|NORTH GEORGIA & ALABAMA|
ALL CONQUEST TRAILS BATTLE of MABILA
"There is a mountain range to the north of Coosa, which runs east and west. It is fairly high and well wooded, but up to this time we do not know where it begins or ends." Fray Doming in Coosa, 1560, Priestley Luna Papers
Written byDonald E. Sheppard
Drawings: Cheryl Lucente
TO THIS POINT
NORTHWARD FROM MABILA
INDIAN PLACE NAMES
Hernando de Soto re-entered Georgia, this time southbound from from Chattanooga, Tennessee, "...on Tuesday (July 13, 1540) they crossed another river (South Chickamauga Creek, camping near Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia), and on Wednesday another large river (West Chickamauga Creek), and they slept in Chisca (Lafayette)... On Thursday they went to another small town (above Trion) and passed other towns, and on Friday the Governor entered in Coosa..." R at Summerville, located beside Pigeon Mountain (photo above). "...one of the best and most abundant provinces we found..." B DeSoto timed his arrival there on the weekend of Full Moon for the safety it afforded.
You can read the translated details of North Georgia's Conquest
written by DeSoto's Chroniclers: Biedma, Rangel, Elvas & Inca
DESOTO'S TRAIL ON GOOGLE EARTH and CONQUEST CALENDARS
"Its chief (Coosa, who spoke a Muskogean dialect, different from the Carolina Cherokee Iroquoian language) came forth to receive us on a litter with great festivity and many people, because he has many subject towns..." B
"The chief came out to welcome him two crossbow flights from the town in a carrying chair borne on the shoulders of his principal men, seated on a cushion, and covered with a robe of marten skins of the form and size of a woman's shawl. He wore a crown of feathers... and around about him were many Indians playing and singing." E
"He ordered his Indians to move out of their dwellings, in which the governor and his men were lodged. In the storage bins and fields there was a great quantity of maize and beans. The land was very populous and had many large towns and planted fields which reached from one town to the other. It was a charming and fertile land, and grapes along the (Chattooga) river on vines climbing up into the trees." E
"The governor was accustomed to place a guard over the chief so that the chief might not go away, and took the chief along with him until leaving the chief's land; for by taking the chief, the people would await in their towns and the chief would give a guide and Indians as carriers (of their village's food). Before departing from their lands, (DeSoto) would give the chiefs leave to return to their homes as soon as he reached another dominion where others were (forced to be) given to him." E
"Those of Coosa, seeing their lord detained, thought ill of it and revolted and went away to hide themselves in the woods - both those of their lord's town and those of other chiefs towns, who were his vassals. The governor sent four captains, each in a different direction... They seized many Indians, men and women, who were put in chains. Upon seeing the harm they received, and how little they gained in absenting themselves, they came, saying that they wished to serve in whatever might be commanded them. Some of the principal men among those imprisoned were set free on petition of the chief. Of the rest, each man took away as slaves those he had in chains, without allowing them to go to their lands. Nor did many of them return except some whose good fortune and assiduous industry aided them, who managed to file off their chains at night; or some, who were able, while on the march, to wander away from the road upon observing any lack of care in their guard. They went off with their chains, their loads and the clothes they were carrying." E
"... and in truth, as eyewitnesses testified (at Spanish Inquests years later), it was a thing of much pity to see (those Indians); but God forgets no evil thing done nor does it remain without punishment, as this history will relate." R
Inca says, "One day while the Spaniards were in this village of Cosa, its lord, who had eaten at the governor's table, having talked with him about many things pertaining to the conquest and settlement of the country and having replied to the entire satisfaction of the governor... said "Sir... if you are seeking good lands on which to settle, see fit to remain in mine and make an establishment in them. I believe that this is one of the best provinces that your lordship has seen among all of those that are in this kingdom, and moreover I assure your lordship that you have chanced to pass through and see the poorest and least desirable part of it. If your lordship should desire to examine it more closely, I will take you through other, better parts that will satisfy you entirely (today's Etowah and Rome), and you can take whatever part of them that seems best to you for settling and establishing your house and court. If you do not wish to grant me this favor at present, at least do not refuse to remain in this village during the coming winter, which is near, where we will serve you, as your lordship will see by our actions...
