Barnard Shipp.

The history of Hernando de Soto and Florida; or, Record of the events of fifty-six years, from 1512 to 1568 online

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great swimmers then leaped into the pond, and taking them by the
legs, arms, and hair, brought them to shore. But the poor Indians
were pitiable ; extended upon the sand more dead than alive, and in
a condition in which you may imagine men who had fought thirty
hours swimming in the water. Our people, touched with compas-
sion and admiring their courage, brought them to the town, where
they assisted them ; and they were more aided by the goodness of
their constitution than by the virtues of their remedies. Afterwards,
when they saw them a little recovered, the general had them called,
and feigning to be enraged, demanded Of them why, in the deplora-
ble condition in which they saw themselves, they had not followed
the example of their companions. Then four, about thirty-five
years each, i:eplied through one of them, that they had known the
peril which threatened them, but that, in consideration of the com-
mands which Vitaehuco had given them as his troops, and of the
esteem which he had for their valor, they had been obliged to
show that they were not entirely unworthy of his favors, and that
he was not mistaken in the choice which he had made of their
persons. That besides they desired to leave to their children an ex-
ample of fidelity and courage, and to instruct by their valor, all
the other captains. That they were, therefore, to be pitied for
not having done their duty, and that the compassion which they
had for them was painful to their honor. That, however, they
should not cease to have much gratitude for the kindness they had
intended to do them ; but that they would increase the favors they
had done them if they would take their lives ; that not having died
for the service of Yitachuco, they dared not appear before him or
among his people.

The general, who admired this reply, turned to the other Indians,
who were young cliiefs from eighteen to nineteen years of age each.
He demanded of them what had constrained them to remain with
so much obstinacy in the water, they who held no rank in tlie
army. They replied that they had left their homes, neither in the
view of destroying his troops nor in the hope of making booty, nor
to gain the friendship of any cacique as a recompense for it, but to
acquire a reputation in the battle that was to be fought against the
Christians. That they had always been taught that the glory that
was to be acquired in battle was grand and enduring. That in con-
sideration of this, they had exposed themselves to the danger in


which he had seen them, and from which he had so generously ex-
tricated them. Tliat now they would voluntarily sacrifice themselves
for his service. They added, that fortune having declared for him,
and having robbed them of a victory that would have covered them
with glory, they beheld themselves in the sad state in which the
vanquished ordinarily are. That, however, they had learned that if
they should suffer their misfortunes with firmness, they would be
able to render themselves commendable, because the vanquislied
who had fought only for liberty did not deserve less praise than he
who governs himself wisely in victory. That, therefore, he should
not be astonished if, instructed by these maxims, they had shown
as much courage as the captains. They maintained, on the contrary,
that the}' were more obliged than thej" to fight valiently, because tlieir
birth destined them to higher employments than these officers.
That, in this view, they had aimed to show that they aspired to
succeed their fathers ; since they endeavored to imitate the noble
examples which they had given them. That they had even desired
to show them that they were worthy to be their children, and to
console them for their loss by a glorious death. That finally, if
these considerations could excuse them with him, they implored his
clemencj' ; if not, they offered to him their lives, and that it was
permitted to the conqueror to use his victory according to his will.

This discourse, joined to the courage, the fine appearance, and
the misfortunes of these young nobles, drew tears from the greater
part of the Spaniards who were present. The general himself felt
pily for them, and, embracing them, said to them that he judged of
their birth by their actions; that men who had, as much firmness
as they had shown deserved to command other men ; that for this
reason he had a S[)ecial pleasure in having preserved their lives ;
but that they need not grieve ; that the height of his satisfaction
was to set them at lil)erty. In fact, the general, after having de-
tained them only two or three days in order to show to tliem his
affection, sent them away, accompanied by some of their domestics
who were prisoners. He gave them divers presents for their fathers,
with orders to offer to them his friendship, and to tell them the
way in which lie had treated them.

