The publication of the two volumes under review makes primary source material more easily available to researchers. This is praiseworthy, indeed, for our profession can never have enough of the prosopographical details, the nuts and bolts of history, if scholars are to be able to construct solid structural and/or theoretical edifices and syntheses, especially in the field of social history.
The first volume concerns itself with Nicolas Féderman (Nikolaus Federmann), one of the many who sought El Dorado. The Augsburg banking house of Bartolomäus Welser was given the right to govern Venezuela by Emperor Charles V in 1528 and sent Féderman to assist the governor, Ambrosius Ehinger, in that task. After arriving and embarking on a preliminary six-month journey in 1531 that reached the foothills east of Lake Maracaibo, Féderman launched a three-year expedition in 1535-39 to the Colombian highlands. He marched southeast, crossed the Andes, and arrived on the plains of Santa Fé de Bogotá in 1539 only to find that Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada had gotten there first and conquered the Chibcha Indians. Féderman’s disappointment was assuaged by a gift (un soborno?) of four thousand pesos, which Quesada paid to forestall any German claims to New Granada. Féderman returned to Spain, was denounced by the Welsers, and never set foot again in the New World.
Los sobrevivientes concerns Hernando de Soto, the object of renewed attention in recent years primarily, one suspects, because his expedition was one of the very few that took place almost entirely in the territory of the present-day United States. Soto embarked on a three-year (1539-42) expedition from Tampa to Arkansas, during which the party became the first Europeans to cross the Appalachians. Soto died in May 1541, two weeks after first sighting the Mississippi. Of the survivors of the expedition led by Luis de Moscoso, Soto’s designated successor, who with them attempted to reach Spanish settlements in Mexico, Avellaneda has identified 257; there may well have been 54 more. (An appendix contains parallel columns of three lists: by Avellaneda; by Luis Hernández de Biedma, the chronicler; and by J. R. Swanton, author of the Final Report of the U. S. De Soto Expedition [1939 and 1985].) Seven boats were constructed and were sailed down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico in July 1543. The survivors reached Pánuco on the Mexican coast in September and disbanded after reaching Mexico City.
Avellaneda has mined both published sources and archives to provide us with the biographical and socioeconomic characteristics of the members of both expeditions. Both volumes contain useful indices, 15 and 10 pages respectively. We are all indebted to him for performing this fundamental spadework and to his precursors in these endeavors, especially Mario Góngora (Los grupos de conquistadores en Tierra Firme [1509-1530] ) and James Lockhart (The Men of Cajamarca ), with whose work he compares his findings.