Diego Álvares, the father of Cachoeira’s founders, was the sole survivor of a ship bound for the West Indies that was wrecked in 1510 on a reef near Salvador. This Portuguese Robinson Crusoe was saved by the Tupinambá Indians of Rio Vermelho, who dubbed the strange white sea creature Caramuru, or ‘Fish-Man.’ Álvares lived 20 years with the Indians and married Catarina do Paraguaçu, the daughter of the most powerful Tupinambá chief. Their sons João Gaspar Aderno Álvares and Rodrigues Martins Álvares killed off the local indigenous people, set up the first sugarcane fazendas (ranches) and founded Cachoeira.
By the 18th century, tobacco from Cachoeira was considered the world’s finest, sought by rulers in China and Africa. The ‘holy herb’ also became popular in Brazil, taken as snuff, smoked in a pipe or chewed.
Early in the 19th century, Cachoeira achieved fame as a center for military operations in Bahia to oust the Portuguese rulers, and was the first place to recognize Dom Pedro I as the independent ruler of Brazil. Since then, not much has happened in this sleepy town.