Prospectus: Museum of the Spanish Entradas

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A Theodore de Bry engraving portrays indigenous people in Florida steering a dugout cypress canoe.

The year 2027 marks the Quincentennial of critical events that shaped the North American continent. Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca's chronicle of the failed Narvaez expedition, 1527-1536, constitutes the earliest written descriptions of the indigenous people, customs, natural environment, weather, climate and landscape inside the modern boundaries of the United States. During their flight for survival, the castaways surveyed Florida, the Gulf Coast, Texas and northern Mexico.

They were the first Europeans and Africans to see American bison and the Mississippi River. The expedition brought the first African slaves to the interior of the continent. One went on to lead the first Spanish incursion into the Southwest (modern Arizona and New Mexico).

Cabeza de Vaca spent several years, 1530-1534, living and trading goods among indigenous peoples along the rivers of eastern Texas and western Louisiana. Of 300 men who went ashore in Florida, only four survived the harrowing journey by walking approximately 6,000 miles, from coast to coast, over of the continent's swamps, prairies, rivers and mountains, to arrive in Mexico City in 1536.

Cabeza de Vaca's journal covers a critical period of time between the Spanish-led 1519 invasion of Mexico and the invasions of the lands of the modern United States. Through a range of surreal and tangible experiences, his report to the king of Spain, remarkably objective for its time, concisely reveals the intentions of European powers in their competitive efforts to colonize the Americas. The narrative dispels popular myths and confirms poignant and devastating historic events.

Cabeza de Vaca witnessed the rapid decline of coastal tribes due to their exposure to foreign diseases, where many expedition members also met their demise on the Louisiana and Texas coast, and identified the names of tribes that were never again recorded in historical documents. In a bizarre twist of fate, while crossing a land they could barely understand, the few survivors developed a reputation for being healers. Cabeza de Vaca recounts a surgery he performed on an ailing indigenous man - an event commemorated on the seal of the Texas Surgical Society.

By 1539, two major conquests were underway in the interior of the modern United States. Hernando de Soto followed the Narvaez expedition into Florida, which was completed under the command of Luis de Moscoso Alvarado after De Soto's death near the Mississippi River. Esteban, one of the four survivors of the Narvaez expedition, made an incursion into the Southwest in 1539, which was followed by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1540. Their conquests converged in Texas in 1542, passing merely a few hundred miles apart.

Documentation of the entradas provides the earliest written descriptions of the pre-colonial indigenous peoples and lands, and explains many essential historic, political and cultural aspects of the modern nations. The sagas are critical to understand the development of unique ways of life and the transitions of cultures, the world over.

While Cabeza de Vaca's initial account is an important historic record, it is also immensely dramatic. Filled with tragedy, mystery and misadventure, and curious omissions, it stands as one of the world's greatest epic stories.

Statue interpretation of Cabeza de Vaca Photo by Mark Lacy
Statue interpretation of Cabeza de Vaca. Photo by Mark Lacy

The historic and cultural significance of Cabeza de Vaca's account of the Narvaez expedition - the oldest written description of people and places in the modern boundaries of the United States - merits an advanced museum and historical park to be administered in partnership with the National Park Service. The strategic location of Dallas-Fort Worth - the center of a region where the journeys of Cabeza de Vaca (a survivor of the Narvaez Expedition), Moscoso (who inherited command of the De Soto Expedition) and Coronado (who followed Esteban, a survivor of the Narvaez Expedition) converged - is the most ideal location, based on its modern population, indigenous histories and diverse environments.

Though the current top proposal shares a Spanish word, Entradas, in both the English and Spanish titles for its unique meaning, a potential name is:

Museum of the Spanish Entradas
Museo de las Entradas Españoles

To use a description with English and Spanish words which have a similar meaning in English and Spanish, a possibility is:

Museum of the Spanish Incursions
Museo de las Incursiones Españoles

Other names are possible based on the complete subject matter that is determined for the museum, as well as the location, services and exact type of institution it will be. Whether through its name or its descriptions (mission and content), the museum should include the historic experience of Africans, Europeans and Native Americans in the lands of the entradas.

To interpret the history of the earliest contact between Native Americans, Europeans and Africans in Texas, Mexico and on the Gulf Coast, including Florida, and to explore its political and cultural impact on the modern United States.

Numerous subjects are critical to the mission and purpose, including:

The experiences of the Narvaez/Cabeza de Vaca expedition members.

The indigenous peoples they encountered and described.

The implications of the Narvaez/Cabeza de Vaca expedition on later expeditions.

The De Soto and Moscoso expeditions in the Southeastern United States.

The Esteban and Coronado expeditions in the Southwestern United States.

The larger context from Hernan Cortes in Mexico to Spanish colonization of California.

The cultural significance of the Spanish entradas on the peoples of Mexico and the U.S.

Specific cultural interests, like arts, music, food traditions, religion and more.

Related historic interests, like indigenous agriculture, architecture, trade and globalization.

Genealogy, family ancestry and DNA testing related to the time of the Spanish expeditions.

Research partnership programs on the routes, linguistics, translation, interpretation, and more.

Cultural competency programs focused on pluralistic social and cultural dynamics.

2019 is a good year to begin work on the project. It marks 500 years since the historic Pineda map of the Gulf Coast.

