The Story of Juan Ortiz; an excerpt from The Discovery and Conquest of Terra Florida by a Gentleman of Elvas (1557)

The Discovery and Conquest of Terra Florida (1851)The Discovery and Conquest of Terra Florida (1851)The Discovery and Conquest of Terra Florida (1851)The Discovery and Conquest of Terra Florida (1851)The Discovery and Conquest of Terra Florida (1851)The Discovery and Conquest of Terra Florida (1851)The Discovery and Conquest of Terra Florida (1851)

In this excerpt from The Discovery and Conquest of Terra Florida, which includes all of chapters 8 and 9, the author, known only as “A Gentleman of Elvas,” tells the story of Juan Ortiz. Ortiz was a Spanish soldier attached to an expedition to present-day Florida led by Pánfilo de Narváez in 1528 when he was captured by Indians. Eleven years later he again encountered Spaniards, who this time were under the command of Hernando de Soto. Ortiz joined Soto’s men and died during the winter of 1641–1642. This English translation comes from an edition edited by Richard Hakluyt (the younger) in 1611 and republished by the Hakluyt Society in 1851.


The Discovery and Conquest of Terra Florida (1851)

Chapter 8

Of some inrodes that were made into the countrie; and how there was a Christian found, which had bin long time in the power of an Indian Lord.

From the towne of Ucita, the Governour sent the alcalde mayor, Baltasar de Gallegos, with 40 horsemen and 80 footemen, into the countrie, to see if they could take any Indians: and the captaine, John Rodriguez Lobillo, another way with 50 footemen; the most of them were swordmen and target-tours, and the rest were shot and crossebowmen. They passed through a countrie full of bogges, where horses could not travell. Halfe a league from the campe, they lighted upon certaine cabins of Indians neere a river; the people that were in them leaped into the river; yet they tooke foure Indian women; and twentie Indians charged us, and so distressed us, that wee were forced to retire to our campe, being, as they are, exceeding readie with their weapons. It is a people so warlike and so nimble, that they care not a whit for any footemen. For if their enemies charge them, they runne away, and if they turne their backs, they are presently upon them. And the thing that they most flee, is the shot of an arrow. They never stand still, but are alwaies running and traversing from one place to another; by reason whereof neither crossebow nor arcubuse can aime at them; and before one crossebowman can make one shot, an Indian will discharge three or foure arrowes; and he seldome misseth what

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The Discovery and Conquest of Terra Florida (1851)

hee shooteth at. An arrow, where it findeth no armour, pierceth as deepely as a crossebow. Their bowes are very long, and their arrows are made of certain canes like reedes, very heavie, and so strong, that a sharpe cane passeth thorow a target; some they arme in the point with a sharpe bone of a fish like a chisel, and in others they fasten certaine stones like points of diamants. For the most part, when they light upon an armour, they breake in the place where they are bound together. Those of cane do split and pierce a coate of maile, and are more hurtfull then the other. John Rodriquez Lobillo returned to the campe with sixe men wounded, whereof one died, and brought the foure Indian women, which Baltasar Gallegos had taken in the cabins or cotages. Two leagues from the towne, comming into the plaine field, he espied ten or eleven Indians, among whom was a Christian, which was naked, and scorched with the sunne, and had his armes razed after the manner of the Indians, and differed nothing at all from them. And as soone as the horsemen saw them, they ran toward them. The Indians fled, and some of them hid themselves in a wood, and they overtooke two or three of them, which were wounded; and the Christian, seeing an horseman runne upon him with his lance, began to crie out, Sirs, I am a Christian, slay me not, nor these Indians, for they have saved my life. And straightway he called them, and put them out of feare, and they came foorth of the wood unto them. The horsemen tooke both the Christian and the Indians up behind them; and toward night came into the campe with much joy; which thing being knowne by the Governour, and them that remained in the campe, they were received with the like.

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The Discovery and Conquest of Terra Florida (1851)

Chapter 9

How this Christian came to the land of Florida, and who he was; and what conference he had with the Governour.

