Native American Conquest
A Fresh Look at the New World:
North America from 1539 to 1543
by Donald E. Sheppard
eBook with maps for: Apple, Kindle-Color, Sony
Table of Contents
South Carolina Trails
North Carolina Trails
North Georgia Trails
Central Tennessee Trails
Louisiana Conquest Trails
Texas Conquest Trails
The End of the Line
Boatbuilding in Arkansas
Escape From Native America
Indian Place Names
Conquest Lunar Activity
Hernando de Soto led the first Europeans into America's heartland in 1539. Extremely rich from the conquest of Peru, he wanted to colonize what he called this "Island of Florida." He planned to conquer another gold rich New World city then open a passage to trade Spain's New World gold with China, the finest market in the world. To do so, Spain's King, desiring to avoid the dangerous shipping route around Africa, granted DeSoto any 500-mile wide trade route across North America if he could settle there within four years.
Cabeza de Vaca, the first Spaniard to trudge the Gulf of Mexico's shoreline, had just returned to Spain with stories of vast riches and an inland sea in North America. DeSoto's 600-man army's search for those riches and that sea would be well documented for four years and 4,000 miles through Native American nations. DeSoto would die before leaving America.
DeSoto's maps are not known to exist, but three of his followers published careful observations of his travels: Luys Hernandez de Biedma, the King's Agent, in his Relation of the Island of Florida; Rodrigo Rangel, DeSoto's personal secretary, in his Account of the Northern Conquest and Discovery of Hernando de Soto; and one who called himself "A Knight of Elvas" in Narratives of the Career of Hernando de Soto in the Conquest of Florida. Garcilaso de la Vega later published Florida of the Inca based on interviews with expedition survivors. Collectively called the "Chroniclers" here, each reported what he perceived (map above left) but each saw and heard things from different vantage points. They were among tribes whose languages were so alien to their own that Indian place names varied somewhat among them.
Various Indian place names would be used by scholars to map DeSoto's Trail in the Final Report of the United States De Soto Expedition Commission in 1939 (map above right), the one taught in schools today. It zigzags across the South, unlike DeSoto's known conquest history in Peru. We now realize that many historic tribal locations used by the Commission had been shifted south and/or west by starvation, disease and war shortly after DeSoto encountered them, before later European explorers mapped the locations of the tribes used by the Commission to track DeSoto.
This work attempts to follow DeSoto's army between his Chroniclers' named tribal places in relation to well-described geographic features which have not moved since DeSoto was here. Satellite refined topography enables a truer placement of DeSoto's trail between Indian villages, cities again today, across America's landscape. For reader ease, a single Indian place name is used here for each tribe, its main village, province and chief, as was the native custom.
With no logistical support for his army from home, DeSoto had over 600 soldiers, 900 supporters and slaves, plus two hundred horses, each requiring food and water several times each day. Horses were so important to his mission that he marched his army in six divisions, strewn across the landscape as they advanced between pastures or villages with stored grains. Native guides provided directions to those places. Distances to them were measured by pacers in leagues - at 5,000 paces per league. 1 league = 2.6 miles, confirmed by the Chroniclers' records between known places in Cuba just before their Florida entry. Horsemen provided DeSoto with intelligence of desirable feeding places then posted his marching orders accordingly. Horses were kept fit and his army's divisions were kept aware of the proximity of others in case of attack. The army gathered and ate whatever they could find.
The trails DeSoto followed were made by animals migrating between distant natural feeding places. Native Americans, who arrived on this continent thousands of years before DeSoto, followed those trails to those places to farm, fish, hunt and settle. Their villages sprang up at and between them at 12-mile interval or so - DeSoto's army's average daily marching rate. Native nations were centered at the large natural feeding places, three to seven marching days apart. DeSoto would spend time at each - days, weeks or months - resting, feeding and wintering. Only a few exceptions to this marching habit occurred during DeSoto's Conquest, as we shall see.
The only complete record of DeSoto's trail through Florida was made when his Thirty Lancers - select horsemen armed with lightweight spears - rode it 150 leagues (390 miles) southbound to advance the troops left at port. The length of their ride, as reported by Garcilaso the "Inca's" informant, was shortened in the Final Report by an amount alleged by the Commission to have been exaggerated. The Lancers rode on harvest moon, unknown until recently, enabling their long day-into-night rides.
Tides are also affected by the moon's phase. Many Florida harbors were impassable to Spanish Galleons except during particular moon phases. Spring tides, which occur on new and full moons, increased their high tide levels and making them navigable. DeSoto's biggest mistake in Florida, scholars as well, arose from ignoring that fact at landing. From then on, the moon's phase would be considered for nearly all tactical decisions DeSoto made. Precise lunar intelligence became available with the advent of atomic time measure, advanced telescopes and digital computers. Only now can we appreciate DeSoto's timing of particular activities.
The King's Agent used two nautical terms in his report, "coast" and "road," the significance of each overlooked in the Final Report. Biedma reported DeSoto's Florida trail in relation to its "coast," meaning its navigable water nearest to land - a functional sea-lane. The Final Report used Florida's shoreline as its "coast" for placing his trail, but that shoreline lays, on average, ten miles inland of Florida's actual Gulf Coast. The Commission, accordingly, placed DeSoto's trail about that distance, or more, inland of his real trail, setting off a series of mistakes which, when coupled with shortening DeSoto's trail and deducing his marching rate from that, led to gross trail misplacements over thousands of inland miles.
The nautical term "road," which means a navigable waterway to or across the high seas, was also ignored in the Final Report. Biedma used that term several times in that context. Likewise, the term "in the open," meaning "out of the hills or mountains" in Spanish vernacular, used by Rangel at least a dozen times describing otherwise uniform trails, was simply overlooked in the Final Report.
The climate was cooler when DeSoto was here. His army seldom complained of hot weather or long summer marches, but they did complain about cold winters, two in heavy snows. Because they used the Julian calendar, their dates occurred ten days earlier then they would have on our Gregorian calendar. Since their cooler winters started about two weeks earlier than ours do at any particular site, their climate would have felt like ours there about twenty-four days later. Their first week of December would have felt like ours does in late December at any particular site. At springtime that calendar offset was nullified by their two-week longer winters. Their location's climate felt about like ours does the same dates on our springtime calendar at any particular place. Midwestern spring floods peaked in May on their calendar, just like they do on ours.
Several of DeSoto's officers are worthy of note: Luis Moscoso, his second in command, and Baltasar de Gallegos, his chief constable and wealthy kinsmen of Cabeza de Vaca, would sometimes perform as generals in his absence. Juan de Anasco, the King's Comptroller, ship captain and leader of the Thirty Lancers, was DeSoto's right-hand man.
As a young man, DeSoto was influenced by three famous New World explorers: Ponce de Leon, who had sailed with Christopher Columbus, discovered North America; Balboa, who first sighted the "South Sea," the Pacific Ocean, below Panama; and Magellan, who first sailed that sea to the Orient. DeSoto's ambitions in life would be governed, to a large extent, by envy of their accomplishments and desire to avoid their common fate.
Born in 1500 of a noble family in Spain, DeSoto sailed to the New World colony of Panama at age 15. With its newly appointed governor, Pedrarias Davila, DeSoto became aware of possession, land title and legal remedy. Ponce de Leon and Balboa had made their discoveries when DeSoto was thirteen years old. DeSoto learned conquest techniques shortly thereafter on tomb robbing missions with Balboa. By conducting horseback raids on unsuspecting villages at dawn, they captured its chief then subjected its citizens to servitude for his promised release. Natives were chained to work, gathering then carrying food and valuables for the Spaniards when they departed, oftentimes with the chief who had been promised release. Attractive young native women became objects for barter. Balboa and DeSoto prospered but didn't report most of their plunder to the King's tax collector.
Balboa was put to death by Governor Pedrarias in 1519. He had over-stepped his bounds without the strength of a personal army to hold his ground. Then Hernon Cortez discovered vast riches in Mexico City. Wizened by both acts, DeSoto, now with an army of his own, joined Francisco Pizarro in search of Peru's reputed city of gold. Kidnap brought huge ransoms, Indian defeat brought incredible fame. DeSoto gained both then returned to Spain.
As one of the richest men in his world, DeSoto sought recognition at Court but was not accepted as a peer. Juan Ponce de Leon, Panfilo de Narvaez (Cabeza de Vaca's commander) and another conquistador, Vazquez de Ayllon, all had died while attempting to colonize North America, thus tarnishing the reputation of conquistadors in general but setting the stage for DeSoto's next conquest. Spain was having problems spending its New World fortunes with an all too distant China, the world's supermarket at the time, because Portugal controlled the shipping lanes around Africa.
DeSoto married Isabel de Bobadilla, whose father, DeSoto's old patron Pedrarias Davila, held power at court. The King, despite DeSoto's petition for lands and South Sea Islands across which to establish a Spanish trade route to China, granted him a four-year commission to do so across the "Island of Florida" instead. DeSoto was assigned the governorship of Cuba from which to stage his colonization of northern lands once "owned" by Ponce de Leon, Narvaez and Ayllon. About that time, Vasquez de Coronado was dispatched from Mexico to explore Western North America.
DeSoto selected eager volunteers from Spain and Portugal, many of African descent. Farmers, soldiers, blacksmiths, shipbuilders, carpenters, clergymen, tailors and medics joined his ranks. They averaged 24 years of age. Some had been in the New World, some with DeSoto. Most provided their own weapons, horses, hunting dogs and servants. Some brought their wives. They sailed from Spain to Cuba in 1538, at DeSoto's expense, with stores of trade goods, weapons, settlement hardware, tools, seeds, plows and sacred vesper wines and wafers. More animals and food - Horses, Irish bloodhounds, long-legged Spanish herding pigs, mules, preserved fruits and hardtack - were attained from Cuban plantation owners. DeSoto's livestock count came to over 500 upon his departure for "La Florida" the following year.
On orders from the King, seven deep draft vessels, bound ultimately for New Spain (Mexico), were used to transport DeSoto's 1400 people, of them 620 soldiers, plus women and slaves with stores and animals from Cuba to Florida. Two of DeSoto's shallow draft brigantines carried a number of the force. All set sail from Havana on May 18, 1539. DeSoto's object was to land his horses, his precious cargo, as soon as possible. Lengthy sea passages were known to cause broken legs and, thereby, attrition among them.
In 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon had explored Florida's nearby Gulf Coast and discovered Charlotte Harbor, the closest Gulf Coast harbor to Havana. In 1521, without a large enough army, Ponce de Leon died from wounds received from hostile natives upon his return to colonize there.
In 1528, Panfilo de Narvaez with Cabeza de Vaca had aimed for that harbor when a storm kept them from first porting for supplies at Havana. They were blown into the Gulf of Mexico. Not finding Charlotte Harbor and with a critical food shortage, Narvaez was forced to disembark his 300-men and 40 horses onto the mainland between breaker islands. He dispatched his ships to Havana for supplies with orders to meet him farther up the coast where they all surmised Charlotte Harbor was located, but they had been blown farther north than they realized. The captains of those vessels reported finding that harbor's entrance five leagues, 13 miles, south of his disembarkation point. Narvaez had disembarked at today's Englewood, 10 miles west of Charlotte Harbor's inner anchorage.
Upon their return Narvaez was nowhere to be found. They searched for him but to no avail. The next year rescuers were sent to find him at Charlotte Harbor, thinking he would have settled there by then. He had been there but had a skirmish with that harbor's chief, Ucita, and led his army north. The rescuers noticed a sheet of paper on a stick at the head of that harbor, which they thought Narvaez had left for them. When a few men disembarked to retrieve the note, Chief Ucita, whose nose had been cut off by Narvaez, had them captured.
One of those captives, a boy named Juan Ortiz, spent years being tortured by Chief Ucita who "gave him charge of the guarding of the temple, for at night wolves would carry off the corpses from inside it." Ortiz learned the chief's language in the process. The other captured men were killed. Ortiz would finally escape, with help from the chief's daughter, to her fiancee's nearby village. He was given safe refuge by Chief Mococo, her fiancee, and learned that chief's language during years of hospitable captivity. DeSoto would eventually find him. He would serve DeSoto as chief interpreter for the rest of his life.
The King's Comptroller, Juan de Anasco, was dispatched from Cuba to explore Florida's Gulf Coast during 1538, the year before DeSoto sailed from Havana. Anasco explored Charlotte Harbor and captured several native fishermen. Their village, Ucita, was located at the harbor's head where they trapped fish to trade with inland Indians. Anasco, who was licensed by the King to barter with the natives, envisioned developing that fish-trade across the New World. Most of Chief Ucita's giant stone fish trap is still there, hooked southward into the bay near his village site.
Anasco's captives knew the shoreline and could lead DeSoto's fleet through their harbor's difficult entrance. Ucita would become DeSoto's base of operations. Before his return to Cuba, Anasco sounded the harbor, noted the tide's effect on it, and then measured 80 leagues from the harbor's southern landfall, Sanibel Island, to Havana. He advised DeSoto to sail on May 25th, 1539, to catch full moon spring tides upon his arrival, but DeSoto chose to sail on favorable winds instead, one week early.
DeSoto's Florida Trails
DeSoto's men sighted land due north on May 25th, 1539, 80 leagues (208 miles) north of Havana and ten leagues (26 miles) west of the Bay of Juan Ponce. The transport captains would go no closer than one or two leagues (3 to 5 miles) until sighting the harbor's entrance. They reported the coast in four brazas (22 feet deep) water and dropped anchor 4 or 5 leagues (10 to 12 miles) below the port. That depth of water, that close to Florida's shoreline, that distance north of Havana, that distance west of the Bay of Juan Ponce on a northern landfall, that distance below a port, occurs at only one place in Florida: Sanibel Island (mapped above; just below Charlotte Harbor's entrance.
DeSoto, his guard, Anasco and his captives were transferred into one of DeSoto's brigantines to find the mouth of the harbor, leaving the cumbersome transport ships at anchor. If the fleet overshot the harbor they could not tack back to it against the high southerly winds reported there. To preclude that, DeSoto coasted downwind along the breaker islands to find the harbor's entrance. He sailed out of sight of the fleet, however, which had moved farther west for safe overnight anchorage. That evening DeSoto found the harbor's entrance at Boca Grande Pass (map above), but was kept from returning to the fleet by strong southerly winds. He spent the night inside the pass at a deserted Ucita Indian village, probably on today's Useppa Island (on map above), possibly named after "Ucita."
DeSoto's secretary says, "The Governor and those who were with him were in no little danger, because they were few and without weapons, and no less was the anxiety of those who remained on the ships to see their Captain General in such a state, because they could neither aid nor help him if he needed it... It would have been enough to command a subordinate Captain to go on that reconnaissance and to provide for the security of the pilot who had to reconnoiter that coast. And the ships there were in great danger."
The next morning, DeSoto sailed back out Boca Grande Pass to summon the fleet. He was spotted downwind of the fleet's anchorage as he tacked back and forth across high southerly winds. The fleet advanced between vessels DeSoto stationed on either side of the narrow, deep-water, Boca Grande Pass to guide them into the harbor. Two of the large ships scraped sandy bottom as they entered "with the sounder in hand, and although sometimes they struck bottom, as it was silt, they passed onward."
Since they had left Havana a week earlier than Anasco had advised, DeSoto's fleet could not sail across the harbor's difficult channel inside the pass, despite their efforts to do so. It was too shallow. They were forced to anchor two leagues, 5 miles, inside the pass, in deep water, to wait one week for full moon spring tides to increase the channel's depth.
"Small boats went to the shore and returned laden with grass for the horses, and they brought also many green grapes from the vines they found growing wild in the woods" of Cape Haze (on map above), just north of their anchorage. Twenty horses perished before they could be landed, however, and Anasco was publicly scolded for the delay that may have contributed to their injuries. But Anasco had warned DeSoto about that harbor's shallows and tides before leaving Havana.
DeSoto dispatched his shallow draft brigantines to the harbor's head to take control of Ucita Village, but the natives had fled. Harbor tides rose higher each day with the filling moon, allowing the transport ships to move closer to Cape Haze. Horsemen and livestock were offloaded (map above), "in order to lighten the ships so that they would need less (depth of) water." On June 1st, full moon, with lighter loads, stronger currents and spring tides, the ships sailed northeast over the harbor's sandy shallows. The horsemen drove the livestock up Cape Haze, all bound for Ucita.
The fleet sailed up to within a mile of the harbor's northernmost peninsula (on map above), where the men were disembarked. They made their way around the marshes toward Ucita, "inland a little more than two leagues to the village of a chief..." about five miles northwest of their landing place. "As soon as the men landed the camp was established on the shore near the bay (Tippecanoe Bay, map above and image below) which went up to the town." That bay was much too shallow for heavy ships.
The horsemen, herding the livestock from Cape Haze, "tired the horses (running) after deer and with the waters and swamps (including the Myakka River's broad flats) that they crossed, and with the twelve leagues (31 miles, a precise measure) that they traveled before they arrived opposite the town (image above). The inlet of the port (Tippecanoe Bay) was between them (and DeSoto's shore camp near Ucita), so that they were unable to go around the inlet, and thus scattered in many places, they slept that night very fatigued and in no military order."
The next morning the horsemen found their way around Tippecanoe Bay. DeSoto's men were clearing trees and building sheds near Ucita Village. The army needed that pine forest cleared for pasturing livestock and to patrol for native intruders. Few natives were captured. DeSoto's style of enslaving the chief for ransom in a surprise dawn raid had been thwarted by delay. Hostages were not to be taken en masse from Ucita Village, setting off a series of mishaps that would disrupt the campaign for months.
During that week the ships were unloaded, "by going up with the tide for a short distance daily, brought the vessels near to the town." They "unloaded them (at the shore camp) little by little with small boats, and thus they unloaded all the clothing and supplies that they carried." On June 3rd, 1539, with all the dignitaries and necessary paraphernalia ashore at Ucita, DeSoto took formal possession of La Florida "in the name of Their Majesties with all the formalities that are required."
Forty soldiers were attacked by natives while scouting northeastward - one soldier was killed. Biedma says, "we found out that there was a Christian (Juan Ortiz) in the land who was one of those who had gone with Panfilo de Narvaez, and we went in search of him. A chief (Mococo) who was about eight leagues (21 miles up the Myakka River) from port had him." Inca says they got lost along their way, "off-trail, to a place from which they could see the ships' topsails..." down the Myakka River. Once back on course, "We came upon him on the road; he was coming toward us, for when the chief found out that we were there, he asked him if he wished to come where we were.
"He said yes, and the chief sent nine Indians with him. He was naked like them, with a bow and some arrows, his body decorated like an Indian. As we came upon them, they ... fled into a small nearby forest. The horses reached them, and gave a lance-blow to the Christian Indian who might have been killed since he had forgotten our language. He remembered how to call to "Our Lady," and by this he was recognized as a Christian."
Ortiz reported that years earlier he had been guided to a bridge two leagues upstream of Ucita, crossed it, then fled six additional leagues to Mococo's village, located "two leagues from the shoreline (not the coast)..." of the Gulf of Mexico at today's Ospray. The City of Sarasota owns Mococo's village site today.
Today DeSoto's Ucita campsite is a large sparsely developed subdivision west of the City of Port Charlotte. Miles of paved undeveloped roads weave through it. Once covered with tall pines, mangrove swamps surround it on three sides. To the north are dense oak scrubs around fresh water swamps - drained today by man-made canals. The port's anchorage is below it - on a straight line down the Myakka River - making ships' topsails visible for miles upstream, as reported by scouts who may have been standing on the "conspicuous Indian Mound" shown on that river's northeast bank on the 1849 Florida Township Survey (image below). Inca says Ucita's dead were kept at one - probably the one which Juan Ortiz had guarded years earlier.
DeSoto's boatmen found a large number of Indians on an island "two leagues from camp," today's Hog Island 5 miles below Ucita, "a large canebrake that the Indians had chosen as a secluded and hidden place."
"Those people are so warlike and so quick that they make no account of foot soldiers; for if these go for them, they flee, and when their adversaries turn their backs they are immediately on them. The farthest they flee is the distance of an arrow shot. They are never quiet but always running and crossing from one side to another so that the crossbows or the harquebuses (muzzle-loaded firearms) muzzle-loaded cannot be aimed at them; and before a crossbowman can fire a shot, an Indian can shoot three or four arrows, and very seldom does he miss what he shoots at. If the arrow does not find armor, it penetrates as deeply as a crossbow...
"The bows are very long and the arrows are made of certain reeds like canes, very heavy and so tough that a sharpened cane passes through a shield. Some are pointed with a fish bone, as sharp as an awl, and others with a certain stone like a diamond point. Generally when these strike against armor, they break off at the place where they are fastened on. Those of cane split and enter through the links of mail and are more hurtful... six men were wounded, one of whom died."
The natives had honed their skills fending off slave hunters for years. Slaves were valuable in both Cuba and Mexico for use in mining and agriculture, given that most natives there had died of mistreatment or foreign diseases from Conquistadors.
"The Governor sent the chief constable, Baltasar de Gallegos, from the town of Ucita with forty horse(men) and eighty foot (soldiers) into the interior. "In four days they went from the pueblo of Mucoco to that of his brother-in-law Paracoxi." He found an abundance of planted food at Paracoxi (mapped above) "seventeen leagues (44 miles) to its (Mococo's) northeast..." "...twenty leagues (52 miles) from the coast..." and only "twenty-five leagues (60 miles) from Ucita."
Gallegos also reported hearing about a place called Ocale (Province) beyond Paracoxi where there was a great plenty of "fowls, turkeys and herds of tame deer... and an abundance of gold and silver, and many pearls... where we may pass the winter..." according to a DeSoto letter. "That land had gold in abundance and when those people came to make war... they wore hats of gold resembling helmets." Gallegos would establish an outpost at Paracoxi.
At Ucita, "Among the soldiers there were diverse opinions about whether it would be good to settle (at Ucita) or not, because the land seemed sterile..." but "all fell into conformity and unanimously asked for entrance into the interior, which was what the Governor was scheming."
Narvaez had missed Mococo and Paracoxi by leading his army northeast from Ucita, to a place with food twelve leagues up the Peace River; today's Arcadia. There he heard about "Apalachen gold, very far from there." He headed northwest, passing through Ocale Province where DeSoto would find traces of his army's passage.
DeSoto stayed at Ucita for six weeks. He wrote a letter to Cuba, the transport vessels were sent on their way and his brigantines were secured at anchor. French Corsairs plied the new world waters, so "forty on horseback (probably on lame horses) and sixty foot soldiers were left to guard the town and supplies, the port, and the brigantines and small vessels that remained."
DeSoto "took the road toward Ocale," up Myakka River through Mococo then Paracoxi Villages without native assistance from Ucita. The soldiers would have to carry their supplies overland from port, and the disgruntled transport captains would get few natives to take with them to sell in Mexico.
THE GRAND ENTRADA
The army left Ucita on July 15th, 1539, on new moon. Biedma says, "We went west and then turned northwest..." first passing Ucita's fishing enclosure then DeSoto's shore camp on Tippecanoe Bay. They turned northwest to pass the head of that bay then bypassed the burial mound and bridge which Ortiz had crossed when he fled up Myakka River to Mococo's village, thereby avoiding the swamps which the horsemen encountered their first night ashore. "And that day they spent the night at the river of Mococo (the Myakka River, camping "six leagues above Ucita"), bringing behind them many pigs that had been brought over in the armada for food in an emergency."
The next day they "made two bridges on which this army crossed the river." The first was built across the Myakka River seven leagues from Ucita, one league below Mococo's village. The river narrows to forty feet at that point, between high, hard banks covered with palm and tall pine trees. "Mococo, who knew of his coming, went out to receive him with many tears and regrets at his departure, and begged him to remain that day in his village. Not desiring to bother him with so many people, the governor told him that it was more convenient for him to go on, because he had each day's march set."
Mococo shed tears at the army's departure, knowing that other natives would probably retaliate for his kindness to the invaders once they departed. The army turned northeast at Mococo then bridged Howard Creek two leagues up the way. They camped one league beyond that bridge on the north shore of Lake Myakka, having marched five leagues and crossing two bridges on their second day out. Months later DeSoto's Thirty Lancers, on their last night down that trail to advance the troops at port, would report camping there - "three leagues from Mococo's village and eleven leagues from Ucita."
The next morning DeSoto's horses were "spooked by a rabbit" and ran back for more than a league before terrified troops could reassert control over them. The horses had fled southwest then turned north at Howard Creek to avoid the bridge, then stopped, as horses do when they pass fresh scents. DeSoto's people called Lake Myakka, accordingly, "The Lake of the Rabbit."
With Paracoxi their destination, DeSoto's army continued northeast, marching eleven leagues (29 miles) during their next three days. They spent their first night along that trail at the Lake of St. John, east of today's Sarasota, then crossed a desert plain where DeSoto's servant reportedly "died of thirst." Horses drank what could be carried and there are no lakes, springs, sinkholes or creeks along that trail segment in late July. The third day they came to what they called the plain of Guacoco, which was and is Florida's largest field of pebble phosphate, 275,000 acres of nature's fertilizer (part of it mapped below).
DeSoto's ambition, to march his army rapidly - six leagues the first day and five the second - proved to be more than they could sustain, given they averaged fewer than four leagues each of their last three days on the trail. That overall pace, four-and-a-half leagues per day (6+5+11 divided by 5 days; about 11 miles or so per day MEASURED ALONG STRAIGHT LINES), would hold for years, even with captives acquired to lighten their loads. That weekly schedule, five days on the road then several at rest, would hold for most of DeSoto's journey.
They called that entire province, from Ucita north, by its richest village's name: Paracoxi. The Spaniards found maize (corn) growing there for the first time in Florida and spent the next three days leisurely harvesting it across three leagues of cultivated fields; first to Luca then to Paracoxi Village, for a total of seventeen leagues, 44 miles, traveled from Mococo's Village to Paracoxi Village.
Inca says that village was located twenty-five leagues, 65 miles, north-north-east of Ucita, which is the total distance they had marched in that direction. Biedma says that Paracoxi Village was up to twenty leagues, 52 miles, from the coast - the Gulf of Mexico's Coast off St. Petersburg.
Surrounded by surface phosphate mines today, Paracoxi Village was located at Brewster. It's an abandoned city today in a moonscape of flooded mine pits (mapped above).
Still headed for the legendary Ocale, DeSoto's scouts reported that a swamp, "three leagues from (Paracoxi) was large and very difficult to cross... Two-thirds of (it) was of mud, and the other third, in the center, was of water so deep that it could not be forded..." That swamp still drains east into the Peace River. "It... was impassable for the army, but the scouts had found a better crossing (of the Peace River) just two days away..." at Lake Hancock's spillway, which looks like part of the Peace River, near today's Bartow.
The army headed north, rounded the swamp, then turned northeast beyond today's Bradley Junction. They camped beyond "Vicela," today's site of a giant phosphate processing plant near Mulberry. The next day they hiked three leagues northeast, crossed Lake Hancock's spillway "and passed over it easily, for the crossing was good..." then camped half-a-league beyond on a plain they called Tocaste. That plain is beside a giant hill overlooking Lake Hancock. The view from its top is spectacular. The Peace River flows well south of it.
The army was thwarted by swamplands northeast of Tocaste, according to scouts. Inca says, "it was entirely impossible to go farther because of the many swamps along the streams that led out of the Great Swamp and inundated the flat country..." Today's Green Swamp covers hundreds of square miles beyond Lake Hancock. It drains out both the Hillsborough and Withlacoochee Rivers. Without a guide, DeSoto with eleven riders and 100 foot soldiers went in search of a road to Ocale, whose neighbors, reportedly, "living in other lands where it was summer most of the year, had gold in abundance."
On his second day out DeSoto's group found, and was led by, a native guide to a broad road to Ocale leading to a passage through the swamp which was free of mud at its entrance and exit. Rangel called it the Swamp of Cale, others called it a swift current swamp or The Great Swamp. All described the Hillsborough River's ancient crossing place northwest of Tocaste, above today's Tampa. With flat sand approaches, Florida's north-south trails once converged there. The U.S. Army built a fortified bridge over it in 1828 to protect Tampa Bay settlers from hostile Seminole Indians living above it.
DeSoto dispatched several riders with orders to advance the army from Tocaste. The riders had to sneak through an inhabited region where they reported natives "by the light of the many fires they had built seemed to be dancing, leaping and singing, eating and drinking, with much joy and merriment and a great deal of talking and shouting among themselves, which kept up all night." When they reached the spillway at Tocaste the remaining cavalry (horsemen) helped them ward-off morning attackers. Once in Tocaste, more riders, Inca says the Thirty Lancers, were dispatched with food for DeSoto's horsemen and troops. They rode twelve leagues from there to the Great Swamp where DeSoto was supposed to be waiting, but he and his men had already crossed the Great Swamp.
The same day, the army advanced over the Tocaste spillway turned northwest and camped at today's Lakeland, then four leagues west of there, then at the Great Swamp. DeSoto had ridden six leagues beyond it into Ocale Province, to a place reported by Elvas to lie west of Paracoxi Province. Biedma says 15 or 20 leagues from Paracoxi Village. Inca called it Acuera and says it was "about twenty leagues from Paracoxi Village on a line running more or less north and south." All described the location of today's Dade City on the west side of today's Green Swamp.
The army spent three days, spanning the full moon of July 30th, crossing the Great Swamp, "the waters of which could be forded about breast-deep for the distance of a league except in the middle of the channel for a space of a hundred paces, could not be forded because of its great depth. Here the Indians had made a poor sort of bridge of two large trees that had fallen into the water, and the space they did not cover was bridged over with large timbers... the governor, because his people were suffering from hunger, sent them a great deal of Indian corn (from Ocale)." They found traces of "Narvaez crossing there ten years earlier with his unhappy army."
Cabeza de Vaca, with Narvaez, had crossed the Great Swamp at that same place for the same reason eleven years before. Vaca reported that they encountered several hundred Indians while crossing it "with great difficulty." The Spaniards drove them back to their village half a league away where they found large amounts of corn. When Vaca was dispatched to find a harbor reported to be nearby (Tampa Bay), he rode down the north bank of the Hillsborough River to wetlands filled with oysters and a river he could not cross.
The Hillsborough River re-broadens below the Great Swamp crossing place; raccoons eat the oysters there today. Much of that extensive swamp, today's Rock Hammock, would be drained by Tampa's Bypass Canal into McKay and Hillsborough Bays. Vaca returned to camp.
When others re-crossed the swamp and went down that river's south bank toward Tampa they found McKay Bay on May 22, 1528, four days after new moon. Low tides occurred when they examined it - they could wade across most of it. The deep water of Tampa Bay looked to them like the 30 mile distant Gulf of Mexico. They returned to camp with news that the harbor was too shallow for ships. Narvaez led his army up the Gulf Coast, looking for them.
As DeSoto's army crossed the Great Swamp in groups, they each hiked six leagues, over the next few days, up the trail he had taken into Dade City. Inca says DeSoto was "camped in some very beautiful valleys having large maize fields, so productive that each stalk had three or four ears..." Those valleys were and are between the large hills of Dade City, the first anyone comes to when hiking up Florida's west side.
It's chief, "had much information from other Castilians who had come to that country years before... and he knew very well about their lives and customs, which consisted in occupying themselves like vagabonds in going from one land to another, living from robbing, pillaging and murdering those who had not offended them in any way."
Elvas says, "The governor ordered all the maize which was ripe in the fields to be taken, which was enough for three months... (and that) two Indians who were captured told the governor that seven days' journey farther on was a very large province with maize in abundance, called Apalache." DeSoto set out with 50 horsemen and 100 foot soldiers to confirm a winter food supply there. Inca says, "They directed their march toward the north, bearing a little to the northeast." Biedma says, "traveling ever toward New Spain, at a distance of ten to twelve leagues from the coast."
Biedma's New Spain was Mexico; his "coast" was the Gulf of Mexico's shipping lane with at least four brazas (23 feet deep) water, as shown by the transport captains at landfall. On average, that depth of water occurs about four leagues (10 miles) offshore from northwestern peninsular Florida's shoreline, placing DeSoto's trail about six to eight leagues (15 to 20 miles) inland of that shoreline. Months later when DeSoto's Thirty Lancers returned down that trail to advance the troops left at port, it would take them seven days to get back to this point.
DeSoto led his vanguard up the west side of the Green Swamp, down the Withlacoochee River through today's Withlacoochee State Forest, a game preserve described then as being abundant in "fallow deer... red deer like large bulls... very large bears and panthers", all on high and dry land. He then continued over Florida's rock phosphate ridge, "as it had maize in abundance, they gave it the name Fertile Place." On it the U.S. Army would fight the biggest battles of the 1836 Seminole War.
DeSoto's trail from Dade City was a railroad until recently. Inca says they traveled 20 leagues (52 miles) through that province. They camped at today's Rital, Istachatta, Inverness and Hernando then at the Withlacoochee River below Dunnellon. They called those places Ytara, Potano, Utinama, Bad Peace and Cholupaha. Hernando was called Bad Peace because its natives deceived DeSoto who retaliated during the darkness of new moon on August 14th. The nearby Tatham Mound contains evidence of the ensuing massacre, dated precisely to DeSoto's era.
Seminole Indians would call that area Char-lo-pop-ka; DeSoto's captives called it Cho-lu-pa-ha; today it is called Tsala A-pop-ka. Only Inca called it Ocale, the name the others used for that entire province.
