Enter a grandparent's name to get started.
The first discovery of Alabama was by Hernando De Soto, a native of Spain, and the son of a squire of Xerez of Badajos. When a youth he went to Peru, enlisted under Pizarro, and with no property but his sword, won distinguished military reputation. Returning to his native country, and making an imposing appearance at Court, he was made Governor of Cuba, and Adelantado of Florida. In the unknown regions of the latter, he resolved to embark his vast wealth in a splendid expedition, designed to conquer a people who, he believed to possess more gold than he had yet beheld in South America. Young men of the best blood in Spain and Portugal, sold their houses and their vineyards and flocked to his standard. Soon he was surrounded by an army of six hundred chosen men, with whom he put to sea, over the bar of San Lucar de Barremeda. Arriving at Cuba, he consumed a year in arranging the affairs of his government, and in preparation for the great enterprise before him.1 At the end of that period, he left his wife, Dona Isabel de Bobadilla, and the Lieutenant Governor, in charge of the Island, and sailed for the coast of Florida, with a fleet of nine vessels–five large ships, together with caravels and brigantines. (1539 May 12)
May 30: A more prosperous voyage soon enabled De Soto to pitch his camp upon the shores of Tampa Bay, in Florida, with an army now increased to one thousand men. Sending out detachments to capture Indians, from whom he expected to learn something of the country, he found them skilful with the bow and too wily to be easily taken. In one of these sallies, the soldiers under Baltasar de Gallegos charged upon a small number of Indians. At that moment a voice cried out, “I am a Christian! I am a Christian! — slay me not.” Instantly Alvaro Nieto, a stout trooper, drew back his lance, and lifting the unknown man up behind him, pranced off to join his comrades.
Panfilo de Narvaez had attempted to overrun this country with a large expedition; but after disastrous wanderings, he reached Apalache without finding any gold, — and from thence went to the site of the present St. Marks, where his famished troops embarked for Cuba, in rude and hastily constructed boats, which were soon swallowed by the waves.2 Juan Ortiz, the person taken prisoner, and who now in all respects, resembled a savage, was a native of the town of Seville, in Spain. When a youth, he came to this coast with some others in search of Narvaez, and was captured by the Indians, who were about to burn him to death, when he was fortunately saved though the entreaties of the beautiful daughter of Uceta, the Chief. In the earlier periods of his slavery he was treated with barbarity, and compelled to guard, night and day, a lonely temple, in which the dead were deposited. After having been twelve years a prisoner among these savages, he was joyfully hastening to the camp of De Soto, when the Castilian words, which he so imploringly uttered, arrested the terrible lance of Alvaro Nieto.3
Gratified at the appearance of Jean Ortiz, who became his interpreter, De Soto gave him clothes and arms, and placed him upon a good charger. The Adelantado was now ready to penetrate the interior. His troops were provided with helmets, breastplates, shields, and coats of steel to repel arrows of the Indians; and with swords, Biscayan lances, rude guns called arquebuses, cross-bows, and one piece of artillery. His cavaliers, mounted upon two hundred and thirteen horses, were the most gallant and graceful men of all Spain. Greyhounds, of almost the fleetness of the winds, were ready to be turned loose upon the retreating savages; and bloodhounds, of prodigious ferocity, were at hand to devour them, of the bloody Spaniards deemed it necessary. To secure the unhappy Indian, handcuffs, chains, and neck collars abounded in the camp. Workmen of every trade, with their various tools, and men of science, with their philosophical instruments and crucibles for refining gold, were in attendance. Tons of iron and steel, and much other metal were provided by the munificence of the commander and his followers. A large drove of hogs, which strangely multiplied upon the route, together with cattle and mules, was also attached to the expedition. The establishment of the Catholic religion appears to have been of the objects; for associated with the army, were twelve priests, eight clergymen of inferior rank, and four monks, with their robes, holy relics, and sacramental bread and wine. Most of them were relatives of the superior officers. Never was an expedition more complete, owing to the experience of De Soto, who, upon the plains of Peru, had ridden down hundreds in his powerful charges, and had poured out streams of savage blood with his broad and sweeping sword! It is not within our scope to detail the bloody engagements which attended the wanderings of this daring son of Spain, upon the territory of the now State of Florida. Everywhere, but especially in narrow defiles, the natives showered clouds of arrows upon the invaders. Strong in numbers, and made revengeful by the cruelties inflicted by Narvaez, they had determined to fight De Soto until his army was destroyed or driven from their soil. Nowhere in Florida did he find peace. His gallant troops, however, were successful. The Indians, often put to flight, and as often captured, were laden with chains, while the ponderous baggage of the expedition was unfeelingly thrown upon their backs for transportation. When in camp, they were made to pound corn, and to perform the most laborious and servile drudgery.
De Soto in Apalache Country
Cutting his way from Tampa, De Soto arrived at Anaica Apalache, in the neighborhood of the modern Tallahassee. Then, as it is yet, a fertile region, he drew from this town, and from others which surrounded it, breadstuffs to last him during the winter. The sea, only thirty miles distant, was explored by a detachment, and at the present St. Marks the bones of horses, hewn timbers, and other evidences of Narvaez, were discovered. During the winter all the detachments, in their various expeditions, were attacked by the Indians, and the main camp at Apalache was harassed, day and night, in the fiercest manner, and with the most sanguinary results. At length Captain Maldinado, who had been ordered to sail to the west in some brigantines, which arrived from Tampa Bay, in search of a good harbor, returned in February  and reported the discovery of the bay of Ochus, since called Pensacola, which had a spacious channel, and was protected from the winds on all sides.4 Delighted at this good news, which enabled the Governor to make a wide circuit in the interior, he now ordered Maldinado to put to sea in the brigantines which then lay in the Apalache Bay, and to sail for Cuba. He was commanded to sail from thence to Ochus with a fleet of provisions, clothes, and military supplies, with which to recruit the expedition, when it should have met him at that point in October.5
Desoto in Georgia
Learning from an Indian slave that a country to the northeast abounded in gold, De Soto broke up his winter encampment, and set out in that direction. He entered the territory of the present Georgia at its southwestern border, and successively crossing the Ockmulgee, Oconee and Ogechee6 , finally rested upon the banks of the Savannah, immediately opposite the modern Silver Bluff. On the eastern side was the town of Cutifachiqui7 , where lived an Indian Queen, young, beautiful and unmarried, and who ruled the country around to a vast extent. She glided across the river in a magnificent canoe, with many attendants, and, after an interesting interview with De Soto, in which they exchanged presents, and passed many agreeable compliments, she invited him and his numerous followers over to her town. The next day the expedition crossed the Savannah upon log rafts and in canoes, and quartered in the wigwams and under the spreading shades of the mulberry. Many interesting things occurred at this place, which are mentioned at length by both of the journalists of De Soto, particularly by Garcellasso, but which are here reluctantly omitted in our anxiety to reach the borders of Alabama.
In 1736, George Golphin, then a young Irishman, established himself as an Indian trader at this point, and gave the old site of Cutifachiqui the name of Silver Bluff8 . The most ancient Indians informed him that this was the place where De Soto found the Indian Princess; and this tradition agrees with that preserved by the other old traders, and handed down to me. Golphin became a very wealthy man, and was for many years one of the most influential persons in Georgia and South Carolina, as we will see hereafter. He left many descendants; among others, the wife of the late Governor Millege, was his daughter; Dr. Thomas G. Holmes, an intelligent man, of Baldwin County, Alabama, is his grandson.
After a halt of several weeks at Cutifachiqui, De Soto broke up his camp, and, in company with the beautiful young Queen, whom he retained about his person as a hostage, to secure obedience among her subjects, and who did not escape from him until the army had nearly accomplished its route through northern Georgia — marched up the Savannah to its head waters, and rested, for a short time, at a town in present Habersham county, Georgia. From this place the expedition assumed a direct western course, across northern Georgia, until they struck the head waters of the Coosa river, where they advanced upon the town of Guaxule, containing three hundred houses, and situated between streams which had their sources in the surrounding mountains. The Chief met De Soto with five hundred warriors clothed in light costume, after the fashion of the country, and conducted him to his own house — surrendered at the instance of his wife — which stood upon a mound, and was surrounded by a terrace wide enough for six men to promenade abreast.9 Having but little corn for the famished troops, the natives collected and gave them three hundred dogs, which the Spanish had been accustomed to eat in the pine barrens of lower Georgia, “esteeming them as though they had been fat wethers.” Gaining much information about the country, in conversations with the Chief, conducted by the interpreter, Jean Ortiz, the Governor, after the fourth day’s sojourn at Guaxule, marched to the town of Conasauga, in the modern county of Murray, Georgia. Crossing the Conasauga creek, and journeying down its western banks, the Spaniards found it to increase in size, and being joined by other streams, it presently grew larger than the Guadalquiver which passes by Seville. This was the Oostanaula; and following its western side, De Soto, after a very slow march, advanced within seven miles of Chiaha, where he was met by fifteen Indians, laden with corn, bearing a message from the Chief, inviting him to hasten to his capital, where abundant supplies awaited him. Soon the eager Spaniards stood before the town of Chiaha, which is the site of the modern Rome.
