Among the members of Pánfilo de Narváez”s 1528 colonizing expedition of the west coast of Florida was an African slave named Estéban, or Estébanico, originally native to Azemmour on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Along with his owner Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, Estéban accompanied the expedition as it attempted to reach its original goal along the coast of northern New Spain. The expedition first traversed the western interior of Florida to the Apalachee province at modern Tallahassee, and next constructed barges and sailed west along the northern Gulf coast toward Mexico. Estéban’s barge was cast ashore on an island off the coast of Texas, where he, his companions, and a number of survivors from another barge, including the expedition treasurer Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, remained stranded through the winter. By the spring of 1529, however, only fifteen of these survivors remained, held as prisoners by local Native Americans.
Some five years later, in 1534, Estéban and Andrés Dorantes, Cabeza de Vaca, and Captain Alonso del Castillo Maldonado, escaped their captors and traveled inland. They spent the next two years on a lengthy peregrination that finally brought them to Culiacán in western Mexico, where they were rescued by Spaniards in 1536. During this epic journey, Estéban Dorantes played a pivotal role as a healer, advance scout, and interpreter. These skills, as well as his knowledge of the interior, ultimately prompted the Viceroy of New Spain Antonio de Mendoza to purchase Estéban from Andrés Dorantes before his return to Spain in 1537. In 1539 he was assigned to Franciscan friar Fray Marcos de Niza in an expedition to locate the fabled “Seven Cities of Cíbola” at Zuni in western New Mexico. Dispatched ahead of the friar, Estéban was killed when he attempted to enter the Zuni town of Hawikuh, prefacing the Spanish conquest of the town during the Coronado expedition the following year. The enslaved African Estéban Dorantes remains an important figure in several of the most notable events of the early Spanish period in North America.
Further Reading: Websites
Estéban Dorantes - The moor or the Slave
An article exploring the relationship between Esteban Dorantes and the Zuni and Hopi Indians. From the Journal of North African Studies.
An interactive map from the New Mexico Humanities Council, with accompanying timeline showing people, places, tribes, and water ways that were significant. Link takes you directly to a portion of the map associated with Estéban Dorantes.