DeSoto's vanguard built a crude bridge beyond Cholupaha to cross what they called the "River of Discords," between "cliffs on either side as high as the length of two pikes and as perpendicular as two walls." A pike is 10 feet long. That bridge spanned the Withlacoochee River's unique cut through Florida's rock phosphate ridge just below today's Dunnellon. DeSoto's group called it Discords because his favorite greyhound, Bruto, was killed chasing Indians in it. "They crossed that river with as much or more hardship than the one at Ocale..." the Hillsborough River at the Great Swamp. Their hardship here was native resistance: rocks, spears and arrows were cast at them from the river's high bluffs.
Once across that river DeSoto's group left Dunnellon bound for Caliquen Village, reported by captives to lay sixteen leagues up the way. That trail went through "many forests (with) streams that flowed through (them), and very level." These were Florida's Flatwoods, as American pioneers would later call them, along the Gulf of Mexico to the St. Marks River in North Florida. Naval stores companies would harvest its giant pine trees early last century. They would sap those trees to distill into turpentine, then fell them and railroad them out of that very flat country to market.
DeSoto passed the first eight leagues in two days, but half way through the third day, probably while his soldiers struggled to ford the Waccasassa River and Otter Creek swamps, he and his horsemen proceeded to Caliquen Village near the Suwannee River. Inca's informant says, it "had fifty large and strong houses, because it was a frontier and defense against the neighboring province that he had left behind... (DeSoto) ordered that the Spaniards treat the Indians in a very friendly manner..."
Located west of Chiefland at yesteryear's Janney, Caliquen Village would later become the site of Peninsular Naval Stores Company. It's a ghost town today. Chief Caliquen lived "in a very beautiful valley on the other side of the village..." between that site's two unusual hills one-league below Lower Clay Landing - the Suwannee River's native crossing place for centuries.
Elvas called that place Caliquen, Biedma and Rangel called it Aqua-calecuen. Cabeza de Vaca with Narvaez had called it's chief Dul-chanchellin. Only Inca called it Ochile, which would confuse him in later writings and DeSoto scholars for centuries.
DeSoto guarded its chief that night, then brought him three leagues back to his soldiers. They had advanced in his day-long absence, probably several leagues across the swamps, making the distance between the Withlacoochee River at Dunnellon and Caliquen on the Suwannee River sixteen leagues, as reported by captives earlier. Because Caliquen Village was large, its chief held hostage, and Apalache's bounty confirmed by its natives, DeSoto sent eight horsemen to advance the army from Ocale, the place they had halted at today's Dade City.
While camped on Caliquen's hills waiting for them, DeSoto learned about the chief's warring brother, Napituca, whose village was farther up the road toward Apalache. DeSoto was also told, in detail, of the plight of the Narvaez Expedition by natives along the trail for the first time. Narvaez had been there and proceeded northwest to Napituca, where its natives misled him to his eventual death.
Over the next several weeks the main body of DeSoto's army advanced from Ocale. They buried their heavy implements there, probably farming and home building tools, before advancing, believing in their imminent return to winter there. On September ninth, having gathered more slaves at Caliquen, DeSoto led his now massive army, with slaves and Chief Caliquen, northwest across the Suwannee River and deeper into the Flatwoods toward Napituca Village.
NAPITUCA, COMING AND GOING
DeSoto's Thirty Lancers would pass through Napituca Village on their way back down his trail from their North Florida winter encampment to advance the troops left at port. The distance they rode between Napituco Village and the Suwannee River, reported by one of those Lancers to Inca, is the only measure we have of that trail segment. Inca confused the names which the Lancers used for Napituco Village and the Suwannee River, but the land features reported by his informant at those places are positively unmistakable.
The Thirty Lancers rode south through Napituca Village on their third day out. They reported seeing hundreds of dead natives, killed at DeSoto's direction, strewn across its fields. They camped 8 leagues beyond there. The next day they rode 18 leagues and camped 5 leagues short of a big river. During their struggle to cross that river the next day they left a perfect description of Lower Clay Landing on the Suwannee River, 31 leagues (80 miles) from Napituca Village.
To warm and dry themselves the Lancers spent that night between large fires at Caliquen Village. Inca called that village Ochile when the army was there, then confused it with what he called Ocale beyond the next big river, the Withlacoochee, when the Lancers returned. The Lancers would continue their ride, across the Withlacoochee Rivers lower branches, riding forty leagues in next two days, under harvest moon, to the "Great Swamp:" 104 miles, the actual distance between the Suwannee and Hillsborough Rivers' native crossing places.
DeSoto's army left Caliquen Village northward and blazed the trail which the Lancers followed back. The army spent their first night at "a village on a lake," one league above the Suwannee River while crossing it at Lower Clay Landing. That lake is almost dry today. Beyond there, at their normal marching rate of four-and-a-half leagues, twelve miles, per day, they camped at "Uriutina, a town of pleasant view and with much food," at today's Cross City.
Those with DeSoto, and Cabeza de Vaca before them, reported native "flute players" along that trail, which, Vaca says, "was difficult to travel but wonderful to look upon.... in it were vast forests, the trees being astonishingly high..." a perfect description of Florida's once-great Flatwoods there. DeSoto camped that night at "many waters," the swamps of Steinhatchee River. "Because it rained so much (the horsemen) could not leave from there..." until the river receded three days later.
The footmen continued, however, camping first beyond the river, then at Adams Beach then below the Econfina River. The horsemen caught-up with them their seventh day on that trail segment while crossing the Aucilla River's natural bridges. All forded Cow Creek Swamp and entered Napituca Village together, having marched or ridden 31 leagues (80 miles) from the Suwannee River crossing place, as reported by the Thirty Lancers. Chief Napituca greeted his brother Caliquen and DeSoto as they entered his village.
Inca says, "Near the village was a large plain. On one side was a high and dense forest (the Flatwoods) that covered a large tract of land, and on the other were two lakes. The first (lake) was small, and would measure about one league in circumference; it was clear of growth and mud, but was so deep that three or four steps from the shore one could not touch bottom. The second, which was farther away from the village, was very large, more than half a league in breath and so long that it looked like a large river, its extent being unknown. The Indians stationed their squadron between the forest and these two lakes, the lakes being on their right and the forest on their left."
Napituca Village lies just above today's Nutall Rise on a dry plain between the Wacissa and Aucilla Rivers. Miles of abandoned railroads, built to harvest that plain's gigantic pine trees, weave through it today, attesting to the magnificence of the once great stand.
The "lakes" are parts of the Wacissa River. The first lies on the southwest corner of Napituca's plain and measures one league in circumference, as reported. The second "lake" is much wider and extends for miles to the north from the northwest corner of the plain. It disappears in the surrounding swamps and looks exactly the way Inca described it. Both "lakes" are very deep near their banks because the river flows through them and underground between them. Andrew Jackson would fight the First Seminole War there.
A swamp, today's Cow Creek just southeast of the village site near the southern lake, was reported by Rangel when the army entered that village. Completely surrounded by swamps, that site provided Napituca's people shelter in a very hostile environment. Rangel says their Apalachen neighbors were "most valiant... great spirit and boldness", the fiercest in today's Florida.
Elvas says, "fourteen or fifteen Indians came and asked the governor to set the chief of Caliquen, their lord, free. He answered them saying that he did not hold him captive, but that he wished to keep him with him as far as Uzachil (a province north of there). The governor learned from Juan Ortiz that an Indian had revealed to him that they had decided to assemble and to come against (the Spaniards) in order to give battle and to take the chief whom (DeSoto) was holding.
"On the day agreed upon, the governor ordered his men to be ready, and the horsemen armed and mounted, each one to be within his lodging, so that the Indians might not see them and would accordingly come to the town without fear. Four hundred Indians came within sight of the camp with their bows and arrows and posted themselves in a wood. Then they sent two Indians to tell the governor to give up the chief to them. The governor with six men of foot, taking the chief by the hand and talking with him, in order to assure the Indians, went toward the place where they were and seeing the time ready ordered a blast of the trumpet to be given. Immediately those who were in the houses in the town, both foot and horse(men), attacked the Indians, who were so surprised that their greatest thought was where they could escape.
"They killed two horses, one of which was that of the governor, who was immediately provided with another. Thirty or forty Indians were lanced. The rest fled toward two very large shallow lakes, which were separated one from the other. There they went swimming about, while the Christians round about - harquebusiers (using muzzle-loaded firearms) and crossbowmen - shot at them from the outside. But as they were far away and they (the Spaniards) shot at them from a long distance they did no hurt to them.
"That night the governor ordered one of the two lakes (the southernmost) to be surrounded; for, because of their large size, his men were insufficient to surround both of them. Being surrounded, the Indians, upon the approach of night, having made up their minds to take to flight, would come swimming very softly to the edge, and so that they might not be seen, would place water-lily leaves on their heads. When the horsemen saw the leaves moving they would dash in until the water was up to the breasts of the horses and the Indians would return in flight within the lake.
"In that way they passed that night without the Indians or the Christians having any rest. Juan Ortiz told them (the natives) that since they could not escape, they would better surrender to the governor, which, forced by necessity and the coldness of the water, they did; and one by one as soon as the suffering from the cold conquered them, they would cry out to Juan Ortiz saying that they should not be killed for now they were going to put themselves in the hands of the governor. At dawn they had all surrendered except twelve of the principal men who, being more honored and valiant, resolved to perish rather than come into his power.
"The Indians of Paracoxi who were now going about unchained, went in swimming after them and pulled them out by their hair. They were all put in chains and on the day following were allotted among the Christians for their service. While captive there they resolved to revolt and charged an Indian interpreter whom they held as a valiant man that as soon as the governor came to talk with him, he should seize him about the neck with his hands and choke him. As soon as he saw an opportunity he seized hold of the governor, and before he got his hands about his neck, struck him so hard on the nose that it was all covered with blood. Immediately they all rose in revolt. He who could get weapons in his hand or the pestle for crushing maize tried with all his might to kill the master or the first man he met.
"He who could get a lance or sword in his hand so handled himself with it as if he had used it all his life. An Indian with a sword surrounded by fifteen or twenty men on foot in the public place, uttered (a) challenge like a bull, until some halberdiers (men with ax like blades with opposing spikes mounted on long handles) of the governor came up, who killed him. Another one with a lance climbed up on a cane floor (which they call a barbacoa) which they made to hold their maize and there he made a noise as if ten men were inside; and while defending the door he was struck down by a javelin. In all, there were about two hundred Indians, all of whom were subdued. The governor gave some of the youngest boys to those who had good chains and cautioned them not to let them escape from them. All the rest he ordered to be punished by being fastened to a stake in the middle of the plaza and the Indians of Paracoxi shot them with arrows."
Cabeza de Vaca had called Napituca Village Apalachen. He says, "The Lakes are much larger here... as we sallied they (the natives) fled to the lakes nearby... shooting from the lakes which was safety to themselves that we could not retaliate..." Narvaez didn't have a large enough army to surround the southern lake, as DeSoto would with an army over twice his army's size.
Vaca says those natives told them that the land and villages inland were very poor, but that by "journeying south nine days was a town called Aute... (with) much maize, beans and pumpkins and being near the sea they had fish." Biedma says these Indians told many great lies. Narvaez, still searching for his ships, believed them and headed south from Napituca. "The first day we got through those lakes and passages without seeing anyone, next day we went to a lake difficult of crossing..." but we got through it, "at the end of a league we arrived at another of the same character, but worse, as it was half a league in extent."
Narvaez' nine-day trail from Napituca Village, mapped above, passed between the "lakes" at Napituca then across Gum Swamp. The next day, forced westward by the Gulf of Mexico, it crossed East River Pool and the St. Marks River. Pioneer trails crossed both at the same places. East River Pool has a causeway where he crossed it, and the St. Marks River looks the same at its mouth today. Then he passed a plain (above today's Medart), more swamps (the Sopchoppy, Ochlockonee, and New River swamps), and a big stream which he called Magdalina (the Apalachicola River).
That swampy trail would lead to Aute, where DeSoto's people, who used a different trail to get there, would find traces of Narvaez having built boats to escape America. Most of the Narvaez army would die at sea, Cabeza de Vaca would survive to tell DeSoto about it. DeSoto massacred Napituca's people for misleading Narvaez. The DeSoto Chroniclers never mention this, perhaps for the shame of it, or maybe because it was so obvious to them. DeSoto would order only one more massacre during his campaign: when Alabama natives deceived him.
On September 23rd, their ninth day at Napituca, with a well-fed and rested army supported by captives from Paracoxi, Ocale, Caliquen and Napituca, DeSoto set out once more toward his planned winter encampment at Apalache. The trip would take two weeks. From Napituca it was ten leagues, across the St. Marks River, to Uzachil, the next large village along DeSoto's way. The army would stop to bridge that river on their first night out. The chief of Uzachil, who had sent flute players to amuse them in the Flatwoods, sent dressed deer for the army while they built that bridge over what they would call "The River of the Deer."
Inca says, "The army crossed the river (the following day, leaving the Flatwoods, and) marched two leagues through a country without timber..." arriving at "Hapaluya" where they "found large fields of maize, beans and calabashes." Located in southeast Leon County, there is one gigantic farm there today, visible from outer space. "With the fields began the settlement of scattered houses, separated from one another without the order of a village, and these continued for a space of four leagues as far as the chief village, called Uzachil..." today's Tallahassee.
The army caught up nearing harvest moon and captured many of them over the next four days and moonlit nights. The chief lived on "a high point... (with) ten, twelve, fifteen, or twenty houses for the dwellings of the lord and his family and the people in his service. In order to go up to the chief's house they made streets straight up the hill... For walls of these streets they drive thick logs into the ground, one after the other, which are sunk into the earth... according to the incline and steepness of the hill and its height"
"He found no people there, for because of the news which the Indians had of the massacre of Napituca they dared not remain. In the town he found an abundance of maize, beans, and pumpkins, of which their food consists, and on which the Christians lived there. Maize is like coarse millet and the pumpkins are better and more savory than those of Spain.
"From there the governor sent two captains (under the harvest moon of September 27th), each one in a different direction, in search of the Indians. They captured a hundred head, among Indian men and women. Of the latter, there, as well as in any other part where forays were made, the captain selected one or two for the governor and the others were divided among themselves and those who went with them. These Indians they took along in chains with collars about their necks and they were used for carrying the baggage and grinding the maize and for other services which so fastened in this manner they could perform...
"Sometimes it happened that when they went with them for firewood or maize they would kill the Christian who was leading them and would escape with the chain. Others at night would file the chain off with a bit of stone which they have in place of iron tools, and with which they cut it. Those who were caught at it paid for themselves and for those others, so that on another day they might not dare do likewise. As soon as the women and young children were a hundred leagues from their land, having become unmindful, they were taken along unbound, and served in that way, and in a very short time learned the language of the Christians.
On September the 29th the army departed westward and crossed the Ochlockonee River's branches, Uzachil's boundary. They spent the night at a "pine wood," located five leagues west of Florida's Capitol, by following the course of Florida's "Old Spanish Trail." The next day they followed that same trail to "Agile," four-and-a-half leagues up the road at today's Quincy. That area was labeled "Tup-Hulga" province in 1827 by John L. Williams on his Map of Western Part of Florida. These natives had never seen Christians before. One of DeSoto's troops was grabbed in his genitals by an unhappy female captive there - he survived, but just barely.
The next day, DeSoto, in the vanguard, came to the Apalache Swamp, the Apalachicola River, Florida's largest, twelve leagues beyond Uzachil's boundary. The army would camp on a pasture two leagues before the Apalache Swamp while crossing it in groups during the next several days. That very broad river has swamp like characteristics in October, its lowest month of the year.
Today's Woodruff Dam spans 8,800 feet across the Apalachicola River's mammoth hundred foot deep gorge at today's Chattahoochee where DeSoto crossed that river. Inca says its banks were half a league apart, as they are today just below the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers. With extensive swamps on either side, the river flows around an island one mile below today's dam where DeSoto crossed it. Elvas says that the river was wider than a crossbow shot.
Old Florida trails converged there. The east bank, where DeSoto's army descended into it, and the west bank, where they built a stockade, look the same today as described then. It took the army several days to bridge and cross that river. Indian resistance was intense. This river's mammoth gorge, unique in all of Florida, was the provincial boundary of Apalache. "On this river we made a bridge of many pines tied to one another, and we crossed with great danger, because on the other side there were Indians who defended the crossing against us."
Once all had crossed, DeSoto's army left the stockade and proceeded two leagues up the west bank to camp at a village called Vitachuco (the name Inca used for Napituca), which had been set ablaze just prior to their arrival; today's Sneads. The army passed through rich fields to Calahuchi Village, camping just north of today's Cypress. Then, two leagues down the road without a guide, they came to a wide and deep ravine. They met extreme resistance from Apalachens, the worst they had seen in Florida.
That ravine, with 80 foot banks over today's Spring Creek, still looks the way Inca described it. The creek rises from Blue Spring and flows southwest into the Chipola River. Pioneer maps show the trail from the Apalachicola River crossing place passing north of Blue Spring to avoid that gorge. But DeSoto was "carrying as guide an old Indian woman who got them lost."
Inca says, "The Indians charged here with greatest impetus and fury, placing their last hope of overcoming the Christians at this bad crossing because it was so difficult. Here the fighting was furious, and many Spaniards were wounded and some killed, because the enemy fought rashly, making the last stand of desperate men." Once all had passed through the ravine, "the Castilians marched two leagues more through a country without cultivated fields or settlements. The Indians did not oppose them there because in the field they could not stand against the horses..." along their westward way toward the Chipola River's natural bridge. They camped at today's Florida Caverns State Park.
The next morning, October 6th, DeSoto crossed that natural bridge and proceeded two leagues (5 miles) in advance with the horsemen and a hundred foot soldiers into the principal village of Iviahica Apalache, "which consisted of 250 large and substantial houses... He settled himself in those belonging to the chief, which were superior to all the others. Besides this principal village, there were many others throughout that district, half a league, one, one and a half, two, and three leagues away. Some had fifty or sixty houses, others a hundred or more, or less, not counting many other houses scattered about and not arranged in villages." The natives had fled.
Iviahica Apalache was centered at yesteryear's Webbville, west-northwest of today's Marianna, eleven leagues from the Apalachicola River. DeSoto established his winter headquarters there.
Iviahica Apalache's fields are deep, rich, red mineral sediments nestled between rolling, sandy hills and spring-fed streams. Vegetables grow in profusion. One look in the fields tells the story of a thousand year occupation. The fields are strewn with fragments of cultures that settled and farmed there from time to time. The black farmers who live on Union Road, which cuts through what used to be Iviahica, are a beautiful, hard working and proud people; most of their ancestors were born there. The setting is rural Alabama; livestock are pastured on several southern-style plantations. Pigs, chickens, beans, squash, corn and insects are abundant.
Churches and small cemeteries dot the plowed and planted landscape. The Old Spanish Trail bends north from Webbville into Alabama and the Pensacola Road forks to its southwest.
Rangel says, "The province of Apalache is very fertile and very abundant in supplies, with much corn and beans and squash, and diverse fruits, and many deer and many varieties of birds, and near the sea there are many and good fish, and it is a pleasant land although there are swamps; but they are firm because they are over sand." DeSoto would spend the winter there.
Biedma says, "In this province of Apalache there are many towns, and it is a land of plentiful food... it seemed to us that it was time to find out about those who remained at the port, and that they should know about us, because we intended to plunge so far into the interior that we might not be able to have more news of them."
In preparation for that, Juan de Anasco was dispatched to locate the sea before riding back down DeSoto's trail leading the Thirty Lancers. He needed to mark the trees along the Gulf shoreline south of Iviahica so he could find it on his return from Ucita with DeSoto's brigantines. "In two days' (southward) journey of six leagues each (camping midway at "Ochete," today's Compass Lake), which they traveled over a very good road, wide and smooth, they came to a village called Aute..." during new moon. Located south of Iviahica at yesteryear's Econfina (on map above), he reported crossing two small rivers, today's Econfina and Sweetwater Creeks, along that way.
"Here we went to look for the sea (the Gulf of Mexico near today's Panama City), which was about nine leagues (23 miles) from this town..."
Along that route Anasco reported that just over two leagues (5 miles) beyond Aute, after crossing a sand bottomed creek up to his horse's pasterns, he came to the head of a bay, today's North Bay (mapped below). The creek he crossed is called Bear Creek today and is still exactly the way he described it.
By skirting North Bay's east side, Anasco "found the place on the shore where Panfilo de Narvaez made the boats (for escape), because we found the site of the forge and many bones of the horses..." on the north shore of Bayou George facing North Bay.
Anasco found crosses carved in the trees, carcasses of dead horses, and the forge Narvaez had built to smelt nails from stirrups to build his boats. Then, in order to mark the trees for his own return, Anasco followed along the shore of the bay to the sea, which was three leagues away. The Gulf of Mexico is one league south of the harbor's point, today's Panama City, then two leagues out the strait formed by its breaker island, for a total distance of three leagues to the sea, not the coast, as he reported.
Since the water in Bayou George is shallow, Narvaez had to time his departure on favorable tides. According to modern lunar reports, that is exactly what he did: Narvaez completed his boats so they could be launched and maneuvered out of the bay on the spring tides of harvest moon, September 28th, 1528. That may have been his first wise move in conquest but, no doubt, his last.
Cabeza de Vaca says Narvaez called the strait San Miguel when he sailed through it. Today the breaker island has been cut below Panama City to form a pass for ships, thereby avoiding the shallows at the mouth of the strait which Anasco would report months later on his return from Ucita in DeSoto's ships.
Biedma says the army had traveled 110 leagues (300 miles) from Ucita, their landing place. It is that distance, on a straight line, from Ucita this bay which he called "Bay of Aute," the way Anasco planned to navigate the Gulf of Mexico.
"Juan de Anasco made certain signs in some trees that were on the shore (not coast) of the sea, because the Governor ordered him (with Thirty Lancers) to call the people who had remained at the port, and to send them by land the way we had come, and to come back by sea in two brigantines and a small vessel that was there, and to bring them to that province of Apalache; meanwhile we remained waiting there..."
The Thirty Lancers were dispatched to Charlotte Harbor's Ucita on October 20th, 1539, seven days before harvest moon. By following DeSoto's trail from Iviahica to Ucita, their object was to avoid the hostile villages which they had encountered on their way up. After passing through the Napituca Village massacre site and crossing the Suwannee River, the Lancers took a more direct route across the Withlacoochee River's flats to the Hillsborough River's Great Swamp, probably the way Narvaez marched up that trail. Passing well west of Cholupaha and Bad Peace, the Lancers rode 40 leagues during their sixth and seventh days then crossed the Great Swamp under harvest moon. Twenty women were captured along that way to send to DeSoto's wife in Cuba.
Once across the Great Swamp, Anasco's next shortcut, at a lesser rate with female captives, was west of Tocaste where the army had wandered eastward on their way up. No swamps or rivers preclude that two day ride to the Lake of the Rabbit, where they camped their last night on the trail. To avoid Mococo's village, not knowing if Spain still held favor there, the Lancers rounded that village to westward, capturing some of Mococo's people baking fish under a bright morning moon. They crossed the lower Myakka River and rode to the clearing at the head of Tippycanoe Bay. They were alarmed at not finding horse tracks but found signs of clothes being washed at a lake half-league before the village.
Once at Ucita the 60 rescued men shouted with joy about the gold which the army must have found by then. The troops had only one week to march and catch the next full moon at Caliquen, the most populated village on their journey to northwest Florida. They broke camp and loaded the ships. Excess hardware was given to Chief Mococo. With nearly 70 horses, the troops would ride up DeSoto's trail to Apalache. Two of the men and seven horses would die near their destination; some at the Apalache Swamp, others at the Ravine. All were jubilant to reunite with DeSoto's army, headed for inland treasures.
Still at Ucita, Anasco had only one week to catch the next spring tide, on the new moon, to pass over Charlotte Harbor's channel shallows. He used the time to careen and load the brigs.
"Juan de Anasco (had) sent the people by land, and he came back by sea as the Governor commanded him... he endured much hardship and danger, because he did not find that coast; he did not find a trace of what he had seen by land before he went there by sea, because the inlets were shallow, and at high tide they had water but at low tide they were dry. We made a piragua (a long dug-out canoe) that each day went out two leagues (5 miles out to the navigable "coast") into the sea to see if the brigantines were coming, in order to show them where they were to stop. Thanks to God they came to them by sea and the other people by land."
"On Sunday, the 28th of December, Juan de Anasco returned with the brigantines."
Captain Maldonado was dispatched westward by DeSoto along the coast with those brigantines. His mission was to find an entrance to the sea at which to meet the army "within six months if he had no news of us..." and "the next summer return to wait at the port." Maldonado found a port called "Ochuse" sixty leagues down the coast: Mobile Bay (map above). He returned with captives to lead DeSoto overland toward that port from which DeSoto planned to settle North America. Biedma says, "He spent two months on this journey, yet to all of us it became a thousand years through detaining us there so long..." in hostile Indian country.
From Iviahica, DeSoto would explore for nearly a year and a thousand miles before an ambush took place above Mobile Bay. DeSoto's precise cartography accounts for his knowledge that the captives led him toward Mobile Bay: the place from which DeSoto planned to settle and hold North America.
DeSoto's next destination was now a "land rich in pearls, gold and silver, toward the sun's rising." That intelligence came from a young captive. Biedma says, "We had news of the interior... we were going in search of the land that Indian boy named Perico (captured at Napituca, below Tallahassee) told us was on another sea..." the Atlantic Ocean. In support of Perico's statements, survivors of Vazquez de Ayllon's failed-Atlantic-Coast-colony had made similar claims, years earlier in Europe, about that part of America.
"He (Perico) said that he was not from this land, but that he was from another one lying in the direction of the sunrise. Some time ago he had come here in order to visit other lands; his land was called Yupaha, and that a woman ruled it (others called it and her Cofitachequi). Her town was of wonderful size, and she collected tribute from many of her neighboring Chiefs, some of whom gave her gold in abundance. He told how the gold was taken from the mines, melted and refined, just as if he had seen it done, or else the devil thought him. All among us who knew anything of this said it was impossible to give so good an account of it unless one had seen it; and all believed whatever he said was true when they saw the signs he made (with his hands; native sign language). On Wednesday, the 3rd of March, 1540, the governor left in search of Yupaha (others would call it Cofitachequi), the Indian boy's land."
"Our ships headed for Cuba (for additional supplies, personnel and horses from Havana) and we marched north, in order to see what the Indian boy told us about." DeSoto ordered his men "to provide themselves with food for a long journey through uninhabited land. Those of horse carried the corn on their horses and those of foot on their backs, because most of the captured Indians had died from the hard life they suffered, being naked and in chains all winter."
THE GREAT UNKNOWN
The trail DeSoto's army used to leave Florida started at Aute (above Panama City), where a good number of troops had spent that winter. DeSoto's exit, however, started along that trail at Iviahica (near Panama City) with Rangel, his personal secretary. That trail led north through the rich fields along today's Union Road.
Rangel tells us that DeSoto departed on Wednesday, March 3, 1540, and spent that night at the river Gaucuco, then arrived at Capachequi, a great river (the Chattahoochee), early the following Friday. It took him two days plus part of a third to get to that great river. Elvas says it took his people four days while Biedma says he marched northward five days to get to that great river. Inca, who does not mention a starting date or a great river, says his informant traveled three days to the north, camped on a high peninsula for three days, then marched two days to the provincial boundary.
One day's march, four leagues, north of Iviahica is Sills Peninsula pointing south at the confluence of Marshall and Cowart's Creeks. That peninsula's high ground, with fertile fields inside its surrounding trees and swamps, is still exactly the way Inca described it. Maybe Desoto called the broad Marshal Creek the river Gaucuco. To its northeast across Sills Peninsula is Cowart's Creek marsh, a natural crossing place at today's Alabama-Florida border. It's clearly shown on the 1853 Florida Survey map.
Rangel with Desoto marched from Iviahica to Sills the first day, crossing Marshall Creek. The next day he forded the Cowart's Creek and rode into today's Alabama, where he camped just short of the Chattahoochee River, the western border of today's Georgia. He arrived at that great river on the morning of the third day from Iviahica.
Elvas left Iviahica with DeSoto, but spent an extra day marching at a lesser rate while gathering food and herding pigs. He arrived at the Chattahoochee River the fourth day.
Biedma departed from Aute, marched northward for three days to Sills (sixteen leagues), then into Alabama to camp, then to the big river - five days on the trail. This lends credence to Biedma's being at Aute when he made his observations.
Inca's informant also departed from Aute, but did so two days before Biedma, arriving at Sills the third day then gathered local food for the next three days. He then departed for Alabama, camped, then arrived at the provincial boundary, the Chattahoochee River, on his eighth day out of Aute.
If this scenario is correct, the troops arrived at the Chattahoochee River, the provincial boundary, in this order: DeSoto's group on the third day, Elvas's the fourth day, Biedma's the fifth day, and the Inca's informant on the sixth. DeSoto had planned the army's staggered departure times for good reason. He had expected to encounter a giant river northeast of Iviahica Apalache, given that he had crossed the Great Swamp, the Apalachicola River, westbound upon entering it.
That river, which we call the Chattahoochee, was so large and swift that the army had to cross it, in turn, on one large wooden raft (into today's Georgia). "The river was so broad that our best thrower never managed to throw a stone across it." Four full days and part of another were spent rafting DeSoto's people, pigs and possessions across the spring thaw flooded river. Horses were pulled across with ropes and tackle.
DeSoto's Georgia Trails
Hernando de Soto, "desired to be the first to see it (Georgia), in order to learn whether the natives of that province were as rough and warlike as those of Apalache, and also because it was a constantly observed custom of his that he must go himself to any new discovery of provinces because he was not satisfied with the reports of others, but wished to see with his own eyes. Therefore he chose forty cavalry and sixty infantry..."
Rangel implies that on Wednesday, March 10, 1540, his eight reported day out of Apalache, "On the other bank of the river we (with DeSoto's group) found a province, which is called Capachiqui, very abundant in food..."
Biedma, the King's Agent, says, "We saw some towns of the province, and others we could not because it was a land of very great swamps..." Sheffield Mills, Kirkland, Sawhatchee, Weaver Creeks and Porter Pond. "Here we found a difference in the houses of the Indians; we found them as caves below the ground, while up to here they were covered with palms and straw."
Elvas says, "...we reached a town called Capachiqui on Friday, March 11(today's Blakely, a day and a half after crossing the river), they saw the Indians had hidden in the woods. Next day, five Christians went to look for mortars which the Indians use for crushing corn. They went to some Indian houses near to the camp which were surrounded by a forest. Within the forest many Indians were walking about who came to spy on us. Five of them separated from the others and attacked our men. One of our men came running to the camp. They found one of our men dead and three badly wounded. The Indians fled through a swamp (Dry Creek) with a very dense wood around it where the horses could not enter."
"...thus we (the entire army) passed on (up today's Highway 1) to sleep at another town farther on (near today's Kolomoki Mound State Park). But (first) we came upon a bad swamp next to town (Blakely) with a strong current, and before arriving (at camp that night) we crossed a large stretch of water (Breastworks Branch - dammed today beside Highway 1) that came to the saddle pads of the horses in such a manner that all the army was not able to finish crossing that day on account of it (the highway is closed after heavy rains even now)... we left (Kolomoki camp), on the sixteenth of March, and spent the night at White Spring (at the head of Spring Creek, west of Edison). This is a very beautiful spring, with a great abundance of good water and fish...
"We went onward and came upon two rivers (Pachitla and Ichawaynochaway Creeks, which act like rivers) where we made two bridges of pine trees, and the great current broke them, and we made another bridge of timbers crossed in a certain way, which a gentleman described, at which we all laughed, but it was true what he said; and having made the bridges in that way, we crossed very well...
"And on Monday the army finished crossing those rivers and they spent the night in a pine forest... And early on Tuesday (under the full moon of March 22, 1540, on a dawn raid over planted fields) they arrived at Toa (today's Dawson). We found a fair-sized town there, larger than any we had found up to there."
"Beyond that place a difference was seen in the houses, for those behind were covered with hay and those of Toa were covered with canes in the manner of tile... Throughout these cold lands each of the Indians has his house for the winter plastered inside and out. They shut the very small door at night and build a fire inside the house so that it gets as hot as an oven, and stays so all night long.... Besides those houses they have others for summer with kitchens nearby where they build their fires and bake their bread. They have barbacoas in which they keep their corn, that is a house raised up on four posts and timbered like a loft and with a floor of cane... the houses of the lords are larger and have balconies in front, under which are cane seats resembling chairs...
"Native blankets are made of the inner bark of trees and some from a plant like daffodils, the Indian women cover themselves with these, wrapping one from the waist down and another over the shoulder with the right arm uncovered. The Indian men wear only one over the shoulders in the same way and have their privies covered with a truss of deerskin resembling the breech cloths formerly worn in Spain. The skins are well tanned... and of this they make shoes."
"Wednesday, the twenty-forth of the month the Governor left from there at midnight (with the moon straight up), secretly, with up to forty horsemen... and they traveled all that day until the night, when he found a bad and deep crossing of water (Kinchafoonee Creek Swamp), and although it was night, they crossed it, and they walked this day twelve leagues" 32 miles through today's Americus to Andersonville. The troops departed Toa that morning and camped at Kinchafoonee Creek.
"...and the next day (the Thursday before Easter Sunday), in the morning, they (the horsemen) arrived at the province of Chisi (others called it Ichisi or Achese) and crossed a branch of a large river (the Flint River, that province's boundary, five miles northeast of Andersonville), very broad, some of it on foot, and even a good part of it swimming and attacked a town that was on an island (inside the river's branch) in this river where they captured some people and found food... they all had for lunch some hens of the land, which are called turkeys, and loins of venison that they found roasted on a barbacoa, which is like a grill...