The most ancient Cherokee Indians, whose tradition has been handed down to us through Old Indian traders, disagree as to the precise place where De Soto crossed the Oostanaula to get over the town of Chiaha — some asserting that he passed over that river seven miles above its junction with the Etowa, and that he marched from thence down to Chiaha, which, all contend, lay immediately at the confluence of the two rivers; while other ancient Indians asserted that he crossed, with his army, immediately opposite the town. But this is not very important. Coupling the Indian traditions with the account by Garcellasso, and that the Portuguese eye-witness, we are inclined to believe the latter tradition that the expedition continued to advance down the western side of the Oostanaula, until they halted in view of the mouth of the Etowa. De Soto having arrived immediately opposite the great town of Chiaha, now the site of Rome, crossed the Oostanaula in canoes and upon rafts made of logs prepared by the Indians, and took up his quarters in the town.10
The noble young chief received De Soto with unaffected joy, and made him the following address:
“Mighty Chief: Nothing could have made me so happy as to be the means of serving you and your warriors. You sent me word from Guaxule to have corn collected to last your army two months. Here I have twenty barns full of the best which the country can afford. If I have not met your wishes, respect my tender age, and receive my good will to do for you whatever I am able.”11
The Governor responded in a kind manner, and was then conducted to the Chief’s own house, prepared for his accommodation.
Chiaha contained a great quantity of bear’s oil in gourds, and walnut oil as clear as butter and equally palatable; and for the only time upon the entire route were seen pots of honey.12 The Spaniards, irregularly quartered in the fields, and scattered about at their will, reposed under trees and loitered upon banks of the rivers. The horses, reduced in flesh and unfit for battle, grazed upon the meadows. Unaccustomed to allow such loose discipline, De Soto now winked at it, for the natives were friendly, and every soul in the camp needed repose. One day the Chief presented the Governor with a string of pearls, two yards in length, and as large as filberts, for which he received in return pieces of velvet and other cloth much esteemed by the Indians. He said that the temple of this town, where the remains of his ancestors were deposited, contained a vast quantity of these valuables. He invited his distinguished guest to take from it as many as he desired. But the latter declined, remarking that he wished to appropriate him in regard to the manner of obtaining these pearls, immediately dispatched some of his subjects in four canoes, with instructions to fish all night for the oysters which contained them. In the morning he caused a fire to be made upon the bank. The canoes returned laden, and the natives throwing the oysters upon the glowing coals, succeeded in finding many pearls the size of peas, which De Soto pronounced beautiful, but for the fire, which had robbed them of some of their brilliancy. A soldier, in eating some of the oysters, or, rather, muscles, found one of great size uninjured, and offered it to the commander for Dona Isabel. He declined the kindness intended for his wife, and urged the generous fellow to keep it to buy horses with at Havana. Connoisseurs in camp valued it at four hundred ducats.13 While here, a cavalier, named Luis Bravo de Xeres, walking one day upon the bank of the river, threw his lance at a dog, which suddenly disappeared under the bluff. Coming up to recover his weapon, he found to his horror, that it had pierced the temple of Juan Mateos and had killed him. The poor man was quietly fishing on the margin of the stream, and little suspecting that death was at hand. The accident caused deep regret in the camp, the deceased being much esteemed, and, having the only gray head in the army, was called, by way of pleasantry, Father Mateos.14
About this time a principal Indian from Costa, a town below, informed De Soto that in the mountains to the north, at a place called, Chisca, were mines of copper, and of a yellow metal, still finer and softer. Having seen, upon the Savannah, copper hatchets supposed to be mixed with gold, his attention was deeply aroused upon the subject. Villabos and Silvera, two fearless soldiers, volunteered to explore that region. Furnished with guides by the Chief of Chiaha, they departed upon their perilous journey.
The Spaniards had basked upon the delightful spot where now stands the town of Rome, for the space of thirty days. The horses had recruited, and the troops had grown vigorous and ready for desperate deeds. De Soto demanded of the hospitable Chief, through the persuasion of some of his unprincipled officers, a number of females to accompany them in their wanderings. That night the inhabitants quietly left the town and hid themselves in the bordering forests. The Chief entreated the Governor not to hold him responsible for their conduct, for, during his minority, an arbitrary uncle ruled them with a despotic will. With sixty troopers De Soto ravaged the surrounding country, and provoked at not finding the fugitives, laid waste their flourishing fields of corn. When afterwards informed that men only would be required to bear the baggage, the Indians returned to Chiaha, apologized for their flight, and yielded to the last proposition.15 De Soto then broke up his camp, re-crossed the Oostanaula, and marched down the west side of the Coosa, leaving generous people of Chiaha well satisfied with presents. On the 2nd July, and after seven days slow march, he entered the town of Costa.16 The Spaniards were now in Alabama, in the territory embraced in the country of Cherokee, and by the side of the Coosa, one of our noblest streams. Never before had our soil been trodden by European feet! Never before had our natives beheld white faces, long beards, strange apparel, glittering armor, and, stranger than all, the singular animals bestrode by the dashing cavaliers! De Soto had discovered Alabama, not by sea, but after dangerous and difficult marches had penetrated her northeastern border with a splendid and well equipped land expedition! The Atlantic States were quietly discovered by voyagers entering their harbors. Alabama was marched upon by an army, whose soldiers sickened with famine upon the barrens of Georgia, and left tracks of blood upon the soil of Florida.
Commanding his camp to be pitched two crossbow shots from the town, De Soto, with eight men of his guard, approached the Chief of Costa, who received him with apparent friendship. While they were conversing some unscrupulous footmen entered the town and plundered several of the houses. Seeing himself surrounded by the natives, and in great personal danger, the Governor seized a cudgel, and with his usual presence of mind, commenced beating his own men. The savages, observing that he took their part, became pacified for a moment. In the meantime, taking the Chief by the hand, he led him, with flattering words, towards the camp, where he was presently surrounded by a guard, and held as a hostage.17 The Spaniards remained under arms all night. Fifteen hundred Indians, armed complete, often made dispositions to charge upon them, vociferating angry and insulting language. Averse to war since he had been so repeatedly attacked by the Floridians, De Soto restrained his anxious troops. His coolness, together with the influence of a prominent Indian who followed him from Chiaha, put an end to the serious affair.18 Three days after this Villabos and Silvera returned from Chisca. They passed into the mountains, found no gold, but a country abounding with lofty hills and stupendous rocks. Dispirited, they returned to a poor town, where the inhabitants gave them a buffalo robe, which they supposed once covered a tremendous animal, partaking of the qualities of the ox and the sheep. According to Garcellasso, the mines which they reached were of a highly colored copper, and were doubtless situated in the territory of the county of De Kalb. The sick, who were placed in canoes at Chiaha, had by this time arrived down the river. Furnished with the burden carriers by the Chief, who was to the last hour held a prisoner, the Governor left Costa on the 9th of July, 1540, and crossed over to the east side of the Coosa upon rafts and canoes19 . Proceeding down its eastern bank, he encamped the first night at the town of Talle. The Chief came forth to receive him, and, in a formal speech, begged him to command his services. here the Spaniards remained two days, sharing the hospitality of the natives. Upon their departure they were supplied with two women and four men. Indeed, De Soto brought from the forests of Florida over five hundred unhappy men and women, secured with chains, driven by keepers, and made to transport the effects of the expedition. When any of them became sick, died, or escaped, it was his policy to supply their places at the first town upon which he marched. He always, however, distributed among the principal Indians presents, which were gratifying to them, and left at many of the towns pairs of swine to stock the country.
