DeSoto's Arkansas Trails
DeSoto's Northern Arkansas Conquest Trail Map Written by Donald E. Sheppard
Drawings by Cheryl Lucente

Acknowledgments & References
Indian Place Names Moon Phases

Arkansas Trails, Northern Parts

DeSoto's Secretary says, "On Wednesday, the nineteenth of October (1541), this army and the Governor departed from Tulla (West Plains, Missouri, starting a two week march to stop for winter, mapped above), and they spent the night at two huts, and the next day, Thursday (they entered Arkansas along Spring River and camped) at another hut (Salem), and on Friday at another (Oxford), in which Hernandarias de Saavedra, who had been wounded at Tulla, had a convulsion and died; and he died like a Catholic nobleman, commending his soul to God. The next day, Saturday, they went (to Melborne, camped, then down Rocky Bayou Sunday) to Guipana (Guion, where they camped for several days), which is among some (rugged) mountains, next to a river (the White River), and from there they went as far (down the river) as they could to sleep, and all that [land] is mountainous from Tulla on." © 1993, Univ. of Alabama Press

Northern Arkansas Mountains

You can read the translated details of DeSoto's Arkansas Conquest
written by DeSoto's Chroniclers:   Biedma,  Rangel,  Elvas  &  Inca


Elvas says at Guipana, "They said that Autiamque was six days journey away and that another province called Guahate (Little Rock) lay a week's journey (100 miles) southward - a land plentifully abounding in corn and of much population; and here we went east and traversed these mountains (along the White River) and descended to some plains, where we found a village suited for our purpose (today's Jacksonport), because there was a town nearby (today's Newport) that had much food, and it was on a large river (below the White and Black Rivers' junction - mapped below) that flowed into the great river (the Mississippi via the Arkansas River) by which we left (America)."

The last entry in DeSoto's Secretary's Journal discribes that route to Autiamque, "The next day (beyond "as far as they could" past Guipana) they came out of the mountains and entered the plains..." at Batesville "...on Monday, the last day of the month (of October, 1541, mid-November on our Gregorian Calendar), they arrived at a town that is called Quitamaya (today's Newark - map at left), and on Tuesday, the first of November, they passed through a small village (between the Black and White Rivers), and on Wednesday, the second of November (on Full Moon for the light it afforded a dawn raid on this giant Indian village), they (crossed the Black River in Indian canoes and) arrived at Autiamque (Jacksonport), which is a very well populated savanna of attractive appearance." Autiamque Village ran eastward from the Black River. The savanna, which Inca says "was situated on a fine plain with two streams on either side," was the 600 acre pasture nearly surrounded in 1541 by the White River below Jacksonport (aerial photo below).

Northern Arkansas Mountains

Elvas says, "They found considerable corn hidden away (stored) as well as beans, nuts, and dried plums, all in great quantity. They seized some Indians who were collecting their clothing, and who had already placed their women in safety (on news of DeSoto's approach). That land was cultivated and well peopled. The governor lodged in the best part of the place and immediately ordered a wooden stockade to be built about the place where the camp was established at some distance from the houses (at Newport, below them along the White River), so that the Indians without might not harm it (the army's camp) with fire. Having measured off the land by paces, he allotted to each the amount that was proper for him to build, in proportion to the number of Indians they had. Thereupon, the wood was brought in by them, and within three days the stockade was built of very high timbers set close together in the ground and with many boards placed crosswise. Near the village flowed a river of Cayas (the Current River, which feeds the Black then White Rivers at Autiamque) and, below, it was densely populated..."

DeSoto would spend most of the winter of 1541-42 at Jacksonport. His men reported to Inca, "The general and his captains having seen the village, which was large and had good houses containing plenty of food and was situated on a fine plain with two streams on either side of it that had plenty of grass for the horses, and seeing that it was enclosed with a wall (on the north side), decided to winter there..." as did the Confederate Army of Arkansas 320 years later, at precisely the same place. Jacksonport was the agricultural center of the Mississippi River Embayment.

Lake that DeSoto thought was the Sea - Press for DetailDeSoto's men continued, "It snowed hard during that winter in this province, when there was an interval of a month and a half in which they could not go out into the country because of the deep snow. With their plentiful supply of wood and provisions (and women), however, they had the best winter of all that they spent in La Florida (North America)."

