And so you know, reader, what life these Spaniards led, Rodrigo Rangel, as an eyewitness, says that among many other needs of men that were experienced in this enterprise, he saw a nobleman named Don Antonio Osorio, brother of the Lord Marquis of Astorga, with a doublet of blankets of that land, torn on the sides, his flesh exposed, without a hat, bare-headed, bare-footed, without hose or shoes, a shield at his back, a sword without a scabbard, the snows and cold very great;...1
As they passed all the nights formed in squadrons and had such little clothing to wear—for the best equipped among them had only breeches and jackets of deerskin, and almost all were barefooted, without shoes or sandals...2
Clayton, Lawrence A., Vernon James Knight Jr. and Edward C. More. De Soto Chronicles Vol. I &II (The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa: 1993.)
1 Clayton. Vol. I. p.296.
2 Clayton. Vol. II. p.375
I also recalled that two members of the expedition had used Indian bows, one an Englishman, the other a Spaniard raised in England. It was noted that the Native bows were too heavily strung for a regular Castilian to draw. By way of explanation, the English who had used the longbow to such devastating effect during the Hundred Years War had kept the longbow and the years of training required to use it, in their arsenal well into the sixteenth century. In fact the greatest trove of English bows and arrows comes form the Mary Rose which sank in 1545 just after the Soto expedition had ended. Garcilaso describes the Indian weapons:
The Indians make use of all sorts of arms except the crossbow and the musket. They believe that the bow and arrow give them a particular grace, and for that reason they always carry them to the chase and to the war. But as they have a very convenient height, their bows are very long and large in proportion. They are of oak ordinarily, or of some other wood of this sort; it is for this reason that they are difficult to bend, and there is no Spaniard who can draw the cord to his face, whereas the Indians draw it even behind the ear, and make astonishing allots. The cord of their bow is of the skin of the stag, and this is how they make it: from the skin of the stag they cut from the tail to the head a thong two fingers in breadth. Then they take the hair from this thong, soak it, twist it, and attach one end of it to the branch of a tree, and the other to a weight of one hundred or one hundred and twenty pounds, and leave this skin until it becomes in the form of a large catgut. Finally, in order not to wound the left arm with the cord when it is discharged, they make use of a half armlet of large feathers, which covers it from the wrist to the elbow. and which is secured with a leather strap, with which they make several turns around the arm, and thus they discharge the cord with a force altogether remarkable.11.
I was pretty sure that, like most of the good stuff, I had likewise found the story of the two conquistadors using bows in Garcilaso's Florida of the Inca. But I'm a footnote kind of guy when it comes to passing along information. The oral tradition is great but sometimes I think gets relied on too often in reenactment. One rarely gets challenged when talking to the public but I really like being able to tell where some tidbit of information comes from. So I did term search (bow, longbow, Englishmen, England) on the electronic version of Garcilaso referenced above. No luck, which wasn't too surprising since that e-version of Florida of the Inca has numerous OCR scan faults and is abridged too. I checked the indices of both my hardbound copies of the Garcilaso translations, the above mentioned Vol.II of The De Soto Chronicles and the Varner and Varner edition. Again I couldn't find it. I term searched the other three Soto narratives that I've got in html format and still nothing, likewise the index to Vol.I of the Chronicles was a dead end.
Though beginning to wonder if I was falling prey to the above mentioned errors of the oral tradition it was time for, in the terminology of Itunes, "deeper cuts". Recalling that the 1939 Final Report of the United States De Soto Expedition Commission by John R. Swanton had a breakdown of the members of the expedition by origin. There on p.83 confirmation that I had remembered the story correctly.
Garcilaso tells of one Englishman who insisted on keeping his longbow instead of adopting a crossbow, in which he was accompanied by a Spaniard who had lived in England until he was twenty.
The footnote attached to this sentence referenced a long out of print edition of Florida of the Inca, but just the kind of public domain obscurity that Google Books is meant for. Of course I couldn't find it either. But they had scanned Varner & Varner. "Englishman" turned up one result on page 596. "Archer" was the term I should have looked for! So here it is; in context this incident is during the final days of the entrada as the survivors make their way down the Mississippi river in barges.
One archer was a Spaniard who from childhood to the age of twenty had been reared in England, another was an Englishman by birth; therefore as men experienced in the arms of England and skillful with the bow and arrow, they would use no weapons but those throughout the whole expedition, and for this reason were carrying them at present.