This Christian’s name was John Ortiz, and he was borne in Sivil [Seville], in worshipful parentage. He was twelve yeeres in the hands of the Indians. He came into this countrie with Pamphilo de Narvaez, and returned in the ships to the Island of Cuba, where the wife of the Governour, Pamphilo de Narvaez, was: and by his commandment, with twenty or thirty other, in a brigandine, returned backe againe to Florida; and comming to the port in the sight of the towne, on the shore they saw a cane sticking in the ground, and riven at the top, and a letter in it: and they believed that the Governour had left it there to give advertisement of himselfe, when he resolved to goe up into the land: and they demanded it of foure or five Indians, which walked along the sea shore; and they bad them, by signes, to come on shore for it, which, against the will of the rest, John Ortiz and another did. And as soone as they were on land, from the houses of the towne issued a great number of Indians, which compassed them about, and tooke them in a place where they could not flee; and the other, which sought to defend himselfe, they presentlie killed upon the place, and tooke John Ortiz alive, and carried him to Ucita their lord. And those of the brigandine sought not to land, but put themselves to sea, and returned to the island of Cuba. Ucita commanded to bind John Ortiz hand and foote upon foure stakes aloft upon a raft, and to make a fire under him, that there he might bee burned. But a daughter of his desired him that he would not put him to death, alleaging that one only Christian could do him neither hurt nor good, telling him, that it was more for his honour to keepe him as a cap-

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The Discovery and Conquest of Terra Florida (1851)

tive. And Ucita granted her request, and commanded him to be cured of his wounds; and as soone as he was whole, he gave him the charge of the keeping of the temple, because that by night the wolves did cary away the dead corpses out of the same; who commended himselfe to God, and tooke upon him the charge of his temple. One night the wolves gate from him the corpes of a little child, the sonne of a principal Indian; and going after them, he threw a darte at one of the wolves, and strooke him that carried away the corps, who, feeling, himselfe wounded, left it, and fell downe dead neere the place; and hee not woting [knowing] what he had done, because it was night, went backe againe to the temple; the morning being come, and finding not the bodie of the child, he was very sad. As soone as Ucita knew thereof, he resolved to put him to death; and sent by the tract, which he said the wolves went, and found the bodie of the child, and the wolfe dead a little beyond: whereat Ucita was much contented with the Christian, and with the watch which hee kept in the temple, and from thence forward esteemed him much Three yeeres after hee fell into his hands, there came another lord, called Mocoço, who dwelleth two daies journy from the port, and burned his towne. Ucita fled to another towne that he had in another sea port. Thus John Ortiz lost his office and favour that he had with him. These people being worshippers of the divell, are wont to offer up unto him the lives and blood of their Indians, or of any other people they can come by; and they report, that when he will have them doe that sacrifice unto him, he speaketh with them, and telleth them that he is athirst, and willeth them to sacrifice unto him. John Ortiz had notice by the damsell that had delivered him from the fire, how her father was determined to sacrifice him the day following, who willed him to flee to Mocoço, for shee knew that he would use him well; for she heard say, that he had asked for him, and said he would be glad to see him; and because he knew not the

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The Discovery and Conquest of Terra Florida (1851)

way, she went with him halfe a league out of the towne by night, and set him in the way, and returned, because she would not be discovered. John Ortiz travailed all the night, and by the morning came unto a river, which is in the territorie of Mocoço; and there he saw two Indians fishing; and because they were in war with the people of Ucita, and their languages were different, and hee knew not the language of Mocoço, he was afraid (because he could not tell them who hee was, nor how hee came thither, nor was able to answer any thing for himselfe) that they would kill him, taking him for one of the Indians of Ucita; and before they espied him, he came to the place where they had laid their weapons; and as soone as they saw him, they fled toward the towne; and although he willed them to stay, because he meant to do them no hurt, yet they understood him not, and ran away as fast as ever they could. And as soone as they came to the towne with great outcries, many Indians came forth against him, and began to compasse him to shoote at him: John Ortiz seeing himselfe in so great danger, shielded himselfe with certaine trees, and began to shreeke out, and crie very loud, and to tell them that he was a Christian, and that he was fled from Ucita, and was come to see and serve Mocoço his lord. It pleased God, that at that very instant there came thither an Indian that could speake the language and understood him, and pacified the rest, who told them what hee said. Then ran from thence three or foure Indians to beare the newes to their lord, who came foorth a quarter of a league from the towne to receive him, and was very glad of him. He caused him presently to sweare according to the custome of the Christians, that he would not run away from him to any other lord, and promised him to entreate him very well; and that if at any time there came any Christians into that countrie, he would freely let him goe, and give him leave to goe to them; and likewise tooke his oth to performe the same, according to the Indian custome.

