The Good Secretary, Ranjel
The most authoritative account of the De Soto expedition is that of Rodrigo Ranjel, Soto's private secretary. He certainly kept notes, probably in a journal with frequent entries. Also, he was in the best position to receive detailed information from Soto himself, who, as an experienced conquistadore, would have wanted accurate records kept for future dealings with the king.
After surviving the ordeal of the expedition, Ranjel was ordered to Santo Domingo, on the island of Espanola, in 1545-46 to give a deposition of his experiences to the notary Oviedo.
Ranjel's diary has not been discovered. Perhaps it was intermingled and lost with Oviedo's original notes. However, we do have Oviedo's splendid history: "Historia General Y Natural des los Indias."
Oviedo was a proponent of kind treatment to American natives and openly criticized anyone who enslaved and abused them. Thus, Oviedo occasionally deviates from his factual recount of Ranjel's journal to editorialize about Soto's mistakes. These gratuitous interjections are obvious by the change of first-person to third-person speaker.
The following translation was made at the turn of the century by Edward Gaylord Bourne for publication in the three eyewitness "Narratives of De Soto." The entire account is so well well written -- Ranjel must have been well educated -- that it needs little clarification even for readers of another language four centuries later:
On Sunday, May 18, 1539, the Governor Hernando de Soto departed from the City of Havana with a noble fleet of nine vessels: five ships, two caravels and two brigantines. On May 25, which was Whitsuntide, land was seen on the northern coast of Florida.
The fleet came to anchor two leagues from shore in four
fathoms of water or less. The Governor went on board a brigantine to view the land.
With him went a gentleman named Johan de Anasco, and the chief pilot of the fleet whose name was Alonso Martin, to discover what land it was, for they were in doubt as to the port and where to find it.
Not recognizing it, seeing that night was approaching, they wished to return to the ships; but the wind did not suffer them for it was contrary. Therefore they cast anchor near the land and went on shore where they came upon traces of many Indians and one of the large cabins that are seen in the Indies and other small ones. Later they were told that it was the village of Ocita.
The Governor and those with him were in no small peril, since they were few and without arms. No less was the distress of those left in ships to see their General in such an evil case, for they could neither succour nor assist him if there were need. In fact, to take such great care was really heedlessness and excessive zeal, or a lack of prudence on the part of the Governor. Such work belongs to other persons and not to him who has to govern and rule the army. It is enough to send a captain of lower rank for such a reconnaissance and the protection of the pilot who has to go to examine the coast. The ships there were in sore travail -- and the whole fleet too in which there were 570 men, not counting the sailors. Including them the number was fully 700.
The next morning, Monday, the brigantine was far to the leeward of the ships and labouring to come up to them and was nowise able to. Seeing this, Baltasar de Gallegos (a kinsman of the Nunez who survived the Naraez expedition) shouted to the Admiral's ship that the Lieutenant-General, who was a knight named Vasco Porcallo, should go and see what had best be done.
When Porcallo heard him not, to bring aid to the Governor, Gallegos ordered a large caravel to weigh anchor in which that gentleman went as captain, and which put out in the direction where the