History of Alabama

DeSoto in Alabama

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See Also: DeSoto's Expedition from "TUSKALOOSA, Its Name" by Thomas Maxwell, 1874

Source: Alabama Historical Reporter, Vol 2 No 10, September 1884 – Published by Alabama Historical Society, Tuskaloosa, Ala - Transcribed by Veneta McKinney





A combination of the actual and the ideal in the life of a people is necessary to secure the highest results of material prosperity, and to transmit the heritage to their children. It is not sufficient to have amassed wealth, to have conquered nations, to have builded cities, to have founded colonies, to have reared vast mausolea to demigods, to have recorded their deeds in brass or marble; else Babylon, Ninevah, Palmyra, Baalbec, Thebes, Memphis, Troy, Carthage, would fill the trump of fame long after Jerusalem and Athens and Rome has faded from the mind of man.

            But the fallen marbles, the buried sphinx, the silent pyramid, speak only of desolation and ruin ; city and builder alike unknown. While the notes of Salem's Shepherd-King, the song of the blind old Sciote, the lay of the Mantuan bard, still recall the theocratic glory of Israel, the plastic beauty of Grecian art, and the Augustan splendor of Roman power : Story and song are the arts preservative of all arts.



It is unfortunate for the preservation of historical facts, that the people of the South when they had the leisure, had not the disposition to gather and preserve them. And now these facts will soon pass from the memory of our people, and we can only conjecture then what had been the origin and history of the aborignes of this land. What the extent of the different tribes, what their manners and customs. Men of letters and the various historical Societies must secure this information at once, or the few contemporaries of the Red Man.—those who had conversed with McGillivray, McIntosh, Weatherford, Paddy Carr, Marshall, Koss, and Ridge, will have passed away, and with them the last of the traditions of these people.

            The European history of the South-Western States begins at a period antecedent to that of any other portion of the American continent. As Meek has well said, "long before the Pilgrims had landed at Plymouth, or the bold and chivalrous Smith had led his followers into the savage wilds of Virginia, Spanish enterprise and prowess had over-run and subjugated the greater portion of that territory now included within the states of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida." As early as the year 1512, Ponce de Leon had discovered the "land of flowers," and the name of Florida was subsequently applied by the Spaniards to all the southern portion of North America. In 1528, Pamphilo de Narvaez, with a force equal to that of Cortez or Pizarro, had marched through Florida and Georgia. For eight hundred miles, of a route now unknown, he had sought in vain for the golden splendors of Mexico and Peru. And re-embarking at the present Saint Marks, on rudely constructed barques, all except four souls were lost in the Gulf of Mexico. Seven years afterwards, in 1535, this remnant reached Mexico by land. In 1538, Hernando de Soto, under the orders of Charles V., fitted out the most magnificent expedition which had ever crossed the Atlantic Ocean. A cavalier of high rank in Spain, he had served with Pizarro in Peru, and had amassed a large fortune from the spoil of the Incas. In his suite, were many of the "conquistadores,'' men who already had sought out and appropriated the wealth of two barbaric empires, and who fancied their career of greed and glory was but fairly begun. But as Napoleon said on the retreat from Moscow—there is in this world but one step from the sublime to the ridiculous. Thus was the sun of Austerlitz beclouded by the sun of Berisina, and de Soto found not the wealth of Coxamalca, but an unknown grave in the bosom of the Mississippi.

            The most probable account, that of the Portuguese Knight of Elvas, places de Soto's force at six hundred men and two hundred and thirteen horses. The force of Cortez. in Mexico, was five hundred and fifty-three men and sixteen horses; while Pizarro, in Peru, had only one hundred and eighty-five men, and thirty-seven horses.

The route of de Soto has been traced by McCullock, by Theodore Irving, Gallatin, Bancroft, Stevens of Georgia Williams of Florida, Meek and Pickett of Alabama. The sketch of A. P.. Meek was published in 1839, and has generally been received as authentic, and subsequent writers seem unfortunately not to have collected his account with the original narrations, or with the earlier account of McCullock.

            The three original accounts are, first, the relation of the Portugeese gentleman of Elvas, employed in all the action, published at Evora, in 1557, translated by Hakluyt, London, 1009: Second, the Florida of the Inca, written by the Inca Garcillaso de la Vega, in Peru, from accounts of actors of the events: and third, the narrative of Luis Hernandez de Biedrna, presented to the king of Spain in 1544. We think the general route of de Soto is correctly given by Meek and followed by Pickett. But we think there are important errors in the itinerary which need correction. And still more important errors as the condition and location of the Indian tribes through which de Soto passed. These errors we propose to correct from the highest authority, the testimony of the eyewitnesses of the events, in their original narrations.

