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Book VI: the adventures of de Soto. (A. D. 1538-1542.)

These extracts are taken from ‘The Worthy and Famous History of the Travels, Discovery, and Conquest of Terra Florida, accomplished and effected by that worthy General and Captain, Don Ferdinando de Soto, and six hundred Spaniards his followers.’ (Reprinted by Hakluyt Society, 1851.) Pages 9-16, 27-32, 89-92, 120-122, 125-127. This is a translation, made by Hakluyt in 1609, of a narrative by one of the companions of De Soto, first published in 1557.


I.—how de Soto set sail.

Captain Soto was the son of a squire of Xerez of Badajos. He went into the Spanish Indies when Peter Arias of Avila was governor of the West Indies. And there he was without any thing else of his own, save his sword and target. And, for his good qualities and valor, Peter Arias made him captain of a troop of horsemen; and, by his commandment, he went with Fernando Pizarro to the conquest of Peru, where (as many persons of credit reported, which were there present) . . . he passed all other captains and principal persons. For which cause, besides his part of the treasure of Atabalipa, he had a good share; whereby in time he gathered an hundred and fourscore ducats

De Soto.

[122] together, with that which fell to his part, which he brought into Spain. . . . The emperor made him the governor of the Isle of Cuba, and adelantadoor president of Florida, with a title of marquis of certain part of the lands that he should conquer. . . .

When Don Ferdinando had obtained the government, there came a gentleman from the Indies to the court, named Cabeza de Vaca, which had been with the governor Pamphilo de Narvaez, which died in Florida,— who reported that Narvaez was cast away at sea, with all the company that went with him, and how he with four more escaped, and arrived in New Spain; and he brought a relation in writing of that which he had seen in Florida, which said in some places, ‘In such a place I have seen this; and the rest which here I saw, I leave to confer of between his Majesty and myself.’ . . . And he informed them, ‘that it was the richest country in the world.’ Don Ferdinand de Soto was very desirous to have him with him, and made him a favorable offer; and after they were agreed, because Soto gave him not a sum of money which he demanded to buy a ship, they broke off again . . . . .

The Portuguese departed from Elvas the 15th of January, and came to Seville the 19th of the same month, and went to the lodging of the governor, and entered into a court, over the which there were certain galleries where he was, who came down, and received them at the stairs whereby they went up into the galleries. When he was come up, he commanded chairs to be given them to sit on. And Andrew de Vasconcelos told him who he and the other Portuguese were, and how they all were come to accompany him, and serve him in his [123] voyage. He gave him thanks, and made show of great contentment for his coming and offer. And, the table being already laid, he invited them to dinner. And, being at dinner, he commanded his steward to seek a lodging for them near unto his own, where they might be lodged. The adelantadodeparted from Seville to Saint Lucar with all the people which were to go with him. And he commanded a muster to be made, at the which the Portuguese showed themselves armed in very bright armor, and the Castilians very gallant with silk upon silk, with many pinkings and cuts. The governor, because these braveries1 in such an action did not like2 him, commanded that they should muster another day, and every one should come forth with his armor; at the which the Portuguese came, as at the first, with very good armor. The governor placed them in order near unto the standard which the ensign-bearer carried. The Castilians, for the most part, did wear very bad and rusty shirts of mail, and all of them head-pieces and steel caps, and very bad lances; and some of them sought to come among the Portuguese.

So those passed, and were counted and enrolled, which Soto liked and accepted of, and did accompany him into Florida, which were in all six hundred men. He had already bought seven ships, and had all necessary provision aboard them. He appointed captains, and delivered to every one his ship, and gave them in a roll what people every one should carry with them . . . . .

In the year of our Lord 1538, in the month of April, the adelantado delivered his ships to the captains which were to go in them; and took for himself a new [124] ship, and good of sail, and gave another to Andrew de Vasconcelos, in which the Portuguese went. He went over the bar of San Lucar on Sunday, being San Lazarus day, in the morning, of the month and year aforesaid, with great joy, commanding his trumpets to be sounded, and many shots of the ordnance to be discharged.

