As Spanish and Portuguese explorers probed the New World, a great many of them ended up shipwrecked on the shores of unexplored pieces of the Americas. Many of those shipwrecked sailors died of thirst or starvation or were killed by Indians. Others, like Columbus in one of his later voyages, managed to make it back to European colonies in improvised boats. Some lived out their lives as slaves of the local Indians. A few managed to become part of Indian society and become powerful in those societies. Perhaps the greatest of those shipwrecked sailors was Joao Ramalho the Portuguese sailor who was shipwrecked around 1510, married the daughter of a powerful local chieftain, became a power within local Indian society, fathered a large number of mameluco offspring, and almost single-handedly founded a syncretic society that had a great deal of influence on the development of Brazil. A few other shipwrecked Europeans rose some distance into Indian society. In the Yucatan, Cortes encountered a Spanish sailor who had apparently married into a local tribe, and was acting as a military adviser for them. (The sailor was killed after advising his allies to attack the Spaniards—an attack which failed and resulted in heavy Indian casualties).

When I read about Joao Ramalho I started thinking: Where and when could we put a European castaway so that he would have a realistic chance to be more than footnote in history? I decided that our castaway would have to be stranded early in the process of Spanish settlement—no later than about 1505. Otherwise he wouldn’t have time to make much difference before Spanish explorers found him. That means that realistically he would have to be stranded somewhere along the Atlantic Coast or along the Gulf of Mexico.

Where could he be stranded?

In Florida? I toyed with that, but I couldn’t figure out how he could have made much difference there. Spaniards were sometimes stranded in the southeastern US for years and if they had any impact on the local Indians, the impact was very subtle.
In the Yucatan? Maybe a more charismatic or militarily capable castaway there could make things interesting for Cortes and the Spanish conquistadors, maybe even killing enough of them that they turned back before discovering the Aztecs. That’s not a bad divergence, and I might try it later.
In an area of the coast where he ended up in Aztec hands? Again, maybe, but I get the feeling that the Aztecs were entirely too large and self-satisfied an entity to be influenced much by one man—at least directly.
I finally settled on this: Francisco De Lugo is shipwrecked on the northeastern coast of what would become New Spain in 1502. His companions quickly succumb to hunger or Indian attack, but De Lugo is adaptable. He survives and establishes himself as a member of the local Huastec Indians. He marries the daughter of an influential Huastec noble, and eventually fathers numerous children, both inside and probably outside of that marriage.

De Lugo is a distant relative of a Spanish conquistador Alonso Luis Fernández de Lugo, who played a major role in conquering the Canary Islands. He has limited formal military background in European terms, but has done some fighting both against the Moors and against the Tiano Indians of the West Indies.

At the time of De Lugo’s arrival, the Huastecs are a group of independent minor states on the northeastern fringe of the civilized areas of New Spain. They are not politically united, but share a common language that differs from those of other tribes in New Spain, and is distantly related to that of the Mayas of Central America. They share many of the characteristics of the Aztecs and other central Mexican groups, including much of the material culture, but also differ from those groups in many ways. In 1502, the Huastecs are one of many groups on the northern fringe of “civilized” Mexico that are to some extent transitional between the “civilized” groups like the Aztecs and nomadic tribesmen like the Chichemics. They have blended traits from both sides of that divide into their own unique culture, but are considered barbarians by central Mexican Indians.

The Aztecs have exercised some degree of control over part of the Huastec towns since about 1450. The Huastecs are on the periphery of Aztec control. The Aztecs demand and usually get tribute from city-states they have conquered in the area. They also sometimes demand logistics support—food and carriers—for campaigns against still-independent or rebellious city-states in the region.

In 1502, the Aztecs don’t hold the Huastecs in very high regard as fighting men. A warrior who captures ten Huastecs doesn’t have the prestige of a warrior who captures one or two Tlaxcallans. That starts to change after De Lugo becomes part of the equation.

De Lugo becomes a prominent military leader of the Huastecs in their wars against the encroaching Aztec empire. He introduces a series of tactical and technical innovations that give the traditionally fiercely independent Huastecs a major boost in their struggle against the Aztecs. The Huastecs have actually managed to push the Aztecs out of the immediate region by 1519, when Cortes arrives to begin his conquest of Mexico.

The Huastecs used bronze for ornaments and some small tools like tweezers before 1502. They may have used copper or bronze axes too. After De Lugo arrives and demonstrates what a Spanish sword can do, the Huastecs try to imitate that sword in bronze, then go on to produce a wide range of bronze and bronze/obsidian hybrid swords and lances. Sword-fighting becomes a passion for Huastec nobles and those aspiring to the nobility.

