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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

What's in a name?

What I hear from most of you who talk to me about my columns is that you prefer the offbeat: the recent pieces on cabbage palm or female mayors, for example. You seem to want the historical more than the current, so I won’t mention that Forbes – certainly no liberal magazine – recently deemed Barack Obama “the best economic president of modern times.” It compared him with that Republican hero, Ronald Reagan, and concluded that in all categories – inflation, budget deficits, the size of government and more -- Obama has outperformed Reagan.

I also won’t focus on the important fact that the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri largely was caused by police in ultra-expensive riot gear who used even more expensive military armor. It’s another example of the wrong-headedness of valuing capital budgets (things) over operating budgets (people). This is something that guys are especially prone to do: for many of them, expenditures for weapons are justifiable, while those for psychologists and social workers to prevent violence are not. Along those lines, did you see that Homeland Security has spent money for “snow camouflage parkas” – in New Orleans? But we won’t expand on that either.

Instead, because I’m facing a couple of deadlines other than La Gaceta’s, I’m going to use a bit more of the material that was cut in my upcoming book on Florida women. This is particularly relevant because of the recent opening of Waterworks Park, which contains the restored Ulele Springs. The spring was one of the natural uprisings of underground water that sustained early Tampa, before we built a reservoir upriver and started drinking mud.

So have you wondered about the name “Ulele?” To create the context, I’ll begin with the story of Spanish conquistador Panfilo de Navarez. You probably have driven countless times past the historical marker about him that is near what we used to call the “ice cube” of the “beer can” building. On Ashley near Kennedy, that is. I think the sign still is there, anyway. Narvarez certainly was there – or somewhere nearby -- almost five hundred years ago. Like many such men, he never returned to the Caribbean or Mexico or whatever departure point these expeditions took on their searches for La Florida.

So here’s what was in the original text:

* * *

Other Europeans briefly visited Florida after Ponce de Leon’s initial 1513 voyage, but no Spanish conquistador attempted a major invasion until 1528, when Panfilo de Narvaez led three ships from Cuba. Ten women sailed with him. They disembarked at Tampa Bay, where Narvaez decided to march north with some three hundred soldiers, while ordering a hundred men and the “ten married women” back onboard. He told the ship’s captain to sail along the coast and meet the army further north. It was a thoughtless plan: no one knew what lay ahead or even if Florida was an island or a peninsula, and the two groups never found each other.

Eventually Narvaez and all but four of his men would perish, while the ship that included the women returned to Cuba, where Narvaez’s wife, Maria de Valenzuela, lived. A widow when she wed him, Valenzuela brought a significant amount of property to the marriage and was a good business manager who increased their fortune in his absence. She already had expended a great deal of money and effort on her husband’s behalf, including ransom to save him from prison in Mexico.

Meanwhile, Florida women had the unfortunate experience of meeting the cruel Narvaez. Like other conquistadors -- and modern fascists -- his policy was to induce terror by demonstrating extreme insensitivity from the beginning. He greeted Tampa Bay’s chief of the Tocabago, Hirrihigua, by cutting off his nose. When the chief’s mother objected, Spanish dogs were set on her to eat her alive.

When Narvaez failed to return to Cuba, Maria de Valenzuela hired men to search for him. As they sailed into Tampa Bay, the Tocabago made it clear that they would resist invasion. No more than three or four Spanish men dared to disembark, and all were fortunate enough to be killed by arrows -- except for Juan Ortiz, who was sentenced to be slowly roasted alive.

All over North America, native women played a strong role in deciding the fate of prisoners of war. The reasoning was that women would be in charge of feeding and guarding the prisoners, so they had a right to plead for those they valued – and to do the opposite for those who were unworthy. From 1617 and Virginia’s Pocahontas to 1862 and Minnesota’s Azayamankawan (“Berry Picker”), there were women who saved the lives of men who had been sentenced to death.

Thus it was not particularly unusual for Ulele, a daughter of the Tampa Bay chief, to plead for Juan Ortiz. His screams from the fire moved her; she asked that he be released; and he was. One source says that her mother and sisters joined in this – something that demonstrates a remarkable willingness to forgive, given that presumably it was Ulele’s grandmother, the mother of chief Hirrihigua, who had been killed by Spanish dogs.

Ulele treated Ortiz’s wounds and nursed him back to health, and he lived with her people for the next seven years. Ulele saved his life a second time then, helping him escape when others in the clan were convinced that he intended to betray them. He repaid Ulele’s kindness by doing just that.

When the de Soto expedition arrived in 1539, he eagerly joined it and, because of the language and survival skills that Ulele had taught him, he was of great value to the Spanish. He died in Mississippi in 1543, but not before his knowledge of native ways had enabled the conquistadors to inflict fatal pain on Ulele’s people.

Almost a century prior to the much more famous Pocahontas, our own Ulele set the model for native women who saved the lives of European men. The pattern would be repeated countless times as America’s first peoples won the occasional victory during the genocide against them. Think of her when you visit the new park. Tell her story to the children who play there. And remember, without women, history ends in a generation. We always were there.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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