Ii.—De Soto attacks the Indians, and finds a fellow-countryman.

From the town of Ucita,3 the governor sent the alcalde mayor, Baltasar de Gallegos, with forty horsemen and eighty footmen, into the country, to see if they could take any Indians; and the captain, John Rodriguez Lobillo, another way, with fifty footmen. The most of them were swordmen and targetiers;4 and the rest were shot and crossbow men. They passed through a country full of bogs, where horses could not travel. Half a league from the camp, they lighted upon certain cabins of Indians near a river. The people that were in them leaped into the river; yet they took four Indian women: and twenty Indians charged us, and so distressed us, that we were forced to retire to our camp, being, as they are, exceeding ready with their weapons.

It is a people so warlike and so nimble, that they care not a whit for any footmen; for, if their enemies charge them, they run away; and, if they turn their [125] backs, they are presently upon them; and the thing they most flee is the shot of an arrow. They never stand still, but are always running and traversing5 from one place to another, by reason whereof neither crossbow nor arquebuse can aim at them: and, before one crossbow-man can make one shot, an Indian will discharge three or four arrows; and he seldom misseth what he shooteth at. An arrow, where it findeth no

Landing of de Soto

armor, pierceth as deeply as a crossbow. Their bows are very long; and their arrows are made of certain canes like reeds, very heavy, and so strong, that a sharp cane passeth through a target. Some they arm in the point with a sharp bone of a fish like a chisel; and in [126] others they fasten certain stones like points of diamonds. For the most part, when they light upon an armor, they break in the place where they are bound together. Those of cane do split and pierce a coat of mail, and are more hurtful than the other.

John Rodriguez Lobillo returned to the camp with six men wounded, whereof one died, and brought the four Indian women which Baltasar Gallegos had taken in the cabins or cottages. Two leagues from the town, coming into the plain field, he espied ten or eleven Indians, among whom was a Christian, which was naked and scorched with the sun, and had his arms razed,6 after the manner of the Indians, and differed nothing at all from them. And, as soon as the horsemen saw them, they ran toward them. The Indians fled, and some of them hid themselves in a wood; and they overtook two or three of them which were wounded. And the Christian, seeing an horseman run upon him with his lance, began to cry out, ‘Sirs, I am a Christian Slay me not, nor these Indians; for they have saved my life.’ And straightway he called them, and put them out of fear; and they came forth of the wood unto them. The horsemen took both the Christian and the Indians up behind them, and toward night came into the camp with much joy; which thing being known by the governor and them that remained in the camp, they were received with the like.7


III.—The story of John Ortiz.

This Christian's name was John Ortiz; and he was born in Seville in worshipful parentage.8 He was twelve years in the hands of the Indians. He came into this country with Pamphilo de Narvaez, and returned in the ships to the Island of Cuba, where the wife of the governor, Pamphilo de Narvaez, was; and by his commandment, with twenty or thirty in a brigantine, returned back again to Florida. And coming to the port in the sight of the town, on the shore they saw a cane sticking in the ground, and riven9 at the top, and a letter in it. And they believed that the governor had left it there to give advertisement10 of himself when he resolved to go up into the land; and they demanded it of four or five Indians which walked along the seashore; and they bade them by signs to come on shore for it, which, against the will of the rest, John Ortiz and another did.

And as soon as they were on land, from the houses of the town issued a great number of Indians, which compassed them about, and took them in a place where they could not flee; and the other, which sought to defend himself, they presently killed upon the place, and took John Ortiz alive, and carried him to Ucita, their lord. And those of the brigantine sought not to land, but put themselves to sea, and returned to the Island of Cuba. Ucita commanded to bind John Ortiz hand and foot upon four stakes aloft upon a raft, and to make a fire under him, that there he might be [128] burned. But a daughter of his desired him that he would not put him to death, alleging that one only Christian could do him neither hurt nor good, telling him that it was more for his honor to keep him as a captive. And Ucita granted her request, and commanded him to be cured of his wounds; and, as soon as he was whole, he gave him the charge of the keeping of the temple, because that by night the wolves did carry away the dead bodies out of the same; who commended himself to God, and took upon him the charge of his temple.