These Indians, after many thanks, took the road to their country,
well pleased with the general, who the next day summoned Vita-
chuco and the captive captains. He told them that their conduct
was criminal, since, under the appearance of friendship, they had
conspired the destruction of the troops ; that such treason ought to
be punished with death, in order that their example might hinder
the other Indians of the province from rising; that, nevertheless,


to show that he preferred peace to vengeance, he pardoned them on
condition that for the future they would return the affection which
he had for them. He begged them also to forget the past, and to
make no more attempts against the Christians, because it would
inevitably bring only misfortune upon all tjieir undertakings. He
afterwards took the cacique aside and tried by every means to calm
him, and was pleased that he should return to eat at his table, from
which he had expelled him on account of his perfidy. But these
manifestations of afleetion, so far from obliging this barbarian to
return to his duty, served only to preserve the aversion which he
had conceived against the Spaniards, so that he let himself be
carried away more and more by the violence of his hate, and finally
destroyed himself and the greater part of liis subjects.



The Indians who went out of the pond were made prisoners and
distributed for slaves to the Spaniards, and Vitachuco had his
dwelling for a prison. The general ordered it so, to punish these
barbarians for their treason, and to retain them by fear in their duty.
However, he had resolved that on leaving the province he would
give them all their liberty. But the cacique, who did not know this
design, and who saw his subjects slaves, again meditated means of
destroying the Spaniards. Ue flattered himself that the nine hun-
dred prisoners, who were the bravest of his troops, would execute
alone what they had not been able to do together; that, being as
numerous as the Spaniards, each one would slay his master ; and
that, choosing the hoar of dinner, his design would so much the
more surely succeed, as the Spaniards would suspect nothing. This
design, which should have been conducted with much prudence,
was precipitated ; and he believed that his subjects with their arms
only could make away with their enemies. He, therefore, commanded
four j'onng Indians, who were left for his individual service, to in-
form the principal prisoners of his resolution, with orders to have
it adroitly communicated to the others, arid to hold themselves
ready about noon of the third day, in order for each one to slay his
man. He also sent them word that at the same hour he would take
the life of the commander ; and as a signal, he would make, when
he should be engaged with him, a shout so loud that the whole town
should hear it. Vitachuco gave this order to the Indians the same


day that Soto, forgetting his crimes, caused him to dine at liis table.
But it is ordinarily thus that traitors and ingrates recognize the
favors tl^at are done them.

The subjects of the barbarian, informed of this second enterprise,
saw clearly that it would not be more fortunate than the first.
However, they replied that they would all obey him or die, for
the Indians of the new world have so mnch love and veneration for
their princes that they consider them as divinities. If their sovereign
desired it, they would cast themselves as freely into the fire as they
would into the water ; and, without considering the danger in which
they^jlaeed themselves, they would regard only their duty and the
obedience thej' had pledged them.

Finally, seven days after the first rout of the Indians, when the
general and the cacique had dined, the barbarian bent his whole hody,
turned himself from one side to the other, closed his flst, extended
his arms, drew them back even to reversing them upon Iiis shoul-
ders, and brandished them with such great violence that his bones
cracked with it, an ordinary custom of the Indians when they would
undertake anything which required vigor. Then he raised himself
upon his feet with an inconceivable haughtiness; he closed with the
general, pressed his left arm around his neck, and with his right
hand gave him so violent a blovv with his flst upon his face that he
knocked him to the ground, fell upon him, and made so loud a cry
that it was heard more than a quarter of a league. The officers
who had assembled for dinner, seeing the insolence of the barbarian,
pierced him ten or a dozen times with their swords, and he fell
dead with rage in his soul and curses in his mouth because he had
not succeeded in his undertaking. But for the oflScers, he had
finished the general with another blow, for that which he had
already given him was so great that he remained senseless for half
an hour. The blood flowed from his eyes, his nose, and his mouth.
He even had some teeth broken, and the otliers so much injured
that for twenty days he was unable to eat anything but hash.. His
lips, his nose, and his face were swollen to sucii a degree that it was
necessary to cover them with plasters, so violently had Vitachuco
struck him.* This savage was then about thirty-flve years of age.
He had a robust bodj', handsome shape, and a countenance sombre,
baughtj', and altogether cruel.

