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Indigenous peoples of Florida, depicted during the De Soto Expedition.

A Mile Zero Trail Association Key Project:

Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca National Historic Trail

Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca International Interpretive Trail

A survivor of the failed Narvaez Expedition to conquer La Florida (600 set out from Spain in 1527), Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca's account of his survival on the Gulf Coast, his years trading goods in the woodland interiors of Louisiana and Texas, and his walk across Texas and Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, is the oldest written history that describes people and places inside the modern boundaries of the United States. Not only is the account a phenomenal story - epic in difficulty and full of mysteries and miracles - but it is insightful and meaningful to our understanding of the history of the United States and Mexico. An important historic link, the misadventure takes place between the 1519 conquest of Mexico, led by Hernan Cortez, a rival of Panfilo de Narvaez (who failed to arrest Cortes in 1520), and the conquest of the American Southwest, inspired by the tales of four survivors (who arrived in Mexico City in 1536), including the Moor, Esteban de Dorantes (killed by the Zuni in 1539), and ultimately led by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado (1540-1542).

The compelling story has great potential to inspire educational interests, academic research, historic discovery, cultural competency, healthy activity and international cultural exchange. It is a rare and fascinating document of the indigenous peoples of the lands where the survivors wandered. While it is not an unbiased report, it gives a variety of positive and negative accounts of the lifeways of the tribes (many whose names were never accounted for again). It reports ways of life that all peoples of the world experienced at one time or another in the stages of civilizations. It reveals the direct impacts (disease, medicine, religion, culture) that the Spanish, and other Europeans and Africans on the expedition, had on the indigenous peoples from their first contact with Europeans and Africans. The account has a direct bearing on the ancestry and genealogy of North America peoples.

Cabeza de Vaca's account describes terrain, weather events and climate. It provides reports of Europeans' first views of Bison and the Mississippi River. It provides unfavorable reports of the Spanish and their activities in North America. It offers evidence that may confirm some, while challenge other popular ideas and myths about Spanish power, religion, the Americas and the indigenous peoples of the Gulf Coast.

But, perhaps most of all, Cabeza de Vaca's account provides an intriguing study of decisions, willpower and human struggle for survival.

Facts and

2027 marks the 500 year anniversary of the 600-member Narvaez Expedition.
2028 marks the 500 year anniversary of arrival of 400 expedition members in Florida.
2036 marks the 500 year anniversary of the four survivors' arrival in Mexico City.
2037 marks the 500 year anniversary of the end of the ten-year misadventure, as Cabeza de Vaca returned to Europe.

The four survivors gave a joint account of their travels in 1536 and Cabeza de Vaca wrote an additional version of his own in 1542, after returning to Spain.

Hernando de Soto launched an expedition into Florida and the Southeastern United States in 1539, encountering peoples who were affected by the Narvaez expedition, and reaching as far as East and Central Texas (following DeSoto's death in 1542).

One of the four suvivors of the Narvaez Expedition, Esteban de Dorantes, was killed by Zuni Indians in 1539, while leading a party from Mexico City to the Pueblo lands of the Upper Rio Grande, reported by the Narvaez survivors to have wealth.

Francisco Vasquez de Coronado invaded the Pueblo lands in 1540, possibly reaching as far as the Texas Panhandle and North Texas, where he encounted people who may have met the four survivors of the Narvaez Expedition, before returning to Mexico on 1542.

Proposed Historic and Interpretive Trail Locations:

Sanlucar de Barrameda, Cadiz, Spain

Santo Domingo Island

Santiago de Cuba, Cuba

Jagua (Xagua), Cuba

Cienfuegos, Cuba

Canarreos Archipelago (Canarreo), Cuba

Guaniguanico (Cordillera de Guaniguanico?)

Cabo Corrientas and Cabo San Antonio, Parque Nacional Peninsula de Guanahacabibes, Cuba

St. Petersburg, Tampa Bay ("La Cruz"), Florida

*Jungle Prada Mound Site, Jungle Prada de Narvaez Park

*Madira Bickel Mound State Archaeological Site, Terra Ceia, Florida

*Madira Bickel Mound Archaeological State Park, Ellenton, Florida

*Crystal River Archaeological State Park, Crystal River, Florida

*Lower Suwanee National Wildlife Refuge (shell middens)

Appalachee region ("Apalachen")

St. Marks, Florida

*Lake Jackson Archaeological State Park, Tallahasee, Florida

*DeSoto Site Historical State Park, (Anhaica), Tallahasee, Florida

Indigenous community on the Apalachicola River ("Aute")

Apalachicola Bay ("Bay of Horses"), Florida

St. Vincent Island, Florida

Mobile Bay, Alabama

Mississippi River Delta, Louisiana

Marsh Island or Shell Keys ("Island of Doom"), Louisiana
Note: Popular history suggests Galveston Island is the site of the Castaways' landing on the "Island of Doom", but navigation records and the explorers' failing health indicate Marsh Island or a similar proximity on the Louisiana coast is more likely the location of their second stranding. [Read more at]
*Los Adaes State Historic Site, Louisiana

*Caddo Mounds State Historic Site, Texas

Smith Point, Galveston Bay

Galveston Bay west side (greater Houston area)

Natural Springs, South Texas

Rio Grande ("100 Huts", between Laredo and Del Rio)

Sierra Madre Oriental (Mountains sighted, "15 leagues from the sea")

Inland Course, through the Sierra Madre Oriental

Sierra del Carmen (Mountain with "iron slags")

Big Bend National Park

The Rio Grande ("A large river from the north")

The Chihuahuan Desert ("The Cow People")

March to the Great River

Over the Sierra Madre Occidental to the Rio Yaqui

Indigenous community ("The Town of Hearts")

Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico

Compostela, Nayarit, Mexico (by way of San Miguel [del Zapote?])

Mexico City, DF, Mexico

Veracruz, Veracruz, Mexico

Havana, Cuba

Bermuda (Island)

Vile do Corvo (Corvo Island), Portugal (the Azores)

Lisbon, Portugal

Bold - Sites of high likelihood to absolute certainty
Italic - Significant sites of high probability
*Asterisk - Informative sites, representative of historic experience

Additional sites listed are probable, significant or under consideration.

Cabeza de Vaca, depicted in a Houston, Texas sculpture.

Stages of

Project Stages

To be developed.

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