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.