Early Travels and Conflicts in the Great South-East
THE twelve hundred square miles of surface now known as the County of Clarke, in the State of Alabama, form a part of that portion of the United States of America properly called the Great South- East. Much has been said and much written concerning the Great North- West, its extent, its resources, its growth, its importance. On these pages will be found historic facts concerning this smaller but earlier known South-East, showing something of its beauties and capabilities, its native children and its European occupants.
That grandest of all voyages of discovery, made by the white-haired son of an Italian wool comber with three small Spanish vessels in 1492, opened the way for many adventurers to cross the Atlantic. Columbus, that daring, resolute, persevering, noble-minded, devout and ill-treated Genoese navigator, had discovered, though he knew it not, for Spain and for all Europe a magnificent continent and fertile islands, well called the New World. Among those who were ready and eager to follow where he had led the way came not only the Venetian Cabots, John and Sebastian, perhaps in 1494, surely in 1498, discovering and exploring the North American coast ; the Italian, Americus Vespucius, in 1499, exploring the South American coast, and giving to the public by means of his ready pen glowing accounts of this New World ; the French Denys exploring in 1506 the coast around the Gulf of St. Lawrence; but many daring and adventurous Spaniards. De Leon, an enthusiast, seeking a fabled western fountain of immortal youth, discovered in 1512 a beautiful coast which he called Florida. Balboa in 1513 crossed the Isthmus of Darien and discovered that broad ocean which Magellan, making the first recorded voyage around the globe, in 1520, called the Pacific.
Hernando Cortez between 1519 and 1521 conquered the wealthy empire of Mexico, and that region of the ancient Aztecs, with its rich mines of silver and gold, its ancient temples and cities, its valleys and plateaus exceedingly rich in vegetable products, remained for three hundred years under the control of Spain.
Hernando, or Ferdinand De Soto, an influential, wealthy, and ambitious Spaniard, having obtained from Charles V, grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella, then king of Spain and emperor of Germany, a conditional grant of that large South-East then known as Florida, left Spain with a choice army of six hundred men, in 1538, and soon landed on the coast of Cuba, of which island he had been appointed governor. Remaining about a year upon the island, making preparation for conquest, he left Cuba May 12, 1539, with an army of a thousand men, in nine vessels, and soon landed at Tampa Bay. He left his ships and set forth into an unknown wilderness upon an expedition in some respects the most remarkable of any undertaken by the Spanish explorers.
It is through him and his expedition that we are able to look upon the region, now the county of Clarke, in 1540, which is eighty years before the Pilgrims set foot on the New England shore.
Before following De Soto into this triangular region, this inverted delta between the Tombigbee and Alabama rivers, then held by a powerful tribe of Indians and for the last hundred years endeared to so many by the associations that cluster around lovely and peaceful homes, a region that with its surroundings was to witness early efforts at settlement by French, and by Spanish, and by English representatives of the three great nations that laid claim to the fairest portions of America, it will be of interest to glance for a moment at the noted leaders in Europe.
From the time of the discovery of the American islands by Columbus to the time of De Soto’s daring expedition, while restless, resolute, and adventurous men had examined these Western shores, looked into the dark forests, conquered kingdoms, crossed the two great oceans, mighty rulers and conflicting principles were contending for mastery in Europe. The beginning of the Sixteenth Century was noted for more illustrious monarchs than have at any other one period held dominion in Europe. These were Henry YIII of England, Francis I of France, Charles V of Spain, Leo X Pope of Rome, spiritual and temporal ruler, and Solyman the Magnificent, Sultan of Turkey. These were, says the illustrious Scottish historian Robertson, “each of them possessed of talents that might have rendered any age wherein they happened to flourish conspicuous.”
Henry VIII, born in 1491, uniting the rival houses of York and Lancaster, became monarch of England in 1509, and was the most wealthy prince in Europe.
Leo became Pope in 1513, and, if not young, was still in the prime of life. He, however, died suddenly in 1521. Francis became king of France in 1513, then twenty-one years of age.
