DeSoto's Alabama Trails
DeSoto's Alabama Trail Map Written by Donald E. Sheppard
Drawings: Cheryl Lucente


Northward from Mabila

The Gentleman of Elvas says, "From the time Governor (Hernando) De Soto entered Florida until leaving the battlegrounds of Mabila, one hundred and two Christians had died, some of their illness and others being killed by the Indians. He remained in Mabila for twenty-eight days because of the wounded, during which time he was always in the open fields. It was a very populous and fertile land. There were some large enclosed towns and a considerable population scattered about over the field, the houses being separated from one another one or two crossbow flights." © 1993, University of Alabama Press Ancient Artifacts Stolen from the Citizens of Alabama

You can read the translated details of Alabama's Conquest
written by Conquistadors: Biedma, Rangel, Elvas + Inca

Moundville, Alabama DeSoto's personal secretary, Rangel, says, "On Sunday, the fourteenth of November (of 1540 on the Full Moon), the governor left Mabila (northbound according to Inca and Biedma, mapped at left), and the following Wednesday he arrived at a very good river (the Black Warrior River at today's Moundville, in photo above) ...and on Thursday they went across bad crossings and swamps (of Black Warrior River's east bank; still swampy today) and found a town with corn, which was called Talicpacana..." 7 miles southwest of today's Tuscaloosa on a very broad bank along the Black Warrior River.

Rangel continues, "The Christians had discovered, on the other side of the river, a town (today's Northport) that seemed good to them from a distance (from the south bank of Black Warrior River), and well situated, and on Sunday, the 21st of November, Vasco Gonzalez found a town, a half-league (one-and-a-quarter miles) from it which is called Mosulixa (directly across the river from Northport), from which they had transferred all the corn to the other side of the river, and they had it in heaps, covered with mats, and the Indians were on the other side of the water, making threats..." The army moved upriver from Talicpacana to Mosulixa, gathering food along their way over the next week.

During that time, "A piragua (image at right) was made (Biedma says "in four days"), which was finished on the twenty-ninth of the month, and they made a large cart to carry the raft up to Mosulixa." Elvas says, "...transported one night..." during New Moon darkness to today's Tuscaloosa on the Black Warrior River (photo below). "...and having launched it in the water, sixty soldiers entered in it."

DeSoto's Black Warrior River Crossing Place
Press for More Native Images The natives had massed their forces on the river's north bank opposite today's Tuscaloosa. DeSoto fooled them by constructing then launching the piragua downstream, directly below today's north shore airport. Rangel says, "...The (few) Indians (there) shot innumerable arrows; but this great canoe landed, the Indians fled and did not wound but three of four Christians, who took the land easily and found plenty of corn..." R entering Northport.

Rangel continues (over the next five paragraphs), "The next day, Wednesday (December 1st, 1540), all the army went to a town that is called Zabusta (12 miles northwest of Northport, on map at right), and there (the following day) they crossed the (Sipsey) river (into Apafalaya Province) in the piragua and with some canoes (pulled there by horses using the large cart); and (the next day) they went to take lodging in another town on the other end (of Sipsey River Valley)... "Because up river ("were some towns well provided with maize and beans," E in photo below - they camped at one of them) they found another good town (today's Fayette) and took its lord, who was named Apafalaya (Ap-a-fal-a-ya), and brought him as guide and interpreter and that bank (west of Fayette) was called the river of Apafalaya..." today's Luxapalila (Lux-a-pal-i-la) Creek. DeSoto's army would pillage that province's rich lands for one week.

A Sipsey River Valley Cornfield
"From this river (Luxapalila near today's Winfield) and province (of Apafalaya) the Governor and his people left (northbound) in search of Chicasa on Thursday, the ninth of December (when their climate felt like ours does there in January), and they (advanced scouts) arrived the following Tuesday at the River of Chicasa..." on Full Moon morning at Muscle Shoals on the Tennessee River (on map and in photo below). A French Map of 1715 places the Chicasaw precisely there.

The army had marched 70 miles up icy creek beds (mapped below) in six days through "an unpopulated region..." E Today's roads are on those trails between long north-south hills, over "many bad crossings and swamps and rivers..." of Buttahatchee River's and Bear Creek's swamps and feeders.

Sipsey River Road - 1850"And so that you know, reader, what life those Spaniards led, Rodrigo Rangel, as an eyewitness, says that among many other needs of men that were experienced in this enterprise, he saw a nobleman named Don Antonio Osario, brother of the Lord Marquis of Astorga, with a doublet of blankets of that land, torn on the sides, his flesh exposed, without a hat, bare-headed, bare-footed, without hose or shoes, a shield at his back, a sword without a scabbard, the snows and cold very great; and being such a man, and of such illustrious lineage, made him suffer his hardship and not lament, like many others, since there was no one who might aid him, being who he was, and having had in Spain two thousand ducats of income through the Church; and the day that this gentleman saw him thus, he believed that he had not eaten a mouthful and had to look for his supper with his fingernails." R

