Spanish Explorer List

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Spanish Explorers:

Juan Bautista de Anza

Juan Bautista de Anza

Captain Juan Bautista de Anza II (1736-1788) – A Mexican-born trailblazer and explorer, de Anza was the first person of European descent to establish an overland trail from Mexico to the northern Pacific coast of California. His expeditions brought hundreds of settlers to California, who founded the cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Jose.

The son of Juan Bautista de Anza I, he was born in July, 1736 in Fronteras, Sonora, Mexico. In 1752 he enlisted in the army at the Presidio of Fronteras and advanced rapidly becoming a captain by 1760. He married Ana María Pérez Serrano, the daughter of Spanish mine owner Francisco Pérez Serrano in 1761. He became known for his abilities as a soldier fighting Apache Indians in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. On July 25, 1767 he was ordered to arrest Jesuits on the Sonora River, a commission that he carried out successfully but under great duress. In 1772, he requested permission from the viceroy to discover a route to Alta, California, something his father had done in 1737 but was killed by Apaches before he could make the journey. He left Tubac, Mexico in January, 1774 and returned there in May, after having successfully found the route and traveling to the newly established Presidio of Monterey. He was advanced to lieutenant colonel by the King after completing the successful expedition. He began organizing a second expedition in Mexico City in January, 1775 to colonize the San Francisco Bay, and started recruiting colonizers in Culiacán, Mexico in March, 1775. The expedition left Tubac on October 23, 1775 with some 300 people and 1,000 head of livestock. There were no wagons or carts. All supplies were loaded on pack mules every morning and unloaded every night.

The expedition arrived in Monterey, California in March, 1776. Leaving the people there, Anza and the expedition chaplain, Friar Pedro Font, and several soldiers explored the country around the San Francisco Bay. Today, the entire route within Arizona and California is commemorated by the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. Upon his return to Mexico City, Anza was made commander of all the troops in Sonora in the fall of 1776 and was later appointed Governor of New Mexico in 1777.

In 1779, with 800 men and 2,500 horses, he led an expedition from New Mexico through Colorado and across the Arkansas River to engage the Comanche Indians under the command of Chief Cuerno Verde. Cornering the chief near Rye, Colorado, the campaign killed him and several other head men, which eventually precipitated the longest lasting peace treaty ever signed by the Comanche with any of the governments of Spain, Mexico, or the United States. Anza then led an expedition to the Hopi country that same fall to try to help save the people, who were dying from a long-lasting drought. In 1780, he led an expedition to discover a route between Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Arizpe, Sonora, Mexico. That expedition was also successfully completed.

In 1786 he asked to be released as Governor and his request was granted in 1787. He was made commander of the Buenaventura Presidio in 1787 and then appointed commander of all the troops in Sonora shortly thereafter. He was made commander of the Tucson Presidio in the fall of 1788. He rode there and conducted a review of the troops. Returning to his home in Arizpe, he died suddenly on December 19, 1788.

Luis de Moscoso Alvarado (1505-1551) – A Spanish explorer and conquistador, he participated in the conquest of present Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, and assumed command of Hernando De Soto’s expedition after he died.

Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon (1475-1526) – A Spanish conquistador and explorer who tried to start a colony in North America in 1526. He was the first European colonizer of what is now South Carolina. His attempt to settle the coast of the Carolinas near the mouth of the Peedee River at Winyah Bay was unsuccessful. Thought to have been born in Toledo, Spain in 1475, he grew up to become a planter and explorer. Working as a sugar planter on the Caribbean Island of Hispaniola, he was sent an expedition to Florida under Francisco Gordillo, who, in June, 1521, landed somewhere near Cape Fear in North Carolina. Continuing to search for the Northwest passage, Ayllon came up from Hispaniola again in 1524, and tried the James River and Chesapeake Bay. He received from King Charles V, a grant of the land he had discovered, and, in 1526, founded the settlement of San Miguel de Guandape, not far from the site of the city of Jamestown, Virginia, which would be built by the English some 80 years later. De Ayllón’s expedition sailed from Hispaniola to South Carolina on two ships, which included African slaves. It would be the first instance of African slave-labor within the present territory of the United States. Ayllon’s settlement lasted only about three months, during which time the 600 colonists endured hunger, disease, scarcity of supplies, and troubles with the local natives. In the end, the colony failed over a fight over leadership. During this turmoil, the slaves revolted and fled the colony to live among the Cofitachequi tribe. Many of the colonists, including Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon, died of fever. Only 150 survivors made their way back to Hispaniola. Ayllon’s account of the region inspired a number of later attempts by the Spanish and French governments to colonize the southeastern United States.

Vasco Nunez de Balboa

Vasco Nunez de Balboa

Vasco Nunez de Balboa (1475?-1519) – Spanish conquistador and explorer, Balboa who was the first European to see the eastern part of the Pacific Ocean in 1513 after crossing the Isthmus of Panama. Balboa was born in Jerez de los Caballeros, Spain to the nobleman, Nuño Arias de Balboa and Lady de Badajoz in about 1475. Little is known of his early childhood except that he was the third of four boys in his family. During his adolescence, he served as a page and squire to Don Pedro de Portocarrero, Lord of Moguer.

