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



According to Rodrigo Rangel, Hernando de Soto's Private Secretary, "On Tuesday, the sixth of September (1541, DeSoto's army) departed from Coligua (Kaskaskia, Illinois) and crossed the river another time..."© 1993, University of Alabama Press They crossed the Mississippi River headed for Cayas, spending that night under Harvest Moon at Saline Creek on the river's Missouri bank. They had crossed the river between Kentucky and Indiana on their way to Illinois; we call that one the Ohio River. Most Native Americans called all of the Mississippi River and its big feeders "the Great River," or simply "the river," as did DeSoto's army.

You can read the translated details of DeSoto's Missouri Conquest
written by DeSoto's ChroniclersBiedma,  Rangel,  Elvas  &  Inca


Mountain Pass to Lesterville Rangel continues, "...and on Wednesday (September 7th) they crossed some mountains (the St. Francis Mountains, photo at left) and went to Calpista (up Saline Creek to Farmington on map below right), in which there was a spring of water from which very good salt is made, cooking it until it cakes. On the following day, Thursday, they went to Palisma (Iron Mountain, on the Black River Map, below - then down its East Fork toward Lesterville the next day), and on Saturday, the tenth of September (crossed its Middle Fork then up its West Fork and) came forth to sleep at a body of water..." in the flats of its West Fork. "...and on Sunday (September 11th, they went up its Bee Fork and) arrived at Quixila (today's Bunker, 1,000 feet elevation over the Mississippi River) and rested there on Monday, and they went (down Sinkin Creek) on Tuesday to Tutilcoya..." southwest of Bunker.

Elvas says, "He came upon a settlement called Tatilcoya, taking with him the chief who guided them to Cayas. From Tatalicoya it is a distance of four days journey to Cayas." Current River at Round Spring

Biedma says of Tatilcoya, "...we went to some scattered villages that were called Tatilcoya. Here we found a large river (the Current River, photo above), and afterward (in Arkansas) we saw that it flowed into the Great River (the Mississippi via the Black, White then Arkansas Rivers). We had information that on this river upstream was a great province called Cayas (possibly today's Salem, near the north end of that province). We (the scouts) went to it and found that it was all scattered population, though heavy, and several excursions were made. The land is very rugged with mountains..." St. Francis Mountains.

Tanico - Summersville, MissouriRangel reinforces Biedma, "...on Wednesday (from Tutilcoya, map at left, we marched) to a town alongside a large river (the Current River at Round Spring, photo above), and on Thursday they (went up Sprimg Valley toward Flatwood then) spent the night alongside a swamp (there are several six miles east of Summersville around 40 Acre Sink). And the Governor went in advance with some on horseback, and he arrived at Tanico (in Cayas Province, at today's Summersville); and the next day the army went to the same province of Tanico (Rangel and others will call Tanico "Cayas" over the next 7 paragraphs), which was very scattered but very abundant in supplies. Some wanted to say that it was Cayas, a large and palisaded town that was widely known (especially to DeSoto's army), but they never were able to see or discover it (apparently they didn't realize that scouts had explored the northern end of Cayas, possibly that province's headquarters), and afterward (probably on the Black River in Arkansas 100 miles below Tanico which is fed by the Current River of Cayas) they told them that they had left it behind at the side of the river..."

Press for More Real Native Images for School Elvas says, over the next six paragraphs, "The governor abode in the province of Cayas (which extended south beyond Mountain View, mapped above) for a month (three weeks according to Rangel). During that interval the horses grew fat and throve more than after a longer time in any other region because of the abundance of corn and the leaf thereof, which is, I think, the best that has been seen. They drank from a very warm and brackish marsh of water, and they drank so much that it was noticed in their bellies when they were brought back from the water...

Press for More Images Like This for School"Thitherto, the Christians had lacked salt, but there they (the Indians of Cayas) made a good quantity of it in order to carry it thence to other regions to exchange it for (buffalo) skins and blankets. They gather it along the river, which leaves it on top of the sand when the water falls. And since they cannot gather it without more sand being mixed with it, they put it into certain baskets which they have for this purpose, wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. They hang the baskets to a pole in the air and put water in them, and they place a basin underneath into which the water falls. After being strained and set on the fire to boil, as the water becomes less, the salt is left on the bottom of the pot...

"On both sides of the river (Jack's Fork Current River, map below), the land had cultivated fields and there was an abundance of corn. The Indians did not dare to cross (northerward) to the place where we were. When some appeared, some soldiers who saw them called to them. The Indians crossed the river and came with them to the place where the governor was (at Summersville). He asked them for their chief. They declared that he was friendly, but that he did not appear. Thereupon, the governor ordered that the chief be told to come and see him and to bring a guide and interpreter for the region ahead, if he wished to be his friend; and that if he did not do that, he would go to fetch him and his hurt would be greater. He waited three days, and seeing that he did not come, went to look for him, and brought him back a prisoner with 150 of his Indians...

"He (the governor) asked him (the captured chief) whether he had knowledge of any great chief and where the most populated land was. He (the chief) said that the best populated land thereabout was a province situated to the south, a day and a half away (at West Plains, 33 miles south of Summersville), called Tulla, that he could give him a guide, but that he did not have the interpreter, for the speech of the Tulla was different from his; and because he and his forebears had always been at war with the lords of the province, they had no converse, nor did they understand each other...

"Thereupon the governor set out for Tulla (on the filling Hunter's Moon) with men of horse and fifty foot in order to see whether it was a land through which he might pass with all his men. As soon as he arrived (at West Plains) and was perceived by the Indians, the land was summoned. When 15 or 20 Indians had gathered together they came to attack the Christians. On seeing that they (the Christians) handled them roughly, and that when they took to flight the horses overtook them, they climbed on top of the houses, where they tried to defend themselves with their arrows; and when driven from some (of the housetops) would climb on top of others; and while they (the Christians) were pursuing some (of the Indians), others (of the Indians) would attack them (the Christians) from another direction. In this way, the running lasted so long that the horses became tired and could no longer run. The Indians killed one horse there and wounded several. Fifteen Indians were killed there, and captives were made of forty woman and young persons; for they (the Christians) did not leave any Indian alive who was shooting arrows if they could overtake him...

"The governor determined to return to Cayas (Summersville) before the Indians should have time to gather themselves together. Thereupon, that evening, after having marched part of the night, in order to get some distance from Tulla, he went to sleep on the road, and reached Cayas the next day."

DeSoto's campsite at Jack's Fork Current River Biedma says of DeSoto's trip back from Tulla, "...he returned by the road, on which we had come, to a clearing in a lowland that the river made (Jack's Fork Current River, 24 miles above West Plains, press map at left), having crossed a bad pass of the mountain range (at Eleven Point River 12 miles above Tulla) because there was fear that the Indians might take us at the pass..."

Having returned to Tanico, Rangel reported, "On Wednesday, the 5th of October (Hunter's Moon), they left from the site of Tanico or Cayas and arrived (three marching days later) on Friday at Tulla, and they found the people gone; but they found many supplies. And on Saturday in the morning the Indians came to give them a surprise attack or battle. They brought long poles like lances, the points fire-hardened, and these were the best warriors that the Christians came upon; and they fought like desperate men, with the greatest courage in the world..."

Press for Real Native ImagesElvas reported, over the next four paragraphs, "As soon as the Indians were perceived, both those of horse and those of foot sallied out against them and there many Indians were killed, and some Christians and horses wounded. Some Indians were captured, six of whom the governor sent to the chief with their right hands and their noses cut off. He ordered them to tell him that if he did not come to make his excuses and obey him, he would go to get him; and that he would do to him and to as many of his men as he found what he had done to those he sent to him. He gave him the space of three days in which to come. This he gave them to understand the best he could by signs as he had no interpreter (who could understand that strange Indian language).

"After three days came an Indian whom the chief sent laden with cowhides (probably buffalo skins). He came weeping bitterly, and coming to the governor cast himself to his feet. The governor raised him up, and he made him talk, but no one could understand him (this was the first time DeSoto was completely stymied by speech in North America; every other tribe he had visited could produce an interpreter for the next tribe along his way). The governor told him by signs that he should return and tell the chief to send him an interpreter whom the people of Cayas (Southwest Missouri) could understand. Next day, three Indians came laden with cowhides and three days after that twenty Indians came. Among them was one who understood those of Cayas. After a long discourse of excuses from the chief and praises of the governor, he concluded by saying that he and the others were come thither on behalf of the chief to see what his lordship ordered; and that he was ready to serve him. The governor and all the men were very glad, for they could in no wise travel without an interpreter (as they had done throughout North America).

