LITR 4326 Early American Literature

lecture notes

Lecture 3: Cabeza de Vaca, Smith

Course has too many possibilities to cover everything or finish anything

Can teach it simply as "progress of Western Civilization" and "how we got to Poe and Hawthorne"—earlier versions of course tried that, but

students acted more interested in what Western Civilization and the standard canon were crowding out.

Native American literature

Hispanic / Latino literature

African American literature 


Contrarily, pressure to teach Founders, "Great White Fathers"


Obj. 3: Which America to teach?

maps of North America


Possible reasons:

1. increasingly multicultural society (diversity, pluralism, demographics) (Clear Lake historically a white-flight enclave, but changing like everywhere except Idaho, etc.)

2. Multicultural education (more proclaimed than fulfilled)

3. Romantic aesthetics: pull for underdog or outsider rather than representative of society



(from Obj. 5: A single story?)

Cross-cultural strategies / techniques:


Mestizo identity


Multiculturalism and associated terms


men or gods? cf. extraplanetary visit


before Cabeza de Vaca, ask for reactions, how to use before proceeding to help



examples from Amerind Creation stories

Iroquois Creation stories

good and bad twin: cf. Cain & Abel?

tree of life in both? (but trees common over most of earth)


"How the White Man . . . " definitely post-contact, intertextual

2 a great man who had been a prophet and the son of the Great Ruler. He had been born on the earth and the white men to whom he preached killed him. Now moreover the prophet had promised to return and become the King. In three days he was to come and then in forty to start his kingdom. This did not happen as his followers had expected

Jemison appendix

A.7 cf. Iroquois Confederacy & tower of Babel

A.12 syncretism





The Story of the Virgin of Guadalupe

[1] 1531, 10 years after Conquest

[2] Tepeyac [Tonantzin]

3 Perhaps I am now in the terrestrial paradise which our elders had told us about? Perhaps I am now in heaven?” syncretism

4 a lady, he marveled greatly at her superhuman grandeur; her garments were shining like the sun

6 I am the ever virgin Holy Mary

7 I wish that a temple be erected here quickly  syncretism

9 go to the palace of the bishop of Mexico, and you will say to him that I manifest my great desire, that here on this plain a temple be built to me

10 the bishop’s palace, who was the recently arrived prelate* named Father Juan de Zumarraga

11 After having heard him speak his vision and message, it appeared incredible.

12 the Lady from heaven, who was awaiting him

14 entrust the delivery of your message to someone of importance, well known, respected, and esteemed

14 you send me to a place where I never visit nor repose.

15 that through your mediation my wish be complied

19 the bishop did not give credence, a sign was necessary

20 dismissed Juan Diego. Immediately the bishop ordered some persons of his household, whom he could trust, to go and watch where Juan Diego went and whom he saw and to whom he spoke.

21 informed the bishop, influencing him not to believe Juan Diego; they told him that he was being deceived; that Juan Diego was only forging what he was saying, or that he was simply dreaming what he said and asked. They finally schemed that if he ever returned, they would hold and punish him harshly,

22 Return here tomorrow, so you may take to the bishop the sign he has requested.

[23] On the following day, Monday, when Juan Diego was to carry a sign so he could be believed, he failed to return, because, when he reached his home, his uncle, named Juan Bernardino, had become sick, and was gravely ill.

24 “If I proceed forward, the Lady is bound to see me, and I may be detained, so I may take the sign to the prelate, as prearranged; that our first affliction must let us go hurriedly to call a priest, as my poor uncle certainly awaits him.”

25 Know that a servant of yours is very sick, my uncle. He has contracted the plague, and is near death. I am hurrying to your house in Mexico to call one of your priests, beloved by our Lord, to hear his confession

26 Do not be afflicted by the illness of your uncle, who will not die now of it. be assured that he is now cured.” (And then his uncle was cured, as it was later learned.)

29 this diversity of roses is the proof and the sign which you will take to the bishop. You will tell him in my name that he will see in them my wish and that he will have to comply to it. You are my ambassador

31 none were willing, pretending not to hear him, probably because it was too early, or because they already knew him as being of the troublesome type

[33] Upon seeing that all the different rosas de Castilla*, and out of season, the courtiers were thoroughly amazed

33 when then tried to get them, they were unable to see real flowers. Instead, they appeared painted or stamped or sewn on the cloth.