            We state briefly, the route of de Soto as laid down by Meek in "Romantic Passages in South-Western History"—Goetzel, New York, 1857, and followed, except at one point, by Pickett, History of Alabama, Charleston, Walker and James, 1851. On the 1st of June, 1539, de Soto, with about four hundred infantry and two hundred and fifty cavalry, left the bay of Tampa, in Florida. He found a Spaniard, Juan Ortiz, left by a former expedition, a prisoner for twelve years among the Indians. This man was his interpreter with the natives. Fighting and advancing through hammocks and marshes, and crossing rivers, he is supposed to have proceeded as far North as the Southern boundary of Georgia. He then turns to the South-West to the bay of Apalachee, or St. Marks, where he wintered. From this place he sent out exploring parties to the bay of Ochusee or Ochisee, to which point he directed his vessels to come in October, 1540, to meet him. On the 3rd March, 1540, he left Apalachee proceeding North-Easterly for a point called Catafachiqui, where he expected to find gold and copper. The expedition passed the village of Ochisee, crossed the Altapaha, and other rivers, and is supposed by Meek, to have passed by the sites of Macon and Milledgeville, to Catafachiqui, in the forks of two large rivers, supposed, the Broad and Savannah. But at this point, Pickett accepts the statement of Dr. Holmes, of Baldwin county, Alabama, that Indian tradition located the town Cofachiqui, or Catafachiqui, at Silver Bluff, in Barnwell District, S. C. Thus, ignoring the fact that the town lay in the fork of two large rivers. Most of these Indian countrymen with whom we have conversed, Dr. Holmes included, are as fanciful as Marco Polo, hazarding the vaguest guesses on the authority of some Indian Chief, who usually agreed with any proposition submitted to him. From the town of Catafachiqui, where for some weeks de Soto was kindly entertained by an Indian Princess whom he retained as a hostage, and who did not escape from him until the army had nearly accomplished the route through Northern Georgia, he marched on the 3rd of May, North, and North-west, in seven days reaching the Cherokee Country. (note.—As near as can be ascertained from the points that are determined, de Soto progressed one hundred miles each month, not counting his doublings, or side marches.) Turning thence a little South of West, he reached the Etowah river, and on its banks, on the 1st of June, he reached the town of Conesauga. Just before reaching the town of Conesauga, he had remained four days at the large town of Wahoole, situated between several streams which had their sources in the surrounding mountains. Passing down the smaller stream, the Spaniards found it to increase in size, and as it "was joined by other streams, it presently grew larger than the Guadalquiver, which passes by Seville in Spain." On the 5th of June, he reached the town of Ichiaha or Chiaha, which has generally been taken as the site of Rome, Georgia. (note.—Meek puts this town lower down at Chatooga River, but if Guaxule is Ewharlee, I think Pickett is correct. It does not, however, change the route of de Soto in either event. Chiaha is a Muscogee word. But Tallassee, Toasee, Tuskegee, were towns in both nations, and so Chiaha may have been.) After remaining thirty days at Chiaha, he placed his sick in boats. On the 2nd of July, he proceeded down the river, and after seven days slow march, he entered the town of Costa, supposed to be in Cherokee County, Alabama, on the Coosa River. At Chisea, in the mountains North of the river, mines of copper, but no gold, were examined. The people of Costa (note.—Spelled also Acoste, which is a Muscogee word, rendered Augusta by the English,) seemed to be of the same tribe as those at Chiaha, and Wahoole, as a chief from Chiaha quelled a disturbance at Costa, provoked by the plundering of de Soto's soldiers. On the 9th of July, 1540, de Soto crossed to the east side of the river, upon rafts and canoes, and proceeding down the east bank, he encamped the first night at the town of Talle. They had entered the territory of the Chief of Cosa. "The trail was lined with towns, villages, and hamlets, and many sown fields which reached from one to the other. The numerous barns were full of maize, while fields of the growing crop 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 tallest trees, and lower branches were laden with delicious Isabella grapes."