"...and the Indian boy Perico that they had brought from Apalache (Florida) as guide led them there. And they (the horsemen with DeSoto) passed on to other towns (up the east bank of Flint River), and at a bad crossing of a swamp (Beaver Creek below today's Montezuma), some horses drowned, because they were put in to swim with the saddles, while their owners crossed over on a beam which traversed the current of the water. And crossing this, Benito Fernandez, a Portuguese, fell from the wood beam and drowned..." as the troops marched toward Americus.
"...a short distance on (at today's Montezuma, one quarter-mile from Beaver Creek, where they stopped)... the Indians had never heard of Christians (and) they plunged into a river (the Flint River). A few Indians were seized, men and women, and one of them understood the Indian boy who was guiding us to Yupaha (Cofitachequi, in today's South Carolina).
"On that account, DeSoto was more certain of what the boy said, for we had passed through lands having different languages, some of which the boy had not understood. The governor sent one of the Indians captured there to call the Chief who was on the other side of the (Flint) river..." at today's Oglethorpe, directly opposite Montezuma. The troops would be there in two days, having spent their third night on their trail at Andersonville.
"This day we arrived at a town (Montezuma) where principal Indians came as messengers from (Chief) Ichisi (near today's Warner Robins, who ruled Georgia between the Flint and Oconee Rivers), and one of them asked the governor: "Who are you? What do you want? Where are you going?" And they brought presents of hides and blankets of the land, which were the first gifts as a signal of peace."
"the governor said... that he was the son of the sun and came from where it dwelt and that he was going through that land and seeking the greatest lord and the richest province in it. The Chiefs (of Montezuma and Oglethorpe) said that a great lord lived on ahead; that his domain was called Ocute..." in the next province beyond the Oconee River, of course, to rid themselves of the Spaniards. The troops arrived at Oglethorpe that evening then crossed the Flint River in native canoes the next day, Easter Sunday, March 28th, 1540.
"The chief (of Montezuma) gave DeSoto a guide and interpreter for that province. The governor ordered his Indians to be set free... He left a wooden cross raised very high in the middle of the public place..." that Easter Sunday.
"On (Monday, they) left (Montezuma) for Chisi (the main village of Chisi Province), it rained so much, and a small river (Beaver Creek, which DeSoto had crossed below Montezuma where the drowning occurred) swelled in such a manner, that if they had not made much haste to cross, all of the army would have been endangered. This day Indian men and women came forth (from today's Perry) to receive them (where the army spent the night).
The women came clothed in white and they made fine appearance, and they gave to the Christians tortollas of corn and some bundles of spring onions exactly like those of Castile, as fat as the tip of the thumb and more. And that was a food which helped them much from then on; and they ate them with tortillas, roasted and stewed and raw, and it was a great aid to them because they are very good. The white clothing in which those Indian women came clothed are some blankets of both coarse and fine linen. They make the thread of them from the bark of the mulberry tree; not from the outside but rather of the middle; and they know how to process and spin and prepare it so well and weave it, that they make very pretty blankets...
"And they put one on from the waist down, and another tied by one side and the top placed upon the shoulder, like those of Bohemians or Egyptians who are in the habit of sometimes wandering through Spain. The thread is such that he who found himself there (with DeSoto, in the vanguard) certified to me that he saw the women spin it from the bark of the mulberry trees and make it good as the most precious thread from Portugal that the women in Spain procure in order to sew, and some more thin and even, and stronger. The mulberry trees are exactly like those of Spain, and as large and larger; but the leaf is softer and better for silk, and the mulberries better for eating and even larger than those from Spain, and the Spaniards also made good use of them many times, in order to sustain themselves."
"We spent five or six days in passing through this province which is called Chisi (which spanned 70 miles from the Flint River, at Montezuma, beyond the Ocmulgee River to the Oconee River at today's Oconee township), where we were well served by the Indians, from the little that they had..." along their way.
"They arrived that day at a town (Perry) of a chief subject to Ichisi, a pretty town and with plenty of food, and the chief gave them willingly of what he had, and they rested there on Tuesday...
"...and then on Wednesday, the Governor and his army departed, and they arrived at the Great River (the Ocmulgee just below Warner Robins) where they (the Indians) had many canoes in which they (DeSoto and staff) crossed very well (that afternoon) and arrived at the town of (Ichisi), who was one-eyed, and he gave them very good food and fifteen Indians to carry the burdens." The troops would cross the next morning.
DeSoto's navigators reasoned that this "Great River," the Ocmulgee, was the Peace River which flows into Charlotte Harbor, their port of entry in Florida. After all, on their way up the Gulf Coast they had encountered only two other large rivers: the Suwannee and the Apalachicola. When they departed Florida from Marianna, headed northeast, they crossed two big rivers, the Chattahoochee and the Flint Rivers which, they figured, were the Apalachicola and the Suwannee Rivers, respectively.
The next great river they would logically encounter would be, according to their logic, the Peace River, Gulf Coast Florida's other "Great River," where they had landed. The Gulf of Mexico, in their eyes, was the southern east-west shoreline of this "Island" of Florida: North America.
"They were there Thursday, the first of April, and they placed a cross on the mound of his town and informed them through the interpreter of the sanctity of the cross, and they received it and appeared to adore it with much devotion...
"Friday, the second day of the month of April, this army departed from there and slept in the open (on a plateau in the hills, four miles east of today's Jeffersonville), and the next day they (DeSoto's advanced group) arrived at a good river (the Oconee River, Ocute Province's boundary) and found deserted huts, and messengers arrived from Altamaha (who lived across the river at today's Oconee) and led them to a town (today's Toomsboro) where they found an abundance of food, and a messenger from Altamaha (the chief beyond the river) came with a present, and the following day (when the entire army caught up with DeSoto) they brought many canoes and the army crossed (the Oconee River) very well..." into Altamaha with their pigs, horses and supplies into today's Oconee.
"Here we found a river (the Oconee River) that did not flow to the south like the others that we crossed. It flowed east, to the sea where the lawyer Ayllon had come (the Atlantic, upon the coast of which their kinsman, a wealthy judge named Ayllon, had shipwrecked while attempting settlement there a dozen years before in 1526), and because of this we gave much more credit to what the Indian boy (Perico) told us, and we believed all of his lies. This province was well populated with Indians and they all served us (deceiving DeSoto in the process, as we shall see). We questioned the Indians about the province we were searching for (Yupaha, according to the Indian boy), which was called by them Cofitachique, and they told us that it was not possible to go there; there was neither road nor anything to eat on the way, and we would all die of hunger."
"From there (at today's Oconee) the governor sent a message summoning the chief Camumo (probably of today's Harrison, 13 miles east of Oconee), and they said that he ate and slept and walked continually armed, that he never took off his weapons, because he was on the frontier of another chief called Cofitachequi, his enemy, and that he would not come without weapons, and the governor replied and said that he should come as he might wish. And he came and the governor gave him a large feather colored with silver, and the chief took it very happily and said "You are from heaven, and this your feather that you gave me, I can eat with it, I will go forth to war with it; I will sleep with my wife with it...
"This chief was subject to a great chief who is called Ocute, and he asked the governor to whom he had to give tribute to in the future, if he should give it to the governor or to Ocute... and he (DeSoto) responded that he held Ocute as a brother, that he should give Ocute his tribute until the governor should command otherwise. From there the governor sent messengers to Ocute, and he came there, and the governor gave him a hat of yellow satin, and a shirt, and a feather, and he placed a cross there in Altamaha, and it was well received...
"The next day, the eighth of April, the Governor departed from there with his army, and he took Ocute with him, and they went to sleep at some huts, and on Friday they arrived at the town of Ocute (today's Davisboro, having been led well south of Sandersville, Ocute's real home). And the Governor got angry with him, and he (Ocute) trembled with fear; and after that a great number of Indians came with supplies (from Sandersville), and they gave the Christians as many Indian burden bearers as they wished, and a cross was placed, and they appeared to receive it with as much devotion and adored it on their knees, as they saw the Christians do."
Another says, "So that they (the Natives) would remember them, the governor gave them, among other presents, two swine, male and female, for breeding. He had done the same for the chief of Altapaha and the lords of the other provinces who had come out peacefully and made friends with the Spaniards. Though hitherto we have not mentioned that we brought these animals with us, it is true that DeSoto brought more than three hundred head, male and female, which multiplied greatly and were exceedingly useful in the great necessities that our Castilians suffered in this discovery. If (by now) the Indians have not destroyed them, it is probable that... there are many of them there today (when this report was published in 1609), for besides those the governor gave to the friendly chiefs, many others were lost along the roads, though they were well and carefully guarded. While on the march one of the companies of cavalry (horsemen) was assigned to herd and guard them." Feral pigs, which we call "wild pigs," of which there are tens-of-thousands in today's Georgia, are descendant from DeSoto's.
Inca says, "We have not mentioned hitherto a piece of artillery the governor brought along with his army... the governor, having seen that (a cannon) served for nothing except a burden and annoyance, requiring men to care for it and pack mules to transport it, decided to leave it with the chief (of Ocute) to keep.... So that he might see (the importance of) what he (DeSoto) was leaving for him, the governor ordered the piece aimed from the house of the chief toward a large and very beautiful live-oak tree that was outside the village, and he knocked it down entirely with two shots, at which the chief and his Indians were amazed."
"The chief sent him (DeSoto) two thousand Indians bearing gifts, namely rabbits, partridges, corn bread, two hens, and many dogs (opossum - all from Sandersville), which are esteemed among the Christians as if they were fat sheep because there was a great lack of meat and salt. Of this there was so much need and lack in many places and on many occasions that if a man fell sick, there was nothing with which to make him well; and he would waste away of an illness which could have been easily cured in any other place, until nothing but his bones were left and he would die from pure weakness, some saying: "If I had a bit of meat or some lumps of salt, I should not die."
"The Indians do not lack for meat; for they kill many deer, hens, rabbits, and other game with their arrows. In this they have great skill, which the Christians do not have; and even if they had it, they had no time for it, for most of the time they were on the march, and they did not dare to turn aside from the paths (which were Indian trails between Indian villages). And because they lacked meat so badly, when the six hundred men with DeSoto arrived at any town and found twenty or thirty dogs, he who could get one and who killed it thought he was not a little agile. And if he who killed one did not send his captain a quarter, the latter, if he learned of it... gave him to understand it in the watches or in any other matter of worth that arose with which he could annoy him. On Monday, April 12, the governor left Ocute (today's Davisboro), the Chief having given him four hundred tamemes, that is, Indians for carrying."
Biedma says, "They gave us some of the foods they had and told us that if we wished to go make war on the lady of Cofitachiqui, they would give us all that we might want for our journey. They told us that there was no road by which to go (in the direction DeSoto was heading, having been misled from the road which ran from Sandersville through today's Augusta on the Savannah River, that chief's frontier outpost before Cofitachiqui, thereby sparing both cities of DeSoto), since they had no dealings with one another because they were at war; sometimes when they came to make war on one another, they passed through hidden and secret places where they would not be detected... Having seen our determination, they gave us eight hundred Indians to carry our food and cloths, and other Indians to guide us (below Augusta); we headed straight east (instead of northeast to Augusta) and traveled for three days (toward the Savannah River). The Indian (boy, Perico) who had deceived us told us that in three days he would get us there."
"and (we) arrived at Cofaqui (brother of Ocute, just beyond Ogeechee River at today's Louisville), and the principal Indians came with gifts... This Chief Cofaqui was an old man, full-bearded."
"By the way that they were going, which proved to be the narrowest point of the province of Cofaqui..." between the Ogeechee River and Brier Creek near today's Waynesboro, "they left it in two daily journeys..." camping first at Buckhead Creek.
They "...reached a province of an Indian lord called Patofa (squatting at Waynesboro, just inside Cofaqui Province), who, since he was at peace with the lord of Ocute and the other lords round him, he had heard of the governor some days before and desired to see him...
"This land, from that of the first peaceful chief (at today's Montezuma) to the province of Patofa - a distance of fifty leagues (132 miles, an incredibly accurate measure) - is a rich land, beautiful, fertile, well watered, and with fine fields along the rivers...
At Patofa, the Indian boy named Perico (himself believing that he was on the road to Augusta) said, "...that four day's journey thence toward the rising sun was the province of which he spoke (Yupaha, which others called Cofitachequi, which was only 60 miles from Augusta on the right road). They (the Patofas) said that they knew of no settlement in that direction, but that toward the northwest they knew a province called Coosa, a well provisioned land and of very large villages (which DeSoto would encounter 3 months later in North Georgia). The chief told the governor that if he wished to go thither, he would furnish him service of a guide and Indians to carry (the burdens); and if (he wanted to go) in the direction indicated by the youth (east) he would also give him all those he needed..."
Chief Ocute probably assigned the leadership of the native army to Chief Patofa, given that Ocute was never mentioned again. He knew DeSoto was on the wrong road to Cofitachequi and would probably kill whoever was leading when his deliberate misdirection was discovered.
"On Thursday, the fifteenth of that month, Perico, the Indian boy who had been their guide since Apalache (Marianna, Florida), began to lose his bearings, because now he did not know any more of the land, and he made himself out to be possessed (they were 20 miles south of the right road to Cofitachequi, which ran thru today's Augusta then 60 more miles to Cofitachequi)... they had to take (other Indian) guides... in order to go to Cofitachequi, across an uninhabited region of nine or ten days' journey...
"Many times I am amazed by the gambling spirit, or tenacity or pertinacity, or perhaps I should say constancy, because it gives better impression of the way these deceived conquistadors went on from one difficulty to another, and from another to yet a worse one, and from one danger to others and others, here losing a comrade and there three and over there more, and going from bad to worse, without learning their lesson. Oh marvelous God, what blindness and rapture under such an uncertain greed and such vain preaching as that which Hernando de Soto was able to tell those deluded soldiers that he led to a land where he had never been... because he knew nothing of the islands of the land to the North (today's America), knowing only the method of government of... Nicaragua, and of Peru, which was another manner of dealing with the Indians; and he thought that experience from there sufficed to know how to govern here on the coast of the North, and he deluded himself, as this history will relate."
Elvas says, "He (DeSoto) took corn (from Patofa) for four days and marched (Biedma says, "straight to the east...") for six days along a path which gradually grew narrower (in South Carolina) until it was lost. He marched in the direction where the youth guided him and crossed two rivers by fording, each of which was two crossbow-shots wide..." the Savannah River (today's South Carolina border) at Shell Bluff Landing. This river was flooded by Appalachian Mountains spring thaw.
Rangel says of the last part of that trail, "Friday, the sixteenth of the month, the Governor and his people spent the night at a creek (Briar Creek east of Waynesboro, having gathered what foods they could that day) then crossed an extremely large river, divided into branches, and broader than a long shot of a crossbow, and it had many bad fords of many flat stones, and it came up to the stirrups, and in places up to the saddle pads. The current was very strong, and there was not a man on horseback who dared to take a foot soldier on the river. The foot soldiers passed across farther upstream on the river, through very deep water... They made a string of thirty or forty men tied one to another, and thus they crossed (the Savannah River), the ones holding themselves to the others; and although some were in much danger, thanks to God not one drowned, because they aided them with the horses, and gave them the butt of their lance or the tail of their horse, and thus all came forth and slept in the forest..." in South Carolina.
North Georgia Trails
South Carolina Trails
DeSoto entered South Carolina on Saturday, April 17th, 1540, by fording the Savannah River's branches at Shell Bluff Landing. The Atomic Energy Commission owns that very large area of desolate land today. Nuclear waste is stored there.
"This day we lost many pigs that we had brought tame from Cuba, which the current carried off."
Elvas summarizes that journey from Patofa (near Waynesboro, Georgia), "He (DeSoto) took corn for four days and marched for six days (well into South Carolina) along a path which gradually grew narrower until it was lost. He (had first) marched in the direction where the youth guided him and crossed two rivers by fording (the Savannah River), each of which was two crossbow-shots wide."
"The next day, Sunday, they went to another forest or grove to rest (at today's Energy Commission Heliport site); and the next day, Monday, they traveled without a road (through broken country) and crossed another very large river (Upper Three Runs which fills that crossing basin due to natural downstream elevation variation), and on Tuesday they spent the night alongside a stream (Rosemary Creek below today's Williston), and on Wednesday (six days out of Patofa "along a path which gradually grew narrower until it was lost") they arrived at another extremely large river..." South Fork Edisto River at its junction with Goodland Creek (on full moon).
"...difficult to cross, which was divided in two branches, with bad entrances and worse exits (across that large swamp). Now we carried nothing with us to eat, and with great labor we crossed the river, then arrived at some settlements of Indian fishermen or hunters (shacks are still built there by weekend sportsmen)... and the Indians that they brought lost their bearings ("they did not know where to go or what road to give us"), since neither they nor the Spaniards knew the road nor what way they should take..."
"...the governor came out (of that swamp) to a pine grove (on Goodland Creek's east side) and threatened the youth and made as if he would throw him to the dogs because he had deceived him, saying that it was a march of four days, and for nine days he had marched (over rivers and swamps)... and now the men were weak because of the great economy which had been practiced with regard to the corn. The youth said that he did not know where he was..."
"...and the Indians that brought us lost their bearings, since neither they nor the Spaniards knew the road ("...Because the road they had been following up to that time, which appeared to be a very wide public highway, came to an end, and many narrow paths that led through the woods in every direction were lost after they had followed them for a short distance, and they were without a path.")... and the governor proposed, as he had always done, that it was better to go forward, without his or their knowing in what they guessed correctly or in what they erred. And being perplexed in this labyrinth, on Friday, the twenty-third of April, the governor sent men to look for roads and towns..."
"...(DeSoto) began to give a pound of pork to each Spaniard... and we boiled it in water without salt or anything else. And from here (South Fork Edisto River) the Governor sent (men) in two directions to look for a road...Biedma says, "one he sent upriver (up the east bank of Goodland Creek) to the north and northeast, and (the other, Juan de Anasco) went downriver to the southeast (the north bank of South Fork Edisto River)..." "...and he gave each one a limit of ten days to go and come back, to see if they found something or saw a trace of a town."
"The horses went without any food, and they and their owners (were) dying of hunger, without a road, with continual rain, the rivers continually swelling and narrowing the land, and without hope of towns or knowledge of where they had to go to look, calling and asking God for mercy. And Our Lord remedied them in this manner: On Sunday, the twenty-fifth of April, Juan de Anasco came with news that he had found a town and food (today's Orangeburg - vegetable haven)... and he brought from there some Indians who spoke with the Indian boy (named Perico) who deceived us... And (the Indian boy) again affirmed the lies (about the treasures of that land) that he had told us, and we believed him...
"The governor sent (many of) the Indians from Patofa back since he had nothing to give them to eat..." fearing that they might disrupt any favorable relations he might otherwise establish with the natives of Cofitachequi, if he could find it.
"...and having written some letters and placed them in some gourds, they buried them in a hidden place, and on a large tree left some letters that said where the (other scouts) would find them ("Dig at the foot of this pine tree and you will find a letter..."). And thus they departed... on a Monday, the twenty-sixth of April (1540). This day the governor (and his guard) arrived with some on horseback at the town that is called Himahi (Orangeburg, which spans North Fork Edisto River). He found in this town... more than three thousand pounds of toasted corn..." It's still a great agricultural center now.
"And the next day the army arrived ("There was no other way to town than marks left on the trees by Juan de Anasco"), and they gave out rations of corn... and there were infinite mulberries... and delicious and very fragrant strawberries. And apart from this they found there by the fields infinite roses... this town they named Succor ("Relief," in English)."
"The next day... (the one) who had gone to explore (up the east bank of Goodland Creek) arrived and brought four or five Indians, and not one of them would make known the town of their lord nor disclose its location, although they burned one of them alive in front of the others." "Thereupon, another (at Himahi) said that two days' journey thence was a province called Cofitachiqui." Lobillo, who scouted northward for Cofitachequi, "came with news of roads and he left behind two lost companions and the Governor reprimanded him severely, and without letting him rest or eat, he made him return to look for them under penalty of his life should he not bring them."
"During this time the eight hundred Indians (who carried baggage into this province from Patofa, Georgia) did all the harm and injury they could to their enemies, as secretly as possible. They scoured the country for four leagues (ten miles) in every direction, wherever they could do damage. They killed the Indians who they could find, men and women, and took off their scalps to carry away as evidence of their exploits. They sacked the village and temples wherever they could, but did not burn them, as they wished to do, so that the governor would not see or know about it...
"In short, they left nothing undone that they could think of to harm their enemies and avenge themselves. The cruelty would have continued if on the fifth day of this state of affairs the things that Patofa and his Indians had done and were doing had not come to the governor's attention... (DeSoto) decided to dismiss Patofa so that he might take his men and return at once to his own country. This he did..."
DeSoto may have led the remainder of Patofa's vengeful Indians, the bearers of the army's supplies, to Orangeburg deliberately to keep them away from Cofitachequi (today's Columbia). Those bearers would be replaced with Himahi's Indians, who were on friendly terms with Cofitachequi; the Patofas were then discharged.
"Friday, the last day of April (1540), the Governor took some on horseback... and went toward Cofitachequi (up Lobillo's road) and spent the night hard by a large and deep river..." the giant Congaree River below today's Columbia. "On the way there Indians were captured who declared that the chieftainess of that land had already heard of the Christians and was awaiting them in her towns."
"He sent Juan de Anasco with some on horseback to try to have some interpreters and canoes ready in order to cross the river which hitherto had been on one side of them, cut across in front of them and the village," where the Saluda River joins the Congaree River to become the Congaree River at Columbia. "The next day the governor (having waited near Dixiana) arrived at the crossing in front of the town."
"That large river that flowed through Cofitachequi, according to the mariners among the Spaniards, was the one which they called Santa Elena on the coast. They did not know this for certain, but according to the direction they had traveled, it seemed to them that it would be this one."
"According to the information that we had from the Indians, the sea was up to thirty leagues (80 miles, another says, "two days' journey away" by canoe) from there. We found out that the people that went with Ayllon scarcely went inland at all but rather stayed always on the seacoast, until Ayllon became sick and died. Afterward the people killed one another, each one intent on taking command, and many others (died) of hunger; one who had found himself there told us that of six hundred men that Ayllon had settled in that land, not more than fifty-seven had escaped, largely because of losing a large ship loaded with provisions." Those escapees had spread rumors of gold in this land before DeSoto's Expedition left Spain.
"Indians brought (a sister of) Cofitachequi on a litter with much prestige. And she sent a message to us that she (the Lady of Cofitachequi) was delighted that we had come to her land, and that she would give us whatever she could."
"...some Indians brought (the Lady of) Cofitachequi on a litter with much prestige. And she sent a message to us that she was delighted that we had come to her land, and that she would give us whatever she could, and she sent a string of pearls of five or six strands to the Governor. She gave us canoes in which we crossed that river (the Congaree) and divided with us half of the town..."
"She was young and of fine appearance, and she removed a string of pearls that she wore about her neck and put it on the Governor's neck, in order to ingratiate herself and win his good will... And the Indians walked covered down to the feet with very excellent hides, very well tanned, and blankets of sable and mountain lions which smelled; and the people are very clean and very polite and naturally well developed."
"Monday the third of May, all the rest of the army arrived (having spent four days marching up the Congaree River to Columbia), and all could not cross until the next day, Tuesday..." DeSoto's horsemen forded the Saluda River's rocky flats (pictured below) instead, to a grassy place they called "The Point" between the Saluda and Broad Rivers, but "not without cost and loss of seven horses which (slipped and) drowned. These were among the fattest horses, which fought against the current, but the thin ones, which let themselves go (survived)."
"As soon as he (DeSoto) was lodged in the town (downtown Columbia), another gift of many hens was made to him. The land was very pleasing and fertile, and had excellent fields along the rivers (the Saluda, Broad and Congaree Rivers - around which the army was strewn), the forests being clear and having many walnuts and mulberries. They said that the sea (the Atlantic Ocean) was two days' journey away..." Another says, "According to the Indians, the sea was up to thirty leagues (eighty miles) from there."
"Around the town within the compass of a league and a half (four miles) were large uninhabited towns, choked with vegetation, which looked as though no people had inhabited them for some time." The army camped in many of them for food for themselves and their animals.
"The Indians said that two years ago there had been a plague in that land and they had moved to other towns (Ayllon may have introduced a virus which caused this plague). In the barbacoas of the towns there was considerable amount of clothing and blankets made of thread from the bark of trees and feather mantles - white, gray, vermilion, and yellow - made according to their custom, elegant and suitable for winter. There were also many deerskins, well tanned and colored, with designs drawn on them and made into pantaloons, hose and shoes..." which the army ravaged.
"The chieftainess, observing that the Christians esteemed pearls, told the Governor that he might order certain graves in that town to be examined, for he would find many, and that if he wished to send to the inhabited towns, they could load all their horses. The graves of that town were examined and fourteen arrobas (175 pounds) of pearls were found (and taken), babies and birds being made of them."
"...although they were not good because they were damaged through being below the ground and placed amidst the adipose tissue of the Indians. Here we found buried two Castilian axes for cutting wood, and a rosary of beads of jet and some (trinkets) of the kind that they carry from Spain to barter with the Indians. All this we believed they had obtained from barter with those who went with the (lawyer) Ayllon."
"On the seventh of May... Gallegos (DeSoto's Captain) went with most of the people of the army to Ilapi... (thence to Talimeco, on the Wateree River opposite today's Camden) to eat seven barbacoas (storage bins) of corn that they said was there, which were a deposit of the Chieftainess... This Talimeco was a town of great importance, with its very authoritative oratory on a high mound; the house of the chief (was) very large and very tall and broad, all covered, high and low, with very excellent and beautiful mats, and placed with such fine skill that it appeared that all the mats were only one mat."
"Only rarely was there a hut which might not be covered with matting. This town has very good savannas and a fine river (the Wateree River), and forests of walnuts and oak, pines, evergreen oaks and groves of sweetgum, and many cedars. In this river was... found a bit of gold; and such a rumor became public in the army among the Spaniards, and for this it was believed that this is a land of gold, and that good mines would be found there [which happened in 1799 north of Camden, setting off America's first gold-rush]."
"In the villages under the jurisdiction and overlordship of Cofitachequi through which our Spaniards passed they found many Indians native to other provinces who were held in slavery. As a safeguard against their running away, they (Cofitachequi's people) disabled them (their neighbors) in one foot, cutting the nerves above the instep where the foot joins the leg, or just above the heel. They held them in this perpetual and inhuman bondage in the interior of the country away from the frontiers, making use of them to cultivate the soil and in other servile employment's. These were the prisoners they captured in the ambushes that they set against one another at their fisheries and hunting grounds, and not in open war of one power against another with organized armies (as was the European habit at that time)."
The people were dark... "The people were dark, well set up and proportioned, and more civilized than any who had been seen in all the land of Florida (North America); and all were shod and clothed. The youth (Perico) told the governor (at Columbia) that he was now beginning to enter that land of which he had spoken to him. And since it was such a land and he understood the language of the Indians, some credence was given him. He requested that he be Baptized, for he wished to become a Christian. He was made a Christian and was called Pedro."
"...The governor ordered him to be loosed from the chain in which he had gone until then ("The Castilians did not offer the lady Baptism..."). That land, according to the statement of the Indian (boy Pedro), had been very populous and was reputed to be a good land. According to appearances, the youth (Pedro), whom the governor had taken as guide, had heard of it, and what he had learned from hearsay he asserted to have seen, and enlarged at will what he saw."
"...In that town (Columbia) were found a dagger and some beads of Christians, whom the Indians said had been in the port two days journey thence; and that it was now many years since Ayllon had arrived there in order to make a conquest of that land; that on arriving at the port he died; and there ensued a division, quarrels, and deaths among several of the principle persons who had accompanied him as to who should have the command; and without learning anything of the land they returned to Spain from that port."
"All the men were of the opinion that they should settle in that land as it was an excellent region; that if it were settled, all the ships from New Spain, and those from Peru, Santa Marta, and Tierra Firme, on their way to Spain, would come to take advantage of the stop there, for their route passes by there; and as it is a good land and suitable for making profits." Some of those men would return to Columbia years later with the Spanish Explorer Juan Pardo.
"Since the governor's purpose was to seek another treasure like that of Peru (and to find a South Sea passage to China), he had no wish to content himself with good land or with pearls, even though many of them were worth their weight in gold and, if the land were to be (settled by Spain), those pearls which the Indians would get afterward would be worth more; for those they have, inasmuch as they are bored by fire, lose their color thereby.
"The governor replied to those who urged him to settle that there was not food in that whole land for the support of his men for a single month; that it was necessary to hasten to the port of Ochuse (Mobile, Alabama) where (Captain) Maldonado was to wait; that if another richer land were not found they could always return to that one whenever they wished; that meanwhile the Indians would plant their fields (with seeds the Spaniards gave them) and it would be better provided with corn.
"He asked the Indians whether they had heard of any great lord farther on. They said that twelve days' journey thence was a province called Chiaha which was subject to the lord of Coosa..." a powerful chief who DeSoto had heard about in Georgia. A section of mountains, just west of Nantahala Gorge, is still called Chiaha today. It would take DeSoto 24 marching days to get there.
"Thereupon the governor determined to go in search of that land; and as he was a man hard and dry of word, and although he was glad to listen to and learn from the opinion of all, after he had voiced his own opinion he did not like to be contradicted and always did what seemed best to him. Accordingly, all conformed to his will, and although it seemed a mistake to leave that land for another land that might have been found round about where the men might maintain themselves until the planting might be done there and the corn harvested, no one had anything to say to him after his determination was learned."
"...because the Indians had already risen and that it was learned that the Lady was minded to go away if she could without giving guides or tamemes for carrying because of offenses committed against the Indians by the Christians for among many men there is never lacking some person of little quality for who for very little advantage to himself places the others in danger of losing their lives the governor ordered a guard to be placed over her and took her along with him, not giving her such good treatment as she deserved for the good will she had shown him and the welcome she had given him."
"We (stayed) in the town of this lady for about ten or eleven days, and then it was advisable for us to leave from there in search of food, because here there was none... (the horses and people had used it up very quickly)... We (with DeSoto and the Lady) turned again north and traveled (up the west bank of the Broad River).."
DeSoto crossed the Broad River to the Point where the horses had been pastured, then on "Wednesday, the (twelfth) of May, the Governor left Cofitachequi (the army had gone to Camden with Captain Gallegos during the week before), and in two days (having camped at Chapin his first night out) he (DeSoto) arrived at the province of Chalaque (Cherokee Indians, near today's Newberry) but he could not find their town, nor was there an Indian who would disclose it." These Cherokee may have been recent arrivals onto land depopulated by the plague in Cofitachequi, given that their village was not on that province's trail. "And they slept in a pine forest, where many Indian men and women began to come in peace with presents."
"And from there the Governor wrote to Baltasar de Gallegos (who was, by that time, 20 miles east of DeSoto on Catawba Trail at Old Cherokee Road) by some Indians, [DeSoto having sent those troops] to the [food storage] barbacoas that they had gone to in order to eat the corn, as mentioned earlier, that they should follow the Governor." The troops, having marched from Camden, through today's Winnsboro, then to the intersection east of DeSoto, would catch-up with him, along their own trail through today's Union, four days later near today's Spartanburg.
"The Indians live on roots of herbs which they seek in the open field and on game killed with their arrows. The (Cherokee) people are very domestic, go quite naked and (are) very fatigued (perhaps due to constant food gathering given their recent move to this land). There was a lord who brought the governor two deerskins as a great act of service. In that land are many wild hens. In one town they performed a service for him, presenting him seven hundred of them, and likewise in others they brought those they had and could get."
"Monday, the seventeenth of that month, they (with DeSoto) departed from there (having spent the weekend in a Chalaque pine forest) and spent the night in another forest (near today's Clinton); and on Tuesday they went to Guaquili (today's Enoree), and the Indians came forth in peace and gave them corn, although little, and many hens roasted on a barbacoa, and a few little dogs, which are good food. These are little dogs that do not bark (opossum), and they rear them in the houses in order to eat them. They also gave them tamemes, which are Indians who carry burdens. And on the following day, Wednesday, they went to a canebrake (at today's Roebuck below Spartanburg), and on Thursday to a small savanna (today's Inman) where a horse died; and some foot soldiers of Gallegos arrived, making known to the Governor that he was approaching."
Meanwhile, "The soldiers (with Captain Gallegos) were marching along at midday when suddenly a great tempest of strong contrary winds blew up, with much lightning and thunder, and quantities of large hailstones that fell upon them, so that if there had not happened to be some large walnut trees near the road and some other dense trees under which they took shelter, they would have perished, for the largest of the hailstones were the size of a hen egg and the smallest were the size of a nut.
"Some soldiers held their shields over their heads, but even so when the stones struck an unprotected part of their bodies they hurt them badly. It was God's will that the storm last only a short time; if it had been longer the shelter they had taken would not have been enough to save their lives, and short as it had been they were so battered that they could not march that day or the next."
Captain Gallegos had marched up the opposite side of the Broad River, camping at four league intervals along the Old Cherokee Road beyond Winnsboro to that river's crossing place near Carlisle. He camped at today's Union and Jonesville then near Spartanburg, where "they saw that (DeSoto) had passed and was going on ahead of them. Thereupon two hundred foot soldiers rose up and demanded to march as rapidly as possible, in disobedience to their captains, until they overtook the general..." as mentioned above.