* The Elva narrative makes mention of this occurrence, and of the insurrec-
tion of Vitachuco and his men ; but the place was Napetuca, and the cacique




The crj' of Vitacliuco heard, each Indian attacked the Spaniard
he served, and tried to kill him ; some with firebrands, others with
whatever they met with, for they had not weapons. Nevertheless,
they did not fail to make a very great confusion. Some struck the
Spaniards in the face ; others on the head, sometimes with the ii-on pots
in which tliey cooked the meat, with which some of our men were
burnt, and sometimes with pots and plates. However, they did
more mischief with the firebrands than with all the rest ; , as the
most of them had some, they injured many of our people. Some
had tlieir arms broken, others had their eyelids burnt, their faces dis-
figured, and their noses broken. There were even four slain, of
wliom one, being knocked down with a firebrand, three savages fell
upon him so cruelly that they knocked out his brains. It happened
also in this confusion, that after an Indian had, with a blow of a
stick, struck down a Spaniard, and broken his teeth with a blow of
his flst, he fled from some of our men who rushed upon him, as-
cended to a chamber which faced the court, took a lance which was
against the wall, and defended the door with so much courage that
no one could enter there. In the mean time, Diego de Soto, a rela-
tion of the general, hastened there, and commenced firing from the
court with a crossbow. When the Indian saw this new enemy, he
placed himself directly in the door, and, determined to sell his life
dearly, he threw his lance at the same moment that Soto fired ; but
it touched, only with the wood, the shoulder of the Spanish cava-
lier ; and having staggered him, it entered half a yard into the earth.
The shot of Soto was more fortunate ; it struck his enemy in the
breast and slew him. In the mean time the report spread that Vi-
taehueo had injured the general, so that the Spaniards, irritated
more and more, and principally those who had been wounded,
avenged themselves upon the savages whom they encountered.
There were, however, cavaliers, who, being ashamed to acknowledge
that they had been beaten, believed that it was unbecoming them to
take the lives of slaves. Tlierefore, they iiad some of them slain by
the Indians themselves, who served them in the army, and placed
the greater part of them into the hands of the archers of the gene-
ral's guard ; who pierced them, with the halberts, in the middle of
the public square of the town. Among others, Saldagna, who would


not himself put this slave to death, tied a. cord around his neck, and
led him to deliver him to the guards. But when the savage entered
the square, and saw what was passing there, such a rage seized him,
that, with one hand, he took his master by the neck, and with the
other under the thigh, lifted him up, turned him upside down, and
let him fall so violently that he stunned him. He immediately
mounted him witli his two feet upon his belly with so much vio-
lence that he would have crushed it if some fifty Spaniards, sword
in hand, had not come to his assistance. However, the savage was
not confounded, and received them so courageously that he was a
long time without being either wounded or taken. He seized the
sword of Saldagna, and whirling it around, thus kept his enemies
at a distance, so that thej' were obliged to kill him by shooting him
with fusees and pistols.

Such was a part of the disorders which happened the day that
Yitachuco struck the general ; and, without doubt, they would have
been greater if the greater part of tlie Indians had not been chained.
Thus, there were but few Spaniards killed, but many wounded. As
■ to the Indians, because they were brave, and attacked and defended
themselves vigorously, there died more than nine hundred of them,
who were the flower of the subjects of Vitaehuco ; whom this bar-
barian unfortunately hurried headlong to destruction. He was also
the cause of the death of four captains, whom they had drawn from
the pond, who were involved in the misfortune of the others. It is
thus that the foolish and the rash destroy the wise who believe them
and obey their orders.



