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MEXICO 212 N.45 / 1585 / Informaciones of Baltasar Dorantes de Carranza: Summary

This document is probably the probanza or información de servicios y méritos cited by Baltasar Dorantes de Carranza in his Sumaria relación de las cosas de la Nueva España (1604), alongside Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca’s Naufragios (1542), as evidence for his father’s service in New Spain and especially on Pánfilo Narváez’s ill-fated expedition to Florida (1527-1536).

Baltasar Dorantes de Carranza, the only male heir of Andrés Dorantes de Carranza and María de la Torre, petitioned the crown for some kind of favour in 1573-1574 on the basis of his own character and his father’s service to the crown. The document takes the form of a series testimonies, elicited by asking witnesses if they were able to provide evidence that might contradict a list of statements about information received from Baltasar.

From these statements we learn that he was between 23 and 25 years old, more or less, and looked his age; that his mother was still alive; that without his mother’s consent he married the daughter of Juan Bravo de Lagunas (48), by whom he had four or five children; but that he could not afford to support (sustentar) his family since two settlements of Indians granted to his father as encomiendas had been taken (quitar) or were to be taken from him.

The document is most interesting in what it reveals about Andrés Dorantes de Carranza. One witness, Santiago de Cabreros, said that he had known María de la Torre and Baltasar Dorantes for 18 years at the time he testified, but that at the time he arrived in Mexico Andrés was already dead (49), suggesting that Andrés was dead by 1555. Maria de la Torre thus outlived at least two husbands: she had been the widow of Alonso de Benavides when she married Andrés, according to Alonso’s brother Pedro de Benavides, who also testified on behalf of Baltasar (27-35).

The document records the oral tradition of the trials, tribulations, and eventual survival of Andrés Dorantes and his companions following the collapse of Pánfilo Narváez’s expedition and Alonso de la Villa Seca records listening to the survivors tell their story (24). However, Fray Antonio Roldán (4), Fray Juan Osario (6-7), and Diego de Ordaz (16) all cite a “coronica” as a source of greater detail about the story, and a fourth, Luis de Castilla, a Knight of Santiago, notes that this is “enpresa” – so it is likely to be Cabeza de Vaca’s Naufragios, either the Zamora (1542) or Valladolid (1555) edition. Baltasar Dorantes used the published Naufragios as evidence of his father’s service and the way the witnesses refer to it implies it may have actually been present during their cross-examinations. However, relatively little mention is made by the witnesses of the detail found in the Naufragios. Interestingly those witnesses who mention the “coronica” do not refer to the well-known role of the survivors as miracle working shamans or doctors despite this aspect of their adventure being prominent in the Naufragios. By contrast, witnesses who do not mention the “coronica” do remark on the miraculous divine intervention associated with the story.

Particularly interesting in this respect is the testimony of Sebastián Granado, who was unable to sign his name and therefore probably illiterate. He says he was told the story in person by Andrés Dorantes while on a boat that sailed for Castile, but which spent eight months lost at sea, eventually returning to Yucatán. Granado knew the story first hand and by word of mouth in the immediate aftermath of the events. Although central to the Naufragios, a text completed and published in the Old World, the miracle stories are relatively underplayed or absent in documents produced in the New World. They may have been suppressed either out of fear of the Mexican Inquisition or because they were discredited by others whose own first-hand experience of the New World and particularly Florida and Culiacán would have made such stories sound more like fiction than fact.

Andrés Dorantes’s failed attempt to reach Spain is recorded in the Naufragios as taking place in 1537, the year Cabeza de Vaca made the journey. However, Granado also states that Dorantes eventually made it to Spain where he received royal favour (38), while another witness, Gonzalo de las Casas, recorded that he had heard as much (44), and a further witness, Juan de Villa Gómez, stated that he had seen Andrés return from Castile having been rewarded with two encomiendas. Pedro de Benavides also states that Andrés went to Spain, where he was granted royal favour in the form of the town of “Malcalçingo” (32). Reference is made to the royal cédula granting that favour, again almost as though the documents were available during the hearing (32, 53). Diego de Ordaz mentions two encomiendas, Alcalá and “Mexcalçingo,” presumably the same place as mentioned by Benavides (18).

In 1541, Fray Torobio de Motolinía stated in the covering letter he sent to the Count of Benavente with the manuscript of his Historia that it would be brought by one of the four unnamed survivors of Narváez’s expedition. Estebán was dead at the time and Cabeza de Vaca was in Río de la Plata, and so Motolinía’s postman had to be either Dorantes or Castillo. However, although this might apparently make Dorantes the most likely postman, in fact, Gonzalo de las Casas records that Dorantes served with the Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza on his campaigns to Jalisco and Cíbola during the Mixton War, which took place between 1540 and 1542. Pedro de Benavides apparently went to Spain following Vázquez de Coronado’s expedition to Cíbola in 1540 (32). The royal historian Fernández de Oviedo gave an account of Narváez’s Florida expedition based on a report he said was made by all three Spanish survivors and that had been sent to Santo Domingo from Cuba in 1539. Moreover, Benavides explains that Mendoza originally intended to send Dorantes on the first campaign to Cíbola, but that Friar Marcos de Niza convinced him otherwise (29-31). Dorantes may well have travelled to Spain in 1539 instead of going to Cíbola and sending the report from Cuba to Santo Domingo on his way, which would explain why in February 1540 he was granted a royal licence to acquire Indian land in New Spain, having declared that he had decided to stay in the New World (AGI: Patronato 278 N.2 R.46). If Motlonía’s postman was really one of the survivors, then it seems likely he was Castillo.

This document is the first evidence concrete that Andrés Dorantes went to Spain, probably in 1539. It is therefore possible that he was in some way involved with the production of the Naufragios.

Pedro de Benavides also records that Andrés Dorantes informed Marcos de Niza about his route and that one of Marcos’s conditions was that he take Estebán the Black with him. Although most evidence suggests that Dorantes had sold Estebán to Mendoza for the purpose of the expedition, Benavides describes him as free (libre), so Mendoza may have in fact bought his freedom (29).

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All the testimonies concur that Andrés Dorantes de Carranza was greatly favoured by Mendoza, generally held in high esteem, and became a Magistrate (oyidor) and Sheriff (alcalde) in New Spain.

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