Charles, born in 1500, became king of Spain in 1516, on the death of his grandfather Ferdinand, having as Regent in Spain for twenty months. Cardinal Ximenes, Archbishop of Toledo, then about eighty years old, who was one of the most remarkable men of that or of any age. In 1519 Charles was elected Emperor of Germany. And in 1520, the year in which Raphael died, Solyman became Sultan over the Turkish Empire, Constantinople having been taken by the Turks and made the capital of this empire in 1453.
Four young men of more than ordinary talent were controlling at this period the affairs of Europe. It was also the time of Luther, Melanchthon, Zuingle, and Erasmus ; and the proud and haughty Cardinal Wolsey was at the height of his wealth and power.
Copernicus was then living, and Calvin, Ignatius Loyola, and Michael Angelo. The European world was in commotion ; wars Were waged, religion and literature and science were advancing ; the Feudal System was beginning to die ; the Middle Ages were giving place to Modern Times.
It’ is not strange that in such an age great enterprises were undertaken in the New World. Well might Cortez say, having returned to Spain, having made his way to the carriage of his king, when Charles coldly inquired who he was: “I am a man who has gained you more provinces than your father left you towns.”
It is not strange that De Soto, who had been a companion of Pizarro in Peru in that conquest of 1532, struck out boldly northward and westward into the Florida forests with his one thousand chosen men. The whole South-East, it is to be remembered, was then Florida, extending along the Atlantic coast so far as the Spaniards had any knowledge, and westward and northward over unknown wilds. Whether the name was taken by Juan Ponce de Leon from Pasqua Florida or the Feast of Flowers, that is Palm Sunday, the day on which it was discovered ; or was given on account of the abundance of flowers, is at this day uncertain.
Panfilo de Narvaez in 1528 had sailed from Cuba with an army to conquer Florida. He was defeated by the Indians. Jean Ortiz came, with some other Spaniards, probably in that same year, in search of Narvaez. These were captured by the Indians, their clothing removed, and they were compelled to run for their lives while the Indians shot at them with their deadly arrows. Ortiz alone survived, and him they were about to roast on a wooden gridiron, when his life was spared through the entreaties of a beautiful girl, a Southern Pocahontas, the daughter of Uceta the Indian Chief. Ortiz was appointed by the chief to keep their temple, which was situated in the edge of the dark, dense forest, in which temple were deposited, in wooden boxes, the bodies of their dead. The lids were kept upon these boxes by means of weights and it was the duty of Ortiz to protect these from the incursions of wild animals. Death was to be the penalty if he suffered a solitary body to be thus removed. One night he fell asleep and was awakened by the falling of a coffin lid. Seizing his bow he rushed out, saw in the dim distance a clump of bushes, from whence proceeded a sound as of the crunching of bones. He directed thither a swift arrow and soon all was still. Proceeding to the spot he found the dead body of a child, which he replaced in its box, and an enormous panther lying dead, which he dragged into the town and gained thereby the respect of the Indians.
This Ortiz one of De Soto’s soldiers rescued while the army was encamped beside Tampa Bay. Having been eleven years a captive he had learned the language of the Indians of the coast and became very useful as De Soto’s interpreter.
A full account of this wonderful Florida Expedition does not come within the design of this volume. That alone could fill a volume. There are three original accounts of the expedition. One was written by a Portuguese cavalier accompanying De Soto. A second account was written by the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, by birth a Peruvian, the son of a Peruvian princess and a Spaniard of noble blood. He became a distinguished writer, and from two journals written in De Soto’s camp and from the account of an intelligent cavalier, who was himself in the expedition, his narrative was compiled. The third was written by Biedma the commissary of De Soto. These narratives form the basis for Theodore Irving’ s ”Conquest of Florida.”
These three journals Pickett procured from England and France, and where differences exist between the statements of Pickett and others his statements are here preferred as being the most reliable.
