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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 VIII. — De Soto Crosses the Mississippi River, and Traverses the Present Area of Missouri and Arkansas. Family of Dakotahs, or Prairie Tribes.


DE SOTO, having recruited his army on the high and beautiful elevation of the Chickasaw Bluffs, and restored its failing strength, every means which an able commander could adopt, were resorted to for repairing his losses. Forges were erected, where the swords and spears of his soldiers were re-tempered. Buckskin was ingeniously employed in repairing the burnt saddles and accoutrements. The horses regained their strength when pastured on the rich prairie grass, and all the arms were re-burnished. Once more the squadrons of De Soto were able to assume a martial bearing. Plumes nodded, and glittering steel again flashed before the eyes of the wondering natives. The gallant men, and fine horses, lost at Mauvilla, at Fort Alabama, on the Yazoo, and at Chickaza, were at the moment forgotten, and the old chivalric character of the Spaniard shone forth with renewed lustre, as he marched down to the margin of the Mississippi, and prepared to pass that boundary, which he was destined never again to recross, but, like another Alaric, to make its bed his mausoleum. The month of May had but just manifested its arrival by its mild airs, and the expanding vegetation, combined with the increased flow of the waters, which served to give life and animation to the scene.

Boats had been constructed to convey the whole army over in divisions, at the old Indian crossing above the mouth of the St. Frances. The Indians presented themselves on the opposite banks in a hostile attitude. The horse and infantry were embarked in as proud array, and as compact masses as possible. To protect the debarkation of the troops, a body of picked men, with their horses, had been ferried over before daybreak, and effected a landing without meeting with any opposition. The river was estimated to be half a league in width, but pronounced swift and deep. Two hours before sunset the whole army had crossed; the Indians not having made any combined effort to oppose it, not a man was lost. De Soto immediately made arrangements to put his columns in motion for the high grounds. But his position was one of embarrassment. He had rid himself of the Chickasaws, and their affiliated tribes, on the east banks of the river, but was surrounded by others, characterized by more savage manners and

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customs, and actuated by a still fiercer spirit of enmity. Their language, also, being entirely different, John Ortez could no longer make himself understood, and the tedious circumlocution in the translation, sometimes made four different renditions imperative. These tribes were of the Issati, or Dakotah, lineage.

Dense forests, rearing their towering growth on swampy lands, surrounded him; but onward he marched, following the Indian footpath. After a journey of five days' length, he reached the table lands of Missouri, and encamped near a village of the Casqui (Kaskaski), on the St. Francis. The Casqui received him joyfully, and entered into a treaty with him. But it was a league which had nearly proved fatal to De Soto, as they were a weak tribe, and at war with the Kiapaha (Quappas). The latter had their strong-hold on the right banks of the Mississippi, apparently near the present site of New Madrid. The Casqui offered to accompany them in full force, ostensibly for the purpose of carrying the baggage of the army, but they had no sooner arrived in the vicinity of the Quappa villages, than they slily advanced and furiously attacked them. The latter, who were temporarily absent from the principal village, soon rallied, and proved themselves to be most brave and determined enemies. They at last fled to a strong position on an island in the Mississippi, where the Spaniards, having followed them, were, in the end, compelled to retreat. This was the first tribe of the great prairie group, or Dakotahs, that De Soto had encountered.

While at the Kiapaha village, he sent messengers westward to inquire into the truth of rumors of mineral wealth; but they found nothing but copper. They, however, penetrated into the western plains, and discovered the Buffalo.

De Soto then returned to the country of the Casqui, where he spent many days, to allow the army time to recruit their forces. This vicinity afforded plenty of food, and had the advantage of being an open country, where cavalry could manoeuvre. His army having been refreshed, he moved south to Qiquate, where rumors of mineral wealth reaching him, drew him north to a spot called Caligoa, [51] at the sources of the St. Francis. He was at this time in the granite tract of St. Michael's, Missouri, celebrated for its volcanic upheavals, and pinnacles of Azoic rocks, its iron mountains, its lead mines, and its ores of cobalt. [52]

Reports of new and tempting mineral regions in the south, soon led him in search of a country called Cayas. He crossed the Unica, or White river, at Tanico, [53] and allowed