New tactics and strategies are more important than the new weapons. De Lugo would not be an outstanding general on a European battlefield, but he has enough knowledge of European warfare that he has a seemingly bottomless bag of military tricks that are new to Mexican Indian warfare.

The Huastecs already used a primitive phalanx-like formation in battle, with archers in the center of the formation. De Lugo refines that formation, using the Swiss pikemen of his day as a model. He also refines command and control so that Huastec armies are less likely to fall apart if a few key leaders are killed.

These innovations don’t influence all Huastec groups equally, but by 1519, the Huastecs most strongly influenced by De Lugo are already somewhat of a syncretic society. Huastec nobles carry bronze swords. Many of them wear bronze crosses as necklaces, or have them painted or tattooed on their bodies. Gold has gradually become valuable to the Huastec nobility, though it has nowhere near the value it would have in Europe.

De Lugo has tried to raise his many sons as Christians, writing down what he can remember of church ritual. He had little direct contact with the bible, but is able to reproduce some stories and principles from it. His teachings inevitably get mixed in with local religions to some extent in his sons’ minds.

De Lugo has also tried to raise his sons as Spaniards to the extent that is possible without alienating his hosts. Most of the older ones can read and write Spanish, and speak it reasonably fluently, though they are more comfortable speaking their mothers’ tongues. Some Huastec nobles have learned some Spanish, and Huastecs are beginning to use Spanish symbols to write in their own language.

The relationship between De Lugo and his Huastec allies on the one hand and the Spanish colony that Cortez founds at Vera Cruz is wary from the time that colony is established. De Lugo and his sons are proud men, as are their Huastec allies. They are by now superb swordsmen—not as good as the best of Europe, but still very good. De Lugo welcomes the Spanish as allies against the Aztecs and raises a force of a thousand Huastecs under his oldest son to help them against that mutual enemy.

That alliance doesn’t last long. The Spanish at Vera Cruz quickly alienate the proud Huastecs by refusing to sell them European-style weapons and refusing to treat them as equals. After a few brawls that threaten to escalate into major conflicts, the Huastecs quietly withdraw and let the Spaniards tackle the Aztecs on their own.

The Spanish conquest of Mexico is harder in this time-line than it was in ours. The Aztecs are somewhat hardened to Spanish tactics because of their battles with the Huastecs. They also are much more wary of the Spaniards. At the same time, the Aztecs have made so many enemies that their eventual defeat is inevitable. After some initial Spanish defeats, the Huastecs do link back up with the Spanish, and play a role in the eventual defeat of the Aztecs. That alliance quickly sours after victory, as small groups of Huastecs and Spaniards get into brawls over the spoils of victory and several men on both sides are killed.

The Spanish don’t know quite what to make of De Lugo and his allies. De Lugo is Spanish, but he has also become in many ways a Huastec, in ways both visible and subtle. His sons consider themselves Spanish, but are definitely not in Spanish eyes. For the time being the Spanish ignore the Huastecs to the extent that they can. There is little gold or silver to be mined in Huastec country, and the Huastecs themselves are proud and capable enough fighters that enslaving them isn’t an option.

The Spanish of New Spain refuse to sell horses or metal weapons to the Huastecs. Governor Garay of Jamaica sells them small quantities of each in 1522. Garay hopes to use De Lugo and his allies in a campaign to unseat Cortes as governor of New Spain, but De Lugo is smart enough to keep Garay at arms-length. The Jamaican governor does manage to establish trade-links with the Huastecs that remain strong for the next several decades. Initially, the Huastecs trade gold and silver looted from the Aztecs in exchange for Spanish goods. As the gold and silver runs out, the Huastecs get involved for a time in an Indian slave trade, capturing Indians from Chichemic country, and even raiding along the Gulf coast as far east as the Mississippi.

The link with Garay pays off for De Lugo. Garay is part of an anti-Cortes coalition of governors in the West Indies and their allies in Spain. That coalition convinces a Spanish court suspicious of Cortes to establish a separate province of Panuco, with De Lugo as governor. In our time-line, a similar province was set up, but with an extremely brutal lawyer and court favorite by the name of Guzman in charge.

De Lugo proves to be a very astute governor. He manages to keep Panuco out of the chaos that occasionally erupts in New Spain, and deftly balances the interests of the Huastec nobility, and the growing number of Panucos--mixed-race men and women—mostly descended from him or his sons, while maintaining the trust of the Spanish crown.