Scouting forays were made during which DeSoto learned that a good part of the Mississippi Embayment was a gigantic lake, not a bay of the Gulf of Mexico.

Prior to 1698, much of northeastern Arkansas was occupied by the Michigamea, a tribe of the Illinois Confederation. In Algonquin their name means "big lake," referring to the enormous lake that existed in the area prior to the New Madrid Earthquake of 1811. That swamp is drained by Oak Donnick Floodway which often fails to drain it today (2011). DeSoto would lead his army south, down the White River, away from Jacksonport before the Spring Flood.

At Jacksonport, Biedma, the King's Agent with DeSoto, says, "Here we spent the winter. There were such great snows and cold weather that we thought we were dead men. In this town died the Christian who had been one of Narvaez's men, whom we had found in the land and taken along as interpreter..." (Juan Ortiz, who had served DeSoto for 3 years from the time he was rescued in Florida. Ortiz, always by DeSoto's side, would translate Spanish into the language of a neighboring tribe to the one he had been held captive in for a dozen years before DeSoto had rescued him. That Indian would translate to the next, who lived in close proximity, then he to the next and so on through a dozen interpreters, or more, and, finally, to the Indian of the district DeSoto happened to be in at the time; all of whom were held captive by DeSoto for language translation in provinces beyond. A few native merchants were encountered along the way who could speak the languages of many tribes, thereby eliminating the need for certain go-betweens, who DeSoto released unharmed.

Inca says, "Our people passed the winter in the village (called) Utiangue. It is much to be regretted that these Spaniards neglected to conquer and settle a land so fertile and abundant in the things necessary for human life as they discovered, because of not having found gold or silver there. They did not consider that, if it had not been found (in any particular village), it was because these Indians do not seek these metals or value them... (DeSoto,) repenting of his past anger (at his deception in Mabila), which had been the cause of not making a settlement in the province and port of Achusi, as he had determined to do, he now wished to remedy it as best he could.

"Because he was at a distance from the sea and would have to lose time if he should go in search of (somewhere) to settle on the coast, he proposed (as soon as he arrived at the Great River) to establish a village on the best and most convenient site that he should find on its banks. He would immediately build two brigantines and send them down the river... so that Castilian Spaniards could come from all parts with cattle and seeds of the plants that were not found there, to settle, cultivate, and enjoy them."


The King's Agent says, "We left from here at the beginning of March, since it appeared to us the fury of the cold weather had abated, and we traveled downstream (on the White River), where we found other well-populated provinces with a quantity of (much needed) supplies..." DeSoto would trade the only trinkets he had left from Spain, the bells on his horses which where otherwise used to terrify Natives during dawn raids along his way. There were too many Natives in that neighborhood to start a war over food when his army was cold, sick and hungry.

Elvas says, "On Monday, March sixth of the year 1542, the governor set out from Autiamque to go in search of Nilco (well beyond St. Charles, mapped at right), which the Indians said was near the great (Mississippi) river, with the intention of reaching the sea (the Gulf of Mexico) and obtaining aid of men and horses; for he now had only 300 fighting men and 40 horses, and some of them lame... because of lack of iron they brought them along all unshod; In Autiamque died Juan Ortiz (mentioned above), which the governor felt deeply, for without and interpreter, not knowing where he was going, he feared lest he enter a region where he might get lost... From Autiamque, it took the governor ten days to reach the province called Ayays..." at St. Charles.

Biedma says, "...we traveled downstream along the river, where we found other well-populated provinces (today's Newport, Augusta, Georgetown, Cotten Plant, Brinkley and others) with a quantity of supplies..." Elvas says DeSoto "...reached a town near the (White) river which flowed through Cayas (as the Current River) and Autiamque (as the Black River)..." The White River at St. Charles (in Ayays Province) was that river's crossing place for centuries, located just west of Marvell, the U.S. Territorial Headquarters for the Louisiana Purchase. "There he ordered a piragua to be constructed, by which he crossed the (White) river. After crossing, such weather occurred that he could not march (beyond St. Charles) for four days because of the snow."

Southern Arkansas
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