Written by Donald E. Sheppard|
TRAILS TO THIS POINT
INDIAN PLACE NAMES
Cabeza de Vaca
This portion of DeSoto's Conquest Trail was unusual in that a different general led the army. Hernando de Soto, who had led his army across America searching for gold and a passage to China during the preceding three years, had died just months before. The new general, Luis de Moscoso, was amiable and well liked, but not the leader DeSoto had been. Native Americans perceived Moscoso's weakness, gullibility, within days of his Texas entry. That weakness would be exploited by Indian guides who would lead the army into dangerous places, hoping to starve them to death. The army's only native Spaniard Indian language interpreter had also died the preceding winter, so the army was forced to rely on sign language to communicate with deceptive Caddo and Tonkawan Indian guides. Their directions would confuse DeSoto historians for centuries.
DESOTO'S ARMY'S TEXAS TRAIL ON GOOGLE EARTH
You can read translations of Texas Conquest
by DeSoto Chroniclers: Biedma, Elvas, Inca
DeSoto's army crossed the Sabine River into Texas in Naguatex Province, which included Logansport, Louisiana, then camped at today's Center for several days starting on August 17th, 1542. They would retreat back to Naguatex two months later on the Full Moon of October 23, having spent 59 days moving through Texas plus one week at their destination.
The Chroniclers say they traveled southwest from Naguatex to a mountainous region, then turned around and marched, more easterly at first, back for three weeks to Naguatex, stopping only each night for food. At their average marching rate of 13 miles or so per day, they back-tracked 273 miles. Those mountains were found at Austin. The army had followed El Camino Real de los Tejas to them and Old San Antonio Road back, the same roads used by America's Texas pioneers.
Entering Texas Elvas says, "...hearing that the (Sabine) river could be crossed, he (the army's new general) passed to the other side and found a village without any people (at Joaquin, TX). He lodged in the open field (toward Center, TX) and sent word to the chief to come where he was and give him a guide for the forward journey. A few days later (the army all having crossed the river), seeing that the (chief) did not come... he sent two captains, each in a different direction, to burn the towns and capture any Indians they might find. They burned many provisions and captured many Indians..." over the next several days. "The chief, on beholding the damage that his land was receiving, sent six of his principal man and three Indians with them as guides who knew the (Tonkawan) language of the region ahead where the governor was about to go.
"He immediately left Naguatex and after marching three days reached a town of four or five houses, belonging to the chief of that miserable province called Nisohone (at today's Nacogdoches). Two days later, the guides who were guiding the governor, if they had to go toward the west, guided them toward the east, and sometimes they went through dense forests, wandering off the road (southwest of Nacogdoches). The governor ordered them hanged from a tree, and an Indian woman, who had been captured at Nisohone, guided him, and he went back to look for the road (finding it near Douglass: El Camino Real de los Tejas).
"Two days later (during a morning
eclipsed Full Moon on August 25th) he reached another wretched land called Lacone..." at Alto, with 17 nearby mountains up to 700 feet high, above Caddoan Mounds State Historic Park.
"There he captured an Indian who said that the land of Nondacao was a very populous region and the houses scattered about one from another as is customary in mountains, and that there was abundance of corn..." starting at Mission Tejas, from which Texas got its name, on the Neches River, centered at Crockett, to the Trinity River.
Elvas concluded this chapter of his report with, "The chief and his Indians came weeping like those of Naguatex, that being their custom in token of obedience." He brought "a great quantity of fish... and gave him a guide to the province of Soacatino..." several villages down the road.
Biedma says, "From here the Indians told us that we could not find more villages (to westward), but rather that we should descend southwest and south, because there we would find villages and food, and that going the way that we asked about (west) there were some great stretches of sand, and neither villages nor any food... We took another guide who led us to a province that is called Hais (at Centerville - Tonkawan Indians), where cows (buffalo) are in the habit of gathering..."
Elvas confirms Biedma, "The governor departed from Nandacao for Soacatino and after he had marched for five days arrived at the province of Aays (Biedma's Hais). The Indians who lived there had not heard of Christians, and as soon as they perceived that they had entered their lands, the country was aroused... the affair lasted the greater part of the day before they reached the village...
Inca says of Texas, "Returning to our Castilians, whom we left eager to travel (away from DeSoto's gravesite in Arkansas) - a long distance and they were later to regret having traveled so far - we said that after marching through the provinces we could not name, because we (he) do not know what their names were, and through which they marched for more than a hundred leagues (it's 114 leagues from Lake Village) - at the end of this distance they came to a province called Auche..." Biedma's Hais, Elvas' Aays, all at Centerville.