De Soto in Alabama
The expedition now began to enter the far-famed province of Coosa, the beauty and fertility of which were known to all the Indians, even upon the seaside. Garcellasso asserts that it extended three hundred miles, and other authors agree that it reached over the territory now embraced in the counties of Cherokee, Benton, Talladega and Coosa. Continuing through the rich lands of Benton, the expedition passed many towns subject to the Chief of Coosa. Every day they met ambassadors, “one going and another coming,” by which De Soto was assured of a hearty welcome at the capital.20 With joyful faces the Indians rushed to his lines every mile upon the route, furnishing supplies and assisting the troops from one town to another. The same generous reception attending him upon entering the oil of the county of Talladega. The hospitality of the Coosas surpassed that of any people whom he had yet discovered. The trail was lined with towns, villages and hamlets, and “many sown fields which reached from one to the other.”21 With a delightful climate, and abounding in fine meadows and beautiful little rivers, this region was charming to De Soto and his followers. The numerous barns were full of corn, while acres of that which was growing bent to the warm rays of the sun and rustled in the breeze. In the plains were plum trees peculiar to the country, and others resembling those of Spain. Wild fruit clambered to the tops of the loftiest trees, and lower branches were laden with delicious Isabella grapes.
On the 26th of July 1540, the army came in sight of the town of Coosa. Far in the outskirts, De Soto was met by the Chief, seated upon a cushion, and riding in a chair supported upon the shoulders of four of his Chief men. One thousand warriors, tall, active, sprightly and admirably proportioned, with large plumes of various colors on their heads, followed him, marching in regular order. His dress consisted of a splendid mantle of martin skins, thrown gracefully over his shoulder, while his head was adorned with a diadem of brilliant feathers. Around him many Indians raised their voices in song, and others made music upon flutes.22 The steel-clad warriors of Spain, with their glittering armor, scarcely equaled the magnificent display made by these natives of Alabama.
The Chief, receiving De Soto with the warmth of a generous heart, made him the following speech:
“Mighty Chief! above all others of the earth! Although I come now to receive you, yet I received you many days ago deep in my heart. If I had the whole world, it would not give me as much pleasure as I now enjoy at the presence of yourself and your incomparable warriors. My person, lands and subjects are at your service. I will now march you to your quarters with playing and singing.”23
De Soto responded in his best style, after which he advanced to the town, conversing with the Chief, who rode in his sedan chair, while the lofty Spaniard sat upon his fiery steed. The royal house was set apart for the accommodation of the Adelantado, and one half of the other houses were surrendered to the troops. The town of Coosa was situated upon the east bank of the river of that name, between the mouths of the two creeks, now known as Talladega and Tallasehatchee, one of which is sometimes called Kiamulgee.24 It contained five hundred houses, and was the capital of this rich and extensive province.
The Chief of Coosa was twenty-six years of age, well formed, intelligent, with a face beautifully expressive, and a heart honest and generous. He always dined with De Soto. One day he rose from the table, and, in an earnest manner, besought the Governor to select a region anywhere in his dominions, and immediately establish upon it a large Spanish colony. De Soto had contemplated peopling some beautiful country, and was better pleased with this section than any other, but his imagination still pointed him to some gold region, like Peru. He returned the Chief his profound thanks, adduced many reasons for declining the liberal offer, among others, that Maldinado’s ships would await him at the bay of Pensacola. Yet, in the face of all the kindness, the politic and suspicious De Soto kept the Chief about his person, as a hostage, to preserve peace among the Indians, and to exhort slaves and provisions. Enraged at the imprisonment of their Chief, the Indians fled to the woods to prepare for war. Four captains, with their companies, were dispatched in different directions in pursuit, and returned with many women and men in chains. Some of the principal of these were released at the entreaty of the Chief, while others were carried off with the expedition, laden with irons and baggage, and those who were not destroyed at the battle of Maubila were conducted far beyond the Mississippi River.25
The Indians returned from the forest, and remained at peace with the Spaniards, but were still dissatisfied at the restrictions imposed upon the liberties of their Chief. After twenty-five days had been passed at the capital of Coosa, De Soto marched in the direction of the Tallapoosa, leaving behind a Christian Negro, too sick to travel, whom the Indians desired to retain among them on account of his singular hair and sable complexion. He recovered, and was doubtless the distant ancestor of the dark-colored savages seen in that region in more modern times.26 The first day the army passed through the large town of Tallemuchasa, within a few hours after it had been abandoned by its inhabitants. The next day the town of Utaua was reached, where De Soto encamped six days, awaiting the abatement of the stream which ran by it, now violently swollen by incessant rains. As the expedition had not crossed any stream since leaving Coosa, it is probable the one alluded to was the modern Tallasehatchee. The march was continued to Ullebahale, situated upon Hatchet creek, which was called a “small river.” The town was surrounded by a wall composed of two rows of posts driven deep in the ground, with poles laid horizontally between them, the inner and outside of the framework neatly stuccoed with clay and straw. Portholes were left at proper distances, forming a defense “as high as a lance.” Such was the character of the Indian fortifications from this place onward. In consequence of the duress of the Chief of Coosa, whom De Soto carried along with him, but treated with respect and kindness, the Indians of Ullebahale were in arms. Before the Spaniards entered the suburbs, twelve principal men, armed with bows, and with lofty plumes upon their heads, advanced and volunteered to rescue their beloved Chief by arraying a formidable force, but he dissuaded them from it. On the opposite side of the creek lived a sub-Chief, who furnished De Soto with thirty women for slaves, and to carry burdens. Then the Adelantado pursued his wanderings, leaving behind Mansano, a native of Salamanca, of noble parentage, who was lost while rambling in the hills for grapes, which were found in great abundance. The route lay along the modern Socapatoy region, in the county of Coosa. The expedition passed the town of Toase and several others, subject to the Chief of Tallase, and arrived at the great town of that name on the 18th September 1540.
Tallase was an extensive town, the principal part of which was encompassed by a wall, similar to that just described, with the addition of terraces. It reposed upon a point of land “almost surrounded by a main river,” which was Tallapossa.27 Extensive fields of corn reached up and down the banks. On the opposite side were other towns, skirted with rich fields laden with heavy ears of maize. The beautiful river, rolling its silvery waters through these fertile lands, and the delightful climate, contributed to render the whole prospect most pleasing. But the reception of De Soto among those people was cool and scarcely civil. Some had abandoned their houses at his approach, and gone into the woods. However, the Chief gave him forty Indians. After a few days, a noble-looking young savage, of gigantic proportions, and with a face extremely handsome and interesting, visited the marquee. He was the son of Tuscaloosa, a potent Chief, whose domains commenced thirty miles below, and extended to the distant Tombigby. He bore an invitation from his father to De Soto to hasten to his capital, where he was making preparations to receive him upon a magnificent scale, and then awaited him upon the eastern confines of his territory. The son was dispatched with a suitable reply, and presents for the father.
Having remained at Tallase twenty days, De Soto dismissed the Chief of Coosa, with whom he parted upon good terms, crossed the Tallapoosa in canoes and upon rafts, marched down the eastern side, and encamped the first night at Casista, probably the sight of the modern Autose. Delayed in passing the river, he could not have advanced further that day. In the morning the march was resumed. During this day a large town was discovered, and at night the camp was pitched upon the borders of another. The next day, advancing within six miles of the temporary residence of Tuscaloosa, a halt was made in the woods. Louis de Moscoso, the camp master, with fifteen horsemen, was dispatched to inform the Chief of the proximity of the Governor. Moscoso found the proud Mobilian seated upon two cushions, placed on a large and elegant matting, upon an eminence which commanded a delightful prospect. His numerous attendants posted themselves around him, leaving space for the nearer position of his chief men. One of these held over his head a round deerskin shield, with a staff on the middle, resembling an umbrella. Painted with stripes of different colors, it was used as a banner in his wars, but was employed at present in protecting his head from the rays of the sun. Tuscaloosa was 40 years of age, of great stature, with intense limbs. He was spare around the waist, and his whole form was admirably proportioned. His countenance was handsome, but grave and severe. “He was lord of many territories and much people, and was feared by his neighbors and subjects.” In vain did Moscoso endeavor to excite his curiosity, by prancing his horses before him. Sometimes he scarcely deigned to raise his eyes, and then, again, he bestowed upon the troopers the most contemptuous smiles. Even when De Soto arrived, he preserved the same haughty demeanor; but, in consideration of his position as commander-in-chief, he reluctantly advanced, and made the following address:
“Mighty Chief: I bid you welcome. I greet you as I would my brother. It is needless to talk long. What I have to say can be said in a few words. You shall know how willing I am to serve you. I am thankful for the things which you have sent me, chiefly because they were yours. I am now ready to comply with your desires.”