[36] He unfolded his white cloth, where he had the flowers; and when they scattered on the floor, all the different varieties of rosas de Castilla, suddenly there appeared the drawing of the precious Image of the ever-virgin Holy Mary, Mother of God, in the manner as she is today kept in the temple at Tepeyacac, which is named Guadalupe.

38 show us where the Lady from heaven wished her temple be erected

41 he had seen her in the same manner as she had appeared to his nephew


John Smith notes

compare / contrast fiction / nonfiction

fiction as such barely exists this early, at least in America

how much of a difference?


fiction: carefully planned, constructed plot; every action or detail contributes to story or character development

nonfiction: "what really happened," which may or may not be relevant to any larger purpose


1 extreme weakness and sickness

2 buried 50

God, the patron of all good endeavors, in that desperate extremity so changed the hearts of the savages, that they brought such plenty of their fruits and provisions that no man wanted.

4 himself always bearing the greatest task for his own share

5 infinite impediments, yet no discouragement. [<realistic limits but Romantic resolve]

6 Sixty or seventy of them, some black, some red, some white, some parti-colored came in a square order, singing and dancing out of the woods, with their Okee (which was an idol made of skins, stuffed with moss, all painted and hung with chains and copper) borne before them

7 rivers became so covered with swans, geese, ducks, and cranes, that we daily feasted with good bread, Virginia peas, pumpkins, and putchamins [persimmons], fish, fowl, and divers sorts of wild beasts as fat as we could eat them

9 beset with 200 savages, two of them he slew, still defending himself with the aid of a savage his guide, whom he bound to his arm with his garters, and used him as a buckler [shield],

10 6-7 weeks a prisoner [captivity narrative]

12 gave a round ivory double compass dial. Much they marveled at the playing of the fly and needle, which they could see so plainly and yet not touch it because of the glass

roundness of the earth and skies, the sphere of the sun, moon, and stars, and how the sun did chase the night round about the world continually [Smith knows the earth is round but thinks the sun goes around it]; the greatness of the land and sea, the diversity of nations, variety of complexions

13 more than two hundred of those grim courtiers stood wondering at him, as he had been a monster

realistic details

14 being ready with their clubs to beat out his brains, Pocahontas, the king's dearest daughter, when no entreaty could prevail, got his head in her arms, and laid her own upon his to save his from death

15 Powhatan, more like a devil than a man, with some two hundred more as black as himself, came unto him and told him now they were friends, and presently he should go to Jamestown, to send him two great guns, and a grindstone, for which he would give him the county of Capahowosick, and for ever esteem him as his son Nantaquoud 

16 two demiculverins [small cannons] and a millstone [for grinding corn] to carry Powhatan

19-20 Pocahontas food and love

22 works of gods

23 gods rather than men

all the space of their sickness, there was no man of ours knowne to die, or much sick

23 in the ayre, yet invisible and without bodies: and that they by our entreaties, for love of us, did make the people die as they did, by shooting invisible bullets into them.


Cabeza de Vaca and mestizo / Syncretism

10-12 Indians

68-69 Christians and Indians

[98] The way we treated the sick was to make over them the sign of the cross while breathing on them, recite a Pater noster [“Our Father”] and Ave Maria [“Hail, Mary”], and pray to God

[199] There, among other things which they gave us, Andres Dorantes got a big rattle of copper, large, on which was represented a face, and which they held in great esteem. They said it had been obtained from some of their neighbors. Upon asking these whence it had come, they claimed to have brought it from the north, where there was much of it and highly prized. We understood that, wherever it might have come from, there must be foundries, and that metal was cast in molds. [<tokens of more advanced civilization] . . . .

240 four Christians on horseback, who, seeing me in such a strange attire, and in company with Indians, were greatly startled. They stared at me for quite a while, speechless

[245] Thereupon we had many and bitter quarrels with the Christians, for they wanted to make slaves of our Indians. . . . At all this the Christians were greatly vexed, and told their own interpreter to say to the Indians how we were of their own race, but had gone astray for a long while, and were people of no luck and little heart, whereas they were the lords of the land, whom they should obey and serve.

[258] Upon being asked whom they worshipped and to whom they offered sacrifices, to whom they prayed for health and water for the fields, they said, to a man in Heaven. We asked what was his name, and they said Aguar, and that they believed he had created the world and everything in it. [syncretism]


Cabeza & captivity narrative

paragraph 103

issues: "going native," adapting to new culture, returning changed.