On his eighth traveling day out of Cofitachequi, on the morning of full moon, May 21st, DeSoto led a dawn containment raid on Xuala, today's Tryon, North Carolina, at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains. The remaining troops would join him over the next few days.
Inca says, "From the village of Cofitachequi... to the first valley of the province of Xuala... it was about 50 leagues (130 miles, a true measure along Captain Gallegos' 11 days marched trail)... The whole distance traveled from the Province of Apalache (in North Florida) to that of Xuala where we found the governor and his army was, if I have not miscounted, 57 daily journeys. The march was generally northeast, and many days toward the north.
If "We take four and a half leagues as an average of the 57 daily journeys those Spaniards marched from Apalache to Xuala, though some may have been longer and others shorter... they had marched a little less than 260 leagues to Xuala and from the Bay of Espiritu Santo (Charlotte Harbor, Florida, where they landed) to Apalache we said that they traveled 150 leagues. Thus in all they covered a little less than 400 leagues... This doubt and many others that our history leaves unsolved will be cleared up when God, our Lord, shall be pleased to have that land won..."
Inca's estimate was on the high side. The army had marched 49, not 57, daily journeys from Apalache to Xuala, plus eight limited-distance major-river-crossing days. They had traveled 194 leagues, not 260, from Apalache to Xuala, averaging four leagues per day, not four-and-a-half. By adding 150 leagues marched from port to Apalache, a true overland measure, we get 344 leagues marched, 900 miles, not 400 leagues during their first year in America.
North Carolina Trails
"The next day, Friday (May 21, 1540, at dawn under full moon, as was Hernando de Soto's habit when containing new regions), they went to Xuala (today's Tryon, North Carolina) which is a town on a plain between some rivers (North Pacolet River and Vaughan Creek); its chief was so well provisioned that he gave to the Christians however much they asked for: tamemes (slaves), corn, little dogs (opossum, shown below), petacas (baskets), and however much he had... In that Xuala it seemed to them that there was better disposition to look for gold mines than in all that they had passed through and seen..."
The mountain view is spectacular from Tryon. The Cherokee place name Xuala, spelled "Saluda" by the English, means "the bushy place." When viewed from the mountains above, the foothills below appear "bushy," unlike the tall mountain spruce and fir trees. The Saluda River flows southeast from those mountains.
"This village was situated in the foothills of a mountain range on the bank of a river (North Pacolet River) that, though not very large, had a very strong current..." coming off the mountains.
"In the village of Xuala they served and entertained the governor and all his army most attentively, for as it was a part of the Lady's kingdom, and as she had sent orders to that effect, the Indians did everything in their power both to obey their lady and to please the Spaniards." Captain Gallegos' troops, many starved, some very ill, straggled into that camp for short-term recovery over the next few days...
"The governor (would eventually) set out from Xuala for Guaxule (today's Asheville), crossing over very rough and lofty mountains."
"In these mountains we found the source of the Great (Mississippi) River, by which we left..." North America. These Spaniards would observe that the French Broad River does, indeed, feed the Tennessee River which feeds the Ohio River (which they would cross in Kentucky) which feeds the Mississippi River (which they would cross in Illinois), upon which they would make their final escape from America (downstream from Arkansas) three years later.
"Tuesday, the 25th of May, they left from Xuala and crossed that day a very high mountain range." The railroad uses that Indian trail today because it is the least inclined into North Carolina from Charleston, but the steepest railroad grade east of the Mississippi River.
Another says, "They marched for another five days through a mountain range uninhabited (the Indians had fled) but very good country. It had many oaks and some mulberries, and plenty of pasturage for cattle. There were ravines and streams with little water, though they flowed rapidly, and very green and delightful valleys. At the place they crossed it this range was twenty leagues wide..." fifty-two miles, from Tryon to Asheville.
Along the way from Tryon, "...they spent the night in a small forest (near Saluda, on the Eastern U.S. Continental Divide), and the next day, Wednesday in a savanna (Hendersonville - elevation 2,200 feet) where they endured great cold, although it was already the twenty-sixth of May; and there they crossed, in water up to their shins (Mud Creek), the river by which they afterward left in the ships that they made (Mud Creek feeds the French Broad River which feeds the Mississippi River, down which the army would eventually sail to Mexico). When that river comes forth to the sea, the navigation chart states and indicates that it is the river of Spiritu Sancto; which, according to charts of the cosmographer Alonso de Chaves, enters in a great bay (the Gulf of Mexico, through which they would escape to Mexico three years later)... the Lady of Cofitachequi, whom they took with them in payment of the good treatment that they had received from her, turned back..."
"...she stepped aside the road and went into a wood saying that she had to attend to her necessities... and hid herself in the woods, and although we sought her she could not be found ("...in that province of Xalaque," Cherokee in English). She took with her a box filled with unbored pearls, very valuable... and went to stop at Xualla (Tryon) with a slave who had escaped from camp... and it was certain that they held communication as husband and wife, and that both decided to go back to Cofitachique (Columbia, South Carolina)."
"The next day they spent the night in an oak grove (at King's Ford on the French Broad, northwest of Hendersonville), and the following day, alongside a large creek, which they crossed many times..." (as they marched down the west bank of the French Broad River between towering mountains; first fording the French Broad and Mills Rivers, then the branches of McDowell, Line and Avery Creeks then Clayton Creek, camping near the river above West Haven). "The next day messengers came in peace, and they arrived in Guaxule (Asheville)." "... they gave us a quantity of dogs and some corn, of which they had little.."
"The Indians there made him (DeSoto) service of three hundred dogs (probably Virginia Opossum, indigenous to America, which most had never seen), for they observed that the Christians liked them and sought them to eat, but they are not eaten among the Indians." "...and because this was a good resting place the soldiers called it, while throwing dice, the "House of Guaxule," a good encounter..."
"Gauxule... was situated among many small streams that flowed through various parts of the village. Their sources were in these mountains where the Spaniards had passed through and in others beyond (the creeks converge at Asheville: all flow northward from there: as the French Broad River)... All around it was a public walk along which six men could pass abreast..." Cherokee legend holds that its tribes and clans met in at today's Asheville to compete from time to time; the "walk," described by the Spaniards, was a Cherokee race track. "Jua Gaux-u-le," in Cherokee, means "The Place Where They Race." "...from there DeSoto went in six daily journeys of five leagues each..." 78 miles, described below.
The Great Smoky Mountain Expressway, today's main east-west highway, follows Indian trails that Hernando de Soto trudged through those mountains from Asheville westward to Tennessee.
"...and went with his army to an oak grove alongside a river (they passed through New Found Gap, west of Asheville, and camped beside the deep Pigeon River at Canton), and the next day we passed through Canasoga."
In Cherokee "Canasoga" means "against the slopes." It's against the steep slopes of Woodrow and Bethel Church, five miles below Canton, which was called Canasoga by English settlers. DeSoto had turned south at Canton to cross the Pigeon River above its branches at Woodrow "...and spent the night in the open" (at Hazelwood, having passed through Pigeon Gap).
"On Wednesday we (crossed the Blue Ridge through Balsam Gap, and) spent the night alongside a swamp..." two miles above Sylva, "and the next day we ate a very great number of mulberries" while marching down the Tuckasegee River's north bank, camping just below today's Cherokee Indian Reservation.
"The next day we went alongside a creek (the Oconaluftee River) next to the river that they had crossed in the savannah (at Hendersonville) where the (Lady of Cofitachequi) went away (the French Broad River parallels the Oconaluftee River's north-south axis)... and now it (the Tuckasegee River) was large..." at its junction with the Oconaluftee River. "...the next day, Friday, we went (farther downstream) to a pine forest and a creek..." Forney Creek, where they camped. "And the next day, Saturday, in the morning, we (with DeSoto's vanguard) crossed a very broad river, across a branch of it (the Little Tennessee River downstream of the Tuckasegee and Nantahala Rivers' merging with it)... and entered Chiaha, which is on an island of the same river." They had crossed the river's branch at Chiaha's island.
"The next day, Friday, we went (farther downstream from the Bryson City rapids) to a pine forest and a creek (Forney Creek, then camped)... And the next day, Saturday, in the morning, we (with DeSoto's vanguard) crossed a very broad river, across a branch of it (the Little Tennessee River downstream of the Tuckasegee and Nantahala Rivers' junction with it) ...and entered Chiaha, which is on an island of the same river." The island caused the river to branch.
That "island," located at the base of Chiaha Mountain, is covered by Fontana Dam Reservoir today, but was shown on area maps prior to the dam's construction. Chiaha Village extended up the grassy Sawyer and Tuskeegee Creeks' valleys, where the army camped in groups. The horses were probably pastured in Tuskeegee Valley, a very large pasture hemmed by mountains just south of the "island" where DeSoto and his guards camped.
"All of these rivers joined together within a short distance to form a large river of such volume that at Chiaha, which was thirty leagues (78 miles) from Guaxule (Asheville, an accurate road measure), it was larger than the Guadalquivir at Savilla (Spain)."
"This village, Chiaha, was situated on the (north) end of a large island more than five leagues (thirteen miles) long, which the river(s) formed. The Chief went out to receive the governor and welcomed him cordially with all the demonstrations of affection and pleasure that he could show, and the Indians whom he had brought with him did the same with the Spaniards, being very pleased to see them. Taking them across the river in many canoes and rafts they had ready for this purpose, they lodged them in their houses, as if they were their own brothers. All the other service and entertainment they accorded them were similar in measure, their desire being, as they expressed it, to take out their hearts and lay them before the Spaniards, so that they might see with their own eyes how much pleasure it gave them to know the Spaniards..."
Chief Chiaha was NOT Cherokee; he was a Yuchi from Tennessee, subject to the lord of Coosa. He extracted homage from the Cherokee, a common native custom, which may be why Chief Chiaha welcomed DeSoto in the first place, given his Cherokee surroundings. Local Cherokee don't mention the name Chiaha to this day. In Yuchi "Chiaha" means "The High Place," indicating that Chiaha came from a distant, down river tribe.
"Chiaha was isolated between two arms of a river and was settled near one of them (the Little Tennessee River)... Very excellent fields lay along them... There the Governor rested for thirty days..." while his army searched the surrounding mountains for gold, which is what they had come for in the first place. One shallow mine shaft, fired to sixteenth century standards, still exists in Chiaha's Sawyer Creek Valley; the Spaniards may have dug it.
"Saturday, the fifth of June, was the day that they entered in Chiaha; and since from Xuala (Tryon, North Carolina) all their travel had been through a mountain range and the horses were tired and thin, and the Christians likewise fatigued, it was advisable to halt and rest there; and they (the Indians) gave them an abundance of good corn, of which there is much... and considerable oil of walnuts and acorns which they knew how to extract very well, and it was very good and helped them very much for their sustenance, although some are wont to say that the oil of walnuts causes flatulence; notwithstanding, it is very delicious..."
"...the Chief came to visit the Governor and made him a present of a handsome string of pearls. If they had not been pierced with fire they would have been a fine gift because the string was two fathoms (about twelve feet) long and the pearls as large as hazel nuts, almost perfectly matched. The Governor received them... and in return gave him pieces of velvet and cloth of various colors and other things from Spain, which the Indians valued highly."
"The Governor asked him if those pearls were found in his country, and the chief replied that they were, and that in the Temple and burial place of their fathers and grandfathers... there were great quantities of pearls; and if he wanted them, he could have... as many as he desired... The Governor told him that he appreciated the good will and although he desired the pearls he would not injure the burial place of his ancestors, however much he might want them."
"The string that he had given the Governor he had received only because it was a present from him, and he wished to know only how they (the Indians) took the pearls from the shells... "The chief told him that on the next day at eight o'clock in the morning his lordship would see how it was done, for that afternoon and night the Indians would fish for them. The Chief immediately directed that forty canoes be sent out with orders that they fish for the shells, with all diligence, and come back in the morning. When morning came, the chief ordered much wood to be brought and heaped up on a level space on the riverbank. It was set on fire and a large bed of coals made, and as soon as the canoes arrived he ordered that the coals be spread out and the shells that the Indians brought (in the canoes) to be thrown upon the bed of coals. The pearls opened from the heat of the fire and they were enabled to hunt for the pearls inside them. From almost the first shells that they opened the Indians took out ten or twelve pearls as large as medium-sized chick-peas and brought them to the chief and the governor, who were watching together to see how they took them out. They saw that they were very good and perfect except that the heat and smoke of the fire had already damaged their fine natural color.
"Having seen them take out the pearls, the governor went to his lodgings to eat and soon after he had eaten a soldier entered... Showing a pearl that he carried in his hand, he said: "Sir, as I was eating some of the oysters that the Indians brought today, a few which I took to my quarters and had cooked, I found this between my teeth, which almost broke them. As it seemed to me to be a fine one, I brought it to your lordship so that you might send it to your wife Dona Isabel..." The adelantado replied, saying: "I thank you for your good will and accept the present and the favor you do Dona Isabel so that she may thank you and repay you whenever the opportunity arises. But it will be better if you keep the pearl and take it to Havana, so that you can get in exchange for it a couple of horses and two mares and anything else you may need. Because of the good will you have shown toward us, I shall pay, out of my own pocket, the fifth (of the value of the pearl) that belongs to his Majesty.
"The Spaniards who were with the governor examined the pearl, and those among them who regarded themselves as lapidaries of sorts estimated that in Spain it would be worth 400 ducats, because it was the size of a large hazelnut with its husk entire, perfectly rounded and of a clear and lustrous color. Since it had not been opened with fire, as had the others, its color and beauty had not been injured. We give an account of these particulars, though unimportant, because they show the wealth of that country."
"On one of the days that the Spaniards were in this village of Chiaha a misfortune occurred that grieved all of them very much. This was that a gentleman... while walking across a plain near the river with a lance in his hand, saw a dog pass near him and threw the lance at it with the intention of killing it for food, because due to the general scarcity of meat throughout that country, the Castilians ate all the dogs they were able to get. The throw missed the dog, and the lance went skimming across the plain beyond until it fell over the bluff above the river, and it happened to strike in the temple a soldier who was fishing there with a cane pole, coming out on the other side of his head, from which he immediately fell dead. (The gentleman), ignorant of having made this cruel throw, went to look for his lance and found it stuck through the temples of Juan Mateos, for this was the soldier's name... Among all the Spaniards who went on this discovery he alone had gray hair, wherefore everyone called him father and respected him as if he were the father of each of them. Thus there was general grief at the misfortune and miserable death that had overtaken him when he had gone out to enjoy himself. Death is a near and is equally certain for us in all times and places."
"The chief told us... that thirty leagues away (seventy nine miles over the Great Smoky Mountains) there were mines of yellow metal (near today's Knoxville; a place called "Chisca" by Chiaha)... and that he would furnish guides who would take our people there and back. They (the scouts) left there at once, deciding to go on foot rather than on horseback... so as to accomplish more in less time." There are no roads over those mountains from Chiaha because the mountains are much too steep, even for horses. The Indians had learned that by telling the Spaniards that gold could be found just over the horizon they could quickly be rid of them.
"The Indians were with (us) fifteen days in peace; they played and swam with us, and in all they served us very well. They went away Saturday, the nineteenth of the month (precisely on the full moon) because of a certain thing that the Governor asked them for; and in short, it was women. The next day in the morning..."
"...(we) cut down and destroyed their large maize fields... and sent word to them that they should return... that our Governor did not wish any Indian women since it cost so dearly for them to give them to us." A Palisaded Native American Indian Village
"In the land of Chiaha these Spaniards first found the towns palisaded..." enclosed with high fence, probably to keep the Cherokee out. Chief "Chiaha gave us five hundred tamemes, and DeSoto's Captains consented to leave off the collars and chains."
"On Monday, the twenty-eighth of June, the Governor and his people left from Chiaha... we passed through five or six towns (on the way down the south bank of the Little Tennessee River), and we went to sleep at a pine forest, in front of a town..." Deal's Gap ("which, we said, was five leagues (13 miles) from Chiaha. "...where the river came together again..." at the Little Tennessee River's bend on itself - which is the main westward pass in those mountains. "...but we had much hardship there in crossing the river (opposite the creek bed from Deal's Gap) that flowed very strong, and, so that the foot soldiers might not be endangered, we put the horses in the river in single file, tail with head, and we held them still... and the horses received the impact of the current, and below them... the foot soldiers crossed, holding on to the tail, stirrup and mane of one after another; and in this manner all the army crossed well."
DeSoto's Tennessee Trails
Hernando de Soto's Army entered Tennessee from North Carolina at Deal's Gap by following the Little Tennessee River Trail. "On Tuesday (June 29, 1540) we passed through a town."
That town was Tallassee, located inside the Little Tennessee River's big bend at today's Tennessee border "...and there we took corn and went on to sleep in the open..." meaning "out of the mountains." That native place name, Tallassee, was probably the source of the state name "Tennessee," given that Deal's Gap was its primary entrance point from coastal South Carolina where America's early settlers traded Tennessee furs with the world from Charleston.
Then on "Wednesday we crossed a river (the Little Tennessee), and then a town and a river (the Tellico River) and we spent the night in the open (on the flats of today's Madisonville). And on Thursday the chief of Coste came forth to receive us in peace, and he led us to sleep in a town of his (Athens)."
"On Friday... the Governor (in the vanguard) arrived at Coste, which is a town on an island of the river (Hiwassee Island, at the Tennessee-Hiwassee River confluence) which flows great and strong and is difficult to enter... and the Governor (crossed the Hiwassee River onto the Island) entered the town carelessly and unarmed with a few unarmed men, and when the soldiers... began to climb on the grain storage bins... the Indians began to beat them... The Governor commanded that our men all should suffer it and be tolerant, because of the evident danger in which they were all in..." given that the army had yet to arrive.
"...and that no one should put a hand on his weapons; and the Governor began to quarrel with the soldiers (during the darkness of new moon), and... he also thrashed some of them, and he flattered the chief and told him he did not wish that our people should anger them, and that he wished... to take lodging at the savanna of the island. And the chief and his people went with him... and (when the army arrived) the Spaniards put the Indians in chains with their collars, and the Governor threatened the Indians and said that he would burn all of them, because they had laid hands on the Spaniards."
The scouts, "...returning from discovering the mines (near Knoxville, just up the Tennessee Valley from Athens), spending ten days on their journey... said that the mines were (not of gold but) of very fine brass and that gold and silver would be found if the veins and deposits were sought... " Copper and aluminum are mined there today.
"Those (scouts) said that the Indians had taken them through a land with such lofty mountains (The Great Smoky Mountains) that it would have been impossible for the camp to march through it (from Chiaha, North Carolina)."
"There in Coste was found, in the trunk of a tree, honey from bees, as good or better than can be found in Spain. In that river we found, in some clams they gathered to eat, some pearls, and they were the first pearls we ever saw from fresh water, although there are (salt water) pearls in many parts of that land..." exchanged by native traders.
"Friday, the ninth of July, the adelantado and his army left Coste, and they crossed the other branch of the (Hiwassee) river and spent the night on its banks (where it joins the Tennessee River), and Tali was on the other side; and since the (Tennessee) river flows together in one large channel, they could not cross it, and the Indians, believing that they had crossed, sent canoes, and in them their wives and children and clothes, on this side, well away from the Christians; but they were all taken suddenly, and as they went along with the current the Governor made them all turn back, which was the reason why the chief came in peace, and he helped them cross to the other side (the north side) in his canoes and gave to the Christians what they had need of. And thus he did in his land, through which they passed afterward; and they were there on Saturday (crossing the river), and they gave them tamemes, and they departed on Sunday and slept in the open..." out of the hills above Chickamauga Dam.
"On Monday they crossed a river (near today's dam site), and slept in the open (near today's Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport). On Tuesday they..." departed Tennessee southbound.
Central Tennessee Trails
North Georgia Trails
Hernando de Soto re-entered Georgia, this time southbound from Chattanooga, Tennessee, "...on Tuesday (July 13, 1540) they crossed another river (South Chickamauga Creek, camping near Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia), and on Wednesday another large river (West Chickamauga Creek), and they slept in Chisca (today's Lafayette)... On Thursday they went to another small town (above today's Trion) and passed other towns, and on Friday the Governor entered in Coosa..." at Summerville beside Pigeon Mountain (photo above). "...one of the best and most abundant provinces we found..." DeSoto timed his arrival there on the weekend of full moon for the safety it afforded.
"Its chief (Coosa, who spoke a Muskogean dialect, different from the Carolina Cherokee Iroquoian language) came forth to receive us on a litter with great festivity and many people, because he has many subject towns..."
"The chief came out to welcome him two crossbow flights from the town in a carrying chair borne on the shoulders of his principal men, seated on a cushion, and covered with a robe of marten skins of the form and size of a woman's shawl. He wore a crown of feathers... and around about him were many Indians playing and singing."
"He ordered his Indians to move out of their dwellings, in which the governor and his men were lodged. In the storage bins and fields there was a great quantity of maize and beans. The land was very populous and had many large towns and planted fields which reached from one town to the other. It was a charming and fertile land, and grapes along the (Chattooga) river on vines climbing up into the trees."
"The governor was accustomed to place a guard over the chief so that the chief might not go away, and took the chief along with him until leaving the chief's land; for by taking the chief, the people would await in their towns and the chief would give a guide and Indians as carriers (of their village's food). Before departing from their lands, (DeSoto) would give the chiefs leave to return to their homes as soon as he reached another dominion where others were (forced to be) given to him."
"Those of Coosa, seeing their lord detained (by guards), thought ill of it and revolted and went away to hide themselves in the woods - both those of their lord's town and those of other chiefs towns, who were his vassals. The governor sent four captains, each in a different direction... They seized many Indians, men and women, who were put in chains. Upon seeing the harm they received, and how little they gained in absenting themselves, they came, saying that they wished to serve in whatever might be commanded them. Some of the principal men among those imprisoned were set free on petition of the chief. Of the rest, each man took away as slaves those he had in chains, without allowing them to go to their lands. Nor did many of them return except some whose good fortune and assiduous industry aided them, who managed to file off their chains at night; or some, who were able, while on the march, to wander away from the road upon observing any lack of care in their guard. They went off with their chains, their loads and the clothes they were carrying."
"... and in truth, as eyewitnesses testified (at Spanish Inquests years later), it was a thing of much pity to see (those Indians); but God forgets no evil thing done nor does it remain without punishment, as this history will relate."
"One day while the Spaniards were in this village of Cosa, its lord, who had eaten at the governor's table, having talked with him about many things pertaining to the conquest and settlement of the country and having replied to the entire satisfaction of the governor... said "Sir... if you are seeking good lands on which to settle, see fit to remain in mine and make an establishment in them. I believe that this is one of the best provinces that your lordship has seen among all of those that are in this kingdom, and moreover I assure your lordship that you have chanced to pass through and see the poorest and least desirable part of it. If your lordship should desire to examine it more closely, I will take you through other, better parts that will satisfy you entirely (today's Etowah and Rome), and you can take whatever part of them that seems best to you for settling and establishing your house and court. If you do not wish to grant me this favor at present, at least do not refuse to remain in this village during the coming winter, which is near, where we will serve you, as your lordship will see by our actions..."
"The governor thanked him for his good will and told him that he was wholly unable to make an inland settlement until knowing what ports there were on the seacoasts to receive the ships and the people that would come to them from Spain or elsewhere with cattle and plants and the other things necessary for making settlements. At the proper time he would accept his offer and would always maintain friendship with him, and meanwhile he might rest assured that he would not delay in returning there and settling the country, and then he could do the things he asked for his gratification and satisfaction...
"The governor saw fit to continue his journey toward the sea, which he was seeking. Since leaving the Province of Xuala (Tryon, N.C.) we had marched toward the coast (the Gulf of Mexico), making an arc through the country in order to come out at the port of Ochuse (Mobile Bay) as we had agreed with Captain Maldonado to do. The later had remained to explore the coast and was to return at the beginning of the coming winter to the port of Ochuse with reinforcements of men and arms and cattle and provisions... The governor's chief purpose was to go to this port to begin making his settlement...
"The Governor rested in Coosa for twenty-five days, then set out on Friday, August 20th (1540), to look for a province, by name, Tuscalusa." His scouts were dispatched several days earlier on the full moon. "We departed from here (Summerville) toward the west and southwest (down the Chattooga River Valley) and went through towns of the Chief." Another says, "and they spent that night beyond Talimuchusi..." today's Chattoogaville, "near a stream..." the Chattooga River.
DeSoto's Alabama Trails
"The next day (August 21, 1540), in a heavy rain, they (entered Alabama and) spent the night in Itaba, a large town near a good river..." at today's Cedar Bluff, where the Chattooga River joins the Coosa River. "We stayed there for six days because a river (the Coosa), which ran hard by the town, was swollen."
Cedar Bluff is on a large reservoir today, caused by Weiss Dam, located nine miles below Cedar Bluff, raising the Coosa River several feet at Cedar Bluff. That dam diverts the river into a man-made lake for power generation, cutting off twenty-one miles of downstream river flow. The dam is in a narrow ravine where the river was naturally obstructed by debris during heavy upstream rains when DeSoto reached Cedar Bluff's impasse.
When the flood subsided, "the Governor left from Itaba with his army and spent the night in an oak grove" 6 miles west of Cedar Bluff at today's Centre. "The following day (Aug. 31st new moon), they went to Ulibahali (yesteryear's Turkeytown, east of today's Gadsden, see Andrew Jackson's 1815 Map inlay above), a very good town next to a large river..." The Coosa River is 300 feet wide at that point.
"Ten or twelve of the principal Indians, all with feather plumes, and with bows and arrows, came to him on the road bearing a message on the part of the chief of that province, to offer themselves to him. The governor, on reaching the town with twelve horse(men) and some foot (soldiers) belonging to his guard, for he had left his men a crossbow flight from town, entered therein and found all the Indians under arms; and judging from their manner, he thought them evilly disposed. It was learned later that they had concerted to take the (chief of Coosa) out of the governor's possession, if he (the chief) should request this of them..."
"The governor ordered all his men to enter the town which was enclosed... The enclosure, like that in other towns seen there afterward, was of thick logs, set solidly close together in the ground, and many long poles as thick as an arm placed crosswise... and it was plastered within and without and had loopholes (to shoot arrows through). On the other side of the river (the northwest side) was a town where the chief was at the time...
"And many Indians of evil intent were waiting, intending to take the chief of Coosa away from the Christians, because they were subjects of his; and so that the land would not rise in revolt or deny them supplies, they took him with them, and they entered in the town very much on guard. The chief of Coosa commanded the Indians to lay down their weapons; and so they did, and they gave them tamemes and twenty Indian women, and they went in peace.
"The day that they left from this town, they ate many grapes, as good as those grown from vines in Spain. In Coosa and farther back they had eaten very good ones, but these from Ulibahali were the best."
"From this town of Ulibahali ("Turkey," at top of Andrew Jackson's 1815 Map above) they left one Thursday, the second of September, and they spent the night in a pretty town hard by the river..." at today's Glencoe, pinned by Green Creek Mountain to the Coosa River, "and the next day, Friday, they (passed southwestward between the mountains and) came to Piachi (today's Ohatchee), which is alongside a river..." The Ohatchee and Tallasahatchee Creeks join there, flowing at 2000 gallons/second in September. "On Sunday they left there and spent the night in the open (meaning "out of the mountains")... and the next day reached another called Toasi (today's Talladega)... where they rested for several days."
"The Indians gave the governor thirty Indian women and the necessary tamemes..." there and at several other villages along that way. "We marched ordinarily five or six leagues (about 14 miles) daily when going through a peopled region, and as much as we could through a depopulated region, in order to avoid the necessity of a lack of maize (corn for the horses)."
"On Monday, the 13th of September, the Governor left from there (through mountains), and they spent the night in the open, and on Tuesday they made another day's journey (between high hills) and halted likewise in the open, and on Wednesday they went to an old town (today's Alexander City) that had double walls and good towers. And those ramparts are built in this manner: they sink many thick poles, tall and straight, next to one another... and they make their loopholes at intervals, and they make their towers and turrets spread out along the curtain and parts of the rampart as suits them. At a distance, they appear to be one very excellent wall, and such walls are very strong...
"The next day, Thursday, they spent the night in a new town next to the (Tallapoosa) river, where the Spaniards rested a day (during harvest moon). And the next day, Saturday, they went to Talisi..." today's Tallassee, on September 18th. "This town (had a fortress)... almost surrounded by a river..." at the Tallapoosa River's south-easternmost bend.
There we heard that Chief "Tuscalusa, whose state bordered upon that of Coosa (on the Coosa River's west bank well west of Talisi), was not a safe neighbor or a true friend. Although the two (chiefs) were not openly at war, Tuscalusa was a haughty and belligerent man, very cunning and deceitful."
"A son of Tuscalusa arrived, a youth eighteen years old (saying that his father) offered the governor his friendship, person, and state, to be made use of at his pleasure... After delivering his message and learning that (DeSoto) desired to go where his father Tuscalusa was, he said: "Sir, in order to go there, though we are no more than twelve or thirteen leagues (about 32 miles) away, there are two roads..."
Scouts were dispatched from Talisi to examine two different trails to where Chief Tuscalusa was at that time. One trail passed through today's Montgomery, the other above it. The first crossed the Tallapoosa and Alabama Rivers (map below), the other only the Coosa River. DeSoto chose the latter given the Alabama River's very large size.
Seventeen days after he arrived at Talisi, "The governor took leave of the good Chief Coosa and his people, who were very sad because we were leaving their country..." Actually, Chief Coosa was released into hostile Indian territory where he would be slain, according to Tristan de Luna's troops who went there two decades later.
DeSoto's army, "...headed south (down the north bank of the Tallapoosa River, mapped above), drawing near the coast of New Spain..." the Gulf of Mexico.
"...and spent the night... alongside the river (the Tallapoosa River near Old Bingham), and the next day, Wednesday (October 6, 1540), they went to Caxa (which would become Fort Toulouse), a wretched town on the bank of the river (the Coosa River) on a direct line between Talisi and Tuscalusa." "...and (we) crossed the River of Talise (the Coosa River, into Chief Tuscalusa's Province) in rafts and canoes, it being so full of water that they could not ford it." "Next day, Thursday, they spent the night alongside the river (on the north bank of Alabama River), and a town called Humati (today's Montgomery) was on the other side of the water."
"And the next day, Friday, they went to another town, which is called Uxapita (today's Prattville, camping on Autauga Creek), and the next day, Saturday, they established their camp one league before arriving at the town of Tuscalusa, in the open..." "On Sunday the Governor entered the town, which was called Atahachi (just below today's Autaugaville)."
"It was not the chief town of this state, but one of the other, ordinary ones." Chief Tuscalusa actually lived near the center of his province at Piachi, three days marching west of there.
Biedma says, Chief Tuscalusa "was an Indian so large that, to the opinion of all, he was a giant. He awaited us in peace in his town." Inca says, "on a high small hill, an eminence from which much of the country could be seen in every direction..." Rangel and Elvas say, "the chief was on a balcony that was made on a mound to one side of the plaza..." on today's Potato Hill which stands over the west end of that valley (photo above), a location selected by Tuscalusa to dramatize his nobility.
"We made much festivity for him when we arrived and jousted and had many horse races, although he appeared to think little of this. Afterward we asked him to give us Indians to carry the burdens, and he responded that he was not accustomed to serving anyone, rather that all served him before... he said that he could not give us anything there, that we should go to another town of his, which was called Mabila, and that there he would give us what we wanted from him."
"Finally, Tuesday, the twelfth of October, they left that town of Atahachi (mapped above), taking the chief... and spent the night in the open (out of the hills above Durant Bend). Wednesday, they (DeSoto and horsemen) arrived at Piachi, which is a high town, upon the bluff of a river (the Cahaba River west of Selma)." Natives called that river "Piachi" (on maps below). Some of the army camped in Selma while DeSoto secured the river crossing during a filling moon.
"Near it flowed a large river. The Governor asked the Indians for canoes (to cross the Cahaba River - highwater level line in photo above). They said that they did not have any (women and children had probably fled in them), but they would make rafts... Diligently and quickly they made them and steered them; and since the water was quiet, the governor and his men crossed in great safety." Inca says they camped "on a peninsula the river formed... half a league from the river in a beautiful valley..." below today's railroad crossing, five miles north of the Cahaba River's junction with the Alabama River (map above left). While scouting today's Cahaba (Alabama's first capitol city, on same map) Beidma said, it became "a large river, which we believe is the river that flows into the bay of Chuse..." Mobile Bay, which is correct
"In that town of Piachi it was found out that they had killed Don Teodoro, and a black man, who came forth from the boats of Panfilo de Narvaez..." an earlier Spanish coastal explorer who had been in Mobile Bay twelve years before DeSoto's army arrived. The two deserters had fled from that expedition near Mobile Bay then made it up to and along the Alabama River's north bank until reaching Piachi.
"Chief Tuscalusa sent an Indian from that place to Mabila to advise them to have provisions prepared and Indians for carrying."
"From the port (Charlotte Harbor, Florida) to Apalache (Marianna, North Florida)... the governor had marched east to west; from Apalache to Cofitachequi (Columbia, S.C.)... from southwest to northeast; from Cofitachequi to Xuala (Tryon, N.C.) from south to north; and from Xuala to Tuscalusa (Autaugaville, AL)... he marched... from east to west to the Province of Coosa (Summerville, GA) and... to Tuscalusa from north to south..." mapped above.
