CHAPTER 4: Our Penetration of the Country

THE DAY FOLLOWING, the Governor resolved to explore inland, taking the Commissary [Fray Suárez], the Inspector [Solis], and me, together with forty men, including six horsemen, who could hardly have done much good.

We headed northward until about the hour of vespers, when we came upon a very big bay which seemed to extend far inland. [This would have been Tampa Bay.] We stayed there overnight, returning the next day to our base camp.

The Governor ordered the brig to coast in search of the harbor which Miruelo, the pilot, had said he knew but which he so far had failed to find; he did not know where we were or where the port was from here. The Governor further ordered that, in case this harbor could not be found, the brig should proceed to Havana, find the ship Alvaro de la Cerda commanded, get them both provisioned, and return together to us.

When the brig had gone, we struck inland again, the same men as before plus others. We followed the shore of the bay we had found and, after four leagues, captured four Indians. We showed them some corn to see whether they knew what it was, for we had so far come across no sign of any. They indicated they would take us where there was some and led us to their village at the head of the bay close by. There they showed us a little corn not yet fit to gather.

We saw a number of crates there like those used for merchandising in Castile, each containing a dead man covered with painted deerskins. The Commissary took this for some form of idolatry and burned the crates and corpses. We also found pieces of linen and woolen cloth 32 and bunches of feathers like those of New Spain. And we saw some nuggets of gold. [The Joint Report of Cabeza de Vaca, Castillo, and Dorantes, written in Mexico in 1536 and delivered to the Audiencia at Santo Domingo by Cabeza de Vaca on his homeward voyage in 1537, amplifies that the Governor gave the order for burning the dead bodies and their boxes; that pieces of shoes and canvas and some iron were also found; and that the Indians said by signs that they had found these items in a vessel that had been wrecked in that bay. The Joint Report makes it clear that the bodies were Europeans, and blames the friars, not just the Franciscan Commissary, for the burning.]

We inquired of the Indians by signs where these things came from. They gave us to understand that very far from here was a province called Apalachen, where was much gold and plenty of everything we wanted. [The Joint Report specifies that it was the gold rather than all the items indiscriminately which came from "Apalache." The Apalachee Indians lived in northwestern Florida, centering on the later Tallahassee and St. Marks. Appalachee Bay and the Appalachian Mountains take their names from this tribe.]

Keeping these Indians for guides, we proceeded another ten or twelve leagues, to a village of fifteen houses, where we saw a large cornfield ready for harvest, some of the ears already dry. After staying two days there, we returned to the base camp and told the Comptroller and pilots what we had seen and what the Indians had told us.

Next day, May 1, the Governor called the Commissary, Comptroller, Inspector, and me, also a sailor named Bartolomé Fernandez and a notary named Jeró de Alaniz, and divulged his intention of marching inland while the ships continued to coast on to a port which the pilots asserted lay close to the River of Palms. What, the Governor asked, did we think of this?

It seemed to me, I answered, that under no circumstances should we forsake the ships before they rested in a secure harbor which we controlled; that the pilots, after all, disagreed among themselves on every particular and did not so much as know where we then were; that we would be deprived of our horses in case we needed them; that we could anticipate no satisfactory communication with the Indians, having no interpreter, as we entered an unknown country; and that we did not have supplies to sustain a march we knew not where - no more than a pound of biscuit and a pound of bacon per man being possible from the ships' stores. I concluded that we had better re-embark and look for a harbor and soil better suited to settle, since what we had so far seen was the most desert and poor that had ever been discovered in that region.

Our Commissary [Fray Suárez] took the exact opposite view. He held that we should not embark but should keep to the coast in quest of Pánuco [later renamed Tampico, at the mouth of the Pánuco River on the coast of central Mexico - the northernmost Spanish settlement, founded by Cortés himself in 1522], which the pilots said was only ten or fifteen leagues from here [but which was actually over 600 leagues, i.e., more than 1,800 miles, via the coast]; that we could not miss it, since it extended inland a dozen leagues; that the first to come upon it should wait for the other; that to embark would be to tempt God, after all the adversities we had endured since leaving Spain - so many storms, such losses of men and ships; that we should therefore march along the coast while the ships sailed along it till they joined at the same harbor.

This struck everybody else but the Notary as the best course. The Notary thought the ships should not be left unless in a known, safe, populated harbor; that the Governor might then advance inland at his discretion.