A FTER the defeat of the prisoners, the general remained four days
in the town of Vitaehuco, and had dressed his own wounds and
those of the others ; and on tiie fifth he took the route to Ossachile.
The troops made four leagues the first day's journey, and camped
upon the borders of a great river which sepai'ates the province of
Ossachile from that of Vitaehuco. But as this river was not ford-
able, it was necessary to build a bridge. The Spaniards, therefore,
quickly collected timber, and they already began to work on it, when
the Indians appeared on the other side of the river to defend the
passage. So that tiiey abandoned it, and made six large rafts of
manj' pieces of wood, upon which crossed a hundred fusileers and


crossbow-men, with fifty cavaliers who carried the saddles of their
horses. Then Soto ordered that fifty horses should be made to
swim across, and that they should be saddled as soon as they
reached the otlier shore. Thej' then began to march into the plain,
and the Indians quitting their position, gave time to erect the bridge,
which was made in a day and a half. The troops passed over.
Afterwards they found the lands planted with corn and other sorts
of vegetables, and began to see houses which were here and there in
the country, and which extended four leagues from there to the capi-
tal. This place was composed of two hundred houses, and was called
Ossachile, from the name of the cacique who lived tliere. From the
town of Vitachuco to this one there are ten leagues of very pleasant

The Indians at first had not dared to resist the Spaniards; but
when they saw them on their cultivated lands they turned upon
them and, concealing themselves in the corn, fired a great number
of arrows at them and tried to defeat them. They also wounded
many of them ; but the Christians, irritated at seeing themselves
attacked, beat them back, made some of them prisoners, pierced the
greater part of them with their lances, and fought them for four

As the Spaniards found the capital of Ossachile abandoned, and
that the cacique and all his people had fled, the general dispatched
some of his, Indian subjects to him, to beg him to make peace with
the Christians. But he did not make any reply, and even those who
had been sent to him did not return. In the mean time, the troops,
which sojourned two days in the country, placed themselves in
ambuscade, and captived many barbarians who rendered them very
good service, and who being taken manifested for them as much
kindness as they had before shown aversion. These are the most
important things that happened in the provine of Ossachile.



The town and the house of the cacique Ossachile were like those
of all the other caciques of Florida. Therefore, without making a
particular description of this place and this house, it seems proper
to give only a general idea of all tiie capitals and all the houses of
the chiefs of the country. I will say then that thelndians endeavor
to place their towns upon elevated places. But because, in Florida,


they rarely meet with this sort of place where they can find the
necessary conveniences to build, they raise themselves eminences in
this manner. They choose a place where they bring a quantity of
earth which they elevate into a kind of platform, two or three pikes
high; the top of which is capable of containing ten or twelve or
fifteen or twenty houses to lodge the cacique with his familj- and all
his retinue. They then trace, at the bottom of this elevation, a
square place conformable to the extent of the village which they
would make; and around this place the most important persons
build their dwellings. The common people lodge in the same man-
ner; and thus they all environ the house of their chief In order to
ascend to it they draw, in a straight line, streets from top to bottom ;
each one fifteen or twenty feet wide, and unite them to each other
with large posts, which enter very deep into the earth and which
serve for walls to these streets. Then they make the stairs with
strong beams which they put across, and which they square and
join in order that the work may be more even. The steps of these
stairs are seven or eight feet wide; so that horses ascend and de-
scend them without difiBculty. However, the Indians steepen all the
other sides of the platform, with the exception of the stairs, so that
thej' cannot ascend to it; and the dwelling of the chief is sufficiently



Before proceeding farther it is proper to anticipate those who
should say, that in the other histories of the West Indies they have
not seen that the Indians have said or done things worthy of
memory, as these which I have reported appear to have : that gene-
rally they even believe that these people are stupid, and that they
have not any policy, either in peace or in war; that, therefore, I
Lave either had a particular design to praise the Indians among
whom I have been born, or that I am vainly emulous to show my wit
at the expense of truth. I reply, that the belief of certain persons
that the Indians are not intelligent, and that they do not know how
to govern themselves in aflairs of importance, is ill founded, and
contrary to what Acosta relates of them ; an author verj- worthy of
confidence.f Besides I advance nothing but upon the relation of an