Although displaced, Inca later adds, "Under these difficulties they (had) continued their journey, always toward the west, and... sighted inhabited country from the tops of some hills through which they were going. This gave them the relief that can be imagined, though on reaching the settlements, they found that the Indians had gone to the woods and that the land was poor and sterile. The pueblos were not like the others they had seen, but the houses were scattered through the fields in groups of four or five, badly built and worse arranged, looking more like huts of melon growers than dwellings. But for all this they satisfied their hunger with a quantity of fresh beef they found in them. They also found fresh cowhides, though they never saw the cattle alive nor would the Indians ever say where they got them."
Elvas says, "Great damage was done the Indians. The day the governor departed thence, the Indian who was guiding them said that he had heard (Chief) Nondacao say that the Indians of Soacatino had seen Christians. At this all were very glad, as they thought it might be true and that they might have entered New Spain (Mexico)... and that, if it were so, they would have it in their power to get out of Florida, since they had found nothing of profit, for they feared lest they get lost in some unpeopled region."
Biedma says, "We departed from here (Hais, at Centerville) and arrived at the province of Xacatin (beyond the Navasota River), which was among some dense forests and lacked food."
Elvas says of that route segment, "...another guided him to Soacatino (Biedma's Xacatin), whether he arrived the next day. It was a very poor land and there was great lack of corn there.
"He asked the Indians whether they knew of other Christians. They said they had heard it said that they were traveling about near there to the southward..." Cabeza de Vaca, a stranded Spaniard, had been there.
Biedma says, "From here the Indians guided us east to other towns, which were small and had little food, saying that they were leading us to where there were other Christians like us. It seemed afterward to be a lie and that they could not have news of any others but us; since we had made so many turns, in some of these they must have heard of our passing...
"We turned south again, with purpose of living or dying traversing to New Spain (Mexico), and we walked about six days journey south and southwest..." toward Austin, the army's final destination.
Inca says of that journey, "The Spaniards (had) rested in that pueblo of Auche (Centerville) for two days, it being the principal one of the province. On informing themselves about the things that would be helpful on their journey, they learned that two days' march from the pueblo there was a great uninhabited region that was four days' journey in extent..." Elvas called that region Soacatino, Biedma called it Xacatin Province.
Elvas, exasperated, says of that journey, "He marched for twenty days through a very poorly populated region where they endured great need and suffering; for the little maize the Indians had they hid in the forests and buried it where, after being well tired out with marching, the Christians went about trailing it, at the end of the day's journey looking for what they must eat."
Inca, however, details this part of the journey, "...our people left Auche (Centerville), and in two days' march they reached the uninhabited country (starting at Navasota River, the east end of that province), through which they traveled four more days over a wide road that seemed to be a public highway... On the second day of their march through that sterile and poorly inhabited province (probably near Franklin)... our people called the province Vaqueros because of the meat and hides of cattle that they found in it...
"...the Castilians traveled through the province they named that of the Vaqueros for more than thirty leagues (80 miles from Centerville). At the end of them (at Hearne on the Brazos River) that poor settlement ceased, and they (forward scouts on horseback) saw that there were large mountain ranges and forests to the west and (later) learned that they were uninhabited..." beyond Austin where there are thirteen forested mountains, ranging to 1150 feet high.
Elvas says, "On reaching a province called Guasco (at Hearne), they found maize with which they loaded the horses and the Indians whom they were taking..." during their 3 day stopover. "Thence they went to another village called Naquiscoga (eleven miles west of Hearne in the Little River Valley, from which the forward scouts rode southwestward and saw mountains). The Indians said they had never heard of other Christians. The governor ordered them put to the torture, and they said that they [other Christians] had reached another domain ahead called Nacacahoz and had returned thence toward the west whence they had come.
"The governor (with the northwestward scouting party) reached Nacacahoz (today's Killeen/Copperas Cove) and some Indian women were captured there. Among them was one who said that she had seen Christians and that she had been in their hands but had escaped. The governor sent a captain and fifteen horse(men) to the place where the Indian woman said she had seen them, in order to ascertain whether there were any trace of horses or any token of their having reached there.
"After having gone three or four leagues, the Indian woman who was guiding them said that all she had said was a lie; and so they considered what the other Indians had said about having seen Christians in the land of Florida. And inasmuch as the land thereabout was very poor in (planted) maize, and there was no tidings of any village westward (in the desert beyond Copperas Cove), they returned to Guasco..." near the Brazos River where the army had waited, having ridden 140 miles in four days.
