In his account of the Soto expedition, “The Inca” [see Part 1] gives what I believe to be the most accurate and eloquent account of the attitudes of the Spaniards towards the Indians, and the Indians towards the Spaniards I have ever read. So, this week, I want to simply quote his articulate description of those attitudes. Note: the Inca’s reference to “Acuera” does not agree with other chroniclers. However, it was most likely the chief of the “Timucua” Indians that Soto was trying to befriend.
“The whole army having assembled in Acuera [Timucua], while the men and horses were recovering from the hunger they had suffered in the days past, which was no small thing, the governor with his accustomed clemency sent messages to the cacique [chief] Acuera with some of his Indians whom he had captured, saying that he begged him to come out peaceably and to consent to have Spaniards for friends and brothers; that the latter were a warlike people and brave, who, if their friendship was not accepted, could do much harm and damage to his lands and vassals. At the same time he was to understand and be convinced that they did not have the intention of injuring anyone, as they had not done in the provinces they had left behind them, but on the contrary felt a strong friendship for those who had been willing to receive it. Their chief intention was to reduce through peace and friendship all the provinces and nations of that great kingdom to the obedience and service of the most powerful emperor and king of Castilla, their lord, whose servants they were; and the governor desired to see and speak with him in order to tell him these things more fully and to give him an account of the order that his kin and lord had given him to deal and communicate with the lords of that land.
“The cacique [chief] replied haughtily, saying that he had already had much information from the other Castilians who had come to that country years before as to who they were, and he knew very well about their lives and customs, which consisted in occupying themselves like vagabonds in going from one land to another, living from robbing, pillaging, and murdering those who had not offended them in any way. He by no means desired friendship or peace with such people, but rather mortal and perpetual warfare, and even though they might be as brave as they boasted of being, he had no fear of them because he and his vassals considered themselves no less valiant, as proof of which he promised to wage war against them during all the time that they might see fit to remain in his province, not in the open nor in a pitched battle, although he could do so, but by waylaying and ambushes, taking them off guard. Therefore he warned and admonished them to watch and be on their guard against him and his people, whom he had ordered to bring him every week two heads of Christians, and no more; that this would satisfy him because by beheading two of them every eight days, he thought to put an end to all of them within a few years, for although they might settle and make establishments they could not perpetuate themselves because they brought no women to have children and carry the next generation onward. To what they said about giving obedience to the king of Spain, he replied that he himself was king in his own country and there was no necessity for becoming the vassal of another who had as many as he. Those who put themselves under a foreign yoke when they could live free he regarded as very mean-spirited and cowardly. He and all his people protested that they would die a thousand deaths to maintain their liberty and that of their country; and he gave that reply once and for all.
With regard to their vassalage and their statement that they were servants of the emperor and king of Castilla, and that they were going about conquering new lands for his empire, he said that it was well and good that they were all of this; that now he held them in less esteem, since they admitted being servants of another and that they were laboring and gaining kingdoms so that others might rule them and enjoy the fruits of their labors. Inasmuch as they were undergoing hunger, fatigue, and other hardships in such an enterprise, and risking their lives , it would be better and more honorable and profitable for them to win and acquire these things for themselves and their descendants than for strangers; and since they were so mean-spirited that, being so far away, they did not abjure the name of servants, they need not hope for [his] friendship at any time, for he could not bestow it in such a mean way, nor did he wish to know the order of their king. He knew what he might do in his own country and the manner in which he must treat them; therefore they should leave as quickly as they could if they did not all wish to die at his hands.”
Of course, Governor Soto was shocked by the chief’s “arrogance and pride” still believing that the natives were barbarians. He would have done well to note the eloquent and clear message of the cacique, for those words did not come from a barbarian but, rather, a wise, intelligent and civilized leader. And, conversely, the chief understood quite clearly that the Spaniards were the arrogant and proud barbarians.