In 1553, a fleet of fifty-four ships under the command of experienced Captain-General Bartolomé Carreño arrived at the port of Veracruz, having lost only one galleon in Mexican waters.

Four of the vessels of this fleet left the port and headed for Havana on April 9, 1554, under the command of Antonio Corzo, to then make their way to Spain. San Esteban, San Andrés, Espíritu Santo and Santa María de Ycíar were the four galleons which set sail carrying two million pesos in wealth, varied goods and some three hundred people on board, including merchants, soldiers, clergy, prisoners, women and children.

On April 29, the four ships were hit by a storm and there was nothing they could do against the waves and the wind. Within a few hours, three of the vessels –the San Esteban, the Espíritu Santo and the Santa María de Ycíar– ended up sinking or running aground on the sandbanks in the area that is now the Padre Island seashore, in the state of Texas. Only one vessel, the San Andrés, escaped the storm and managed to reach Spain.

Many of the three hundred people on board these three ships, including crew and passengers, drowned while trying to reach the shore; others died of hunger and thirst as they walked southward along the beaches trying to find help. A group of survivors was mercilessly attacked by the native Karankawa tribes that inhabited the coast of the Gulf of Texas, from Galveston Bay to Corpus Christi Bay. These tribes had already been in contact with Spaniards since the expedition of Pánfilo de Narváez. Only two men from this group managed to save their lives. One was Marcos de Mena, who was left for dead after being wounded by an arrow. However, he survived and managed to reach Panuco, badly wounded. The other one was Francisco Vázquez, who returned to the area of the shipwreck and hid there until help arrived.

Some thirty men from the San Esteban managed to get on a boat and, under the orders of Francisco del Huerto, arrived in Veracruz to get help. Thanks to them, the port of New Spain sent a salvage expedition commanded by Ángel de Villafañe to the area, tasked with the mission of protecting and salvaging the cargo. Later, a second rescue contingent made up of six vessels, under the command of García de Escalante Alvarado, arrived in the area with the intention of recovering ingots and coins.

According to the testimonies of the time, the masts of the San Esteban could still be seen perfectly, since the galleon had touched bottom at a depth of barely four or five meters. The Espíritu Santo, whose captain was Damián Martín, was found nearby. It had run aground a few meters deep.

The Santa María de Ycíar, commanded by Captain Alonso Ojos, was located on August 20, 1554. Her hull had split and the cargo was scattered all along the coast, north of the mouth of the Rio Grande (Mansfield Channel).

García de Escalante’s expedition was able to recover some thirteen tons of silver, some personal belongings and part of the cargo which consisted of sugar, resin, cochineal dye, skins, wood and some 22,000 pesos. At the time, it was estimated that 41% of the cargo was recovered. About 23 tons of silver and other precious metals, as well as jewelry and religious objects, remained underwater.

Ships assigned to this fleet