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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Brutal Journey by Paul Schneider

Brutal Journey: The Epic Story of the First Crossing of North America by Paul Schneider. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2006. ISBN: 978-0-8050-6835-1

I am frequently and continually amazed at how Anglo-centered my childhood history education was. We learned about Jamestown and Pocohantas, Plymouth Rock, the Pilgrims and Squanto, and because my education was Protestant and parochial (literally, not figuratively), we certainly learned about Roger Williams and the settlement of Rhode Island as an early prefiguring of American religious liberty.

But we learned precious little, if anything, about the Spanish explorations of the Americas coming from the south, from the Caribbean and from Mexico. That Spanish would-be Conquistadors had penetrated far into the central inland territory which would later become part of the United States, and that they did so a hundred years or so BEFORE these puny settlements in what later became New England was simply not part of my grade school education, nor did it become part of my consciousness until many years later.

I suppose that's at least part of the reason why I enjoyed this book so much. Here were a group of Spanish explorers who landed on the west coast of Florida back in 1528, and despite a disastrous beginning, in which the vast majority of the party, originally several hundred strong, perished, a remnant of four plucky individuals actually traveled along the entire gulf coast from Florida to Mexico, then inexplicably headed northwest again, traversing the continent, and eventually reaching the Baja coast in 1536, some eight years later. One of the four was a black African from Morocco, a slave.

What an epic journey! What an adventure! Although much of it was undoubtedly less than pleasant for the men involved, if the survivors' accounts are to be trusted, it was quite an experience, with one man becoming an itinerant peddler traveling between several Indian groups for several years. Later, the foursome became potent faith healers, carrying hundreds of Indians in their train as they traveled from village to village.

What more needs to be said? If you're even remotely interested in early explorations of this continent, you'll find this book as fascinating as I did. Highly recommended!


  • hey thanks for the great review of Brutal Journey...and right on the mark about untold stories.

    Paul S

    By Anonymous paul Schneider, at 11:17 AM  

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