Rangel, DeSoto's personal secretary, says "On Saturday, the sixteenth of October (1540), they departed from Piachi and went to a mountain (12 miles west of Hazen, along today's railroad), where one of the two Christians that the Governor had sent to Mabila came; and he said that there was a great gathering of armed people in Mabila. The next day they (DeSoto with his guard and Chief Tuscalusa) went to a palisaded town (near today's Hugo, 3 miles west of Thomaston, where the troops had stopped for the night), and messengers from Mabila came who brought... much chestnut (pecan) bread, for there are many and good chestnuts in his land."
THE BATTLE of MABILA
Rangel says, "On Monday, the 18th of October (1540), the day of St. Luke (on a nearly full moon) the Governor (Elvas says traveling "...through a continuously peopled region...") arrived at Mabila ("at eight o'clock in the morning..." according to Inca's informant; at "nine," according to Biedma) "...a small and very strongly palisaded town and was situated on a plain..." Inca says Mabila was located, "...a league and half from camp (four miles west of Hugo), having passed that day through some towns. But these towns (and the ones the troops passed through near Thomaston) detained the soldiers, pillaging and scattering themselves, for the land seemed populous; thus only 40 on horseback arrived in advance with the Governor (Elvas says, "15 horse(men) and 30 foot soldiers"), and since they were a little detained, in order for the Governor not to show weakness, he entered in the town with Chief Tuscalusa.""
Natives chose that location in advance of DeSoto's arrival. Captives taken from Mobile Bay had guided DeSoto through Mabila toward his waiting ships, reported to be in port at Mobile Bay. He planned to settle there. The captives, having been with DeSoto nearly a year, had managed to communicate his intent to others. They led DeSoto to Mabila, a newly built fortress on the main trail to Mobile Bay laying 110 miles south of Mabila, straight down the nearby Tombigbee then Mobile Rivers.
"Having entered within, we were walking with the Indians, chatting, as if we had them in peace, because only three hundred or so appeared there... they began to do their dances and songs... fifteen or twenty women in front of us... Chief Tuscalusa arose and entered one of those houses... the guard entered to bring him out, and he saw so many people within... that he told the Governor that those houses were full of Indians, all with bows and arrows...
"The governor called to another Indian who was passing by there, who likewise refused to come. A nobleman... seized him by the arm in order to bring him, and then the Indian gave a pull that set himself free.. the nobleman put hand to his sword and gave him a slash that cut off an arm. Upon wounding this Indian, all began to shoot arrows at us... we suffered so much damage that we were forced to leave, fleeing from the town... When the Indians saw us outside, they closed the gates of the town and began to beat their drums and to raise banners with a great yell, and to open our trunks and bundles and display from the top of the wall all that we had brought."
"The few riders... (who had fled from) the village with their horses... (and) a few others who had arrived from the (army's) march... went to resist the... Indians (who) were pursuing the Spaniards who were fighting on foot. They, however much they tried, could not prevent the Indians from driving (DeSoto and his escorts) across the plain."
"At this time, all the horsemen and foot soldiers who came marching behind (DeSoto), happened to reach Mabila. They were of different opinions there as to whether they should attack the Indians in order to enter into the town or whether this should be avoided, as the entrance was doubtful. But, at last, it was decided to attack them."
"(They) fell upon the Indians with such courage... that they did not stop until they had shut (the Indians)... in the village... On seeing the Indians closed up, the governor ordered that all the mounted soldiers, because they were better armed than the foot soldiers, dismount and attack the village, taking shields to defend themselves and axes to break in the gates."
"(DeSoto) decided to set fire to the (fortress). They did so and, as the houses were made of straw, in a moment a great deal of flame and smoke arose, which added to (the confusion of) the massacre that was taking place in such a small village."
"(When) the governor was standing in his stirrups to throw a lance at an Indian, another who was behind him shot an arrow above the hind bow of the saddle, which... penetrated some six inches into (the governor's) left hip... (He) fought with it through the rest of the battle... without being able to sit in the saddle..."
"We fought that day until it was night... we killed them all, some with fire, others with the swords, others with the lance..."
"One of the Indians who had been dazed... ran to the wall and jumped up on it with much agility, as to escape across the fields... but seeing the Christians that were there... and the massacre that had occurred and that he could not escape, he preferred death to giving himself up as a prisoner... and taking the cord from his bow, he fastened it to the branches of a tree (part of the wall)... and the other (end of the cord) around his neck (then) let himself down from the wall so quickly that... the Indian was hanged by his own hand, causing amazement by his action... From this (we) surmised the recklessness and desperation with which all of the Indians (of North America) fight, for the one who was left alive killed himself."
"All of the clothing carried by the Christians, the ornaments for saying mass, and the pearls were all burned there... and the horses that they tied within... were killed."
"Indians killed more than twenty of our men (most were DeSoto's powerful friends and relatives), and two hundred and fifty of us were injured... We stayed there treating ourselves twenty-eight days (until the next full moon)... We took the women and divided them among the most seriously wounded."
"(DeSoto) learned there that Francisco Maldonado was awaiting him in the port of Ochuse (Mobile Bay), six days' journey from there. He arranged with Juan Ortiz (his interpreter) that he should keep still about it..." but the men had "...heard (from DeSoto's Mobile Bay navigators who simply shot the North Star on the same date in mid-November they had shot it at that bay the previous year; rendering them fairly good latitude intelligence) that we were up to forty leagues (105 miles - it's actually 110 miles, as mentioned above) from the sea (at Mobile). Many wished for the Governor to go there... because the Indians gave us news of the small ships being there..
"From the time Governor entered Florida until leaving the battlegrounds of Mabila, one hundred and two Christians had died, some of their illness and others being killed by the Indians. He remained in Mabila for twenty-eight days because of the wounded, during which time he was always in the open fields. It was a very populous and fertile land. There were some large enclosed towns and a considerable population scattered about over the field, the houses being separated from one another one or two crossbow flights."
"The Governor (DeSoto) felt it advisable to look for a land where we might find provisions in order to be able to spend the winter..." DeSoto would direct his army NORTH to winter in Tennessee, thereby containing them above the north flowing Tennessee River to avert any southward escape. He would continue northbound at springtime, searching for the South Sea passage to China from the north shore of his "Island of Florida." His ships would be back to Mobile Bay with supplies from Cuba the following winter, as he had arrainged for Captain Maldonado to do.
"On Sunday, the fourteenth of November (of 1540 on the Full Moon), the governor left Mabila (northbound according to Inca and Biedma), and the following Wednesday he arrived at a very good river (the Black Warrior River at today's Moundville, in photo above) ...and on Thursday they went across bad crossings and swamps (of Black Warrior River's east bank; still swampy today) and found a town with corn, which was called Talicpacana..." 7 miles southwest of today's Tuscaloosa on a very broad bank along the Black Warrior River.
During that time, "A piragua (a long dug-out canoe) was made (Biedma says "in four days"), which was finished on the twenty-ninth of the month, and they made a large cart to carry the raft up to Mosulixa." Elvas says, "...transported one night..." during New Moon darkness to today's Tuscaloosa on the Black Warrior River... "and having launched it in the water, sixty soldiers entered in it."
The natives had massed their forces on the river's north bank opposite today's Tuscaloosa. DeSoto fooled them by constructing then launching the piragua downstream, directly below today's north shore airport. Rangel says, "...The (few) Indians (there) shot innumerable arrows; but this great canoe landed, the Indians fled and did not wound but three of four Christians, who took the land easily and found plenty of corn..." entering Northport.
"The next day, Wednesday (December 1st, 1540), all the army went to a town that is called Zabusta (12 miles northwest of Northport, on map at right), and there (the following day) they crossed the (Sipsey) river (into Apafalaya Province) in the piragua and with some canoes (pulled there by horses using the large cart); and (the next day) they went to take lodging in another town on the other end (of Sipsey River Valley)... "Because up river ("were some towns well provided with maize and beans..," they camped at one of them) they found another good town (today's Fayette) and took its lord, who was named Apafalaya (Ap-a-fal-a-ya), and brought him as guide and interpreter and that bank (west of Fayette) was called the river of Apafalaya..." today's Luxapalila (Lux-a-pal-i-la) Creek. DeSoto's army would pillage that province's rich lands for one week.
"From this river (Luxapalila Creek near today's Winfield) and province (of Apafalaya) the Governor and his people left (northbound) in search of Chicasa on Thursday, the ninth of December (when their climate felt like ours does there in January), and they arrived the following Tuesday at the River of Chicasa..." on the morning of full moon at Muscle Shoals on the Tennessee River, having marched 70 miles north in six days up icy creek beds, for the most part, through "an unpopulated region..." Today's highways follow those trails between long north-south hills, over "many bad crossings and swamps and rivers..." today's Buttahatchee River and Bear Creek swamps and feeders.
"And so that you know, reader, what life those 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 Osario, 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; and being such a man, and of such illustrious lineage, made him suffer his hardship and not lament, like many others, since there was no one who might aid him, being who he was, and having had in Spain two thousand ducats of income through the Church; and the day that this gentleman saw him thus, he believed that he had not eaten a mouthful and had to look for his supper with his fingernails."
"I could not help laughing when I heard him say that noblemen had left the Church and the aforementioned income in order to go to look for this life at the sound of the words of DeSoto. Because I knew Soto very well, and although he was a man of words, I did not believe that he would be able with such sweet talk or cunning to delude such persons. What did such a man wish, from an unfamiliar and unknown land? Nor did the Captain who led him know more of it than Juan Ponce de Leon and the licenciado Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon and Panfilo de Narvaez, and others more skillful than Hernando de Soto, had been lost in it. And those who follow such guides go from some necessity, since they find places where they could settle or rest, and little by little penetrate and understand and find out all about the land. But let us go on; small is the hardship of this nobleman compared to those who die, if they do not win salvation."
Approaching the Tennessee River at Muscle Shoals, Inca says, "The first pueblo of this province that our men reached was not the principal one (which DeSoto would find 30 miles above the river), but one of the others in its jurisdiction. It was situated on the edge of a large and deep river having very high banks. The pueblo was on the side of the river from which the Spaniards approached (from the south).
Rangel says, "They found that the River of Chicasa (the Tennessee River, image below) was flowing out of its bed, and the Indians on the other side were up in arms, with many white banners."
Inca continues, "When our men came in sight of the village they saw in front of it a squadron of more than fifteen hundred warriors, who came out to meet the Castilians as soon as they appeared. They skirmished with them, and having made some show of defense they withdrew to the (opposite side of the) river, abandoning the village, from which they had taken their property, women, and children (across to today's Florence, clearly visible from Muscle Shoal's river bluff). They had decided not to fight a pitched battle with the Spaniards but to oppose their crossing the river... because it carried a great deal of water, was very deep, and had high and steep banks.
"The governor... ordered that a hundred of the most diligent men who knew something of the art should build two large barks (large dug-out canoes), which they also call piragues. They are almost flat and will hold many people..." (as they had done two weeks before at today's Tuscaloosa to cross the Black Warrior and Sipsey Rivers) "In order that the Indians might not find out what they were doing, they went into a forest that was a league and a half (4 miles) up the river and a league (2.5 miles) back from the riverbank."
In 1882 there were two abutting islands shown in the river below Florence extending 4 miles upriver (to today's Wilson Dam). DeSoto's boats were built on a creek bed which opened onto the river's flats below the last island, invisible to the north bank natives. Pioneers would cross the river 2 miles upstream on Bainbridge Ferry at the river's narrows. The Wilson Dam, built in 1925, piled 90 feet of water over it.
Inca continues, "...they got to the river one morning before dawn at a very spacious landing place that was there (at Bainbridge Ferry landing, by pulling their boats over the swollen river's shallow flats). There was also a good landing on the other side (another creek bed). One of the barks struck the landing squarely and the other fell downstream from it, and because of the high bluffs along the river, the men could not land. Thus they were forced to row hard to get up to the landing.
"Those in the first bark jumped ashore (engaging the natives)... Those in the second bark, as they found the landing place free of the enemy, came ashore more easily and without any danger and ran to help their companions who were fighting on the plain. The governor went across on the second trip...
"The (natives) were killed with lances, as their swiftness could not equal that of the cavalry... the Indians left and did not reappear. Meanwhile the whole Spanish army had crossed the river."
Rangel says, "they crossed very well in a barge on Thursday, the sixteenth of the month... and the Governor advanced with some on horseback (up Shoal Creek, into Tennessee), and they (with DeSoto) arrived very late at night at the town of the lord..." at today's Lawrenceburg, 40 miles from their Tennessee River crossing place. DeSoto's Thirty Lancers had ridden 52 miles in Florida during a similar moon phase "...and all the people (natives) were gone. The next day Baltasar de Gallegos arrived with the thirty (horsemen) who went with him (ahead of the army). They were (all) there in Chicasa that Christmas (once the entire army arrived)."
DeSoto's isolation of his army, above the Tennessee River, precluded any thought of their escape back to the waiting ships at Mobile Bay. That river flows west then north from there, into what DeSoto believed was the Pacific Ocean on the north shore of this "Island of Florida." Isolation of his army beyond what they believed was the center of this island would encourage them to march northward at springtime. None of them attempted escape from Lawrenceburg during their four month stay. DeSoto's ships would be back in Cuba by then.
Historians have failed to track DeSoto to and across the Tennessee River. They supposed that DeSoto crossed the Tombigbee River to westward then wintered in today's Mississippi. The Upper Tombigbee River may have been large at that time, almost like a lake, but it does not have the high bluffs or strong currents described there by Inca. Besides, DeSoto wanted to move his army well north to isolate them from his ships at Mobile Bay, which the Tombigbee River flows into. Had DeSoto needed only food and shelter that winter he would have halted his army along the Black Warrior or Sipsey Rivers, given that plentiful foods and quarters were reported at both before the winter snows began.
Central Tennessee Trails
Having crossed the Tennessee River at Muscle Shoals, Hernando de Soto's army followed an Indian trail up Shoal Creek into Tennessee, through Loretta to Chicasa at Lawrenceburg, forty miles from his army's river crossing place.
DeSoto rode that distance in one day, December 17th, 1540, under a bright moon, just as his select riders had done elsewhere. It took two days for the other horsemen to get there, while the army spent nearly a week crossing the river and proceeding up the trail to Lawrenceburg. "They were (all) there in Chicasa that Christmas."
The army's camp "was situated on a level elevation extending from north to south between two streams (at Shoal Creeks bend) having little water but much timber, consisting of walnuts, oaks, and live oaks, at the foot of which was the fruit of two or three years. The Indians let it go to waste because they had no cattle to eat it and they themselves did not use it, having other, better and more delicate fruits to eat... the army collected all the necessary provisions and brought from outlying small villages much wood and straw from which to make houses, because those of the principal village, though they numbered two hundred, were not enough. Our men were in these lodgings almost two months, enjoying some degree of quiet and rest..."
"After they were in Chicasa they suffered great hardships and cold, for it was already winter, and most of the men were lodged in the open field in the snow before having any place where they could build houses. This land was very well peopled, the population being spread out as was that of Mabila (in Alabama). It was fertile and abounding in corn, most of this being still in the fields. The amount necessary for passing the winter was gathered. Certain Indians were captured, among whom was one (from today's Huntsville, Alabama - lying east of DeSoto's Tennessee River crossing place) who was greatly esteemed by the (local) chief."
"By means of an Indian the governor sent word to the chief (of Chicasa) that he desired to see him and wished his friendship. The chief came to offer himself to him, together with his lands and people. He said that he would cause two (other provincial) chiefs to come in peace. A few days afterward they came with him... one being named Alibamo (of Nashville) and the other Nicalasa (Chief Chicasa's close relative from Chickasaw Old Fields at Huntsville). They presented the governor with 150 rabbits and some clothing of their land, namely blankets and skins."
"The chief of Chicasa came to visit him (DeSoto) frequently and sometimes the governor ordered him summoned and sent him a horse to go and come.
Monday, the 3rd of January of 1541, the chief of Chicasa came in peace and gave guides and interpreters to the Christians in order to go to (Nicalasa), which had renown... (it) is a province of more than ninety towns, not subject to anyone, of ferocious people, very bellicose and very feared, and the land is prosperous in those parts." Scouts may have been deployed there but nothing was reported of that.
"The chief of Chicasa made complaint to him (DeSoto), that one of his vassals had risen against him, withholding his tribute."
"The Governor commanded that half of the people of his army should go to make war on Sacchuma") ...as the province of the principal man was called... who had rebelled against him."
Located at today's Savannah, west of Lawrenceburg on the north flowing Tennessee River, that roundtrip across broken land, along with 200 Chicasa warriors, would last for several weeks. Elvas says, "They found an enclosed town which had been abandoned by the Indians (they probably fled across the Tennessee River, taking their canoes with them), and those (Indians) who were with the chief (of Chicasa) set fire to the houses." Rangel says, "On their return the chief of Nicalasa (Huntsville) made peace, and messengers came from Talapatica (probably today's Lewisburg)."
"The governor invited the chief and certain of the principal Indians (to visit) and gave them some pork to eat. And although they were not accustomed to it, they lusted after it so much that Indians would come nightly to certain houses a crossbow shot away from the camp where the hogs were sleeping and kill and carry off as many as they could."
Later, "On Tuesday, the eighth of March (1541), the governor (planning to leave Chicasa) went to where the chief was to ask him for (male and female) servers. He said he would send them next day. When the governor had (come back) to Chicasa (from Sacchuma), he (had) told Luis de Moscoso, the maestro de camp, that the Indians looked ill-disposed to him, and that night he should keep careful watch, which the latter heeded but slightly."
That night, "The north wind, which was blowing furiously, (being) favorable to them... at one o'clock (in the morning) the Indians came..." "two by two and four by four, with some little jars in which they brought fire, in order not to be noticed or seen." They "set fire to the camp and awaited the Christians outside... who came out of the houses without having time to arm themselves; and as they rose, maddened by the noise and blinded by the smoke and flame of the fire, they did not know where they were going nor did they succeed in getting their arms or in putting a saddle on a horse; neither did they see the Indians who were shooting at them."
"...and the Indians not finding any resistance came and set fire to the camp and awaited the Christians outside behind the doors, who came out of the houses without having time to arm themselves; and as they rose, maddened by the noise and blinded by the smoke and flame of the fire, they did not know where they were going nor did they succeed in getting their arms or in putting saddle on horse; neither did they see the Indians who were shooting at them..."
"Many of the horses were burned in their stables, and those which could break their halters freed themselves. The confusion and rout were of such a nature that each one fled wherever it seemed safest (they fled into the forests of the creeks on three sides of their camp, away from the attack), without anyone resisting the Indians... The Indians thought that the horses, which were running about loose, were the horsemen gathering together to assault them... and fled away... The camp was consumed by fire."
"The Indians did us very great damage, and killed that night fifty-seven horses and more than three hundred hogs ("Only the sucking pigs escaped, they being able to get out between the stakes of the pen"), and thirteen or fourteen men, and it was a great mystery of God why, without our resisting them or doing a thing, the Indians turned to flee and left us, because if they had pursued us, not a man of all of us would have escaped."
"Next the Spaniards passed to a savanna one league (two and a half miles) from the camp in which they were, the place had huts and supplies, and they established camp on a slope and hill (Lawrenceburg northwest) and they made haste to set up a forge, and they made a billows from hides of bears; and they tempered their weapons and made new saddle frames and provided themselves with lances, since there were very good ash trees there..."
"On Tuesday, the fifteenth of March, during the morning watch, the Indians attacked the Christians (again), determined to finish them, and they struck on three sides..." the camp's west side ridge precluded invisible attack from that direction.
"Thanks to God it rained a little, so that because of the water they abandoned their plan... We were here about two months, making what we had need of in the way of saddles and lances and shields, and then we departed toward the northwest for another province that is called Alibamo," located at today's Nashville (map below).
"The land was flat and suitable for the Christians to profit thereby (Lawrenceburg's ten-miles square plain, extending northward from Lawrenceburg toward Natchez Trace and into Alabamo Province). Some Indians were captured, from whom the governor got information relative to the land beyond."
"On April 25th (1541; the day before new moon, the second Monday after Easter Sunday, which had not been celebrated due to the loss of proper Mass accoutrements in the fires of Mabila), he left Chicasa (marching across Lawrenceburg's plain then camped at its northwest end) and went to sleep at a small village (in a province) called Alibamo. It had very little corn and it was necessary after leaving there to commit themselves to an unpopulated region for seven days' journey." The land is broken (Tennessee'e Highland Rim) north of the plain to the Cumberland River (mapped above).
"Next day, the governor sent three captains with horse(men) and foot soldiers, each one taking a different direction, to search out provisions in order to cross the unpopulated region. Juan de Anasco went with fifteen horse(men) and forty foot (soldiers) along the road where the governor was to go (north), and found a strong stockade where the Indians were waiting..." at the plain's northern opening to Natchez Trace (mapped above).
"Here something happened to us that they say has never happened in the Indies, which was that in the middle of the road where we were to pass, without having food to defend nor women to guard there, but rather only to prove themselves against us, they made a very strong barricade of poles in the middle of the road, and about three hundred Indians placed themselves there, with determination to die before they relinquished it."
"As soon as they saw the Christians approach, with loud cries and beating two drums, they came out in great fury to meet us. It seemed best to Juan de Anasco and those with him to keep away from them and to inform the governor. He withdrew over a level ground for the distance of a crossbow flight from the barricade and in sight of it. The men of foot, the crossbowmen and those having shields placed themselves before the horsemen so that the horses might not be wounded. The Indians came out by sevens and eights to shoot their arrows and then to retire. In sight of the Christians, they made a fire and seized an Indian - by the feet and head - and pretended they were going to throw him into the fire, first giving him many blows on the head, signifying what they would do to the Christians.
"Juan de Anasco sent three horse(men) to inform the governor. The latter came immediately, and since he thought he should drive them thence, saying that if he did not do so they would become embolden to attack him at a time when they could do him more hurt, he ordered the horsemen to dismount and having divided them into four companies gave the signal and they attacked the Indians. The latter resisted until the Christians reached the barricade; and as soon as they saw that they could not defend themselves they fled along a way where a stream flowed near the barricade." "They had bridges over the river made of wood, but so shaky and ruinous that they could hardly pass over them."
DeSoto, "who was desirous of punishing those Indians for their impudence and audacity, calling to the mounted men and crossing the river by a good ford that was above the fort, drove them forward across a plain for more than a league, spearing them all if they had not been overtaken by darkness..." of new moon.
Traveling northwest from Lawrenceburg, one passes broad fields until reaching the north end of the plain where DeSoto's army camped. The land becomes hilly and broken there except at Buffalo River which flows northward from the plain. Indian trails followed that river to Natchez Trace and today's Nashville, the home of the Alabamo Indians. But DeSoto had no reliable guides to lead him; his captives had died of starvation that winter. A pasture on Buffalo River's west shore (mapped above), however, invites anyone proceeding northward through it, between the river and the steep hills on the left.
As one precedes up that valley, however, Buffalo River becomes a steep muddy ravine, its west bank pasture narrows and the land inclines up a steep hill behind which Buffalo River bends left and cuts the hill's northeast side into a cliff. Alabamo fortress was located at the southern foot of that hill at the north end of Buffalo River's west bank field, just out of view of the army's camp at the north end of Lawrenceburg's plain. DeSoto's scouts were enticed up that valley.
There is a broad pasture on the east bank of the river's ravine opposite the cliff (mapped above), but to get there one must back-track to the valley entrance, turn east, cross Buffalo River at a sandy ford which is hidden by the creek's forest at today's bridge (on map above), then follow the creek's east bank northward to the pasture east of the cliff - the way the Indians knew how to get to Nashville.
After the army attacked the fortress, the Alabamo Indians escaped up the hill to the cliff. They crossed the river's ravine on an inclined bridge to the northeast shore pasture, then headed northeast for home. The Spaniards had to go back to the valley entrance to find the ford to get east of the cliff. Most of the Indians had crossed their bridge by the time the Spaniards arrived at dark. With no moon light, DeSoto resolved not to chase them (beyond today's Barnesville); he had more important things to do. He would continue north, according to Inca's informants, instead.
DeSoto's humiliation at the barricade probably spared Alabamo women and children his torment and was, most likely, cause for local celebration. Buffalo River's westside pasture, just south of the hill, is marked by a large earthen mound near the spot where DeSoto's army found Alabamo barricade. That mound may well memorialize the brilliant natives who deceived DeSoto's powerful army.
Since DeSoto's scouts had observed that the major rivers all flow northward from Lawrenceburg's plain (map above), he surmised that the north shore of this "Island of Florida" lay just ahead. Along his way the rivers continued to flow northward until, alas, he reached the Ohio River.
DeSoto didn't worry about deserters any more, he knew his army would catch up or die in hostile Indian Country. His army spent three days recuperating near the fortress, burying the dead, gathering food and building travois' for horses to draw the seriously wounded through an "unpopulated region for seven days' journey."
"On Saturday, the last day of April, the army departed from the site of the barricade and traveled ("...always toward the north..." according to Inca's informants) through an unpopulated region (Tennessee's Highland Rim west of Nashville) of many swamps and thick woods, but all passable on horseback except several marshes or swamps (Buffalo, Duck and Cumberland Rivers) which were crossed by swimming..."
Spring floods had come and gone in that part of Tennessee so the waters were down. They first crossed Buffalo River above the barricade then Duck River at Centerville then the Cumberland River near today's Cumberland City. The Chroniclers left little record of this trip, probably due to their casualties and starvation. Once across the Cumberland River they followed native trails through Northern Tennessee's rolling hills into broad meadowlands, the first broad flats they had seen in a week, at today's Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, having trudged 88 miles in seven days.
DeSoto's Kentucky Trails
From today's Ft. Campbell, DeSoto marched north four leagues (10 miles) across meadowlands to camp. The next day, "Sunday the eighth of May (1541) they arrived ("at midday") at the first town of Quizqui (at today's Hopkinsville, six miles from their meadow camp) and they took the (natives) unexpectedly and captured many people..." mostly women and children. "The Indian men were gone to do their labors at their cornfields."
"Inasmuch as his men were ill and weary for lack of corn, and the horses were also weak, DeSoto determined to (treat these natives kindly - his troops were in no condition for war)... So he ordered the (chief's) mother and all the others released, and sent them with words of kindness... many Indians came with their bows and arrows with intention of attacking the Christians. The governor ordered all the horsemen to be armed and mounted." DeSoto knew these natives had never seen such weapons before.
"When the Indians saw that we were on guard they stopped a crossbow flight from the spot where the governor was, near a stream (today's North Fork Little River, under a full moon)... and said they came to see what people we were and that they had learned from their ancestors that a white race would inevitably subdue them... and after offering skins and blankets... together with the others who were waiting on the shore, returned."
"The Indians moved out of their village and left the food they had in their houses for the Castilians. (Some of the Spaniards) remained in that village called Chisca for six days in order to care for the sick and wounded..."
DeSoto's Chroniclers called Kentucky's tribe by slightly different names, ranging from Quizquiz, the name of the famous tribe which DeSoto had defeated in Peru just prior to entering its city of gold, to Chisca and Quizqui. The French would later call them Casqui (whose chief DeSoto would find in Indiana) and the English called them Kashinampo. They shared a unique language with the Alibamo of Nashville, Tennessee, and the Chisca near Knoxville, Tennessee.
Most of the army continued north from Hopkinsville, they "marched for four short daily journeys of three leagues each, since the indispositions of the sick and wounded did not permit longer ones..." stopping at Madisonville, 12 leagues, 31 miles from Hopkinsville. Once all reassembled they continued north."
"Inasmuch as there was little maize in the town where the governor was, he moved to another town (today's Henderson; another says, "One league from this town was found another with much corn, and then, after another league, another, likewise with much corn...") located a half-league from the large (Ohio) river, where maize was found in abundance..."
Another says, "They came to a passage where they could cross the great (Ohio) river, not that they could ford it, but where there was an open passage for reaching it, for previously all along its banks there had been extremely large and very dense woodlands, and the banks on either side were very high and steep and one could not go up or down them."
"On Saturday, the twenty-first of May (1541, two weeks after entering Kentucky), the Army moved on to a savanna between the river and a small town, and they made camp (near today's Audubon State Park on the Ohio River's big bend - aerial above), and began to make four rafts in order to cross to the other side."
They camped inside the river's giant bend while building rafts, which should have taken only a week, as they had learned that skill at the Tennessee River, but they had to wait for the river's spring flooding to subside. The river's banks flatten north of Audubon State Park and there is a sandy bank (today's Green River Island) on the opposite, northeastern, shore.
"He went to see the river and found there was an abundance of timber near it from which piraguas could be constructed and an excellently situated land for establishing the camp. We immediately moved there (Audubon State Park), houses were built, and the camp was established on a level place, a crossbow flight from the river. All of the corn of all the towns behind (including Henderson, Sebree and Madisonville) was collected there, and the men set to work immediately to cut timber (east of camp) and square the planks for rafts.
"Immediately the Indians came down river (from today's Indiana), landed, and told the governor that they were vassals of a great lord called Aquixo, who was lord of many towns and people on the other side of the river..." he lived at today's Angel Mounds State Park - a large scattering of farms and villages at the time.
"Here we found the first little walnuts (pecans) of the land, which are much better than those from Spain..." They're still the pride of Kentucky - the pecan breeding stock of America - the best in the world. "...This town was near the Great River. They told us that this and other towns there pay tribute to a lord of Pacaha, who was well known in all the land." He would be found at Terre Haute, Indiana.
"Many of the Conquistadors said that the river was larger than the Danube (left photo). On the other bank of the river (the west bank in this case) up to seven thousand Indians gathered to defend the crossing with up to two-thousand canoes, all with shields which were made of canes joined together, so strong and so tightly sewn that a crossbow would scarcely pierce them."
Natives assembled on the west bank of the Ohio River directly opposite today's Audubon State Park, near where the Spaniards were building their rafts. Biedma continues, "During this time the Indians each day at the hour of three in the afternoon (with the sun at their backs to blind the Spaniards) placed themselves in two hundred and fifty canoes that they had there, very large and well shielded, and drew near the shore where we were with a great yell. They shot all the arrows that they could and returned to the other bank."
Another says, "Arrows came raining and the air was filled with them, and with such a yell, so that it seemed a matter of great dread; but when they saw that the work on the rafts did not let up for them, they said that Pacaha, whose men they were, commanded them to remove themselves from there, and thus they left the crossing undefended."
"...they (the Spaniards) made four rafts, in three of which, one early morning three hours before it became light, DeSoto ordered a dozen horse(men) to enter, four (horsemen) to each one (raft) - men whom he was most confident would succeed in gaining the land in spite of the Indians and assure the crossing or die in doing it - and with them some of foot - crossbowmen and rowers - to place them on the other side. In the other raft, he ordered Juan de Guzman to cross with men of foot... And because the current was strong, they went up stream along the shore for a quarter of a league (three-quarters of a mile) and in crossing they were carried down with the current of the river and went to land opposite the place where the camp was..."
DeSoto had moved his rafts northeast from his Audubon Park boat works to avoid crossing into the natives on the west bank who had watched the rafts being built. He had used a similar tactic two times in Alabama to surprise natives with displaced crossing points. The Ohio River's big bend around Audubon Park, and the flooded trenches across the bend's savannah, afforded him perfect opportunity to do so.
"At a distance of two stones' throw before reaching shore the men of horse went from the rafts on horseback to a sandy place of hard sand and clear ground (on Green River Island) where all the men landed without any accident. As soon as those who crossed first were on the other side, the rafts returned immediately to where the governor was and in two hours after the sun was up all the men finished crossing. The crossing was nearly a half league (over a mile) wide, and if a man stood on the other side (in daylight), one could not tell whether he were a man or something else."
"On Saturday, the eighth of June (1541), all the army crossed the Great River in four rafts, and they gave thanks to God, because in their opinion, nothing so difficult could ever be offered them again."
The eighth of June was a Wednesday in 1541. June 18th, which was a Saturday, was probably the actual date of the crossing based upon reported activity dates beyond the river. The moon would have been rising 15 degrees north of east exactly three hours before dawn there on June 18th, 1541. The rising crescent moon would have been large enough to steer toward but too small to light the rafts for the natives to see them.
By pointing their rafts at the moon and rowing vigorously they could offset the river's northwestward flow at that point. When the rafts returned for more men, horses and equipment, they could keep the moon on their left shoulders to counter the current's lesser effect on the lighter rafts - all invisible to the natives. Had they crossed on June 8th the moon would have been Full; the natives could have seen them approaching and attacked.
DeSoto's Indiana Trails
"Having got across the Great River (the Ohio River near today's Evansville on June 18th, 1541), the governor marched a league and a half (four miles, eastward) and reached a large town of Aquixo (at today's Angel Mounds State Park), which was abandoned before his arrival...
"Over a plain they saw thirty Indians coming whom the Chief had sent to learn what the Christians were intending to do, but as soon as the latter had sight of them they fled. Those of horse pursued them killing ten and capturing fifteen. And since the town whither the governor was marching was near the river, he sent a captain with the men he deemed sufficient to take the rafts (filled with men and equipment) up stream (east, to Angel Mounds)...
"And because by land they (with DeSoto and his horsemen) frequently turned away from the (Ohio) river in order to get around inlets which came out of the river (beyond Green Island), the Indians had opportunity to attack those in the rafts and put them in great danger. For because of the strong current of the river, we did not dare to go any distance from land and the Indians shot arrows at us from the bluff (which dramatically rises east of the river's flats). As soon as the governor reached the town (with the rafts which were then unloaded), he immediately sent some crossbowmen downstream (in the rafts) who were to come as rear guard (for the others who needed help crossing the Ohio River's Green Island streams)...