One night the wolves got from him the body of a little child, the son of a principal Indian; and, going after them, he threw a dart at one of the wolves, and struck him11 that carried away the body, who, feeling himself wounded, left it, and fell down dead near the place; and he, not wotting12 what he had done, because it was night, went back again to the temple. The morning being come, and finding not the body of the child, he was very sad. As soon as Ucita knew thereof, he resolved to put him to death, and sent by the track which he said the wolves went, and found the body of the child, and the wolf dead a little beyond: whereat Ucita was much contented with the Christian, and with the watch which he kept in the temple, and from thenceforward esteemed him much.

Three years after he fell into his hands, there came another lord, called Mococo, who dwelleth two days journey from the port, and burned his town. Ucita fled to another town that he had in another seaport. Thus John Ortiz lost his office and favor that he had [129] with him. These people, being worshippers of the devil, are wont to offer up unto him the lives and blood of their Indians, or of any other people they can come by; and they report, that, when he will have them do that sacrifice unto him, he speaketh with them, and telleth them that he is athirst, and willeth them to sacrifice unto him. John Ortiz had notice by the damsel that had delivered him from the fire, how her father was determined to sacrifice him the day following, who willed him to flee to Mococo, for she knew that he would use him well; for she heard say that he had asked for him, and said he would be glad to see him. And, because he knew not the way, she went with him half a league out of the town by night, and set him in the way, and returned, because she would not be discovered.

John Ortiz travelled all that night, and by the morning came unto a river which is in the territory of Mococo; and there he saw two Indians fishing. And because they were in war with the people of Ucita, and their languages were different, and he knew not the language of Mococo, he was afraid—because he could not tell them who he was, nor how he came thither; nor was able to answer any thing for himself—that they would kill him, taking him for one of the Indians of Ucita. And, before they espied him, he came to the place where they had laid their weapons; and, as soon as they saw him, they fled toward the town; and although he willed them to stay, because he meant to do them no hurt, yet they understood him not, and ran away as fast as ever they could. And as soon as they came to the town, with great outcries, many Indians [130] came forth against him, and began to compass13 him to shoot at him. John Ortiz, seeing himself in so great danger, shielded himself with certain trees, and began to shriek out, and cry very loud, and to tell them that he was a Christian, and that he was fled from Ucita, and was come to see and serve Mococo, his lord.

It pleased God, that at that very instant there came thither an Indian that could speak the language, and understood him, and pacified the rest, who told them what he said. Then ran from thence three or four Indians to bear the news to their lord, who came forth a quarter of a league from the town to receive him, and was very glad of him. He caused him presently to swear, according to the custom of the Christians, that he would not run away from him to any other lord, and promised him to entreat14 him very well, and that, if at any time there came any Christians into that country, he would freely let him go, and give him leave to go, to them; and likewise took his oath to perform the same according to the Indian custom. About three years after, certain Indians which were fishing at sea, two leagues from the town, brought news to Mococo that they had seen ships; and he called John Ortiz, and gave him leave to go his way; who, taking his leave of him, with all the haste he could, came to the sea; and, finding no ships, he thought it to be some deceit, and that the cacique15 had done the same to learn his mind: so he dwelt with Mococo nine years, with small hope of seeing any Christians.

