Description of Ucita- 1st Native Town Encountered by De Soto

spanish-ships-village

Artist’s interpretation of the Spanish landing at the village of Ucita.

The following two narratives, one written by the Gentleman of Elvas and another by Garcillasso de la Vega (aka, The Inca), both members of the De Soto expedition, give a great description of a Native American town in Florida at the time of European contact. It describes its location, layout and architecture as well as the method of communication between villages (roads, smoke signals), their weapons of war, how they buried their dead and even the type of jewelry the Indians wore (pearl armbands and necklaces.) -Editor

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TRUE RELATION OF THE HARDSHIPS SUFFERED BY
GOVERNOR HERNANDO DE SOTO &
CERTAIN PORTUGUESE GENTLEMEN
DURING THE DISCOVERY OF THE
PROVINCE OF FLORIDA.

NOW NEWLY SET FORTH
BY A GENTLEMAN
OF ELVAS.
1557

…As soon as the men landed the camp was established on the shore near the bay which went up to the town. The captain general, Vasco Porcallo, taking with him seven horse, immediately overran the land for a half league round about and found six Indians who tried to oppose him with their arrows – the weapons with which they are accustomed to fight. The horsemen killed two of them and the four [others] escaped, for the land being obstructed by woods and swamps, the horses, because of weakness from voyaging on the sea, became mired there and fell with their masters. That night following, the governor with one hundred men in the brigantines came upon a town which he found without people, because the Christians were perceived as soon as they came within sight of land; and they saw many smokes along the whole coast, which the Indians made in order to give information to one another.

On the following day, Luis de Moscoso, maestro de campo, set the men in order, those on horse in three squadrons – the vanguard, the battle line, and the rear guard – and in that way they marched that day and the next, going around great mud flats which come from the bay. They arrived at the town of Ucita, where the governor was, on Sunday, June first, the day of the Trinity. The town consisted of seven or eight houses. The chief’s house stood near the beach on a very high hill which had been artificially built as a fortress. [This “high hill” was likely a flat-topped earthen or shell pyramid, i.e, “Indian mound,” topped with a house.] At the other side of the town was the temple and on top of it a wooden bird with its eyes gilded. Some pearls, spoiled by fire and of little value, were found there. The Indians bore them through in order to string them for beads, which are worn around the neck or arm, and they esteem them greatly.

The houses were of wood and were covered with palm leaves. The governor was lodged in the houses of the chief and with him Vasco Porcallo and Luis de Moscoso; and in the other houses which were located in the middle of the town, the chief constable, Baltasar de Gallegos. And apart in the same houses were placed the provisions carried on the ships. The other houses and the temple were destroyed, and a mess of every three or four built a small house in which they were lodged. The land round about was greatly encumbered and choked with a vast and lofty forest. The governor ordered it to be cut down for the space of a crossbow shot about the town, in order that the horses might run and the Christians have the advantage of the Indians if the latter should by chance try to attack them by night.

They posted foot soldiers as sentinels, in couples at each position along the roads and at proper places, who stood watch for four hours. The horsemen visited them and were ready to aid them if there should be an alarm. The governor appointed four captains over the horsemen and two over the foot soldiers. Those over the horse were: one, Andre de Vasconcelos, and second, Pedro Calderon, of Badajoz, and the other two his kinsmen, the Cardenosa (Arias Tinoco and Alfonso Romo), also natives of Badajoz. One of the captains over the foot soldiers was Francisco Maldonado of Salamanaca, and the other Juan Rodriguez Lobillo.

While they were in that town of Ucita, the Indians whom Juan de Anasco had captured along that coast and whom the governor brought along as guides and interpreters escaped one night through the carelessness of two men who were guarding them. The governor and all were very sorry for this, for some forays had already been made, but no Indians could be captured, as the land was swampy and in many parts covered with very lofty and thick woods

HISTORY OF THE ADELANTADO HERNANDO DE SOTO, GOVERNOR AND CAPTAIN GENERAL OF THE KINGDOM OF LA FLORIDA, AND OF OTHER HEROIC GENTLEMEN, SPANIARDS AND INDIANS;  WRITTEN BY THE INCA GARCILASSO DE LA VEGA,

…the cacique directed that he be exercised in another punishment, less severe than the past ones. This was that he guard day and night the dead bodies of the inhabitants of that pueblo, which were deposited in the country in a forest [Inca uses the Spanish word “monte” here, meaning “clump of forest” or on a “high hill,” which look the same from a distance. Thus this was likely a burial mound with a mortuary temple on top] at a distance from the settlements, at a place set apart for them. They were placed above ground in wooden chests that served as sepulchers, without hinges or any other security for the cover than some boards placed over them, with stones or timbers on top. Because of the poor protection these chests afforded for the bodies of the dead, they were carried away by the lions [i.e., panthers], of which there are many in that country, much to the grief and anger of the Indians.

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