"The governor thanked him for his good will and told him that he was wholly unable to make an inland settlement until knowing what ports there were on the seacoasts to receive the ships and the people that would come to them from Spain or elsewhere with cattle and plants and the other things necessary for making settlements. At the proper time he would accept his offer and would always maintain friendship with him, and meanwhile he might rest assured that he would not delay in returning there and settling the country, and then he could do the things he asked for his gratification and satisfaction...
"...the governor saw fit to continue his journey toward the sea, which he was seeking. Since leaving the province of Xuala (Tryon, N.C.) we had marched toward the coast (the Gulf of Mexico), making an arc through the country in order to come out at the port of Achusi (Mobile Bay) as we had agreed with Captain Maldonado to do. The later had remained to explore the coast and was to return at the beginning of the coming winter to the port of Achusi with reinforcements of men and arms and cattle and provisions... The governor's chief purpose was to go to this port to begin making his settlement...
"The (chief of Coosa) desired to accompany the general to the boundaries of his territory, and thus he set out with him, accompanied by many noble warriors, with many provisions and Indian carriers to transport them..."
"The Governor rested in Coosa for twenty-five days, then set out on Friday, August 20th (1540), to look for a province, by name, Tuscalusa..." E His scouts were dispatched several days earlier on the Full Moon. "We departed from here (Summerville, GA) toward the west and southwest (down the Chattooga River Valley, map below) and went through towns of the Chief..." B "...and they spent that night beyond Talimuchusiour (today's Chattoogaville)..." "...a half-league beyond it near a stream (the Chattooga River)." E
Southeastern Alabama Trails
DeVaca in Alabama
Acknowledgements and References
"...the next day (August 21, 1540), in a heavy rain, they spent the night in Itaba, a large town near a good river..." R today's Cedar Bluff, Alabama, where the Chattooga River joins the Coosa River. "... We stayed there for six days [eight days on Rangel's calendar] because a river (the Coosa), which ran hard by the town, was swollen." E
You can read the translated details of Alabama's Conquest
written by DeSoto's Chroniclers: Biedma, Rangel, Elvas and Inca
DESOTO's TRAIL ON GOOGLE EARTH and CONQUEST CALENDARS
Cedar Bluff is on a large reservoir today (both maps), caused by Weiss Dam raising the Coosa River by only a few feet nine miles below Cedar Bluff. That dam diverts the river into a man-made lake for power generation, cutting off twenty-one miles of river flow. The dam spans a narrow ravine where the river was naturally obstructed by debris from heavy rains when DeSoto reached that impasse nine miles above that ravine.
When the flood subsided, "the Governor left from Itaba with his army and spent the night in an oak grove" near the Coosa River's southern bend west of Cedar Bluff. "The following day (Aug. 31st New Moon), they went to Ulibahali (yesteryear's Turkeytown due east of today's Gadsden, see Andrew Jackson's 1815 Map inlay below), a very good town next to a large river..." R The Coosa River is 400 feet wide at that point.
Elvas says, "Ten or twelve of the principal Indians, all with feather plumes, and with bows and arrows, came to him on the road bearing a message on the part of the chief of that province, to offer themselves to him. The governor, on reaching the town with twelve horse and some foot belonging to his guard, for he had left his men a crossbow flight from town, entered therein and found all the Indians under arms; and judging from their manner, he thought them evilly disposed. It was learned later that they had concerted to take the (chief of Coosa) out of the governor's possession, if he (the chief) should request this of them...
"The governor ordered all his men to enter the town which was enclosed and near which flowed a small river. The enclosure, like that in other towns seen there afterward, was of thick logs, set solidly close together in the ground, and many long poles as thick as an arm placed crosswise... and it was plastered within and without and had loopholes. On the other side of the river was a town where the chief was at the time...