As soon as our governor arrived in Florida, it was known to Mococo; and straightway he signified to John [131] Ortiz that Christians were lodged in the town of Ucita. And he thought he had jested with him, as he had done before, and told him, that by this time he had forgotten the Christians, and thought of nothing else but to serve him. But he assured him that it was so, and gave him license to go unto them, saying unto him, that if he would not do it, and if the Christians should go their way, he should not blame him; for he had fulfilled that which he had promised him. The joy of John Ortiz was so great, that he could not believe that it was true; notwithstanding, he gave him thanks, and took his leave of him. And Mococo gave him ten or eleven principal Indians to bear him company. And, as they went to the port where the governor was, they met with Baltasar de Gallegos, as I have declared before.

Iv.—De Soto discovers the Mississippi.

The next day, when the governor expected the cacique, there came many Indians with their bows and arrows, with a purpose to set upon16 the Christians. The governor had commanded all the horsemen to be armed and on horseback, and in a readiness. When the Indians saw that they were ready, they stayed a crossbow-shot from the place where the governor was, near a brook. And, after half an hour that they had stood there still, there came to the camp six principal Indians, and said they came to see what people they were; and that long ago they had been informed by their forefathers that a white people should subdue them, and therefore they [132] would return to their cacique, and bid him come presently, to obey and serve the governor. And, after they had presented him with six or seven skins and mantles which they brought, they took their leave of him, and returned with the other, which waited for them by the brookside. The cacique never came again, nor sent other message.

And, because in the town where the governor lodged there was small store of maize, he removed to another half a league from Rio Grande,17 where they found plenty of maize. And he went to see the river, and found that near unto it was great store of timber to make barges, and good situation of ground to encamp in. Presently he removed himself thither. They made houses, and pitched their camp in a plain field, a crossbow-shot from the river. And thither was gathered all the maize of the towns which they had lately passed. They began presently to cut and hew down timber, and to saw planks for barges. The Indians came presently down the river: they leaped on shore, and declared to the governor that they were subjects of a great lord, whose name was Aquixo, who was lord of many towns, and governed many people on the other side of the river; and came to tell him, on his behalf, that the next day he, with all his men, would come to see what it would please him to command him.

The next day, with speed, the cacique came with two hundred canoes full of Indians, with their bows and arrows, painted, and with great plumes of white feathers, and many other colors, with shields in their hands, wherewith they defended the rowers on both sides; and [133] the men-of-war stood from the head to the stern, with their bows and arrows in their hands. The canoe wherein the cacique was had a tilt18 over the stern; and he sat under the tilt: and so were other canoes of the principal Indians. And from under the tilt, where the chief man sat, he governed and commanded the other people. All joined together, and came within a stone's-cast of the shore.

From thence the cacique said to the governor, which walked along the river's side with others that waited on him, that he was come thither to visit, to honor, and to obey him, because he knew he was the greatest and mightiest lord on the earth: therefore he would see what he would command him to do. The governor yielded him thanks, and requested him to come on shore, that they might the better communicate together. And, without any answer to that point, he sent him three canoes, wherein was great store of fish, and loaves made of the substance of prunes,19 like unto bricks. After he had received all, he thanked him, and prayed him again to come on shore. And, because the cacique's purpose was to see if with dissimulation he might do some hurt, when they saw that the governor and his men were in readiness, they began to go from the shore; and, with a great cry, the crossbow-men which were ready shot at them, and slew five or six of them. They retired with great order. None did leave his oar, though the next to him were slain; and, shielding themselves, they went farther off. Afterward they came many times, and landed; and, when any of us came toward them, they fled unto their canoes, which were pleasant to [134] behold, for they were very great, and well made, and had their awnings, plumes, shields, and flags; and, with the multitude of people that were in them, they seemed to be a fair army of galleys.

In thirty days space, while the governor remained there, they made four barges, in three of which he commanded twelve horsemen to enter (in each of them four), in a morning, three hours before day,—men which he trusted would land in despite of the Indians, and make sure the passage, or die; and some footmen, being crossbow-men, went with them, and rowers to set them on the other side. And in the other barge he commanded John de Guzman to pass with the footmen, which was made captain instead of Francisco Maldonado. And, because the stream was swift, they went a quarter of a league up the river, along the bank, and, crossing over, fell down with the stream, and landed right over against the camps.

