CHAPTER 9: The Ominous Note at Aute

SO WE marched on for eight days, meeting no resistance until we came within a league of our immediate objective. Then, while we ambled along unsuspectingly, Indians surprised our rear. An hidalgo named Avellaneda, a member of the rearguard who had already passed the point of ambush when the attack broke, heard his servant-lad cry out and turned back to assist when, just at that moment, an arrow plunged almost all the way through his neck at the edge of his cuirass, so that he died presently.

We carried him to Aute, where we arrived at the end of nine days out of Apalachen. [Aute, as later French maps concur, appears to have lain a short distance above the mouth of the Apalachicola.]

We found the village deserted and all the houses burned. But corn, squash, and beans - all beginning to ripen - were plentiful. We rested there two days.

Then the Governor urged me to locate the sea, which was supposed to be so near and which we felt we had approached because of the big river we came upon and named Río de la Magdalena [doubtless the Apalachicola].

So I went forth the following day, with the Commissary, the captain Castillo, Andrés Dorantes, seven others on horseback, and fifty afoot. We traveled till the hour of vespers, when we reached an inlet of the sea. Oysters abounded, to the joy of the hungry men, and we gave thanks to God for having brought us here.

The next morning [August 1] I despatched twenty men to explore the coast. They came back the night of their second day out and reported that these inlets and bays were 43 enormous and cut so far inland that it would be a major undertaking to investigate them properly, also that the coast of the open sea lay yet a long way off.

In view of this intelligence and of our limited means, I went back to the Governor. We found him and many others sick. The Indians had attacked the night before and, because of this illness, the soldiers had been desperately hard put. One horse had been killed. I reported on my trip and the discouraging nature of the country. We stayed where we were that day.