It has been already said that by means of the expedition of De Soto we can glance into what is now Clarke as far back as 1540. It is through these Spanish, Portuguese, and Peruvian narratives that the account of that expedition has been transmitted to us.
Well was De Soto fitted by his experiences in Peru to lead such an expedition. Gold was his object. It was the great object of nearly all the Spanish explorers and conquerors. They had found it in Peru, obtaining in that conquest of this precious metal collected for the ransom of the king, about fifteen millions and a half of dollars, and as much more in the capture of Cuzco. “History,” says Prescott, “affords no parallel of such booty having fallen to the lot of a little band of military adventurers like the conquerors of Peru.” A richer empire than even Mexico or Peru De Soto hoped to find and conquer. He found it, but with its resources undeveloped. Compared with the Mexico and Peru of the present, what is the South -East as Anglo-Saxon Americans have developed it ?
Four and a half million bales of cotton produced this year, of 1877, in the great cotton growing belt, across so much of which De Soto’s army passed, worth to the producers some two hundred and twenty-five millions of dollars. And this the reward of labor for a single year. But the Spaniards wanted the gold, which was actually in the soil of Georgia and the Carolinas, dug out, melted down, ready for them to export to Spain. That they found not.
It will be of interest to review the thorough prepartion made by this experienced leader for the conquest he had planned.
Helmets, breastplates, shields, coats of steel armor; swords, lances, cross-bows, guns called arquebuses, and one cannon ; were provided for his little army, an army equalling in number one solitary regiment of modern troops. His cavalry numbered two hundred and thirteen, and these Spanish cavaliers are said to have been “the most gallant and graceful men of all Spain.” Fleet grey-hounds and large, fierce blood-hounds, with chains and handcuffs and collars for the neck, were provided to aid in capturing and securing Indians whenever it might be needful. Workmen of various trades, with needful tools and large quantities of steel and iron, and also scientific men with crucibles for refining gold, accompanied the expedition. De Soto had also provided a large drove of hogs, some cattle, and some mules, to travel with them into the wilderness; with food to last two years, and European merchandise for the purpose of trade. Twelve priests, eight other ecclesiastics, and four monks, with the needful robes of office, sacrament bread and wine, and various holy relics, made up the religious department of this exploring band. Well says Pickett: ”Never was an expedition more complete, owing to the experience of De Soto, who upon the plains of Peru had ridden down hundreds in his powerful charges, and had poured out streams of savage blood with his broad and sweeping sword.”
This well equipped body of daring adventurers leaving their winter quarters in early March passing northward and then toward the northeast, hearing that gold was to be found in that direction, passing through what is now the State of Georgia, reached a river now called the Savannah. On the eastern bank of this river was an Indian town, afterward called Silver Bluff, south of the present city of Augusta, “where lived an Indian Queen, young, beautiful, and unmarried, and who ruled the country around to a vast extent. She glided across the river in a magnificent canoe, with many attendants, and, after an interesting interview with De Soto, in which they exchanged presents, and passed many agreeable compliments, she invited him and his numerous followers over to her town. The next day the expedition crossed the Savannah upon log rafts and in canoes, and quartered in the wigwams and under the spreading shades of the mulberry.” After remaining here several weeks De Soto, early in the month of May 1540, keeping with him for some time the person of this ” beautiful young Queen,” resumed his march, passing up the Savannah to its head waters, thence westward to the head waters of what is now called the Coosa, then turning southward, meeting with various adventures, and early in June reaching a large Indian town where now stands the town of Rome in the State of Georgia. The chief of this town in his address of welcome to De Soto, and alluding to the latter’s request to have corn collected sufficient to last his army two months, is reported to have said: “Here I have twenty barns full of the best which the country can afford.” Besides corn, the Spaniards found, in this old Indian town, large quantities of bear’s oil, laid up in gourds, walnut oil, equal to butter in its flavor, and “pots of honey.” For thirty days the Spaniards shared the generous hospitalities of these natives of Georgia, repairing their own wasted vigor and recruiting their horses. When about to depart, De Soto, through the persuasion, it is said, “of some of his unprincipled officers,” demanded from this hospitable chief “a number of females to accompany them in their wanderings.” The demand became known to the inhabitants and in the following night they left the town, retiring to the secure retreats of the surrounding forests. The Indian maidens of Georgia scorned to become the slaves and paramours of Spanish cavaliers.
