I think of thee, sweet lady, as of one
Too pure to mix with others, like some star,
Shining in pensive beauty all alone,
Kindred with those around, yet brighter far.
                                                                        Mrs. Welby.

In his history of the Conquest of Florida, Mr. Theodore Irving repeats, very interestingly, the story of Juan Ortiz who, with three other Spaniards, fell into the hands of the Indians by stratagem. The four captives were taken to the village of Hirrihigua, the cacique, who ordered them to be executed on a day of religious festival. Three were shot with arrows; and then “Juan Ortiz, a youth, scarce eighteen years of age, of a noble family of Seville, was the fourth victim. As they were leading him forth, his extreme youth touched with compassion the hearts of the wife and daughters of the cacique, who interceded in his favor.

“The cacique listened to their importunities, and granted for the present the life of Ortiz; – but a wretched life did he lead. From morning until evening he was employed in bringing wood and water and was allowed but little sleep and scanty food. Not a day passed that he was not beaten. On festivals he was an object of barbarous amusement to the cacique, who would oblige him to run, from sunrise until sunset, in the public square of the village, where his companions had met their untimely end, Indians being stationed with bows and arrows, to shoot him, should he halt one moment. When the day was spent, the unfortunate youth lay stretched on the hard floor of the hut, more dead than alive. At such times the wife and daughters of the cacique would come to him privately with food and clothing, and by their kind treatment his life was preserved.

” At length the cacique, determining to put an end to his victim’s existence, ordered that he should be bound down upon a wooden frame, in the form of a huge gridiron, placed in the public square, over a bed of live coals, and roasted alive.

“The cries and shrieks of the poor youth reached his female protectors, and their entreaties were once more successful with the cacique. They unbound Ortiz, dragged him from the fire, and took him to their dwelling, where they bathed him with the juice of herbs, and tended him with assiduous care. After many days he recovered from his wounds, though marked with many a scar.

“His employment was now to guard the cemetery of the village. This was in a lonely field in the bosom of a forest. The bodies of the dead were deposited in wooden boxes, covered with boards, without any fastening except a stone or a log of wood laid upon the top; so that the bodies were often carried away by wild beasts.

“In this cemetery was Ortiz stationed, with a bow and arrows, to watch day and night, and was told that should a single body be carried away, he would be burnt alive. He returned thanks to God for having freed him from the dreaded presence of the cacique. hoping to lead a better life with the dead than he had done with the living.

“While watching thus one long wearisome night, sleep overpowered him towards morning. He was awakened by the falling lid of one of the chests, and running to it, found it empty. It had contained the body of an infant recently deceased, the child of an Indian of great note.

“Ortiz doubted not some animal had dragged it away, and immediately set out in pursuit. After wandering for some time, he heard, at a short distance within the woods, a noise like that of a dog gnawing bones. Warily drawing near to the spot, he dimly perceived an animal among the bushes, and invoking succor from on high, let fly an arrow at it. The thick and tangled underwood prevented his seeing the effect of his shot, but as the animal did not stir, he flattered himself that it had been fatal: with this hope he waited until the day dawned, when he beheld his victim, a huge animal of the panther kind, lying dead, the arrow having passed through his entrails and cleft his heart.

“Gathering together the mangled remains of the infant, and replacing them in the coffin, Ortiz dragged his victim in triumph to the village, with the arrow still in his body. The exploit gained him credit with the old hunters, and for some time softened even the ferocity of the cacique. The resentment of the latter, however, from the wrongs he had suffered from white men, was too bitter to be appeased. Some time after, his eldest daughter came to Ortiz, and warned him that her father had determined to sacrifice him at the next festival, which was just at hand, and that the influence of her mother, her sisters, and herself would no longer avail him. She wished him, therefore, to take refuge with a neighboring cacique named Mucozo, who loved her and sought her in marriage, and who, for her sake, would befriend him. ‘This very night at midnight.’ said the kind-hearted maiden, ‘at the northern extremity of the village you will find a trusty friend who will guide you to a bridge, about two leagues hence; on arriving there, you must send him back, that he may reach home before the morning dawn, to avoid suspicion -for well he knows that this bold act, in daring to assist you, may bring down destruction upon us both. Six leagues further on, you will come to the village of Mucozo -tell him I have sent you, and expect him to befriend you in your extremity -I know he will do it-go, and may your God protect you!’ Ortiz threw himself at the feet of his generous protectress, and poured out his acknowledgments for the kindness she had always shown him. The Indian guide was at the place appointed, and they left the village without alarming the warlike savages. When they came to the bridge, Ortiz sent back the guide, in obedience to the injunction of his mistress, and, continuing his flight, found himself, by break of day, on the banks of a small stream near the village of Mucozo.

“Looking cautiously around, he espied two Indians fishing. As he was unacquainted with their language, and could not explain the cause of his coming, he was in dread lest they should take him for an enemy and kill him. He, therefore, ran to the place where they had deposited their weapons and seized upon them. The savages fled to the village without heeding his assurances of friendly intention. The inhabitants sallied out with bows and arrows, as though they would attack him. Ortiz fixed an arrow in his bow, but cried out at the same moment, that he came not as an enemy but as an ambassador from a female cacique to their chief. Fortunately one present understood him, and interpreted his words. On this the Indians unbent their bows, and returning with him to their village, presented him to Mucozo. The latter, a youthful chieftain, of a graceful form and handsome countenance, received Ortiz kindly for the sake of her who had sent him; but, on further acquaintance, became attached to him for his own merits, treating him with the affection of a brother.”


Excerpted from Noble Deeds of American Women
(Patriotic Series for Boys and Girls)
Edited by J. Clement
With an Introduction by Mrs. L. H. Sigourney
BOSTON: Lee and Shepard, Publishers
Entered by Act of Congress, in the year of 1851,
by E. H. Derby and Co., in the Clerk’s Office of the Northern District of New York

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