CHAPTER 11: The Building of the Barges and Our Departure from the Bay

IT WAS His will that next day one of our men should come saying he could make wooden pipes and deerskin bellows. Having reached that point where any hope of relief is seized upon, we bade him commence. We also instigated the making of nails, saws, axes, and other tools we needed out of the stirrups, spurs, crossbows, and other of our equipment containing iron.

For food while the work proceeded, we decided to make four forays into Aute with every man and horse able to go, and to kill one of our horses every third day to divide among the workers and the sick. Our forays went off as planned. In spite of armed resistance, they netted as much as 400 fanegas [about 100 bushels] of corn.

We had stacks of palmettos gathered, and their husks and fibers twisted and otherwise prepared as a substitute for oakum. A Greek, Don Teodoro, made pitch from certain pine resins. Even though we had only one carpenter, work proceeded so rapidly from August 4, when it began, that by September 20 five barges, each 22 elbow-lengths [30 to 32 feet long], caulked with palmetto oakum and tarred with pine-pitch, were finished.

From palmetto husks, also horse tails and manes, we braided ropes and rigging; from our shirts we made sails; and from junipers, oars. Such was the country our sins had cast us in that only the most persistent search turned up stones large enough for ballast and anchors. Before this, we had not seen a stone in the whole region. We flayed the horses' legs, tanned the skin, and made leather water-bottles.

Twice in this time, when some of our men went to the coves for shellfish, Indians ambushed them, killing ten men in plain sight of the camp before we could do anything about it. We found their bodies pierced all the way through, although some of them wore good armor. I have already mentioned the power and precision of the Indian archery.

Our pilots estimated, under oath, that from the bay we had named The Cross [their first Florida campsite] we had come approximately 280 leagues to this place. In that entire space, by the way, we had seen not a single mountain nor heard of any.

Before we embarked, we lost forty men from disease and hunger, in addition to those killed by Indians. By September 22 all but one of the horses had been consumed. That is the day we embarked [after consuming this last horse], in the following order: the Governor's barge, with 49 men; the barge entrusted to the Comptroller and Commissary, also with 49 men; a third barge in charge of Captain Alonso del Castillo and Andrés Dorantes, with 48 men; another with 47 under Captains Téllez and Peñalosa; and the final barge, which the Governor assigned to the Inspector [Solís] and me, with 49 men.

When clothing and supplies were loaded, the sides of the barges remained hardly half a foot above water; and we were jammed in too tight to move. Such is the power of necessity that we should thus hazard a turbulent sea, none of us knowing anything about navigation.