DeSoto's Alabama Trails
DeSoto's Alabama Trail Map - Press to Enlarge 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 (for 20 miles or more northward through rich, open fields, beyond today's Thomaston), the houses being separated from one another one or two crossbow flights." © 1993, University of Alabama Press

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


Moundville, Alabama "On Sunday, the fourteenth of November of 1540 (on the Full Moon), the governor left Mabila (RECOVERY area northbound), and the following Wednesday he arrived at a very good river (the Black Warrior River at Moundville) ...and on Thursday they went across bad crossings and swamps (Black Warrior River's east bank; still swampy today) and found a town with corn, which was called Talicpacana..." R near today's Tuscaloosa.

"The Christians had discovered, on the other side of the river, a town (Northport) that seemed good to them from a distance (from the east 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 (today's Tuscaloosa), from which they had transferred all the corn to the other side of the (Black Warrior) river, and they had it in heaps, covered with mats, and the Indians were on the other side of the water (with the corn), making threats." R An Artifact from Moundville

"A raft of logs was made ("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..."R "...transported one night a half league up river"E in the darkness of New Moon from Tuscaloosa's pastures... "and having launched it in the water, sixty soldiers entered in it..." R

DeSoto's Black Warrior River Crossing Place
Press for More Native ImagesDeSoto used this tactic to surprise the Natives who had watched the barge being constructed. The natives massed their forces on the river's west bank directly opposite the army during that week, but DeSoto fooled them by launching the barge well up river during the darkness of New Moon on the 29th of November, 1540. "...The Indians shot innumerable arrows; but this great barge landed, the Indians fled and did not wound but three of four Christians, who took the land easily and found plenty of corn." R ...which they plundered the day they crossed the river.

"The next day, Wednesday (December First, 1540), all the army went to a town that is called Zabusta (west of Northport), and there they crossed the river (Black Warrior River's wide northern spur) in the raft and with some canoes (which they brought downriver from their crossing place); and they went to take lodging in another town on the other end..." of the valley leading west to the Sipsey River. "Because up river ("were some towns well provided with maize and beans...") they found another good town (to northward up Sipsey River Valley at today's Fayette) and took its lord, who was named Apafalaya, and brought him as guide and interpreter... that bank (Fayette's west side) was called the river of Apafalaya..." R today's Luxapalila Creek. DeSoto's army would pillage that province, on very rich land (photo below), for over a week.

A Sipsey River Valley Cornfield
"From this river and province the Governor and his people left (the north end of Luxapalila Creek Valley near today's Guin nearing full moon) in search of Chicasa on Thursday, the ninth of December (when their climate felt like ours does there in January), and they arrived the following Tuesday at the River of Chicasa..." the Tennessee River at Muscle Shoals. They had marched for six days up that trail - 70 miles through "an unpopulated region..." of broken hills during Full Moon. Today's highways use that same winding route between very long hills and "(over) many bad crossings and swamps and rivers..." R

Sipsey River Road - 1850"And so that you know, reader, what life those Spaniards led, Rodrigo Ranjel, 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 Crossing Place

Inca says, "...they entered another (province), called Chicasa. The first pueblo of this province that our men reached was not the principal one, but one of the others in its jurisdiction. It was situated on the edge of a large and deep river (the Tennessee River at Muscle Shoals) having very high banks. The pueblo was on the side of the river from which the Spaniards approached.

"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. They had decided not to fight a pitched battle with the Spaniards but to oppose their crossing the river, which because it carried a great deal of water, was very deep, and had high and steep banks...

"When they (the Spaniards) saw the Indians (returning from across the river) they allowed them to land and leave their canoes, and then they fell upon them and did them much damage with their swords, because the enemy had nowhere to run. They mistreated them thus three times, whereupon the Indians, chastised for their boldness, did not dare cross the river again...

"The governor... ordered that a hundred of the most diligent men who knew something of the art should build two large barks..." (rafts of logs, as they had done two weeks before to cross the Black Warrior River at today's Tuscaloosa) "In order that the Indians might not find out what they were doing, they went into a forest that was a league and a half up the river and a league back from the riverbank... they got (the rafts) to the river one morning before dawn at a very spacious landing place that was there. There was also a good landing on the other side.

"Ten cavalrymen and forty infantry who were expert marksmen embark in each of the boats as quickly as possible before the Indians should come to oppose their passage. The foot soldiers were to row, and the cavalrymen rode their horses into the boats so as not to be delayed in mounting when they reached the other side.

"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 (enguaging 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 (of today's Florence). 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..."

"And the Governor advanced with some on horseback..." R up Shoal Creek into Tennessee, while the army continued to cross the river.

Rich Fields for gathering food below Lawrenceburg delayed DeSoto's Men"And the Governor advanced with some on horseback (through Florence and up Shoal Creek into Tennessee, while the army crossed the river), and they (with DeSoto) arrived very late at night at the town of the lord..." R Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, 40 miles from the Tennessee River crossing place. DeSoto's mounted Thirty Lancers covered that same distance in Florida during a similar phase of the moon. "...and all the people were gone. The next day Baltasar de Gallegos arrived with the thirty (horsemen) who went with him (still ahead of the army). They were (all) there in Chicasa that Christmas (once the entire army trickled into Lawrenceburg)." R

The Tennessee River Surrounds Lawrenceburg on the SouthDeSoto's isolation of his army, above the Tennessee River, precluded any thought of their escape back to the waiting ships at Mobile Bay. That river flows north from there, into what DeSoto believed was the Pacific Ocean on the north shore of this "Island of Florida." Isolation of the army beyond the center of this island would encourage them to march northward at springtime. DeSoto's calculation was correct: none of his army escaped. They would winter at Lawrenceburg for four months; the ships would be back in Cuba by then.

Historians have failed to track DeSoto to and across the Tennessee River. They supposed that DeSoto crossed the Tombigbee River to westward 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 there by Inca. Besides, DeSoto wanted to move well north to isolate his men from his ships; the Tombigbee flows into Mobile Bay where the ships were waiting for them. Had DeSoto needed only food and shelter that winter he would have halted his army along the south flowing Black Warrior or Sipsey Rivers, given that plentiful accomodations were reported at those places. DeSoto chose to move his army across the Tennessee River, isolating them from escape, deep inside North America that winter.

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