On the other hand European diseases hit Panuco, like the rest of Mexico, hard, and the nobility finds it difficult to maintain their status as the social pyramid disintegrates under them. Also, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain a Spanish-style culture as the gold and silver disappear and Indians slaves become more and more difficult to acquire and demand declines. Indians from the wild tribes of North America make poor slaves, and as that becomes apparent demand for them falls.

By 1537, the Indian and Panuco nobility are sliding down into something approaching poverty. They can no longer afford to import Spanish goods, and have to make do with home-made Huastec substitutes—many of which are very good, but don’t impart the prestige of real Spanish articles. At the same time, Panuco province is definitely not an Indian society anymore. It isn’t truly Spanish either, though the nobility—Indian or mixed blood—consider themselves Spanish. Much of the symbolism of the society is Spanish or Spanish-derived, but much of the underlying material culture is still Indian.

The men of Panuco have taken to horseback in a big way. Some of them have become traders, ranging north as far as the Great Plains and into Pueblo country. Panuco traders, explorers, and slave raiders go far beyond the Spanish frontier. One such expedition finds the giant silver deposits at Zacatecas in 1537.

The Panucos are closed-mouth bunch, used to protecting good trading or raiding areas against competition. At the same time, a find of this magnitude is impossible to conceal for a prolonged period. It is also illegal to do so given the Spanish crown’s claim on a hefty percentage of any finds of precious metals.

The Zacetecas mines are deep in Chichemic country, hundreds of miles from Panuco. They are actually closer to the west coast of Mexico than the east. The route from the mines back to Panuco is treacherous—through desert and mountains filled with fierce nomads.

In this time-line, Spanish exploration and conquest in western Mexico is going considerably slower than it did in our time-line. Western Mexico is just starting to be explored and settled from New Spain in 1537. 1 In Michoacan, the Tarascans are gradually losing the autonomy that they were able keep through the 1520s. Their king is gradually losing his status as his subjects become effectively as opposed to theoretically the subjects of Spanish encomenderos. Spanish soldiers are beginning to push north and west of Tarascan territory, but have run into fierce opposition from the local tribes and city-states.

Panuco miners are able to maintain the secret of their giant silver mine, or at least its location until 1539. Then a silver rush ensues, with Spaniards from western and central Mexico pouring north into the Zacatecas area. Fighting breaks out between Spaniards and men from Panuco over choice mining claims. Local Indians raid both sides. In this chaotic situation, hundreds of men die, while some become wealthy—or will if they can get the silver back to civilization.

The situation gets even more chaotic as Indians in much of Western Mexico go to war against encroaching Spaniards and Panucos. The mines have generated a huge demand for slaves and Western Mexico has become the source of most of those slaves. The Indians in this area are very good fighters, as they proved in the Mixton Rebellion in our time-line. Their rebellion makes it very hard for Spaniards from New Spain proper to get to the Zacatecas mines or back.

Gangs of outlaws make matters even worse by preying on miners attempting to ship silver out, or hiring nomadic Indians to do so. The early 1540’s are a very wild time, with adventurous Spaniards drawn to the silver mines from Spanish settlements across the New World. They find a world wilder than the wildest of the American Wild West, with gunfighters and outlaws and Indians both nomadic and civilized.

Spanish newcomers who survive Indian attacks and outlaws look for a way to cut themselves in on the silver. They tend to end up fighting for one of several Spanish would-be governors of the area—sometimes against the men of Panuco, other times against other Spaniards. It is a time of shifting alliances and betrayals—maybe a good time to write about, but certainly not a good time for an honest man to live.

The men of Panuco quickly find themselves outnumbered by Spanish newcomers, but they are tough men, and they know the area much better than the Spanish of New Spain. They also know how to get silver out of the area, something that is difficult for the Spanish of New Spain.

The silver rush starts to have an impact outside of New Spain. The DeSoto and Coronado expeditions suddenly find themselves without interested Spaniards. The conquest of the Yucatan peninsula is delayed, as Spaniards who would have gone there are pulled into the chaos of the new silver mines.

The Spanish Viceroy of New Spain, Don Antonio de Mendoza, attempts to impose order on the chaos, but the Zacatecas region is far outside the settled zone of New Spain and the Viceroy has his hands full trying to deal with the Indian revolt on the western frontiers of New Spain. Indians there are fierce fighters, and Spaniards attempting to enslave them to work in the mines keep the situation inflamed. There is a strong possibility that the revolt may spread to the old Tarascan empire, where the Tarascans resent their loss of autonomy. The situation there, as in other more settled parts of New Spain is being stirred up by Spaniards illegally enslaving subject Indians and shipping them north to the mines.