            On the 26th of July, 1540, the army reached the town of Cosa, which was in the present county of Talladega, on the Coosa River, at the mouth of the two creeks, Talladega and Tallasehatchee. From Chiaha to Coosa, or as most writers agree from Rome, Georgia, to the mouth of Talladega Creek, the army journeyed through a wide cultivated valley, affording ample support for man and beast, and no obstacle from nature or the hostility of the Indians. (note.—Chiata, Chalaquee, Chattahoochee, and similar words indicate the origin of the people, and their local circumstances. "In every mountain dialect we remark a predilection for the strongly, aspirated CH; the hard CH. A. & O, are most powerfully emphatic; on the sea coast the softened SOH,U and I (that is short e) form as it were the fundamental chord of that language; while, on the contrary, a broad tone and sharp accent indicate a level country and agricultural population."—Schlegel.) In twenty days' travel, unobstructed by mountains, or rivers, or battles, and not delayed by the necessity of foraging, de Soto advanced one hundred miles  Each day. After remaining twenty-five days at Coosa, he .marched up the Talladega Creek, crossing over into the waters of Tallapoosa River, and descending the Hillabee creek to the river, and thence down to the mouth of Eufaubee creek, to the town of Tallassee. In the Coosa valley, he passed the towns of Tallemachasee and of Utaua, the latter on a stream so much swollen by rain that he was compelled to await the assauging of the water. About the first of September, the army reached the head waters of the Hillabee. On the I4th the Ulliballi, or Hillabee, town was reached, and after passing Toase, or Towasaee, the principal town, Talladega, was reached on the 18th of September, 1540. This would require one month, or 29 days, for the journey from Coosa to Tallassee, a distance of one hundred and twenty miles; and deducting the delay of six days at Utana, would give five miles and a quarter for a day's travel. (note.— Utana is preserved in the present Etowah, an affluent of the Coosa river. By the common people this stream is known, even so styled in some state papers, as the Hightower.) Having remained at Tallassee twenty days, de Soto dismissed the Chief of Cosa, with whom he parted upon good terms, crossed the Tallapoosa in canoes and upon rafts, marched down the Eastern side and encamped at Casista. Passing other towns, on the third day, de Soto reached the temporary abode of Tuscaloosa, the chief of the new tribe into whose territory he seemed to have entered after leaving Tallassee. The original account puts the distance from Tallassee at 36 miles, but it could not have been more than half that distance. And this place where Tuscaloosa received de Soto must have been near Mt. Meigs, in Montgomery County. By the statement of Biedma, and others, de Soto left Tallassee on the 8th of October; he lost one day crossing the Tallapoosa, remained two days at the town where Tuscaloosa received him, two days more were consumed in crossing the Alabama river, allowing six or seven travelling days or marches, before the battle of the 18th October was fought at the town of Mauvila. (note.—Mauvila was the site of the most desperate battle de Soto fought. Tuscaloosa here attacked the force of six hundred Spaniards with all the warriors he could collect. The engagement terminated disastrously for the savages. The Indian loss is variously estimated from 2500 to 11,000 and the loss of de Soto from eighteen to eighty-two, killed. As Prescott remarks, the official returns of the old Castilian crusaders, whether in the old world or the new, of Arabs or of Indians, are scarcely more trustworthy than a French imperial bulletin.) The Alabama river was crossed at Peachee on the 14th October; the town was seated on a peninsula formed by the windings of a large river "the same which runs by Tallassee, but here grown much wider and deeper.'' One of the original narrations states that the river was reached after three days' march of twelve miles each, from the town where Tuscaluza received de Soto. McCullock states in his researches ''that there is a ford on the Alabama sixty leagues above the confluence with the Tombickbee, which the Choctaws call Tascaloussas. The army may have crossed here." This has decided Meek and Pickett to accept Evans' landing, in Wilcox county, as the place of crossing. This point is one hundred miles on an air line from Tallassee, and was reached in six days' marches. After three days' march from the river, de Soto reached the town of Mauvila. This Pickett locates at Choctaw Bluff', in Clarke County, about forty miles below Evans' landing. Having arrived at this conclusion "because it is the proper distance from Piachee, and both of the original accounts agree was eighty-five miles from Pensacola." Now, Piachee itself was never determined, and none of de Soto's party knew the distance to Pensacola, or even to the bay of Ocheese, which is the place mentioned ; and Ocheesee we think was Apalachicola Bay.

(To be continued.)



Source: Alabama Historical Reporter, Vol 2 No 11, October 1884 – Published by Alabama Historical Society, Tuskaloosa, Ala - Transcribed by Veneta McKinney




[ Continued.)

Pickett states that tradition confirms the selection of Choctaw Bluff as the place, and we think it was this tradition which induced these writers to hasten this army, severely scourged with the scurvy as they were stated to be, at a rate equal to the speed of "Stonewall's foot cavalry.'' We think the Alabama river was crossed near Moniac's, at the Indian Holy Ground, at mouth-of Pintlassa Creek, that Mauvila was not far from Selma, and Cabusto, which was on the banks of another river, "large, deep, and with high banks," was not far from the Cahawba river. The streams subsequently passed by de Soto agree in order with the rivers of West Alabama. And he wintered between the Black Warrior and Tombigbee, not far from the present site of Eutaw, in Greene County. With his farther adventures, and his sad death and burial in the Mississippi, we shall not concern ourself, as it is out of the States of Georgia and Alabama, and his subsequent career was objectless, and devoid of interest. It was necessary to state his route as commonly received in our histories. We will now state wherein we differ from Meek and Pickett, though sometimes we agree with other writers.

