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The First American Indian Folk Tale

As Cabeza de Vaca, Dorantes, Castillo, and Estevanico the Black slowly made their way westward from the coast to the higher plains they became famous as medicine men. Crowds of Indians appealed to them to cure the sick and to drive off evil spirits. (They were miraculously successful as shamans.) One people whom Cabeza de Vaca called both Chavavares and Avavares made a plea he never forgot. He recorded it in this way:

They said that a man wandered through the country whom they called Badthing; he was small of body and wore a beard, and they never distinctly saw his features. When he came to the house where they lived, their hair stood up and they trembled. Presently a blazing torch shone at the door, when he entered and seized whom he chose, and giving him three great gashes in the side with a very sharp flint, the width of the hand and two palms in length, he put his hand through them, drawing forth the entrails, from one of which he would cut off a portion more or less the length of a palm, and throw it on the embers. Then he would give three gashes to an arm, the second cut on the inside of an elbow, and would sever the limb. A little after this, he would begin to unite it, and putting his hands on the wounds, these would instantly become healed.

They said that frequently in the dance he appeared among them, sometimes in the dress of a woman, at others in that of a man; that when it pleased him he would take a buhio, or house, and lifting it high, after a little he would come down with it in a heavy fall.

They also stated that many times they offered him victuals, but that he never ate; they asked him whence he came and where was his abiding place, and he showed them a fissure in the earth and said that his house was there below.

So Cabeza de Vaca heard of the Chavavares' "devil" and "hell." He and his companions laughed and ridiculed the tale, and the Chavavares, "seeing our incredulity, brought to us many of those they said he had seized; and we saw the marks of the gashes made in the places according to the manner they had described."

Agreeing that Badthing was certainly "an evil one," the Spaniards told the Chavavares "that is they would believe in God our Lord, and become Christians like us, they need have no fear of him, nor would he dare to come and inflict those injuries, and they might be certain he would not venture to appear while we remained in the land. At this they were delighted and lost much of their dread."