To make Mendoza’s job even harder, in 1542 the Spanish crown passes the same set of “New Laws” that it passed in our time-line. Those laws were intended to end the “encomienda” system, a system where Indian towns and villages were parceled out among conquistadors and in some cases their descendents. Holders of encomiendas were given the right to command tribute and labor services from “their” Indians, in exchange theoretically for the encomienda holders’ efforts to civilize and Christianize the Indians.

Around 40 percent of New Spain’s roughly 1400 Spanish heads of families hold encomiendas, and that 40 percent of the Spanish population is wealthy and politically powerful. They resist the “New Laws” with every means at their disposal, including the threat of violence. As in our time-line, conquistadors in Peru revolt against the Spanish crown rather than be ruled by the New Laws. In our time-line, Viceroy Mendoza wisely backed off from trying to enforce the New Laws. Unfortunately, that isn’t as easy in this time-line. Too many encomienda holders are abusing their power by selling the services of their Indians to the mines, or forcing them to act as carriers to supply the mines. That has the potential to spread the Indian revolt in the northwest to all of New Spain.

At the same time, Mendoza does not have a Spanish army to support him, and he needs the encomienda families to help put down the Indian revolt in northwest New Spain. As a result, he moves cautiously, pushing to deposed encomienderos who are most flagrantly abusing their Indians, but not tackling the most powerful of those men.

King Carlos I of Spain is not so patient. The ongoing violence around the Zacetecas mines, the rebellion in Peru, and the increasingly serious Indian revolts in Northwestern Mexico convince him that he has to take action to reassert royal power in the New World. He is especially disturbed by the chaos around the silver mines. The Spanish crown is chronically short of money and the king’s portion of that silver is vital for the crown’s ongoing attempts to dominate Europe. Against the advise of Viceroy Mendoza, he sends an army to Mexico. His choice of agents to lead that army is unfortunate. He chooses Nuno de Guzman, a royal favorite who in our time-line had already played his malevolent role in New Spain.

Guzman’s arrival with an army of nearly a thousand Spaniards quickly precipitates a revolt in New Spain. Viceroy Mendoza is killed, allegedly by encomienda holders, but actually on Guzman’s orders. With the Viceroy out of the way, Guzman and his allies seize encomiendas, but only to redistribute them among themselves. The Indians are even more brutalized where the new regime takes control. The encomienda holders raise a rebel army under one of the more famous of the conquistadors: Pedro de Alvarado.

The civil war in the core of New Spain adds to the chaos around the silver mines. The fighting around those mines firmly establishes the men of Panuco as a separate ethnic group from the Spanish of New Spain. Mine-holders from Panuco bring in men from their home province to defend their claims. Incoming Spaniards simply take over any Panucan mining claims that cannot be defended by superior force, often killing the miners.

As the chaos continues, Francisco De Lugo himself, now in his sixties, leads an army from Panuco across the desserts and mountains to Zacatecas. He leads the battle against the Spaniards there, and dies after his forces are defeated there in 1548.

Meanwhile, in the core of New Spain, Guzman defeats the rebel Spaniards in a series of battles, and gains control of most of the core of Mexico, though Alvarado and a core of his followers escape and flee to the Zacetecas area. Guzman sends an expedition after them, but manages to turn nearly all of the Spanish silver mining factions against him, and is defeated by them. He retreats to the core of New Spain with a much-reduced army, and is faced with a renewed revolt there.

New Spain now faces a period of chaos that lasts nearly a decade. Guzman is eventually defeated and killed, and descendents of the conquistadors rule New Spain in defiance of the Spanish government for a few years. Eventually the Spanish crown defuses the rebellion by repealing the “New Laws” and allowing surviving encomienda holders to retain most of their privileges, with the exception of a few ringleaders. Die-hard rebels flee north to the area around Zacetecas, where they take part in the ongoing wars for control of the mines.

By 1550, the men of Panuco have been pushed out of the silver mines around Zacetecas. Many of them have been killed. Some of them have managed to get silver out of the area, and that silver has pumped new life into the economy of Panuco. The men of Panuco continue to maintain their claims to the silver mines, and bands of Panucans continue to raid mines and caravans in the area. They also secretively mine small silver deposits in remote area and smuggle the silver back to Panuco.

Rival Spanish groups continue to war over mining claims, in spite of efforts by the Spanish crown to establish order in that area. Indian revolts continue to simmer in northwestern New Spain. Some Panucans quietly encourage those revolts in order to weaken their Spanish enemies around Zacatecas.

