In 1537, after amassing a sizable fortune as a conquistador, slave trader, and business man in South America, Hernando de Soto quickly grew bored of civilian life in Spain and acquired permission from King Charles I of Spain to conquer, colonize, (and plunder) what was then known as Florida and, in addition was made governor of Cuba. [see Part 1]
After a brief visit in Cuba as the new governor, in May 1539, he led his expedition on to Florida landing with nine ships and over 600 men and half as many horses in a bay he named Espiritu Santo (Holy Spirit). It is known today as south Tampa Bay. His expedition included priests, craftsmen, engineers, farmers, and merchants; some with their families, some from Cuba, many from his childhood villages in Spain, others from Europe and Africa. Few had travel or military experience. Most paid their own way and were looking forward to great fortunes made off the abundance found in the New World. De Soto had come back rich and they were sure he could lead them to great wealth also.
His plan was to explore the country north of what is today the state of Florida searching for gold, silver, and jewels. He would recruit guides from each tribe along the route to establish a chain of communication whereby guides of neighboring tribes could pass on information, one to the next. After arriving, Soto learned of a Spaniard named Juan Ortiz, that had been captured years before by Indians. Ortiz had escaped the enslavement of his initial captors and was currently living peacefully with the cacique [chief] of Mucoco.
That discovery had an ironic and humorous beginning. Here is a quote from “The First Book of the History of La Florida by the Inca”. [refer to Part 1]
“When this Indian mentioned Juan Ortiz in the account that he gave in La Havana, leaving off the Juan, because he did not know it, he said Ortiz, and as to the poor speech of the Indian was added the worse understanding of the good interpreters who stated what he was trying to say, and as all the listeners had for their chief purpose going to seek gold, on hearing the Indian say “Orotiz,” without waiting for further statements on his part they thought that he was plainly saying that in his country there was much gold [“oro” in Spanish means “gold”].
When it was finally clarified by Soto that the Indian was referring to a captured Spaniard, he decided to send for him not only to relieve him from the power of the Indians but also in hopes that Ortiz could help as a guide and translator. He sent a messenger to the cacique of Mucoco and then commanded Captain Baltasar de Gallegos and a troup of “castilians” to go escort him back. Upon receiving the request, Mucoco judiciously released Juan Ortiz immediately hoping to please the new and very imposing visiting Spaniards.
Unaware that Juan Ortiz was enroute, Gallegos encountered Ortiz and the small band of Indians who were escorting him to Soto’s camp on the trail. The following ensued when they were spotted by the Castilians, according to The Inca, “The Castilians—being inexperienced and anxious to fight—on seeing the Indians, fell upon them violently, and as much as their captain shouted at them he could not stop them. …”
Once Gallegos realized that they had encountered Ortiz and his escorts, “The latter received Juan Ortiz with great joy and at once ordered them to recall the other horsemen who were scouring the woods, anxious to kill Indians , as if they were deer …”
Right away we see the arrogant attitude of the members of Soto’s Expedition. They had no respect for the natives living there. They saw them as “deer” to be killed on sight, conquered and plundered. Of course, it also reveals their lack of respect for deer. In contrast, here is the old Cherokee story of “Awi Usdi”, the “Little Deer” who looked after his brother deer, “In the old days, the beasts, birds, fishes, insects, and plants could all talk, and they lived together in peace and friendship. But as time went on, the people increased so rapidly that their settlements spread over the whole earth, and the poor animals found themselves beginning to be cramped for room. … So the animals resolved to consult upon measures for their common safety. … The Deer next held a council under their chief, the Little Deer, and after some talk decided to send rheumatism to every hunter who should kill one of them unless he took care to ask their pardon for the offense. They sent notice of the decision to the nearest settlement of Indians and told them at the same time what to do when necessity forced them to kill one of the Deer Tribe. Now, whenever the hunter shoots a Deer, the Little Deer, who is swift as the wind and can not be wounded, runs quickly up to the spot and, bending over the blood-stains, asks the spirit of the Deer if it has heard the prayer of the hunter for pardon.”
I would ask, who were the savages?