Black History Month: Day 1 – Estevanico

Recently, I decided to start writing about something completely different.  This won’t be a radical change to the purpose of this blog.  Instead, I hope it will be a new feature that you’ll enjoy. This post is the first in a daily series of posts I’m going to make during Black History Month.
I’m making these posts for a few different reasons:
  • To provide myself something else to think about than current events
  • To showcase enormous impact that African-Americans have had on this nation. An impact not taught in most schools or showcased in the media.
  • For the opportunity to learn something new.  I’d wager that anyone reading this could stand to learn more about American citizens whose history is traditionally overlooked.
  • and because I was once a pretty competent writer. And as any Dragon Ball Z character can tell you, daily training is important.


I struggled in deciding who to write my first post about.  Not because I couldn’t find enough people to write about, but because I wanted the first one to have some symbolic meaning.  In the end, I decided that I’d choose one of the first Africans to step foot on American soil as my first entry: Estevanico, aka Esteban de Dorantes, Estebanico, Esteban the Moor, Black Stephen, and Mustafa Zemmouri.


Estevanico, Big Willy Style

Image Courtesy of the David Weber Collection


Most sources say that Estevanico was born in 1503 in the town of Azemmour, Morocco.  Around 1520 or 1521, he was sold by the Portuguese into slavery in Europe and came into the service of Andrés Dorantes de Carranza.  Apparently these two gentlemen got along well, despite being master and servant.  So much so that when Dorantes joined Pánfilo de Narváez‘s expedition in 1527 to conquer Florida, Estevanico accompanied him.  According to many sources, Estevanico became the first person from Africa to have set foot in the present continental United States (some actually attribute this distinction to Juan Garrido, however Garrido possibly only reached as far as Mexico in his North American journey).


Not much is known about Pánfilo de Narváez’s unfortunate expedition.  What is known was recounted by Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, one of four survivors of the expedition.  Although Narváez was an O.G. Conquistador (2 decades deep) and received royal appointment as Governor of Florida (pre-Jeb), he didn’t survive long enough to reap the rewards that no one else got: his crew, boats, and horses were almost entirely taken out by hurricanes, hostile First Peoples, and a deadly mix of hunger and disease.  Of the approximately 500 men and women that originally set out from Europe, roughly 80 survived the initial expedition.


These survivors continued in their attempt to sail to Mexico (which was under Spanish colonization), but in 1528 they ended up in Texas near Galveston. There, in an ironic twist of fate these would be conquerors became slaves themselves to local indigenous tribes.  Estevanico became a slave twice over (New Slave Plus).  Over the next 5 years, the remaining 80 survivors were scourged and tormented by their captors.  Many met death as enslaved men.
Estevanico and three others (Dorantes, Cabeza de Vaca, and Alonso del Castillo Maldonado) were the only survivors of this enslavement. In 1534 they escaped into the American interior near Arizona.  While on the run, Estevanico and his four man crew met other Native American tribes, and they gained some fame and reputation as spiritual healers (Castillo and Cabeza de Vaca became some type of shamans while in Texas).  Among local Indigenous tribes they even accumulated a group of followers with whom they traveled to New Spain (Mexico).  For his part, Estevanico had learned several native languages and became a competent explorer.
Once the group made it back to European dominated lands, Estevanico was retained for another conquering expedition by the Viceroy in 1539. Stories are uncertain whether Estevanico was considered a free man or slave on this new journey, but two things were clear:
  1. Estevanico was supposed to be under the order of Fray Marcos de Niza.
  2. After surviving a failed expedition and coming back as a famed spiritual healer, Estevanico was feeling himself a little too much.
Your man’s fell prey to the same thing that did in MC Hammer, Cam Newton, and Kanye West: his fortune early in life made him arrogant, and this arrogance led to his downfall.
When Fray Marcos and Estevanico set out, Estevanico traveled ahead.  In order to make it clear he was big time, he rode around with the following accoutrements:
  • a special gourd trimmed with owl feathers that signified his status
  • an entourage of 300 natives
  • two Castillian greyhounds
  • and some special ass green plates that he carried with him; the only things he would be fed from.

He also slept each night in a specially prepared structure.  Meaning it was specially built for his special self every night.

The expedition’s goal was one of the Seven Famed cities of Cibola, which were said to have streets paved with gold.  When Estevanico and his movement arrived at Hawikuh, a Zuni pueblo made of stone buildings several stories high, Estevanico expected similar treatment to what he had received before.

But the Zuni people didn’t trust Estevanico, and his gassed up ways. For one reason, his gourd was covered in owl feathers, a symbol of death to the Zuni.  Additionally, his crazy stories about great white kings from far away were mad suspect, especially since their prophet was too dark to pass a paper bag test himself.

From here, we get to the end of Estevanico’s bogus journey.  Now there are two different accounts of Estevanico’s final fate.  In one scenario, the Zuni people decided he was either a spy or just annoying, and after several days of telling Estevanico what he was not gonna do they upped and killed him.  In fact, some say that Estevanico angered them so much that they killed him three times over like Pookie, and then cut his body up into little pieces.
The second scenario is that the Zunis didn’t kill Estevanico, and that he instead faked his death with help from indigenous allies so he could gain freedom from slavery.  This theory is bolstered by the fact that his body was never found, and stories of his death were told by the native homies who could have been covering for him.
Regardless of whether he was killed or not (I like to believe the latter), the Zunis memorialized him in a black ogre kachina named Chakwaina.
Estevanico is one of many historical figures of color who manipulated their situtation to move between cultures and transcend humble beginnings.  His experiences made him one of the very first Africans in America, memorialized half a world from where he was born. Unfortunately, it seems like he tempted fate one too many times, and not even his special green plates could save him.  Despite it being all good just a week ago.
Tune in tomorrow for more of the Travelbox History Corner.



Allen, Anne. “ESTEVANICO THE MOOR: August ’97 American History Feature.” HistoryNet, 2017. Web. 1 February 2017.

“History of Estevanico.” UCI Humanities, n.d. Web. 1 February 2017.

“Esteban (? – 1539).” BlackPast, 2007. Web. 1 February 2017.

“Estevanico.” Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 1 February 2017.

“Estevanico.” YourDictionary, 1996. Web. 1 February 2017.

“Estevanico; African born man who explored Mexico and Arizona in the early 1500’s.”, 2017. Web. 1 February 2017.

“Estevanico: Explorer.” Enchanted Learning, 2000. Web. 1 February 2017.

Otterness, Anders. “Cabeza de Vaca and Estevanico: A Social Biography of a life in 16th Century Africa, Iberia, and America.” UC Santa Cruz, n.d. Web. 1 February 2017.

“Stephen the Moor.” The Mariners Museum, n.d. Web. 1 February 2017.


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