they need of any thing besides his friendship.
The Cacique Vitachuco dissembles his plot to de
stroy the Spaniards.
1539. THE chieftain, Vitachuco, pretended to be
well contented with the reply of the Governor, a
day was appointed for their meeting, and the Ca
cique ordered an abundant supply of provisions
for the troops and horses to be brought from all
parts of his domains, and deposited in the chief
On the appointed day Vitachuco went forth from
his village, accompanied by his two brothers and
five hundred Indian warriors, all graceful men,
adorned with plumes of various colours, and armed
with bows and arrows of the finest workmanship.
At the distance of two leagues they found the Gover
nor, .encamped with his army in a beautiful valley.
Their meeting was cordial, and the Cacique en
deavoured to atone for past threats and menaces,
by professions of present amity and promises of fu
ture services and allegiance, all which were gra
ciously received by De Soto,
124 CONQUEST OF FLORIDA.
Vitachuco was about thirty-five years of age, of
very good stature, and strongly formed, as the In
dians of Florida generally were, and evinced in his
countenance the bravery of his spirit.
The ensuing day the Spaniards entered in order
of battle, into the principal village, bearing the same
name as the Cacique. It consisted of two hundred
houses, large and strong, besides many others of
smaller size which were in the suburbs. The Go
vernor and his body guards and servants, together
with the three brother Caciques, lodged in the house
of Vitachuco, as it was of ample size to accommo
date them all.
Two days were passed in feasting and rejoicing.
On the third day, the two brothers of Vitachuco ob
tained leave to return to their respective territories,
and departed well pleased with the good treatment
and the many presents they had received from the
After their departure, Vitachuco redoubled his
courtesy and kindness to the Spaniards, and seemed
as if he thought he could not do enough to serve
and gratify them. Five days only had elapsed, how
ever, when Juan Ortiz came to the Governor and
informed him of a perfidious plot devised by the Ca
cique, and which had been revealed to him by four
of the Indian interpreters. He had selected several
CONQUEST OF FLORIDA. 125
thousand of his bravest warriors, and had ordered
them to conceal their weapons in a thicket near to
the village, and to appear at all times unarmed, so
as to throw the Spaniards off their guard. On an
appointed day he was to invite the Governor to
go forth and see a general muster of his subjects,
drawn up in battle array, though without weapons,
that he might know what a number of Indian al
lies he had at his command for his future con
Trusting that the Governor, from the amity exist
ing between them, would go forth carelessly and
alone, a dozen of the fiercest and most powerful In
dians were suddenly to seize him and bear him into
the midst of their warriors; who, seizing their arms,
were to attack the Spaniards in their camp. In this
way, between the surprise of the sudden assault,
and the dismay at the capture of their General, he
trusted to have an easy conquest i in which case,
he intended to make good his extravagant me
naces, and inflict on his prisoners all kinds of
strange, cruel, and tormenting deaths.
The Adelantado having learnt the perfidy of the
Cacique, and having consulted with his Captains, it
was determined that the best and most justifiable
plan would be, to take Vitachuco in the same way
that he intended to take the Governor ; so that he
126 CONQUEST OF FLORIDA.
would thus fall into his own snare. For that purpose,
twelve of the stoutest soldiers were selected, to be
near the Governor at the time he should go forth to
view the Indian army, and at a certain signal, were
to seize upon the Cacique. These things being con
certed in secret, the Spaniards watched Vitachuco s
movements, but at the same time, maintained an air
of careless unconcern.
The day so much desired having arrived, Vita-
chuco came to the Governor early in the morning,
and with much humility and seeming veneration,
begged him to confer a great favour on himself and
all his subjects, by going out of the camp to behold
them arranged in order of battle, that he might
know the number that were at his service, and might
see whether the Indians of this country knew how
to form their squadrons as well as other nations
who he had heard were skilled in the art of war.
The Governor replied, with an unsuspicious air,
that he would rejoice greatly to see them ; and that,
to make the display more striking, and furnish the
Indians likewise with a sight, he would order his
horse and foot soldiers to go out and place them
selves in squadrons ; and have a mock fight for each
other s entertainment.
