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We Came Naked and Barefoot

We Came Naked and Barefoot
The Journey of Cabeza de Vaca across North America
Edited by Margery H. Krieger; foreword and afterword by Thomas R. Hester

In this book, Alex D. Krieger correlates the accounts in two primary sources with his own extensive knowledge of the geography, archaeology, and anthropology of southern Texas and northern Mexico to plot out stage by stage the most probable route of the 2,800-mile journey of Cabeza de Vaca.

Series: Texas Archaeology and Ethnohistory Series, Thomas R. Hester, Editor

March 2003
This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.
336 pages | 6 1/8 x 9 1/4 | 1 b&w illus. |

Perhaps no one has ever been such a survivor as álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. Member of a 600-man expedition sent out from Spain to colonize "La Florida" in 1527, he survived a failed exploration of the west coast of Florida, an open-boat crossing of the Gulf of Mexico, shipwreck on the Texas coast, six years of captivity among native peoples, and an arduous, overland journey in which he and the three other remaining survivors of the original expedition walked some 1,500 miles from the central Texas coast to the Gulf of California, then another 1,300 miles to Mexico City.

The story of Cabeza de Vaca has been told many times, beginning with his own account, Relación de los naufragios, which was included and amplified in Gonzalo Fernando de Oviedo y Váldez's Historia general de las Indias. Yet the route taken by Cabeza de Vaca and his companions remains the subject of enduring controversy. In this book, Alex D. Krieger correlates the accounts in these two primary sources with his own extensive knowledge of the geography, archaeology, and anthropology of southern Texas and northern Mexico to plot out stage by stage the most probable route of the 2,800-mile journey of Cabeza de Vaca.

This book consists of several parts, foremost of which is the original English version of Alex Krieger's dissertation (edited by Margery Krieger), in which he traces the route of Cabeza de Vaca and his companions from the coast of Texas to Spanish settlements in western Mexico. This document is rich in information about the native groups, vegetation, geography, and material culture that the companions encountered. Thomas R. Hester's foreword and afterword set the 1955 dissertation in the context of more recent scholarship and archaeological discoveries, some of which have supported Krieger's plot of the journey. Margery Krieger's preface explains how she prepared her late husband's work for publication. Alex Krieger's original translations of the Cabeza de Vaca and Oviedo accounts round out the volume.


Second Place, Presidio La Bahia Award
Sons of the Republic of Texas

  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • Part I: Introduction
  • Part II: The Journey of Cabeza de Vaca
  • Part III: Summary and Conclusions
  • Afterword
  • Appendix 1: Account of the Disasters (Relación de los naufragios), by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca
  • Appendix 2: Historia general y natural de las Indias, Book 35, Chapters I-VII, by Gonzalo Fernando de Oviedo y Váldez
  • References
  • Supplemental References
  • Index

Alex D. Krieger (1911-1991) was Research Scientist in Archaeology at the University of Texas at Austin for many years and later Professor of Anthropology at the University of Washington, Seattle.


The early-sixteenth-century odyssey of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca has been the subject of many books and scholarly articles, children's books, and television documentaries. In recent years there has been a steady stream of publications involving Cabeza de Vaca, including new translations of the Spanish accounts and anthropological interpretations, based on these, of his interaction with Native American groups. There are significant differences among these publications—in the translations themselves, on the nature of his experiences with Native American groups, and most notably, widely divergent views of his route, especially across Texas. Two basic routes are traced most often: a journey that wound through central Texas and the Texas Panhandle and one that has Cabeza de Vaca and his companions traversing southern Texas and entering northeastern Mexico.

Despite the relatively large body of literature, only a few scholars have placed Cabeza de Vaca's account into proper context, and even fewer have carried on over several decades their studies of the peoples, places, and events discussed therein. T. N. Campbell (Campbell and Campbell 1981) is one who has "tracked" Cabeza de Vaca for many years. Another was the late Alex D. Krieger, professor of anthropology at the University of Washington.

