Hernando De Soto
The Choctaws were first made known to the European world by the journalists of that memorable adventurer. Hernando De Soto, who invaded their territory October, 1540, and introduced the civilized (so-called) race of man kind to the Choctaws in the following manner: A manly young Indian of splendid, proportions, and with a face extremely attractive and interesting, visited De Soto after he had left Tallase. He was the son of Tuscaloosa (corruption of the Choctaw words Tushka, warrior, Lusa, black), a renowned chief whose territories extended to the distant Tombigbee in the west. (Tombigbee is a corruption of the Choctaw words Itombi, box, ikbi, maker), a name given to a white man, it is said, who, at an early day, settled on the banks of the river and made boxes for the Choctaws, in which were placed the bones of their dead, which will be particularly noticed elsewhere.
The young warrior bore an invitation from his father to De Soto to visit him at his capital. The next day De Soto, advancing to with in six miles of where the great chief awaited him, made a halt, and sent Louis de Mascosso with fifteen horsemen to inform Tush ka Lusa of his near approach. Mascosso and his troopers soon appeared before Tush ka Lusa, who was seated upon an eminence commanding a broad and delightful view. He was a man of powerful stature, muscular limbs, yet of admirable proportions, with a countenance grave and severe, yet handsome. When De Soto arrived Tush ka Lusa arose and advanced to meet him with a proud and haughty air, and said: Great Chief; I receive you as a brother, and welcome you to my country. I am ready to comply with your requests.” After a few preliminaries, in company with Tush ka Lusa and his followers, De Soto took up his line of inarch for Mobila the capital of the mighty chief. (Mobila is a corruption of the two Choctaw words moma, all, binah, a lodge, literally a lodge or encampment for all.)
On the third day of their march from Piache, (a corruption of the Choctaw word Pi-a-chih, to care for us), they passed through many populous towns, well stored with corn, beans and other provisions. On the fourth morning, De Soto, with a, hundred cavalry and as many infantry, made a forced march with Tush ka Lusa in the direction of Mobila, leaving Mascosso to bring up the rear. At eight o’clock the same morning, October 18th, 1540, De Soto and Tush ka Lusa reached the capital. It stood by the side of a large river, upon a beautiful plain, and consisted of eighty hand some houses, each large enough to contain a thousand men, and all fronting a large public square. Dodge says in his book styled “Our Wild Indians” that “The aboriginal in habitants of the North American continent, have never at any time exceeded half a million souls;” yet according to De Soto’s journalists who were with him in his memorable raid, Mobila alone, “consisted of eighty handsome houses, each large enough to contain a thousand men;” and if each house contained Dodge’s “several families consisting of men, with two or three wives, and children of all ages and sexes, occupy for all purposes one single lodge of 12 or 15 feet in diameter what must have been the number of inhabitants in Mobila with “80 handsome houses, each large enough to contain a thousand men” with two, three, or more wives, and children occupying “for all purposes,” a space only “12 or 15 feet, in diameter”? The reader can make the calculation at his own leisure; though it seems Mobila alone contained over half the number of souls that Dodge allows for the entire continent, “at one time.”
A high wall surrounded the town, made of immense trunks of trees set close together and deep in the ground, and made strong with heavy cross-timbers interwoven with large vines. A thick mud plaster, resembling handsome masonry, concealed the woodwork, while portholes were abundant, together with towers, capable of holding eight men each, at the distance of fifteen paces apart. There were two gates leading into the town, one on the east, and the other on the west. De Soto and Tush ka Lusa were escorted into the great public square with songs and chants, and the dancing of beautiful Indian girls. They alighted from their horses, and were given seats under a canopy of state. Having remained seated for a short time, Tush ka Lusa now requested that he should no longer be held as a hostage; to which De Soto giving no heed, the indignant chief at once arose and walked off with an independent attitude to where a group of his warriors stood. De Soto had scarcely recovered from his surprise at the independent con duct of Tush ka Lusa, when Jean Ortez followed the chief and stated that breakfast awaited him at De Soto’s table; but he refused to return, and added, “If your chief knows what is best for him, he will immediately take his troops out of my territory.” At this juncture De Soto secretly sent word to his men to be prepared for an attack. Then, hoping to prevent an attack until he could again get in possession of the chief, De Soto advanced toward him with assumed smiles and words of friendship, but Tush ka Lusa scornfully turned his back upon him, and was soon hidden among the multitude of now highly excited warriors. Just then a warrior rushed out of a house, denouncing the Spaniards as robbers and murderers and declared that they should no longer impose on their chief, by holding him as a prisoner. His words so enraged Baltaserde Gallagas that he cut the warrior in twain with one sweep of his broad sword. At the sight of their slain warrior, the Choctaws, with their defiant war-whoop, at once rushed upon De Soto and his men. De Soto, placing himself at the head of his men, fighting and retreating, slowly made his way out of the town into the plain; and continued to