CHAPTER 8: Adventures in and out of Apalachen
TWO HOURS after we arrived in Apalachen, the Indians who had fled returned in peace to ask the release of their women and children. We released them. The Governor, however, continued to hold one of their caciques [chiefs], whereupon they grew agitated and attacked us the next day.
They worked so fast, with such daring, that they fired the very houses we occupied. We sallied out after them but they fled to nearby swamps which, together with the big cornfields, kept us from harming them except for one Indian we killed.
The day after that, Indians from a village on the opposite side of the lake attacked us in the same way, escaping the same way, again losing a single man.
We stayed 25 days [26, according to the Joint Report] in Apalachen, during which time we made three reconnaissances, finding the country sparsely populated and hard to get through because of swamps, woods, and lakes. The cacique, as well as the other Indians we had been holding, confirmed our own observations when we asked them about their country. (The Indians we captured on our way to Apalachen were neighbors and enemies of the Apalachee.) Interrogated separately, they each said that Apalachen was the biggest town in the region, that farther in, the inhabitants were fewer, more scattered, and far poorer, and that large lakes, dense forests, and vast deserts and barrens awaited us in the interior.
When we asked about the country to the south, they said that nine days in that direction lay the village of Aute, where the people - their friends - had plenty of corn, beans, and melons - also fish, being near the sea.
Taking everything into consideration - the poverty of the land and unfavorable reports of the people, etc.; the constant guerilla tactics of the Indians, wounding our people and horses with impunity from the cover of the lakes whenever they went for water; and killing a cacique of Tezcuco [an Aztec prince] whom the Commissary had brought with him - we decided to strike for the sea and this Aute we had been hearing about. We got there in five days [a statement contradicted shortly].
The first day out [July 19 or 20] we negotiated lakes and trails without seeing a single native. But on the second day, while chest-deep in the middle of a lake which hidden logs helped make difficult to cross, a band of Indians, concealed behind groves and fallen timber, wounded quite a few men and horses and captured our guide, before we could get through the water.
They pressed after us, intending to dispute the narrow passage, but when we turned on them, they fled to the safety of the lake whence their arrows continued to hit men and beasts. The Governor commanded our cavalry to dismount and charge the Indians afoot. The Comptroller [Enríquez] dismounted and charged with them. The Indians retreated into the lake, and we gained the passage.
Good armor did no good against arrows in this skirmish. There were men who swore they had seen two red oaks, each the thickness of a man's calf, pierced from side to side by arrows this day; which is no wonder when you consider the power and skill the Indians can deliver them with. I myself saw an arrow buried half a foot in a poplar trunk.
All the Indians we had so far seen in Florida had been archers. They loomed big and naked and from a distance looked like giants. They were handsomely proportioned, lean, agile, and strong. Their bows were as thick as an arm, six or seven feet long, accurate at 200 paces.
We got through this passage only to come upon a worse one, half a league long, a league away. But the Indians had expended all their arrows at the first place, so dared not attack now.
Working through yet another such passage the following day, I detected tracks ahead and notified the Governor in the rearguard. The ambush that did develop found us ready and proved harmless. But the Indians pursued us onto the open plain. We wheeled in a double attack back to the woods, killing two warriors before we could no longer get at the band. I ended up wounded, along with two or three other Christians.