Written by Donald E. Sheppard
Drawings by Cheryl Lucente
TO THIS POINT
THE GREAT UNKNOWN
The trail DeSoto used to leave Florida toward Alabama and Georgia is still there today. It may be the most apparent segment of his entire route. It starts at Aute (near Panama City), where a good number of troops spent that winter. DeSoto's exit, however, started at Iviahica (near Marianna) with Rangel, his personal secretary. Their trail passed through large vegetable fields along what we call Union Road (pictured above), as that road does today. The troops were ordered to harvest and pack what they could for the long journey ahead.
DESOTO'S TRAIL ON GOOGLE EARTH and CONQUEST CALENDARS
You can read the translated details of DeSoto's Florida Departure
written by DeSoto's Chroniclers: Biedma, Rangel, Elvas and Inca
DeSoto's destination was a land rich in pearls, gold and silver, toward the sunrise.E R His intelligence of that place came from a young native captive named Perico, taken at Napituca says Elvas, who at first just called him "the youth." Inca would call him Pedro and Rangel Indian boy but later Perico.
© 1993, University of Alabama Press
According to Elvas that youth "said that he was not of that land, but that he was from another very distant one lying in the direction of the sunrise (on another sea, the Atlantic Ocean), and that some time ago he had come in order to visit [other] lands; that his land was called Yupaha (others would call it Cofitachequi) and a woman ruled it; that the town where she lived was of wonderful size; and that the chieftainess collected tribute from many of her neighboring chiefs, some of whom gave her clothing and others gold in abundance. He told how it was taken from the mines, melted, and refined, just as if he had seen it done, or else the devil taught him; so that all who knew anything of this said it was impossible to give so good an account of it unless one had seen it; and all when they saw the signs he made believed whatever he said to be true..." He would be followed for over 200 miles before getting lost.
DeSoto planned to raid Cofitachequi, plunder its northern mountains, then return to Maldonado's Mobile Bay to settle that port with additional supplies, personnel and horses delivered from Havana by Maldonado.B E R
Scouts had patrolled Iviahica that winter but their reconnaissance was limited once out of range of immediate reinforcement. Hostile Apalachens had surrounded that area.
ACROSS SOUTHEASTERN ALABAMA
Rangel tells us that DeSoto departed on Wednesday, March 3, 1540, and spent that night at the river Gaucuco, then arrived at Capachequi, a great river (the Chattahoochee), early the following Friday. It took him two days plus part of a third to get to that great river. Elvas says it took his people four days while Biedma says he marched northward five days to get to that great river. Inca, who does not mention a starting date or a great river, says his informant traveled three days to the north, camped on a high peninsula for three days, then marched two days to the provincial boundary.
These statements, which seem conflicting, deserve particular attention because they say so much about an army that has been so misunderstood for so long.
One day's march, four leagues, north of Iviahica is Sills peninsula (mapped at left) pointing south at the confluence of Marshall and Cowart's Creeks. That peninsula's high ground, with fertile fields inside its swamps, is still exactly the way Inca described it. Maybe Desoto called the broad Marshal Creek the river Gaucuco. To its north-east across Sills Peninsula is Cowart's Creek marsh (photo below), a natural crossing place at today's Alabama-Florida border (map below). It's clearly shown on the 1853 Florida Survey map.
Desoto marched from Iviahica to Sills the first day, crossing Marshall Creek. The next day he forded the Cowart's Creek and rode into today's Alabama, where he camped just short of the Chattahoochee River, the western border of today's Georgia. He arrived at that great river on the morning of the third day from Iviahica.
Elvas left Iviahica with DeSoto, but spent an extra day marching at a lesser rate while gathering food and herding pigs. He arrived at the Chattahoochee River the fourth day.
Biedma departed from Aute, marched northward for three days to Sills (sixteen leagues), then into Alabama to camp, then to the big river - five days on the trail. This lends credence to Biedma's being at Aute when he made his observations.
Inca's informant also departed from Aute, but did so two days before Biedma, arriving at Sills the third day... "a small pueblo, which was made into a peninsula by being almost entirely surrounded by a swamp more than a hundred paces wide, and having a great deal of mud, which came halfway up the thigh. They had wooden bridges at intervals by which one could leave the place in any direction. The pueblo was situated on a high point from which a large extent of country was visible, and many other small pueblos were seen, scattered about a beautiful valley. The army remained three days in this pueblo, which was the principal one of those in that valley, all of them being in the province of Apalache." He then departed for Alabama, camped, then arrived at the provincial boundary, the Chattahoochee River, on his eighth day out of Aute.
If this scenario is correct, the troops arrived at the Chattahoochee River, the provincial boundary, in this order: DeSoto's group on the third day, Elvas's the fourth day, Biedma's the fifth day, and the Inca's informant on the sixth.
