11 Chapter VII: The Character of the Country (Excerpt)
The Character of the Country
Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca
The country where we came on shore to this town and region of Apalachen, is for the most part level, the ground of sand and stiff earth. Throughout are immense trees and open woods, in which are walnut, laurel and another tree called liquid-amber,^ cedars, savins, evergreen oaks, pines, red-oaks and palmitos like those of Spain. There are many lakes, great and small, over every part of it; some troublesome of fording, on account of depth and the great number of trees lying throughout them. Their beds are sand. The lakes in the country of Apalachen are much larger than those we found before coming there. In this Province are many maize fields ; and the houses are scattered as are those of the Gelves. There are deer of three kinds,^ rabbits, hares, bears, lions and other wild beasts. Among them we saw an animal with a pocket on its belly, in which it carries its young until they know how to seek food; and if it happen that they should be out feeding and any one come near, the mother will not run until she has gathered them in together. The country is very cold. It has fine pastures for herds. Birds are of vari- ous kinds. Geese in great numbers. Ducks, mallards, royal-ducks, fly-catchers, night-herons and partridges abound. We saw many falcons, gerfalcons, sparrow- hawks, merlins, and numerous other fowl.
Two hours* after our arrival at Apalachen,^ the Indians who had fled from there came in peace to us, asking for their women and children, whom we re- leased ; but the detention of a cacique by the Governor produced great excitement, in consequence of which they returned for battle early the next day,* and at- tacked us with such promptness and alacrity that they succeeded in setting tire to the houses in which we were. As we sallied they fled to the lakes near by, because of which and the large maize fields, we could do them no injury, save in the single instance of one Indian, whom we killed. The day following,t others came against us from a town on the opposite side of the lake,^ and attacked us as the first had done, escap- ing in the same way, except one who was also slain. We were in the town twenty-five days,J in which time we made three incursions, and found the country very thinly peopled and difiicult to travel for the bad passages, the woods and lakes. We inquired of the cacique we kept and the natives we brought with us, who were the neighbors and enemies of these Indians, as to the nature of the country, the character and con- dition of the inhabitants, of the food and all other matters concerning it. Each answered apart from the rest, that the largest town in all that region was Apa-
lachen; the people beyond were less numerous and poorer, the land little occupied, and the inhabitants much scattered ; that thenceforward were great lakes, dense forests, immense deserts and solitudes. We then asked touching the region towards the south, as to the towns and subsistence in it. They said that in keeping such a direction, journeying nine days, there was a town called Ante, the inhabitants whereof had much maize, beans and pumpkins, and being near the sea, they had fish, and that those people were their friends. In view of the poverty of the land, the unfavorable accounts of the population and of everjrthing else we heard, the Indians making continual war upon us, wounding our people and horses at the places where they went to drink, shooting from the lakes with such safety to themselves that we could not retaliate, killing a lord of Tescuco,^ named Don Pedro, whom the Com- missary brought with him, we determined to leave that place and go in quest of the sea, and the town of Ante of which we were told.
At the termination of the twenty-five days after our arrival we departed,* and on the first day got through those lakes and passages without seeing any one, and on the second day we came to a lake difiicult of cross- ing, the water reaching to the paps, and in it were numerous logs. On reaching the middle of it we were attacked by many Indians from behind trees, who thus covered themselves that we might not get sight of them, and others were on the fallen timbers. They drove their arrows with such eiFect that they wounded many men and horses, and before we got through the lake they took our guide. They now followed, en- deavoring to contest the passage ; but our coming out afforded no relief, nor gave us any better position ; for when we wished to fight them they retired immedi- ately into the lake, whence they continued to wound our men and beasts. The Governor, seeing this, com- manded the cavalry to dismount and charge the In- dians on foot. Accordingly the Comptroller alighting with the rest, attacked them, when they all turned and ran into the lake at hand, and thus the passage was gained.
Some of our men were wounded in this conflict, for whom the good armor they wore did not avail. There were those this day who swore that they had seen two red oaks, each the thickness of the lower part of the leg, pierced through from side to side by arrows ; and this is not so much to be wondered at, considering the power and skill with which the Indians are able to project them. I myself saw an arrow that had entered the butt of an elm to the depth of a span. The Indians we had so far seen in Florida are all archers. They go naked, are large of body, and ap- pear at a distance Uke giants. They are of admirable proportions, very spare and of great activity and strength. The bows they use are as thick as the arm, of eleven or twelve palms in length, which they will discharge at two hundred paces with so great pre- cision that they miss nothing.