It is traditional wisdom (and therefore very likely wrong) that Zuni Indians killed Esteban the day after he arrived at the Zuni village of Hawikuu in April of 1539.
My book Esteban: The African Slave Who Explored America examines the fate that the first Spanish writers and then later writers over the centuries have made so commonly accepted. But my book presents a compelling argument that Zunis probably did not kill kill Esteban so soon in the way that so many history books claim. The Zunis might not have killed him at all.
The 2004 book The Pueblo Revolt by David Roberts is primarily concerned with examining the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, which drove Spaniards out of New Mexico. But the author also looks at Esteban's journey as the first non-Indian to enter what is now New Mexico 141 years earlier. A Zuni guide told the author that Hawikuu residents thought at first that Esteban was "a great man" — a striking reversal of the Spanish second-hand accounts of Zunis' reception of Esteban. She implied he was killed later by jealous Zuni men when he made advances to their women.
It's true that other Zuni guides have told tourists many contradicting stories about Esteban.
So Esteban might have lived among the Zuni for a while — another striking reversal of Spanish accounts, elaborated on by white writers for centuries in distortions, speculation passed off as fact, and outright lies meant to defame the African explorer.
When writing about Esteban's fate, everyone should consider whether the common belief that Zunis quickly killed Esteban should be stated with such categorial insistance while the alternative possibility that they didn't, at least not right way, is dismissed without mention. It's unlikley there will be any proof one way or the other after nearly five centuries. But the traditional wisdom, even though never witnessed by writers, persists. As Voltaire said, "All the old histories are only fables ageed upon."
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