"The governor ordered him under guard and told him to tell the Indians who had come with him to return to the chief and tell him that he pardoned him for the past and that he thanked him greatly for his gifts and for the interpreter whom he had sent him and that he would be glad to see him and for him to come next day to see him. The chief came after three days and eighty Indians with him. Both he and his men entered the camp weeping in token of obedience and repentance for the past mistake, after the manner of that land. He brought many cowhides as a gift, which were useful because it was a cold land, and were serviceable for coverlets as they were very soft and the wool like that of sheep.

Buffalo in Missouri"Nearby to the north were many cattle (buffalo). The Christians did not see them nor enter their land, for the land was poorly settled where they (the buffalo) were, and had little corn. The chief of Tulla made his address to the governor which he excused himself and offered him his land and vassals and person (thereby allowing the other chiefs of Missouri to return home with their people). No orator could more elegantly express the message or address both of that chief and of all those who came to the governor in their behalf (probably owing more to poor language translation than anything Chief Tulla meant to say)."

Some of DeSoto's men reported via Inca that, "In the village our men found many cowhides tanned and dressed with the hair on them, which served as blankets on the beds. They found many other rawhides, not yet tanned. They also found beef, but they saw no cattle in the country, nor did they learn from where they had brought the hides. The Indians of this province of Tulla are different from all the other Indians whom our Spaniards had encountered hitherto, for we have said that the others are handsome and graceful in person. These, however, both men and women, have ugly faces, and though they are well-proportioned, they deform themselves by deliberate distortion of themselves. Their heads are incredibly long and tapering on top, being made thus artificially by binding them up from birth to the age of nine or ten years. They prick their faces with flint needles, especially the lips, inside and out, and color them black, thereby making themselves extremely and abominably ugly. The hideous aspect of their faces corresponds to their bad dispositions... Their neighbors said that they deformed their heads... and painted their faces and mouths, inside and out, to make themselves uglier than they were already, so that their faces would be as forbidding as their bad dispositions and fierce natures, for they were the most inhuman in every way."

AutiamqueElvas continued, "The governor informed himself of the land in all directions and learned that there was a scattering of population toward the west and large towns toward the southeast, especially in a province called Autiamque (in today's Arkansas), ten days journey from Tulla... and that it was a land abounding in corn. Since winter had already come and on account of the cold, rains, and snows, they could not travel during two or three months of the year (it was almost November on our Gregorian Calendar); fearing lest they could not feed themselves for so long a time because of its scattered population; also because the Indians said there was a large body of water near Autiamque (the Mississippi River Embayment was described as an ocean, just like Lake Michigan had been by the natives) - and according to what they said, the governor believed it to be an arm of the sea (the Gulf of Mexico) - and because he now wished to give information of himself in Cuba, for it was three years and over since Donna Isabel (DeSoto's wife), who was in Havana, or any other person in a Christian land, had heard of him, and now two hundred and fifty men (more than that number according to others) and one hundred and fifty horses were wanting: he determined to go to winter at Autiamque...

"...and in the following Summer to reach the sea and build two brigantines and send one of them to Cuba and the other to New Spain (Mexico), so that the one which should go safely might give news of him; hoping from his prosperity in Cuba Cabeza de Vaca's Book(DeSoto was still the Governor of Cuba and, thereby, its Tax Collector) to refit (his army) to take up his expedition again and explore and conquer (North America) farther west than he had yet reached, where Cabeza de Vaca (who had wandered through Texas from an earlier Spanish coastal expedition) had gone."

Cabeza de Vaca had met DeSoto in Spain with wild tails of North American Indian legend, including stories of a great northern sea (Lake Michigan) and of a tremendous inner bay in America. Vaca had lived for years among Indians in Southern Louisiana and had seen the gigantic Mississippi River, which he believed was a giant inland bay. DeSoto, having heard that report from Vaca, coupled with what the Indians were saying, set out toward that bay.

Biedma says, "They asked us what people we were and what we were looking for. We asked them about some large provinces where there would be much food, because already the cold of the winter was greatly menacing us. They told us that the way we were going (southwest) they knew of not one large village. They pointed out to us that if we wanted to turn east and southeast or northwest that we would find large villages...

"Having seen that we did not have any other choice, we turned again southeast and went to a province called Quipana which is at the foot of some very rugged mountains..." at today's Guion, Arkansas.

Elvas concludes, "He (DeSoto) dismissed the two chiefs of Tulla and Cayas, and set out toward Autiamque" (today's Jacksonport, Arkansas).

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