The march of the Spaniards was resumed without these Indian women. Continuing southward they entered, July 2d, the town of Costa.
Says Pickett: “The Spaniards were now in Alabama, in the territory embraced in the county of Cherokee and by the side of the Coosa, one of our noblest streams. Never before had our soil been trodden by European feet ! Never before had our natives beheld white faces, long beards, strange apparel, glittering armor, and stranger than all, the singular animals bestrode by the dashing cavaliers ! De Soto had discovered Alabama, not by sea, but after dangerous and difficult marches had penetrated her northeastern border with a splendid and well-equipped land expedition.”
Three sentences in regard to De Soto, from one of Meek’s orations, may properly be inserted here.
“Far as his eagle-eyes can pierce, from the last elevated spur of the Look-out Mountains, he beholds a virgin wilderness of all forests, intersected, like lines of silver, by giant rivers, along whose banks rove, in savage and defiant magnificence, the most powerful of all the primeval races that tenanted this continent. His purpose is to explore, to conquer, and to reduce to the uses of civilized man, those boundless regions, in which he fondly thought to find the golden treasures of Mexico and Peru, or the still more precious waters of the Fountain of Youth, which was to restore his decaying faculties and give him an immortality upon earth. The fabulous narratives of Ponce de Leon, and Pamphilo Narvaez, had thus brought the lingering remnants of the Age of Chivalry — of the Flower of Spanish Knight- hood — to expend their last waves upon the Indian- guarded forests of Alabama.”
Whatever claims these Spaniards may have had to the respect of the natives, they were, as a band of explorers, avaricious, licentious, and cruel. De Soto had brought from the Florida forests, taken from among the Indians of the coast, five hundred men and women as bearers of burdens for the army. When any of these died or escaped their places were supplied by fresh captives taken from the nearest Indian town.
De Soto soon entered the beautiful and fertile province of Coosa, and experienced the hospitality of the generous natives. Pickett says, referring to the Portuguese narrative: ” The trail was lined with towns, villages, and hamlets, and ‘ many sown fields which reached from one to the other.'” “The numerous barns were full of corn, while acres of that which was growing bent to the warm rays of the sun and rustled in the breeze. In the plains were plum trees peculiar to the country, and others resembling those of Spain. Wild fruit clambered to the tops of the loftiest trees, and lower branches were laden with delicious Isabella grapes.”
While this Spanish band were thus marching through the unexplored wilds of Alabama and sharing the hospitalities of the unsuspecting natives, in one of the centres of refinement and power in Europe, in the land of sunny, vine clad France, a young girl of twelve, born heiress to a throne, was resisting with all the strength of her will the commands of her royal uncle, Francis I. of France. The reluctant marriage of the gifted daughter of Margaret, Queen of Navarre, was solemnized July 15, 1540, the unwilling bride ” dressed in a robe of cloth of gold covered with jewels of immense value,” a ducal coronet, set with rich gems, encircling her brow, the trail of her velvet mantle being bordered with ermine, the display costing more than the coronation of Charles Y. the sovereign of De Soto, who had desired to secure this girl as a wife for his own son Philip II, of Spain. While French courtiers in July of 1540 were witnessing the brilliant scenes of a royal marriage, Spanish cavaliers were meeting for the first time the native daughters of Alabama, and were soon to meet with those whom Spanish traditions call “incomparable” in beauty. Five days after that marriage in France, July 20, 1540, an Alabama pageant passed before Spanish vision. The invading army were in sight of the town of Coosa. “Far in the outskirts, De Soto was met by the Chief, seated upon a cushion, and riding in a chair supported upon the shoulders of four of his chief men. One thousand warriors, tall, active, sprightly, and admirably proportioned, with large plumes of various colors on their heads, followed him, marching in regular order. His dress consisted of a splendid mantle of martin skins, thrown gracefully over his shoulder, while his head was adorned with a diadem of brilliant feathers. Around him many Indians raised their voices in song, and others made music upon flutes. The steel clad warriors of Spain, with their glittering armour, scarcely equaled the magnificent display made by these natives of Alabama.” After the speech of welcome by the Chief and the response by De Soto, they advanced together into the town, the former riding “in his sedan chair,” the Spanish leader on his fiery war horse. This capital city contained five hundred houses, and here the adventurers remained twenty-five days, and again marched southward. Passing through Indian towns, gathering wild grapes which grew in great abundance, encamping at various places, De Soto arrived September 18, at a large town called Tallase, surrounded by a wall and terraces. This town was on the Tallapoosa, along the banks of which river were extensive corn-fields, and Indian villages among these fields of ripening maize.