Two stones'-cast before they came to land, the horsemen went out of the barges on horseback, to a sandy plot of very hard and clear ground, where all of them landed without any resistance. As soon as those that passed first were on land on the other side, the barges returned to the place where the governor was; and, within two hours after sunrising, all the people were over.20 The river was almost half a league broad. If a man stood still on the other side, it could not be discerned whether he were a man or no. The river was of great depth, and of a strong current. The river was always muddy. There came down the river continually many trees and timber, which the force of the water and [135] stream brought down. There was great store of fish in it, of sundry sorts, and the most of it differing from the fresh-water fish of Spain, as hereafter shall be shown.

V.—De Soto's vain attempts to reach the sea.

That day came an Indian to the governor from the cacique of Guachoya, and said that his lord would come the next day. The next day they saw many canoes come up the river; and on the other side of the great river they assembled together in the space of an hour. They consulted whether they should come or not; and at length concluded to come, and crossed the river. In them came the cacique of Guachoya, and brought with him many Indians, with great store of fish, dogs, deer's skins, and mantles. And, as soon as they landed, they went to the lodging of the governor, and presented him their gifts. And the cacique uttered these words:—

Mighty and excellent lord, I beseech your lordship to pardon me the error which I committed in absenting myself, and not tarrying in this town to have received your lordship. . . . But I feared that which I needed not to have feared, and so did that which was not reason to do. . . .

The governor received him with much joy, and gave him thanks for his present and offer. He asked him whether he had any notice of the sea. He answered, No, nor of any towns down the river on that side, save that two leagues from thence was one town of a principal Indian, a subject of his; and on the other side of the river, three days journey from thence down the [136] river, was the province of Quigalta, which was the greatest lord that was in that country. The governor thought that the cacique lied unto him to rid21 him out of his own towns, and sent John Danusco, with eight horsemen, down the river to see what habitation there was, and to inform himself if there were any notice of the sea. He travelled eight days; and at his return he said, that, in all that time, he was not able to go above fourteen or fifteen leagues, because of the great creeks that came out of the river, and groves of canes and thick woods that were along the banks of the river, and that he had found no habitation.

The governor fell into great dumps to see how hard it was to get to the sea, and worse because his men and horses every day diminished, being without succor to sustain themselves in the country; and with that thought he fell sick. But, before he took his bed, he sent an Indian to the cacique of Quigalta, to tell him that he was the child of the sun; and that, all the way that he came, all men obeyed and served him; that he requested him to accept of his friendship, and come unto him, for he would be very glad to see him; and, in sign of love and obedience, to bring something with him of that which in his country was most esteemed. The cacique answered by the same Indian,—

That whereas he said he was the child of the sun, if he would dry up the river, he would believe him. And touching the rest, that he was wont to visit none; but, rather, that all those of whom he had notice did visit him, served, obeyed, and paid him tributes, either willingly or perforce: therefore, if he desired to see him, [137] it were best that he should come thither; that, if he came in peace, he would receive him with special goodwill; and, if in war, in like manner he would attend him in the town where he was; and that for him, or any other, he would not shrink one foot back.

By that time the Indian returned with this answer, the governor had betaken himself to bed, being evil handled22 with fevers, and was much aggrieved that he was not in case to pass presently the river, and to seek him, to see if he could abate that pride of his,23 considering the river went now very strongly in those parts; for it was near half a league broad, and sixteen fathoms deep, and very furious, and ran with a great current; and on both sides there were many Indians; and his power24 was not now so great, but that he had need to help himself rather by sleights than by force. The Indians of Guachoya came every day with fish in such numbers, that the town was full of them. The cacique said, that, on a certain night, he of Quigalta would come to give battle to the governor, which the governor imagined that he had devised to drive him out of his country, and commanded him to be put in hold;25 and that night, and all the rest, there was good watch kept. He asked him wherefore Quigalta came not. He said that he came; but that he saw him prepared, and therefore durst not give the attempt. And all night the horsemen went the round; and two and two of every squadron rode about, and visited the scouts that were without the town in their standings by the passages, and the crossbow-men that kept the canoes in the rivers.


