navigation bar Houghton Mifflin Social Studies United States History: Early Years
Biographies Unit Biographies

Esteban 1500?–1539
The Adventurer and Explorer Who Crossed the American Southwest

In 1528, an African named Esteban journeyed to the unknown land of Florida with three hundred Spanish soldiers. They had sailed there to find gold and claim land for Spain. Esteban had been enslaved by one of the soldiers years earlier. As the Spanish army marched north, American Indians attacked them. Lost in dense jungle, the starving survivors made rafts, hoping to reach Mexico.

After a month spent drifting at sea, they washed up along the Texas coast. American Indians captured the 80 survivors. After six years, only 4 were left. Esteban and the three others escaped to present-day New Mexico and Arizona. Along the way, they became known among American Indian nations for healing sick people. They finally reached Mexico in 1536.

In 1539, Esteban served as a translator and guide on another journey to the Southwest. He hoped to find seven legendary cities of gold, but died during the journey. Later, other explorers used what Esteban and his companions had learned to map the Southwest.

Comprehension Check

Why did Esteban and the Spanish soldiers sail to Florida?

Critical Thinking

Why would Esteban make a good translator and guide for the expedition in 1539?