In the early 1500s, Estevanico, a Moor, was captured in his homeland of Morocco and sold as a slave in Spain. He became the servant of Andres Dorantes, who commanded a company of Spanish infantry.
In 1528, Dorantes and his men joined an expedition to Florida led by Panfilo de Narvaez. About 400 men and 42 horses survived the trip to Florida. Estevanico was among them. Narvaez led the party into the interior in search of, gold but found little. Instead, they traveled through swampy terrain and began to die of disease.
Near Tallahassee, the group was attacked by Seminole Indians. By September, the weak and hungry men decided to build five rafts and attempt to sail from Florida to a Spanish settlement in Mexico. The voyage was a disaster. Some rafts were shattered on the coast.
Another, with Narvaez aboard, was pulled out to sea and never seen again. Two rafts, including the one occupied by Estevanico, were shipwrecked near what is now Galveston, Texas. By spring 1529, only 15 men still lived.
The group decided to cross Texas to the safety of Mexico. They were captured by Indians and spent the next six years enduring harsh treatment and labor. At the end of 1535, Estevanico and three companions escaped.
As they traveled west through Texas, their strange appearance caused Indians to believe that they possessed magical healing powers. Word of the healers spread rapidly, making their journey much less dangerous.
They reached Mexico City in July 1536. Because of his experience and ability to speak several Indian languages, Estevanico became a guide for Coronado’s expedition. Estevanico traveled several days ahead of the main party and, as he had done in Texas, offered his healing powers.
In May 1537, Estevanico reached the Zuni pueblo of Hawikuh. There, the chief was not impressed by Estevanico’s claim to be a medicine man. The chief forced Estevanico to leave the village and the next day ambushed him with a group of warriors, killing him.
The Spanish explorers introduced the Indians to an animal unknown in North and South America, the horse. Life for the Plains Indians changed forever. Hunting buffalo and traveling became easier, allowing the Plains Indians to prosper.
Two hundred years after Coronado’s exploration, white settlers from the eastern United States would describe the Plains Indians as expert horsemen.