DeSoto's Alabama Trails Elsewhere
The Chattahoochee River was so large and swift that the army had to cross it, in turn, on one large wooden raft. The horses were pulled across by ropes, some of them half-drowned during the effort. DeSoto had planned the army's arrival times at the great river for good reason; not one man would be idle for as much as a day during the process of moving them into the continent. That was DeSoto's genius. The chroniclers alluded to it and to their admiration of him throughout their journey. We, however, have misunderstood DeSoto all along. He has been the "Great Unknown" for centuries.
Perhaps the biggest irony of our misunderstanding DeSoto for so long is that we believed the lies of the Indians that Biedma warned us about. He told us, at Napituca's Village, that those people told many great lies about the country further inland. Their descendants had told post-DeSoto Spanish Missionaries in Napituca Province many great lies about DeSoto and his army wintering in Tallahassee. Narvaez had believed their lies and was led to Aute and death. We believed their lies and were led to Tallahassee and ignorance. That tribe's enemy was DeSoto, its credibility and honor came from defeating Narvaez. Those Indians tricked us all except DeSoto; he had Juan Ortiz to sort it out.
I shall be forever grateful to my uncle, J.D. William Goza of Gainesville, for introducing me to stories of Hernando de Soto and the "The Ride of the Thirty Lancers" 50 years ago; To Dr. Brent Weisman for showing me, in the fields of Florida, the importance of archaeology, and for his insistence that I write my findings; To Mr. Lee Sultzman of Arizona for sharing his profound knowledge of Southern and Midwestern Native American cultural groups; To Jeremiah Wolfe of the Eastern Band of Cherokee for translating Cherokee linguistics from original Spanish documents; To Dr. Douglas E. Jones of Huntsville for explaining Alabama's geography and resources while in those fields; To Dr. Lawrence A. Clayton of Tuscaloosa for his wonderful friendship and for sharing his knowledge of DeSoto's activity in Peru; To the late Dr. Frederick P. Bowser of Stanford, and Dr. Thomas J. Nechyba of Duke, who both painstakingly criticized my work, corrected my grammar and encouraged me to proceed; To Dr. Jeffrey P. Brain of Harvard, Dr. Vernon J. Knight, Jr., and Dr. Ian W. Brown, both of the University of Alabama, for personally defining realistic considerations for me to keep in mind while tracking DeSoto; To
Dr. Francis G. Crowley of Missouri, Dr. James J. Miller of the Museum of Florida History, Tallahassee, Dr. Lynda Norene Shaffer of Boston, and
Dr. Jose B. Fernandez of UCF Orlando who listened, read my manuscripts and provided much practical constraint and realistic insight; To Mr. Gary Kunkel of Waynesville, North Carolina, who painstakingly hauled and canoed me through Great Smokey Mountain Valleys; To Mr. James M. Cooper, my friend in Tampa who cheerfully edited my work; To Mz. Cheryl Lucente, who drew most of the black and white images on these pages; and to those wonderful pioneers who recorded, transported, published, translated and preserved the DeSoto Chronicles in our libraries; and to the fishermen, firemen, hunters, landowners and common people everywhere who showed me places I could never have otherwise seen or put in perspective with DeSoto's extraordinary journey across this wonderful country.
An early draft of this article appeared in The Florida Anthropologist under different title.
*** BEST REFERENCE SET FOR CONTACT NATIVE AMERICAN STUDY ***
CLAYTON, LAWRENCE A., VERNON JAMES KNIGHT, Jr., and EDWARD MOORE, PhD's
1993 THE DE SOTO CHRONICLES, THE EXPEDITION OF HERNANDO DE SOTO TO
NORTH AMERICA IN 1539-1543, 2 VOLUMES, The Univ. of Alabama Press.
These two volumes contain all known records of the Expedition of Hernando
DeSoto and his Army through North America circa 1540. Extensive records
were kept by three officers of that expedition; all are translated therein,
along with all communications between that Army, DeSoto and the King of
Spain known to exist in 1993. Other eyewitness accounts are also presented.
*** BEST BOOK FOR PRE-CONTACT NATIVE AMERICAN STUDY ***
LYNDA NORENE SHAFFER, PhD, Historian, Tufts University, Boston
1992 NATIVE AMERICA BEFORE 1492, THE MOUNDBUILDING CENTERS OF THE
EASTERN WOODLANDS, M.E. Sharp Press, Armonk, N.Y.
Black, Glenn A.
1967 Angel Site, an Archaeological, Historical and Ethnological Study,
Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis
1988 Legua Legal of Legua Comun: A Discussion, DeSoto Working Paper #5,
University of Alabama, W.S. Hoole Special Collection, Tusc.
Bolton, Herbert Eugene
1920 The Colonization of North America, MacMillan Co, N.Y.
Bourne, Edward G.
1904 Narratives of the Career of Hernando de Soto, Volume I, in Trail
Makers Series, A.S. Barnes & Co., N.Y.
Brain, Jeffrey P.
1985 Introduction to the Update of the De Soto Studies Since the United
States De Soto Commission Report in the Final Report of the
United States De Soto Expedition Commission, 76th. Congress, 1st.