While encamped at this place De Soto received an invitation from a renowned chief named Tuskaloosa to visit his capital city, a town called Maubila. (This was situated according to Pickett at that place on the Alabama river now called Choctaw Bluft” and he had Indian traditions to guide him to this conclusion.
The following are reasons which an intelligent citizen of the county, J. M. Jackson, assigns for locating the old Maubila at French’s Landing rather than at Choctaw Bluff”. Negatively: No spring of water to supply such a town is now convenient to Choctaw Bluff. No arrow-heads, no Indian remains, no pottery, no living traces of a once great town, are found there. Positively: At French’s Landing, about four miles above Gainestown, springs of good water now exist. Also, there “the greatest abundance of Indian relics are still to be found.” Several years ago a number of Spanish bridle-bits were found in the cave near this landing; and at another time, near the same place, a large quantity of lead was found in the form of bullets. These reasons seem quite satisfactory. )
De Soto accepted the invitation. He crossed the Tallapoosa, sent a small body of his cavalry to inform the chief that the Spanish leader was near, and soon presented himself before the proud Mobilian. He was found seated upon two cushions, on a large and elegant matting, and on a natural eminence “which commanded a delightful prospect.”
His address of welcome was very short. De Soto’s reply was conciliatory; a large pack horse was selected of sufficient strength to carry the huge frame of Tuskaloosa, and side by side, the Spanish leader and the Indian ruler, journeyed toward Maubila. They crossed the Alabama, marched over what is now the county of Wilcox, passed October 17, through “populous towns well stored with corn, beans, pumpkins, and other provisions,” which seems to have been the eastern part of the present county of Clarke. So near then as may now be ascertained, the first European explorers ENTERED THE LIMITS OF ClARKE ON THE 17th OF OCTOBER, 1540. It was the year in which Miles Coverdale was editing the great Bible, the Bible in English having been appointed to be read in the churches of England two years before.
It was the year in which Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in England. Five years before, the society of Jesuits was established by Ignatius Loyola and five years afterwards, the Council of Trent began its sessions. It was moreover the very year in which was born in the city of Cuzco in ancient Peru that Garcellasso Inca de la Vega, who was to be the most illustrious chronicler of this expedition and also of that noted conquest of Peru; whose father, says Prescott, ” was one of that illustrious family whose achievements, both in arms and letters, shed such lustre over the proudest period of the Castilian annals,” and whose “mother was of the Peruvian blood royal ;” who said of himself in his preface to his account of Florida. ” I have no reason to regret that fortune has not smiled on me, since this circumstance has opened a literary career which, I trust, will secure to me a wider and more enduring fame than could flow from any worldly prosperity;” who at the age of twenty, in 1560, became a resident of Spain, and died in Cordova in 1616 at the age of seventy-six.