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his troops to rest for twenty days in a fine valley, at a place called Tula. The Indian residents of this place were "ill-favored, tattooed, and ferocious." The army then marched five days toward the west, over an elevated, uninhabited region, comprising the broad and rugged district of the modern Ozark Mountains. Beyond this broken chain De Soto entered the country of the Quipano (Pani, or Pawnee), [54] which has a comparatively level surface. A few days' farther march westward, he found himself in a territory abounding in game, well supplied with grass, and dotted over with prairies. Having discovered the Arkansas river, he here determined to establish his winter quarters. Ordering stalls to be constructed for his horses, and a regular encampment to be formed, on this spot he passed the winter of 1541-42. The site of this camp appears to have been on the banks of the Neosho, and was in the midst of beautiful natural meadows.

When spring had opened sufficiently to warrant him in moving forward, he proceeded down the Arkansas, crossing that stream near the present site of Van Buren, or Fort Smith, and, following its southern plains down to Little Rock, again crossed to the north, and directed his course along the banks of the stream, till he reached its mouth, notwithstanding he was greatly embarrassed by the deep inlet of White river. Being in a feeble state of health, and a fever beginning to prostrate him, De Soto here encamped, and calmly contemplated his approaching end. After having appointed Moscoso, his camp-master, to succeed him, surrounded by his officers, who had followed him through scenes of danger and trial, over nearly half the continent of North America, he calmly yielded up his spirit. At first his body was interred in the vicinity, great precautions being taken to conceal the spot, lest the Indians should exhume, and mutilate his remains. Finally, his followers placed the corpse in a sarcophagus, formed from the hollowed trunk of a tree, which they conveyed in a boat at midnight to the centre of the Mississippi river, and sunk beneath its turbid waters.

With the death of De Soto, that intrepid daring and noble emulation, which had been called into action by his master mind, began to flag; but, though the enterprise was, in fact, crushed, the truth did not immediately appear.


As soon as the sad funereal rites were finished, Moscoso prepared to lead a new expedition toward the west. He ascended the southern banks of the Arkansas, directing his course in a southwesterly line, across the Washita,and the smaller affluants of the Arkansas and Red rivers. He encountered the most determined opposition from all the tribes he met. They fought with a desperation which was extraordinary, and were repulsed with that chivalrous and dashing bravery which had, from the first, characterized the entire operations of the expedition. He eventually reached the buffalo plains, which stretch from the Canadian fork of the Arkansas to the sources of the Red river. Though it was expected that they should,

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somewhere in this vicinity, meet parties of Spanish military explorers from the south, this hope was at last relinquished, and the army retraced its steps to the mouth of the Arkansas, amid great perils, and with unparalleled toil.

To found a colony at a point so remote from the sea, with the crippled and inadequate means in their possession, and subject to the active hostility of all the Indian tribes, both east and west of that stream, appeared to be so impracticable, that Moscoso resolved to build boats, and descend the Mississippi in them to its mouth. As soon as they were completed, the whole force embarked, the horses being placed in long, narrow boats, with their fore feet in one, and their hind feet in another. The Indians exulted on seeing the Spaniards making preparations to leave their country, and, embarking in their canoes, pursued the retiring troops with the utmost boldness and energy. Sometimes they attacked the flotilla in front, sometimes from the bank. Their arrows could be impelled with such force, that they had been known to pierce a horse, after passing through the skirts of a saddle. The retreating forces were often obliged to deploy and defend themselves, and in these skirmishes the Spaniards suffered the most severely. The armor of the soldiers was proof against the arrows of the foe, but the flanks of the poor horses being exposed, these noble animals were thinned off, day by day, until, on arriving at the mouth of the river, there was not a single horse left alive.

As soon as Moscoso entered the gulf, he steered for the coast of Panuca, where he finally arrived, after encountering great perils, both from the warring elements and the disagreement of the pilots. Thus terminated an expedition, which had been organized with extraordinary fame and splendor, and the members of which comprised some of the most chivalrous and able officers of the age. Nearly three years had been spent, in traversing the immense plains and forests intervening between the peninsula of Florida and the plains of Arkansas. Everywhere the Indians had been found to be inimical to the Spanish race, and had manifested a spirit and daring, in repelling the invaders, which well merited the appellation of heroic. [55]

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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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