VI.—Death and burial of de Soto.

The next day, being the 21st of May, 1542, departed out of this life the valorous, virtuous, and valiant captain, Don Ferdinando de Soto, governor of Cuba, and adelantadoof Florida, whom fortune advanced, as it used to do others, that he might have the higher fall. He departed in such a place and at such a time, as [that] in his sickness he had but little comfort; and the danger wherein all his people were of perishing in that country, which appeared before their eyes, was cause sufficient why every one of them had need of comfort, and why they did not visit nor accompany him as they ought to have done. Luys de Moscoso determined to conceal his death from the Indians, because Ferdinando de Soto had made them believe that the Christians were immortal, and also because they took him to be hardy, wise, and valiant; and, if they should know that he was dead, they would be bold to set upon26 the Christians, though they lived peaceably by them. In regard to their disposition, and because they were nothing constant, and believed all that was told them, the adelantadomade them believe that he knew some things that passed in secret among themselves, without their knowledge how or in what manner he came by them; and that the figure which appeared in a glass27 which he showed them did tell him whatsoever they practised and went about; and therefore neither in word nor deed durst they attempt any thing that might be prejudicial unto him. [139]

As soon as he was dead, Luys de Moscoso commanded to put him secretly in a house, where he remained three days; and, removing him from thence, commanded him to be buried in the night at one of the gates of the town within the wall. And as the Indians had seen him sick, and missed him, so did they suspect what might be. And passing by the place where he was buried, seeing the earth moved, they looked and spake one to another. Luys de Moscoso, understanding of it, commanded him to be taken up by night, and to cast a great deal of sand into the mantles wherein he was winded up, wherein he was carried in a canoe, and thrown into the midst of the river.

The cacique of Guachoya inquired for him, demanding what was become of his brother and lord, the governor. Luys de Moscoso told him that he was gone to heaven, as many other times he did; and, because he was to stay there certain days, he had left him in his place. The cacique thought with himself that he was dead, and commanded two young and wellpropor-tioned Indians to be brought thither, and said that the use of that country was, when any lord died, to kill Indians to wait upon him, and serve him by the way; and for that purpose, by his commandment, were those come thither; and prayed Luys de Moscoso to command them to be beheaded, that they might attend and serve his lord and brother. Luys de Moscoso told him that the governor was not dead, but gone to heaven, and that of his own Christian soldiers he had taken such as he needed to serve him; and prayed him to command those Indians to be loosed, and not to use [140] any such bad custom from thenceforth. Straightway he commanded them to be loosed, and to get them home to their houses. And one of them would not go, saying that he would not serve him that without desert had judged him to death; but that he would serve him, as long as he lived, which had saved his life.

[After the death of De Soto, his companions descended the Mississippi to its mouth.]

1 Fine clothes.

2 Please.

3 Probably near the Hillsborough River in Florida.

4 Men who carried swords and targets. Others carried matchlock guns (arquebuses) or cross-bows.

5 Crossing.

6 Made smooth.

7 With the same joy.

8 Of a good family

9 Split

10 Information.

11 The wolf.

12 Knowing.

13 Surround.

14 Treat.

15 Chief.

16 Attack.

17 The Great River, or Mississippi.

18 An awning.

19 Persimmons.

20 The place of crossing was probably near Helena, Arkansas.

21 i.e., get rid of him.

22 Sorely troubled.

23 i.e., subdue the Indian chief.

24 Military force.

25 Confinement.

26 Attack.

27 i.e., their own reflection in a mirror,

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