Estevanico, also known as Mustafa Zemmouri, Black Stephen, Esteban the Moor, Esteban de Dorantes, and Estebanico, was the first African to have arrived in the present-day continental United States. An enslaved servant, he was one of four survivors of the Spanish Narvaez expedition. He traveled across the American Southwest and northern Mexico with Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, Andres Dorantes de Carranza, and Alonso Del Castillo. He was killed by Zuni Indians.
Sometime before 1527, Estevanico became the personal slave of Andres Dorantes de Carranza, with whom he traveled on the ill-fated expedition of Panfilo de Narvaez to Florida. After surviving a hurricane near Cuba, the expedition landed on the west coast of Florida near present-day Tampa Bay in April 1528, claiming the land for Spain.
A series of hurricanes and fights with the local Indians killed many of the crew, and the ship’s captain sailed to Mexico without many of his men. The stranded men soon built five crude barges on which they sailed west, hoping to reach a Spanish settlement in Mexico. Three vessels sank along the way, but the two surviving ones, carrying about 80 men, landed at Galveston Island, Texas. After a very cold winter with very little food, only 15 men survived.
In the spring, the men traveled west by land, walking along the Colorado River through modern-day New Mexico and Texas deserts before finally reaching “civilization” in Mexico in 1536. Only four men had survived by this time – Estevanico, Carranza, Cabeza de Vaca, and Alonso Castillo Maldonado. Estevanico was the first African-born slave to traverse Texas. When they arrived in Mexico City, Estevanico was sold to the Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza, who assigned him to a Franciscan, Fray Marcos de Niza.
Preceded by Estevanico, Niza was ordered to explore the area of Sonora and northward in search of the Seven Cities of Cibola. Restless over the friar’s slow progress and support party, Estevanico was sent ahead as an advance scout. Separated by several days’ travel from Fray Marcos de Niza, Estevanico approached “Cíbola,” which is thought to have been the Zuni pueblo of Hawikuh. On his arrival, he announced his intentions to make peace, heal the sick, and told the villagers that he had been sent by white men who would soon arrive and instruct them in divine matters. The village elders, suspicious of his claims that he came from a land of white men because he was dark and resentful of his demands for turquoise and women, killed him when he attempted to enter the village.
Fray Marcos and the rest would arrive a few days later, but they never went into the village. Marcos would return to Mexico to tell of seeing Cibola from a distance.
Compiled by Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated October 2022.
Discovery and Exploration of America
Fray Marcos de Niza – Franciscan Priest