"When the (last) rafts reached the town the governor ordered them taken apart and the nails kept for other rafts when they might be needed. He slept there one night and the next day marched in search of a province called Pacaha, which, he was informed, lie near Chisca where the Indians said there was gold." The army first heard the place name Chisca in North Carolina the year before, reported to lie north of the Great Smoky Mountains where they were at the time. Scouts would find that tribe in Knoxville, Tennessee.
"On Tuesday, the twenty-first of June, they left from there (Angel Mounds)."
"We went up the river, because in order to go to that province of Pacaha we had to TURN upriver..." they turned north (according to Inca's informants), up the Wabash River basin, along the path of today's Interstate 164 instead of following the Ohio River eastward, as they had done in getting to Angel Mounds "...and passed through the province of Aquixo, which is very beautiful and nicely situated..." east of today's Evansville.
"We marched through large towns in Aquixo (Province, north of Angel Mounds) which had been abandoned for fear of the Christians. From some captured Indians we learned that a great chief lived three days journey thence, called Casqui..." at today's Vincennes.
"The next day, Wednesday (starting where today's Interstate 164 becomes I-69 north), they passed through the worst road of swamps and water that they had seen in all Florida (North America), and in this day's journey the people suffered much hardship..." crossing the center of Highland-Pigeon Creek Watershed above Interstate 69's northeastward turn, to today's Douglas. Power poles in that wetland have waist high watermarks on them around the very few homes there.
"On that day they walked continually through water until sunset, which in places reached to the waist and in places to the knee (man-made canals drain a good part of it today). When they came to dry land (at Douglas) they were very glad for it seemed to them that they would be walking about lost through the water all night...
"At noon (the next day, having traveled 4 miles from Douglas) they arrived at the first town of Casqui (at today's Princeton, where they spent the remainder of that day gathering food). They found the Indians off guard for they had not heard of them. Many Indians, both men and women, were seized, besides a quantity of clothing, blankets and skins - both in the first town and in another which was within sight of it in an open field a half league (westward) from it, whither the horsemen had galloped..."
"That land is more high (by 100 feet), dry, and level than the land of the river behind which they had thus far seen (which drains south into the Ohio River). In the open field were many walnut trees with soft nuts shaped like acorns (pecans); and in the houses were found many which the Indians had stored away... For two days the governor marched through the land of Casqui (the White River basin, which drains west into the Wabash River) before arriving at the town where the chief was, and most of the way continually through land of open field, very well peopled with large towns, two or three (today's Hazleton and Decker) of which were to be seen from one town."
"Friday, the day of St. John (June 24th, 1541, using the darkness of new moon to secure what would prove to be a large native complex), they went to the town of the lord of Casqui (Vincennes), and he gave food and clothes to this army, and on Saturday they entered in his town; and he had very good huts (probably as good as the ones used by Lewis and Clark, who followed Indian trails to and from that place three centuries later), and on the biggest hut, over the door, were many heads of very fierce bulls (buffalo)... There the Christians placed the cross on a mound."
The chief "...came in the afternoon with all his people. We went in procession up to the town, and they came after us. Having arrived at the town... we found that the chiefs there were accustomed to have, next to the houses where they lived, some very high mounds, made by hand, and that others have their houses on the mounds themselves. On the summit of that mound we drove in the cross, and we went with much devotion, kneeling to kiss the foot of the cross. The Indians did as they saw us do, neither more nor less..."
"On Sunday, the twenty-sixth of June, we left from there (headed "upriver," the Wabash River) for Pacaha, enemy of (Chief) Casqui (who was left behind to keep the peace), and we spent the night at one town (today's Oaktown) and passed others. And the following day (Monday) we crossed a swamp (Busseron Creek south of today's Sullivan), in which the Indians had a well-made bridge, broad and of ingenious construction..." spanning trees which lined that swampy, deep creek precisely where today's U.S. Highway 41 crosses it.
"...a swamp that was very difficult to cross, having deep miry places at the entrance and exit and clear water in the middle, but so deep that for the space of twenty paces it was necessary to swim... The men crossed over some poor wooden bridges that were there, and the horses swam across with much trouble because of the mud on either side of the swamp... and half a league (just over a mile) beyond Indians and Spaniards camped in some most beautiful pasture grounds in a very fine country..." below Sullivan.
On Tuesday they pillaged the rich fields to and around Farmersburg (map at left), then, Rangel says, "...on Wednesday they arrived at the town of Pacaha, a town and lord of great renown and very esteemed in those parts..." at today's Terre Haute beside the Wabash River. Most of the army would spend 40 days there while others explored the country.
Survivors later told Inca, "...from Mabila (in Alabama) to that point (Terre Haute) they had always marched toward the north..."
"We saw the town on a plain, well palisaded and with a moat of water around it, dug by hand...
"The chief of Casqui caught up with the Christians at the time that they entered the town saying that it had rained, thanks to the cross the Spaniards planted (at Vincennes, their home), and that he wanted to personally thank them for it..." DeSoto sent word to Chief Pacaha that he was coming with Chief Casqui and expected him to be there when they arrived, but not doing so the Casqui's "...looted it ferociously."
"In Aquixo, Casqui and this Pacaha (all in today's Indiana) we saw the best towns that we had seen up to then, and better palisaded and fortified, and the people of more beauty, except for those of Cofitachequi." Chief Pacaha was so powerful that most local natives called the Great (Ohio) River by his name. Likewise, many called the Wabash River by Chief Casqui's name.
"He (DeSoto) lodged in the town where the chief lived, which was very large, enclosed, and furnished with towers... An abundance of old and new corn was found in the town and fields... large towns (spaced) at a league and half a league (2.6 to 1.3 miles apart) were found, all enclosed (across that plain)... Where the governor lodged there was a large marsh which came near to the enclosure and entered through a ditch round about the town so that but little of the town remained to enclose. A channel had been made from the marsh to the large river through which fish entered the former..."
"The village had 500 large and good houses and was on a site somewhat higher and more elevated than its surroundings (the French name "Terre Haute" means "high ground"). The Indians had made almost an island of it with a ditch... It was full of water from the river... which flowed 3 leagues (7 miles) above the village... The moat surrounded three sides of the village, the work not yet being complete. The fourth side was enclosed by a very strong wall made of thick logs set in the ground... This great moat and canal were filled with fish..."
"The town was very good and very esteemed in those parts... well palisaded with towers on the walls and with a ditch around most if it, filled with water which enters through an irrigation ditch that flows from the river."
Terre Haute's east side is drained today by Thompson Ditch which the state opened in 1886. It drains into Honey Creek which drains Terre Haute's enormous south side basin, probably the source of Pacaha's fish. It flows into the Wabash River 7 miles downstream. The state may have simply opened the native-made moat at Pacaha's village site while making the ditch at that creek, which Elvas called a canal. The large adjoining marsh which Inca reported is a huge retention pond today.
Chief Pacaha fled, "...with all his people out the other side of town..." through its gated wall, allowing his people to escape northward when the Spaniards came in from the south. "The governor... together with the men of horse charged ahead where the Indians were fleeing; and at another town situated a quarter of a league from that place captured many Indians...
"Indians where the Chief of Pacaha was... on an islet between two arms of the river... there were 5,000 souls on that islet..." but when detected they "...fled in great haste to the other side of the river... swimming, where many people were drowned, principally women and children... we captured many Indians and a quantity of clothing which the Indians had on wooden rafts... (several of those rafts) went floating downstream and the Indians of Casqui (Vincennes) filled their canoes (then headed home without Desoto's consent)... On that account the governor was indignant at Casqui and immediately returned to Pacaha (village)." more on this below...
The islet where Pacaha sought refuge in the Wabash River was mapped during the Indiana Township Survey of 1848 (above). River flooding may have eroded it away. Canals were also dug or cleared over the years to drain Terre Haute.
"Governor DeSoto and his people, being some days in Pacaha, made some excursions into the interior..."
"...they told him that in some mountains (Hoosier National Forest) forty leagues away (105 miles) there was a great deal of very good salt (at today's French Lick), and to the repeated questions they asked them, they replied that there was also in that country much of the yellow metal (gold) they asked for. The Castilians rejoiced greatly at this news, and two soldiers offered to go with the Indians to confirm it... they were directed to note the nature of the country through which they passed (so the army could go there later) and bring a report as to whether it were fertile and well populated (so the Spaniards could settle that land). To barter for the purchase of salt and the gold, they took pearls and deerskins and some vegetables..."
"They also took Indians to accompany them and two of the merchants (from other tribes who knew the trails) to act as guides. Thus prepared, the Spaniards set out (their departure was timed for full moon, July 8th, at journey's mid-way), and at the end of eleven days that they spent on their journey (to and from) they returned (105 miles from French Lick to Terre Haute) with six loads of rock-salt crystals, not made artificially, but found in this state. They also brought back a load of very fine and resplendent brass, and concerning the quality of the lands they had seen, they said that they were not good, for they were sterile and thinly populated (same today). Because they needed it so badly, the Spaniards consoled themselves with the salt for their disappointment and misunderstanding regarding the gold."
During that time, on the same full moon of July 8th, the King's Agent with DeSoto reported, "We were in this town (Terre Haute) 27 or 28 days (30 days according to Rangel)Old Fort Harrison Site to see if we could find a road north in order to travel to the South Sea (the Pacific Ocean)... some expeditions were made to capture Indians who might inform us (of trails to a sea reported to lie in that direction). One expedition in particular was made to the northwest because they told us that there were Indian villages through which we could go..." Biedma went with DeSoto's scouts (probably the Thirty Lancers) into Illinois along the Indian trail which crossed the Wabash River's narrows at the Old Fort Harrison site. Indian merchants guided them to the next village along their way..."
SCOUTS INTO ILLINOIS
The King's Agent with a scouting party for Hernando de Soto's ill fated conquest reported that, "...in order to travel to the South Sea (the Pacific Ocean) ...we traveled eight days (northwest from Terre Haute, Indiana, to today's Paris, Illinois, then north) through an uninhabited land of very great swampy lakes where we did not even find trees but rather some great plains where the grass was so tall and so strong that even with the horses we could not force our way through it. At the end of this time, we arrived at some Indian houses..." just below today's Chicago. They had traveled up today's Illinois Route 1 from Paris, camping near today's Ridge Farm, Danville, Hoopston, Watseka, Kankakee and Beecher. "the houses were covered with sewn reeds...
"When the Indians wish to carry them away they roll up the reeds of the covering and an Indian man carries it and the woman carries the framework of poles over which it is placed, and it is set up and taken down so easily that even if they moved every hour they could carry their houses with them."
Another says, "From there on toward the north, the Indians said that the land was very poorly inhabited because it was very cold, and that there were so many cattle (buffalo) that no field could be protected because of them, and that the Indians sustained themselves on their flesh."
Biedma goes on to say... "we found out from these Indians that there were (only) some little settlements of that sort across the land, and all they did was set up their house where there were many deer, or on a swamp where there were many fish, and when they had frightened away the game and could not catch fish as easily as at first, they moved from there with their homes and all that they owned and went away to another place where they could find fresh game. This province was called Caluci; they were people that paid little attention to sowing (planting), because they maintained themselves on fish and meat."
On July 15th, 1541, his eighth day on the trail from Terre Haute, the King's Agent arrived at Lake Michigan at Chicago. He reported, "We returned to this town of Pacaha (Terre Haute, Indiana), where the governor remained... having seen that there was no road to traverse to the other sea..." - no open seaway to the Pacific Ocean
Spanish galleons cruised the World's Oceans on "roads," but no road to those seas could exist across Lake Michigan because it is landlocked. There are no ocean tides or salt in it. The King's Agent perceived that at once. The Conquest of North America, Hernando de Soto's quest to find a route to the South Sea and, thereby, a passage to China for trade, would soon end in Illinois. Spain never returned for a second look. Portugal continued to control European shipping to and from the Orient by sailing around Africa, their half of the New World according to the Pope Alexander VI's decree in 1494. France and England, oblivious to what the Spaniards had learned at Lake Michigan (and later in Southern Illinois), would continue their search for a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean for the rest of that century. DeSoto, likewise oblivious to Biedma's discovery for the next week while the scouts returned, continued to celebrate with the natives back in Indiana.
Southern Illinois Trails
MEANWHILE IN INDIANA
During the time the scouts were exploring Indiana, Rangel, still in Terra Haute with DeSoto, reported, "(Since) the chief of Casqui had stolen away (with Pacaha's goods)... without asking for permission... Governor DeSoto tried to make peace with Pacaha (of Terre Haute), and he came in to retrieve a brother of his whom the Christians had captured... and DeSoto struck an agreement with Pacaha that he should go make war on Casqui (at Vincennes), which was very gratifying to Pacaha. But Casqui had warning of that intent, and he came with fifty of his Indians in very fine array (probably acquired, during his absence, from a raided village located down the Wabash River from Vincennes); and he brought a jester in front of himself for grandeur, who, saying and doing witty things, gave occasion for much laughter to those who saw him. The Governor displayed anger and harshness in order to please Pacaha.
"Pacaha asked the Governor for permission to give a slash to Casqui's face with a knife which the Christians had given him, and the Governor said to Pacaha that he should not do such a thing... the Governor asked Casqui why he had gone without permission. Casqui replied, "You gave me the cross to defend myself from my enemies, and with that same cross you wish to destroy me (given that Pacaha's people now wore crosses high on their heads so the Spaniards could recognize them as allies). My Lord, now that God heard us, by means of the cross (which the Christians had placed on the Indian mound at Vincennes)... all those of my land knelt down to it to ask for rain from the God who you said suffered on it, and he heard us and gave it to us in great abundance and saved our cornfields and seed beds; now that we have more faith in it and in your friendship, you wish to destroy those children and women who love you and your God so much..."
The Governor replied, "Look Casqui, we did not come to destroy you, but rather to make you know and understand the cross and our God... But since you went away without my permission, I thought that you held little regard for the doctrine that we had given you; and for the contempt that you had for it, I wished to destroy you... Now that you come humbly, you may be certain that I wish you more good than you think; and if you are in need of something from me, tell me and you will see it... because you and your people are our brothers, and thus our God tells us..."
"The Indians were as amazed at this as the Christians were at what Casqui had said..." given that DeSoto seldom changed his mind and had little patience with Indians. It's likely that he wanted to keep the peace in that neighborhood with two very strong allies. If he was to establish a port on America's northern sea to trade Spain's New World fortunes with China, he would need both Casqui and Pacaha to aid in his defense.
"At that point it was time to eat, and the governor seated himself and commanded both chiefs to sit, and between them there was great contention about which of them would seat himself at the right hand of the Governor. Pacaha told Casqui: "You know well that I am a greater lord than you and of more honored parents and grandparents, and that to me belongs a better place than to you." Casqui responded thus: "It is true that you are a greater lord than I, and your ancestors were greater than mine. And since this great lord who is here says that we must not lie, I will not deny the truth; notwithstanding, you know well that I am older and more than a match for you, and I confine you in your palisade whenever I want, and you have never seen my land. In effect, this remained to be decided by the Governor, and he commanded that Pacaha should seat himself at his right hand, because he was a greater lord and more ancient in Estate...
"The governor rested in Pacaha for forty days. During that time the two chiefs gave him service of abundance of fish, blankets, and skins, and they tried to see which of them could perform the greater services."
"The Governor made them (the two chiefs) friends and made them embrace and commanded that they should deal from one land to the other with their commodities and business, and so they agreed to do it."
SCOUTS RETURN FROM ILLINOIS
Upon his return, the King's Agent reported his Illinois findings to a distraught DeSoto. "The governor, seeing that in that (northward) direction the land was so poor in corn that they could not sustain themselves (and that Lake Michigan was NOT the South Sea, the Pacific Ocean, which he supposed it to be), asked the Indians where the most populous district lay. They said that they had heard of a large province of very well provided land called Quiguate (in Southern Illinois) toward the south..."
DeSoto ordered his army to retreat southward. They were never told the real reason why, only that food was not to be found to the north. The foot soldiers were sent back to Vincennes. Biedma says, "...we turned south and returned to where we had placed the cross (Vincennes, where DeSoto and his riders joined the foot soldiers on July 30th), and from there we (the entire army) headed southwest to another province which is called Quiguate..."
"The chief of Casqui ordered the bridge (over Sullivan's Busseron Creek) repaired and the governor (with his horsemen) gave a turn through his land and lodged in the open field near his town (Vincennes; DeSoto having explored 20 leagues below Terre Haute for two days), whither the chief came (once the army arrived) with a quantity of fish and two Indian women whom he exchanged with two Christians for two shirts. He gave a guide and couriers. The governor (and the army) went to sleep at one of his towns (backtracking southwest toward Decker) and the next day at another near a river (at the junction of the White and Wabash Rivers, photo below, at today's Illinois border), where chief Casqui ordered canoes brought for him in which to cross..." the Wabash River into Mount Carmel, Illinois.
"...alongside the river of Casqui (the Wabash River), which is a branch that comes forth from the great river of Pacaha (the Ohio River)... this branch is as large as the Guadalquivir (River of Spain, which the Wabash is at that point). There Casqui came and helped them cross the (Wabash) river by canoe on Tuesday the second of August..."
DeSoto's Illinois Trails
Hernando de Soto entered Illinois on Tuesday, the second of August, 1541, by crossing the Wabash River into Mount Carmel to camp. Marching down that river, "They spent the night on Wednesday at a burned town..." at today's Grayville. Chief Casqui had probably raided that town during his absence from Terre Haute, then, to appease an angered DeSoto, had brought the spoils (along with his jester) to him.
"The following (day), Thursday, (they spent the night) at another town (Carmi) next to a river (the Little Wabash River), where there were many squash and much corn and beans. And the next day, Friday, they (DeSoto's horsemen) went to Quiguate..." The troops would spend that night about 8 miles northeast of today's ElDorado.
"(DeSoto) reached the town (today's ElDorado/Harrisburg, ahead of the army) where the chief was living. On the way (at Carmi, the northern provincial boundary), the latter (had) sent him blankets and skins, but not daring to remain in the town, went away."
"The town was the largest which had been seen in Florida, it was on a branch of the great river..." the Middle Fork of Saline River, which flows into the Great Ohio River.
"The governor and his men were lodged in half of it (at Harrisburg); and a few days afterward, seeing that the Indians were going about deceitfully (on Full Moon), he ordered the other half burned, so that it might not afford them protection if they came to attack at night..."
DeSoto typically chose to camp on open plains for the advantage they offered his mounted army. Trees on campsites, like Harrisburg near the river, obstructed his view and offered Indians opportunity to fence his horses by placing logs between trees to stop the horsemen from chasing them. Natives usually attacked at night with fire on arrows directed toward the army and its livestock. DeSoto simply burned the trees of eastern Harrisburg.
ElDorado/Harrisburg lies near the center of a huge fertile plain, tens of thousands of acres, drained by the Saline River's branches into the nearby Ohio River. America's greatest rivers converge near there (on map above). DeSoto would spend three weeks just west of the Wabash River in "...the largest town they saw in the land, next to the river of Casqui (the Wabash); and they found out afterwards (in Arkansas the following year) that the river was well peopled below (along today's Mississippi River, which all of those rivers flow into), although they did not manage to find it out then, and for that reason they (eventually) took the road to Coligua (today's Kaskaskia) passing through an uninhabited region..." of wetlands, mountains and river beds.
At Harrisburg, "An Indian well attended by many Indians came saying that he was the chief. The governor delivered him to his guard that they might look after him. Many Indians went off and came bringing blankets and skins. Seeing poor opportunity for carrying out his evil thought, the pretended chief, going out of the house one day with the governor, started to run away so swiftly that there was no Christian who could overtake him; and plunged into the river (Middle Fork of Saline River) which was a crossbow shot's distance from the town. As soon as he had crossed to the other side, many Indians who were walking about there, uttering loud cries, began to shoot arrows. The governor crossed over to them immediately with men of horse and of foot, but they did not dare await him...
"On going in pursuit of them, he arrived at a town which had been abandoned, and beyond it a swamp where the horses could not cross (along Saline River southeast of Harrisburg). On the other side were many women. Some men of foot crossed over and captured many of the women and a quantity of clothing. The governor returned to the camp (less than 6 miles away, up and across the Middle Fork); and soon after on that night a spy of the Indians was captured by those who were on watch. The governor asked him whether he would take them to the place where the (real) chief was (or be fed to the dogs). He said yes, and the governor went immediately to look for the chief with 20 men of horse and 50 of foot...
"After a march of a day and a half (searching the swamps around the Saline River) he found the chief in a dense wood (of today's Shawnee National Forest), and a soldier, not knowing the chief, gave him a cutlass stroke on the head. The chief cried out not to kill him saying that he was the chief. He was taken captive and with him 140 of his people. The governor went back to Quigate (Harrisburg) and told him that he should make his Indians come to serve the Christians; and after waiting for several days hoping for them to come, but they were not coming, he (DeSoto) sent two Captains, each one on his side of the river (the Saline River, southeastward to the Ohio River), with horse and foot. They captured many Indians, both men and women (from large villages along its eastern bank). Upon seeing the hurt they received, because of the rebellion, they came to see what the governor might order them. Thus they came and went frequently and brought gifts of clothing and fish...
"The chief and two of his wives were left unshackled in the governor's house, being guarded by the halberdiers of the governor's guard. The governor asked them in what direction the land was more densely populated. They said that on the lower part of the river toward the south were large settlements and chiefs who were lords of wide lands and of many people (at downstream places on map above), and that there was a province called Coligoa (today's Kaskaskia) toward the northwest, situated near some mountain ridges (today's St. Francis Mountains). It seemed advisable to the governor and to all the rest to go first to Coligoa, saying that perhaps the mountains would make a difference in the land and that gold or silver might exist on the other side of them. Both Quaguate (of Harrisburg) and Casqui and Pacaha (Vincennes and Terre Haute, Indiana) were flat and fertile lands, with excellent meadow lands along the rivers where the Indians made large fields."
Most Interior Indian tribes had heard about DeSoto's treachery, from neighbors and traders, before he arrived. They also knew that his army was obsessed with finding gold. It didn't take long for them to realize that even the slightest mention of gold in a nearby area would rid them of the army's menacing presence. The lure of easy riches drove DeSoto's army: both the Indians and DeSoto knew that and used that ploy to move the army overland.
"Here (at Harrisburg) we tarried eight or nine (more) days to look for interpreters and guides, still with the intention, if we were able, to traverse to the other sea (the Pacific Ocean), because the Indians told us that eleven days from there was a province where they killed cows (buffalo - 175 miles west of Harrisburg beyond the St. Francis Mountains of Missouri, their next layover destination), and there we would learn of interpreters in order to cross (this "Island of Florida") to the other sea."
"The governor left the chief of Quigate in his town (three weeks after arriving there); and an Indian who guided him through large pathless forests conducted him for seven days through an uninhabited region (the natives had fled) where they lodged each night amid marshes and streamlets of very shallow water (due west from Harrisburg along today's Highway 13 to Marion, in the first two days, then down Crab Orchard Creek to Crainville and Murphysboro in the next two). So plentiful were the fish that they killed them by striking them with clubs; and the Indians whom they took along in chains roiled the water with mud, and the fish, as if stupefied, would come to the surface and they caught as many as they wished..." in the massive swamps between Harrisburg and Murphysboro. There are levees there today to protect citizens from flooding in that very low-lying area.
Another says of that same journey, "On Friday, the 26th of August, they departed from Quiquate (Harrisburg) in search of Coligua (Kaskaskia), and they spent the night at a swamp; and from swamp to swamp they made their journey of four swamps and four days (to Murphysboro) in which swamps were large numbers of fish, because the great river floods all that area when it overflows its banks. And on Tuesday (the fifth day on the trail) they went (through what Biedma called "a land of rugged mountains") to the river that they call Coligua (the Mississippi River), and on Wednesday likewise along (up) the same river, and the following day, Thursday, which was the 4th (actually the 1st) of September, to Coligua (today's Kaskaskia, on an 1863 Civil War map, below) and they found the town populated."
Another says, "We traveled over much flat land and other land of rugged mountains, and we struck pointblank at the town of Coligua, as if they led us by royal road..." up the Mississippi River's giant gorge to Kaskaskia, aside Missouri's St. Francois Mountains. "We found much food in this land and a great quantity of tanned cow tails and others for tanning.."
Another says, "From Quiguate to Coligoa, the distance was about forty leagues..." 104 miles (actual distance 85 miles) in 7 days.
DeSoto's delight at finding this magnificent valley in America's interior must have been tempered by his perception of the river running through it. The Mississippi River had to drain a country much larger than he had previously conceived. DeSoto's search for the "South Sea" ended the day he sighted that river from Illinois.
The irony of DeSoto's discovering the Mississippi River, for which he is famous today, is that the discovery itself ended his dream of finding a passage to China. He would die of anguish within eight months of his now famous discovery.
Kaskaskia village lies on what in DeSoto's time was a southward pointing peninsula between the Mississippi and Kaskaskia Rivers (mapped above). Since then the Mississippi River has changed course.
"The Indians of Coligoa had not heard of Christians (perhaps due to their extreme northern isolation), and when we arrived they took flight up a river (probably the Kaskaskia River) which flowed near the town (Kaskaskia on map)... some plunged into the river, but Christians who went (northward) along both banks captured them..."
The Spaniards "...took many people and clothes and a great deal of food and much salt (gathered from Saline Creek west of Kaskaskia). It is a pleasant town among some mountains (the St. Francois Mountains), on a gorge of a river, and from there they went at midday to kill cows (buffalo), since there were many wild ones..." in the fertile flats of the gigantic Mississippi River gorge. That setting is the same today, minus the buffalo, of course. DeSoto American bison for the first and only time in his life somewhere below today's St. Louis.
"We inquired about a road in the direction we were headed and whether there was any village in that district, far or near. They were never able to tell us anything except that if we wished to travel where there might be a village, we had to turn west-southwest."
Another says, ""They said that five or six leagues beyond (about 15 miles), toward the north, were many cattle (buffalo), but because the land was cold, it was poorly populated; that the best land they knew of, as being more plentifully supplied with food and better inhabited, was a province toward the south (west) called Cayas..." in today's Missouri.
DeSoto would alter course, for his fourth and final time, in North America. He had altered course at Marianna, Florida, due to an Indian boy's report that gold could be found toward the sun's rising; then at Mabila due to battle losses which he needed to shield from Spain by marching due north into Indiana; then again at Terre Haute, Indiana, when he learned that Lake Michigan was not the Pacific Ocean; he reversed course there. This would be his last: he would lead his army ever southward.
"That town of Coligoa (Kaskaskia) was situated at the foot of a mountain (the St. Francis Mountains) in a field of a river the size of the Caya River which flows through Estremadura. It was a fertile land and so abundant in corn that the old was thrown out in order to store the new. There was also a great quantity of beans and pumpkins, the beans being larger and better than those of Spain; and the pumpkins likewise... The chief of Coliqoa gave a guide to Cayas and remained in his town."
"On Tuesday, the sixth of September (there had been a total eclipse of the moon the morning before during full moon), they departed from Coligua and crossed the river another time..." most in Indian canoes, in search of Cayas. The Mississippi River's width and shallows around its islands west of Kaskaskia allowed for an easy crossing.
DeSoto had used another famous place name, Quizquiz, to motivate his troops to cross America's Great (Ohio) River from Kentucky. He dramatized the name "Cayas" to encourage his men to cross this river and ascend into high mountains. The men knew that name. The Caya River runs from high mountains into Estremadura, Spain, where most of his troops were born.
DeSoto's Missouri Trails
Rangel says, "On Tuesday, the sixth of September (1541, DeSoto's army) departed from Coligua (Kaskaskia, Illinois) and crossed the (Great) river another time..." below Sainte Genevieve, spending that night on Saline Creek while others crossed under the full moon. They had crossed the Great River's biggest feeder between Kentucky and Indiana; we call it the Ohio River there.
"On Wednesday they crossed some mountains (the St. Francois Mountains) and went to Calpista (Farmington on map above), in which there was a spring of water from which very good salt is made, cooking it until it cakes. On the following day, Thursday, they went to Palisma (Province starting at Pilot Knob, then on to Lesterville on Friday - map below), and on Saturday they came forth to sleep at a body of water..." a lake in the Black River's West Fork Valley, just above today's Reynolds. "On Sunday they arrived at Quixila (today's Bunker, the largest village in Palisma Province) and rested there on Monday..."
"The house of the chief was found with coverings of colored deerskins drawn over with designs, and the floor of the house was covered with the same material in the manner of carpets. The chief left it so, in order that the governor might lodge in it as a sign that he was desirous of peace and his friendship, but he did not dare remain. The governor upon seeing that he was away, sent a captain with horse(men) and foot (soldiers) to look for him. The captain found many people, but because of the roughness of the (mountain) land they captured only some women and young persons. It was a small and scattered settlement and had very little corn."
"(We) went to some scattered villages that were called Tatilcoya..." southwest of Bunker (map above) on Sinkin Creek, "On Wednesday (September 14th, we marched) to a town alongside a large river..." down the Current River to today's Round Spring. "(And) afterward (in Arkansas) we saw that it flowed into the Great River..." the Mississippi River, via the Black, White and Arkansas Rivers, the last three of which they would cross during the next six months.
Turning westward at Round Spring, "On Thursday they (DeSoto and his horsemen) spent the night alongside a swamp (it's still a big one, the army camped below today's Ink). And the Governor went in advance with some on horseback, and he arrived at Tanico (out of the mountains at today's Summersville); and the next day the army went (there in groups as they came out of the mountains; they called this place "Cayas")... which was very scattered but very abundant in supplies."
"The governor abode in the Province of Cayas (which extended south across the plains to Jack's Fork River - part of the Current River - above today's Mountain View) for a month (actually three weeks). During that interval the horses grew fat and throve more than after a longer time in any other region (of North America) because of the abundance of corn and the leaf thereof, which is, I think, the best that has been seen. They drank from a very warm and brackish marsh of water (there are several along the rivers just east of Summersville), and they drank so much that it was noticed in their bellies when they were brought back from the water.
"Thitherto, the Christians had lacked salt, but there they made a good quantity of it in order to carry it thence to other regions to exchange it for skins and blankets. They gather it along the river, which leaves it on top of the sand when the water falls. And since they cannot gather it without more sand being mixed with it, they put it into certain baskets which they have for this purpose, wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. They hang the baskets to a pole in the air and put water in them, and they place a basin underneath into which the water falls. After being strained and set on the fire to boil, as the water becomes less, the salt is left on the bottom of the pot.
"On both sides of the river (Jack's Fork), the land had cultivated fields and there was an abundance of corn. The Indians did not dare to cross (from Mountain View without their chief's consent) to the place where we were. When some (who were sent by their chief) appeared, some soldiers who saw them called to them. The Indians crossed the river and came with them to the place where the governor was (at Summersville). He asked them for their chief. They declared that he was friendly, but that he did not (wish to) appear. Thereupon, the governor ordered that the chief be told to come and see him and to bring a guide and interpreter for the region ahead if he wished to be his friend; and that if he did not do that he would go to fetch him and his hurt would be greater. He (DeSoto) waited three days, and seeing that he did not come, went to look for him, and brought him back a prisoner with one hundred and fifty of his Indians."
"He (the governor) asked him whether he had knowledge of any great chief and where the most populated land was. He said that the best populated land thereabout was a province situated to the south, a day and a half away, called Tulla (at today's West Plains, map below), that he could give him a guide, but that he did not have the interpreter, for the speech of the Tulla was different from his; and because he and his forebears had always been at war with the lords of the province, they had no converse, nor did they understand each other.
"Thereupon the governor set out for Tulla (down today's highway 17, on the full moon) with men of horse in order to see whether it was a land through which he might pass with all his men (camping near Eleven Point River). As soon as he arrived (at West Plains, 32 miles from Summersville) and was perceived by the Indians, the land was summoned. When 15 or 20 Indians had gathered together they came to attack the Christians. On seeing that they (the Christians) handled them roughly, and that when they took to flight the horses overtook them, they climbed on top of the houses, where they tried to defend themselves with their arrows; and when driven from some would climb on top of others; and while they were pursuing some, others would attack them from another direction.
"In this way, the running lasted so long that the horses became tired and could no longer run. The Indians killed one horse there and wounded several. Fifteen Indians were killed, and captives were made of forty woman and young persons; for they (the Christians) did not leave any Indian alive who was shooting arrows if they could overtake him."
"It seemed to the governor that it was not good to halt there that night, because he had very few people, and he returned, by the road on which we had come, to a clearing in a lowland that the river made (12 miles above West Plains), having crossed a bad pass of the mountain range (at Eleven Point River) because there was fear that the Indians might take us at the pass." DeSoto, "reached Cayas the next day."
"On Wednesday, the fifth of October (still on harvest moon), they (the army) left from the site of Tanico or Cayas and arrived on Friday at Tulla (having camped near Mountain View and the Eleven Point River's bad pass), and they found the people gone; but they found many supplies. And (the next morning) on Saturday the Indians came to give them a surprise attack or battle. They brought long poles like lances, the points fire-hardened, and these were the best warriors that the Christians came upon; and they fought like desperate men, with the greatest courage in the world."
Another reported, "As soon as the Indians were perceived, both those of horse and those of foot sallied out against them and there many Indians were killed, and some Christians and horses wounded. Some Indians were captured, six of whom the governor sent to the chief with their right hands and their noses cut off. He ordered them to tell him that if he did not come to make his excuses and obey him, he (DeSoto) would go to get him; and that he would do to him and to as many of his men as he found what he had done to those he sent to him. He gave him the space of three days in which to come. This he gave them to understand the best he could by signs as he had no interpreter.