"The governor ordered him to be summoned and he came immediately... and give him (DeSoto, with Chief Coosa) the necessary tamemes and thirty women as slaves..." E
"From this town of Ulibahali (Turkey T on Andrew Jackson's 1815 Map at left) they left one Thursday, the second of September, and they spent the night in a pretty town hard by the river... (today's Glencoe, pinned by Green Creek Mountain to the Coosa River) and the next day, Friday, they (passed southward between mountains and) came to Piachi (today's Ohatchee), which is alongside a river (the Ohatchee and Tallasahatchee Creeks join there, flowing at 2000 gallons/second in September)... On Sunday they left there and spent the night in the open (meaning "out of the mountains")... and the next day reached another called Toasi (today's Talladega, stopping there for one week)... where they gave them tamemes and thirty-two Indian women." R
Elvas says, "...we marched ordinarily five or six leagues (13 or so miles) daily when going through a peopled region, and as much as we could through a depopulated region..."
On Monday, the 13th of September, the Governor left from there (through mountains), and they spent the night in the open, and on Tuesday they made another day's journey (between high hills) and halted likewise in the open, and on Wednesday they went to an old town (today's Alexander City) that had double walls and good towers. And those ramparts are built in this manner: they sink many thick poles, tall and straight, next to one another... and they make their loopholes at intervals, and they make their towers and turrets spread out along the curtain and parts of the rampart as suits them. At a distance, they appear to be one very excellent wall, and such walls are very strong... R
"The next day, Thursday, they spent the night in a new town next to the (Tallapoosa) river, where the Spaniards rested a day (during Harvest Moon). And the next day, Saturday, they went to Talisi..." R today's Tallassee, on September 18th. "This town (had a fortress)... almost surrounded by a river." I at the Tallapoosa River's southeasternmost bend (map above right).
Seventeen days later, "...the governor took leave of the good Chief Coosa and his people, who were very sad because we were leaving their country (actually, Chief Coosa was released E into hostile Indian territory where he would be slain, according to Tristan de Luna's troops two decades later). We went (to Tuscalusa) by way of a road that they told DeSoto was the most suitable." I
Scouts had been dispatched from Talisi to examine two different trails to Chief Tuscalusa, reported by his son to be 12 or 13 leagues (about 33 miles) from there. One trail passed through today's Montgomery, the other above it. The first crossed the Tallapoosa and Alabama Rivers (map below), the other only the Coosa River. DeSoto chose the later given the Alabama River's size.
We "...headed south (down the north bank of the Tallapoosa River), drawing near the coast of New Spain (the Gulf of Mexico)" B
"... and spent the night at Casiste alongside the river, and the next day, Wednesday (October 6, 1540) they
went to Caxa (French Fort Toulouse), a wretched town on the bank of the river (the Coosa River, photo at left) at the boundary between Talisi and Tuscalusa." R "...and (we) crossed the River of Talise (the Coosa River, into Tuscalusa Province) in rafts and canoes, it being so full of water that they could not ford it." I "Next day, Thursday, they spent the night alongside the river (the Alabama River), and a town called Humati (Montgomery) was on the other side of the water." R
"And the next day, Friday, they went to another town, which is called Uxapita (Prattville, on map above)... and the next day, Saturday, they established their camp one league before arriving at the town of Tuscalusa, in the open..." R They camped in the valley near today's Autaugaville. "On Sunday the Governor entered the town, which was called Atahachi." R "It was not the chief town of this state, but one of the other, ordinary ones." I Chief Tuscalusa lived in the center of his province in Piachi, several days travel to westward (mapped above).
Biedma says Chief Tuscalusa "...was an Indian so large that, to the opinion of all, he was a giant. He awaited us in peace in his town..." Inca says "...on a high small hill, an eminence from which much of the country could be seen in every direction..." Rangel and Elvas say, "the chief was on a balcony that was made on a mound to one side of the plaza..." "...on an elevated place..." Today's Potato Hill (pictured above) still stands over the west end of that valley; a location selected by Tuscalusa to dramatize his nobility.
