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4 Los Desaparecidos in the Gulf Coast and Early Texas Borderlands Carla Gerona In June 1527, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca began a voyage from Spain in a fleet of five ships carrying “six hundred men, more or less.” By the time Cabeza de Vaca returned to Mexico, after landing in Florida and crossing through Texas and northern Mexico,“the Lord”“delivered” only four individuals from the“afflictions” they had met in America; the rest of the party, including its leader, Pánfilo de Narváez, had either deserted or died. Cabeza de Vaca presented his experience as unusual, unique, and miraculous, and many historians have followed suit. Certainly, the possibility—even likelihood—of disappearance loomed over all such ventures, and Cabeza de Vaca was fortunate. In the end, while Cabeza de Vaca did not disappear forever, his narrative left plenty of evidence of others who did. And if Cabeza de Vaca’s story highlights the Spanish predicament, Native American villages experienced similar traumatic disappearances as the Christianos, the name Cabeza de Vaca used to describe his group, introduced diseases, took captives, and fought wars that destabilized indigenous communities.1 Finding a baseline population for Native Americans provides greater challenges than counting Narváez’s soldiers. Demographers who reconstruct such counts have emphasized the uncertainty of their numbers and the enormity of their loss. In the case of Texas, for example, populations might have been in the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands.Anthropologist Russell Thornton writes,“Although we know there were many tribes with large populations, we . . . have no complete idea of the number of + Los Desaparecidos in the Gulf Coast and Early Texas Borderlands · 97 Texas tribes . . . we have only clues. Many tribes were gone before anything more than their names were recorded; others were surely gone before they were recorded.” Archaeologists have also uncovered a great deal of volatility during the prehistoric period, which does not help matters. Dee Ann Story points out that the“most pervasive ideological [prehistoric Caddoan] themes” were “destruction and renewal.” Things were about to get worse. As Native Americans struggled over territorial spaces, the European invasions would take these fights—and the concomitant likelihood of disappearance —to new levels. This chapter highlights the many people who disappeared from the borderlands on both sides of the equation.2 Examined from the human angle of loss, the stories in the early Spanish narratives highlight the intense magnitude of destruction on these emergent borderlands, matching the dramatic numbers. A fresh look from this perspective also helps to insert Cabeza de Vaca’s account where it belongs —in the middle—as a connected series of entries into La Florida, some of which pushed west into Texas. Not just a miraculous “survivor,” the Spanish conquistador engaged in violent acts that mimicked previous conquistas; he also provided a model for others to follow as disappearances came to mark the borderlands for Spaniards and Indians alike. I use the term “borderlands” as a place in time and also propose the idea of borderlands as geographic zones marked and marred by disappearances . Even the earliest history of the Gulf Coast belongs to the SpanishAmerican borderlands as Herbert Bolton defined them: regions that imperial Spain claimed and that would eventually become part of the United States. Of course, at this time the only borderline on a European map was the one drawn following the Treaty of Tordesillas that divided Spanish and Portuguese spheres in 1494; La Florida fell within the Spanish side of this abstract idea. Jeremy Adelman and Stephen Aron defined frontiers as places with no hegemonic political authority and borderlands as places in which different colonial, national, or imperial powers contested boundary lines. On the ground during this period, North America belonged to Native Americans. Whether confederacies, chiefdoms, or villages, these were Indian territories. But when Narváez, Cabeza de Vaca, and others pushed into these places—looking for gold, captives, and food—some indigenous Americans formed alliances with the Christianos, who included recent Iberian Muslim and Jewish conversos, as well as people from different parts 98 · Carla Gerona of Europe, Africa, and America. Other Native Americans fought them off to protect their homelands. Either way, the areas the Spanish traveled through experienced many disappearances—for years. Therefore, this essay also draws on Gloria Anzaldúa’s concept of borderland: “A border is a dividing line, a narrow strip along a steep edge. A borderland is a vague and undetermined place. . . . It is in a constant state...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813052021
MARC Record
OCLC
1017610503
Pages
224
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Language
English
Open Access
No
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