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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
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Chapter VII. — Expedition of De Soto to Florida. Appalachian Group of Tribes.


UP to this period all attempts to found colonies in America had proved complete failures. De Leon, Vasquez, Narvaez, and Cartier, had each added their quota to geographical knowledge, and recorded details of the manners and customs of the Indians, but no one of them had established even the first outlines of a colony. Nine years after the disastrous termination of the expedition of Narvaez, Ferdinand de Soto determined to effect the conquest and colonization of Florida. As the origin of this expedition cannot be well understood, without reference to events which occurred on the north-western confines of Mexico, it becomes necessary to enter into some details respecting them.

In 1530, an Indian, named Tezon, a native of New Gallicia, told the governor of that province a wonderful tale, about the existence of seven cities in the terra incognita, north and east of the river Gila, each of which cities were as large as Mexico. He stated that the country so abounded in the precious metals, that entire streets in these cities were occupied by goldsmiths. In confirmation of what he asserted, he said that his father, then dead, had been a trader in ornamental feathers, and, in return for his goods, had brought from that quarter large quantities of gold and silver. This was the germ of the long prevailing myth of the seven golden cities of Cibola.

It so happened that, while this story was yet credited, Caba de Vaca, with three companions, one of whom was an African, arrived at Compostella, the capital of New Gallicia, after having been nine years traversing the continent. De Vaca had been the treasurer of Narvaez, and was the only officer of his army who had escaped the fury of the waves, and the vengeance of the Indians, on the Florida coast. The very fact of his safe passage over vast territories, occupied by hostile tribes, was of itself a wonder; but yet, not more so than the extraordinary tales he related, of the state of semi-civilization in which he had found some of the tribes whom he had encountered, andof the arts and wealth they possessed. These disclosures rekindled the latent cupidity in the imaginations of the Spanish adventurers, who were seeking their fortune in Mexico. All classes believed in the new land of golden promise, and fresh vitality was imparted to the stories of Tezon. De Vaca was summoned to the vice-regal court of Mexico,

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where his presence created a great excitement. The Viceroy, Mendoza, questioned him respecting the strange incidents of his escape, and as to the state of arts and civilization among the Indians. De Vaca represented the tribes on the Rio Grande and Gila, as wearing woven stuffs, living in large houses, built of stone, and possessing rich mines. From Mexico his fame preceded him to the court of Charles V., where he arrived in 1537, and where he was lionized on account of his adventures, sufferings, and the tales of golden wealth to be found in America. Nothing was too extravagant for the credulity of his audiences. Sufferings and perils he had indeed encountered; but, instead of plainly telling the Spaniards that Florida was a country containing no gold mines, destitute of cities, possessing no agriculture, roads, bridges, or any traces, either of high art, or semi-civilization, and that it was solely inhabited by savages, who cherished determined hostility to the Spanish race, he conformed to the preconceived notions of the court, the nobility, and the people, and represented, if he did not himself believe, that it was another Mexico — another Peru. The public mind was engrossed with the idea. Prominent among the believers of this tale was Ferdinand de Soto, who had been the most valuable assistant of Pizarro, in Peru, and had shared largely in the plunder of the Inca, Atahualpa.

De Soto determined to organize a new expedition for the conquest of Florida; one which should, and which in reality did, exceed in means and splendor anything of the kind which, at that period, had ever visited the New World. Gentlemen, and noblemen of rank and means, vied with each other for the honor of participating in the scheme. The finest horses of Andalusia and Estremadura, the most chivalric and enthusiastic cavaliers, and the bravest footmen, all armed and equipped in the most ample manner, as well as in the most glittering style, and well provided with drums, trumpets, and banners, formed the materiel of the army of De Soto. He received from the king the commission of Adalantado, together with the most ample powers for the establishment of a government.

During his transit to Cuba, where he spent a year, and augmented his forces, nothing occurred to dampen the ardor of his followers. Meantime, four natives, who were captured on the Floridian coast, were taught Spanish, that they might serve as interpreters. All his preparations having been completed, he embarked with his entire force, and arrived in the Bay of Espirito Santo, now Tampa, about the middle of May, 1539, having been twelve or thirteen days on the passage. He remained at anchor six days, while making reconnoissances. It was evident that the Indians designed meeting him in a hostile manner, for, though they had abandoned the coast, they had kindled fires to alarm the neighboring tribes.