Motivated by his master, after the news of Christopher Columbus’ voyages to the New World became known, he decided to embark on his first voyage to the Americas, along with Juan de la Cosa, on Rodrigo de Bastidas’ expedition. Bastidas had a license to bring back treasure for the king and queen, while keeping four-fifths for himself. In 1501, he crossed the Caribbean coasts from the east of Panama, along the Colombian coast, through the Gulf of Uraba toward Cabo de la Vela. The expedition continued to explore northeast of South America, until they realized they did not have enough men and sailed to the Carribean Island of Hispaniola. In 1510, Balboa and his dog, Leoncico, stowed away on a boat going from Santo Domingo to San Sebastian. When they arrived at San Sebastian, they discovered that it had been burned to the ground. Balboa convinced the others to travel southwest with him to a spot he had seen on his earlier expedition. In 1511, Balboa founded a colony, the first European settlement in South America – the town of Santa Maria de la Antigua del Darien in present-day Panama. He soon married the daughter of Careta, the local Indian chief. Soon after, in 1513, he sailed with hundreds of Spaniards and Indians across the Gulf of Uraba to the Darien Peninsula.

Balboa and his men, including Francisco Pizarro, then traveled to the ocean, claiming it and all the that touched it for Spain. Once they reached the Pacific Ocean, Balboa and his men found gold and pearls, which Balboa decided to send back to the King Ferdinand of Spain. However, before news of Balboa’s accomplishment reached Spain, King Ferdinand appointed an elderly nobleman named Pedrarias Davila to be the new governor of Darien. Once the King learned of Balboa’s discovery of the Pacific Ocean, he appointed Balboa to serve under Davila as governor of Panama. Unfortunately for Balboa, Pedrarias Davila was a jealous man who did not like seeing the growing popularity and influence which Balboa was developing. In 1518, Governor Davila falsely accused Balboa of treason, had him arrested, ordered a speedy trial and sentenced Balboa to death. In January 1519, Balboa and four friends were beheaded.

Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca

Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca

Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca (1490?-1558?) – A Spanish explorer and the first historian of Texas, Cabeza de Vaca sailed to North America from Spain in and expedition led by Panfilo de Narvaez in 1527. He, and a group of some 300 men survived a hurricane near Cuba, to land on the west coast of Florida (near Tampa Bay) in April, 1528, claiming the land for Spain. Hearing from the natives that there was gold to the north, Narváez split up his men, and he and his followers began an overland expedition in May. However, the expedition was met with a series of hurricanes and violent conflicts with Native Americans, resulting in the deaths of many of the men. The difficult and distressing march northward finally landed the remaining men in the area of present-day St. Marks, Florida, near the end of July.

In the meantime, the ship captain, and the remaining men, sailed to Mexico. The some 245 stranded men hastily made five make-shift rafts on which they sailed west, hoping to reach a Spanish settlement in Mexico. The rafts drifted along the northern part of the Gulf of Mexico, passing Pensacola Bay and the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Along the way, three of the rafts sank, including the one that Narváez was riding upon, when it was suddenly blown out to sea in November, 1528. The two remaining rafts continued on, finally landing on Galveston Island. 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. By 1533, there were only four survivors, including Cabeza de Vaca. The men were enslaved by some Indian tribes along the way, and helped by other tribes. They were the first non-natives to travel in this area of southwestern North America, and the first Europeans to see the bison, or American buffalo. During this time, he became a trader and shaman to various Native American tribes.

The four men finally reached the Spanish settlement of Culiacan in early 1536 (eight years after being stranded in Florida). Later that year they reached Mexico City, where they were welcomed by the Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza.

After returning to Spain in 1537, he wrote an account, first published in 1542, as La Relación (The Relation), which, in later editions, was re-titled Shipwrecks. In 1540, Cabeza de Vaca was appointed Adelantado, a Spanish Noble, of then present-day Argentina, where he was governor and captain general of Río de la Plata (now called Paraguay). He explored along the Paraguay River in 1542.

After a conflict with other Spanish Nobles and area settlers in 1545, he returned to Spain and never returned to the Americas. After returning to Spain he published an account of his travels, noting the appalling treatment of Indians by the Spanish. His writing encouraged many other Spanish expeditions to the Americas, including those of Hernando de Soto and Francisco Vasquez de Coronado.

He died poor in Seville, Spain in about 1558. In the end, Cabeza de Vaca has been considered notable as a proto-anthropologist for his detailed accounts of the many tribes of American Indians that he encountered.

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo (?-1543) – A Spanish or Portuguese explorer, Cabrillo was the first European to explore the Californian coast. In 1542, he sailed from Acapulco to southern California, claiming California for King Charles I of Spain. Cabrillo named San Diego Bay and Santa Barbara. He died on San Miguel Island after a fight with Indians, from complications resulting from a broken leg.

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