Cabeza notes

4 fear ships would be lost

5 all the houses and the churches fell down, and we had to go about, seven or eight men locking Arms at a time, to prevent the wind from carrying us off

opening hurricane but [6] sounds supernatural

6 a great uproar, the sound of many voices, the tinkling of little bells, also flutes and tambourines and other instruments, the most of which noise lasted until morning, when the storm ceased. Never has such a fearful thing been witnessed in those parts.

Sixty people and twenty horses perished on the ships. . . .

8 The pilot we had taken ran the vessels aground

10 arrived at the huts or houses of the Indians we had seen, we found them abandoned . . . One of those houses was so large that it could hold more than 300 people.

a golden rattle among the nets.

Governor hoisted flags in behalf of Your Majesty and took possession of the country in Your Royal name,

they made many gestures and threats, and it seemed as if they beckoned to us to leave the country. Afterward, without offering any molestation, they went away.

12 boxes for merchandise from Castilla [Southern Spain]. In every one of them was a corpse covered with painted deer hides. The commissary thought this to be some idolatrous practice, so he burnt the boxes with the corpses. . . .

13 signified to us that in that province we would find everything we held in esteem. They said that in Apalachen there was plenty. [The Indians may be using disinformation to rid themselves of the Spanish.] . . . .

16 neither did we know what to expect from the land we were entering, having no knowledge of what it was, what it might contain and by what kind of people

21 it seemed to him as if he could not trust anybody

23 set out upon our journey inland. The number of people we took along was three hundred .

some two hundred Indians, more or less; the Governor went to meet them, and after he talked to them by signs they acted in such a manner that we were obliged to set upon them and seize five or six, who took us to their houses, about half a league from there, where we found a large quantity of corn ready for harvest. We gave infinite thanks to our Lord for having helped us in such great need, for, as we were not used to such exposures, we felt greatly exhausted, and were much weakened by hunger.

26 Finally there came to us a chief, whom an Indian carried on his shoulders. He wore a painted deerskin, and many people followed him, and he was preceded by many players on flutes made of reeds.

We gave him beads and little bells and other trinkets, while he presented the Governor with the hide he wore.

29 great fatigue and hunger, had their backs covered with wounds from the weight of the armor and other things

[30] small and low houses, reared in sheltered places, out of fear of the great storms that continuously occur in the country.

32 We found the country very thinly inhabited and difficult to march through, owing to bad places, timber and lagoons.

Apalachen [in current Florida panhandle] was the largest town of all; that further in less people were met with, who were very much poorer than those here, and that the country was thinly settled, the inhabitants greatly scattered, and also that further inland big lakes, dense forests, great deserts and wastes were met with.

34 shower arrows upon us, so that many men and horses were wounded, and before we could get out of the lagoon our guide was captured by them. . . .

35 seen two oak trees, each as thick as the calf of a leg, shot through and through by arrows, which is not surprising if we consider the force and dexterity

being very tall and naked, at a distance they appear giants.

[36] Those people are wonderfully built, very gaunt and of great strength and agility*.

37 maize, squash and beans, all nearly ripe and ready for harvest. [three sisters]

38 given the name of the Rio de la Magdalena. . . .

39 I returned to where the Governor was. We found him sick, together with many others. The night before, Indians had made an attack, putting them in great stress, owing to their enfeebled condition. . . . 

[40] a land so strange and so utterly without resources of any kind

[41] Most of the horsemen began to leave in secret, hoping thus to save themselves, . . . they concluded to stay, and share the fate of all, without abandoning one another.

[42] One-third of our people were dangerously ill, getting worse hourly, and we felt sure of meeting the same fate, with death as our only prospect, which in such a country was much worse yet.

none of us knew how to construct ships. We had no tools, no iron, no smithery, no oakum

[43] The next day God provided that one of the men should come, saying that he would make wooden flues [vents, pipes], and bellows [air-pressure pump] of deerskin [<blacksmith equipment],

[45a] shot arrows with force and precision

45b after clothing and supplies were put on board, the sides of the barges only rose half a foot above the water. Besides, we were so crowded as to be unable to stir. So great is the power of need that it brought us to venture out into such a troublesome sea in this manner, and without any one among us having the least knowledge of the art of navigation.