The men of Panuco have continued to trade and explore north of the Spanish frontier. By 1545 they have moved out into the Great Plains in a major way, taking over lucrative trade routes from local Indian traders. Panucan traders have horses and cover great distances on them. Some have traded and explored as far east as the Atlantic Coast. They sell copper and bronze trinkets to the local Indians and bring buffalo and deer hides back to sell in New Spain. Other Panucan traders head west, and some of them trade as far west as the Pacific Coast of California.

As the trade develops, Panucan trading posts are established at strategic points along major rivers. Those trading posts then become vectors from which elements of the hybrid Spanish/Mexican Indian culture of the Panucans spread to local Indians. They also become vectors for diseases, which affect them somewhat less than they do the local Indians, but still have an impact.

The Mississippi River becomes a major trade route for the Panucans. The Panucans build small trading ships that go between Panucan trading posts scattered along that river and along other major streams like the Ohio River. In some areas, local Mississippian tribes contest their ability to navigate the river, but at least for the time being the Panucans have technological superiority in ship construction and are able to go pretty much where they want.

The Panucans initially have a monopoly on horses in areas north of the Spanish frontier, but that doesn’t last. Local Indians eventually get familiar enough with horses to know what to do with escaped or stolen animals, and horses become commonplace over large areas of North America by the 1580’s.

Spanish exploration of North America has been slowed down by the chaos in New Spain. There has been some exploration around the periphery of Florida, and the Gulf coast but, there have been no equivalents of the DeSoto and Coronado expeditions. As in our time-line, Spanish interest in the area is stimulated by a series of settlement attempts in Florida and South Carolina in the 1560s. As in our time-line, Spain establishes a permanent settlement in the area in the late 1560’s.

The relationship between the Spanish of Florida and Panucan traders is tense but not overtly hostile. They compete for Indian allies to some extent, and the Panucans try to limit the political influence of Spanish missionaries among the tribes of northern Florida. At the same time, the Panucans become middlemen in trade between the Spanish and more distant Indians.

Panuco itself has an uneasy relationship with the core of New Spain. It remained officially loyal to the crown during the years of revolt in New Spain, though Panucans did not participate in the wars of that time period to any great degree. The province has been left pretty much alone. It simply isn’t wealthy enough or strategic enough to warrant major attention by the Spanish crown. A distinct hybrid culture has become firmly established in the area, with a noble class composed of descendents of the old Indian nobility and descendents of De Lugo. That nobility determinedly views itself as Spanish and Catholic, but is accepted as neither outside of Panuco. The language and customs of Panuco are evolving away from those of the rest of New Spain, as Huastec and other words and customs become part of local “Spanish”. The hostilities in the Zacetecas region have solidified a separate identity that looks to an idealized Spain rather then to the Spaniards of New Spain for inspiration.

As the 1580s draw to a close, the Panucan dominance over trade across the Great Plains is challenged more and more by local Indians. Plains Apaches and other nomadic groups have acquired horses, and have taken to raiding Panucan caravans and Panucan customers along the eastern and western fringes of the plains. Nomadic raiders have always been somewhat of a problem, but horses make them much more formidable.

In spite of the raids, the Panucan trade network expands and strengthens in the last two decades of the 1500s and the first decade of the 1600’s. Trading posts become towns of several hundred Panucans and Christianized local Indians. Panucan trade goods are in heavy demand across most of North America. In many cases, local Indian groups like the Hurons and Fox carry Panucan goods to Indians further from the heart of the Panucan trade network.

As noted earlier, parts of Panuco’s material culture spreads to the local Indians. Horses become common long before they otherwise would have. Mexican Indian and Spanish crops and food animals enrich Indian diets. Metal tools that can be made in Panuco become available though still not very common in large parts of North America, as do cotton garments made in Panuco. Indian ways of war are strongly influenced by the examples set by Panucan traders. Indian religions are influenced by the ideas and symbols of Panuco’s blend of Catholicism and Huastec Indian religious beliefs.

Assuming that French and English settlement of North America happens pretty much on schedule, they are going to run into a very different situation in North America.

And that’s all I have time for this time. Where does this time-line go from here? What happens in Mexico given the growing split between Spaniards and the men of Panuco? Does New Spain become two nations when and if it becomes independent from Spain? How does the culture of the men of Panuco develop as French, Dutch, and English settlers push west? How does the presence of Panucan traders and the cultural changes they have generated impact the way the North American Indians react to European settlers? How does all of this affect South and Central America? Does the conquistador kingdom in Peru remain independent? Does Spain eventually conquer the remnants of the Mayas in the Yucatan, or does some other power move into the area? What happens in northwestern Mexico where Indian revolts have long simmered?

By: Dale R. Cozort

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