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Cabeza de Vaca

Photo of Cabeza de Vaca sculpture
Cabeza de Vaca by Clete Shields

In November 1528, a shipwreck brought Spanish conquistador Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca ashore at present-day Galveston Island. Cabeza de Vaca spent the next eight years living among the Native Americans, becoming the first European to explore what is now Texas and the Southwest. He endured slavery, served as a trader, and eventually became recognized as a great healer and spiritual leader. By the end of his long journey, Cabeza de Vaca had undergone a transformation. The once-arrogant conquistador became a passionate defender of native human rights.

After returning to Spain, Cabeza de Vaca wrote an account of his years in the Americas entitled La relación. First published in 1542, this extraordinary adventure story has thrilled readers for centuries. Cabeza de Vaca's account is also of great anthropological and historical importance. In Texas alone he identified 23 Native American groups, describing in detail their clothes, languages, eating habits, rituals, homes, and migrations. In 1989, thanks to the generosity of Bill and Sally Wittliff and an anonymous donor, The Wittliff Collections received a very special gift - a copy of the 1555 edition of La relación. This is one of the rarest books in the world and is the first published account of this region.