June 3 – De Soto Claims La Florida for Spain

Posted June 3, 2013

It's so tough to talk about history, at times; we shudder to tell the whole truth about various expeditions, battles, and peoples, because there is so much that is horrific and brutal. I don't want to write about awful events in detail, and you probably don't want me to!

One of the Spanish explorers, Hernando de Soto, was infamous for his brutality.

He had good qualities, too—he was brave and loyal—but let me assure you that too many Native Americans died at his sword and at his orders.

On this date in 1539, de Soto claimed all of La Florida for Spain. Don't you love it when some guy does that—not knowing how big the particular chunk of land he is standing on is (this was a pretty big chunk—all of North America!), not knowing where on Earth that chunk of land was (de Soto thought he was in the “Indies,” near China), and apparently not caring that people already lived there!—he just says, “I claim this land for my king!”

Only in this case, you know, in Spanish!

At any rate, de Soto ordered some of his men to find and capture natives—but who they found was a Spaniard who had come to the area with an earlier expedition!

The Spaniard, named Juan Ortiz, was naked and had his body decorated like the Uzita Indians he lived with. He carried a bow and arrow, and I would imagine that he had grown quite tan. I wondered how de Soto and his men knew that Ortiz was a Spaniard—but then I read that someone hit him with a lance, and Ortiz called out a prayer in Spanish. Soon he was patched up and well enough to act as an interpreter for de Soto.

Interestingly enough, though Ortiz acted as an interpreter between Native Americans and Spaniards for the rest of his life, he never readopted European clothing and ways. Because he seemed to have “gone native,” some of the Spaniards didn't trust him, but de Soto stayed loyal to Ortiz.

De Soto's expedition through the North American wilderness crossed what would later become Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. I bet you are wondering how Ortiz, who had of course learned to communicate with the Uzita Indians while he lived with them, could be an interpreter to Native Americans living in so many different areas. Well, Ortiz was part of a chain of interpreters. He would communicate with de Soto in Spanish and in the Uzita language with a young boy named Perico. Perico knew several local languages, so he could talk with representatives of several different groups. When the expedition went farther, Perico would talk to an Indian who knew one of his languages but also another language of Native Americans who lived nearby. Eventually de Soto would speak to Ortiz, who would speak to Perico, who would speak to a guide, who would speak to another guide, who would speak to...well, you get the idea!

Also on this date:

Geologist James Hutton's birthday

Anniversary of tonsillitis strikes Elvis Presley and Ringo Starr

Plan ahead:

Check out my Pinterest pages on June holidayshistorical anniversaries in June, and June birthdays.

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