            We think that the Appalachee Indians of Florida were the Uchsees, which is pronounced Oochee. At the time of de Soto the nation, as an irregular confederacy, extended to the middle of the State of Georgia. The first Chief encountered near Tampa Bay was Ucota, which in Spanish is simply little Uchee. One of the chief difficulties in the names of the itinerary, is that the words were spelled in Spanish, part of the relations were translated into French, and part into English, while the proper names having retained their Spanish form, they seem to differ in pronunciation entirely from the Indian geographical words. With a Spanish pronunciation, they will agree in sound with the well known names of streams and towns of the Indian tribes.

            From inattention to the phonetic value of the letters in translation, the names are sometimes changed, a single letter dropped affecting the pronunciation of the word and destroying entirely its sound. For example, de Soto sent out an exploring party to seek a better harbor than St. Marks Bay. On the return of the party, they reported the discovery of a good harbor to the West of St. Marks called Ocheese, in English Ocheesee, a well known point on Apalachicola river, and formerly a large Indian town. This would be Uchee town, Uchee River, and Uchee Bay. And Apalachicola River and Bay, were the places indicated. This is the first bay west of St. Marks: it is compared, with that, a fine harbor, ample for the caravals of 100 to 200 tons used by the Span iards. The discovery of the Hay of Ocheesee is stated in one of the accounts to have been made by land. De Soto had no vessels at St. Marks, except a brigantine he built to send to Cuba when he left for the interior. He requested Maldinado to meet him in October at the bay of Ocheesee, on his return from the interior. Maldinado and others sailed along the en. tire coast from Tampa to Vera Cruz. The word is usually spelled in English Ochees which would not alter the pronunciation of Ocheese in English, but in Spanish the word is lost by dropping the final letter e. After the bay of Pensacola was discovered, it was assumed that Ochees was the bay of Pensacola. The remnant of de Soto's army went on to Mexico and did not return to the coast after leaving St. Marks, or Apalachee Hay. The next error in names is confounding the Alapaha river with the Altamaha. Biedma states the army crossed a branch of the Altapaha which, was assumed to be the Altamaha, and gave a grave error in Easting, carrying the line of march to the Savannah, instead of up the water shed between the Flint and the Ocmulgee rivers. McCullock in his "Researches,"' thinks that he identifies the following places: Anaica, north of the Uchee river, in Decatur County; Achalaqui, in Houston County; Talomeco, in Monroe County; Chunolla. in Hale County; Ichiaha, or Chiaha, is evidently the Etowah. Gallatin thinks Anaica is on the Ocklockne and Catafachiqui is on the Savannah or the Oconee. Williams, of Florida, thinks Catafachiqui is on the Chattahoochee. Bancroft makes de Soto pass from the head waters of the Savannah, on Chattahoochee, westward to the Alabama line. Chattafoochkee, (Catafachiqui) is, we think, identical with Chattahoochee, and the town of the Indian Queen was at the fork of the Chattahoochee and Chestatee in Hall County. From this point proceeding westward he passed down the Etowah river, through the Chalaquee or Cherokee county. The first large Cherokee town he reaches is the Guaxule, in English pronounced Wahulay, which is known to the present generation as the Euharlee. A smaller town near it, the Conesauga, by a similarity of name with a small stream in Murray county, causes in Meek's conjecture, an unnecessary deflection in the route ofdeSoto. This town was on the Etowah, and not on Conesauga Creek. (note.— Spelled Canasauga in Spanish. In the Cana we observe the word Chana, Banna, in Muscogee; meaning cedar. And in this vicinity we find Cedar Creek and Cedar Bluff. It is an historical fact that the Muscogees claimed a line much farther north than the mouth of Black Creek, near Gadsden, saying they had permitted the Cherokees to come down into their territory.) From the Cherokee Country, de Soto passed into the Muscogee or Creek nation. The first town he passed was Talle, which is simply the Muscogee word for town. "The Sketch of the Creek County in 1798-09." by Benjamin Hawkins, confirmed the account of de Soto as Ochanyulgan, (An-chany-ulgan) or Big Cedar town, the most northern of the Creek towns was near the Coosa river, at the Georgia and Alabama line. The statement that the ('reeks were not in Alabama in 1540, but immigrated after that time, from the North-west, is utterly disproved by the relations of de Soto's companions. The names Talle, Coosa. Tallamachusa, Utaua (Eutaw.) (or Etowah) Ullaballi, (or Hillibee), Toasa (Towasaw) and Tallise (or Tallassee) are names of Muscogee towns recorded by Hawkins and known to the old settlers of the present day in Hast Alabama. This is more conclusive than all the traditions of the oldest men of the tribe. We have ourselves interviewed many of the half-breeds scattered through East and South Alabama. We always found them as credulous and as ignorant as children. We trust more to philosophy than to tradition. It is not too late to secure correct vocabularies of the Muscogee and Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw languages. (note.—A Muskokee vocabulary of 2000 words is to be published by the Smithsonian Institute with dialects of the Uchees, Hillabees, Cussetas, in 1877.) They are living tongues. The missionaries have translated the gospels into some of these languages. Hawkins, in his vocabulary of the Creek language, is fanciful and follows no rule; as an example:

