Of the departure of Governor Hernando de Soto from the island of Cuba, alias Fernandina, for the northern territories of the Mainland; of the army and people that he took for his discoveries; of the troubles they faced upon landing; the number of horses and other things he took with him; and about how they rescued a Christian, named Juan Ortiz, who had been lost and was naked like the Indians.
Translated by Onyx Beytia ’22
On Sunday, the 18th of May, 1539, Governor Hernando de Soto left the town of Havana with a fine fleet of nine ships, five square-rigged carracks, two caravels, and two brigantines; and on the 25th of the same month, which was Easter day, land was seen on the northern coast of the province of Florida, and the fleet came together two leagues from land in four fathoms of depth or less. The Governor jumped onto a brigantine to go on land, and with him went a gentleman, named Juan de Añasco, and the main pilot of the fleet, called Alonso Martin, to ascertain what land it was, because they were uncertain about the port and how to approach it; and being uncertain and seeing that night was approaching, they tried to rejoin the other ships, but the weather did not give them time to do so, as they had contrary winds: so they got close to land and went on shore and found traces of many Indians and one of the large bohíos or huts of the kind they had seen in the Indies, as well as other smaller ones. It was said later that this was the town of Ocita.
The Governor and those with him were in no slight danger, being so few and lacking weapons, as it was also no slight cause of distress for those back on the ships to see their Captain General in such a predicament, because they could neither assist nor help him if it became necessary. In short, so much care was neglected, and there was too much diligence and not enough prudence on the Governor’s part, because those tasks are the responsibility of others and not of the one who must command and lead the host, and it would have been enough to send a lower-ranked captain to protect the safety of the pilot who had to scout the coast. And while the Governor’s ships remained in their distress, the rest of the fleet awaited, which consisted of five hundred and seventy men, not counting the sailors, which, if counted, would bring the numbers up to seven hundred men.
On the next day, Monday morning, the brig was quite distant from the other ships and struggling to join them, but in no way could. Seeing this, Baltasar de Gallegos bellowed to the flagship so the Lieutenant General, a gentleman named Vasco Porcallo, determined what would be best to do; but since they could not hear him, in order to help the Governor, he ordered a large caravel to set sail towards the spot where the brig was struggling: and although this grieved the Governor, he was pleased with it as it was done in his service and in order to help him. They finally reached the brig, which pleased the Governor very much. The port had already been scouted and the other brig had been placed on the channel as a signal to the other ships, and the Governor’s brig came forward to place the caravel on the harbor channel; he ordered the caravel to remain on one side of the channel and the brig on the other, so that the ships would pass between them: the ships, which were about four or five leagues away, were beginning to set sail, and it was necessary for the Governor to go show them the way, because the main pilot was in the brig, and because there are many shallow areas there, and even with their guidance two ships touched bottom, but since the bottom was sand, they suffered no damage. On this day the Governor and Juan de Añasco, contador or accountant for Their Majesties, had bitter words, which the Governor concealed and endured. The ships entered the port with their sounding lines at hand, and sometimes they touched bottom, but as the bottom was slime they moved along; and thus they remained five days without disembarking, although some people went ashore to bring back water and grass for the horses. But in the end, the port was too shallow for the ships to reach the place where the town was and they disembarked four leagues away; and on Friday, the thirtieth of May, they started to debark the horses. The land where they disembarked was northwest of the isle of Tortuga, which is at the mouth of the Bahama Channel; and the chief or lord of that land was named Ocita, and his land was ten leagues to the west of the bay of Juan Ponce.
As soon as the horses were on land, General Vasco Porcallo de Figuera, Juan de Añasco, and Francisco Osorio rode out to see something of the land and found ten Indians armed with bows and arrows who were also coming—as men of war—to greet these guests and learn what kind of people they were, and they injured two horses, and the Spaniards killed two of the Indians and the others fled. There were two hundred and forty-three horses in that fleet and nineteen or twenty had died at sea, and all the rest were brought ashore and once they had disembarked, the general and some of his foot soldiers went to see the town and an hidalgo called Gomez Arias returned and brought good news of the land but also said that the people living there were in revolt. On Sunday the first of June of the already mentioned year 1539, on the day of the Trinity, the army marched inland towards the village, led by four Indians that Juan de Añasco had captured when he went to scout the harbor; and they mistook something, either because they Christians did not understand them or because they were not telling the truth, so the Governor went ahead with some of the horsemen; and since they had no experience of the land, the horses became tired chasing after deer, and crossing ponds and swamps, and traveling the distance of twelve leagues until they were back at the edge of the town, on the wrong side of the cove, so they could not ford it, and they spilled around to sleep, very tired and with no battle plan. During that week the ships arrived near the town, and were unloaded little by little using skiffs, and thus they were able to unload all the clothes and other necessities that they carried. There were a few roads but nobody knew where they led and they had to guess which should be taken so as to find the natives of this land: they had the four Indians, but they understood little of what they said and they communicated mostly by signs, and guarding them was difficult because there were no prisons available. On Tuesday, June 3, the Governor took possession of the land on behalf of Their Majesties with all the necessary ceremonies, and sent one of the Indians to persuade and invite the regional caciques into peace. Two of the three Indians who remained fled that same night, and it was very fortunate that not all three left, which still left the Christians in great alert.
A day later, on Wednesday, the Governor sent Captain Baltasar de Gallegos with the remaining Indian to look for some people or town or house while the sun was setting, going out of the way since the Indian who was guiding them had rendered them despondent and confused: thank God one of them saw from afar up to twenty emblazoned Indians (decorated with a certain red anointment that the Indians put on when they go to war or want to look good), and they wore many plumes and had their bows and arrows. As the Christians ran against them, the fleeing Indians went up into the hills, and one of them came out on the road and said: “Sirs, for the love of God and the Holy Maria do not kill me: I am a Christian, like you, and I’m from Seville and my name is Juan Ortiz.” The pleasure that the Christians felt was very great in that God had given them a translator and guide at such a time when they were in great need. Bolstered by this stroke of luck, Baltasar de Gallegos and his men returned to the encampment very late that evening, accompanied by the Indians who had accompanied Juan Ortiz, and the Spaniards in the army became very agitated, misreading the situation and preparing for battle; but once they understood what was happening there was much joy, calculating that having such an interpreter would improve their prospects. Without wasting time, on the following Saturday the Governor decided to go with that Juan Ortiz, the translator, to the chief who had kept him, whom they called Mocozo, to establish peace among them and bring them into friendship with the Christians, and he met them in his village with his Indians and women and children all present, and complained to the Governor about the Orriygua, Neguarete, Capaloey and Ecits caciques, all four chieftains from that coast, saying that they had threatened him because he had accepted our friendship and was pleased to give the Christian translator back to the Spaniards. The Governor told him through this same translator that he should not fear these caciques or any others, because he would favor him and all the Christians and many more who were to come soon would be his friends and would help him and support him against his enemies. This same day Captain Juan Ruiz Lobillo left with up to forty soldiers on foot to go inland, and ran into some farmsteads, and could only capture two Indian women: and in an attempt to recover them, nine Indians followed them for three leagues, shooting arrows at them, and they killed one Christian and wounded three or four more without any damage to their own men, since those Indians are very capable and great men of war, as can be found in all nations of the world.