North Florida Love Story
Carlos Santana
((( “all the love of the universe” )))



One of the most remarkable stories in American history is that of Juan Ortiz, a Spanish explorer who had the misfortune of being captured and almost roasted alive by outraged Indians at Tampa Bay. Born in Seville, Spain, and the son of a nobleman, Ortiz had first traveled to Florida with the ill-fated conquistador Panfilo de Narvaez. Commander of an expedition that landed in or near present-day St. Petersbug in 1528, Narvaez quickly proved himself a brutal enemy of the Tocobaga Indians living in the area. He cut off the nose of a chief named Hirrihigua and literally fed one of the chief’s family members to the expeditions war dogs. As might be expected, the chief (called Ucita by one of the De Soto chroniclers and Hirrihigua by another) developed a fierce hatred for Europeans. He thirsted for revenge and the opportunity finally came when the
unfortunate Juan Ortiz fell into his hands. Ortiz had been a member of the Narvaez expedition, but had gone back to Cuba with
the ships as the ill-fated soldiers marched away into the interior of Florida. When she heard nothing of her husband, Narvaez’ wife sent Ortiz and 20 or 30 others back to Florida in a small ship to search for him. Ortiz was among those on board the vessel. When the ship arrived at Tampa Bay, the sailors spotted what appeared to be a note attached to a stick or reed and left on a beach. Indians could be seen there and two actually paddled out to the Spanish ship where they were taken as hostages. Ortiz and three others then set out for shore in a small boat to investigate the apparent note, but no sooner did they arrive than were they surrounded by a large crowd of warriors and taken prisoner. At the same time the two hostages aboard the ship broke free and jumped overboard, swimming away to safety. Three of the prisoners were killed with arrows in the plaza of Hirrihigua’s (or Ucita’s) village, but a more gruesome fate was
reserved for Ortiz. After being spared for some time and used as a slave to bring firewood and perform other menial tasks, the 18-year-old Ortiz was tied to a large grill and placed over a bed of hot coals. It was the plan of the chief to roast him alive there in slow agony. Ortiz’s screams soon filled the air and several female relatives of the chief rushed forward to plea for his life. Among these was said to be a daughter of the chief, long remembered in Florida tradition as Princess Hirrihigua.

Ortiz survived but was severely burned and bore the scars of the ordeal for the rest of his life. He eventually went on to live with another area chief named Mococo, who was an enemy of the warriors who had captured him.

In 1539, Mococo unexpectedly informed him that Spanish ships had arrived in the bay and that he was free to go. He set out with several companions to find the explorers, but when he did so the Spanish unexpectedly attacked his little party. Barely still able to speak his native language, Ortiz called out a religious phrase and the stunned soldiers halted their attack. The told him they were from Hernando de Soto’s army and carried him back to their leader. De Soto used Ortiz as an interpreter and he joined the disastrous expedition. The eventual fate of Princess Hirrihigua is not known. Although claims have been advanced on behalf of several communities, the oldest known legend associates the rescue of Ortiz with the Pinellas Point Temple Mound in St. Petersburg. This ancient Tocobaca site is said to have been the village of Hirrihigua (or Ucita, depending on the sorce), the chief who captured Ortiz.