The Cacique did not much relish this proposition,
CONQUEST OF FLORIDA. 127
but being blinded by his vengeful passions, he agreed
to the arrangement ; trusting to the number and va
lour of his vassals to overthrow the Spaniards, be
they ever so well prepared.
Battle with Vitachuco.
1539. ALL things being arranged, the Spaniards
inarched forth, horse and foot, in battle array, with
glittering arms and fluttering banners. As to the
Governor, he remained behind, to accompany the
Cacique on foot, the better to appear unsuspicious
of the latent treason. He went, however, secretly
armed ; and he ordered two of his finest horses to
be led forth caparisoned for service. One of these,
is especially mentioned as a beautiful and noble spi
rited animal. He was named Aceytuno, after Ma-
teo de Aceytuno, a brave cavalier who had made
him a present to the Governor.
Near the village was a large plain. It had on one
side a lofty and dense forest, on the other, two
lakes : the one about a league in circumference,
clear of trees, but so deep, that three or four feet
from the bank no footing could be found. The se
cond, which was at greater distance from the village,
was more than half a league in width, and appear
ed like a vast river, extending as far as the eye
CONQUEST OF FLORIDA. 129
could reach. Between the forest and these two
lakes, the Indians formed their squadrons, having the
lakes on their right flank, and the forest on the left.
Their bows and arrow r s were concealed in the grass,
in orderthat they might appear to be totally unarm
ed. Their force might be about ten thousand, cho
sen warriors, decorated with lofty plumes, which
increased their apparent height ; and, being drawn
out with somewhat of military order, they made a
The Cacique and Hernando de Soto came forth
on foot, each accompanied by twelve of his people,
and each burning with the same spirit and determi
nation against the other. The Spanish troops were
to the right of the Governor ; the infantry drawn up
near to the forest, and the cavalry advanced into
It was between nine and ten of the morning,
when De Soto and Vitachuco r.rrived at the spot,
which the latter had fixed upon for the seizure of
the Governor. Before the Cacique, however, could
make his preconcerted signal, a Spanish trumpet
gave a warning blast.* In an instant the twelve
Spaniards rushed upon the Cacique. His attendant
Indians threw themselves before him, and endea-
* Portuguese Narrative, c. 11.
130 CONQUEST OF FLORIDA.
voured to repel the assailants, but in vain. He was
borne off captive.
At the same time,De Soto leaped upon his favour
ite steed AceytuHo, and spurred him upon the thick
est of the enemy, with that headlong valour w ? hich
always distinguished him in battle. The Indians
had already seized their weapons. Their first ranks
were thrown into confusion by the impetuous
charge of De Soto ; but as he pressed forward, a
shower of arrows came whistling about him. They
were principally aimed at his horse, the Indians al
ways seeking most to kill these animals, knowing
their importance in battle. Four of the arrows
wounded the generous animal in the knees, four
pierced him in the breast, and he fell to the earth
dead, as if shot by a piece of artillery.* .
In the mean time, the Spanish troops at the trum
pet signal, had assailed the Indian squadrons, and
now came pressing up at this critical moment, to the
aid of their general. One of his pages named Vio-
ta, a youth of noble birth, sprang from his horse and
aided De Soto to mount him. The Governor once
more on horseback, put himself at the head of his
cavalry, and spurred among the Indians. The lat-
* Herrera. Decad. 6. L. 7, c. 11.
Garcilaso de la Vega, P. 1, L. 2. c. 23.
Portuguese Narrative, c. 11.
CONQUEST OF FLORIDA. 131
terhad no lances to defend themselves ; and, being
assailed by three hundred horse, broke and fled in
every direction. A great number of those who
were in the rear, took refuge among the entangled
thickets of the forest ; others, threw themselves into
the large lake and escaped, while others again scat
tered themselves wildly over the plain, where more
than three hundred were killed, and a few taken.
The worse fate attended the vanguard, compos
ed of the bravest warriors ; who are always doom
ed to fare the worst in battle. After receiving the
first impetuous charge of the cavalry, they fled;
but, being unable to reach either the forest, or the
large lake, more than nine hundred threw them
selves into the smaller one. Here they were sur
rounded by the Spaniards, who endeavoured by
threats and promises, and occasional shots from
their cross bows, and arquebusses, to induce them
to surrender. The Indians replied only by flights
of arrows. As the lake was too deep to give them
footing, three or four would cling together, and sup
port each other by swimming, while one would
mount upon their backs, and ply his bow and ar
rows. In this way an incessant skirmishing was
kept up all day long ; numbers of the Indians were
slain, all their arms were exhausted, yet no one
gave signs of surrendering.
