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Conquistador in Chains: Cabeza de Vaca and the Indians of the Americas
by David A. Howard
University of Alabama Press, 1996
Paper: 978-0-8173-0828-5 | eISBN: 978-0-8173-9170-6
Library of Congress Classification E125.N9H68 1997
Dewey Decimal Classification 970.016092

The current image of the Spanish conquest of America and of the conquistadores who carried it out is one of destruction and oppression. One conquistador does not fit that image, however. A life-changing adventure led Cabeza de Vaca to seek a different kind of conquest, one that would be just and humane, true to Spanish religion and law, but one that safeguarded liberty and justice for the Indians of the New World. His use of the skills learned from his experiences with the Indians of North America did not always help him in understanding and managing the Indians of South America, and too many of the Spanish settlers in the Rio de la Plata Province found that his policies threatened their own interests and relations with the Indians. Eventually many of those Spaniards joined a conspiracy that removed him from power and returned him to Spain in chains.

That Cabeza de Vaca was overthrown is not surprising. His ideas and policies opposed the self-interest of most of the first Spaniards who had come to America. What is amazing is that he was able to inspire and hold support among many others in America, who remained loyal to him during his time in prison and after his return to Spain.


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