The Governor replied in true Spanish style, failing not to assure the Chief that, even in distant Indian countries, through which he had passed, he had heard of his greatness and power. This interesting scene occurred below Line Creek, in the present county of Montgomery. Both journalists agree that De Soto had advanced thirty-five miles below Tallase. Reposing at this town the space of two days, preparations were made to advance. An officer was sent among the horses, to find one large enough to sustain the great Indian. A large packhorse, the property of the Governor, was selected. Appareled in a rich suit of scarlet, and a cap of the same, given to him by De Soto, the Chieftain, who was a head taller than any of his attendants, mounted upon his horse, with his feet nearly trailing on the ground. Onward the lofty and graceful Mobilian rode, side by side with the Governor. Marching through the territory embraced in the present counties of Montgomery, Lowndes, and the southeastern part of Dallas, the expedition arrived at a town called Piache, seated on a peninsula formed by the windings of a large river, “the same which runs by Tallase, but here grown much wider and deeper.28 This was the Alabama. On the march hither, a distressing disease broke out among the Spaniards, from the want of salt. The death of several, together with the loathsome condition of the sufferers, spread alarm in the camp. Those who afterwards used ashes with their food, from a weed recommended by the Indians, escaped the dreadful malady.29
The town of Piache was strongly fortified. Its name is probable preserved in a large creek, which flows into the Alabama on the northern side, called Chilache. The Indians having no canoes, soon constructed rafts of dry logs and cane, upon which the troops were wafted to the northern or western side of the Alabama–according to the conviction of the writer, in the upper part of the county of Wilcox.30
The expedition assumed a southern direction, and marched down the western side of the Alabama, over the soil of the present county of Wilcox. De Soto began to read the Mobilian Chief. He was still proud and distant, and evidently felt that he was a prisoner. Upon the whole route he had been studiously engaged in consulting with his principal men, and in constantly sending runners to the capital with messages. De Soto suspected that he mediated schemes, which aimed at the destruction of the Spaniards. His suspicions were further awakened, when Villabos and another cavalier were believed to have been killed by his subjects. When asked about them Tuscaloosa indignantly replied, “I am not their keeper.” High words ensued between him and De Soto; but the latter restrained himself until an opportunity offered of taking deep revenge on the Chief for his insolence and the death of the two Spaniards. On the third day of the march from Piache, they passed through many populous towns, well stored with corn, beans, pumpkins, and other provisions. In the meantime, Charamilla and Vasques, two able and discreet cavaliers, were dispatched in advance to discover if any conspiracy was going on at the capital. Before daylight, on the fourth morning, De Soto placed himself at the head of one hundred horse, and an equal number of foot, and marched rapidly in that direction with the Chief, leaving Moscoso, the camp-master, to bring up the larger portion of the troops. At eight o’clock the same morning, the 18th October 1540, De Soto and Tuscaloosa arrived at the capital, called Maubila. It stood by the side of a large river, upon a beautiful plain, and consisted of eighty handsome houses, each capacious enough to hold a thousand men. They all fronted a large public square. They were encompassed by a high wall, made of immense trunks of trees, set deep in the ground and close together, strengthened with cross-timbers, and interwoven with large vines. A thick mud plaster, resembling handsome masonry, concealed the wood work, while port-holes were abundant, together with towers, capable of containing eight men each, at a distance of fifty paces apart. An eastern and a western gate opened into the town. The writer is satisfied that Maubila was upon the north bank of the Alabama, and at a place now called Choctaw Bluff, in the county of Clarke, about twenty-five miles above the confluence of the Alabama and Tombigby. The march from Piache, the time occupied, the distance from Maubila to the bay of Pensacola computed by Garcellasso and the Portuguese Gentleman at eighty-five miles — and the representations of aged Indians and Indian countrymen, that here was fought the great battle between De Soto and the brave Mobilians, have forcibly contributed to make that impression upon his mind.
De Soto and Tuscaloosa were ushered into the great public square of Maubila with songs, music upon Indian flutes, and the graceful dancing of beautiful brown girls. They alighted from their chargers, and seated themselves under a “canopy of state.” Remaining here a short time, the Chief requested that he should no longer be held as a hostage, nor required to follow the army any further. The Adelantado hesitated in reply, which brought Tuscaloosa immediately to his feet, who walked off with a lofty and independent bearing, and entered one of the houses. De Soto had scarcely recovered from his surprise, when Jean Ortiz followed the Chief and announced that breakfast awaited him at the Governor’s table. Tuscaloosa refused to return, and added, “If your Chief knows what is best for him, he will immediately take his troops out of my territory.” In the meantime, Charamilla, one of the spies, informed the Governor that he had discovered over ten thousand men in the houses, the subjects of Tuscaloosa and other neighboring Chiefs; that other houses were filled with bows, arrows, stones and clubs; that the old women and children had been sent out of town and the Indians were at that moment debating the most suitable hour to capture the Spaniards. The General received this startling intelligence with the deepest solicitude. He secretly sent word to his men to be ready for an attack. Then, anxious to avert a rupture, by regaining possession of the person of the Chief, he approached him with smiles and kind words, but Tuscaloosa scornfully turned his back upon him, and was soon lost among the host of excited warriors. At that moment a principal Indian rushed out of the same house, and loudly denounced the Spaniards as Robbers, Thieves and Assassins, who should no longer impose on their great Chief, by depriving him of a liberty with which he was born, and his fathers before him. His insolence, and the motions which he made to shoot at a squad of Spaniards with a drawn bow, so incensed Baltasar de Gallegos, that, with a powerful sweep of his sword, he split down his body and let out his bowels! Like bees in a swarm the savages now poured out upon the Spaniards. De Soto placed himself at the head of his men, and fought face to face with the enemy, retreating slowly and passing the gate into the plain. His cavalry had rushed to rescue their horses, tied outside the walls, some of which the Indians came upon in time to kill. Still receding to get out of the reach of the enemy, De Soto at length paused at a considerable distance upon the plain. The Mobilians seized the Indian slaves, packed upon their backs the effects of the expedition, which had now arrived and lay scattered about, drove the poor devils within the walls, knocked off their irons, placed bows in their hands, and arrayed them in battle against their former masters. In the first sally, De Soto had five men killed and many wounded, himself among the latter number. Having captured the baggage, the victors covered the ground in advance of the gate, and rent the air with exulting shouts. At that moment the Governor headed his cavalry, and followed by his footmen, charged upon the savage masses; and, with a terrible slaughter, drove them back into the town. The Indians rushed to the portholes and towers, and shot upon the invaders masses of arrows, compelling them again to retire from the walls. A small party of Spaniards were left in a perilous situation. Three cross-bow men, an armed friendly Indian, five of De Soto’s guard, some servants and two priests, not having time to join the others when first attacked in the square, took refuge in the house set apart for their commander. The savages sought an entrance at the door, but the unhappy inmates bravely defended it, killing many of the assailants. Others clambered upon the roof to open the covering, but were as successfully repulsed. Separated from their friends by a thick wall, and in the midst of thousands of enemies panting to lap their blood, their destruction appeared inevitable. During the long struggle for existence, the holy fathers engaged in earnest prayer for their deliverance, while the others fought with a desperation which rose with the occasion.
Seeing the Spaniards again retreat, the Indians rushed through the gates, and dropping down from the walls, engaged fiercely with the soldiers, seizing their sweeping swords and piercing lances! Three long hours were consumed in the terrible conflict, first one side giving way and then the other. Occasionally De Soto was strengthened by small squads of horsemen who arrived, and without orders, charged into the midst of the bloody melee. The Governor was everywhere present in the fight, and his vigorous arm hewed down the lustiest warriors. That sword, which had often been dyed in the blood of Peruvians, was now crimsoned with the gore of a still braver race. The invincible Baltasar de Gallegos, who struck the first blow, followed it up, and was only equaled by the commander in the profuse outpouring of savage blood. Far on the borders of the exciting scene rode his brother, Fray Juan, a Dominican friar, who constantly beckoned him to quit the engagement on foot, and take the horse which he bestride, in order to fight the better. But Baltasar, gloating on blood, heeded him not; when presently an Indian arrow, which made a slight wound upon the back of the worthy father, caused him to retire to a less dangerous distance. Indeed, during the whole battle the priests kept the plain, watched the awful carnage with intense anxiety, and often fell upon their knees, imploring Almighty God to give victory to the Spaniards.