132 CONQUEST OF FLORIDA.
When night came, the Spaniards posted them
selves round the lake, the horse by two and two,
the foot in parties of six, near to each other, lest the
Indians should escape in the dark. Some of the
latter endeavoured to save themselves, by covering
their heads with the leaves of water lilies, and
swimming noiselessly to the shore ; but, the watch
ful troopers perceiving the turmoil and bubbling in
the water, would spur their horses to the bank, and
drive the Indians again into the channel,* in hopes
of tiring them out, and thus forcing them to capitu
late ; for, while the Spaniards threatened them with
death, if they did not yield, they offered them peace
and friendship if they would surrender.
So obstinate were they, however, that midnight
arrived before one of them had submitted, although
they had passed fourteen hours in the water. At
length, however, the intercessions of Juan Ortiz, and
the four Indian interpreters, began to have effect.
The most weary would render themselves, one and
two at a time, but so slowly, that by the dawn of
day not more than fifty had surrendered. The re
sidue seeing that these were kindly treated, and
being admonished by them, now gave themselves up
in greater numbers, but still slowly and reluctantly.
Some when near the bank would return to the mid-
* Portuguese Narrative, c. 11.
CONQUEST OF FLORIDA. 133
die of the lake, until the love of life compelled them
to yield. At length, at ten o clock, two hundred
came to shore at the same time, and surrendered
themselves, after having been swimming four and
twenty hours. They were in wretched condition,
swollen with the water they had swallowed, and
overcome with fatigue, hunger, and the want of sleep.
There still remained seven Indians in the lake, men
of such unconquerable spirit that neither the prayers
of the interpreters, the promises of the Governor,
nor the example of their comrades, who had sur
rendered, had any effect upon them.* They treat
ed all promises with scorn, and defied both menaces
and death. In this w T ay they remained until three in
the afternoon, and would have remained there until
they died. The Governor, however, was struck
with admiration of their courage and magnanimity,
and thought it would be inhuman to allow such
brave men to perish. He ordered twelve Spaniards
therefore, expert swimmers, to go into the lake with
their swords in their mouths, and draw these war
riors forth. The Indians were too much exhausted
to resist ; the Spaniards seized them by the legs,
the arms, and hair, drew them t6 land, and threw
them upon the bank, where they lay extended upon
* Portuguese Narrative, c. 11.
134 CONQUEST OF FLORIDA.
the sane, more dead than alive ;* having according
to the Spanish narrator, been for thirty hours in the
water, apparently without putting foot to the ground
or receiving any other relief: an exploit, adds the
Inca historian, almost incredible, and which I would
not dare to write, if it were v not for the authority
of so many cavaliers and nobles, who, in the In
dies, and in Spain, assured me of the truth of it,
besides the authority of him who related this histo
ry to me, and who, in all things, is worthy of belief.
The reader, however, without questioning the
veracity of the cavaliers, will be prone to surmise
that the Indians were enabled, from time to time, to
snatch a few moments of repose, on shallows near
the banks of the lake.
The heroic obstinacy of the seven Indians, had
extorted the admiration of the Spaniards. Moved
to compassion by their present deplorable state,
they bore them to the encampment ; and used such
assiduous means, that they were restored to anima
tion in the course of the night.
The next morning, the Governor summoned them
before him, and pretending to be angry, demanded
* The Portuguese Narrative adds, that they were immediately
put into irons. The Inca s account, however, of the treatment of
the Spaniards towards these brave warriors, is more in unison
with the generous nature of De Soto.
CONQUEST OF FLORIDA. 135 a
the reason of their desperate resistance, and why
they had not surrendered themselves as their com
panions had done.
