On to Apalachen!
By Marshall C. Harrold
Late June, 1528:
On the shores of Lake Miccosukee, near present Monticello, the advance horsemen sighted the city of Apalachen. It consisted of forty thatched huts with only a few terrified women and children present.
Terrell describes it as, "forty thatched huts. It was dirty, dilapidated, and deserted."
Parish agrees, "dirty and muddy and abandoned." -- "forty thatched huts set in terrible desolation."
The explorers occupied the town. If Narvaez took stock of the situation, it could not have been encouraging. He had wasted a fortune on the expedition and found nothing in Florida of value. His men were starving, ragged, bleeding and sick. They were far from the sea and hopelessly lost. But at least, food was available. Everyone could regain some strength from maize, squash, roots, fish, and wild game.**
On the second morning, the Apalachees attacked. It would continue daily until the Spaniards were clear of their territory.***
In an untenable position, Narvaez released the captured Indian chief after learning of a town on the sea nine days march to the south. Under continuous attack, they reached the burned and deserted village of Aute, near the head of St. Marks Bay.
In two days time, a camp was established nearer the sea and the decision made to build boats. There was no place else to go. That they were able to somehow construct five makeshift boats seems a miracle.**** They had no tools or materials. There were no craftsmen, only a single man who had been a carpenter. As usual, there was never enough food. Most of the men were hurt or sick with fever and dysentery.
September 22, 1528:
The five crude boats were completed and the entire crew, now down to 242 men, moved downstream towards the Gulf of Mexico. The last horse had been eaten the day before. Had they turned southeast, they might have made it down the coast. Instead, they turned west toward a goal that was actually six times as far.
**Historical note: In describing this area and time, Cabeza de Vaca makes the first mention of the American opossum.
***Historical note: This was the first sustained guerilla warfare of Indians attempting to dislodge invading Europeans. It would continue for 300 years.
****Historical note: Crude as it was, this was the first shipyard on U.S. territory with five vessels built in 48 days.