"After three days came an Indian whom the chief sent laden with cowhides (probably buffalo skins). He came weeping bitterly, and coming to the governor cast himself to his feet. The governor raised him up, and he made him talk, but no one could understand him (this was the first time DeSoto was completely stymied by speech in North America; most other tribes he had visited produced an interpreter, or merchant, for the next tribe along his way). The governor told him by signs that he should return and tell the chief to send him an interpreter whom the people of Cayas could understand.
"Next day, three Indians came laden with cowhides and three days after that twenty Indians came. Among them was one who understood those of Cayas. After a long discourse of excuses (relayed) from the chief and praises of the governor, he (the interpreter) concluded by saying that he and the others were come thither on behalf of the chief to see what his lordship ordered; and that he (the chief) was ready to serve him. The governor and all the men were very glad, for they could in no wise travel without an interpreter.
"The governor ordered him under guard and told him to tell the Indians who had come with him to return to the chief and tell him that he pardoned him for the past and that he thanked him greatly for his gifts and for the interpreter whom he had sent him and that he would be glad to see him and for him to come next day to see him. The chief came after three days and eighty Indians with him. Both he and his men entered the camp weeping in token of obedience and repentance for the past mistake, after the manner of that land. He brought many cowhides as a gift, which were useful because it was a cold land, and were serviceable for coverlets as they were very soft and the wool like that of sheep.
"Nearby to the north were many cattle (buffalo). The Christians did not see them nor enter their land, for the land was poorly settled where they were, and had little corn. The chief of Tulla made his address to the governor which he excused himself and offered him his land and vassals and person. No orator could more elegantly express the message or address both of that chief and of all those who came to the governor in their behalf..." probably owing more to poor language translation than anything Chief Tulla meant to say.
Inca reported that, "The Indians of this Province of Tulla are different from all the other Indians whom our Spaniards had encountered hitherto, for we have said that the others are handsome and graceful in person. These, however, both men and women, have ugly faces, and though they are well proportioned, they deform themselves by deliberate distortion of themselves.
"Their heads are incredibly long and tapering on top, being made thus artificially by binding them up from birth to the age of nine or ten years. They prick their faces with flint needles, especially the lips, inside and out, and color them black, thereby making themselves extremely and abominably ugly. The hideous aspect of their faces corresponds to their bad dispositions...
"The governor informed himself of the land in all directions and learned that there was a scattering of population toward the west and large towns toward the southeast, especially in a province called Utiangue (which they would find in Arkansas), ten days journey from Tulla... and that it was a land abounding in corn.
"(The) Indians said there was a large body of water near Utiangue (the Mississippi Embayment's once giant lake) - and according to what they said, the governor believed it to be an arm of the sea - and because he now wished to give information of himself in Cuba, for it was three years and over since Donna Isabel (DeSoto's wife), who was in Havana, or any other person in a Christian land, had heard of him... he determined to go to winter at Utiangue... and in the following summer to reach the sea and build two brigantines and send one of them to Cuba and the other to New Spain (Mexico), so that the one which should go safely might give news of him; hoping from his prosperity in Cuba (DeSoto was still its governor) to refit (his army) to take up his expedition again and explore and conquer (North America) farther west than he had yet reached, where Cabeza de Vaca had gone."
Vaca had walked through and reported today's Southern Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. DeSoto, having heard of an "inland sea" from Vaca in Spain, coupled with what these Indians were telling him, set out to find it.
DeSoto's Arkansas Trails
DeSoto's Secretary says, "On Wednesday, the nineteenth of October (1541), this army and the Governor departed from Tulla (West Plains, Missouri), and they spent the night at two huts (today's South Fork and Moody), and the next day, Thursday, (they entered Arkansas on the new moon, camping) at another hut (today's Viola, Arkansas), and on Friday at another (today's Oxford). The next day, Saturday, they went to Quipana (today's Guion), which is among some (800 ft. high) mountains, next to a river (the White River)... and all that (land) is mountainous from Tulla on..." many towering over 1000 feet along that way. Elvas says they spent five days getting there, probably camping at Melbourne their last night on that trail.
The natives of Quipana "said that Utiangue was six days journey away and that another province called Guahate (Little Rock) lay a week's journey southward - a land plentifully abounding in corn and of much population; and here we went east and traversed these mountains and descended..." down the White River Valley to camp, "and from there they went as far as they could to sleep..." below today's Cushman, away from the river's cliffed banks.
One of the last entries in DeSoto's Secretary's Journal reads, "The next day they came out of the mountains and entered the plains..." at today's Batesville. Elvas confirms this trip from Quipana, "He reached a town called Anoixi (today's Batesville) in three days and sent a captain with thirty horse and fifty foot on ahead (to explore today's Newark and Newport). The latter surprised the Indians unawares and captured many Indian men and women..." while the army gathered winter supplies and rested for several days as the moon filled to secure their short journey ahead through a throng of natives.
DeSoto's Secretary's last recorded statement was, "On Monday, the last day of the month (of October, 1541, when their climate felt like ours does in late-November there), they arrived at a town that is called Catamaya (Newark), and on Tuesday, the first of November, they passed through a small village (camping at the Black River), and on Wednesday, the second of November (during full moon), they (crossed the Black River in Indian canoes and) arrived at Utiangue (today's Jacksonport, 25 miles downstream of Batesville), which is a very well populated savanna of attractive appearance."
Biedma says, "There was a town nearby (today's Newport) that had much food, and it was on a large river (the White River just below its junction with the Black River) that flowed into the great river (the Mississippi) by which we left (North America)."
Inca says, "it was situated on a fine plain with two streams on either side..." inside Mason Bend, a 600-acre pasture with the Black and White Rivers on the west and White River's sharp bends below and east of it. This site, otherwise surrounded by thousands of native Americans, was geographically defendable.
Elvas says, "They found considerable corn hidden away (probably in Newport) as well as beans, nuts, and dried plums, all in great quantity. They seized some Indians who were collecting their clothing, and who had already placed their women in safety (on news of DeSoto's early morning approach). That land was cultivated and well peopled. The governor lodged in the best part of the place and immediately ordered a wooden stockade to be built about the place where the camp was established at some distance from the houses, so that the Indians without might not harm it with fire.
"Having measured off the land by paces, he allotted to each the amount that was proper for him to build, in proportion to the number of Indians they had. Thereupon, the wood was brought in by them, and within three days the stockade was built of very high timbers set close together in the ground and with many boards placed crosswise. Near the village flowed a river of Cayas (the Current River, which feeds the Black then White Rivers at Utiangue) and, below (along the White River), it was densely populated."
"It snowed hard during that winter in this province, when there was an interval of a month and a half in which they could not go out into the country because of the deep snow. With their plentiful supply of wood and provisions, however, they had the best winter of all that they spent in La Florida (North America)."
Scouting forays were made during which DeSoto learned, to his dismay, that the Mississippi Embayment was a freshwater lake, not a bay of the Gulf of Mexico. Prior to 1698 the Michigamea, a tribe of the Illinois Confederation, occupied much of that area. Their name means "big lake" in their language, referring to the enormous lake that existed on the Embayment prior to the New Madrid Earthquake of 1812 - the largest in America's history.
The Final Report of the Official De Soto Trail Commission held that DeSoto crossed the Mississippi River from Memphis, Tennessee, into this area on June 8, 1541 - when that river was flooded by the spring thaw of heavy snows reported by the Spaniards the winter before. DeSoto had crossed the Ohio River, with half the size and flow of the Mississippi River at that point, on that date. The Commission failed to realize that DeSoto's Trail went through today's Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri, while placing a good part of it in Mississippi, which DeSoto never visited. The Official Commission had been funded at the behest of a powerful Mississippi Congressman.
Biedma says, "In this town died the Christian who had been one of Narvaez's men, whom we had found in the land and taken along as interpreter." Juan Ortiz had served DeSoto from the time he was rescued during DeSoto's Florida landing. He translated Spanish into the language of a tribe near the one where he had been held captive. That information was passed along a line to the next interpreter, and so on, for as many, sometimes a dozen or more, as it took to communicate with the tribe they were at. Native merchants were sometimes encountered, like the youth Perico from North Florida who could speak the languages of many tribes, thereby eliminating DeSoto's need for so many go-between interpreters.
Elvas says, "the governor felt (the passage of Juan Ortiz) deeply, for without an interpreter, not knowing where he was going, he feared (he would) enter a region where he might get lost. After that, a youth who had been seized in Cofitachequi (South Carolina, probably Perico, the Indian boy who led him to Cofitachequi), and who now knew something of the language of the Christians, served as interpreter."
Inca says, "Our people passed the winter in the village (called) Utiangue. It is much to be regretted that these Spaniards neglected to conquer and settle a land so fertile and abundant in the things necessary for human life as they discovered, because of not having found gold or silver there. They did not consider that, if it had not been found (in any particular village), it was because these Indians do not seek these metals or value them... (DeSoto,) repenting of his past anger (at his deception in Mabila), which had been the cause of not making a settlement in the province and port of Achusi, as he had determined to do, he now wished to remedy it as best he could.
"Because he was at a distance from the sea and would have to lose time if he should go in search of (somewhere) to settle on the coast, he proposed (as soon as he arrived at the Great River) to establish a village on the best and most convenient site that he should find on its banks. He would immediately build two brigantines and send them down the river... so that Castilian Spaniards could come from all parts with cattle and seeds of the plants that were not found there, to settle, cultivate, and enjoy them."
Biedma says, "We left (Utiangue) at the beginning of March (1542), since it appeared to us the fury of the cold weather had abated (and before the Mississippi Embayment flooded to the high water marks on that landscape), and we traveled downstream (beside the White River ), where we found other well-populated provinces (today's Newport, Augusta, De View, Cotton Plant, Brinkley, Clarendon and Holly Grove) with a quantity of supplies."
Elvas says, "From Utiangue, it took the governor ten days (passing through the places just mentioned) to reach a province called Ayays. He reached a town (just west of Marvell, the Territorial Headquarters during the Louisiana Purchase) near the river which flowed through Cayas and Utiangue..." the White River, which is fed by the Current River of Cayas (in Missouri) via the Black River into Utiangue. Southbound trails on that bank of the White River converge and cross it there, given the massive swamps on the east side of that river below that point to the Mississippi River.
DeSoto crossed the White River between Marvell and St. Charles, that river's crossing place for centuries. "There he ordered a large dugout canoe to be constructed, by which he crossed the river. After crossing, such weather occurred that he could not march (south from today's St. Charles) for four days because of the snow."
"As soon as it stopped snowing, he marched three days (at 10 miles per day - while gathering what he could find to eat) through an unpeopled region and a land so low and with so many swamps and such hard going that one day he marched all day through water that in some places reached to the knees and others to the stirrups, and some passages were swum over." Giant rice farms cover that swamp today.
"He came to a deserted village, without corn called Tutelpinco (today's Arkansas Post; the French would establish an outpost there 141 years later). Near it was a lake which emptied into the river and had a strong current and force of water." That lake, which we call Dismal Swamp, is part of the Arkansas River. Runoff from Ozark Mountain snows flood it in March, causing it to swell into a "lake." When the nearby Mississippi River floods in May the flow through Dismal Swamp reverses, flooding the Arkansas River even farther upstream. The French selected Arkansas Post because midland America's great rivers' waters, from the Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, Tennessee, Cumberland, Illinois, Wabash, Arkansas and White Rivers, all flowed near it. They traded by canoe on those rivers, as did the natives before them.
"(When) five Christians... were crossing it in a canoe, the canoe overturned. Some caught hold of it and others of trees which were in the lake. One was drowned there. The governor went for a day (westward) along the lake looking for a crossing place, but he did not find it all that day nor any road leading from any other direction. Returning at night to the town, he found two peaceful Indians who showed him the crossing and the road (a route across the water) he must take. Reed frames and rafts were made from the houses, on which they crossed the lake..." the Arkansas River into today's Pendleton.
"They marched for three days (moving slowly west through today's Gould, collecting the first provisions they had seen in weeks) and reached a town of the district of Nilco, called Tianto..." as they approached Bayou Bartholomew. "We arrived at a province that seamed to us to be the best that we had come upon in all the land, which is called Anicoyanque." The others called it Nilco Province - 300,000 acres of fertile lowlands.
"Thirty Indians were captured there, among them being two of the principal men of the town. The governor sent a captain on ahead to Nilco (above the swamp east of today's Star City) with horse(men) and foot (soldiers), so that the Indians might not have any opportunity to carry off the food.
"Next day, Wednesday, March 29, the governor reached Nilco. He lodged with all his men in the chiefs town which was located on a level field, and which was all populated for a quarter of a league (three-quarters of a mile); while a league and a half distant (4 miles) were other very large towns where there was a quantity of corn, beans, walnuts, and dried plums..." on the bluffs facing east overlooking that province's massive fields.
Another says, "This was the most populous region which had been seen in Florida (North America) and more abounding in corn, with the exception of Coosa (Summerville, Georgia) and Apalache (Marianna, North Florida)... Indians came in canoes at night (probably under the full moon on Friday, March 31st) and carried off all the corn they could and set up their huts on the other side of the river (Cane Creek) in the thickest part of the forest..." around Gibson Brake.
"The Lord (Chief Guachoya of the province below Nilco) came in canoes (up Bayou Bartholomew) to make war on the lord of Nilco. Sent by him, an Indian (first) came to the governor and told him that he (the chief of Guachoya) was his servant and as such he (DeSoto) should consider him that." Then Chief Guachoya arrived. "He (DeSoto) questioned him about a settlement down the river. He said that he knew of none other except his own; and that on the other side of the (Mississippi) river was a province of a chief called Quigaltam (which included today's Greenville and Vicksburg, Mississippi). He took his leave of the governor and returned to his town.
"A few days later, the governor made up his mind to go to Guachoya (at Lake Village, southeast of Nilco on Lake Chicot, once a bend in the Mississippi River, now the largest "lake" in today's Arkansas), in order to ascertain there whether the sea (the Gulf of Mexico) were nearby, or whether there were any settlement nearby where he might subsist himself while brigantines were built which he intended to send to the land of Christians. As he was crossing the River of Nilco (Bayou Bartholomew below Star City), Indians came up (the bayou) in canoes from Guachoya, and when they saw him, thinking that he was going after them to do them some hurt, they turned back down the river and went to warn the chief.
"The latter, abandoning the town (of Lake Village) with all of his people, with all they could carry off, on that night crossed over to the other side of the great river (Lake Chicot, which looks like the Great River). The governor sent a captain and 50 men in 6 canoes down the river (Bayou Bartholomew), while he, with the rest of his men, went overland. He reached Guachoya on Sunday, April 17th and lodged himself in the chief's town, which was surrounded by a stockade, a crossbow flight from the river..." today's Lake Chicot.
MISSISSIPPI AND DEATH
"As soon as the governor reached Guachoya, he sent Juan de Anasco up the river with as many men as could get into the canoes; for when they (the soldiers) were coming from Nilco, they saw newly made huts on the other side (of the Mississippi River at Greenville)... they brought back canoes laden with corn, beans, dried plums, and many loaves made from the pulp of plums..." for which the Spaniards would pay dearly the following year.
"On that day, an Indian came to the governor in the name of the chief of Guachoya (whose house DeSoto happened to be staying in at the time) and said that his lord would come next day. On the following day, they saw many canoes coming from downstream. They assembled together for the space of an hour on the other side of the great river (Lake Chicot), debating as to whether they should come or not. At last they made up their minds and crossed the river. The chief of Guachoya came in them, bringing with him many Indians bearing a considerable quantity of fish, dogs, skins and blankets."
"As soon as they landed at the town, they went immediately to the governor's lodging and presented the gifts to him; and the chief spoke as follows: "Powerful and excellent lord; May your Lordship pardon me for the mistake I made in going away and not waiting in this town to receive you and serve you..." He (DeSoto) asked him whether he had any knowledge of the sea. He said he did not, nor of any settlement down the river from that place, except that there was a town of one of his principal Indians subject to him two leagues away (5 miles, we call it Fairview; the chief had just come from there), and on the other side (of the Mississippi River) three days' journey downstream, the province of Quigaltam, who was the greatest lord of that region," living at today's Vicksburg.
"It seemed to the governor that the chief was lying to him (given that Anasco had just been across the river into that province) in order to turn him (southward) aside from his towns, and he sent Juan de Anasco downstream with eight horse(men) to see what population there was and to ascertain whether there were any knowledge of the sea." That scouting party's departure was timed for full moon at their journey's mid-way.
Inca reported, "Meanwhile the chief of Guachoya persuaded the governor to return to the Province of Nilco (to capture and hold that chief for food and boat building supplies that summer), offering to go with his men to serve his lordship, and to facilitate the crossing of the River of Nilco (Bayou Bartholomew) he ordered 80 large canoes, besides other small ones, to be taken seven leagues (18 miles) down the great river to the mouth of the River of Nilco, which entered the Great River."
There are a series of canals which link Bayou Bartholomew and today's Dermott, 18 miles above Lake Chicot. Continuing, "They would ascend it to the village of Nilco (on Star City's bluff overlooking Bayou Bartholomew). The whole route that the canoes would have to go by both rivers would be about 20 leagues of navigation (52 miles, which is the actual distance between Lake Chicot and Star City). While the canoes were descending the Great River and ascending the River of Nilco they (DeSoto's people) would go by land, so that they could all arrive together at the village of Nilco at the same time."
"As soon as all was prepared and they brought the canoes, the governor ordered (a) company (to) go (with) them to direct and give orders to four thousand Indian warriors who were embarking in them. (They) carried their bows and arrows... (DeSoto) allowed them a period of three full days for their (canal and bayou) navigation, which seemed time enough for both parties to arrive and join one another at the village of Nilco... they all arrived at the same time in sight of the village of Nilco (under the full moon on April 29th). Though the chief was absent, its inhabitants sounded the alarm and stationed themselves to defend the crossing of the river (Bayou Bartholomew) with all possible spirit and courage. But they could not resist the fury of the enemy, who were both Indians and Spaniards, so they turned back and abandoned their village.
"The Guachoyas entered it as a village of hated enemies, and being an affronted people who desired vengeance, they sacked and robbed the temple and burial place of the lords of that state, where, besides the bodies of his dead, the chief kept his best and richest and most valued possessions, and the spoils and trophies of the greatest victories that he had won over the Guachoyas... and a large number of weapons that the Guachoyas had lost in the battles they had with the Nilcos. They refused to capture alive any person that they found in the village, regardless of sex or age, but killed them all." Despite DeSoto's attempts to stop them, the Guachoyas burned their villages to the ground. All returned to Lake Village.
About that time, Juan de Anasco returned from his downstream exploration of the Great River. Elvas says, "He was gone for a week (the time it took for the army to raid Nilco and return) and on his coming said that during that whole time he could not proceed more than 14 or 15 leagues (about 38 miles) because of the great arms leading out of the river, and the canebrakes and thick woods lying along it; and that he found no settlement."
Biedma says, "He (Anasco) returned saying that he did not find a road (a navigable waterway) nor a way to cross the large swamps along the great river." That river's spring floods peak in early-May there, when Anasco explored it. Levees line that rivers' banks today to contain that flooding, but Anasco lost track of the river's "road" because its natural curves were obscured by flooded swamps.
Elvas says, "The governor's grief was intense on seeing the small prospect he had for reaching the sea; and worse, according to the way in which his men and horses were diminishing, they could not be maintained in the land without supplies. With that thought he (DeSoto) fell sick, but before he took to his bed, he sent an Indian to tell the chief of Quigaltam (Mississippi) that he was the sun of the sun (a God) and that wherever he went all obeyed him and did him service."
To DeSoto's demands that chief replied, "Let him dry up the great river and he would believe him..." That chief's refusal to come proved to be a wise decision for his tribe, given history's course over the next few centuries. They would thrive; those of Arkansas would die off, probably of starvation and diseases brought in by DeSoto's people and animals.
"The Governor realized within himself that the hour had come in which he must leave his present life. He had the royal officials summoned, and the captains and principal persons. To them he gave a talk, saying that he was about to go....
"The next day, May 21 (of 1542), died the magnanimous, virtuous and courageous captain, Don Hernando de Soto, Governor of Cuba and ruler of Florida." His body was buried there, but one week later (under a full moon for proper tribute by his soldiers), it was dug up so the Indians could not find it, to prove to others that he was not a God once the Spaniards left. "A considerable quantity of sand was placed with the blankets in which he was shrouded, and he was taken in a canoe and cast into the middle of the river..." Lake Chicot.
Biedma says of DeSoto's passing, "The Governor, from seeing himself cut off and that not one thing could be done according to his purpose, was afflicted with sickness and died... he left Luis de Moscoso appointed as General. We (a group of officers) decided that since we could find no road (navigable waterway) to the sea, we should head west, and that it could be that we might be able to get out by land to New Spain (Mexico), if we did not find anything else (troubling) in the land or any place to halt."
Elvas says, "There were some who rejoiced at the death of Don Hernando de Soto, considering it as certain that Luis de Moscoso (who was fond of leading a gay life) would rather prefer to be at ease in a land of Christians than to continue the hardships of the war of conquest and discovery, of which they had long ago become wearied because of the little profit obtained...
"It seemed advisable to all to take the road overland toward the west, for New Spain (Mexico) lay in that direction; and they considered as more dangerous and of greater risk the voyage by sea; for no ship could be built strong enough to weather the storms, and they had no master or pilot, and no compass or sailing chart, and they did not know how far away the sea was, nor had they any information of it; nor whether the river made some great bend through the land or whether it fell over any rocks where they would perish.
"Some men who had seen the sailing chart found that the distance to New Spain along the coast in the region where they were was about 500 leagues (1,300 miles) or so. They declared that even though they might have to make detours by land, because of looking for a settlement (for food), they would not be prevented from going ahead that summer except by some great uninhabited district which they could not cross. If they found food to pass the winter in some settlement, the following summer they would reach the land of Christians."
"It might be also that by going by land, they would find some rich land from which they might profit. Although the governor's (now General Luis de Moscoso) desire was to leave the land of Florida in the shortest time possible, on seeing the difficulties which lay before him in making the voyage by sea he resolved to follow what seemed best to all. On Monday, June 5, he left Guachoya. The chief gave him a guide to Chaguate (in today's Louisiana) but remained in his village.
Louisiana Conquest Trails
Elvas says, "They passed (down Bayou Bartholomew) through a province called Catalte (southwestward to Bastrop, Louisiana, then across the bayou) and after passing through an uninhabited region for six days (westward across forested grounds), they reached Chaguate (Vienna/Ruston) on the twentieth of the month."
"The chief of that province had gone to visit the governor, Don Hernando de Soto, at Autiamque (Jacksonport, Arkansas, during the past winter) where he brought him gifts of skins, blankets, and salt."
"The governor stayed six days in Chaguete. There he got information of the people to the west. They told him that three days' journey from there was a province called Aguacay. The day he left Chaguete (on June 27th, full moon), a Christian named Francisco de Guzman, bastard son of a gentleman of Seville, remained behind. He went away to the Indians in fear lest they [the Christians] seize from him as a gaming obligation an Indian woman whom he had as a mistress and whom he took away with him."
Inca, who called this place Naguatex, says "...they missed a gentleman named Diego de Guzman. (He) had gone on this conquest as a noble and a rich man... comported himself in every way like a gentleman except that he gambled passionately."
Biedma says, "From here we went to another province that is called Aguacay. We (the horsemen) spent another three days' journey getting there, still going straight west."
Elvas continues, "On behalf of the chief of Aguacay, before reaching that province (headquartered at today's Minden), fifteen Indians came to meet him on the way with a present of skins, fish and venison. The governor reached his town on July 4. He found the town abandoned and lodged therein. He stayed there for some time, during which he made several inroads, in which many Indians, both men and women, were captured. There they heard of the south sea..." probably the Gulf of Mexico.
"...a considerable quantity of salt was made from the sand which they gathered in a vein of earth like slate and which was made as it was made in Cayas (common salt at Summersville, Missouri).
"On the day the governor left Aguacay, he went to sleep near a small town subject to the lord of that province. The camp was pitched quite near to a salt marsh, and on that evening some salt (potassium nitrate, the oxidizing agent of gun powder) was made there (as it is today, at the Louisiana Ordnance Plant). Next day he went to sleep between two ridges (they're still there, too; the twin peaks of Giddens Hill, over 400 feet high - most unusual outcroppings) in a forest of open trees.
"Next day he reached a small town called Pato (today's Bossier City). The fourth day after he left Aguacay, he reached the first settlement of a province called Amaye (at Shreveport, having crossed the Red River's logjam of that time - the provincial boundary). An Indian was captured there who said that it was a day and a half journey thence to Naguatex, all of which lay through an inhabited region."
"Having left the village of Amaye (Shreveport), on Saturday, July 20, camp was made at midday beside a brook (Cypress Bayou, the next provincial boundary) in a luxuriant grove between Amaye and Naguatex. Indians were seen there who came to spy on them. Those of horse rushed at them, killing six and capturing two." Several horsemen and horses were wounded in skirmishes which followed.
"They brought one Indian to camp alive, whom the governor asked who those were who had come to do battle with him. He said that they were the chief of Naguatex and he of Amaye and another of a province called Hacanac (all Caddoans), lord of vast lands and many vassals; and that he of Naguatex came as captain and head of all. The governor (Moscoso) ordered his right arm and his nostrils cut off and sent him to the chief of Naguatex, ordering him to say that on the morrow he would be in his land to destroy him and that if he wished to forbid him entrance, he should await him.
"That night he slept there and next day reached the (first) village of Naguatex which was very extensive (on both sides of the Sabine River). He asked where the town of the chief was and they told him it was on the other side of the (Sabine) river which ran through that district. He marched toward the river and on reaching it saw many Indians on the other side waiting for him, so posted as to forbid his passage. Since he did not know whether it was fordable, nor where it could be crossed, and since several Christians and horses were wounded, in order that they might have time to recover in the town where he was, he made up his mind to rest for a few days."
"Because of the great heat, he made camp near the village, a quarter of a league (half a mile) from the river (at today's Logansport in De Soto Parish, Louisiana), in an open forest of luxuriant and lofty trees near a brook (Bayou Castor). Several Indians were captured there (nearing the full moon of July 26th). He asked them whether the (Sabine) river was fordable. They said it was at times in certain places. Ten days later he sent two captains, each with fifteen horse(men) up and down the river with Indians to show them where they could cross, to see what population lay on the other side of the river. The Indians opposed the crossing of them both as strongly as possible, but they crossed in spite of them. On the other side they saw a large village (from Joaquin to Shelbyville, Texas) and many provisions; and returned to camp with this news."
"Four days later he (General Moscoso) departed thence, but on reaching the (Sabine) river could not cross, as it had swollen greatly. This appeared a wonderful phenomenon to him because of the season then and because it had not rained for more than a month.
"The Indians declared that it swelled often in that way without it having rained anywhere in the land. It was conjectured that it might be the sea (the Gulf of Mexico, 160 miles below Logansport) which came up through the river. It was learned that the increase always came from above, and that the Indians of all that land had no knowledge of the sea. The governor returned to the place where he had been during the preceding days. A week later, hearing that the river could be crossed, he passed to the other side..." into today's Texas on August 17th.
Texas Conquest Trails
DeSoto's army crossed the Sabine River from Logansport, Louisiana, into Texas at "Naguatex" on August 17th, 1542. They would spend 38 days wandering south and west from there, stopping at several places along their way to "large mountain ranges and forests." Scouts would explore beyond those mountains for one week. Finding no villages with stored foods, all retreated directly for 21 days back to Naguatex, arriving there during the harvest moon of October 23 for the safty it afforded during their Sabine River crossing. At their average marching rate of 12 miles per day, they retreated 250 miles. Those mountains were located at today's Austin. The army criss-crossed El Camino Real de los Tejas to them, then returned on the Old San Antonio Road, the same trails used by Texas pioneers for centuries.
Entering Texas Elvas says, "He lodged in the open field (out of the hills around today's Center) and sent word to the chief (at Shelbyville) to come where he was and give him a guide for the forward journey. A few days later, seeing that the (chief) did not come... he sent two captains, each in a different direction, to burn the towns and capture any Indians they might find.
Over the next several days, "They burned many provisions and captured many Indians. The chief, on beholding the damage that his land was receiving, sent six of his principal men and three Indians with them as guides who knew the (Tonkawan) language of the region ahead where the governor was about to go.
"We immediately left Naguatex and after marching three days reached a town of four or five (large communal) houses, belonging to the chief of that miserable province called Nisohone (today's Nacogdoches, beyond the Attoyoc River, the provincial boundary). Two days later, the guides who were guiding the governor, if they had to go toward the west, guided them toward the east, and sometimes they went through dense forests, wandering off the road (southwest of Nacogdoches to a bad crossing at the Angelina River, the provincial boundary). The governor ordered them hanged from a tree, and an Indian woman, who had been captured at Nisohone, guided him, and he went back to look for the road."
"Two days later (under the full moon of August 25th, having found El Camino Real de los Tejas at Douglass then crossing the Angelina River westward along it) he reached another wretched land called Lacane..." at Alto, just above Caddoan Mounds State Park. "There he captured an Indian who said that the land of Nondacao (Province, which Lacane was part of) was a very populous region and the houses scattered about one from another as is customary in mountains, and that there was abundance of corn." Alto has 17 named mountains up to 700 feet high, higher than any the army had seen that year. The next day they crossed the Neches River into today's Mission Tejas, from which Texas got its name.
Elvas continues, "The chief (of Nondacao) and his Indians came weeping like those of Naguatex, that being their custom in token of obedience." He brought "a great quantity of fish... and gave him a guide to the Province of Soacatino..." several provinces down the road. "The governor departed from Nandacao (Village at Mission Tejas) for Soacatino and after he had marched for five days (passing through today's Crockett) arrived at the province called Aays (by crossing the Trinity River). The Indians who lived there had not heard of Christians (they probably spoke the Tonkawan language), and as soon as they perceived that they had entered their lands, the country was aroused. As soon as fifty or a hundred had gathered together, they would go out on the road to fight... The affair lasted the greater part of the day before they reached the village..." of Aays, today's Centerville, just below today's Buffalo, "where cows (buffalo) are in the habit of gathering..." according to Biedma.
In Inca's first statement about Texas, he says at Aays, "Returning to our Castilians, whom we left eager to travel (away from DeSoto's gravesite at Lake Village, Arkansas) - a long distance and they were later to regret having traveled so far... marching through the provinces we (he) could not name, because we (he) do not know what their names were, and through which they marched for more than a hundred leagues (it's 114 leagues from Lake Village to Centerville) - at the end of this distance they came to a province called Aays... The villages were not like the others they had seen, but were scattered through the fields in groups of four or five, badly built and worse arranged (a Tonkawan habit), looking more like huts of melon growers than dwellings. But for all this they satisfied their hunger with a quantity of fresh beef (buffalo) they (the Spaniards) found in them. They also found fresh cowhides, though they never saw the cattle alive nor would the Indians ever say where they got them."
Elvas says, "The day the governor departed thence, the Indian who was guiding them said that he had heard (Chief) Nondacao say that the Indians of Soacatino had seen Christians. At this all were very glad, as they thought it might be true and that they might have entered New Spain (Mexico)... and that, if it were so, they would have it in their power to get out of Florida, since they had found nothing of profit, for they feared lest they get lost in some unpeopled region."
Inca says, "our people left Aays, and in two days' march they reached the uninhabited country (starting at the Navasota River, the eastern boundary of Soacatino Province which Inca called "Vaqueros (cowboys), because of the meat and hides of cattle (buffalo) that they found in it"), through which they traveled four more days over a wide road that seemed to be a public highway..." to Hearne on the east bank of the Brazos River.
Biedma says of that four-day journey, "the Indians guided us east to other towns, which were small and had little food, saying that they were leading us to where there were other Christians like us. It seemed afterward to be a lie and that they could not have news of any others but us; since we had made so many turns, in some of these they must have heard of our passing." Inca says, "The governor, being angered by this... ordered that he be tied to a tree and mastiffs (bulldogs) let loose upon him. One of (the dogs) shook and dragged him badly."
Elvas says of that journey, "We marched for twenty days (beyond Aays to the end of their Texas trail) through a poorly populated region where they endured great need and suffered; for the little corn the Indians had they hid in the forests and buried... On reaching a province called Guasco (at Hearne on the Brazos River, still in Vaqueros Province by Inca's reckoning), they found maize with which they loaded the horses and the Indians (women) whom they were taking..." during their 3 day stopover.
"Thence they went to another village called Naquiscoga (eleven miles west of Hearne in the Little River Valley). The Indians said they had never heard of other Christians. The governor ordered them put to the torture, and they said that other Christians had reached another domain ahead called Nacacahoz and had returned thence toward the west whence they had come.
"The governor (Moscoso, with his guard and without the army) reached Nacacahoz (today's Killeen/Copperas Cove) and some Indian women were captured there. Among them was one who said that she had seen Christians and that she had been in their hands but had escaped. The governor sent a captain and fifteen horse(men) to the place where the Indian woman said she had seen them, in order to ascertain whether there were any trace of horses or any token of their having reached there.
"After having gone three or four leagues, the Indian woman who was guiding them said that all she had said was a lie; and so they considered what the other Indians had said about having seen Christians in the land of Florida. And inasmuch as the land thereabout was very poor in (planted) maize, and there was no tidings of any village westward (in the desert beyond Copperas Cove), they returned to Guasco..." near the Brazos River where the army had waited, having ridden 140 miles in four days.