            Wewocan and O-cow-o-cuh, is the same word, and the meaning is noisy waters. Correctal, Cowetah, Kanonita, Oscoochee, Osee-oochee; Oswichee, are various modes of spelling two words. French and Spanish words must not be pronounced as English, Miami, Manmee, Attakapas, Tuckapaw, Guanaxuata, Whanarwhortah, Chihuahua, Cheewawwaw, and similar proper names should have the English spelling conform to the sound, not the sound to spelling—Philology from feeble beginnings has taken rank with the other sciences. It is accomplishing in language what pateontology does in geology. It gees back of the historic period, follows man in his migrations, tracks him over deserts and oceans, through vast social and political upheavals, where papyrus and graven stone are not found, and even the faintest ray of tradition has never pierced; like the implements of the age of stone, or the bone of the skeleton of Cra Morgan—the spoken language of even a rude people connects them with the brotherhood of humanity, and with the nations who have lived on the page of history. The Celt of Ireland is identified with the Phoenician, the wandering gypsy of Bohemia with India, and the Inca of Peru with the East of China and the Indian isles, solely, but indisputably, by the root affinities of language. No country possesses so rich a mine of historic romance as the South-west. From the Aborigines, the Spanish, the French, and the English discoverers, and from their descendants, the amplest material for the pages of history can be drawn. With the lamented and eloquent Meek, we say. "the lovers of literature in all its departments, find there the precious metals, which might be moulded into all the most graceful and elegant forms of thought. The stimulants to an intelligent and appreciative love of country are there. Shall these treasures continue to lie unused and unregarded?" And appealing to the Historical Society of Alabama, (which just now, in July, 1874, has reorganized for work.) as we appeal to lovers of letters, Meek concludes. "Go on, then, gentlemen, energetically in your noble undertaking, consoled by the assurance, that you are collecting the materials that shall illustrate and embellish the annals of your State, in the far distant, when they shall receive the plastic touch and vivifying breath of some future Xenophon or Polybius, some Tacitus or Livy, who, like the Hebrew prophet, shall bid the dry bones—live!''

Notes.—(The tribes through which de Soto travelled, were the Apalachees, or Uchees, extending from Tampa Bay to the Cherokees. Apalachee River is the North-west affluent of the Oconee. I once heard in 1836 a Muscogee or Creek prisoner say of another "he is a Uchee, talks down his throat. Nobody understands his lingo." Thus Taine characterizes English.

2nd. Chalagues. Cherokees.

3rd. Alibamas, Hillabees, Cosas. all Muscogees or Creeks, in 1540 I think the Tallapoosa River was the Southern line in that direction.

4th. Chocktaws, Maubilas, Pafallayas, Tuskaloosas—all Chocktaws. In 1540. I think the Choctaw line extended North to the mouth of the Tallapoosa. Colbert, a half-breed Muscogee and Chocktaw. told me in 1854, that Catoma, Pintlalla, Pinchoma, Casharpa, (original name of Perdido,) were all Chocktaw words in the original Chocktaw territory.

5th. Chicasaw, Chica. Chickaza, Chickazilla, Chickasaha. -a cognate race of the Chocktaw.



Source: Alabama Historical Reporter, Vol 3 No 2, February 1885 – Published by Alabama Historical Society, Tuskaloosa, Ala - Transcribed by Veneta McKinney





NO. I.

It has occurred to me, from such investigation as I have been enabled to give the subject, that the generally received opinion respecting the route pursued by De Soto, in his expedition from Florida to the Mississippi river, is erroneous, in some essential respects, and I purpose to point out the grounds for dissenting from the generally received opinion.

            The utilitarian, who eschews every discussion, which does not, promise to promote material comfort, will, of course stigmatize everything relating to De Soto's expedition, as a waste of time. …….But, to return to De Soto's expedition from Florida to the Mississippi river :—

            It is a concealed fact, that De Soto passed through the territory embraced in Alabama, and fought several desperate battles with the Indians, who resented and resisted his march through their territories with an intrepidity worthy of the highest praise. Starting out from the coast of Florida, at Tampa Bay, (Spritu Santo), on May 25, 1539, the generally received account of the route which he pursued, is that he crossed Flint river—a tributary of the Appalachicola, moved into Georgia, as far as the river Ogiechee, and, fetching a turn, struck the Coosa river above its junction with the Tallapoosa, passing through DeKalb and Blount or Marshall and Morgan counties, in the direction of Cotton Gin, in Mississippi, and through the territory inhabited by the Chickasaw Indians.

            The topography of the country traversed—the names of the Indian tribes encountered, as well as of the creeks and rivers crossed, were unknown to De Soto and his companions. They had no maps of the country—no landmarks erected by previous explorers, and were without the assistance of guides, who were practically familiar with the country, nor did they leave garrisons at points along their route, or establish a line of communication by means of posts, either with Tampa Bay or Pensacola. The route pursued was necessarily circuitous in consequence of the impassable swamps and morasses and the rivers encountered. From these facts and circumstances, it is impossible to trace the precise route of De Soto, from the accounts of the expedition given by his companions—a fact all persons, capable of reflection, must recognize and appreciate.

            But, how then, are we to trace the route pursued by De Soto.  By ascertaining the locality of the Indian towns and battles, which are mentioned in the accounts of the expedition extant, and by the remains of fortified camps, which are to be met with in Alabama, and which antedate the actual occupation of the country by Europeans as well as show in their outlines and plan greater skill in the art of fortification than the Indians possessed.

[ To be continued.]



Source: Alabama Historical Reporter, Vol 3 No 3, March 1885 – Published by Alabama Historical Society, Tuskaloosa, Ala - Transcribed by Veneta McKinney





While it is quite true that the most that we can arrive at respecting the route pursued by De Soto in his march through Alabama is the probability that he traversed it in a particular direction, it is obvious that a high degree of probability falls but little short of absolute proof, in investigations like the one we are now prosecuting, where certain and absolute proof is not to be obtained from contemporaneous accounts of He Soto's march. I have demonstrated, in my preliminary article, the unreliability of the accounts which are extant of the route pursued by De Soto, growing out of the fact that the country traversed was a wilderness, in every sense of the word.

            It stands to reason that De Soto, who set out from Tampa Bay, Florida, followed the coast of Florida; and entered Alabama in the vicinity of the line at present dividing it from Florida, at a point not very remote from Pensacola. Spanish ships were dispatched to Pensacola to fetch he and his troops oft", in case they should desire to re-embark, or stood in need of provisions or supplies, and he knew of their arrival at Pensacola, but declined to abandon his expedition.

            The most erroneous accounts, even in works partially historical, have been propagated concerning the route which He Soto pursued and respecting the early history of Alabama. In the "Alabama Manual," edited by Col. Joseph Hodgson, in the opening paragraphs, it is stated, that '-Alabama, an Indian name signifying here we rest, was first known to the world from the adventures of De Soto. Marching from the coast of Florida, the cavalcade of that ill-fated Spaniard passed across what is now the State of Alabama. The chief of the great tribe of Coosas received him on the banks of that beautiful stream. Crossing the Tallapoosa and Coosa, the expedition moved towards the capital of the chief, Tuskaloosa, whose son had received De Soto in the present county of Montgomery. After daily struggles with the Mobilians and Chickasaws, De Soto crossed the Tombigbee, and moved on towards the Mississippi.

            ''At the time of De Soto's march, Alabama was inhabited by the Coosas, Talassees, Mobilians and Choctaws. These tribes having been almost ruined by his invasion, their places were filled by the Muscogees and Alabamas, who had been driven from Mexico by Cortez, the former eventually swallowing up the latter and incorporating the tribes of the whole region in what was afterwards known as the Creek Nation."

            There are several errors in these paragraphs, which, as they occur in a semi-historical work, should be pointed out and animadverted upon. It was a tradition among the Indians, that the Indians in Mexico, being routed and expelled by the Aztecs, fled across Texas, crossed the Mississippi, and settled on the soil now comprised in Alabama. Charmed with the country, and feeling secure from the pursuit of the Aztecs, these emigrant Indians exclaimed, Alabama, "here we rest." This was a tradition among the Indians, but, no evidence that such an emigration took place was produced, and, if it ever happened, it ante-dated the expedition of Cortez into Mexico several centuries, at least. There was no inception of Indians into Alabama after the expedition of De Soto, especially from Mexico; since any such emigration would have attracted the attention of, and been mentioned by the Spaniards in Mexico. Cortez entered the city of Mexico in 1519, and in 1521 had subdued and conquered the whole country; and yet, according to Col. Hodgson, in 1539—twenty years after the conquest of Mexico—the fleeing and emigrating Indians had not reached the soil of Alabama. He has changed the Indian tradition of the expulsion of the Indian tribes from Mexico, by the Aztecs, in the remote past, into their expulsion by Cortez. The Indians named each village, creek, and river, and these names misled the early explorers, and caused them to conclude that the Indians in each town belonged to a separate tribe. Thus, we say one is a Georgian or Alabamian, while they are still Americans. The soil, at present embraced in Alabama, in the time of De Soto, was owned by these Indian tribes—the Cherokees, the Creeks, and the Choctaws, broken into various tribal sub-divisions from the various names given to the towns, creeks and rivers. This multiplicity of local rivers often misled the early explorers, who were ignorant alike of the topography of the country and of the names of the various Indian towns and settlements, and, hence, conceived that each large town constituted a separate tribe.

            The Choctaws owned a large part of south-western Alabama, and all of Mississippi south of Aberdeen, and running to the Mississippi, and had three chiefs—yet each town of any size had a distinct name. The same is true of the other Indian tribes. The Indians east of the Alabama and Warrior rivers were of the Creek tribe, the Coosas, Tallassees. Hillabees, Maubilas, Tallapoosas, Alabamas, &c., were only names for sub divisions of the Creek tribe. The country west of the Alabama and Warrior belonged to the Choctaw tribe, also broken into various local sub-divisions; while the Cherokee tribe inhabited all of north Alabama. The Chickasaws possessed the soil now comprised in north Mississippi and west Tennessee, but they had no settlements east of the Tombigbee river; hence, it is an error to say De Soto fought with the Chickasaws on the east side of that river on his expedition to the Mississippi river.

            The Muscogees was the tribal name of all the sub-divisions of the upper Creek Indians, as Seminole was the name of the lower Creeks. Muscogee, in the Indian language, meant "those who live on creeks." Much confusion has been produced by historians and travellers, who have made the mistake of speaking of sub-divisions of an Indian tribe as distinct tribes.. . .

…It is apparent to the most superficial student of history, that the account given by Mr. Joseph Hodgson, in the "Manual of Alabama," is incorrect, as to the Alabamas having been expelled from Mexico by Cortez. Cortez invaded Mexico in 1619, and in 1521 had subdued it, and eighteen years subsequently, in 1539, De Soto set out from Tampa Bay upon his expedition, so that the alleged exodus of the Alabamas was too recent to have been a matter resting in tradition when De Soto came among them. It is also erroneous in placing the Chickasaws on the east side of the Tombigbee, and in representing the battle of Mauvilla as taking place in the .fork of the Warrior and Alabama rivers….Judge Meek, in an address delivered before the. Literary Societies of the University, at Tuskaloosa, and which was included in "Romantic Passages in South-western History," page 24. likewise, from inadvertence, fell into a mistake upon this subject, where he thus briefly alludes to the march of De Soto through the territory now included within the limits of the State of Alabama:—

"The historic page tells us that in the year 1539, Hernando De Soto, a cavalier of Spain, after landing in Florida, with an army of one thousand select soldiers, proceeded north through the territory of Georgia; entered Alabama at its north-eastern extremity; descended along the banks of the Coosa, to its junction with the Tallapoosa ; crossed the latter stream; proceeded west along the banks of the Alabama; crossed it about fifty miles above its junction with the Tombigbee, and there, on the 18th of October, 1540, fought the battle of Mobile with the natives, headed by their chieftain, Tuskaloosa. For the length of its continuance, the desperate character of the contest, the horrors of its detail, and the numbers slain upon both sides, this was by far the most bloody battle ever fought upon the soil of the United States. After remaining several weeks near Mobile, De Soto proceeded to the north, crossed the Black Warrior not far south of the spot at which we are now assembled, and continued his course into the State of Mississippi, where he spent the winter.''

            The error here, is in making De Soto enter Alabama at its "north-eastern extremity" and cross the Warrior near the present site of Tuskaloosa. There is extant but one account of the expedition of De Soto, that purports to be written by a companion, and an eye-witness, i e., the Portuguese Relation, first published in 1557, which Bancroft gives a decided preference.—(Bancroft V. I., p 50, 1 note). Vega wrote from hearsay, and is consequently unreliable, as Bancroft shows in the note just cited, as the numbers and distances. Henena, also, is not an original authority, but is a sort of compilation. All American historians have followed the foregoing writers, endeavoring to identify the localities mentioned in the march of De Soto.

[ To be continued.]



Source: Alabama Historical Reporter, Vol 3 No 4, April 1885 – Published by Alabama Historical Society, Tuskaloosa, Ala - Transcribed by Veneta McKinney





[ Continued.}

Bancroft shows that the March from Tampa Bay (Spiritu Santo) was but a following of the Florida coast, so far as the streams debouching into the gulf admitted of. "The wanderings of the first season brought the company from the Bay of Spiritu Santo" to the county of the Appalchians, east of Flint river, and not far from the head of the Bay of Appalchee." (Bancroft, vol. 1, p. 45.) Bancroft further states, that an exploring party discovered Ochees, the harbor of Pensacola, and that a message was sent to Cuba, desiring that in the ensuing year supplies for the expedition might be sent to that place. This was March 3, 1540, eleven months having been consumed in the toilsome inarch from Tampa Bay to Ochees, or Pensacola.

