THE TRISTAN de LUNA EXPEDITION
by Steve Pinson of The Pensacola Archeology Lab


Probable map from the Soto expedition. This map may have been available to Luna (from Swanton, 1985, Final Report of the United States DeSoto Expedition Commission, p.343)

The Council of the Indies advised Philip II to confide the conquest and settlement of Florida to Don Luis de Velasco, viceroy of New Spain, who was anxious to undertake the task. The Catholic monarch had previously rejected the projects of Zurita and Samano; but the high character of Velasco induced him to confide the task to the viceroy of Mexico. The step was a gain for the humanitarian party, and the King, on giving his approval, directed that Dominican friars should be selected to accompany the colonists, in order to minister to them and convert the Indians.

Don Luis de Velasco had directed the government in Mexico since November 1550, with remarkable prudence and ability. The natives found in him such an earnest, capable, and unwavering protector that he is styled in history the Father of the Indians. The plans adopted by this excellent governor for the occupation of Florida were in full harmony with the Dominican views. In the treatment of the Indians he anticipated the just and equitable methods which gave Calvert, Williams, and Penn so enviable a place in American annals.

The occupation was not to be one of conquest, and all intercourse with the Indians was to be on the basis of natural equity. His first step was prompted by his characteristic prudence. In September 1558, he dispatched Guido de las Bazares, with three vessels and a sufficient force, to explore the whole Florida coast, and select the best port he found for the projected settlement. Las Bazares, on his return after an investigation of several months, reported in favor of a bay, which he named Filipina*.

Caravels exploring the Florida coast.

He describes its entrance between a long island and a point of land. The country was well wooded, game and fish abounded, and corn, beans, and pumpkins were found in the native villages. On the return of las Bazares in December, preparations were made for the expedition, which was placed under the command of Don Tristan de Luna y Arellano.

The force consisted of fifteen hundred soldiers and settlers, under six captains of cavalry and six of infantry, some of who had been at Coca, and were consequently well acquainted with the country where it was intended to form the settlement. The Dominicans selected were Fathers Pedro de Feria, as vicar-provincial of Florida, Dominic of the Annunciation, Dominic de Salazar, John Macuelas, Dominic of Saint Dominic, and a lay brother. The object being to settle, provisions for a whole year were prepared, and ammunition to meet all their wants.

Luna lands at Santa Maria de Ochuse--1559.(from Dixie Cards).

The colonists, thus well fitted for their undertaking, sailed from Vera Cruz on June 11th, 1559; and by the first of the following month were off the bay in Florida to which Miruelo had given his name. Although Labazares had recommended Filipina Bay, Tristan de Luna seems to have been induced by his pilots to give the preference to the Bay of Ochuse; and he sailed west in search of it, but passed it, and entered Filipina Bay. Finding that he had gone too far, Luna sailed back ten leagues east to Ochuse.
Here he anchored his fleet, and dispatched the factor Luis Daza, with a galleon, to Vera Cruz to announce his safe arrival. He fitted two other vessels to proceed to Spain, awaiting the return of two exploring parties. He then prepared to land his colonists and stores. Meanwhile he sent a detachment of one hundred men under captains Alvaro Nyeto and Gonzalo Sanchez, accompanied by one of the missionaries, to explore the country and ascertain the disposition of the Indians. The exploring parties returned after three weeks, having found only one hamlet, in the midst of an uninhabited country. Before Luna had unloaded his vessels, they were struck, during the night of September 19th by a terrible hurricane, which lasted twenty-four hours, destroying five ships, a galleon and a bark, and carrying one caravel and its cargo into a grove some distance on land.

Luna had two galleons. The San Juan was in Cuba when the hurricane struck, and the Andonquin was sunk.(from Winsor).

Many of the people perished, and most of the stores intended for the maintenance of the colony were ruined or lost.

The river, entering the Bay of Ochuse*, proved to be very difficult to navigate, and it watered a sparsely peopled country. Another detachment marched forty days apparently toward the northwest through unoccupied country until they reached a large river and followed its banks to Nanipacana*, a deserted town of eighty houses. Explorations in various directions found no other signs of Indian occupation. The natives at last returned and became friendly.