At length the matchless daring of De Soto and his troops forced the Indians to take a permanent position with Maubila, closing after them its ponderous gates. The sun began to lower towards the tops of the loftiest tress, when Moscoso and the last of the army arrived. He had strangely loitered by the way, allowing his soldiers to scatter in the woods and hunt at their leisure. His advanced guard heard at a distance the alarm of drums and the clangor of trumpets. With beating hearts they passed back the word along the scattered lines, from one to the other, and soon the hindmost rushed to the support of their exhausted and crimson-stained comrades. Joined by all his force, De Soto formed the best armed into four divisions of foot. Provided with bucklers for defense, and battle-axes to demolish the walls, they made a simultaneous charge, at the firing of an arquebuse. Upon the first onset, they were assailed with showers of arrows and dreadful missiles. Repeated blows against the gates forced them open. The avenues were filled with eager soldiers, rushing into the square. Others impatient to get in, battered the stucco from the walls and aided each other to climb over the skeleton works. A horrible and unparalleled carnage ensued. The horsemen remained on the outside to overtake those who might attempt to escape. The Indians fought in the streets, in the square, from the tops of the houses and walls. The ground was covered with their dead, but not one of the living entreated for quarters. The Spaniards were protected with bucklers and coats of mail, while the poor Indians were only covered with the thin shield which the Great Spirit gave them at the dawn of their existence. The troops entered the town in time to save the two priests and their companions, which so long held out against such fearful odds. The battle, which now waxed hotter and more sanguinary then ever, cannot be as graphically described, as the heroic deeds on either side so justly deserve. Often the Indians drove the troops out of the town, and as often they returned with increased desperation. Near the wall lay a large pool of delicious water, fed by many springs. It was now discolored with blood. Here soldiers fell down to slake the intense thirst created by heat and wounds, and those who were able rose again, and once more pitched a combat characterized by the most revolting destruction of human life. For some time the young females had joined in the fight, and they now contended side by side with the foremost warriors, sharing in the indiscriminate slaughter. Heated with excitement, smarting with his wounds, and provoked at the unsubdued fierceness of the natives, De Soto rushed out alone at the gate, threw himself into the saddle, and charged into the town. Calling, with a loud voice, upon “Our Lady and Santiago, ” he forced his charger over hundred of fighting men and women, followed by the brave Nuno Tobar. While opening lanes through the savage ranks and sprinkling his tracks with blood, he rose on one occasion to cast his lance into a gigantic warrior. At that instant a powerful winged arrow went deep into the bottoms of his thigh. Unable to extract it, or to sit in his saddle, he continued to fight to the end of the battle, standing in his stirrups. Everywhere, that mighty son of Spain now gorged upon Alabama blood! His fearless bounds filled the boldest soldiers with renewed courage. At length the houses were set on fire, and the wind blew the smoke and flames in all directions, adding horror to the scene. The flames ascended in mighty volumes! The sun went down, hiding himself from the awful sight! Maubila was in ruins, and her inhabitants destroyed!
The battle of Maubila had lasted nine hours. It was disastrous to De Soto. Eighty-two Spaniards were slain, or died in a few days after the engagement. Among these were Diego De Soto the nephew of the Governor; Don Carlos Enriquez, who had married his niece; and Men-Rodriquez, a cavalier of Portugal, who had served with distinction in Africa and upon the Portuguese frontiers. Other men of rank and blood lost their lives in the terrible conflict, some of whom died in great agony, being shot in the eyes and in the joints of their limbs. Forty-five horses were slain — an irreparable loss, mourned by the whole expedition. All the camp equipage and baggage were consumed in the house where the Indians stored it, except that of Captain Andres de Vasconellos, which arrived late in the evening. All the clothes, medicines, instruments, books, much of the armor, all the pearls, the relics and robes of the priests, their flour and wine, used in the holy sacrament, with a thousand other things which a wilderness could not supply, perished in the flames. The Mobilians were nearly all destroyed. Garcellasso asserts that above eleven thousand were slain. The Portuguese Gentleman sets down the number at two thousand five hundred killed within the walls alone. Assuming a point between the two estimates, it is safe to say that at least six thousand were killed in the town and upon the plains, or were afterwards found dead in the woods. These authors also disagreed as to the fate of Tuscaloosa — the one contending that he was consumed in the flames, and the other that he decamped upon the arrival of Moscoso, at the solicitation of his people, attended by a small guard, and laden with rich Spanish spoils. It is more probable that the Black Warrior remained in his capital, desiring not to survive the downfall of his people.31
Upon the ruins of Maubila the Spaniards passed the first night, in confusion and pain, sending forth groans and cries that fell upon the distant air like the ravings of the damned! In every direction a sickening and revolting sight was presented. In the slowly receding fire, piles of brave Mobilians cracked and fried upon the glowing coals! Upon the great square, pyramids of bodies, smeared with blood and brains, lay still unburnt. Outside the walls, hundreds lay in the sleep of death, still hot from their last desperate exertions, and copiously bleeding from the large orifices made by lances and swords, and discoloring the beautiful grounds upon which they had so often sported in their native games. All the Spaniards were wounded except the holy fathers, and were, besides, exhausted, famished, and intoxicated with the most fiendish desperation. Seventeen hundred dangerous wounds demanded immediate attention. It was often that a soldier had a dozen severe ones, with barbed arrows rankling in his flesh. But one surgeon of the expedition survived, and he was slow and unskilled. Everything, in his department, was devoured by the terrible element. Those who were slightly wounded, administered to those whom the Indians had pierced deepest. As soldiers of Cortez did in Mexico, they opened the bodies of some of the savages, and with the fat obtained, bound up the wounds with bandages torn from the garments of the soldiers who were killed. Others rushed to the woods, obtained straw and boughs, and formed against the walls beds and imperfect covering for the wounded and dying. Although severely pierced himself with arrows, and bruised with missiles, yet the generous De Soto unselfishly gave his whole attention to his men. During the miserable night, many of the unhappy Spaniards joined the priests in fervent appeals to their Heavenly Father for the alleviation of their wretched condition.
They remained within the walls eight days, and then removed to the Indian huts upon the plain. De Soto sent out foraging detachments, who found the villages abounding in provisions. In the woods and ravines, Indians were found dead, and others lay wounded. The latter were treated with kindness by the Spaniards, who fed them and dressed their wounds. Females of incomparable beauty were captured upon these excursions, and added to those who were taken at the close of the battle. From them, the Governor was astounded to learn the deep schemes which Tuscaloosa had planned to capture his army, weeks before his arrival at Maubila. To the Tallasses, who complained to him that their Chief had given their people to De Soto as slaves, he replied, “Fear nothing; I shall shortly send the Spaniards back from my country to Tallase in chains, led by your people whom they have enslaved.”
The priests, monks, and best informed laymen, went into convention to determine the propriety of substituting corn meal for flour in the celebration of Mass. They decided that bread made of pure wheat, and wine of the juice of the grape, were required of consecration. After this, the fathers, in lieu of the chalices, altar dresses, chasubles, and other sacred ornaments, which had been consumed by fire, made some robes of dressed deer skins, erected rude altars and read the introitus and other prayers of the Mass on Sundays and feasts, omitting the consecration. This unusual ceremony was denominated the dry mass.
While referring to the religious exercises of the Spaniards, it is proper to allude to some of their vices. Upon the whole journey from Tampa Bay to this place, they had passed much of their leisure time in gambling. This vice was common to all classes; those of rank often bet high, staking their money, jewels, horses, effects, and even their female slaves! The fire of Maubila destroyed their cards. They now made others of parchment, painted them with admirable skill, and loaned these packs from one company to another, continuing to gamble under trees, upon the river banks, and in their rude huts.
The report which De Soto had received upon his first arrival at Maubila, that Maldinado and his vessels awaited him at the bay of Pensacola, was now fully confirmed by the females whom he had captured. Refreshed by this good news, which determined him to plant a colony in the wilderness, he dismissed a Chief of that country whom Maldinado had brought into the camp, while at Apalache Anaica. He had always treated him with kindness, and they parted upon the most friendly terms. The Chief set out for Ochus. When it became known in camp that the ships had arrived, joy succeeded the sadness which had universally prevailed. Some of the most distinguished cavaliers secretly talked of sailing from Ochus to Spain, and others to Peru, each resolved upon quitting De Soto and his fortunes. He heard of the conspiracy with painful solicitude, and determined to ascertain if it was founded in seriousness. One dark night he disguised himself and cautiously moved about the camp. Approaching the hut of Juan Caitan, the treasurer, he overheard an earnest conversation, which satisfied him of the truth of what had been intimated. De Soto was startled at the faithless schemers. It altered his plans. He now dreaded to march to Ochus, for he well knew that some of these cavaliers had once deserted Pizarro, leaving him on the island of Gorgonne. He reflected, that his means were exhausted, his hopes of finding a old country, thus far, blasted, and that he had nothing to tempt the cupidity of recruits; even the pearls, all he had to exhibit of his discoveries, having shared the fate of the other effects. These things, connected with a desire to thwart the plans of his conspirators, influenced him to turn his back upon his ships, laden with provisions, clothes, arms, and everything which the whole army needed.