Indeed, it is with the present book, written by Professor Krieger and edited by his wife, Margery Krieger, that I believe archeologists, anthropologists, geographers, and historians finally have both an authoritative translation and, perhaps more importantly, an informed and reasoned description of the country and peoples Cabeza de Vaca encountered during his long journey. Krieger (1955) devoted his doctoral dissertation to this new study of Cabeza de Vaca's route and subsequently published two articles derived from his research (Krieger 1956 and 1961). His initial draft of the dissertation, in English, and his long-term examination of Cabeza de Vaca's route and adventures are detailed in Mrs. Krieger's preface.

I believe this volume is of special importance in that it constitutes a seriously considered and detailed examination of Cabeza de Vaca's experiences in Texas. This is based on Krieger's first-hand knowledge of the region, its environment, and its Indian groups. This and his discussion of the rest of the journey take up over half the volume. In most books dealing with Cabeza de Vaca, such observations are relegated to footnotes. Moreover, Krieger provides his own translation against which his interpretations can be checked.

In her editing of the manuscript, Margery Krieger has added a number of updates. However, the proliferation of Cabeza de Vaca studies has outpaced her efforts during the time-consuming task of editing and arranging the volume for publication. I shall leave discussion of these recent studies for the Afterword.

At least two documentary filmmakers have dealt with the travels of Cabeza de Vaca. Ken Burns, producer of the acclaimed Civil War series, did a less than stellar job with regard to this topic in his series, New Perspectives on the West, an eight-part documentary that first appeared on PBS in 1996 and is now on the Internet as a teaching tool. Not only does the Web site state that Cabeza de Vaca "lived in the complex native world of East Texas," but it also reproduces a map depicting the "central Texas" or Balcones Escarpment route.

In 2000, historian Michael Woods filmed a four-part documentary on conquistadors. One entire program ("All the World Is Human") was devoted to Cabeza de Vaca (Milanich 2001, 79). The program picked up his "trail" in the Big Bend area of the Rio Grande and into northern Mexico, and although Milanich is critical of this segment, the filmmakers had with them a noted archeologist who made an effort to keep them within the bounds of accuracy.

Several books have been written for children, some largely fictional and others more factual (Baker 1965; Brandt and Martinez 1993; Johnston 2002) and some that put Cabeza de Vaca into a particular perspective (for example, Wade 1994). A recent addition to the literature for the general public is by Chipman and Joseph (1999), with Cabeza de Vaca's biography included among a number of others on important men and women in Spanish Texas.

Before I had the opportunity to read the edited version of Krieger's work, I had written a "working paper" on the archeology of Cabeza de Vaca's route in southern Texas and northeastern Mexico for a conference in 1997 organized by Southwest Texas State University. Fortunately, I was able to amend some of my observations before the paper was published (Hester 1999), as Krieger's translation and discussion helped clarify some of the contexts in which more recent archeological evidence (to which Krieger did not have access) relates to the route of Cabeza de Vaca. While I differ slightly with him on some matters, it is clear that his overall analysis of Cabeza de Vaca's travels through Texas is largely verified by the present archeological evidence and by correlation with Indian groups documented by Campbell (1988). This is especially true with regard to the route through southern Texas (which I push even farther south than Krieger or Campbell) and in the placement of Cabeza de Vaca's entry into northeastern Mexico around present-day Falcón Reservoir. It is tragic that low lake levels in recent years at Falcón have led to the wholesale looting of sites on U.S. federal lands and on the Mexican side that might have contributed even more data related to this issue (Perttula, Irruegas, and Ellis 1996). However, Krieger's interpretation of substantial populations at this locale is certainly reinforced by the concentrations of cemeteries and village sites in the area (Boyd, Wilson, and Hester 1997).