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The Discovery and Conquest of Terra Florida (1851)

About three yeares after, certaine Indians, which were fishing at sea two leagues from the towne, brought newes to Mocoço that they had seene ships; and hee called John Ortiz, and gave him leave to go his way; who, taking his leave of him, with all the haste he could, came to the sea, and finding no ships, he thought it to be some deceit, and that the cacique had done the same to learne his mind; so he dwelt with Mocoço nine yeeres, with small hope of seeing any Christians. As soone as our Governor arrived in Florida, it was knowne to Mocoço, and straightway he signified to John Ortiz that Christians were lodged in the towne of Ucita: and he thought he had jested with him, as hee had done before, and told him, that by this time he had forgotten the Christians, and thought of nothing else but to serve him. But he assured him that it was so, and gave him license to goe unto them; saying unto him, that if hee would not doe it, and if the Christians should goe their way, he should not blame him, for he had fulfilled that which hee had promised him. The joy of John Ortiz was so great, that hee could not beleeve that it was true; notwithstanding, he gave him thankes, and tooke his leave of him; and Mocoço gave him tenne or eleven principall Indians to beare him companie; and as they went to the port where the Governour was, they met with Baltasar de Gallêgos, as I have declared before.

As soone as he was come to the campe, the Governour commanded to give him a sute of apparrell, and very good armour, and a faire horse, and enquired of him, whether hee had notice of any countrie, where there was any gold or silver? He answered, No, because he never went ten leagues compasse from the place where he dwelt; but that thirty leagues from thence dwelt an Indian lord, which was called Parocossi, to whom Mocoço and Ucita, with al the rest of that coast, paied tribute, and that hee peradventure might have notice of some good countrie; and that his land was better then that of the sea coast, and more fruitfull and plentifull

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The Discovery and Conquest of Terra Florida (1851)

of maiz; whereof the Governour received great contentment; and said, that he desired no more then to finde victuals, that hee might goe into the maine land, for the land of Florida was so large that in one place or other there could not chuse but bee some rich countrie. The cacique Mocoço came to the port to visit the Governor, and made this speech following:

Right hie and mightie Lord, I being lesser in mine owne conceit for to obey you, then any of those which you have under your command; and greater in desire to doe you greater services, doe appeare before your Lordship with so much confidence of receiving favour, as if in effect this my good will were manifested unto you in workes: not for the small service I did unto you, touching the Christian which I had in my power, in giving him freely his libertie (for I was bound to doe it to preserve mine honour, and that which I had promised him), but because it is the part of great men to use great magnificences: and I am perswaded, that as in bodily perfections, and commanding of good people, you doe exceede all men in the world, so likewise you doe in the parts of the minde, in which you may boast of the bountie of nature. The favour which I hope for of your Lordship is, that you would hold mee for yours, and bethinke your selfe to command me any thing, wherein I may doe you service.

The Governour answered him, that although in freeing and sending him the Christian, he had preserved his honour and promise, yet he thanked him, and held it in such esteeme, as it had no comparison; and that hee would alwais hold him as his brother, and would favor him in all things to the utmost of his power. Then he commanded a shirt to be given him, and other things, wherewith the cacique being verie well contented, tooke his leave of him, and departed to his owne towne.

The Discovery and Conquest of Terra Florida by a Gentleman of Elvas is published in Portugal. It tells the story of Hernando de Soto's expedition into the American Southeast, begun in 1539.
APA Citation:
Anonymous. The Story of Juan Ortiz; an excerpt from The Discovery and Conquest of Terra Florida by a Gentleman of Elvas (1557). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Anonymous. "The Story of Juan Ortiz; an excerpt from The Discovery and Conquest of Terra Florida by a Gentleman of Elvas (1557)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 19 May. 2024
Last updated: 2021, January 29
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