De Soto became gloomy and morose. Sometimes, in the midst of his desponding fits, a hope of yet finding a gold region shot across his mind, but, like a flashing meteor, it exploded in darkness, leaving him in deeper despair! He resolved, however, to strike into the wilderness. The wounded had recovered enough to march, and he gave orders to break up the camp. On Sunday, the 18th of November 1540, a direction was assumed to the north. The order fell like a clap of thunder upon the unwilling cavaliers. But they obeyed, for he threatened to put to death the first man who should even think of Maldinado and his ships.32 The expedition traversed an extremely fertile, but uninhabited country, called Pafallaya, now embraced in the counties of Clarke, Marengo and Greene, and, at the expiration of five days, passed the town of Talepataua, and reached another called Cabusto. This was ” near a river, wide, deep, and with high bluffs.”33 The Spaniards had now arrived upon the Black Warrior, and near the modern town of Erie. Fifteen hundred Indians advanced in battle array, shouting that a war of “fire and blood” was what they desired. They remembered the destruction of their friends at Maubila, and they were determined to be revenged. Severe skirmishing ensued. The Spaniards drove the savages into the river; some crossed over in canoes and others swam, and on the opposite side they were joined by a force estimated at eight thousand. For six miles they stretched along the western bank to oppose the crossing of the army. De Soto occupied Cabusto, and was attacked every night by detachments of the enemy, who came over secretly in canoes from different directions, and sprang upon him. He at length caused ditches to be cut near the landings, in which he posted crossbow men and those armed with arquebuses. After the Indians were repulsed three times from those entrenchments, they ceased to annoy the Spaniards at night. In the meantime, one hundred men completed in the woods two large boats. They were placed upon sledges, and by the force of horses and mules, and with the assistance of the soldiers, were conveyed to a convenient landing one and a half miles up the river, and launched before day. Ten cavalry and forty infantry entered each of these boats, the former keeping the saddle while the latter rowed rapidly across. Five hundred Indians rushed down the banks and overwhelmed the voyagers with arrows. However, the boats reached the shore, one of them coming to with great difficulty. The soldiers, all of whom were wounded, sprang out, and, headed by the impetuous Silvestre and Garcia, charged the Indians with great resolution. A severe conflict continued until the boats returned and brought over De Soto with eighty men, who, joining in the fight, forced the Indians to retreat to a distant forest. The advanced wing keeping off the enemy, the whole army soon crossed the river. When all were over, the Indians were driven to their first position, which they had strengthened with palisades, and from which they continually sallied, skirmishing with the invaders until the sun was lost behind the hills.34 Upon the Warrior, De Soto found a delightful country, with towns and villages well supplied with corn, beans and other provisions. The next day he caused the boats to be broken up, for the iron which they contained, and the expedition marched in a northern direction, passing through a portion of Greene and Pickens.
De Soto in Mississippi
After five days they reached the Little Tombigby, somewhere in the county of Lowndes, Mississippi. Here the Indians had collected to dispute the passage. Having recently suffered so severely in contentions with the natives of Alabama, De Soto felt unwilling to expose his army to further loss. Halting two days for the construction of a small boat, he dispatched in it an Indian, who bore a message to the Chief, with offers of peace and friendship. Immediately upon reaching the opposite bank, the poor fellow was seized and barbarously killed, in the sight of the Governor. His murderers then rent the air with terrific yells and dispersed. De Soto conducted his troops unmolested across the river, and marched until he arrived at the town of Chickasa, in the province of that name. It consisted of two hundred houses, and reposed upon a hill extending towards the north, shaded by oak and walnut trees, and watered by several rivulets. The Spaniards had now reached the territory embraced in the country of Yalobusha. The region was fertile, well-peopled and dotted with villages. The cold weather set in with much severity. In the midst of the snow and ice, the army encamped upon the fields opposite the town, until houses could be erected; Nov. for here De Soto had determined to pass the winter. Foraging parties scoured the country, collected provisions, and captured Indians. The latter were invariably dismissed, with presents for their Chief.
The Chief at length came to see De Soto, and offered him his lands, person and subjects. He returned, shortly after, with two neighboring Chiefs–Alibamo and Nicalaso. The august trio gave the Adelantado one hundred and fifty rabbits, besides mantles and skins. The Chief of Chickasa became a frequent visitor, and De Soto often sent him home on one of the horses. Having besought the General to aid him in overcoming a prominent and rebellious subject, for the purpose of dividing and destroying the army, as was afterwards ascertained, De Soto marched, with thirty horsemen and two hundred Indians, upon Saquechuma, and destroyed that place by fire. Upon their return to the camp, the principal Indians were feasted upon the flesh of the swine. They were pleased with the first dish of an animal never before seen, and from that time the place where the hogs were kept was often broken in upon dark nights and many stolen. Three of the rogues were caught on one occasion and two of them put to death. The hands of the other were chopped off, and in that painful and helpless situation he was sent to his Chief. On the other side, the Spaniards robbed the Indians. One day four horsemen, Francisco Osario, a servant of the Marquis of Astorga, called Raynoso, Ribera, the page of the Governor, and Fuentes, his chamberlain, entered a neighboring village and forcibly carried off some valuable skins and mantles. The enraged Indians forsook their town and went into the woods to prepare for war. The robbers were arrested, and Fuentes and Osario were condemned to die. The priests and some of the most distinguished cavaliers pleaded, in vain, for the pardon of the latter. De Soto had them brought out to have their heads chopped off, when the Indians arrived with a message from the Chief, informing him of the outrage upon his people. At the suggestion of Balthasar de Gallegos, the interpreter cunningly turned it to the advantage of the prisoners. He said to De Soto that the Chief desired him not to execute the robbers, for they had not molested his subjects. He said to the Indian ambassadors that they might return home well assured that the plunderers would be immediately put to death, according to the wishes of the Chief. The prisoners, in consequence were all set at liberty, much to the joy of the army.35
Upon the appearance of March 1541, the thoughts of the unhappy De Soto occasionally turned upon pursuing the journey. He demanded of the Chief two hundred men for burden bearers. An evasive answer was given, and for several days the Governor was apprehensive of an attack. He posted sentinels, under the supervision of Moscoso. One dark night, when the cold wind was howling awfully, the Chickasaws rushed upon the camp, in four squadrons, sending up yells the most terrible, and adding horror to the scene by the sound of wooden drums and the discordant blasts of conch shells. The houses of the town, in which the larger portion of the troops now lodged, were set on fire by arrows containing burning matches, made of a vegetable substance, which shot through the air like flashing meteors and fell upon the roofs! Constructed of straw and cane, the wigwams were soon wrapped in flames. The Spaniards, blinded by the smoke, ran out of the houses half dressed, and, in their dismay, knew not the best way to oppose the assailants. Some of the horses were burned in the stables and others broke their halters, and running in all directions among the soldiers, increased the unparalleled confusion. De Soto, and a soldier named Tapier, the first to mount, charged upon the enemy, the former being enveloped in an overcoat, quilted with cotton three inches thick, to shield him from the arrows. His saddle, which, in the haste, not been girted, turned with him in one of his sweeping bounds, and he fell heavily to the ground, at the moment his lance had pierced a savage. The soldiers drove off the Indians, who had surrounded him with clubs, and adjusted his saddle. Vaulting into it, he charged in the thickest of the enemy, and reveled in blood. The Spaniards were now seen, in all directions, engaged in a dreadful fight. Many, however, had just awoke, and now crawled upon their hands and knees out of the devouring flames above them. In a house, at some distance, lay the sick, and those who had not recovered from the wounds which they had received at Maubila and Cabusto. Hordes of savages pressed upon the poor fellows, and, before they were rescued, several fell victims. In the meantime, the cavaliers, some without saddles and others without clothes, joined the intrepid De Soto; and now the awful wind, the flames, the yells and the clangor of arms, made the scene frightfully sublime, and the night one long to be remembered. Fifty infantry took flight, which was the first instance of cowardice upon the march. Nuno Tobar sword in hand, rushed before them, and with the assistance of a detachment of thirty men under Juan de Guzman, arrayed them ageist the enemy. At that instant, Andres de Vasconcelos, at the head of twenty Portuguese hidalgos, most of whom had served as horsemen upon the African frontier, accompanied by Nuno Tobar on foot, forced the savages to retire on one side of the town. At length the Indians fled from the battlefield, and were pursued by De Soto and his troops as long as they could distinguish objects by the light of the burning town. Returning from the chase, the Governor found that the engagement had resulted in considerable loss. Forty Spaniards were killed, and among them the only white woman in camp, the wife of a soldier, whom she had followed from Spain. Fifty horses were lost, either burned or pierced with arrows. Dreading these singular quadrupeds in war, the Indians aimed at their entire destruction, and many were found shot entirely through in the moist and vital parts. The swine, the increase of which had often kept the Spaniards from starving, when pressed for food, were confined in a roofed enclosure, and a number of them were consumed by the fire. De Soto surveyed the scene with deep mortification. He blamed Moscoso for the unfortunate attack. His negligence here, reminded him of his tardy advance upon Maubila, and, in his anger, he deposed his old brother in arms from the rank of camp-master, and bestowed it upon the bold Baltasar de Gallegos. A succession March 1541 of losses had attended him since he crossed the Alabama at Piache. Indeed, from his first landing at Tampa Bay, over three hundred men had fallen by the assaults of the natives. The fire at Chickasa swept the few things saved at Maubila, together with half their wearing apparel. And now many of the unfortunate soldiers shivered in the cold, with scarcely a vestige of clothing.