The publication of the present Krieger manuscript, encompassing that author's long interest in Cabeza de Vaca, gives serious researchers yet another important tool in the analysis of the Spaniard's travels, observations, and experiences. It particularly enhances our ability to better understand the hunters and gatherers of Texas and northern Mexico. We cannot, of course, see this book or any other historical or archeological document as the final word on the activities of Cabeza de Vaca. But with Krieger's narrative of the journey and the accompanying translations scholars can continue to develop and test their ideas about the saga of Cabeza de Vaca in an improved contextual framework.

In January 1955 my husband, Alex Krieger, submitted a dissertation entitled Un nuevo estudio de la ruta seguida por Cabeza de Vaca a través de Norte América (A new study of the route followed by Cabeza de Vaca across North America) to the faculty of the Universidad Nacional de México in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a degree of doctor of science in anthropology. His advisor and committee chair was the late Dr. Pablo Martínez del Río, noted archeologist and director of the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, which cosponsored the award of his degree.

The research was done over a number of years of my husband's tenure as archeologist and research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, especially during a period in the early 1950s when he was supervising archeological work at the site of the Falcón dam and reservoir on the lower Rio Grande. The final research, using documents in Spanish, and the first draft of the dissertation were written during his term of residence at the Universidad Nacional de México in 1954. The final draft, in English, was completed in Austin, then translated into Spanish with the help of Maria Leal, a student assistant, for submission to his committee.

It was his original intent to publish the dissertation in monograph form. But as he began to edit the manuscript, he became increasingly convinced that this wonderful story deserved a wider audience than is usually available to such scholarly publications, and he started thinking in terms of a book for the general public.

In 1956 we left the University of Texas. After four years as director of a museum in Riverside, California, and then three grant-funded years in Seattle, Washington, my husband accepted a position as professor of anthropology at the University of Washington. Fifteen years of teaching and research followed in other areas of archeology, during which the Cabeza de Vaca book remained on the back burner. He worked with the manuscript on only one occasion, to write an invited paper based on his work for the Homenaje a Pablo Martínez del Río published in Mexico in 1961. This remains the only thing he ever published on the route of Cabeza de Vaca.

In 1979 Alex retired from the University of Washington, brought his voluminous library and papers to our Seattle home, and settled down to write The Book. But it did not come easily. He organized and reorganized the presentation and, over the next ten years or so, wrote and discarded many pages of text. He had never written a popular book and realized that what he wrote came out reading like a scholarly work that was not likely to appeal to the audience he hoped to reach.

Meanwhile, he completed translations from the Spanish of his two primary sources, Cabeza de Vaca's Relación de los naufragios (Account of the disasters) and seven chapters from Oviedo y Váldez' Historia, and decided that he wanted to include both in The Book. During this time, he negotiated with two successive editors of the University of Texas Press, both of whom were interested but needed (understandably) to see a manuscript.

Finally, in 1990, he told me he thought he had solved the problems of organization and presentation and, after time spent gathering all of his notes and materials, would be ready to write. He had come to realize, as have many before and since, that the explorer's own account of his remarkable journey is far more compelling than anything others may write about it. As a result, he decided to make Los naufragios the heart of The Book.

At that point, he was so saturated with the work he believed that the actual writing would go quickly. He spent the next several months working on the project almost every day, but he wanted the final product to be "a surprise" and would not let me see what he was doing. I could, however, see that he was writing—by hand because he preferred it that way. He had decided on a title—Naked and Barefoot—a quote from Los naufragios.

Then, on April 1, 1991, after a brief illness, my husband died. Neither of us anticipated or planned for this, and The Book was still in stacks of folders, reprints of articles, handwritten and typewritten notes, and so forth, spread out on a pool table in the recreation room. However, it looked substantial, and knowing how important the project was to him, I rashly made the promise to family, friends, and myself that I would finish his book for him.

