CHAPTER 5: The Governor's Leave-Taking

ON SATURDAY, May 1 - the day of this dispute - the Governor ordered two pounds of buscuit and a half pound of bacon rationed each man who was going with him; and so we took up our march into the interior. Our total force was 300, of whom 40 were horsemen. Those riding horseback included the Commissary Fray Suárez; another friar, Juan de Palos; three priests; and the frockless officers.

We traveled [northward] for fifteen days on our rations without finding anything edible but palmettos [dwarf fan-palms] like those of Andalusia. In all that time we encountered not a single person, village, or house. At last we came to a river [the Suwannee], which we swam and rode rafts across with great difficulty. It took us a day to cross because of the swift current.

On the other side, about 200 [Timucuan] Indians moved toward us. The Govenor went to meet them and talked in signs. They gestured so menacingly that we fell upon them and seized five or six, who led us to their houses half a league away. There we found quite a quantity of corn ripe for plucking. To our Lord we lifted infinite thanks for succoring us, who were yet young in trials, in our extremity; we were weak from hunger and weary.

The third day after our arrival here, the Comptroller, Inspector, and I together petitioned the Governor to send out a scouting party to seek a harbor, the Indians having told us the sea was not far off. He said to stop talking of the sea, it was remote; but since I had been the most insistent, he bade me go look for a port and take forty foot.

So next day [May 18] I set forth with Captain Alonso del Castillo and forty men of his company.

At noon we came upon sandy patches which seemed to stretch far inland. We walked about a league and a half [two leagues, according to the Joint Report], wading nearly knee-deep in water, shells cutting our feet badly. Thus with great trouble we reached the river we had first crossed and which emptied into this bay. Unequipped for crossing it, we reported back to the Governor that we would have to re-ford the big river at the place we had first gone over it, to get to the coast and ascertain if the bay had a harbor.

He sent Captain Valenzuela next day with sixty foot [forty, according to the Joint Report] and six horse to recross the river and follow its course to the sea to see whether a harbor lay there.

Valenzuela returned in two days to report that he had found the bay [the mouth of the Suwannee] but only a knee-deep, shallow expanse with no harbor. He saw five or six canoes passing from one side to the other full of many-plumed Indians.

On this intelligence, we next day resumed our dogged quest of Apalachen, using the captive Indians as guides. Thus we went until June 17 without seeing a native who would let us catch up to him.

Then on this 17th, there appeared in front of us a chief in a painted deerskin riding the back of another Indian, musicians playing reed flutes walking before, and a train of many subjects attending him. He dismounted where the Governor stood and stayed an hour. We apprised him by signs that we were on our way to Apalachen. His signs seemed to us to mean that he was an enemy of the Apalachee and would accompany us against them. We gave him beads, little bells, and other trinkets, and he gave the Governor the deerskin he wore. When he turned back, we followed.

That night we came to a wide, deep, swift river [the Apalachicola], which we did not dare cross with rafts, so constructed a canoe. Again we were a whole day getting over. Had the Indians wished to oppose us, they had a golden opportunity here; even with their help we had a hard time.

One of the mounted men, Juan Velásquez, a native of Cuéllar, impatiently rode into the river. The violent current swept him from his saddle. He grabbed the reins but drowned with the horse. The subjects of that chief - whose name turned out to be Dulchanchellin - found the body of the beast and told us where in the stream below we likely would find the body of Cuéllar. They went to look for it.

This death hit us hard, for until now not a man had been lost. The horse, meanwhile, furnished a supper for many that night.

The following day we made the chief's village, where he gave us corn. In the night, one of the Christians who had gone for water got shot with an arrow, but God pleased to spare him hurt. All the Indians fled overnight, as we discovered on pulling out next day.

They began to reappear, however, as we filed along. Apparently they had prepared for battle but, though we called to them, they withdrew and fell in behind us on the trail. The Governor left some cavalry in ambush, who surprised the natives about to pass and seized three or four, whom we kept for guides.

They led us through a difficult and marvelous country of vast forests, the trees astonishingly high. So many of them had fallen that continual detours made the march laborious. Many of the trees still standing had been riven from top to bottom by bolts of lightning, which are common in that country of frequent tempests.

So we toiled on until the day after St. John's Day [June 17], when at last we came in sight of Apalachen, unsuspected by its inhabitants. We gave many thanks to God to be near this destination, believing everything we had been told about it and expecting an immediate end of our hardships. In addition to the distance we had come over bad trails, we suffered terribly from hunger. Once in a while we did find corn, but usually had to travel seven and eight leagues without any. Also, many men developed raw wounds from the weight of their armor and other things they had to carry.

But having virtually accomplished our objective, with its assurance of plentiful gold and food, we seemed already to feel our pain and fatigue lifting.