In the fit of deep despondency into which he was thrown, De Soto did not forget the duties which a commanding officer owes to his suffering troops. The dead were buried and the wounded properly attended. The Indians, thick upon the plain, and upon the ruined town, remained, a prey for the hungry wolves and birds of carrion. The Spaniards abandoned the sickening spot, and encamped three miles distant, at Chickasilla, or little Chickasa, where they erected a forge and tempered their swords, making shields, lances and saddles. The remainder of the winter was passed in great wretchedness. Intense cold and grievous wounds were not all they had to bear, but often the natives assailed them at night, with the agility and ferocity of tigers! At sunset they were compelled to evacuate the town, and take position in the field, for fear that fire might be applied to the houses. The ingenuity of one of the soldiers devised mattings, four inches in thickness, made of long soft grass, in which those who were not upon guard wrapped themselves, and were somewhat protected from the piercing air. Often De Soto sent forth detachments, who cut down every Indian they overtook; yet, in a few succeeding nights, the savages return and attack the camp. Before daylight on Wednesday, the 15th March, 1541, Capt. Juan de Guzman, a man of delicate form, but of indomitable courage, was seized by the collar by an athletic Indian, who carried a banner, and jerked from his horse. The soldiers, rushing up, cut the bold fellow to pieces. Others dashed after the main body of Indians, and deep revenge would have been taken, if a monk, fearful that they would be led into an ambush, had not arrested the charge by the cry of, “To the camp! to the camp!” Forty Indians fell, two horses were killed, and two soldiers wounded.
On the 25th of April, 1541, De Soto marched northwest, through a campaign country, thickly populated, and journeying twelve miles, halted in a plain not far from the town of Alibamo. Juan de Anasco, with a foraging party, came in sight of this fortress, which was garrisoned by a large number of savages, whose bodies were painted in stripes of white, black and red, while their faces were frightfully blackened. Red circles surrounded their eyes. These, with headdresses of feathers and horns, gave a fantastic and ferocious appearance. The drums sounded alarums, and they rushed out of the fort with fearful whoops, forcing Anasco to retreat to the open fields. The enemy, scorning the inferiority of the detachment, pretended to knock one of the warriors in the head with a club, in front of the fort; and swinging him by the head and the heels near a fire, in insulting mockery, indicated the fate of the Spaniards who should fall into their hands. The irritated Anasco sent three troopers to the camp, who returned with De Soto at the head of a considerable force. The latter assaulted the fortress of the Alibamo, leading his men in three squadrons, commanded by Guzman, Avaro Romo de Cardenoso, and the stout Glonzalo Silvestre. A hundred Alabamas poured out from each portal and met the Spaniards. April 27 1541: Upon the first encounter, Diego de Castro, Louis Bravo and Francisco de Figarro fell, mortally wounded. An arrow struck the casque of the Governor with such force that it made his eyes flash blue. The victorious Spaniards forced the Alabamas into the fort, pressing them to death by the united shock of cavalry and infantry, the passes of the gates admitting but few of the Indians at once. The soldiers remembered that they had united with the Chickasaws, and they knew no bounds to the revenge which they now sought. In the rear many savages escaped, by climbing over the walls and through the back portals, pitching into the river which ran by the fort, but far below its foundation. In a short time, De Soto held possession of the interior. Alibamo stood upon the Yazoo River, in the county of Tallahatchie.36 It was built on palisades, in the form of a quadrangle, four hundred paces long on either side. Inner walls divided it into separate parts, enabling the besieged to retreat from one to the other. The centre wall, on the back side, was immediately upon a perpendicular bluff, beneath which flowed a deep and narrow river, across which were thrown a few rude bridges. Portions of the fort appeared to have been recently constructed for defense against the horses. It was decidedly the best fortified place yet discovered, except Maubila, but the garrison was greatly inferior in numbers to that of the latter. The outside portals were too low and narrow for a cavalier to enter on his horse. De Soto crossed the river at a ford below the plain, and pursued the savages until twilight, leaving many of them in the sleep of death. Four days were consumed at Alibamo in attending to the wounded. Fifteen Spaniards died–among them the cavaliers first wounded, who were young, valiant, and of the best blood of Spain. So terminated the battle of Alibamo, the last one of the many De Soto fought, which it is within our province to describe. We have followed that extraordinary adventurer through our State into the heart of Mississippi. A few more words must close the account of his nomadic march, as far as it rests in our hands.
The Spaniards reached the Mississippi River in May 1541, and were the first to discover it, unless Cabaca de Vaca crossed it twelve years before in wandering to Mexico with his four companions, which is not probable from the evidence afforded by his journal. De Soto consumed a year in marching over Arkansas, and returned to the “Father of Waters,” at the town of Guachaya, below the mouth of the Arkansas River, on the last of May, 1542. He here engaged in the construction of two brigantines to communicate with Cuba. That great man, whose spirits had long since forsaken him — who had met with nothing but disappointments — and who had, in his most perilous wanderings, discovered no country like Peru and Mexico — became sick with a slow and malignant fever. He appointed Moscoso to the command — bid his officers and soldiers farewell — exhorted them to keep together, in order to reach that country which he was destined never to see — and then CLOSED HIS EYES IN DEATH! Thus died Hernado De Soto, one of the most distinguished captains of that or any age. To conceal his death and protect his body from Indian brutalities, he was placed in an oaken trough, and silently plunged into the middle of the Mississippi, on a dark and gloomy night. Long did the muddy waters wash the bones of one of the bravest sons of Spain! He was the first to behold that river — the first to close his eyes in death upon it — and the first to find a grave in its deep and turbid channel.
Moscoso and the remaining troops again plunged into the wilderness west of the Mississippi, with the hopes of reaching Mexico. Departing on the 1st of June 1542, he returned on the 1st of December to the Mississippi river, at a point fifty miles above where De Soto died. The Spaniards began the construction of seven brigantines, the building of which required the chains of the slaves, saddle-stirrups, and every thing which contained a particle of iron, made into nails by the erection of forges, the Indian mantles stitched together for sails, and the inner bark of trees made into ropes. When these were completed, Gov. Moscoso departed down the vast stream, the 2nd of July 1543. The once splendid army of one thousand men was reduced to three hundred and twenty! Five hundred slaves were left at the place of embarkation, and Moscoso took with him one hundred, among others the beautiful women of Maubila. Twenty-two of the best horses were embarked; the others were killed and dried for food, as were the hogs, a large number of which still remained. The Spaniards were attacked upon descending the river, by fleets of Indian canoes. In one of these engagements, the brave Guzman and eleven others were drowned, and twenty-five wounded. In sixteen days they reached the Gulf, and put to sea on the 18th July 1543. Having landed at Tampa Bay on the 30th of May 1539, they had consumed a little over four years in wandering through Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and the vast regions of the Arkansas Territory. Tossed by the waves, famished with hunger, parched with thirst, and several times wrecked by tornadoes, the poor Spaniards finally reached the mouth of the river Panuco, upon the Mexican coast on the 10th September 1543. From thence they went to the town of Panuco. Appareled in skins of deer, buffalo, bear and other animals — with faces haggard, blackened, shriveled, and but faintly resembling human beings — they repaired to the church and offered up thanks to God for the preservation of their lives. Repairing to the City of Mexico, the Viceroy extended to them every hospitality. So did the elegant Castilian ladies of his court, who were enraptured with the beauty of Mobilian females–the high-spirited daughters of Alabama.37
Maldinado, whom we left at Pensacola Bay, awaited, in vain, the arrival of De Soto. He and his distinguished associate, Gomez Arias, at length weighed anchor and sailed along the coast in different directions, hoping to meet the expedition at some point. They left signals upon the trees, and attached letters to the bark. Returning to Cuba, they again sailed in search of De Soto in the summer of 1541, and touched frequently upon the Floridian and Mexican coasts, but heard nothing of him. Again, in the summer of 1542, they made a similar voyage with no better success. Determined not to give up the search for the lost Spaniards, Maldinado and Arias, in the spring of 1543 departed on a long voyage. On the 15th of October they touched at Vera Cruz, and learned that De Soto had died upon the Mississippi, and that three hundred of his army only had lived to reach Mexico. When this sad intelligence was conveyed to Havana, every one grieved, and Dona Isabel, long racked with anxiety, died of a broken heart!