"There the Indians told them that ten days' journey thence toward the west was a river called Daycao where they sometimes went to hunt in the mountains and to kill deer; and that on the other side of it they had seen people, but did not know what village it was. There the Christians took what maize they found and could carry and after marching for ten days through an unpeopled region (the natives had fled) reached the river of which the Indians had spoken..." the Colorado River at Austin.
ELVAS HAS ENUMERATED 38 DAYS IN TEXAS SO FAR, ARRIVING AT AUSTIN ON SEPTEMBER 24TH, DURING HARVEST MOON.
The End of DeSoto's Army's Trail
Austin was the end of the westward trail for DeSoto's army. Scouting parties were sent out in several directions to explore; one southwest to San Antonio, one northwest, up the Colorado River as described by Elvas, "Ten of horse, whom the governor had sent on ahead, crossed over to the other side, and went along the road leading (up the Colorado) to the (Llano) river. They came upon an encampment of Indians who were living in very small huts. As soon as they saw them [the Christians], they took to flight, abandoning their possessions, all of which were wretchedness and poverty. The land was so poor that, among them all, they [the Christians] did not find much maize.
"Those of horse captured two Indians and returned with them to the river where the governor was awaiting them (on the Colorado River at Austin). They continued to question them in order to learn from them the population to the westward, but there was no Indian in the camp who understood their (Llano) language. The governor ordered the captains and principal persons summoned, in order to plan what he should do after hearing their opinions. Most of them said that in their opinion they should return to the great river of Guachoya (the Mississippi River in Arkansas), for there was plenty of maize at Anilco and thereabout..."
Inca confirms this, "The governor and his captains, warned by the experiences of hunger and hardship they had passed through in the deserts that were behind them, wished to go no farther than was necessary to find a road that would bring them out into an inhabited country, and they endeavored to take precautions against the inconveniences that they would encounter. Therefore they ordered that three mounted companies (including the one Elvas just described), each with twenty-four horses, should all go toward the west by three routes to find out what there was in that direction.
"They ordered them to go as far as possible into the interior country and bring a report not only of what they should see, but also they were to attempt to find out what was beyond. They gave them Indian interpreters from among those domestics who spoke the best Spanish.
"The seventy-two horsemen left camp with these orders, and within fifteen days (five days) they all came back with nearly the same report. They said that each of the bands had entered more than thirty leagues (80 miles - an easy ride for scouts in two and a half days - one group to San Antonio) and had found a very sterile country with few people, and the farther they went the worse it became. This was what they had seen, and they brought even worse news of what was beyond, because many Indians whom they had captured and others who had received them peacefully had told them that it was true that there were Indians beyond, but they did not inhabit settled pueblos, nor have houses in which to live, nor cultivate their lands. They were a nomadic people who wandered in bands, gathering such fruits, herbs, and roots as the land afforded them of itself, and they supported themselves by hunting and fishing, moving from one place to another according to the advantages the seasons gave them in their fisheries and hunting grounds. All three parties brought this report, differing little from one another."
Likewise, Biedma reports, "There (at Austin) we halted and sent ten men on swift horses to travel eight or nine days, or as many as they were able (with the corn they carried for their horses from and back to Austin), to see if they could find some town in order to replenish the corn so we could continue on our way, and they traveled as far as they could and came upon some poor people who did not have houses... They brought three or four of these Indians. We found no one who could understand the interpreter..."
Scouting parties had gone out and returned while the army pillaged the lands around Austin.
Elvas says, "The governor (Moscoso) ordered the captains and principal persons summoned, in order to plan what he should do after hearing their opinions (perhaps that set the precedent for big decision making in Austin, the Capitol of Texas). Most of them said that in their opinion they should return to the great river of Guachoya (the Mississippi River at Lake Village, Arkansas), for there was plenty of corn at Nilco and thereabout (below Arkansas Post). They said that during the winter they would make brigantines and the following summer they would descend the river in them to look for a sea (the Gulf of Mexico), and once having reached the sea, they would coast along it to New Spain (Mexico), which, although it seemed a difficult thing...
"...it was their last resort because they could not travel by land for lack of an interpreter (who could lead them to a place where there was enough food to sustain the army). They maintained that the land beyond the river of Daycao (the Colorado River), where they were, was the land which Cabeza de Vaca said in his relation he had traveled (he actually traveled through San Antonio then west, up the Rio Grande, which DeSoto's people mistook the Colorado River for), and was of Indians who wandered about like Arabs without having a settled abode anywhere, subsisting on prickly pears (cactus buds), the roots of plants and the game they killed. And if that were so, if they entered it and found no food in order to pass the winter, they could not help but perish, for it was ALREADY the beginning of OCTOBER (one week after arriving at Austin); and if they stayed longer, they could not turn back because of the waters and snows, nor could they feed themselves in such a poor land...