What was Clarke county in 1540? Doubtless the same springs, and creeks, and rivers were flowing which flow now ; no doubt the nature of the soil possessed the same natural inequalities, then as now; but where were the present pines, and magnolias, and beech, and cedar ? And who were then the inhabitants ? A glimpse at the inhabitants we shall have. De Soto having become suspicious in regard to the intentions of Tuskaloosa, before daylight on the morning of October 18, 1540, at the head of one hundred horsemen and one hundred footmen, taking with him the haughty Chief, marched rapidly southward. This proved to be for the Maubiliaus and Spaniards alike, an eventful day. At eight in the morning they reached the town, the capital of Tuskaloosa’ s dominion. It is described as situated on a beautiful plain, beside a river, a river large in the eyes of Spaniards, containing eighty handsome houses, each capable of holding a thousand men. They were built doubtless of wood, but few of the Spaniards had an opportunity to examine them minutely, and no special description seems to have been given, except that these houses all fronted on a large public square. The town was surrounded by a high wall made of the trunks of trees, set firmly in the ground, side by side, additional strength being given by cross timbers, and by large vines interlacing the upright trunks. The whole wood work is said to have been covered with a mud plaster, which resembled handsome masonry. Port holes were arranged in this wall, and towers, sufficiently large to hold eight men. were constructed, one hundred and fifty feet apart. There were only two gates, the one opened toward the east and the other toward the west.
Into the great public square of this walled town, on the morning already named. Tuskaloosa and De Soto entered, about two hours after sunrise : amid songs and music from Indian flutes, while “beautiful brown girls” danced gracefully before them. Dismounting from their horses, the two leaders were seated together for a short time under a canopy, when Tuskaloosa, not receiving a satisfactory reply to a request which he had made, left De Soto and went into one of the large houses.
It seems that De Soto, although an invited visitor at this town, had on the way treated the Indian Chief whose guest he was, as a hostage in his hands, restraining in some respects his personal freedom. This had incensed the haughty Maubilian and from the house in his own capital, where he had sought relief from the presence of De Soto, he refused to return to take breakfast with the Spaniards. He suggested to the Spanish interpreter, that it would be well for his Chief to remove his forces from that territory. De Soto perceived that danger was near, and instructed his men to be ready for conflict. Disturbance soon began. A Spaniard ascertained that more than ten thousand warriors were in the houses, abundantly supplied with clubs and stones, with bows and arrows ; that the old women and children had been sent away ; and that the Indians were designing to capture the two hundred Spaniards and DeSoto, Little time was given for that morning’s meal. An Indian drew a bow upon a group of Spaniards, A Spanish soldier struck him down with his sword, and the red streams of blood began to flow. In Peru De Soto had exhibited his superior horsemanship and the strength and speed of his fierce war-horse before the Inca Atahaullpa, when the Spaniards under Pizarro first beheld him on the fifteenth of November in 1532, De Soto being then the best mounted cavalier in Pizarro’s troops; and he had fought with the Pizarros in the great square of Caxamalca in that terrible onslaught, shortly before the setting of the sun on the next day, when that Inca was captured and from two to ten thousand Peruvians were slain, on that ”Saturday, the sixteenth of November,” “the most memorable epoch in the annals of Peru.” Then De Soto led one division of the cavalry and Hernando Pizarro the other, under Francisco *Pizarro, the Conqueror of Peru. NowDeSoto himself was Commander in Chief, and a race braver than the Peruvians and better armed than those attendants of the Inca in Caxamalca, were around him in the city of Maubila, on the banks of the Alabama, and the fierce conflict had actually begun. The first bloody encounter was brief. From among more than ten thousand enraged warriors, De Soto at the head of his men, fighting hand to hand, led his little band outside
* There were four Pizarros, Gonzalo, Juan, Hernando, and Francisco, broth- ers or half brothers. Francisco is the one usually meant by Pizarro. A fifth, Pedro Pizarro, a relative of this family, was with Pizarro iu Peru.
the gate into the adjoining plain. Then his cavalry rushed for their horses, which they had tied outside the walls, and which the Indians had already begun to kill. Still retreating from the surrounding thousands the Spanish leader halted some distance out upon the plain.