* See Appendix, notes 17 and 18.

f Joseph D'Aoosta, a celebrated Spanish Jesuit. This great man, after hav-
ing resided some years in both Americas, and informed himself, from experienced


ocular and accurate witness, who carefully reviewed his account ;
who added to it what he had forgotten, and retrenched the things of
which he had not seen all the particulars ; so that, only copying
hiiTi, I can assert that there is in this history nothing but ti-nth.
Moreover, I have been tlie enemy of fiction and of all that which
they call romance. As to that which thej' may say — that I enthusi-
astically praise those of my own country, it is an error; for very far
from exaggerating anything, it is impossible for me to put in their
proper light the facts which here present themselves in crowds. But
I lay the defect of my inferior ability upon the civil wars wliich
existed in the Indies during my youth. Letters were then no longer
cultivated, and we applied ourselves only to arms. We learned
horsemanship, and I abandoned myself to tliis exercise with some
of ray companions who have acquired much distinction there and
, have become excellent horsemen. But as things have since changed
their appearance, letters now flourish in the Indies; and the Jesuits
have established so many colleges there that they can easily do with-
out the universities of Spain.

Besides, to continue to show that I write nothing but what has
really happened, I will saj' that, one day, speaking of the replies
full of good sense, which the Indians made to the general, I made
known to him who had given me this relation, that they would
hardly believe it. He replied to me, that it was important to disa-
buse the public in regard to the people of the West Indies ; and
that I mj-self knew that there were in these countries persons of
sound judgment and excellent mind, who conducted themselves
wisely, .in war and in peace, and who reasoned very well on all sorts
of affairs. Tliat I might therefore write boldly the things of which
he had assured me, and that, though I should speak with the elo-
quence of the most famous orators, my words would never equal
the magnanimity, the courage, nor the glorious deeds of the In-
dians. That whether they believed or not wliat I should say, I
could never, without doing injustice to the inhabitants of the
Indies, conceal through a cowardly complacency, their valor from
posterity. My author told me these very things, and I repeat them
ta make known to honorable men that thus far I have written with
much sincerity ; and that, in the course of this history, I shall ad-
vance nothing but the truth.

persons, of the customs of those nations, wrote in Spanish The Natural and Moral
History of the Indians, which was printed first in Seville, in 1589, reprinted after-
wards in Barcelona, in 1591, and from thence circulated into the various lan-
guages of Europe. — Clavigero.






Upon the assurance which the Spaniards had, that they were not
far fiom the province of Apalache, of which tliey liad been told so
many marvels ; that its lands were admirable for their fertility',
and its -people very valiant, they begged the general to lead them
into winter quarters in this country, which he readily granted.
They therefore marched towards Apalache, and after having made,
in tliree days, twelve leagues, without finding any habitation, they
arrived the fourth, about noon, near a marsh half a league wide, and
its length greater than the eye could reach. It was, besides that, bor-
dered on both sides with a forest, where the brambles and bushes,
joining together with the trunks of great trees, rendered the entry
to it diflScult. In fact, they could not go to the marsh but by a
road so narrow that two men abreast had difficulty to pass it.
Before arriving there the troops encamped in a plain ; but as it was
early the general commanded two hundred foot soldiers and tlilrty
cavaliers to go and reconnoitre the passage. He also ordered
twelve excellent swimmers to trj' the depth of the marsh, and to
notice well the places, so that they might, with safetj', venture there

Online LibraryBarnard ShippThe history of Hernando de Soto and Florida; or, Record of the events of fifty-six years, from 1512 to 1568 → online text (page 32 of 75)