Mena, Marcos de (unknown–1584)

By: Robert S. Weddle

Type: Biography

Published: May 1, 1995

Marcos de Mena, a Dominican lay brother, was the only castaway from the Padre Island Spanish shipwrecks of 1554 to succeed in reaching the Spanish settlement at Pánuco. All the others, save for a sailor who returned to the ships and perhaps thirty who sailed in a ship's boat to Veracruz, perished on the march, most of them slain by Indians. The total number of persons on the ships has been estimated at 300, including five other Dominican friars. An undetermined number drowned before reaching the shore.

Near the end of his life almost thirty years later, Fray Marcos related his adventure to Agustín Dávila Padilla, whom he had influenced to enter the Dominican order. Dávila Padilla's homiletic version of the episode, which is often at variance with facts revealed by documents of the period, was not published until 1596, after Mena's death. By Dávila's account-based on Fray Marcos's recollection-the castaways remained "where the sea had put them" several days without seeing Indians. Yet they began the march for Pánuco without adequate food, clothing, or weaponry; they had salvaged some supplies from the ships. They withstood the first Indian attack without casualties before reaching the Rio Grande, but the few crossbows the castaways carried were lost in the crossing. Thenceforth, the Indians constantly stalked them until all members of the group were believed dead.

At the last river before the Pánuco, those who remained alive began building a raft for crossing the river, believing that they had at last eluded their pursuers. But then they saw several large canoes of Indians coming down the river. Most of those who remained alive were slain. The two lay brothers, also blood brothers-Fray Juan de Mena and Fray Marcos-were badly wounded. With seven arrow wounds, Fray Marcos was left for dead in the river's shallows. Fray Juan, with an arrow in his back, struggled to keep pace with the others but soon collapsed and died. The few who remained alive renewed their attempt to cross the river, and Fray Marcos, plucking the arrows from his body, rose to join them. Having reached the opposite bank, he was unable to walk, and the others were unable to carry him. They buried him in the sand with only his face exposed, that he might breathe naturally until death overtook him. His comrades who resumed the march were soon attacked again. The Indians' victory seemed complete.

By Dávila Padilla's account, the warm sand soothed Fray Marcos's tortured body and overcame the shock resulting from his wounds. As he slept, strength came back to his body. Waking near midnight, he threw off the covering of sand and walked on through the darkness. Coming upon the bodies of his companions, he fainted at the sight. After regaining consciousness, he walked aimlessly along the seashore, expecting death at any moment. For four days he traveled without food or drink. His wounds filled with maggots. At last reaching the Pánuco River, he fell down to drink of its water but found it brackish. As if in answer to his prayer, two Indians appeared in a canoe and carried him on a cloth litter to the nascent mission village of Tampico. The next day he was able to continue to the town of Pánuco, where he recuperated before proceeding to Mexico City.

In the New Spain capital surgeons examined Mena's wounds and found them healed over, with stone chips from arrow points buried beneath the skin. They pained him throughout the remaining thirty years of his life. After twenty-five years of service in Mexico, Fray Marcos went to Peru with Fray Bartolomé de Ledesma, afterward bishop of Oaxaca. He died in Ciuidad de los Reyes (present Lima, Peru) in 1584.

J. Barto Arnold III and Robert S. Weddle, The Nautical Archeology of Padre Island: The Spanish Shipwrecks of 1554 (New York: Academic Press, 1978). Agustín Dávila Padilla, Historia de la fundación y discurso de la provincia de Santiago de México de la Orden de Predicadores (Madrid, 1596; 2d ed., Brussels: Ivan de Meerbeque, 1625; facsimile of 2d ed., Mexico City: Editorial Academia Literaria, 1955). David McDonald and J. Barto Arnold III, Documentary Sources for the Wreck of the New Spain Fleet of 1554 (Austin: Texas Antiquities Committee, 1979).


  • Religion
  • Catholic

Time Periods:

  • Spanish Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Robert S. Weddle, “Mena, Marcos de,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 24, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: