Written by Donald E. Sheppard
Drawings: Cheryl Lucente
TO THIS POINT
"Sunday the eighth of May (1541, under a nearly Full Moon), they (Hernando de Soto's army) arrived ("at midday...") at the first town of Quizqui (today's Hopkinsville, Kentucky) and they took them unexpectedly and captured many people..." mostly women and children, "The Indian men were gone to do their labors at their cornfields." © 1993, Univ. of Alabama Press
DESOTO'S KENTUCKY TRAIL ON GOOGLE EARTH and Conquest Calendars
"Inasmuch as his men were ill and weary for lack of corn, and the horses were also weak, DeSoto determined to (treat these natives kindly - his troops were in no condition for war)... So he ordered the (chief's) mother and all the others released, and sent them with words of kindness... many Indians came with their bows and arrows with intention of attacking the Christians. The governor ordered all the horsemen to be armed and mounted." DeSoto knew these natives had never seen such weapons before.
"When the Indians saw that we were on guard they stopped a crossbow flight from the spot where the governor was, near a stream (today's Little River)... and said they came to see what people we were and that they had learned from their ancestors that a white race would inevitably subdue them... and after offering skins and blankets... together with the others who were waiting on the shore, returned."
"The Indians moved out of their village and left the food they had in their houses for the Castilians. (Some of the Spaniards) remained in that village called Chisca for six days in order to care for the sick and wounded..."
DeSoto's Chroniclers called Kentucky's tribe different names, ranging from Quizquiz, the name of the famous chief DeSoto had defeated in Peru just prior to entering its city of gold, to Chisca and Quizqui. The French would call them Casqui and the English Kashinampo. They shared a unique language with the Alibamo of Nashville and Chisca of Gatlinburg, Tennessee - a 200-mile spread.
Most of the army continued north from Hopkinsville, they "marched for four short daily journeys of three leagues each, since the indispositions of the sick and wounded did not permit longer ones..." stopping at Madisonville, 12 leagues, 31 miles from Hopkinsville. Once all reassembled they continued north. "Inasmuch as there was little maize in the town where the governor was, he moved to another town (today's Henderson; another says, "One league from this town was found another with much corn, and then, after another league, another, likewise with much corn...") located a half-league from the large (Ohio) river, where maize was found in abundance..."
"There they saw the Great River."
Another says, "They came to a passage where they could cross the great (Ohio) river, not that they could ford it, but where there was an open passage for reaching it, for previously all along its banks there had been extremely large and very dense woodlands, and the banks on either side were very high and steep and one could not go up or down them."
"On Saturday, the twenty-first of May (1541), the Army moved on to a savanna between the river and a small town (Henderson), and they made camp (near Audubon State Park on the Ohio River), and began to make four rafts in order to cross to the other side."
They camped just above Henderson while building rafts and waiting for the Ohio River's spring flooding to pass in order to cross it. The river banks flatten north of Audubon Park and there's a low grassy north bank near Green River "Island," as that bank is called today.
"Many of the Conquistadors said that the river was larger than the Danube. On the other bank of the river up to seven thousand Indians gathered to defend the crossing with up to two-thousand canoes, all with shields which were made of canes joined together, so strong and so tightly sewn that a crossbow would scarcely pierce them." The Indians gathered on the west bank of the Ohio River which was filled by Spring run-off and April showers.
"We immediately moved there (very near Audubon State Park on the river's east bank), houses were built, and the camp was established on a level place, a crossbow flight from the river. All of the corn of all the towns behind (including Henderson, Sebree and Madisonville) was collected there, and the men set to work immediately to cut timber (east of camp) and square the planks for rafts.
"Immediately the Indians came down river (from today's Indiana), landed, and told the governor that they were vassals of a great lord called Aquixo, who was lord of many towns and people on the other side of the river (he lived at Angel Mounds State Park; a large scattering of farms and villages at the time)."
"Here (from Audubon State Park to Spottsville, east of the park) we found the first little walnuts (pecans) of the land, which are much better than those from Spain..." They're still the pride of Kentucky - the pecan breeding stock of America - the best in the world. "This town was near the Great River. They told us that this and other towns there pay tribute to a lord of Pacaha, who was well known in all the land." He would be found in Terre Haute, Indiana. DeSoto was headed his way from the time he crossed the Cumberland River and first heard about him at Clarksville.
Natives assembled on the west bank of the Ohio River directly opposite today's Audubon State Park, where the Spaniards were building their rafts. "During this time the Indians each day at the hour of three in the afternoon (with the sun at their backs to blind the Spaniards) placed themselves in two hundred and fifty canoes that they had there, very large and well shielded, and drew near the shore where we were with a great yell. They shot all the arrows that they could and returned to the other bank."
"Arrows came raining and the air was filled with them, and with such a yell, so that it seemed a matter of great dread; but when they saw that the work on the rafts did not let up for them, they said that Pacaha, whose men they were, commanded them to remove themselves from there, and thus they left the crossing undefended."
"And on Saturday, the eight of June, all the army crossed the Great River in four rafts, and they gave thanks to God, because in their opinion, nothing so difficult could ever be offered them again." They believed they were headed for a similar treasure which DeSoto had found beyond Quizquiz in Peru.
Another eyewitness says: "... they made four rafts, in three of which, one early morning three hours before it became light, DeSoto ordered a dozen horse to enter, four to each one - men whom he was most confident would succeed in gaining the land in spite of the Indians and assure the crossing or die in doing it - and with them some of foot - crossbowmen and rowers - to place them on the other side. In the other raft, he ordered Juan de Guzman to cross with men of foot... And because the current was strong, they went up stream along the shore for a quarter of a league (almost three-quarters of a mile) and in crossing they were carried down with the current of the river and went to land opposite the place where the camp was."
DeSoto's rafts were moved northeast to avoid the natives on the west bank, who had watched the rafts being built, similar to what he had done twice in elsewhere to surprise the natives with his crossings. The Ohio River's big bend around his camp, and its nearby flooded trench, afforded him perfect opportunity to do so.
"At a distance of two stones' throw before reaching shore the men of horse went from the rafts on horseback to a sandy place of hard sand and clear ground (on Green River Island) where all the men landed without any accident. As soon as those who crossed first were on the other side, the rafts returned immediately to where the governor was and in two hours after the sun was up all the men finished crossing. The crossing was nearly a half league (over a mile) wide, and if a man stood on the other side (in daylight), one could not tell whether he were a man or something else."
Rangel says of that crossing, "On Saturday, the eighth of June, all the army crossed the Great River in four rafts, and they gave thanks to God, because in their opinion, nothing so difficult could ever be offered them again." But the eighth of June was a Wednesday in 1541. June 18th, which was a Saturday, was probably the actual date of the crossing based upon his reports of activity dates beyond the river. The moon would have been rising 15 degrees north of east exactly three hours before dawn there on June 18th, 1541.
The rising crescent moon would have been large enough to steer toward but too small to light the rafts for the natives to see. By pointing their rafts at the moon and rowing vigorously they could offset the river's northwestward flow at that point. When they returned for more men they could keep the moon on their left shoulders to counter the current's lesser effect on the lighter rafts - all invisible to the natives.
Ancient historians have pointed out that DeSoto's Secretary, from whom was gained our knowledge of the timing of DeSoto's activity in America, erred in reporting the day or date of the Great River's crossing. The secretary wrote, "On Saturday, the 8th of June, all the army crossed the great river," but the 8th of June was a Wednesday in 1541. They deduced that June 18th, which was a Saturday, was the actual date of his crossing. If that be so, the moon would have been rising directly in front of DeSoto to light his way three hours before dawn. He crossed the Ohio River to eastward, not the Mississippi River to westward, in June of 1541, as previous historians have all mistakenly surmised.