By this time the Indian burden bearers of the expedition had arrived with nearly all the baggage, and these with their burdens the Maubilians hurried within the town. Having thus captured and disposed of the baggage and camp equipments, the excited warriors crowding without the gate filled the air with their “exulting shouts.” This seems to have aroused the martial fury of the Spaniards. De Soto at the head of his hundred horsemen, followed by the footmen, charged furiously upon the Indians, and with a repetition of the old Peruvian slaughter, drove them again within the gate. But from the port holes and towers the missiles of the Indians drove the Spaniards back from the walls again into the plain. Once more the Maubilians rush outside the gate, or drop from the walls, and contend fiercely but vainly with Spanish swords and lances, now and then small parties of fresh horsemen arriving and plunging at once into the thick of the fight. Three hours thus passed with terrible slaughter, one side receding and again advancing, clubs and arrows and bare flesh, forming but a poor defense against burnished steel, Spanish lances, and charging war-horses, when at length the Maubilians re-entered their walled town and closed behind them the heavy gates.
Midday had passed, and already the sun of that day seemed to be nearing the lofty tree tops, when the last of De Soto’s forces under Moscoso, his camp-master, arrived. De Soto ought now to have retired, and to have left these natives of the soil in possession of their strong walled town ; but such was not the custom of Spanish adventurers in American wilds, and his baggage and camp equipments were within. So more blood must flow, more carnage follow. Uniting all his force, forming his best armed footmen into four divisions, for storming the walls, armed with bucklers for defense and battle-axes for assault, a charge was made. The gates were at length forced open and the mortar broken from the walls. Those ponderous battle-axes had before this day made impressions upon well defended European castles, and it could not be expected that Indian woodwork or masonry would withstand the assault of desperate and infuriated trained knights and warriors. The followers of De Soto rushed into the inclosed square and horrible destruction was again resumed. The horsemen remained without to cut off all retreat, and the merciless Spaniards commenced the work of extermination. Often, it is said, the brave Maubilians drove the Spaniards outside the walls, but as often they returned with renewed impetuosity. The young Maubilian girls who had danced so gracefully in the morning, now fought and fell beside the bravest Indian warriors. At length De Soto, wounded and infuriated, passed out of the gate once more, mounted his fiery war-horse, and, returning, charged through the Indian ranks. Others followed his example, and the fearful work of death went on. Coats of mail and bucklers protected the Spaniards from many fatal wounds, while their sharp swords and well tempered lances made terrible havoc upon muscle unprotected by shield or breast-plate or heavy clothing. Well armed soldiers on fiery war-horses had made fearful carnage as they charged through crowds of Indians in Mexico and Peru, and the same terrible destruction was wrought this day, when the natives of Alabama learned for the first time and to their sorrow what was meant by ” the charge of the war-horse in full career.” Help or hope there was none and they could only yield up their lives. No quarter was asked, no mercy shown.
But the day was drawing to a close. For nine hours, in its different stages, the conflict had been waged. The houses were now set on fire. Amid flame and smoke, the fearful carnage was near its end. The sun went down, far to the westward, beyond other and greater rivers which Spaniards had not yet seen. But “Maubilia was in ruins, and her inhabitants destroyed.” The number slain was estimated by one chronicler at eleven thousand. Picket suggests six thousand as the lowest estimate.