Portuguese Narrative, pp 695-700. Garcellasso de la Vega, pp. 59-60. ↩
A history of the expedition of Narvaez will be found in Barcia, vol. 1, folio edition Madrid, 1749, entitled “Navfragios de Alvar Nunez Cabzea de Vaca y Relscion de la jornada que hizo a la Florida, con el Adelantado Panfilo de NarvAez.” See, also Herrera’e History of America, vol. 4, pp. 27-38, vol. 5 pp. 91-105. London: 1740. ↩
Portuguese Narrative, pp. 702-704. Garcellasso, pp. 45-64. ↩
The Portuguese Narrative asserts that Maldinndo was sent to the west, at the head of a detachment, by land; but I adopt the more reasonable statement of Garcellasso, especially as he is sustained by Biedma, De Soto’s commissary. See “Relation de ce qui arriva pendant le voyage du Captaine Soto, par Luis Hernandez de Biedma,” p. 59. ↩
Portuguese Narrative, p. 709. Garcellasso, pp. 211-214. ↩
Garcellasso, p 294. ↩
Portuguese Narrative, p. 712. ↩
Bertram, in his “Travels,” page 313, speaking of Silver Bluff, says: “The Spaniards formerly fixed themselves at this place in the hopes of finding silver.” ↩
Garcellasso, 295. ↩
Garcellasso, p. 295. ↩
Portuguese Narrative, p. 717. ↩
I have often been informed by old bee hunters and Indian countrymen, that after the territory of Alabama became partially settled by an American population, wild bees were much more abundant than they were in their earliest recollection. They were introduced into the country from Georgia and the Carolinas, and often escaping from their hives to the woods, became wild; hence De Soto found no honey in the country at the early period in which he invaded it, except at Chiaha. ↩
Garcellasso, p. 297. The oyster mentioned was the muscle to be found in all the rivers of Alabama. Heaps of muscle shells are now to be seen on our river banks wherever Indians used to live. They were much used by the ancient Indians for some purpose, and old warriors have informed me that their ancestors once used the shells to temper the clay with which they made their vessels. But as thousands of the shells lie banked up, some deep in the ground, we may also suppose that the Indians, in De Soto’s time, everywhere in Alabama, obtained pearls from them. There can be no doubt about the quantity of pearls found in this State and Georgia in 1540, but they were of a coarser and more valueless kind than the Spaniards supposed. The Indians used to perforate them with a heated copper spindle, and string them around their necks and arms like beads — others made toy babies and birds of them. ↩
Garcellasso, p. 298. ↩
Portuguese Narrative, p 718-719 ↩
Portuguese Narrative, pp. 718-719. ↩
Portuguese Narrative pp. 718-719. ↩
Garcellasso, p. 300. ↩
Portuguese Narrative, p. 719. ↩
Portuguese Narrative, p. 719. ↩
Portuguese Narrative, p. 719. ↩
Garcellasso, p. 300. ↩
Portuguese Narrative, p. 719-720. ↩
In 1798, Col. Benjamin Hawkins, then Creek Agent, visited the Coosa town, now embraced in the county of Talladega. He accurately describes the inhabitants and the location of the town, which he says was situated on the banks of the Coosa, between the mouths of two creeks, the Indian names of which were Natche and Ufaula. When the French expelled the Natchez from the Mississippi in 1730, some of that tribe sought refuge among the Talladegas — hence the name of one of these creeks in Hawkins’ day. When the Americans, in 1832, began to settle this country, they changed the name of these creeks to Talladega, or Kiamulgee, and Tallasehatchee. In addition to the testimony of Col. Hawkins, many old Indian country home have informed me that here was the site of the Coosa town, which was known by that name in their early days. Several ancient French and Spanish maps, in my possession, lay down the town of Coosa at the place described. See Hawkins’ sketch of the Creek Country in 1798-1799, published by the Historical Society of Georgia, Savannah, 1848. ↩
Portuguese Narrative, p 720. ↩
The Negro left at Coosa was not the only memorial of De Soto that remained with these people. George Stiggins, whose mother was a Natchez Indian, and whose father was a Scotchman, was born in the Talladega country. He was a fair English scholar, and a pretty good writer. He had been for years engaged in writing a history of the Creeks, and died some years age, leaving it in an unfinished state. His son permitted me to peruse it one day. Stiggins asserts that the Talladegas had, at a late day, a brass kettledrum and several shields which once belonged to the army of De Soto, and that he had often seen them. The Coosas used them as trophies in their annual festivals. Besides these, De Soto left hogs and sometimes cattle among the Alabama towns, and such is the origin of these animals among the Indians. Horses and mules were too valuable to be given away. ↩
Some years After De Soto passed through this country, the Muscogees or Creeks came from the Mexican empire of which they were subjects, and overrun all East Alabama and the greater portion of Georgia, killing and making slaves of many of the Alabamas, Ockmulgees, Oconees and Uchees, the latter of whom then lived near the modern city of Savannah. Upon the ruins of the Tallase discovered by De Soto, the Muscogees built the town of Tookabatcha, but immediately opposite, across the river, across the river, the name of Tallase was preserved until they moved to Arkansas, in 1836. The ancient and extensive Indian settlement is now a large cotton plantation. ↩
Garcellasso, p. 310. Portuguese Narrative, p. 722. ↩
Garcellasso, pp. 369-370. ↩
Biedma says that De Soto occupied two days in passing the river, and he learned from the Indians that Narvaez’s barques touched at the mouth of the river (the Alabama) in search of water, and that a Christian, named Teodoro, was still among the Indians below–and they exhibited to De Soto a dagger which they had obtained from him. P.72. ↩
In describing the battle of Maubila, I have carefully consulted the Portuguese Narrative and Garcellasso. I find that they are, in the main, sustained by Biedma. See Garcellasso, pp. 312-331 — Portuguese Narrative, pp. 722-725– Biedma, pp 74-78. ↩
Do Soto had no doubt determined to settle a colony in the province of Coosa. The desperate resolution, now formed, of again plunging into unknown regions, was unfortunate tor him and his followers, and for the historians of Alabamas. A colony in Alabama at that early period, would have afforded many rich historic incidents. ↩
“Etoit sur un fleuve, grand, profond et haut de bord.” Garcellasso, p. 348. The American rivers, of ordinary size, appeared large to the Spaniards, and do even now to all Europeans. ↩
Portuguese Narrative, p. 725. Garcellasso, pp. 348-362. ↩
Poor Ortiz never reached his native country, but died in Arkansas. He was of great service as an interpreter. Understanding only the Floridian language, he conducted conversations through the Indians of different tribes who understood each other, and who attended the expedition. In conversing with the Chickasaws, for instance, he commenced with a Floridian, who carried the word to a Georgian, the Georgian to the a Coosa, the Coosa to the Mobilian, and the latter to the Chickasaw. In the same tedious manner the answer was conveyed to him and reported to De Soto. ↩
General Le Clere Milfort, an intelligent Frenchman, lived in the Creek Nation from 1776 until 1799. He wrote a history of the Muscogees or Creeks, and published his work in Paris in 1802. He married the sister of General Alexander McGillivray, of the Creek tribe. When he arrived in France Bonaparte made him a General of Brigade, and in 1814 he was attacked in his house by a party of Russians, and rescued by some grenadiers. Shortly afterwards he died.
Milfort states that the Alabamas wandered from the northern part of Mexico, and settled upon the Yazoo, and afterwards removed to the river which bears their name. This fact, connected with that of the Alibamo fort, mentioned by the journals of De Soto, establishes conclusively that they were the same people. The Alabamas, after De Soto’s time, settled on the site of the modern Montgomery, Coosawda and Washington, below the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa. From these people the river and state took their name.
“Memoire ou coup d’oeil rapide sur mes differens voyages et mon sejour dans la Nation Creek, par Le Clerc Milfort.”–pp. 229 288. 55 ↩
An interesting account of the expedition, from the battle of Alibamo to their entrance into the city of Mexico, which I have rapidly glanced at, may be found in the Portuguese Narrative, pp. 728-762; Garcellasso de la Vea, pp. 372-557. ↩