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Monday, August 10, 2009

Part IV Navasota, NABASOTO, the "Other Valley"

The possible Native American translation was intriguing, and I could have stopped there and felt like I knew more than I did. But it was significant to me that the name for the Brazos River first appeared on Spanish maps. It was most probable that the name was the one given by its “discoverers.” “Navidad De Soto” was still a better story, and still more believable, with all of its problems.

Then I accidently ran into another possibility, as I read James Michner’s book about Spain, called IBERIA. He mentioned a famous battle known as Navas de Telosa, in northern Spain. Probably pronounced NABAS, it turns out that “Navas” is not a Spanish word... and thus not recognized by modern Spanish speaking persons, but either Basque or more likely Castillian, and means... another coincidence, valley or plain. Imagine that. Oto is similar to Spanish otono for autumn, or might just be the castillian cognate for otro, for other. If we can imagine Don Alonzo De Leon crashing through the Texas plains, traversing up and down these rivers that went on forever, looking for that infernal Frenchmen, it would be easy to hear him recall the immense “Rio Brazos de Dios,” the “River Arms of God”... and since the word was arms plural, then the second, smaller of the two was merely the next arm, the “other valley.” Or, like a Latin language would, “valley other.” Navas otro.

What I am suggesting is that to early explorers, both of the rivers were the arms, plural, brazos of God. It was not the Brazo but the Brazos. On the map the cartographer wrote the name on the larger of the two, and the smaller was just the other valley. If it helps any, Leon, Spain, the home of Alonzo de Leon, is very near the Navas de Telosa, and in the region known as Naverre, a land of valleys in the Pyrenees, where this mix of Basque and Castillian languages would have been spoken, and where Don Alonzo would have learned this cognate for valley. But as of this writing, I have not found any mention of the Brazos River in Alonso de Leon’s journals! He had to have crossed it several times, on several expeditions, but never called that river by that name! Perhaps that is because it was as much a description as a given name. Kind of like "College Station." To add to the confusion, the earliest maps show the river we call the Brazos as the "Colorado," as in "colorful." And the colorful red and ochre clay banks of the Brazos sure make better since described as colorado than the white limestone shoals of the present day "Colorado."

My guess is was De Leon's manhunt for La Salle that figured out the confusion the cartographers had created, and he later suggested that appropriate names be attached to clear up the name mess. In fact, all along his expedition, he gave names to everything in his path, every landmark, campsite, river and stream, many names that never stuck and were mostly ignored by later travellers.

If Navasota is a Castillian word, used to name this branch of the Brazos, it might have been created by a later discoverer, perhaps the hidalgo (Castillian nobleman) for whom Hidalgo Falls, just a mile or so up the Brazos River, was named.

But, not so fast, remember Joutel’s “Nabedache? These forgotten salt traders were near relatives of our more familiar Bedias Indians, who were basically no frills Caddoes. In fact Nabedache was probably just the proper Caddoan pronuncian of our Bedias indians. Na Bedache: people [of] brushwood. They must have been more nomadic than their Caddo cousins, and may have been the ones who chiseled a network of trails with their feet along the Navasota River, that can still be found today. If you look, you can still find broken arrowheads along this ancient byway, and no doubt La Salle gladly adjusted his course to maximize use of this trail, as it led Northeast, in the direction he wanted to go.

This obscure tribe, if related to the Navasota river, helps prove that La Salle was murdered near here, as the infamous site was supposedly near the westernmost village of the Caddos. Larger more well known villages were near Madisonville and Huntsville. Some historians try to attach this moment of history there. But much of our history was played out on this essential yet nameless trail that was first broken along the “Navasota” by Native American runners.

But whatever it was, we can be sure that the river already had an Indian name when La Salle crossed it. It could be that it was name given by the Spanish conquerers, and then mimicked by the natives, like almost every other place-name in Texas. Now hang with me. In Spanish, the letter V is pronounced as a soft B. So if Castilian Spaniards were to write Navasota, they would still pronounce that nabasota. Suddenly the Castillian and the Yuman and the Bediasian (I may be the first person to ever use that word!) are headed into a collsion course with one another! Look for Part V, the last in the series soon!

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