Some months later, after life had settled down again and I was able to approach the task with reasonable comfort, I dug into the mass of material on the pool table. I found that he had organized his work according to the thirty-eight chapters of Cabeza de Vaca's remarkable narrative, a folder for each containing the translated chapter, cross-references to Oviedo's history and other works, notes on bits of paper large and small, and reprints of apparently related archeological and anthropological articles. There were also segments of text, usually two or three pages long, that he clearly wanted to use in the final version. But there was no manuscript. The Book had still been in his head, and only he knew how he wanted to pull together and present everything he had collected. The closest thing to a complete manuscript was his original dissertation, but I discovered that I had only the Spanish version (my knowledge of Spanish is, unfortunately, rudimentary) and about sixty pages from the middle of his draft in English. I knew he had wanted The Book to be more than the dissertation.

To say that the task felt overwhelming would be to put it mildly. I am neither an historian nor an anthropologist, and to write a book such as I knew my husband had envisioned was obviously beyond my skills, knowledge, and available resources. I could, of course, read all the research and other reports he had intended to use, but I had no way of knowing just what in them he intended to use, nor had I his background knowledge to make it meaningful. I also knew that he had wanted to set the story in its historical context of Spanish conquest, exploration, and administration, but the sources necessary to do that were not readily available. Regretfully, and feeling not a little guilty, I set the task aside.

In the years that followed, I returned to the Cabeza de Vaca materials several times, on each occasion with a burst of renewed energy and the beginnings of ideas as to how I might get the job done. Each such venture ended like the first. Finally, I began to think of packing everything up and sending it to the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory to join the rest of Alex' library and papers that had been catalogued and stored there in 1993. Then I heard from Professor Dee Ann Story, longtime colleague and friend of my husband, that she had a copy of what appeared to be the original English draft of the dissertation with handwritten changes, corrections, marginal notes, and so forth. She sent it to me in hopes that I might be able to use it as a base for the project. It was, indeed, the original version—a fact I ascertained by comparing it page by page with the Spanish translation. This provided a more usable manuscript than I had had before, but it was still a long, long way from The Book.

Then in the summer of 1997 Professor Story came to Seattle for a visit. We talked of the Cabeza de Vaca project and my now chronic frustration. Her response was admirably sensible. She pointed out that the most important task was to get Alex's work published, even if not in the form he had envisioned. Based on his one brief article published in Mexico, modern scholars regard his study of the route of Cabeza de Vaca as the most accurate, and the full rationale as provided in his dissertation should be made available for continuing research. Would I consider editing his dissertation for a publication that could also include his translations of the primary sources? Well, that I could probably do.

And so we come to the present document. It is his dissertation, edited extensively to incorporate the changes he had noted on the original draft and, where possible, segments of text written later that he had hoped to use in the final book (such as his revision of the route to the Jumano villages). I also have made editorial changes of my own and have included references to some—though certainly not all—relevant later work. It was obvious that the dissertation was written rapidly and little time was spent in polishing, eliminating repetition, and correcting occasional grammatical errors. These I have attempted to do, which has resulted in some rewriting to improve clarity and reorganizing and condensing to make for more logical presentation. I have not changed the substance of his arguments or conclusions in any way. Finally, I have added a few details in an effort to round out the story (not alter the study of the route). These additions are to be found in notes and in the section titled "Postscript."

In the case of my husband's translations of Cabeza de Vaca's and Oviedo's accounts, I have limited editing to quite minor changes to make the accounts more readable—paragraphing (especially in Cabeza de Vaca's work, where each chapter is one long paragraph) and breaking up excessively long sentences in both sources. It is important to present these primary sources in a manner as close as possible to their original form, as they constitute the basic data of the study.

The reader should bear in mind that most of what is published here was written forty-seven years ago, so later research, especially archeological, historical, and ethnohistorical work, has not been incorporated and is only occasionally referenced in the notes. Fortunately, Professor Hester's foreword and afterword bring the information up to date. Alex's original bibliography with references to support his arguments is presented here, and a more current supplemental bibliography containing material published since 1954 is appended.

I hope that his work will be helpful to modern scholars in their efforts to reconstruct this sixteenth-century world and the cultures of those who peopled it. I also hope that others will take pleasure in this marvelous story of four remarkable men.

Margery H. Krieger
Edmonds, Washington
September 2001



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