"We made much festivity for him when we arrived and jousted and had many horse races, although he appeared to think little of this. Afterward we asked him to give us Indians to carry the burdens, and he responded that he was not accustomed to serving anyone, rather that all served him before... he said that he could not give us anything there, that we should go to another town of his, which was called Mabila, and that there he would give us what we wanted from him." B
"Finally, Tuesday, the twelfth of October, they left that town of Atahachi, taking the chief... and spent the night in the open (out of the hills above Durant Bend). Wednesday, they (DeSoto and his horsemen, on a Filling Moon) arrived at Piachi, which is a high town, upon the bluff of a river." R ...today's Cahaba River which they called River of Piachi (image below right). Some waited in Selma while DeSoto secured the river crossing.
Elvas says of DeSoto's Piachi arrival, "Near it flowed a large river. The Governor asked the Indians for canoes. They said that they did not have any (women and children had probably fled in them), but they would make rafts... Diligently and quickly they made them and steered them; and since the water was quiet, the governor and his men crossed in great safety." Inca says they camped "on a peninsula the river formed... half a league from the river in a beautiful valley..." below today's Highway 22, four miles northwest of the Cahaba River's junction with the Alabama River, where Beidma says it became "a large river, which we believe is the river that flows into the bay of Chuse..." Mobile Bay, which was correct.
"In that town of Piachi it was found out that they had killed Don Teodoro and a black man who (fled then) came forth from the boats of Panfilo de Narvaez..." B R an earlier Spanish coastal explorer who had been in Mobile Bay twelve years before DeSoto's army arrived. The two deserters had fled from that expedition west of Mobile Bay then made it up to and along the Alabama River's north bank until encountering Piachi.
"Chief Tuscalusa sent an Indian from that place (Piachi) to Mabila..."
[ostensibly] to advise them to have provisions prepared and Indians for carrying..." E
"From the port (Charlotte Harbor, Florida) to Apalache (Marianna, Florida)... the governor had marched east to west; from Apalache to Cofitachequi (Columbia, S.C.)... from southwest to northeast; from Cofitachequi to Xualla (Tryon, N.C.) from south to north; and from Xualla to Tuscalusa (Autaugaville, Alabama)... he marched... from east to west to the province of Coosa (Summerville, Georgia) and... to Tuscalusa from north to south." E
"On Saturday, the sixteenth of October (1540), they departed (westward) from Piachi and went to a forest, where one of the two Christians that the Governor had sent to Mabila came; and he said that there was a great gathering of armed people in Mabila. The next day they (DeSoto with his guard and Chief Tuscalusa) went to a palisaded town (on a hill overlooking the plains southwest of Catherine, where the troops camped), and messengers from Mabila came who brought... much chestnut (pecan) bread, for there are many and good chestnuts in his land." R
You can read the TRANSLATED DETAILS of the Battle of Mabila
by DeSoto's Chroniclers: Biedma, Rangel, Elvas, Inca
Rangel says, "On Monday, the 18th of October (1540), the day of St. Luke (having crossed hills and creeks southwest of camp during a Nearly Full Moon) the Governor arrived at Mabila ("at at eight o'clock in the morning," according to Inca's informant, at "nine," according to Biedma at "a small and very strongly palisaded town and was situated on a plain," Inca says, "a league and half (five miles) from camp"), having passed that day through some towns (on creeks in the hills)... But these towns (with pecan trees below Catherine) detained the soldiers, pillaging and scattering themselves, for the land seemed populous; thus only 40 on horseback arrived in advance with the Governor (Elvas says, "15 horse and 30 foot soldiers"), and since they were a little detained, in order for the Governor not to show weakness, he entered in the town with Chief Tuscalusa." R
Natives chose that location in advance of DeSoto's arrival. Captives taken from Mobile Bay had guided DeSoto through Mabila toward his waiting ships, reported to be in port. He planned to settle there. The captives, having been with DeSoto nearly a year, had managed to communicate his intent to others. They led DeSoto to Mabila, a newly built fortress on the main southbound trail to Mobile Bay on the north bank of the Alabama River (see the Saint Stephens-Cahaba and Tuskaloosa-Prairie Bluff Roads sign at right, very near Mabila, built on Indian trails).