            Who took the message of De Soto to Cuba, or by what means, is not stated; but, it is rational to conjecture that one of the vessels that brought him over from Cuba, after exploring the bays and inlets indenting the coast, awaited him at that point. It is hardly possible that a canoe, or any small boat could have made the trip in safety from Pensacola, around Key West, to Cuba, distant 100 miles from the nearest part of Florida.

            From the head of Appalachee Bay, Bancroft assumes to trace De Soto into Georgia, to the Ogeechee river, thence north to the territory of the Cherokees ; expresses a doubt as to his having crossed the mountains and reached the Tennessee, and inclines to think he passed from the head waters of the Savannah to those of the Coosa. He states that De Soto halted at a village named Canasauga, and that one of the tributaries of the Coosa still bears this name, and that he passed several months in that region. He also states, that Chiacha was an island, distant about 100 miles from Chanasauga, and that De Soto followed the Coosa down until he reached a considerable town on the Alabama, above the junction of the Tombigbee, and about six day's journey from Pensacola. This town was Mauvilla, where De Soto fought a desperate battle. "Meanwhile ships from Cuba had arrived at Ochees, now Pensacola." But De Soto refused to return to Cuba, or even to send any news of his success or failure.— . (Bancroft, vol. 1, p. 46-7-8-9.)

            According to this statement, De Soto had, between March 1540, and November, 1540, performed a march through an unknown wilderness intersected with swamps, marshes, creeks, and deep and rapid rivers, from the head of Appalachee Bay to the Tennessee in northeastern Georgia, thence to the Coosa, which they reached in July 1540. Had he marched in a line from Appalachee Bay to northeastern Georgia, and in a straight line thence to the Coosa, and then followed the Coosa, he would have travelled fully 'eighteen hundred miles between March 3rd and November 18, 1540—embracing a period of 255 days. His force of a thousand men consisted of 300 cavalry and 700 infantry, with supplies of arms and pro visions, to have made this march must have averaged 7i miles per day and have not halted a single day. If he halted to reconnoiter, or to recruit, he must have marched a greater distance per day; but, with a force such as his, traversing a wilderness, unsupplied with pontoons, or the tools for erecting bridges, and destitute of roads, an average march of seven miles per day would have been a far more laborious feat than a march of 30 miles per day along our present roads. The Portuguese, Relation, states that the Indian guides purposely misled De Soto, and we are bound to know that the impossibility of crossing the swamps, creeks and rivers, which he encountered, compelled him to deflect frequently from a straight line, as well as that he was bound to have consumed considerable time in effecting the passage of the numerous rivers to be crossed in this route. Super-added to the difficulties and impediments above ennumerated, are the freshets in the creeks and rivers between February and November, which would have rendered even insignificant streams absolutely impassable for days together to his force. Having, in 1540, neither horses, cows, or hogs, the Indians had no such things as fords across creeks and rivers, nor the least use for them, consequently it was a task of difficulty and search for De Soto to discover practicable crossings. To estimate this alleged march, we must give due consideration to the improvements and difficulties which beset him at every step— the time consumed both in searching out practicable crossings and of effecting the passage, and the deflections which he was forced by swamps, morasses, and &c., to make. How many miles can 1000 men march in a day, through tangled undergrowth, cane, fallen timber and briars, through an unknown wilderness, intersected with numerous creeks and rivers, is the proper way to state the question. Then, upon such a march, how many miles could such a force average per day for 255 days, allowing a reasonable time for rest?

            Looking at the facts, the conclusion is irresistably forced upon my mind, that it was physically impossible for De Soto to have made the march traced out for him by Bancroft, in the space of 255 days; and that, as a consequence, he never penetrated to the head-waters of the Savannah to the Tennessee river, nor from thence to the Coosa river, say, near Rome, Ga. There is no island in the Coosa, corresponding to Chiacha island, which Bancroft says was 100 miles distant from Canasauga. This island, as it is the only one mentioned, must have been of considerable extent, and, in my opinion, was none other than the "cut off" made by the Alabama river near its confluence with the Tombigbee. At a low stage of water, the Alabama river is studded with small islands of sand, but, as but the one island is mentioned, ii must have been more extensive than any of those sand-banks left exposed in summer by low water. We all know how easily one mistakes the names of creeks and rivers in an unknown country, when heard in a strange language, consequently Canasauga may have been Autauga, or some other creek, as it was pronounced by the Indians, and what was "called the Coosa may have been what we call now the Alabama.

            In November, 1540, De Soto was close enough to Pensacola to communicate with the ship, which had, agreeably to his orders, brought him supplies from Cuba. Bancroft says that he was on the Alabama river about six day's journey from Pensacola, and estimating a days' journey at 15 miles, he was ninety miles from Pensacola, or at most 120 miles.




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