2027 is the best goal for opening a museum, particularly to serve as an international interpretive center, though it is a very short timeframe. The year marks the Quincentennial (500 year anniversary) of the Narvaez/Cabeza de Vaca expedition that produced the earliest descriptions of geography and culture in the modern boundaries of the United States, and the first incursion in Texas. Though, by the time the surviving members of the expedition reached Texas, they were destitute and helpless, their arrival established contact and long-term living experience between indigenous communities, Africans and Europeans in the region.

Because of the critical nature of the history represented in the museum, it should remain interesting and important throughout its long existence. There will be additional Quincentennial anniversary years to focus on for international conferences, educational purposes and interest campaigns, including 2036 (the return of Cabeza de Vaca, Esteban and two other survivors to Mexico City), 2039 (the beginning of the conquests of the Southeastern region of the modern U.S., known to De Soto as "La Florida", and the Southwestern region, known to Esteban and Coronado as "Cibola") and 2042 (the year the Moscoso and Coronado expeditions converged from east and west in modern Texas).

There are numerous benefits of the museum, including:
It will increase interest in history and literature.

It will provide educational programs.

It will improve cultural competency.

It will encourage research on the subject.

It will promote interest in lifelong learning.

It will serve a vast, growing population in DFW.

It will serve students and academic experts.

It will add a significant visitor attraction to DFW.

It will serve specific interests, like language and genealogy.

It wil be a National Park unit and/or partner.

It will serve low income populations.

It will promote cross-cultural experience.

It will improve quality of life.

The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is an ideal location due to its position between the three most significant Spanish expeditions - Cabeza de Vaca, De Soto/Moscoso and Coronado.

Various strengths and attributes in favor of the DFW region include:

The state of Texas is common and DFW is central to all three expeditions.

Cabeza de Vaca may have traded goods with tribes on the Trinity and Red Rivers in East Texas.

The region is historically significant and rich with evidence of Caddo and Wichita Indians.

Historic regions of Plains, Southeast and Western Gulf Coast indigenous cultures converge in the area.

Geographic zones - High Plains, Escapements, Prairies and Woodlands - are common to the region.

The museum will serve a population that will grow from 7.5 to more than 11 million people.

Educational exhibits and programs will benefit hundreds of thousands of students.

There are no other federal parks or monuments in the greater DFW area.

The museum will encourage visitors to El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail and Caddo Mounds State Park.

While the Dallas-Fort Worth region is most ideal, other potential locations include Houston and San Antonio. Should the museum be based solely on the Route of Cabeza de Vaca, cities like Lake Charles, Lafayette, Baton Rouge and New Orleans are possible locations.

Facilities will include: a museum with several galleries; a space for interactive technology (featuring maps, information and demographic data); a presentation/lecture hall and theater; a community working space for research projects; a conference and event center; a library and archive; a book store/gift shop; a cafe and dining area; offices; a demonstration lab and facilities; and, grounds that can support a demonstration garden for native plants and agriculture. Ideal, but likely not possible in an urban area, is several acres of land with a native plant environment.

Visitors will tour exhibits, interact with new exhibit technologies, experience cultural exchange activities and demonstrations, access genealogy information, and view media in a theater (or group of small theaters). They will have options to visit the gift shop, dine in the cafe (possibly serving native and post-Spanish contact foods) or tour the gardens and grounds. Activities for tour groups, student groups, academic experts and other specialized audiences will include conferences, presentations (lectures and panel discussions), media debuts and receptions. Special events may feature book readings and signings, banquets and visits by international dignitaries.

Initial funding will need to be identified through local donors and sponsors, with the imperative and impetus provided by local government. Due to the academic and international aspects of the museum, some funding may be achieved through academic institutions and international partnerships. Based on the museum's significance to national history and culture, and its potential to increase visitors to the region, federal, state and local funding is possible. In fact, from the onset, a goal for the center is to function as unit of the National Park Service, possibly in partnership with state or local agencies and universities. Program and sales revenue is likely as part of the museum's sustainability.

Related Events
Since 2027 marks the Quincentennial of the Narvaez/Cabeza de Vaca Expedition, the museum should offer, promote and possible even help coordinate events across the international length of the route of the expedition. In many ways, the survey conducted by Cabeza de Vaca and its ramifications on the indigenous peoples across North America, as well as the modern nations, is as impactful as the Louis and Clark Expedition almost three centuries later. Beneficial events, similar to Bicentennial of the Louis and Clark Expedition, for those who are interested should be planned, including educational conferences and international cultural exchange opportunities.

Significant places (cities and geographic features) along the Route of Cabeza de Vaca should be designated as a National Historical Trail and an International Interpretive/Historical Trail (which includes at least seven modern nations). Activities at the (tentatively named) Museum of the Spanish Entradas and events surrounding the Quincentennial of the Narvaez/Cabeza de Vaca Expedition may be necessary to conduct research, refine the trail and involve communities, including international cities and governments.

Replica of a Caddo dwelling Photo by Mark Lacy
A replica of a Caddo dwelling at Caddo Mounds State Historic Site. Photo by Mark Lacy.

Illustration of a Wichita Indian Village near the Red River
An illustration of a Wichita Indian Village near the Illinois Bend of the Red River. Collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

Contact: Mile Zero Trail Association

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