Elvas continues, "There the Indians told them that ten days' journey thence toward the west was a river called Daycao where they sometimes went to hunt in the mountains and to kill deer; and that on the other side of it they had seen people, but did not know what village it was. There the Christians took what maize they found and could carry and after marching for ten days (79 miles pillaging ripe grains from the fields) through an unpeopled region (the Indians had fled) reached the river of which the Indians had spoken..." the Colorado River at today's Austin, on their twentieth day out of Aays, September 24th, 1542, full moon, their 38th day in Texas by Elvas' reckoning.
Biedma says of the last part of their journey, "We turned south again, with purpose of living or dying traversing to New Spain (Mexico), and we walked about six (or ten) days journey south and southwest. There we halted..." at Austin.
Inca says, "The Castilians (had) traveled through the (last part of the) province they named that of the Vaqueros for more than thirty leagues (79 miles). At the end of them that poor settlement ceased, and they saw that there were large mountain ranges and forests to the west..." thirteen forested mountains, ranging to 1150 feet high, on Austin's horizon.
The End of the Line
Austin was the end of DeSoto's army's westward trail. Scouting parties were sent out "to see if they could find some town in order to replenish the corn so we could continue on our way..." according the King's Agent. They "sent ten men on swift horses to travel eight or nine days, or as many as they were able... and they traveled as far as they could (southwest beyond today's San Antonio or northwest up the Colorado River to the Llano River) and came upon some poor people who did not have houses, but rather some miserable little settlements where they situated themselves, and they neither sowed nor gathered anything but rather maintained themselves only on fish and meat. They brought three or four of these Indians. We found no one who could understand the interpreter..."
Elvas says of another scouting party: "Ten of horse, whom the governor had sent on ahead, crossed over to the other side (of the Colorado River), and went along the road leading to the (Llano or Guadalupe) river. They came upon an encampment of Indians who were living in very small huts. As soon as they (the Indians) saw them they took to flight, abandoning their possessions, all of which were wretchedness and poverty. The land was so poor that, among them all, they did not find much maize. Those of horse captured two Indians and returned with them to the river where the governor was awaiting them (at Austin). They continued to question them in order to learn from them the population to the westward, but there was no Indian in the camp who understood their language."
Inca says three scouting parties were sent out: "Many Indians whom they (the scouts) had captured and others who had received them peacefully had told them that it was true that there were Indians (in the deserts) beyond, but they did not inhabit settled villages, nor have houses in which to live, nor cultivate their lands. They were a nomadic people who wandered in bands, gathering such fruits, herbs, and roots as the land afforded them of itself, and they supported themselves by hunting and fishing, moving from one place to another according to the advantages the seasons gave them in their fisheries and hunting grounds. All three parties brought this report, differing little from one another."
The army had pillaged the Austin area while the scouts were away. Elvas says, "The governor (Moscoso) ordered the captains and principal persons summoned (once all had reassembled at Austin, five days after having reached that point), in order to plan what he should do after hearing their opinions. Most of them said that in their opinion they should return to the great river of Guachoya (the Mississippi River at Lake Village, Arkansas), for there was plenty of corn at Nilco and thereabout. They said that during the winter they would make brigantines and the following summer they would descend the (Mississippi) river in them to look for a sea (the Gulf of Mexico), and once having reached the sea, they would coast along it to New Spain (Mexico), which, although it seemed a difficult thing it was their last resort because they could not travel by land for lack of an interpreter.
Inca says, "Governor Luis de Moscoso and his captains, having heard this fine report about the road by which they had promised themselves to come out in the territory of New Spain (Mexico), and having discussed the matter and considered the difficulties of their journey, decided not to go farther in order not to perish of hunger while lost in those deserts, of which they did not know the extent, but to go back in search of the same Great (Mississippi) River that they had left. It now seemed to them that to get out of the kingdom of La Florida (North America) there was no more certain route than going down the river and coming out into the North Sea." The world's seas were envisioned by the Spaniards as laying north and south of Panama. The South Sea, the Pacific Ocean, was first sighted below Panama by their kinsman Balboa. The North Sea was the Atlantic Ocean, a bay of which was the Gulf of Mexico, to their way of thinking.
Elvas says, the officers "maintained that the land beyond the river of Daycao (the Colorado River), where they were, was the land which Cabeza de Vaca said in his relation he had traveled (he probably traveled through San Antonio then west, up the Rio Grande, which the army mistook the Colorado River for), and was of Indians who wandered about like Arabs without having a settled abode anywhere, subsisting on prickly pears (cactus buds), the roots of plants and the game they killed. And if that were so, if they entered it and found no food in order to pass the winter, they could not help but perish, for it was already the beginning of October (one week after arriving at Austin); and if they stayed longer, they could not turn back because of the waters and snows, nor could they feed themselves in such a poor land.
"The governor, who was desirous now of getting a good night's sleep, rather than govern and conquer a land where so many hardships presented themselves to him, at once turned back to the place whence they had come. When the plan determined on was published in the camp, there were many who regretted it keenly, for they considered the journey by sea as doubtful on account of their lack of equipment, and as risky as the journey overland; and they hoped to find a rich land before reaching the land of Christians, because of what Cabeza de Vaca had told the emperor. This was that, while he had found cotton cloth, he had seen gold and silver and precious gems of much value. They had not yet reached the place where he had gone, for he had gone continually along the coast up to that point and they had gone inland.
"If they traveled toward the west, they would of necessity have to come out whither he had gone. For he said that he had traveled many days in a certain direction and had penetrated inland toward the north. Already at Guasco, they (DeSoto's Army) had found some turquoises and cotton blankets which the Indians gave them to understand by signs were brought from the west; and if they took that way, they would reach the land of Christians. But in addition to this they were greatly discontented, and it grieved many of them to turn back, for they would rather have risked death in the land of Florida than to leave it poor."
Escape from Texas
Elvas says, "From Daycao (Austin, where they were) "it was 150 leagues (400 miles, a precise measure) to the great (Mississippi) river, a distance they had marched continually to the westward" given the 10 degree westerly compass declination at that time. The King's Agent says, "We returned along the same road that we had followed until we arrived at the town where the Governor had died..." which would take less than two months (Inca says one month) marching back to Lake Village, Arkansas, while searching for food at forty-one different campsites along their way back to the Mississippi River.
The army timed its departure from Austin to arrive at Naguatex, twenty-one campsites back, during the week of October harvest moon on the 23rd in order to safely cross the broad Sabine River. Some of the men told Inca, "they learned that by returning by a circular route to the right of the one by which they had come, the road they would travel would be shorter." We call it the Old San Antonio Road. "On learning this, they made haste to leave those bad lands of the Vaqueros (Soacatino Province), and they marched in an arc toward the south... and made long daily marches for twenty days..."
Elvas says, "and crossed the river before Aays (the Brazos River before reaching Centerville), and going down it came to a town called Chilano, which they had not seen until then..." today's Bryan/College Station.
They departed Austin southeastward, down the Colorado River toward Bastrop, gathering what they could along that river's rich banks. According to Inca, "It seemed to them that they were going too far down from the Province of Guachoya (Lake Village, Arkansas), to which they wished to return, so they turned toward the east, taking care always to ascend somewhat to the north." They followed Old San Antonio Road, first to Bryan then to Crockett, then on to Naguatex, which they struck on harvest moon.
Inca says of their journey to Naguatex, "severe winter set in, with much rain, cold, and hard wind. Since they wished to reach their intended destination, they did not fail to march every day, no matter how bad the weather, and they reached their camping places soaked with water and covered with mud. There they never found food without going after it, and most of the time they got it by force of arms and in exchange for their lives and blood... Though the Castilians traveled taking care not to injure the Indians, so as not to incite them to make war upon them, and though they made long daily marches so as to leave their provinces quickly, the natives did not allow them to pass in peace."
Elvas says, "On the backward journey, they found corn to eat with great difficulty, for where they had already passed the land was left devastated (by the army), and any corn which the Indians had, they had hidden. The towns which they had burned in Naguatex, which was now regretted by them, had now been rebuilt and the houses were full of corn." The Caddoan people who lived there had avoided the Spaniards so they were not as effected by foreign diseases as other tribes around them. "This region was very populated and well supplied with food."
Back thru LOUISIANA to Arkansas
Inca summarized this part of the trip: "On many nights their hardships were so excessive that, because of the great amounts of mud, they could not find dry ground to rest on. The mounted men slept on their horses. The manner in which the foot soldiers rested is left to the imagination of the reader... On this last journey that our people made after the death of Governor Hernando de Soto they traveled, going and returning, and counting the expedition that the scouts made (beyond Austin), more than 350 leagues..." 910 miles, a remarkably accurate measure of twisted trails.
Boat Building in Arkansas
Hernando de Soto's army re-entered Arkansas in the middle of November, 1542, when their climate felt like ours does in December. The King's Agent says, "Having arrived here (at Lake Village, where DeSoto had died), we did not find as good provisions as we thought, because we did not find food in the town, since the Indians had hidden it. We had to look for another town in order to be able to winter and fashion the ships."
That week, at Star City above Lake Village, under the November full moon, Elvas says, "Reaching Nilco they found so little corn that it did not suffice for the (time it would take) building ships. The cause of this was that when the Christians were at Guachoya (Lake Village) at seedtime, the Indians had not dared sow the lands of Nilco for fear of them; and they knew no other land thereabout where there was any (abundance of) corn. That was the most fertile land thereabout and where they had most hope of finding corn. They were all thrown into confusion; and most of them thought it had been a bad plan to have turned back from Daycao (Austin, Texas)... for there was neither pilot nor chart, they did not know where the (Mississippi) river entered the sea, they had no information concerning the latter; they had nothing with which to make sails nor calk nor pitch."
Biedma says, "Thank God we discovered two towns much to our purpose that were on the great river and had a great quantity of corn and were palisaded..." Elvas says, "They left Nilco at the beginning of December."
Biedma continues, "And there we halted and built our ships with much labor." Elvas says, "At a distance of two days' journey thence, near the great river were two towns of which the Christians had never heard, called Aminoya... in an open and level ground, at a half league's distance (1.3 miles) apart..." just below today's Pine Bluff on the Arkansas River's big bend flats.
Inca says, "They found on the banks of the river in the place where they happened to reach it, two villages near one another, each having 200 houses. A moat of water taken from the river itself surrounded them both and formed an island... sixteen leagues up the river from the village of Guachoya (Province downstream near Arkansas Post)." There are several islands just west of Pine Bluff on firm, flat ground behind International Paper's giant pulp mill. "(The army) formed a squadron that still numbered more than 320 infantry (soldiers) and 70 cavalry (horsemen), and attacked one of the villages, whose inhabitants abandoned it without making any defense..."
"It was surrounded with a stockade and was a quarter of a league from the great river..." says Elvas. Inca continued, "our forces attacked the other village and gained it with equal facility."
Tons of corn and other vegetables were moved into one town; the other was torn down for firewood and shelter. Inca says, "That village and its province were called Aminoya. It was 16 leagues (42 miles) up the river from the Province of Guachoya (the northern boundary of which was below Arkansas Post). Seeing that the last days of January of the year 1543 had now come, they gave orders for cutting timber for making the brigantines in which they intended to go by way of the river down to the North Sea (the Atlantic Ocean; a gulf of which, the Gulf of Mexico, was their destination). There was a great abundance of timber throughout the vicinity (that's why they call it Pine Bluff). They worked diligently to obtain the other things that were needed, such as rigging, tow, resin from trees for tar, blankets for sails, oars, and nails. Everyone applied himself to this work very busily and willingly."
Elvas adds, "For building ships, there was there the best wood they had seen in all the land of Florida..." the paper mill uses it today. Inca says of his informant, upon meeting an old woman there, was asked where his people planned to winter given that, "every fourteen years that Great River overflowed its bed and covered the whole country, and the natives took refuge in the top floors of the houses; and she said that year was the fourteenth."
Elvas says, "As soon as they were come to Aminoya, the governor (Moscoso) ordered the chains which each one had brought for his Indians (as harnesses) and all the other iron in the camp to be collected. He ordered a forge set up, nails made, and timber cut for building brigantines... and with one who knew how to build ships... four or five carpenters, who hewed the planks for him, built the brigantines... The Indians of a province located two days' journey up the river, by name Tagoanate (today's Little Rock, called "Guahate" by a tribe in Northeastern Arkansas the year before), as well as those of Nilco and Guachoya and others roundabout (near Toltec Mounds on the river's north bank), seeing that the brigantines were being built... frequently came and brought an abundance of fish..." probably to hasten the army's departure.
Chief Nilco dispatched a relative to appease the army with offerings and several days later Chief Gouchoya brought his people in, "and every eight days they went to their houses and returned with new presents and offerings," according to Inca. "Having calculated what size the brigantines would have to be in order to hold all the people who must embark on them, we found that we would need seven... the necessary materials were gathered for this number of brigantines, and in order to prevent the winter rains from hindering the work, we built four very large shelters that served as dockyards (there are a number of dockyards there today), where we all labored equally... Some sawed the timber to make boards, others finished it with iron axes, others beat iron into nails, others made charcoal, others fashioned oars, and others twisted the ropes.
"Our people were engaged in these activities throughout the months of February, March and April... (while) the Indians brought many blankets, new and old." Blankets were used for sail making. Nilco, the closest friendly chief, provided more than the other tribes and warned the Spaniards of pending attacks by others. "Thus it must be known that opposite the village of Guachoya (Lake Village) on the other side of the Great (Mississippi) River, there was a very large province called Quigualtanqui (starting at today's Greenville, Mississippi) abounding in food and well populated. Its lord was young and warlike and was beloved and obeyed throughout his state and feared in the others because of his great power."
"On the 18th of March 1543, which that year fell on Palm Sunday while the Spaniards were marching in procession... the river rose so furiously and with such a rush that it entered the gates of the village of Aminoya, and two days thereafter one could not go through the streets except in canoes... before this rise reached its greatest height, which was on the 20th of April." The spring thaw of the nearby Ozark Mountains, as mentioned earlier, caused the Arkansas River's early flood. "At the end of April the river began to recede as slowly as it had risen... by the end of May the river was back in its bed."
Elvas says, "The building of the brigantines (was) completed in the month of June - it being summer and a long time having passed since it had rained - the river rose up to the town until it reached the brigantines, whence they were taken by water to the river." The Mississippi River's spring flood, which occurs well after the Arkansas River's, had backed up into the Arkansas River causing the second flood at Pine Bluff.
Inca says, "They butchered the hogs, which they had hitherto kept for breeding in spite of all their past hardships, and they still reserved 18 of them... they gave three, two females and one male for breeding, to each of the friendly chiefs. The meat of those that were killed was salted for the journey... they provided canoes to carry the horses that they had remaining... The canoes were fastened together by twos, so that the horses could be carried ("they killed 20 of the 50 that remained" for meat and hides)... each brigantine carried one canoe at the stern to serve as a ship's boat... they busied themselves in embarking the ship-stores and the horses, and in dressing the brigantines and the canoes with boards and skins of animals as a defense against the arrows."
The Great River Journey
"They abandoned 500 Indians (slaves)... among whom were many boys and girls who spoke and understood Spanish... three hundred and twenty-two Spaniards left Aminoya in seven brigantines, of good construction except that the planks were thin because of the shortness of the spikes and they were not pitched. They had no decks by which to keep the water from coming in. In place of decks, they laid planks so that the sailors could go above to fasten the sails and the men might be sheltered below and above.
"The governor appointed captains of them and gave each one his brigantine, taking from each one his oath and word that he would be obedient to him until reaching the land of the Christians. The governor took one of the brigantines for himself - the one he considered best... They left Aminoya (on the Arkansas River) the second day of July, 1543..." the day before the darkness of new moon. "They passed Guachoya (at Arkansas Post) where (friendly) Indians were awaiting them in canoes on the river... the Indians accompanied the governor's ship in their canoes. Coming to where an arm of the river led off to the right (into the Mississippi River), they said the Province of Quigualtam lay nearby. The Indians importuned the governor to go make war on them, and said that they would aid them. But since they said that Quigaltam laid three days' journey below (at Vicksburg verses Greenville, where they had visited Chief Quigaltam), it seemed to the governor that the Indians had planned some treachery against him. There he took leave of them and proceeded on his voyage where the force of the water was greater. The current was very powerful and, aided by rowing, they journeyed at a good rate."
"The first day (along the Mississippi River) they landed (to feed the horses) in a wood on the left side of the river (probably in Bolivar County, Mississippi) and at night they slept in the brigantines (moored inside the river's bend). Next day they came to a town (today's Mound Landing) where they landed, but the people there did not dare await them. An Indian woman whom they captured there, on being questioned, said that that town belonged to a chief called Huhasene, a vassal of Quigaltam, and that Quigaltam was awaiting them with many men. Men of horse went down the river and found some houses in which was considerable maize. They (in the brigantines) immediately went there and stopped for a day, during which they threshed out and gathered what maize they needed..." at Greenville, among hostile Quigaltam Indians. Just below that point they took the Mississippi River's left fork to bypass Lake Village, else they would have mentioned passing the place where DeSoto's body had been submerged in Lake Chicot the year before.
The Indians, "going ahead of them (in canoes), when they reached a town near a bluff (Vicksburg, the headquarters of Quigaltam Province), they (the Indians) all united, as if to show that they were a mind to wait there (to attack the Spaniards). Each brigantine had a canoe fastened astern, for its use. Men immediately entered them all and put the Indians to flight. He (the governor) burned the town. Then on that day they landed at a large open field where the Indians did not dare await them. Next day, the Indians got together one hundred canoes, some of which held sixty or seventy Indians, and the principal men with their awnings with white and colored plumes of feathers... came down upon the Spaniards..." who were also in canoes ahead of the brigantines. Eleven Spaniards in canoes were surrounded and killed.
"The Indians, on seeing that they had gained the victory, were so greatly encouraged that they went out to engage the brigantines which they had not dared to do before... twenty-five men were wounded... they circulated from one (brigantine) to another of them all... The Christians had brought (woven) mats... and the brigantines were hung with them (to block the arrows)... they resolved to travel all that night, thinking that they would pass by the land of Quigualtam and that the Indians would leave them..." but they did not. Within a day the Indians of Natchez joined in the attacks.
Upon entering Louisiana, "Those (Indians) of Quigualtam (Mississippi) returned to their own lands, and the others in fifty canoes continued to fight for a whole day and night... but, because of the slowness with which we sailed (with horses in canoes in tow), the governor made up his mind to land and kill the horses. We loaded the meat into the brigantines after salting it but left five of the horses alive on the shore... the Indians went up to them after we had embarked. The horses were unused to them and began to neigh and run about in various directions, whereat the Indians jumped into the water for fear of them.
"Entering their canoes behind the brigantines (somewhere above Baton Rouge), they continued to shoot at them without any pity and followed us that afternoon (past Baton Rouge) and night until 10 o'clock the next morning, and then went back upstream. Soon seven canoes came out from a small town (possibly Donaldsonville) located near the river and followed them for a short distance down the river shooting at them... But seeing that because of their small number they were doing them (the Christians) little injury, they went back to their town. After that they had no trouble (passing through what would become New Orleans), until they came almost to the sea... (where the river) divided into two branches, each of which was about a league and a half (4 miles) wide."
The Mississippi River Delta below New Orleans has changed dramatically in the five centuries since DeSoto's Army was there - more so than any other shoreline in North America. It has been enlarged by millions of tons of soil which have eroded down America's Great River due to interior deforestation and intense agricultural activity since conquistadors were here.
The Louisiana Coast
Elvas says, "A half a league (just over a mile) before they came to the sea (the Gulf of Mexico near Belize under a full moon), they anchored for a day to rest because they were very tired from rowing (for steerage down the river) and greatly disheartened because of the many days during which they had eaten nothing but parched and boiled corn, which was doled out in a ration of a leveled-off helmet to each mess (group) of three (men). While we were there, seven canoes of Indians came to attack the Christians... The governor ordered armed men to enter the canoes (which had made it downriver) and go against the Indians and put them to flight.
"The Indians also came to attack us by land through a thicket and a swamp (as they had done against Cabeza de Vaca, near the same place, a decade earlier). The Indians had clubs set with very sharp fish bones." Inca says, "An Indian the size of a Philistine (had a) dart, or long arrow, with three barbs in the place of one (at the tip)... The barb in the center was a handbreadth longer than the two on the sides... (like) harpoons and not smooth points."
This observation, the last of a very hostile Indian in North America, may well have inspired today's "Devil" image which was born in Europe in the 1540's just after news of DeSoto's defeat arrived there. That image - a tall, slender, body hairless red man, with a three-pronged spear in hand - survives to this day. According to the Spaniards, North America was the Devil's domain, given its defeat of four Great Conquistadors: Juan Ponce de Leon, Panfilo de Narvaez, Vazquez de Ayllon and, now, Hernando de Soto.
"They stayed there for two days (during full moon, probably to inspect and patch their ships hulls on the spring tides). From thence they went to the place where the branch of the river flowed into the sea." They would spend the next fifty-five days making their way to a Spanish outpost in New Spain (Mexico). "They took soundings in the river near the sea and found a depth of forty fathoms (over 200 feet)... On July 18th, 1543, they put out to sea (along the coast) and undertook their voyage amid calm and fair weather."
They sailed for three days in fresh water, thanks to the Great River's estuaries. "That night they saw some (Indian fires on the) keys on the right (East Island, where Cabeza de Vaca had lived for six years before escaping across Texas the decade before), whither they went..." for food, water and firewood.
They sailed for the next four days offshore, out of sight of land, over the shoals of Maringouin. A storm blew them onto Pecan Island where they had to dig near the shoreline for fresh water. When the storm ceased, they sailed westward for two more days and entered a small creek (Calcasieu Pass). When they departed, they were caught in a storm which washed five of the seven brigantines ashore just east of Sabine Pass (below Port Arthor). When the sea calmed the next day, all reassembled in Sabine Lake, where they stayed for two days during the new moon of July 31st, 1543, to careen their vessels on the spring tides and to gather food and water.
Coastal Texas to New Spain
"They sailed another two days (from Port Arthor and into Texas) and anchored at a bay or arm of the sea (Gilchrist) where they stayed two days. They sailed another two days and anchored at a bay or arm of the sea (Galveston Bay) where they stayed (behind the island) for two days... six men went up the bay in a canoe but did not come to its head. They left there with a south wind which was against them (through San Louis Pass), but since it was light and their desire to shorten their voyage great, they went out by going into the sea, and journeyed for two days... with great toil, a very little distance, and entered behind and islet (San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge) by means of a branch of the sea (Matagorda Bay) which surrounded it. There was an abundance of fish there." The Colorado River empties into that bay - a natural spawning ground for hundreds of species.
The men say that on this, their 23rd day at sea, they entered behind a series of four or five islets close to the mainland. Those islets, East and West Matagorda, San Jose, Mustang and Padre Islands, extend 250 miles from there to Mexico. Before they left they pitched their boats for eight days spanning the August full moon. Friendly Indians, probably from up the Colorado River, visited them several times. When the Spaniards departed they sailed for thirteen days, resting for three days along their intercoastal journey, averaging 25 miles per day.
They drifted out Brazos Santiago Pass at the south end of Padre Island on August 31st. "Juan de Anasco said that they would do well to put out to sea, for he had seen the sailing chart and remembered that the coast ran north and south from the river of Palmas on (south from the Rio Grande to the river of Panico, Spain's nearest outpost), and that so far it had run east and west. According to his opinion, judging by his reckonings, the river of Palmas ought not to be far from where they were." That night, during the darkness of new moon, they sailed past the mouth of the Rio Grande and into Mexican waters, stopping every three days along that way for drinking water.
On the night of September 9th, 1543, and under a nearly full moon, "They put out to sea and in the morning, over the rim of the water, beheld palm trees and the coast running north and south; and from noon on great mountains which they had not seen thitherto; for from that point to the port of Espiritu Santo where they had entered Florida, it was a very level and low land, and for that reason (mountains) could not be seen except when they were very close to it.
"Two brigantines which sailed that night with all sails set passed the river of Panico at dawn without seeing it. The first to arrive of the five which were behind was that of which Calderon was captain. For a quarter of a league before they reached it, and before they saw it, they saw the water was muddy and perceived that it was fresh. Coming opposite the river, they saw that water was breaking over a shoal where it flowed into the sea. Because there was no one there who knew it, they were in doubt as to whether they should enter or pass by at a distance.
"They made up their minds to enter, and they put in to land before reaching the current, and entered the port. As soon as they were inside, they saw Indians, both men and women, on the shore, clad according to the Spanish custom, whom they asked in what land they were.
"They replied in the Spanish language that that was the river of Panico and that the town of the Christians (today's Panuco) was fifteen leagues inland. The joy received by all at this news could not be wholly told. For it seemed to them that then they had received birth. Many leaped ashore and kissed the ground and kneeling down with hands and eyes raised to heaven, one and all ceased not to give thanks to God. As soon as those who were coming behind saw Calderon with his brigantine anchored in the river, they immediately set out thither and entered the port.
"The two other brigantines which had passed beyond, put out to sea in order to turn back to look for the others, but they could not because the wind was against them and the sea was choppy. Fearing lest they be lost, they ran toward the land and anchored. While there, a storm came up, and seeing that they could not hold themselves there, nor less in the sea, they determined to run up on the land. And as the brigantines were small, they drew but little water, and as there was a sandy beach there, the force of their sails drove them to dry land without harm coming to the men in them.
"At that time, if those in the port were very joyful, these (on the beach) felt a double sadness in their hearts, for they knew nothing of the others, nor in what land they were, and feared lest it be one of hostile Indians. They came out two leagues below the port, and as soon as they found themselves free of the sea, each one took as much of his clothing as he could carry on his back. They went inland and found Indians who told them where they were, whereat their sorrow was turned into joy. They gave many thanks to God for having delivered them from so many dangers."
I shall be forever grateful to my uncle, J.D. William Goza of Gainesville, for introducing me to stories of Hernando de Soto and the "The Ride of the Thirty Lancers" 40 years ago; To Dr. Brent Weisman for showing me, in the fields of Florida, the importance of archaeology, and for his insistence that I write my observations; To Mr. Lee Sultzman of Arizona for sharing his profound knowledge of Southern and Midwestern Native American cultural groups; To Jeremiah Wolfe of the Eastern Band of Cherokee for translating Cherokee names in ancient Spanish documents; To Dr. Douglas E. Jones of Huntsville for explaining Alabama's geography and resources while in those fields; To Dr. Lawrence A. Clayton of Tuscaloosa for his wonderful friendship and for sharing his knowledge of DeSoto's activity in Peru; To the late Dr. Frederick P. Bowser of Stanford, and Dr. Thomas J. Nechyba of Duke, who both painstakingly criticized my work, corrected my grammar and encouraged me to proceed; To Dr. Jeffrey P. Brain of Harvard, Dr. Vernon J. Knight, Jr., and Dr. Ian W. Brown, both of the University of Alabama, for personally defining realistic considerations for me to keep in mind while tracking DeSoto; To Dr. Francis G. Crowley of Missouri, Dr. James J. Miller of the Museum of Florida History, Tallahassee, Dr. Lynda Norene Shaffer of Boston, and Dr. Jose B. Fernandez of UCF Orlando who listened, read my manuscripts and provided much practical constraint and realistic insight; To Mr. Gary Kunkel of Waynesville, North Carolina, who painstakingly hauled and canoed me through Great Smokey Mountain Valleys; To Mr. James M. Cooper, my friend in Tampa who cheerfully edited my work; To Mz. Cheryl Lucente, who drew most of the black and white images on these pages; and to those wonderful pioneers who recorded, transported, published, translated and preserved the DeSoto Chronicles in our libraries; and to the fishermen, firemen, hunters, landowners and common people everywhere who showed me places I could never have otherwise seen or put into perspective with DeSoto's extraordinary journey across this wonderful country.
Indian Place Names
Conquest Lunar Activity
Moon Phase Date Desoto's activity/place
First Year, 1539
New Moon, May 18, DeSoto sailed from Havana
Full Moon, Jun. 01, DeSoto landed in Florida
New Moon, Jul. 15, troops left port for interior
Full Moon, Jul. 30, troops cross Great Swamp
New Moon, Aug. 14, massacre of Florida natives
Full Moon, Aug. 29, troops to Suwannee River
Full Moon, Sep. 27, raids around Tallahassee
New Moon, Oct. 12, Anasco lost in darkness
Harvest M, Oct. 27, Lancers cross Great Swamp
New Moon, Nov. 10, Spring Tides to leave port
Second Year, 1540
Full Moon, Mar. 22, at large town in Georgia
Full Moon, Apr. 21, army lost in South Carolina
Full Moon, May 20, entered North Carolina
Full Moon, Jun. 19, women demanded for men
New Moon, Jul. 4, DeSoto thrashes bad men
Full Moon, Jul. 18, weekend entered Coosa, GA
Full Moon, Aug. 17, scouts sent beyond Coosa
New Moon, Aug. 31, into Ulibahali, Alabama
Full Moon, Sep. 16, struck Tallassee, Alabama
Harvest M, Oct. 15, Cahaba, Tuscalusa's home
Full Moon, Nov. 14, leave Mabila - northbound
New Moon, Nov. 28, rafted Black Warrior River
Full Moon, Dec. 13, approach Tennessee River
Third Year, 1541
New Moon, Apr. 26, war at fortress Alibamo
Full Moon, May 09, army enters Kentucky
New Moon, Jun. 24, entered Vincennes, Indiana
Full Moon, Jul. 08, scouts head for Chicago, IL
Full Moon, Aug. 06, struck large Illinois town
Full Moon, Sep. 06, crossed the Mississippi River
Harvest M, Oct. 05, strike on Tulla, Missouri
New Moon, Oct. 19, entered Northern Arkansas
Full Moon, Nov. 03, settled at Jacksonport
Fourth Year, 1542
New Moon, Mar. 16, White River crossed, snows
Full Moon, Mar. 31, Star City area explored
New Moon, Apr. 15, moved to Lake Village
Full Moon, Apr. 29, explored Mississippi River
Half Moon, May 21, DeSoto died, buried in dark
Full Moon, May 28, body dug up, placed in river
Full Moon, Jun. 27, inside Louisiana, new leader
Full Moon, Jul. 26, Sabine River in Louisiana heat
Full Moon, Aug. 25, Caddoan Mounds, Texas
Full Moon, Sep. 24, explored west of Austin
Harvest M, Oct. 23, army returns to Naguatex
Full Moon, Nov. 22, strike Pine Bluff, Arkansas
Last Year, 1543
Full Moon, Apr. 20, Arkansas riverbank flooded
New Moon, Jul. 02, launch - pass Greenville, MS
Full Moon, Jul. 16, reached the Gulf of Mexico
New Moon, Jul. 31, Sabine Lake, careen vessels
Full Moon, Aug. 14, at Matagorda for 8 days
New Moon, Aug. 30, pass the Rio Grande River
Full Moon, Sep. 13, into Mexico - free at last
Lunar Circumstance Tables compiled by Dr. Dennis L. Mammana, Resident Astronomer, Natural Science Center, Balboa Park, San Diego, California - published July 4th, 1997. This was the first lunar intelligence ever used in the study of Hernando de Soto's conquest.
Black, Glenn A. 1967 Angel Site, an Archaeological, Historical and Ethnological Study, Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis.
Blake, Alan 1988 Legua Legal of Legua Comun: A Discussion, DeSoto Working Paper #5, University of Alabama, W.S. Hoole Special Collection, Tuscaloosa.
Bolton, Herbert Eugene 1920 The Colonization of North America, MacMillan Co, N.Y.
Bourne, Edward Gaylord 1922 Narratives of the Career of Hernando de Soto in the Conquest of Florida, as told by a Knight of Elvas, and in the Relation of the Island of Florida by Luys Hernandez de Biedma, University of Michigan Library.
Brain, Jeffrey P. 1985 Introduction: Update of the De Soto Studies Since the United States De Soto Commission Report in the Reprint of the Final Report of the United States De Soto Expedition Commission, 76th. Congress, 1st. Session, House Document, no. 71, Government Printing Office, Washinton. DC.
Bullen, Ripley 1951 The Terra Ceia Site, Manatee County, Florida, in Florida Anthropological Society Publications, No. 3, p. 37, Gainesville 1952 DeSoto's Ucita and the Terra Ceia Site, in Florida Historical Quarterly, Volume 30, no. 4, pp. 317- 323.
Chardon, Ronald 1980 The Elusive Spanish League: A Problem of Measurement in Sixteenth-Century New Spain, in Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 60, no. 2, Duke University Press.
Clayton, Lawrence, Vernon J. Knight and Edward C. Moore (Editors) 1993 The de Soto Chronicles: The Expedition of Hernando de Soto to North America in 1539-1543; University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, quoted herein from U.S. National Park Service at www.nps.gov in 2005.
Davis, George, Perry, Leslie and Kirkley, Joseph 1983 The Official Military Atlas of the Civil War; Arno Press, N.Y.
Davis, T. Frederick 1935 History of Juan Ponce de Leon's Voyages to Florida, Monographs on Subjects of Florida History, Jacksonville, Fla.
Goza, William 1963 The Fort King Road, in The Florida Historical Quarterly, Volume XLIII, no. 1, pp. 52-70, 1984, Florida and Spain in the New World: The Peruvian Connection, Paper presented at the Conference on the Remains of Pizarro at the University of Florida.
Hemming, John 1973 The Conquest of the Incas,Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, N.Y.
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