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Brutal Journey: The Epic Story of the First Crossing of North America [NOOK Book]


A gripping account of four explorers adrift in an unknown land and the harrowing journey that took them across North America 270 years before Lewis and Clark

One part Heart of Darkness, one part Lewis and Clark, Brutal Journey tells the story of a group of explorers who came to the new world on the heels of Cortés; bound for glory, only four of four hundred would survive. Eight years and some five thousand miles later, three Spaniards and a ...
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Brutal Journey: The Epic Story of the First Crossing of North America

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A gripping account of four explorers adrift in an unknown land and the harrowing journey that took them across North America 270 years before Lewis and Clark

One part Heart of Darkness, one part Lewis and Clark, Brutal Journey tells the story of a group of explorers who came to the new world on the heels of Cortés; bound for glory, only four of four hundred would survive. Eight years and some five thousand miles later, three Spaniards and a black Moroccan wandered out of the wilderness to the north of the Rio Grande and into Cortes’ gold-drenched Mexico.

The four survivors of the Narváez expedition brought nothing back from their sojourn other than their story, but what a tale it was. They had become killers and cannibals, torturers and torture victims, slavers and enslaved. They became faith healers, arms dealers, canoe thieves, spider eaters, and finally, when there were only the four of them left in the high Texas desert, they became itinerate messiahs. They became, in other words, whatever it took to stay alive long enough to inch their way toward Mexico, the only place where they were certain they would find an outpost of the Spanish empire.

The journey of the Cabeza De Vaca expedition is one of the greatest survival epics in the history of American exploration. By drawing on the accounts of the first explorers and the most recent findings of archaeologists and academic historians, Paul Schneider offers a thrilling and authentic narrative to replace a legend of North American exploration.

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Editorial Reviews

Candice Millard
In addition to Cabeza de Vaca's memoir and a version of an official report written by the expedition's survivors, Schneider uses accounts of other Spanish expeditions to North America, modern-day archaeological evidence and his own travels in the region to broaden and richen the narrative. At times, the archaeological details and scholarly debates interrupt the story, and some of the information would perhaps have been better off in the book's notes. In general, though, Schneider's thorough research and vivid writing create a fast-paced, moving story, one that is difficult to believe and impossible to forget.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Despite his failure to suppress the rebellious Cortes in Mexico, would-be conquistador Panfilo de Narvaez was given another chance by the king of Spain, who awarded him governorship over the entire Gulf Coast of the modern United States. But Narvaez's luck was no better this time: the expedition, which arrived in 1528, was a complete disaster. Out of the 400 men who went ashore in Florida, only four made it to Mexico eight years later, long after Narvaez himself was lost at sea in a makeshift boat. Schneider (The Adirondacks) has only two firsthand documents to work with, but he ably combines the raw narrative with a wealth of secondary research to create a vivid tale filled with gripping scenes, as when natives lead the starving Spanish forces into a swamp ambush. Though primarily concerned with the Spaniards' experiences, Schneider also provides well-rounded portrayals of the indigenous cultures they came in contact with-among them tribes that came to regard the handful of survivors as magical healers who could raise the dead. The ethnographic balance takes a thrilling adventure and turns it into an engrossing case study of early European colonialism gone epically wrong. Illus., map. (May 5) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In 1527, a Spanish expedition led by Panfilo de Narvaez was sent by King Charles V of Spain to embark from Florida and "conquer and subdivide" the North American Gulf Coast. After landing in the Tampa Bay area in 1528, Narvaez decided to split his force of nearly 600 men, with over 400 soldiers to march inland and the rest remaining with the ships. This decision doomed the expedition: clashes with Native Americans, disease, hurricanes, shipwrecks, cannibalism, starvation, and exposure reduced the conquering force to four who emerged in western Mexico eight years later. What happened in between has been a controversial subject for centuries. Schneider (The Adirondacks) does an excellent job weaving together the two surviving firsthand accounts-one by surviving explorer Cabeza de Vaca and the other by all four survivors-with archaeological, anthropological, and historical research into pre-Colonial indigenous populations and the Spanish expeditions of that era to produce a fine book. Recommended for all public libraries.-Margaret Atwater-Singer, Univ. of Evansville Libs., IN Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Talk about a bad trip: Four would-be conquerors wander across some of North America's most difficult country for eight years, and they don't even find gold to make up for their troubles. The story of Alvar Nu-ez Cabeza de Vaca's unwanted expedition into the interior is well-known to students of Spanish colonial history and has a huge scholarly literature surrounding it, but there are few popular works devoted to it as compared to, say, the easier journey of Lewis and Clark. Schneider's well-told tale begins with avarice and jealousy, as the conquistador Panfilo de Narvaez, having rebelled against the better-connected Hernan Cortes and been imprisoned for his troubles, nonetheless manages to convince the Spanish crown to let him take charge of conquering "the entire Gulf Coast of what would one day become the United States." His fleet-not well-outfitted, for Narvaez was broke-made the area of Tampa Bay in 1528, and his contingent of Caribs, Africans and Spanish soldiers marched off into the unknown for food and riches. Second-in-command by virtue of being King Charles V's "eyes and ears on the ground during the expedition"-for, naturally, the king wanted his cut-Cabeza de Vaca found himself contesting Narvaez's increasingly impetuous decisions at every turn. Disappointed and embattled, the company reached what is now Galveston Bay before being shipwrecked; Narvaez died, and the remaining force lost man after man until just three were left besides Cabeza de Vaca. This multicultural crew, one of whom, Schneider guesses, was a converted Jew, the other an African slave, then wandered for thousands of miles until eventually finding a Spanish settlement in western Mexico. Through all of this,Schneider does a solid job of enhancing an intrinsically interesting story without getting in the way. A you-are-there enterprise in the Steven Ambrose vein, full of surprising turns and not a few ironies.
From the Publisher
"Brutal Journey is a wonderfully rich account of an incredible cross-country journey of survival. Paul Schneider's beautifully crafted book takes us to another time in another world, a place of native American shamans, Spanish conquistadors, and unbelievable determination. Best of all, it really happened."—Jerald T. Milanich, Ph.D., archaeologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History and author of Florida Indians from Ancient Times to the Present
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781466843295
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/26/2013
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 443,682
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Paul Schneider, author of the highly praised and successful The Adirondacks (0-8050-5990-3), a New York Times Notable Book, and The Enduring Shore (0-8050-6734-5), lives with his wife and son in Martha's Vineyard and Bradenton, Florida.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2013

    First Class Epic Story!

    From the very beginning the author takes the reader on a journey of historic proportions with insights not revealed in other stories of the journey across America. Schneider has written a book that is hard to put down and when it's done, the reader will be craving for more. For those reading historical fact books, this must be added to your list!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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