50 They were tall and well built, and carried neither bows nor arrows. We followed them to their lodges, which were nearly along the inlet, and landed, and in front of the lodges we saw many jars with water, and great quantities of cooked fish. The Chief of that land offered all to the Governor and led him to his abode.

half an hour after sunset, the Indians suddenly fell upon us and upon our sick people on the beach.

61 no time for orders; that each one should do the best he could to save himself; that he intended to do it that way, and with this he went on with his craft. [An archetypal moment for an American narrative: do people work together, or is it every man for himself?]

[63] It being winter and the cold very great, and as we had been suffering so many days from hunger and from the injuries we received from the waves, that the next day people began to break down, so that when the sun set all those aboard of my barge had fallen in a heap and were so near dying that few remained conscious, and not five men kept on their feet.


[66] Close to shore a wave took us and hurled the barge a horse's length out of water. With the violent shock nearly all the people who lay in the boat like dead came to themselves, and, seeing we were close to land, began to crawl out on all fours. . . . we built a fire and toasted some of our maize. We found rain water, and with the warmth of the fire people revived and began to cheer up.

69-70 [The Indian peoples inhabiting Galveston Island at the time were the Karankawa and Akokisa tribes.]

[72] In the evening they returned and brought us more fish and some of the same roots, and they brought their women and children to look at us. They thought themselves very rich with the little bells and beads we gave them, and thereafter visited us daily with the same things as before.

[74] . . . a wave swept over us, we all got wet, and being naked and the cold very great, the oars dropped out of our hands. The next wave overturned the barge. The inspector and two others clung to her to save themselves, but the contrary happened; they got underneath the barge and were drowned.

75 half dead, on the beach of the same island again, less the three that had perished underneath the barge.

76 we built big fires and then with many tears begged Our Lord for mercy . . . .

78 the Indians sat down with us and all began to weep out of compassion for our misfortune

[79] Verily, to see beings so devoid of reason, untutored, so like unto brutes, yet so deeply moved by pity for us, it increased my feelings and those of others in my company for our own misfortune. When the lament was over, I spoke to the Christians and asked them if they would like me to beg the Indians to take us to their homes. Some of the men, who had been to New Spain, answered that it would be unwise, as, once at their abode, they might sacrifice us to their idols.

82 provided four or five big fires on the road, at each one of which they warmed us. As soon as they saw we had regained a little warmth and strength they would carry us to the next fire

83 a great celebration (which lasted the whole night), although there was neither pleasure, feast nor sleep in it for us, since we expected to be sacrificed. In the morning they again gave us fish and roots, and treated us so well that we became reassured, losing somewhat our apprehension of being butchered.

84 a trinket he had not gotten from us . . . that other men like ourselves and who were still in our rear, had given it to them. . . .

[87] cannibalism cf. 122

five Christians, quartered on the coast, were driven to such an extremity that they ate each other up until but one remained, who being left alone, there was nobody to eat him. . . . At this the Indians were so startled, and there was such an uproar among them, that I verily believe if they had seen this at the beginning they would have killed them, and we all would have been in great danger.

[88] Then the natives fell sick from the stomach, so that one-half of them died also, and they, believing we had killed them, and holding it to be certain, they agreed among themselves to kill those of us who survived. [The Indians may have contracted an unfamiliar virus from the Europeans, though neither side could have guessed at the medical causes.] [cf. Smith para. 23]

[90] To this island we gave the name of the Island of Ill-Fate [“Isla de Malhado”; a.k.a. “Island of Doom”; i.e. Galveston Island]. The people on it are tall and well formed; they have no other weapons than bows and arrows with which they are most dexterous.

[91] Of all the people in the world, they are those who most love their children and treat them best, and should the child of one of them happen to die, parents and relatives bewail it, and the whole settlement, the lament lasting a full year, day after day.

92 give to the relatives the pulverized bones to drink in water. [<ritual cannibalism akin to Holy Communion]

91-2 anthropology, travel writing, government report

95 they wanted to make medicine men of us without any examination or asking for our diplomas, because they cure diseases by breathing on the sick, and with that breath and their hands they drive the ailment away

96 virtues

stones and things growing out in the field have their virtues

[98] The way we treated the sick was to make over them the sign of the cross while breathing on them, recite a Pater noster [“Our Father”] and Ave Maria [“Hail, Mary”], and pray to God, Our Lord, as best we could to give them good health and inspire them to do us some favors.

100 two distinct languages spoken on the island; those of one language are called Capoques, those of the other Han. [<These references to two languages may indicate the distinct Karankawa and Akokisa peoples of the area.]  