On leaving the Spanish coast his force numbered 900 men, accompanied by twelve priests, and eight inferior clergy. At Cuba, numbers of adventurers joined him, who possessed many of the finest blood horses. At this time, his entire army must have exceeded 1000 men, a large body of whom were mounted. On the 31st of May, 300

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men were landed to take possession of the ground, and serve as a cover for the general debarkation. No enemy appearing, they bivouacked unmolested; but, just before daybreak on the 1st of June, they were aroused by the horrid yells of the Indians, who suddenly attacked them with arrows and clubs. Many of the Spaniards were wounded, notwithstanding their bodies were protected by armor. Panic-struck, they fled to the shore in confusion, where they were reinforced from the ships, but by that time the Indians had gained the shelter of the forest. In this engagement the Spaniards lost only a single horse, which was pierced by an arrow, which, after passing through the saddle and housings, buried one-third of its shaft in the body of the animal. The whole army then debarked. [43]

The antipathy of the Indians to the Spaniards, and their apparent determination to contest, with all their natural ferocity, the invasion of their territory, could be judged of by this attack. Fired with the spirit of adventure, flushed with the hope of finding mines of the precious metals, and having a large body of the most spirited cavaliers of Spain and Portugal to lead his squadrons, De Soto pushed forward with extraordinary energy. The natives could not mistake his object: he came to conquer and rule, not with the peaceable design of seeking to obtain wealth from the earth by the aid of the plough. They fled before him, awed by the presence of such a large force, and by the evil prestige of the Spanish name; which nation had, from the advent of De Leon, sent military expeditions into the country, with no other objects than conquest and plunder.

Soon after entering Florida, De Soto heard that a white man was detained in captivity at one of the Indian villages. By negotiation with the chief, this man was surrendered, and proved to be John Ortez, one of the adherents of Narvaez, who had taken shelter in an Indian lodge, married, and learned the language. Owing to the similarity in the dialects of the Appalachian group, Ortez succeeded in holding communication with the Indians until the army reached the eastern shores of the Mississippi river; although, on some occasions, it had been found necessary to make use of several dialects, or languages, in order to communicate (as it were, through a succession of links), with particular tribes.

De Soto was a man of energy and decision of character, capable of directing a great enterprise. He had enacted no insignificant part in the overthrow of the Indian empire of the South, and in Florida he had expected to encounter a race of Indians equally unfitted for making a bold and determined resistance. But, instead of the mild Peruvians, he had to deal with an implacable race, whose policy was a subtle one. They fled before him, and again rallied their forces in his rear, occupying the country through which he had passed. They continually harassed his flanks, and waged a guerilla warfare, peculiar to themselves. In their negotiations with him, the most

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profound concealment and dissimulation was practised. They amused him with false reports of mines, which kept him marching and countermarching over immense districts, in pursuit of this golden ignis fatuus. He penetrated dense forests, crossed rivers, traversed valleys, skirted swamps, and marched over open and dry plains, parched with thirst and tormented with hunger, until he had explored the whole breadth of northern Georgia, and reached Cofatchequi, now Silver Bluffs, in South Carolina; but, not finding any gold mines there, he determined to seek them elsewhere. Diverging west and northwest for the Appalachian mountains, he entered a part of the Cherokee country, whence he descended in a southerly direction, to the waters of the Flint, Coosa, and Alabama, following the latter to its junction with the Tombigbee. In this march he carried with him an influential chief, called Tuscaloosa, or Black Warrior, who eventually induced him to encamp, with all his baggage, in a formidable timber fort, called Mauvilla; but, before the remainder of his army arrived at this place, the Indians attacked him with desperate fury, and drove his garrison out of the fortification. They then closed the gates, lowered themselves down from the walls, and attacked him. The contest was maintained for three hours with great obstinacy on both sides; but at length De Soto, having been reinforced by a body of cavalry which had been left at his last encampment, ordered the gates to be hewn down with battle-axes, and entered the fort. The fight was here renewed, on the part of the natives, with a courage and desperation such as Spaniards had never before witnessed in America. To prevent the Indians from retaining possession of certain buildings within the area of the fort, of which they had obtained control, some Spanish soldiers fired them. The result of this act was most disastrous; the entire fortification was soon in flames, and with it were consumed the Spanish baggage, commissariat, medicines, camp stores, and supplies of every kind. In this battle and siege the Spaniards acknowledge a loss of eighty-two men, among whom were several distinguished officers. They had also forty-two horses killed. But the casualties among the Indian warriors present a vast disparity, being stated at 2500 by the historian. [44]

Toilsome marches, insufficient food, and hard fighting, having by this time cooled the ardor of some of the officers, they had arrived at the sage conclusion that the auriferous prize, which had lured them from their homes, was not easily attainable. The results of the last battle were so dispiriting, that De Soto accidentally overheard conversations which he deemed treasonable. Some of his cavaliers expressed a strong desire for a re-union with the fleet, which was supposed to be at that time in what is now called Mobile Bay. Nothing, however, could dampen his ardor or spirits. Stung by the remarks, of which he had been an auditor, he determined to proceed northward in his career of exploration. The blow struck by the Appalachian tribes at Mauvilla, could

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not fail to be very severely felt; but, had it not been for the disclosure of dissatisfaction on the part of his followers, it is doubtful whether he would have determined to proceed towards the north and west. Instead, therefore, of descending the Mobile river to the Bay, meeting his vessels, and establishing his colony there, as he had intended, he directed his march toward the north. He crossed the rivers Black Warrior, Tombigbee, and Yazoo, though not without strong opposition, and directed his course in a northwesterly direction to the town of the Chicaza, which was found to have been deserted on his approach. It being at this time late in December, and the weather assuming a wintry aspect, he determined to encamp his army and pass the winter at this place. During two months the army enjoyed comparative repose, making no movement, except when necessity required them to forage for provisions, or to repulse the guerilla attacks, to which they were subjected night and day. At length the Chickasaws resolved to burn the encampment; the buildings having been constructed of poles, canes, reeds, and other inflammable materials. A dark and windy night having been chosen, the camp was fired in several places, the savages at the same time uttering furious yells, and making a desperate attack. The high winds fanned the flames into irresistible fury, and for a time the confusion rendered it impossible to resist the impetuosity of the assailants. Discipline and courage, however, regained the ascendency, and the enemy was repulsed. But the camp was totally destroyed, together with all the arms, saddles, accoutrements, and provisions belonging to the army. All that had been spared by the conflagration at Mauvilla, was here annihilated. The droves of hogs which had formed their main resource for provisions, were burned in their pens. The temper of their swords had been impaired by the action of the fire, and almost every valuable article of equipage was consumed. Forty Spaniards had fallen, and fifty horses had been slain. [45] The effects of this conflagration were even more disastrous than that at Mauvilla. But nothing could diminish the zeal, or divert the purpose, of De Soto, who may truly be styled, a hero in disaster as well as in victory. He formed a new camp, on an eligible spot, distant four leagues from his former one, naming it Chickasilla. [46]

The 1st of April had arrived before he could repair his losses, and place his army in condition to continue his march; it was only, however, to encounter renewed opposition. A hostile spirit was aroused in every direction, which expended its fury in guerilla attacks, no body of the enemy being willing to encounter De Soto in the field. He soon came to a strongly stockaded and well defended fort, called Alabama, erected on the banks of a stream. This he carried by a desperate assault, in which he lost fifteen men. He then moved on, through tangled paths, to a village called Chisca, which was immediately stormed. It had been deserted by the warriors, but all the women,

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children, and old men were captured, and retained as hostages for the good behavior of the Chickasaws. De Soto then continued his course to the north, by easy marches, during four days, when, to the joy of the entire army, they deployed on an elevated plain of cleared ground, having bluff banks, which were washed by the rushing waters of a great river, which De Soto named Rio Grande. It was the Mississippi river. He had probably reached the lower Chickasaw Bluffs, in north latitude, about 32°.

On this elevated and eligible spot, De Soto rested for twenty days, while engaged in making preparations to cross that magnificent stream, and pursue his explorations to the west of it, in the direction of the Pacific Ocean. By a most eccentric line of march, [47] he had traversed the area of the present States of Florida, Georgia, a part of South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee, and at every point had encountered, either an open or secret enmity from the Indians, especially the Muscogees, Choctaws, and Chickasaws, who had fought with unexampled ferocity. They were a poor, but brave and warlike people, determined to protect their country and their natural liberties. Tribes which had formerly been at variance, united to repel this formidable invasion. They were, ethnologically speaking, branches of one great stock. During the previous twenty-five years they had acquired bitter experience of Spanish invasion, and hence hated the race with such intensity, that they determined to die rather than surrender the country. That the Spanish character had been well weighed by them, and that their dislike was deep-rooted, as well as general, may be gathered from the following quotation from Garcellaso de la Vega.

"Others of your accursed race," said Acuera, a Muscogee chief, to De Soto's messengers, "have, in years past, poisoned our peaceful shores. They have taught me what you are. What is your employment? To wander about like vagabonds, from land to land, to rob the poor, to betray the confiding, to murder the defenceless in cold blood. No, with such a people, I want no peace — no friendship. War, never-ending war, exterminating war, is all the boon I ask." [48]

Two younger brothers of the Micco of Vitachucco, a Muscogee chief, having been captured, sent messages to him, speaking favorably of the Spaniards, and imploring submission. "It is evident enough," he replied, "that you are young, and have neither judgment nor experience, or you would never have spoken as you have done, of these hated white men. You extol them greatly as virtuous men, who injure no one. You say that they are valiant, that they are children of the sun, and merit all our reverence. The vile chains which they have hung upon you, and the mean and dastardly spirit which you have acquired during the short period you have been their slaves, have caused you to speak like women, lauding what you should censure and abhor.

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"You remember that these strangers can be no better than those who formerly committed so many cruelties in our country. Are they not of the same nation, and subject to the same laws? Do not their manners of life prove them to be children of the Evil Spirit, and not of the sun and moon — our gods? Go they not from land to land, plundering and destroying? taking the wives and daughters of others, instead of bringing their own with them — and, like mere vagabonds, maintaining themselves by the labor of others?" [49]

All the Indians encountered in Florida, from Tampa Bay to the Mississippi river, were characterized by a very decided spirit of independence, and the most deep hostility to all foreign aggression. [50]

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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
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