The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004 Page: 616
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Cabeza de Vaca's account is most valuable for its early descriptions of native
societies, societies that were in the early sixteenth century on the verge of dra-
matic and usually cataclysmic change. Our ability to correlate these descrip-
tions with other things we know (through archaeology or later ethnographic
material) about particular groups of people, or, more realistically, about partic-
ular culture and resource areas, obviously depends upon a correct understand-
ing of the route. The most contentious problem is where to place Cabeza de
Vaca during the more than six years that passed between his landing on the
Texas coast and the beginning of his determined westward march across north-
Many early authorities believed that Cabeza de Vaca wandered through cen-
tral Texas before heading west to the Pacific. Though not the first scholar to sug-
gest an alternate route through south Texas and northeastern Mexico, Alex
Krieger did provide the first exhaustive defense of the southern hypothesis in his
1955 dissertation. Relying on archaeological work and on firsthand knowledge
of the region, Krieger endeavored to locate every possible landmark from the
text, to time and map Cabeza de Vaca's progress, and, in the process, to debunk
the northern hypothesis. He never published his dissertation, but other scholars
(particularly Thomas Nolan Campbell) went on to provide more arguments in
support of a southern route. Nonetheless, even into the 199os new English lan-
guage translations were still implausibly sending Cabeza de Vaca wandering
through central Texas. Thanks to the determined efforts of Margery Krieger,
Alex Krieger's work is finally available in print and should help dispel the notion
of a northern route for good. We Came Naked and Barefoot presents Alex Krieger's
full analysis of the journey, complemented by an afterword on recent scholar-
ship by Thomas R. Hester. Readers will be disappointed that this most geograph-
ic of books has so few detailed maps. The work concludes with two appendices,
Krieger's own translations of the account by Oviedo y Valdez and of Cabeza de
Vaca's work from 1555. These appear as a convenience to the reader; they are
not (nor were they intended to be) the sort of exacting and definitive transla-
tions offered by Adorno and Pautz.
Compared to proponents of the northern route the authors of the two books
under review are in general agreement: Cabeza de Vaca spent the great majority
of his sojourn in southern Texas and northeastern Mexico. But Adorno and
Pautz go further than Krieger, insisting that the wanderer stayed relatively close
to the coast, moving south well into present-day Tamaulipas before suddenly
veering westward. The main problem with this interpretation is that Cabeza de
Vaca had been trying to reach the fledgling Spanish settlement of Santisteban,
south of the Rio Pinuco in present-day Vera Cruz (Adorno and Pautz mistakenly
locate this settlement in central Tamaulipas-p. 5). In other words the editors
suggest that after six years of suffering, uncertainty, and loss, Cabeza de Vaca
and his companions suddenly decided to walk to the Pacific rather than contin-
ue another hundred and fifty miles down the coast to their longtime destination.
Adorno and Pautz admit the problem here and remind us that the men may or
may not have understood the magnitude of the journey they were about to un-
dertake, but the pair cannot provide a convincing explanation for the change in
course. If we follow Krieger and move the wanderers through southern Texas
down into what is now central Nuevo Le6n where they would have been uncer-
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004, periodical, 2004; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101224/m1/694/: accessed August 20, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.