Biedma says, "Having entered within, we were walking with the Indians, chatting, as if we had them in peace, because only three hundred or so appeared there... they began to do their dances and songs... fifteen or twenty women in front of us... Chief Tuscalusa arose and entered one of those houses... the guard entered to bring him out, and he (the guard) saw so many people within... that he told the Governor that those houses were full of Indians, all with bows and arrows... The governor called to another Indian who was passing by there, who likewise refused to come. A Nobleman... seized him by the arm in order to bring him, and then the Indian gave a pull that set himself free.. the Nobleman put hand to his sword and gave him a slash that cut off an arm. Upon wounding this Indian, all began to shoot arrows at us... we suffered so much damage that we were forced to leave, fleeing from the town... When the Indians saw us outside, they closed the gates of the town and began to beat there drums and to raise banners with a great yell, and to open our trunks and bundles and display from the top of the wall all that we had brought..." B
Inca's informant says, "The few riders... (who had fled from) the village with their horses (and)... a few others who had arrived from the (army's) march... went to resist the... Indians (who) were pursuing the Spaniards who were fighting on foot. They, however much they tried, could not prevent the Indians from driving (DeSoto and his escorts) across the plain... until the Indians saw the horses charging them. Then the Indians held up a little and gave our men a chance to rally and form two divisions, one of foot soldiers and one of horsemen." I
Elvas says, "At this time, all the horse and foot (soldiers) who came marching behind (DeSoto), happened to reach Mabila. They were of different opinions there as to whether they should attack the Indians in order to enter into the town or whether this should be avoided, as the entrance was doubtful. But, at last, it was decided to attack them." E
Inca continues, "These fell upon the Indians with such courage... that they did not stop until they had shut (the Indians)... in the village. But when (we) attempted to enter, such a shower of arrows and stones rained upon (us) from the wall and its loopholes that (we) withdrew... Seeing (us) retire, the Indians came out again with the same impetuosity as the first time, some through the gate and others jumping down from the wall. They engaged our men rashly, even grasping the horsemen's lances, and the Spaniards were forced, in spite of themselves, to (retreat) more than two hundred paces from the wall I (probably to the pond mentioned below).
"Our men at once charged the enemy and drove them back toward the village, but they made a strong attack from the wall, from which the Spaniards came to understand that it was better to fight them on the plain, at a distance from the village, than near it (given that horses could be used to advantage only in the open). Thus from that time on, when (our people retreated) they purposely yielded more ground than the Indians forced them to lose, in order to draw the Indians away from the village..." I
Elvas reports, "The Indians fought with so great a spirit that they drove us outside again and again. It took them so long to get back that many of the Christians, tired out and suffering great thirst, went to get a drink at a pond located near the stockade, but it was tinged with the blood of the dead..." E
Inca's informant goes on, "There were many wounds and deaths in this obstinate battle, but the one that caused the Spaniards the greatest regret and grief... because of the misfortune through which it happened and because of the person upon whom it fell... was that of Don Carlos Enriquez, a gentleman... He was married to a niece of the governor and, because of his great virtue and affability, he was esteemed and beloved by all... From the beginning of the battle this gentleman had fought like a very valiant soldier during all the attacks and retreats, and his horse having been wounded in the last retreat by an arrow that had gone into one side of his breast above the breast-leather, in order to draw it out he changed his lance from his right hand to his left, and grasping the arrow, pulled at it. With his body extended forward along the horse's neck, he made an effort (to remove the arrow), (but by) turning his head slightly over his left shoulder so that his throat, which was unprotected, without armor (for all the rest of his body was well armored)... (the arrow) wounded him in such a manner that the poor gentleman at once fell down from his horse with his (own) throat cut, though he did not die until the next day. I
"With such events incident to battles, Indians and Castillians fought with many deaths on both sides, although the mortality was greater among the Indians because they had no defensive arms (shields, crossbows, lances or horses). After fighting for more than three hours on the plain, the (Indians) realized that they were getting the worst... and they all decided to withdraw toward the village, close the gates, and station themselves on the walls. This they did, calling to one another to assemble from every direction. On seeing the Indians closed up (inside the fortress), the governor ordered that all the mounted soldiers, because they were better armed than the foot soldiers, dismount and attack the village, taking shields to defend themselves and axes to break in the gates, as most of them carried axes with them... Instantly a squadron... was formed, which attacked the gate, broke it down with axes, and entered through it with no little damage to themselves." (In the meantime, the Indians who were) closed up in the village... ran to the house that had been designated for the governor's service and chamber, which they had not attacked hitherto because it seemed to them that they had it safely (in their grasp). Thus they now went very boldly to enjoy the spoils that were in it. I
"But they found the house well defended, because inside were three crossbowmen and five halberdiers of the governor's guard who were accustomed to accompany his equipage and servants, and one of the first Indians whom they captured in that country, who was now a friend and a faithful servant, and as such carried his bow and arrows to be ready when it should be necessary to fight against those of his own nation in the favor and service of the foreigner. There also happened to be in the house two priests, and a cleric and a friar, and two of the governor's slaves. All these people stationed themselves to defend the house, the priests with their prayers and (the guards) with arms, and they fought so courageously that the enemy could not gain the door. The Indians then decided to go in through the roof and accordingly opened it in three or four places, but the crossbowmen and the Indian archer worked so effectively that those who dared enter through the holes in the roof were shot down dead or badly wounded, as they appeared (through the holes in the roof). These few Spaniards were conducting this spirited defense when the general and his captains and soldiers came up to the door of the house, fighting, and drove the enemy away from it. Thereupon those in the house were released and went out to the field, giving thanks to God for having saved them from such danger. I
"The other Spaniards (on the outside of the fortress) who could not go in through the gate, because it was (too) narrow, so as not to wait in the fields and lose time in fighting, made vigorous strokes at the wall with their axes and knocked off the mixture of mud and straw that (had been plastered on the wall)... uncovering the transverse logs... (then), assisting one another, they climbed up (the now exposed transverse logs), got over the wall, and entered the village... The Indians, on seeing the Castillians inside the village that they had considered impregnable... fought with the spirit of desperate men, in the streets as well as from the roofs, from which they did much damage to the Christians. The latter, in order to defend themselves from those who were fighting from the flat roofs or terraces, and to insure that they would not attack them from behind, and also in order that the Indians might not come back (outside) to gain the houses... decided to set fire to the (fortress). They did so and, as the houses were made of straw, in a moment a great deal of flame and smoke arose, which added itself to (the confusion of) the blood... and the massacre that was taking place in such a small village. I
"The governor, who had fought throughout the four hours on foot at the head of his men, went out of the village and mounted a horse. So as to increase the fears of the enemy and the spirit and courage of his men, he went back into the village, accompanied by another who was also mounted, and both riders, calling the names of Our Lady and "Santiago" ("St. James," the traditional battle cry of the Spanish) and shouting loudly to their men to make way, broke through the enemy squadron from one side to the other as it was fighting in the principal street and in the plaza. Then they
turned back upon them, spearing them on either side... I
"During these attacks and withdrawals, at a time when the governor was standing in his stirrups to throw a lance at an Indian, another who was behind him shot an arrow above the hind bow of the saddle, which struck in the small unprotected space the general (had) exposed between the saddlebow and the breastplate, and though he wore a coat of mail, the arrow broke through it and penetrated some six inches into (his) left hip. The good general (DeSoto) alike in order not to let it be known that he was wounded so that his men would not become alarmed because of this hurt, and because in the press of the fighting he had no opportunity to pull out the arrow, fought with it through all the rest of the battle, which was almost five hours, without being able to sit in the saddle, which was no small proof of the valor of this captain and if his skill in horsemanship... I
"The fire that they had set to the houses increased momentarily and did the Indians much damage, for as they were numerous and could not fight in the streets and plaza, because they could not all get into them, they fought from the terraces and flat roofs. The fire trapped and burned them there or forced them, in fleeing from it, to fling themselves down from the terraces.
"It did no less damage in the houses where it came in through the door, for... they were large rooms with only one door, and when the fire blocked it, those who were inside could not get out and were burned and suffocated by the fire and smoke. Many women who were closed up in the houses perished in this way. I
"The fire was equally harmful in the streets, because sometimes the wind blew the flame and smoke over the Indians, blinding them and helping the Spaniards to drive them back without their being able to resist. Again it would turn in favor of the Indians against the Christians and enable them to regain the part of the street that they had lost. Thus the fire went favoring now one side and now the other, and increasing the mortality of the battle. I
"The fighting was sustained on both sides with the cruelty and fury that has been seen until four o'clock in the afternoon, the battle having been continuous for seven hours. As this hour the Indians, seeing how many of their men they had killed by fire and the sword and that for lack of fighters their strength was decreasing while that of the Castillians was increasing, summoned the women and ordered them to take up some of the many arms that were lying in the streets and set about taking vengeance for the death of their people; and if they could not avenge them, they should at least see to it that all of them should die before becoming slaves of the Spaniards. I
"When they gave this command... many of them had already been fighting bravely for some time along with their husbands, but with this new order not one remained who did not go to the battle, taking up arms that they found lying on the ground, of which there was an abundance. Many of the swords, halberds, and lances that the Spaniards had lost came into their hands... They also took up bows and arrows and shot them with no less skill and ferocity than their husbands. They stationed themselves in front of the latter to fight, and resolutely exposed themselves to death with much more nerve than the men. They thrust themselves among the enemy's weapons with great fury and recklessness, showing well that the desperation and courage of women in what they have determined to do is greater and more heedless than that of men. The Spaniards, however, seeing that the Indian women were doing this more with the desire of dying than conquering, and also out of regard for the fact that they were women, abstained from wounding and killing them. I
"While this long and stubborn battle lasted, the trumpets, fifes, and drums did not cease to sound the alarm very insistently, so that the Spaniards who had lagged behind in the rear guard would hurry to the assistance of their men. The maestro de camp and those who were coming with him (had) marched scattered about the country hunting and enjoying themselves, ignorant of what was going on in Mabila. But when they (were close enough and) heard the noise of the military musical instruments and the shouts and outcries that sounded inside and outside the village, and saw the clouds of smoke that rose up in front of them, suspecting what it might be, they passed the word back to the last ones and all of them marched at top speed, arriving during the last part of the battle. I
"The battle that took place in the country was no less bloody; it was for this purpose that the fields had been cleared (by the Indians, before the Spaniards had arrived at Mabila) of timber and cleaned even to uprooting the grass and herbs. Having enclosed themselves in the village to make a defense, the Indians realized that because of their numbers they would hinder one another in fighting, and that because the space was limited they could not profit by their lightness and agility. Thus many of them agreed to go out to the fields, letting themselves down from the walls, where they fought with all good spirit and courage and eagerness for victory. But they soon recognized that their plan was illadvised, because if their lightness gave them an advantage over the Spanish foot soldiers, those on horseback were their superiors and speared them in the field entirely at their pleasure, without there being able to defend themselves, for these Indians do not use pikes, although they have them, which are the defense against horsemen, because they had not permitted themselves to believe that we would come up within reach of the pikes, but expected to assault and kill us with arrows a good distance before we should reach them. This is the chief reason the Indians use the bow and arrows more than any other weapons. Thus a great many of the died on the field were ill-advised in their ferocity and vain presumption. The Spaniards of the rear guard came up, horsemen and foot soldiers, and all attacked the ndians who were fighting in the field. After engaging in battle for a long period of time and receiving many deaths and wounds, though they arrived late, they received a very good share of them... I
"At this time, which was now nearly sunset, the shouts and cries of those who were fighting in the village still sounded. Many of those who were mounted entered to aid their men; others remained outside to be ready for whatever might be needed. Hitherto for lack of room none of the horsemen had fought inside the village except the general and one other. Now, therefore, many mounted men entered and scattered through the streets, for there was work for them to do... Breaking through the Indians who were fighting there, they killed them. I
"Ten of twelve horsemen advanced along the principal street where the battle was fiercest and bloodiest, and where... Indian men and women were fighting most desperately... The horsemen charged upon them... so furiously that they knocked down many... of the Indians. The Spaniards were fighting hand to hand with the enemy, all of whom they killed, for none wished to surrender or give up their arms, but to die... fighting like good soldiers... I
"...(when) the battle ended, one of the Indians who had been dazed (during the fighting)... attempted to save his life by fleeing... he ran to the wall and jumped up on it with much agility, as to escape across the fields... but seeing the Christians that were there... and the massacre that had occurred and that he could not escape, he preferred death to giving himself up as a prisoner... and taking the cord from his bow, he fastened it to the branches of a tree (which was part of the wall)... and the other (end of the cord) around his neck (and) let himself down from the wall so quickly that, although some Spaniards desired to rescue him... they could not get there in time. Thus the Indian was hanged by his own hand, causing amazement by his action... From this (we) surmised the recklessness and desperation with which all of the Indians (of North America) fight, for the one who was left alive killed himself. I
Biedma says, "We fought that day until it was night... we killed them all, some with fire, others with the swords, others with the lance..." B
Elvas says, "All of the clothing carried by the Christians, the ornaments for saying mass, and the pearls were all burned there... and the horses that they tied within... were killed." I
Biedma concludes "...the Indians killed more than twenty of our men (most of whom were DeSoto's powerful friends or relatives), and two hundred and fifty of us were injured... We stayed there treating ourselves twenty-eight days (until the next Full Moon)... We took the women and divided them among the most seriously wounded..." B
DeSoto had learned there that Francisco Maldonado was awaiting him in the port of Ochuse (Mobile Bay), six days' journey from there. He arranged with Juan Ortiz (his native interpreter) that he should keep still about it.." E but the men had "...heard that we were up to forty leagues (105 miles) from the sea. Many wished for the Governor to go there... because the Indians gave us news of the small ships being there..." B Captives taken by Maldonado at Mobile Bay the proceeding winter had led DeSoto into the ambush at Mabila.
DeSoto's biggest problem after the battle was containing his men from escape to the ships. I Any bad news they carried could seriously damage his plans to colonize America... and New World news circulated fast in Europe. His scouts, who always patrolled on horseback for miles around his encampments, provided him with the topographic intelligence to solve that problem.
The men, having heard from captives that the ships were nearby, but not knowing where, had only their own intelligence, and not that of DeSoto's, to use for planning any escape. The last time they had seen a large river, however, which logic would hold flowed into the sea where his ships were, was in Piachi (near Selma) but that trail went back through hostile country.
To contain the men DeSoto moved them north and west from the battle ground, I away from the nearby Alabama River, to a place where scouts found the creeks flowing northwest just ten miles from the fortress near today's Thomaston. That kept the men from following creek beds to the Alabama River, and, thereby, to their only escape route. Wounded and dead natives were found "in the huts and by the roads" during their four-week recovery while DeSoto led north and west; downstream, to the troops way of thinking. None of them had a clue what he was up to.
"The Governor felt it advisable to look for a land where we might find provisions in order to be able to spend the winter..." R DeSoto would direct his army farther NORTH, up Tuskaloosa-Prairie Bluff Road, to winter in Tennessee, thereby containing them above the north flowing Tennessee River to avert any escape. He would continue northbound at springtime, searching for the South Sea passage to China on the north side of his "Island of Florida." He would never return.
CENTRAL ALABAMA POSTSCRIPT
Twenty years after DeSoto's visit, five survivors of his expedition returned to Mabila in an attempt to settle that land with Tristan de Luna. Luna, who had been told of the bountiful Mabila Province, its proximity to the sea, and the safe winter anchorage at Prairie Bluff, brought settlers to the place where DeSoto was defeated. To entice those settlers, who were well aware of DeSoto's losses at the legionary Mabila, Luna called that place "Nanapacana." In Spanish vernacular that name means "nothing but pecans:" the fruit and wood which was the only "treasure" brought from La Florida to Spain by DeSoto's ill-fated conquistadors. Everyone in Spain knew that. That name was magic for enticing New World settlers.
Northward to Chicago YOUR STATE
Alabama - DeSoto's Gate to the Midwest
The Final Report of the "Official" DeSoto Commission