Site of the Ortiz Rescue?
Legend holds that the rescue
of Juan Ortiz took place here
at the Pinellas Point Mound.
Pinellas Point Temple Mound
The mound was once the
center of a large village that
stood on Pinellas Point.
Juan Ortiz and Princess Hirrihigua - St. Petersburg, Florida - Juan Ortiz and Princess Hirrihigua, Florida - Juan Ortiz and Princess Hirrihigua, Florida
The Rescue of Juan Ortiz
This fanciful 1858 illustration shows Princess
Hirrihigua pleading for the life of Juan Ortiz.
Story of a Florida Pocahontas
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 noble-
man, 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
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.
Panfilo de Narvaez
Juan Ortiz was captured when
he returned to Florida at the
behest of Narvaez's wife to
search for the missing
Photos by Lauren Pitone
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Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.