Four of them, who were in the prime of man
hood, replied, that they were leaders, or captains,
chosen as such by their Cacique, from his confi
dence in their courage and constancy. Their ac
tions were to justify his choice. They were bound
to set an example to their children, to their brother
warriors, and above all. to such as should thence
forth be appointed as leaders. They felt as if being
alive, they had failed in fulfilling their duty, and
vindicating their honour ; and, while they acknow
ledged the kindness of the Governor, regretted only
that he had not left them to perish in the lake. " If
you want to add to your favours," said they, " take
our lives. After surviving the defeat and capture of
our chieftain, we are not worthy to appear before
him, or to live in the world."*
The Governor listened with admiration to the he
roic words of these savage warriors ; and when
they had finished, he turned to their three compa
nions, who had remained silent. These were young
men not more than eighteen years of age, sons and
heirs to Caciques of the adjacent provinces. The
* Gareilaso de la Vega. P. 1, L. 2, c. 25.
Herrera. Decad, 6, L, 7, c. 11.
136 CONQUEST OF FLORIDA.
Governor demanded of them their reason for persist
ing so desperately in their defence, as they were
not leaders, nor bound by the same obligations, as
They replied with a proud and lofty air, that they
had been incited to hostility, not through a desire
for gain, or through any implacable spirit against the
Spaniards, but, merely from a thirst for glory.
That although they were not chiefs, yet as the sons
of Caciques, and destined one day to be Caciques
themselves, they felt bound more than all others to
signalize themselves by bravery in action, and by a
contempt for suffering and death. " These, O off
spring of the sun !" said they, " are the reasons for
our obstinate hostility : if they are sufficient in your
eyes, pardon us ; if not, we are at your mercy.
Strike us dead, for nothing is prohibited to the con
The noble spirit and heroic words of these gene
rous youths, charmed all the Spaniards who were
present ; and their hearts were touched at seeing
them exposed so young, to such adversity. The
Governor likewise, who was of a compassionate
nature, was moved to pity. He arose and embraced
them as if they were his own sons ; commending
their valour and heroism, which he considered as
proofs of noble blood, and illustrious descent.
CONQUEST OF FLORIDA. 137
For two days, he detained them in the camp, feast
ing them at his table, and treating thsm with every
distinction ; at the end of which time, he dismissed
them with presents of linen, cloths, silks, mirrors, and
other articles of Spanish manufacture. He also
sent by them presents to their fathers and other re
lations, with proffers of his friendship. The young
Caciques took leave of him with many expressions
of gratitude, and departed joyfully for their homes,
accompanied by a number of their countrymen
whom he had liberated.
As to the four captive leaders, they were retained
as prisoners, and on the following day were sum
moned before the Governor, with their Cacique Vi-
tachuco. De Soto reproached them all with the
treacherous and murderous plot they had devised
against him and his soldiers, at a time when they
were professing the kindest amity. Such treason,
he observed, merited death: yet, he wished to give
the natives an evidence of his clemency : he par
doned them, therefore, and restored them to his
friendship ; warning them, however, to beware how
they again deceived him, or trespassed against the
safety and welfare of Spaniards, lest they should
bring down upon themselves dire and terrible re
The Indians who had come out of the lake and
138 CONQUEST OF^ FLORIDA.
surrendered themselves, were distributed among the
Spaniards to serve them as menials, during their so
journ in the province. This was partly as a punish
ment to them for their participation in the late trea
son, and partly as an example to warn the neigh
bouring Indians from like aggressions.
Death of Vitachuco and his warriors.
1539. VITACHUCO now remained in some sort a
prisoner in his own house, but was treated with
great kindness and respect, and dined at the Gover
nor s table. Rage and hatred, however, still rankled
in his heart ; and he soon conceived another scheme
of vengeance. Nine hundred of his most noble, va
liant, and well tried warriors, were dispersed among
the Spaniards ; equalling the latter in number, and,
as he thought, in personal prowess. They attended
their new masters as slaves at meal times, when the
Spaniards would be seated, off their guard, and
many of them without weapons. At such a mo
ment, he conceived it would be easy, by a precon
certed movement, for the Indians to strike a signal
blow that should rid them at once of their oppres
Scarcely had Vitachuco conceived this rash
scheme, than he hastened to put it into operation.
He had four young Indians to attend him as pages.
These he sent to the principal prisoners revealing
140 CONQUEST OF FLORIDA.
his plan, with orders that they should pass it secretly
and adroitly from one to another, and hold them
selves in readiness, at the appointed time, to carry
it into effect. The dinner hour of the third day was
the time fixed upon for striking the blow. Vitachuco
would be dining with the Governor, and the Indians
in general attending upon their respective masters.