"The governor, who was desirous now of getting a good night's sleep, rather than govern and conquer a land where so many hardships presented themselves to him, at once turned back to the place whence they had come ...it grieved many of them to turn back, for they would rather have risked death in the land of Florida than to leave it poor."
Inca says, "Governor Luis de Moscoso and his captains, having heard this fine report about the road by which they had promised themselves to come out in the territory of Mexico, and having discussed the matter and considered the difficulties of their journey, decided not to go farther in order not to perish of hunger while lost in those deserts, of which they did not know the extent, but to go back in search of the same Rio Grande (the Mississippi River) that they had left. It now seemed to them that to get out of the kingdom of La Florida (today's America) there was no more certain route than going down the (Mississippi) river and coming out into the North Sea."
Escape from Texas
Sources of this information, from simple to detailed, by Conquistadors:
Original 1542 Accounts of the Texas Retreat by Biedma, Elvas and Inca
Elvas says, "From Daycao (Austin), where they were..." at the beginning of October "...it was 150 leagues (395 miles) to the great (Mississippi) river, a distance they had marched continually to the westward..." given the 10 degree westerly compass declination at that time and place. They had marched west-southwest through Texas, not straying more than 20 miles off a straight line from Naguatex.
Biedma says, "We returned along the same road that we had followed..." which would take well under two months marching back to Lake Village, Arkansas, according to Elvas, while searching for food around forty campsites along their way.
The army timed its departure from Austin to arrive at Naguatex, twenty-one campsites back, during the week of Full Moon on October 23rd, as was the army's habit for the safety it afforded in a powerful Caddoan nation while recrossing the Sabine River.
Some of the men told Inca, "...to avoid the bad country and the uninhabited regions they had passed through when they came, they learned that by returning by a circular route to the right of the one by which they had come, the road they would travel would be shorter... (we call it the Old San Antonio Road) ...they marched in an arc toward the south." Elvas says, "...and crossed the river (Brazos River) before Aays (Centerville), and going down it came to a town called Chilano (today's College Station), which they had not seen until then..."
They had departed Austin southeastward, down the Colorado River to Bastrop when Inca says, "...it seemed to them that they were going too far down from the province of Guachoya (Lake Village, Arkansas), to which they wished to return, so they turned toward the east, taking care always to ascend somewhat to the north." They followed the (very) Old San Antonio Road from Bastrop through College Station to Centerville, then on to Naguatex, which they struck during Hunter's Moon. A few days later, having gathered as much food as they could carry, they crossed the Sabine River leaving Texas. That road would become the main entrance for America's Texas settlers centuries later.
Elvas says, "On the backward journey, they found corn to eat with great difficulty, for where they had already passed the land was left devastated (Indians had been infected by diseases brought in by DeSoto's army), and any corn which the Indians had, they had hidden. The towns which they had burned in Naguatex, which was now regretted by them, had now been rebuilt and the houses were full of corn." The Hasinai Caddoan people, who lived there, had avoided the Spaniards so they were not as effected by European and African diseases as were other tribes. "This region was very populated and well supplied with food..." according to Elvas.
Inland Texas Postscript
Most tribe names recorded in Texas by DeSoto's army appear to be of Caddoan origin, despite the fact that other language groups of Indians lived in Texas at the time. The Spaniards had relied on Caddoan Indians from Louisiana for translations while in Texas, which would account for the lack of other Indian language place names in the DeSoto Chronicles. The Aays were probably Coahuiltec; hostile toward Caddoans and not very well known by Caddoan guides. The acquired guide form that region was said to have been assigned by his chief to deliberately lead the army into a place where they would perish. The fact that the Naguatex area had been restored when the army returned would indicate that its surrounding villages, other people of the Caddoan language group, had helped rebuild their villages during the army's absence.
Back to Louisiana and Arkansas
Inca summarizes the Texas/Louisiana/Arkansas return trip thusly: "On this last journey that our people made after the death of Governor Hernando de Soto (in Lake Village, Arkansas) they traveled, going and returning, and counting the expedition that the scouts made (beyond Austin to San Antonio), more than 350 leagues (910 miles, a remarkably accurate measure), during which a hundred Spaniards and eighty horses died at the hands of the enemy and from sickness..." They would be back to Texas the following summer.