"I could not help laughing when I heard him say that noblemen had left the Church and the aforementioned income in order to go to look for this life at the sound of the words of DeSoto. Because I knew Soto very well, and although he was a man of words, I did not believe that he would be able with such sweet talk or cunning to delude such persons. What did such a man wish, from an unfamiliar and unknown land? Nor did the Captain who led him know more of it than Juan Ponce de Leon and the licenciado Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon and Panfilo de Narvaez, and others more skillful than Hernando de Soto, had been lost in it. And those who follow such guides go from some necessity, since they find places where they could settle or rest, and little by little penetrate and understand and find out all about the land. But let us go on; small is the hardship of this nobleman compared to those who die, if they do not win salvation." R

Into Chicasa

TVA Dam at DeSoto's Tennessee River Crossing Place

Approaching the Tennessee River at Muscle Shoals (near today's Wilson Dam, in photo above), Inca says, "The first pueblo of this province that our men reached was not the principal one (which DeSoto would find 30 miles above the river), but one of the others in its jurisdiction. It was situated on the edge of a large and deep river having very high banks. The pueblo was on the side of the river from which the Spaniards approached (from the south).

Rangel says, "They found that the River of Chicasa (the Tennessee River) was flowing out of its bed, and the Indians on the other side were up in arms, with many white banners."

Inca continues, "When our men came in sight of the village they saw in front of it a squadron of more than fifteen hundred warriors, who came out to meet the Castilians as soon as they appeared. They skirmished with them, and having made some show of defense they withdrew to the (opposite side of the) river, abandoning the village, from which they had taken their property, women, and children (across to today's Florence, clearly visible from Muscle Shoal's river bluff). They had decided not to fight a pitched battle with the Spaniards but to oppose their crossing the river... because it carried a great deal of water, was very deep, and had high and steep banks. (image below)

"The governor... ordered that a hundred of the most diligent men who knew something of the art should build two large barks, which they also call piraguas. They are almost flat and will hold many people... In order that the Indians might not find out what they were doing, (as they had done two weeks before to cross the Black Warrior River at today's Tuscaloosa) they went into a forest that was a league and a half (4 miles) up the river and a league (2.5 miles) back from the riverbank."

DeSoto's Tennessee River Crossing Place In 1882 there were two long, abutting islands shown in the river directly above Muscle Shoals (image at right) extending 4 miles (to today's dam in photo above) between steep banks. DeSoto's boats were built on a creek bed which opened onto the river's flats below the easternmost island, invisible to the natives on the north bank. Pioneers would cross the river 2 miles above there at "Bainbridge Ferry" at the river's narrows. The Wilson Dam, built in 1925 (photo above), piled about 100 feet of water on it. Select Counties on Google Earth DeSoto Trails

Inca continues, "...they got to the river one morning before dawn at a very spacious landing place that was there (at Bainbridge Ferry landing, by pulling their boats over the swollen river's shallow flats). There was also a good landing on the other side (another creek bed). One of the barks struck the landing squarely and the other fell downstream from it, and because of the high bluffs along the river, the men could not land. Thus they were forced to row hard to get up to the landing.

"Those in the first bark jumped ashore (engaging the natives)... Those in the second bark, as they found the landing place free of the enemy, came ashore more easily and without any danger and ran to help their companions who were fighting on the plain. The governor went across on the second trip...

"The (natives) were killed with lances, as their swiftness could not equal that of the cavalry... the Indians left and did not reappear. Meanwhile the whole Spanish army had crossed the river."

Rangel says, "they crossed very well in a barge on Thursday, the sixteenth of the month... R

Rich Fields for gathering food below Lawrenceburg delayed DeSoto's Men"And the Governor advanced with some on horseback (up Shoal Creek, pictured at right, into Tennessee), and they (with DeSoto) arrived very late at night at the town of the lord..." R Chicasa, at Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, 30 miles from his Tennessee River crossing place. DeSoto's Thirty Lancers had ridden 50 miles in Florida during a similar moon phase "...and all the people were gone. The next day Baltasar de Gallegos arrived with the thirty (horsemen) who went with him. They were (all) there in Chicasa that Christmas (once the entire army arrived)." R

The Tennessee River Surrounds Lawrenceburg on the SouthDeSoto's isolation of his army above the Tennessee River (satellite photo at left) precluded any thought of their escape back to his ships at Mobile Bay. The Tennessee River flows west then north from there, into what DeSoto was looking for: the ocean on the north shore of this "Island of Florida." Isolation of his army beyond what they believed was the center of this island would encourage them to march north at springtime. None of his men attempted escape during their four month wintering in Southern Tennessee. The ships would be back in Cuba by then.

Others have failed to track DeSoto to and across the Tennessee River. They supposed that DeSoto crossed the Tombigbee River northwest of Mabila then wintered in today's Mississippi. The Upper Tombigbee River may have been large at that time, almost like a lake, but it does not have the high bluffs or strong currents described by Inca at the crossing. Besides, DeSoto wanted to move his army well north to isolate them from his ships at Mobile Bay, which the Tombigbee River flows into. Had DeSoto needed only food and shelter that winter he would have halted his army along the Black Warrior or Sipsey Rivers, given that plentiful foods and quarters were reported at both before the winter snows began.

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