast from Tallahassee, built rafts, and drift along the Gulf coast to New Spain. They melted all their metal to make tools and fasteners, killed their horses for food, and used their hides for water bags and manes and tails for ropes. They built five rafts and with their shirts for sails, they shoved off, passing Pensacola Bay and the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Trek of Narvaez and survivors
Trek of Narvaez and survivors

But, off the Texas coast, a storm capsized the rafts, leaving only 80 alive, not including Narváez. Only 15 people lived to the spring, and they started walking to Mexico. They wandered for eight years and 2,000 miles and finally four men made it to Mexico City.

The expedition treasurer, Cabeza de Vaca, survived and wrote an account about their experiences that has been told and retold and continues to intrigue people to this day.

Unearthing Florida is a project of WUWF Public Media, the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN), and its founder, Dr. Judith Bense, since 1998. FPAN's Michael Thomin is a contributor to the program. WUWF's Sandra Averhart is executive producer.

Dr. Judy Bense is President Emeritus and Professor of Anthropology/Archaeology at UWF.