retreat until he had reached a considerable distance upon the plain. In the mean time the troopers rushed to secure their horses, which had been tied outside of the walls. The Choctaws at once knocked the chains from the hands and feet of the Indian prisoners whom De Soto had brought with him, giving them weapons bade them help destroy the perfidious strangers. In the first rush the Choctaws killed five of the Spaniards, who had been left outside of the walls, and were loudly exulting over their seeming good fortune in dense masses before the gate. At that moment, De Soto with his cavalry, closely followed by his infantry, made a fearful charge upon the disordered mass of the Choctaws, who were still on the out side of the enclosures, and with a terrible slaughter drove them back into the town. Immediately the Choctaws rushed to the portholes and towers, and hurled clouds of arrows and spears upon the Spaniards, and again drove them from the walls. Seeing the Spaniards again retreat, again the Choctaws rushed through the gate and fearlessly attacked the Spaniards fighting them hand to hand and face to face. Three long hours did the battle rage, the Spaniards now re treating, then the Choctaws. Like a spectre De Soto seemed everywhere hewing down on the right and left, as if his arm could never tire. That sword, which had been so often stained with the blood of the South American, was now red with that of the North American, a still braver race. Above the mighty din was heard the voice of Tush ka Lusa encouraging his warriors; his tomahawk, wielded by his muscular arm, ascended and descended in rapid strokes, like a meteor across a starry sky. But could the feeble bow and arrow and the tomahawk avail against the huge lance and broadsword? What the unprotected body of the Choctaw warrior against the steel clad body of the Spanish soldier? At length the Choctaws were forced to make a permanent retreat within the enclosure of their town, closing the gates after them; and at the same time the Spaniards made a desperate charge against the gates and walls, but were met with showers of arrows and other missiles. But the infantry, protected by their bucklers, soon hewed the gates to pieces with their battle-axes, and rushed into the town, while the cavalry remained on the outside to cut to pieces all who might attempt to escape. Then began carnage too awful to relate. The Choctaws fought in the streets, in the square, from the house top, and walls; and though the ground was covered with their dead and dying relatives and friends, still no living one entreated for quarter.
Hotter and hotter, and bloodier waxed the desperate conflict. Often the Choctaws drove the Spaniards out of the town, but to see them return again with demoniac fury. To such a crisis had the battle now arrived, that there could be no idle spectators; and now were seen women and girls contending side by side with the husbands, fathers and brothers and fearlessly sharing in the dangers and in the indiscriminate slaughter. At length the houses were sets 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 din of strife began to grow fainter. The sun went down, seemingly to rejoice in withdrawing from the sickening scene. Then all was hushed. Mobila was in ruins, and her people slain. For nine long hours had the battle raged. Eighty-two Spaniards were killed and forty-five horses. But alas, the poor Choctaws, who participated in the fight were nearly all slain.
Garcellasso asserts that eleven thousand were slain; while the “Portuguese Gentleman” sets the number at twenty five hundred within the town alone. Assuming a point between the two, it is reasonable to conclude that six thousand were killed in and outside of the town. Tushka Lusa perished with his people. After the destruction of Mobila, De Soto remained a few days upon the plains around the smoking town; sending out foraging parties, who found the neighboring villages well stocked with provisions. In all these foraging excursions, females of great beauty were captured, and added to those taken at the close of the battle. On Sunday the 18th of November 1540, this monster and his fiendish crew took their departure from the smoldering ruins of Mobila, and its brave but murdered inhabitants; and with the poor Mobila girls, at whose misfortunes humanity weeps, resumed their westward march.
Thus the Europeans introduced themselves to the Native Americans nearly four centuries ago as a race of civilized and Christian people, but proving themselves to be a race of fiends utterly void of every principle of virtue known to man. And thus the Native Americans introduced themselves to the Europeans as a race unknown to civilization and Christianity, yet proving themselves possessed of many virtues that adorn man, together with a spirit of as true and noble patriotism, martyrs upon the altar of liberty, that has never been surpassed.
I challenge history to show a nation whose people ever displayed a more heroic courage in defense of their country and homes than did Tushka Lusa and his brave people in defending their town Mama-binah. They exposed their naked breasts to the keen lances and swords of those iron-clad Spaniards with but stone and bone-tipped spears and the feeble bow and arrow, which were but as toy pistols against the deadly Winchester rifle of the present day; and heroically stood face to face with their terrible foes with their frail weapons and disputed every inch of ground, and yielded only when none was left to fight. That they should have killed eighty-two of the Spaniards with their feeble weapons is truly astonishing, proving conclusively that had they been on equal footing with the Spaniards, not a Spaniard would have survived to tell the tale of their complete destruction.