Session, House Document no. 71, Government Printing Office, Wash. DC
Bullen, Ripley P.
1951 The Terra Ceia Site, Manatee County, Florida, in Florida
Anthropological Society Publications, No. 3, p. 37, Gnv.
1952 DeSoto's Ucita and the Terra Ceia Site, in Florida Historical
Quarterly, Volume 30, no. 4, pp. 317- 323.
1980 The Elusive Spanish League: A Problem of Measurement in Sixteenth-
Century New Spain, in Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 60,
no. 2, Duke University Press.
Clayton, Lawrence A., Vernon James Knight, Jr. and Edward Moore (Editors)
1993 THE DE SOTO CHRONICLES, THE EXPEDITION OF HERNANDO DE SOTO TO
NORTH AMERICA IN 1539-1543, VOLUMES I AND II Univ. of Alabama Press.
1963 The Fort King Road, in The Florida Historical Quarterly, Volume
XLIII, no. 1, pp. 52-70
1984 Florida and Spain in the New World: The Peruvian Connection.
Paper presented at the Conference on the Remains of Pizarro at
the Florida State Museum, University of Florida, Gnv.
1973 The Conquest of the Incas,Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, N.Y.
Hodge, Frederick W.
1907 Spanish Explorers in the United States, in Original Narratives
of Early American History, Charles Scribner's Sons, N.Y.
1990 A New Andalucia and a Way to the Orient, Louisiana State
1981 Full Moons, Citadel Press, Secaucus, N.J.
1990 Roman Gaul and Germany, University of California Press.
1968 Massacre, University of Florida Press, Gainesville.
1995 Dade's Last Command, University of Florida Press, Gnv.
Lewis, Thomas M.N. and Madeline Kneberg
1939 Hiwassee Island, An Archaeological Account of Four Tennessee
Indian Peoples, University of Tennessee Press, Knxvl.
1972 The Men of Cajamarca, University of Texas Press.
Mahon, John K.
1967 History of the Second Seminole War 1835-1842, University of
Florida Press, Gnv.
Mammana, Dennis L.
1994 Lunar Circumstances Search Report, unpublished, from the Reuben
H. Fleet Space and Science Center, Balboa Park, San Diego, Calif.
1992 A World Lit Only by Fire, The Midieval Mind and the Renaissance,
Portrait of an Age, Little, Brown and Company, N.Y.
Morison, Samuel Eliot
1974 The European Discovery of America, The Southern Voyages AD
1492-1616, Oxford University Press, N.Y.
Prescott, William H.
1847 History of the Conquest of Peru, The Modern Library (1936), N.Y.
...see DeSoto's Conquest of Quizquiz at Cuzco, therein...
Priestley, Herbert Ingram
2010 The Luna Papers, 1559-1561: 2 Volumes, University of Alabama Press
Russell, Jeffrey B.
1977 The Devil, Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive
Christianity, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, N.Y.
Schell, Rolph F.
1966 DeSoto Didn't Land at Tampa, Island Press, Ft. Myers Beach,
Schoolcraft, Henry R.
1857 Historical and Statistical Information Respecting the History,
Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States,
Philadelphia, 6 Parts; Plate XLIV, Volume III and pp 58-68 Volume VI.
(DeSoto's Trail plotted in relation to 1800's Tribal names)
Shaffer, Lynda Norene
1992 Native America Before 1492, the Moundbuilding Centers of the
Eastern Woodlands, M.E. Sharp Press, Armonk, N.Y.
1866 The Career of Hernando de Soto in the Conquest of Florida, from
Theodore H. Lewis, Editor, Spanish Explorers in the United States,
1528 - 1543, Barnes & Noble, Inc, Reprint 1965.
Sprague, John T.
1964 The Origin, Progress and Conclusion of the Florida War,
a reprint of the 1848 publication,introduction by John K. Mahon,
University of Florida Press, Gnv.
Stone, George C.
1934 A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration and Use of
Arms and Armor in All Countries and in All Times, Jack Brussel
Swanton, John R.
1939 FINAL REPORT OF THE UNITED STATES DE SOTO EXPEDITION COMMISSION,
76th. Congress, 1st Session, House Document, no. 71, Government
Printing Office, Washington DC (reprinted by Brain, 1985, above)
1946 The Indians of the Southeastern United States, U.S. Government
Printing Office, Wash. DC
1993 Conquest; Montezuma, Cortes and the Fall of Old Mexico, Simon &
Wilkinson, Warren H.
1960 Opening the Case Against the U.S. DeSoto Commission's Report,
Papers of the Alliance for the Preservation of Florida Antiquities,
Vol. 1, no. 1, Jacksonville Beach, Fla.
Hernando de Soto Conquest Calendars
DeSoto's Lunar Activity, Moon Phases
Internet Links to Relevant Articles
Maps (U.S.G.S.) Used for Field Study
University of Georgia Map Collection
DeSoto Trail Maps, 1939 versus 2014