This disastrous day decided not alone the fate of a mighty Indian tribe, but it decided also De Soto’s destiny. He lost eighty-two soldiers and forty-five horses, his valuable equipments and baggage, including camp furniture, instruments, clothes, books, medicines, the gathered pearls, the holy relics and the priestly robes, the flour, the wine, and nearly everything of value brought from the ships. One surgeon alone survived, and there were then seventeen hundred wounds to dress. And although he learned that his vessels were awaiting him in Pensacola Bay, so thoroughly had many of the cavaliers become disheartened that they had determined to desert him and his cause when they reached the coast; and thus De Soto was obliged to change his plans, and after delaying a month while wounds were healing and provisions were collected, and a number of Maubilian women of “incomparable beauty” were brought into the camp, instead of returning to his ships, procuring new supplies, and planting a colony in that beautiful region in the heart of Spanish Florida, now Alabama, in desperate sullenness he led his disheartened troops into the northern and western wilderness. The troops had expected to march southward toward the coast, and it was questionable whether they might not be as Caesar’s troops were once charged with being when in a disheartened mood, not hearing the command, when the order should be given to march ; but De Soto had threatened to put to death the first man who should show that he wished to go toward the ships, and although the order to march northward took the cavaliers by surprise, none refused obedience, and onward to a dark destiny the ill-fated expedition began again its course. Passing northward through a fertile region now known as the counties of Clarke, and Marengo, and Greene, like a thunder-cloud which has brought destruction to fields and forest, the sullen Spaniards crossed the Black Warrior and entered what is now the state of Mississippi. They spent the winter among the Chickasaws. In April, 1541, the year in which Ignatius Loyola* was chosen general of the “Society of Jesus,” the society from which grew the order of Jesuits, they resumed their march toward the northwest, now numbering less than seven hundred men, and about one hundred horses. In May of that year they reached the “Father of Waters;” they crossed that mighty current, wandered over trackless wilds, and returned to the
* Loyola was born in a Spanish province, in the castle of Loyola, in 1491. He was at first a soldier, and then an ecclesiastic. He died at Rome July 28, 1558.
Mississippi in May of 1542. De Soto’s work as a warrior, an explorer, a leader, was over. He had found no gold region, had conquered no mighty empire, he was not to outrank Cortez and Pizarro in giving provinces to Spain, he was no more to mount the war-horse, his right arm would wield the sword and hurl the lance no longer, he had fought his last battle, and a slow, malignant fever soon terminated his stormy career.
(It was the same year in which passed from the scenes of earth Cardinal Richelieu, the brilliant prime minister of France, whose genius and intrepidity had enabled him to put down insurrection at home and to influence, if not control, the politics of all Europe.)
Cortez returned to Spain and died December 2, 1547, as he said himself in his last letter to his king, ” old, infirm, and embarrassed with debt.” His remains, at first deposited in a chapel of a monastery in Seville, in the same old town where the remains of Columbus for awhile reposed, were afterward removed to Mexico, and at length, but not finally in 1794, placed in a hospital which he had founded and endowed.
Pizarro was assassinated by a band of conspirators Sunday, June 26, 1541, in his own apartments at Lima, about midday, and his remains in a bloody shroud were hastily buried in an obscure corner of the cathedral by the glimmering light of a few tapers held by some colored domestics. A few years after, it is said, his remains were placed in a sumptuous coffin and deposited in a conspicuous part of the cathedral.
But De Soto closed his eyes in death when he had no superior in command upon the whole broad continent, and his body sunk to its last resting-place in the channel of that majestic river the discovery of which is inseparably connected with his name. Governor of the island of Cuba and Adelantado of Florida, in the wilds of Spanish Florida, he found one of the grandest burial- places ever allotted to a Spaniard.
The remnant of De Soto’s army, now three hundred and fifty in number, under command of Moscoso, in July of 1543, having with great effort constructed seven brigantines, embarked upon that broad and rapid river, keeping with them still “the beautiful women of Maubilia.” In September they reached Spanish settlements in Mexico, and sent to Cuba the tidings of De Soto’s fate.
It may be noticed as an interesting coincidence, that during these years of De Soto’s wanderings, that is, from early in 1540 till June 1542, Gonzalo Pizarro with three hundred and fifty Spaniards, one hundred and fifty being mounted, and four thousand Indians, made his celebrated march to the Amazon, an expedition which Prescott considers, for dangers, hardships, and brave endurance, almost unmatched in the annals of American discovery. He, like De Soto, took along in his expedition ” an immense drove of swine,” also about a thousand dogs. Eighty of his men returned to Quito.