Skip to Content

Southwestern Writers Collection Launches Cabeza de Vaca’s La relación Online

Date of release: 10/31/03

TEXAS STATE - SAN MARCOS —The Southwestern Writers Collection has just completed digitizing La relación, from its treasured 1555 edition of Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca’s La relación y comentarios. Every page of this earliest written record of what is now Texas and the Southwest is available online with a linked English translation. The site, located at, also serves as a comprehensive web archive of Cabeza de Vaca research and resources.

La relación (“The Account”) is Cabeza de Vaca’s narrative of the ill-fated 1527 Narváez expedition, which left Cuba to search for riches in the New World only to fall apart in Florida. Remnants of the six-hundred-strong expeditionary force were shipwrecked off the Texas coast at present-day Galveston Island in 1528. Within four months, Cabeza de Vaca and three companions were the only survivors. For the next eight years, Cabeza de Vaca lived among the Native Americans, enduring slavery, serving as a trader, and eventually becoming recognized as a great healer and spiritual leader. Ultimately, this epic journey transformed the once-arrogant conquistador into a passionate defender of Indian human rights.

After returning to Spain, Cabeza de Vaca wrote an account of his years in the Americas. First published in 1542, this extraordinary adventure story has captivated readers for centuries. La relación is also of great anthropological and historical importance. In Texas alone Cabeza de Vaca identified twenty-three Indian groups, describing in detail their clothes, languages, eating habits, rituals, homes, and migrations.

Cabeza de Vaca has become the object of intense academic and popular interest in recent years. Four new English translations of La relación have appeared since 1993, as have several new book-length studies. Since its purchase in 1988 by Bill and Sally Wittliff and an anonymous donor, the volume has been a cornerstone of the Southwestern Writers Collection and a catalyst for research. In 1995, Texas State’s Center for the Study of the Southwest sponsored a Cabeza de Vaca symposium that drew prominent scholars from the U.S. and Mexico. In 2001, the BBC documentary “Conquistadors” produced an entire segment on Cabeza de Vaca. Host Michael Wood visited the Southwestern Writers Collection first-hand to review and film our 1555 volume.

In 1996 a Texas State research team led by Dr. Don Olson studied the edition very closely and discovered that a key word in the text had been mis-transcribed. Their subsequent research, published in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly—and now available in “Futher Studies / Essays” on the website—offers the strongest evidence to date of Cabeza de Vaca’s precise route.

Created with assistance from a “Texshare” grant from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, the Cabeza de Vaca Online project expands the use of this fragile book in research and education, and aids in its preservation by reducing the need for physical handling.

The Cabeza de Vaca web archive features dozens of full-text academic articles as well as depictions of Cabeza de Vaca over the years, bibliographies, teaching guides, and scenes from the film “Cabeza de Vaca,” produced in Mexico in 1991.

The Cabeza de Vaca Online project was led by Steve Davis, Assistant Curator of the Southwestern Writers Collection. The Assistant Project Director was Dr. Jill Hoffman, Special Collections Assistant. Teri Andrews was the Staff Artist and Designer. Consultants and other project staff include Connie Todd, Beverly Fondren, Michele Miller, Mark Busby, Mandy York, Michael Farris, Jeff Snider, James Buratti, Fazia Rizvi, and Nancy Reed.

Discover more about Cabeza de Vaca at the Southwestern Writers Collection online exhibit “No Traveller Remains Untouched” at

THE SOUTHWESTERN WRITERS COLLECTION, in the Albert B. Alkek Library at Texas State University-San Marcos, was founded in 1986 and has since become a distinguished and steadily growing archive charged with preserving, exhibiting, and providing access to the papers and artifacts of principal writers, filmmakers, songwriters and musicians of the Southwest. Its resources attest to the tremendous diversity of creative expression among southwestern artists and contribute to a rich research environment within which students and others may discover how the unique conditions and character of the region have shaped its people and their cultural arts. Curator, Connie Todd. Assistant Curator, Steve Davis.

WHERE: The Southwestern Writers Collection is housed in the Special Collections Department on the 7th floor of the Alkek Library at Texas State University-San Marcos, halfway between Austin and San Antonio.

“Scene of the Crime: Mystery/Detective Fiction from Texas” through Feb. 29, 2004.

ADMISSION: Exhibits are always FREE.

EXHIBIT HOURS: Please call ahead to verify hours (closed breaks and holidays): Mon–Fri: 8 am–5 pm (Tues until 9 pm); Sat: 9 am–5 pm; Sun: 2 pm–6 pm.

ARCHIVES AVAILABLE: M–F (hours above); weekends by appointment.

DIRECTIONS & FURTHER INFO: Call (512) 245-2313, or visit online:

Connie Todd, Curator, (512) 245-8361
Steve Davis, Assistant Curator (512) 245-9180
Tours/Front Desk (512) 245-2313