The Cacique was to watch his opportunity, spring
upon the Governor and kill him ; giving, at the mo
ment of assault, a war-whoop that should resound
throughout the village. The war-whoop was to be
the signal for every Indian in the place to grapple
with his master, or with any other Spaniard that
might be at hand, and despatch him oh the spot.
Many of the poor Indians saw the perfect mad
ness of this second project ; but, accustomed to yield
implicit obedience to their chiefs, they nevertheless
promised to carry it through or perish in the at
On the day appointed, Vitachuco dined as usual
at the table of the Governor, who sought to win his
friendship by the kindest attentions. When the re
past was concluded, he straightened himself upon
the bench upon which he was seated, and twisting
his body from side to side, he stretched first one
arm, then the other, to the full extent, with clinched
fists, then drew them up so that his fists rested on
CONQUEST OF FLORIDA. 141
his shoulders, then jerked them out two or three
times, until every joint cracked like a snapped reed.
In this way the Indians of Florida used to rally their
strength when about to undertake any extraordinary
After this preparation the Cacique sprang upon
his feet, closed instantly with the Governor, at whose
side he had been seated, and seized him with the
left hand by the collar ; with the other fist he dealt
him such a furious blow in the face as to level him
with the ground, the blood gushing out of eyes,
nose, and mouth, as if he had been struck with a
club. The Cacique threw himself upon his victim
to finish his work, giving, at the same time, the sig
nal war-whoop, with such force that it might be
heard for a quarter of a league about.
All this was the work of an instant, and before
the officers present had time to recover from their
astonishment, the Governor lay senseless beneath
the tiger grasp of Vitachuco. One more blow from
the savage would have been fatal ; but before he
could give it, a dozen swords and lances were thrust
through his body, and he fell dead, blaspheming
heaven and earth at having failed in his attempt.
The war-whoop of the Cacique had been heard
and obeyed by his subjects throughout the village.
At hearing the fated signal, the Indians, who were
142 CONQUEST OF FLORIDA.
attending upon their masters, assailed them with
whatever weapon or missile they could command :
some seized upon pikes and swords, and wielded
them with great skill ; others snatched up the pots
in which meat was stewing at the fire, and, beating
the Spaniards about the head, bruised and scalded
them at the same lime ; some caught up plates,
pitchers, jars, and the pestles wherewith they
pounded the maize ; others the bones remaining
from the repast ; and others seized upon stools,
benches, and tables, striking with impotent fury
when their weapons had not the power to harm.
The greater number, however, snatched up burning
firebrands, which seemed to have been provided for
the purpose, and rushed like very devils into the
In this chance medley fight, many of the Spaniards
were terribly burnt, bruised, and scalded ; some had
their arms broken, others were maimed by sticks
and stones. One was knocked down by his slave
with a firebrand and beset by three other Indians,
who dashed out his brains.
Another was assailed with blows, his teeth knock
ed out, and he was on the point of falling a sacrifice,
when some Spaniards came to his assistance.
The savage assailant fled and mounted a hand lad
der into a granary opening upon a court yard, tak-
CONQUEST OP FLORIDA. 143
ing with him a lance which he found leaning against
the wall. The Spaniards attempted to ascend after
him, but he planted himself in the door way, and
defended the entrance so bravely with the lance,
that no one dared to approach him.* At length,
Diego de Soto, a relative of the Governor, arrived
in the court yard, armed with a cross-bow. He
presented it and took aim. The Indian never at
tempted to draw back or screen himself; his object
was, not to save his life, but to sell it as dearly as
possible. At the instant that De Soto drew the bow
he threw the lance. The steeled point grazed the
right shoulder of the Spaniard and the shaft knock
ed him down upon his knees, passing half a length
beyond, and remaining quivering in the ground.
The aim of De Soto was more certain. His shaft
pierced the Indian through the breast and killed him
on the spot.
It was fortunate for the Spaniards that most of
the Indians were in chains, and none of them were
regularly armed, otherwise their assault would have
been attended with great carnage. As it was, many
of the Spaniards were maimed and mangled, and