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date: 18 August 2019

Luna y Arellano, Tristan defree

(1514?–16 September 1573)
  • Paul E. Hoffman

Luna y Arellano, Tristan de (1514?–16 September 1573), explorer and colonizer of La Florida, was born in Borovia, Soria province, Spain, the son of Don Carlos de Luna y Arellano, marshal of Castile and lord of Ciria and Borobia, and his second wife, Doña Juana Dávalos. Nothing is known of his childhood or education. Luna first went to New Spain in 1530 in the retinue of Hernán Cortés, whose wife, Doña Juana de Zuñiga, was Luna’s cousin. Returning to Spain, Luna next voyaged to New Spain in 1535 with another cousin, Don Antonio de Mendoza, the first viceroy of Mexico. When Mendoza organized the Francisco Vázquez de Coronado expedition to explore New Mexico (1540–1542), Luna was appointed captain of cavalry but soon rose to the rank of brigadier general (maestre de campo) when the holder of that position fell ill and could not continue. Luna’s principal duty was to lead the main body of the army while Coronado explored in the van. Luna accompanied Coronado on the journey in search of Quivira and claimed credit for preparing the winter supplies and camp for 1542.

Three years after his return to Mexico Luna married Isabel de Rojas, a wealthy twice-widowed woman from Oaxaca. Her properties and encomiendas made his fortune. They had two children. She was to die by 1558.

In 1548 Viceroy Mendoza appointed Luna commander of a force sent to repress an uprising of the Coatlan and Tetiapa Indians in the mountains of Oaxaca. He imposed a peace that lasted for a decade. In 1551 he was named administrator of the estates of the marques del Valle de Oaxaca, Hernán Cortés’s son, a position he held for a number of years.

When the regency government in Spain approved plans to found a Spanish colony on the northern shore of the Gulf of Mexico, then Viceroy Luis de Velasco named Luna as commander. The colony was to be a base from which shipwrecked persons might be rescued, from which missionaries might reach the numerous Indian groups reported by Hernando de Soto’s expedition as resident in the interior of the American Southeast, and from which a string of Spanish towns might be established along a road that would reach the Atlantic coast at the Punta de Santa Elena (present-day Tybee Island, Ga.) via Coosa and Cofitachequi.

As was customary, Luna used his fortune and mortgaged his children’s inheritance properties (from their mother) to help pay some of the expedition’s expenses. In addition, the royal treasury and many of the persons who went on the expedition put substantial sums into its outfitting. Some 500 soldiers and other persons sailed from San Juan de Ulua on 11 June 1559 expecting to find a land rich in agricultural products and filled with Indians who could be distributed in encomiendas.

The Luna expedition proved to be a failure in spite of the elaborate preparations and Viceroy Velasco’s keen interest in it. The landing of the expedition at Ochuse (present-day Pensacola Bay) on 14 August was followed on 19 August by a tropical storm that sank many of the ships and their cargoes of supplies. While awaiting replacement supplies, Luna moved the expedition to Nanipacana, an Indian town on the Alabama River. Believing the tales of Coosa’s abundance that the survivors of de Soto’s expedition had spread in New Spain, in April 1560 Luna sent Captain Mateo del Sauz to find that place, which he did after some difficulty. Sauz reported that Coosa had food but that only some of the residents of the towns were present, the rest evidently having retired to the forests to avoid the Spaniards. Meanwhile, the expedition returned to Pensacola Bay and received supplies sent from Cuba and Mexico. Heartened by Sauz’s report, Luna wanted to move the expedition to Coosa but was prevented from doing so by his officers. Discouraged by hardships already suffered, they and the Dominican friars in the expedition lobbied Viceroy Velasco to replace Luna as its commander and withdraw it from Florida. Velasco, meanwhile, had received preemptory orders from Philip II to send a party from Ochuse to the Punta de Santa Elena. In response, Luna ordered his nephew Martín Díaz to lead three ships to the Punta de Santa Elena, but storms forced two of them into Havana, whence they returned to Mexico, as did the third.

Velasco, meanwhile, appointed Angel de Villafañe to replace Luna as governor and captain general of Florida. His orders called for allowing the discontented to return to New Spain, leaving a small garrison at Ochuse, and then taking the remaining men to occupy the Punta de Santa Elena. Villafañe arrived at Ochuse on 8 April 1561.

Luna sailed to Spain to defend his record, seek compensation for his services to the crown, and attempt to ensure that he would inherit the title of marshal of Castile from his older brother, who had no heirs. He was disappointed on all counts. The title passed to his son, Don Carlos de Arellano (1575). After his return to Mexico in 1564, Luna lived an impoverished life until his death in the Mexico City home of a longtime friend, Don Luis de Castilla.


The classic treatment of Luna and his expedition is Herbert I. Priestley, ed., The Luna Papers (2 vols., 1928). Other accounts are in Woodbury Lowery, The Spanish Settlements within the Present Limits of the United States, 1513–1561 (1901); Robert Weddle, Spanish Sea (1985); and Paul E. Hoffman, A New Andalucia and a Way to the Orient: The American Southeast during the Sixteenth Century (1990). Luna’s genealogy is found in Ricardo Ortega y Pérez Gallardo, Historia genealógica de las familias más antiguas de Mexico (1908), vol. 2, pt. 1, portfolio 8; Jorge Ignacio Rubio Mañe, Introducción al estudio de los virreyes de Nueva España, 1535–1746, vol. 2 (1955), pp. 74–81; and Peter Boyd-Bowman, Indice geobiográfico de 40,000 pobladores españoles de America en el siglo XVI, vol. 2 (1964), p. 179.