104-6 captivity narrative + adaptation cf. Rowlandson

104 I improved my condition a little by becoming a trader

106 This trade suited me well because it gave me liberty to go wherever I pleased; I was not bound to do anything and no longer a slave. Wherever I went they treated me well, and gave me to eat for the sake of my wares. My principal object in doing it, however, was to find out in what manner I might get further away. I became well known among them; they rejoiced greatly when seeing me

[111] We inquired about the country further on and the sustenance that might be found in it. They said it was very thinly settled, with nothing to eat

114 remove to another section in order to eat prickly pears. These are a fruit of the size of eggs, red and black, and taste very good. . . .

[122] . . . Thus they [the governor's party] perished one after another, the survivors slicing the dead for meat. [<see also para. 87]

[127] It is a custom of theirs to kill even their own children for the sake of dreams, and the girls when newly born they throw away to be eaten by dogs. The reason why they do it is (as they say) that all the others of that country are their enemies with whom they are always at war, and should they marry their daughters they might multiply so much as to be able to overcome them and reduce them to slavery. Hence they prefer to kill the girls rather than see them give birth to children who would become their foes.

128 When they want to get married they buy their wives from their enemies. . . . They kill their own children and buy those of strangers. Marriage only lasts as long as they please. For a mere nothing they break up wedlock.

[150] Nothing was talked about in this whole country but of the wonderful cures which God, Our Lord, performed through us, and so they came from many places to be cured,

153 verily we were children of the sun.

[159] . . . I made a contract with the Indians to make combs, arrows, bows and nets for them*

164 not cohabiting with their wives when these are pregnant, and until the child is two years old.

[174] Horses are what the Indians dread most, and by means of which they will be overcome. . . .

[181] During the time I was among them I saw something very repulsive, namely, a man married to another. Such are impotent and womanish beings, who dress like women and perform the office of women, but use the bow and carry big loads. Among these Indians we saw many of them

186 perforated gourds filled with pebbles, which are ceremonial objects of great importance. They only use them at dances, or as medicine, to cure, and nobody dares touch them but themselves. They claim that those gourds have healing virtues, and that they come from Heaven, not being found in that country

190 a new custom. While we were received very well everywhere, those who came with us would treat those who received us badly, taking away their belongings and plundering their homes, without leaving them anything. [Truth stranger than fiction]

199 Dorantes got a big rattle of copper, large, on which was represented a face . . . We understood that, wherever it might have come from, there must be foundries, and that metal was cast in molds. [<tokens of more advanced civilization] . . . .

201 By cutting deeper, and inserting the point of the knife, with great difficulty I got it out; it was very long. Then, with a deer-bone, according to my knowledge of surgery, I made two stitches.

223 we held it always certain that by going towards sunset we should reach the goal of our wishes.

228 We exercised great authority over them, and carried ourselves with much gravity, and, in order to maintain it, spoke very little to them. It was the negro [Estevanico] who talked to them all the time . . . .

232 some men, with beards like ours, had come from Heaven to that river; that they had horses, lances and swords, and had lanced two of them.

235 the people had fled to the mountains, leaving houses and fields out of fear of the Christians. This filled our hearts with sorrow, seeing the land so fertile and beautiful, so full of water and streams, but abandoned and the places burned down, and the people, so thin and wan, fleeing and hiding . . . . They brought us blankets, which they had been concealing from the Christians, and gave them to us, and told us how the Christians had penetrated into the country before, and had destroyed and burnt the villages, taking with them half of the men and all the women and children, and how those who could escaped by flight.

240 four Christians on horseback, who, seeing me in such a strange attire, and in company with Indians, were greatly startled. They stared at me for quite a while, speechless

[245] Thereupon we had many and bitter quarrels with the Christians, for they wanted to make slaves of our Indians. . . . At all this the Christians were greatly vexed, and told their own interpreter to say to the Indians how we were of their own race, but had gone astray for a long while, and were people of no luck and little heart, whereas they were the lords of the land, whom they should obey and serve.

245 Mestizo

258 syncretism

[258] Upon being asked whom they worshipped and to whom they offered sacrifices, to whom they prayed for health and water for the fields, they said, to a man in Heaven. We asked what was his name, and they said Aguar, and that they believed he had created the world and everything in it. [syncretism]

264 [conversion as defense mechanism]

275 slave ship?