Tristan de Luna soon found his original site unfavorable after exhausting the relief-supplies sent him. He was himself prostrated by a fever in which he became delirious. This left Juan de Jaramillo at the port with fifty men and negro slaves, who proceeded with the rest of his company, nearly a thousand people, to Nanipacana*. Some traveled by land, and some ascended the river in their lighter craft. To this town he gave the name of Santa Cruz. The Spaniards soon consumed the stores of Indian corn, beans, and other vegetables left by the Indians and soon were forced to live on acorns or any herbs they could gather.

The Viceroy, on hearing of their sufferings, sent two vessels to their relief in November, promising more ample aid in the spring. The provisions they obtained saved them from starvation during the winter, but in the spring their condition became as desperate as ever. No attempt seems to have been made to cultivate the Indian fields, or to raise anything for their own support.

In hope of obtaining provisions from Coca, Luna sent his sergeant major with six captains and two hundred soldiers, accompanied by Father Dominic de Salazar and Dominic of the Annunciation, to that province. On the march the men were forced to eat straps, harnesses, and the leather coverings of their shields. Some of them died of starvation, while herbs that they ate poisoned others. A chestnut wood proved a godsend, and a fifty days march brought them to Olibahali, where the friendly natives ministered to their wants.

About the beginning of July they reached Coca, then a town of thirty houses located on a river, near which were seven other towns of the same chiefdom. Entering into friendly intercourse with these Indians, the Spaniards obtained food for themselves and their jaded horses. After resting here for three months, the Spaniards, to gain the good will of the Cosas, agreed to aid them in a campaign against the Napochies. The Cosas and their Spanish allies defeated this tribe, and compelled them to pay tribute, as of old, to the Cosas. But his messengers found no Spaniard at Nanipacana*, save one hanging from a tree. Tristan de Luna, supposing his men lost, had gone down to Ochuse Bay* by way of Filipina Bay. He left directions on a tree guiding his men to a buried clay pot beneath the tree that contained a letter with detailed instructions. Father Feria and some others had sailed for Havana, and all were eager to leave the country. Tristan de Luna was reluctant to abandon the projected settlement, and wished to proceed to Coca with all the survivors of his force. His sickness had left him so capricious and severe that he seemed actually insane. The supplies promised in the spring had not arrived in September, though four ships left Vera Cruz toward the end of June. Parties sent out by land and water found the fields on the Rio Piache* and Rio Tome forsaken by the Indians, who had lain waste their towns and removed their provisions. In this desperate state George Ceron, the maestro de compo, opposed the Governor's plan, and a large part of the force rallied around him. When Tristan de Luna issued a proclamation ordering the march, there was an open mutiny, and the Governor condemned the whole of the insurgents to death. Of course he could not attempt to execute so many, but he did hang one who deserted. The mutineers secretly sent word to Coca, and in November the party from that province with the two missionaries arrived at the Bay of Ochuse*. A detachment left at Filipina Bay was also recalled to Ochuse uniting the whole force. The dissentions continued till the missionaries, amid the solemnities of Holy Week, by appealing to the religious feelings of the commander and Ceron, effected reconciliation.

At this juncture Angel de Villafafane's fleet entered the harbor of Ochuse*. He announced to the people that he was on his way to Santa Elena, which Tristan de Luna had made an ineffectual effort to reach. All who chose were at liberty to accompany him.

The Tatton-Wright Map of the New World, 1600, showing the Spanish settlements along the coast of La Florida.

The desire to evacuate the country where they had suffered so severely was universal. None expressed a wish to remain, and Tristan de Luna, seeing himself utterly abandoned, embarked for Havana with a few servants. Villafafane then took on board all except a detachment of fifty or sixty men who were left at Ochuse* under Captain Biedma, with orders to remain five or six months; at the expiration of which time they were to sail away also, in case no instructions came. Villafafane, with the " San Juan " and three other vessels and about two hundred men, put into Havana, but there many of the men deserted, and several officers refused to proceed.

Locating Tristan de Luna's Port of Entry
Colorful Native Images       A Story for Kids       Conquest for Teens       Native American Conquest