HISTORY OF CLARKE COUNTY: CHOCTAWS IN CLARKE
We have evidences that the Choctaw Indians inhabited this territory at least 400 years ago. According to history, there were several settlements in the county 383 years ago. There was a considerable town, called Maubila, located at either Croctaw Bluff or French’s Landing, four miles above Gainstown. This town is said to have had eighty houses with the capacity of a thousand persons each, all facing on a large square of ground, with entrances at front and back by way of large gates. We do not know just how many inhabitants this town had, but it was capable of accommodating 80,000 people.
So far as we have been able to gather from history, the “pale faces” first set foot upon Clarke County soil in October, 1540, 383 years ago at this writing, when DeSoto and his men visited Maubila. According to the University Encyclopedia:
“Fernando DeSoto, Spanish discoverer, born in Jere do los Cavalleros in Estremadura about 1496 of a good but impoverished family, accompanied Pedraias Davilla to Darien in 1519; served on the expedition of Nicaragua in 1527, and afterward assisted Piazarro in the conquest of Peru; returning to Spain with a fortune of a ‘hundred and four-score ducats.’ Charles now gave him permission to conquer Florida at his own expense and appointed him governor of Cuba, and in 1538 he sailed from San Lucar with a richly equipped company—600 men, 24 ecclesiastics and 20 officers. The fleet anchored in the bay of Espiritu Santo (now Tampa Bay) in May, 1539; the ships were sent back to Cuba and the long search for gold was begun. For three years harassed by hostile Indians, lured onward by reports of wealth that lay beyond, the ever-decreasing company continued their march over a route that cannot now be verly clearly traced.”
After DeSoto’s visit to and at the battle of Maubila, he left Clarke County, going north, crossing the Tombigbee River perhaps up about Cotton Gin; went west to the Mississippi River, reaching that river in 1541. Worn out by disappointment, he died in 1542 and was given a watery grave in the Mississippi River. DeSoto was hunting for gold. He found no gold but lost his life. About one-half of his men died in the Mississippi Valley and the other half made their way into Mexico.
BATTLE OF MAUBILA Account of the battle of Maubila is found in Pickett’s history and reproduced below. According to Pickett’s account, DeSoto arrived at Maubila October 18.
“DeSoto and Tuscaloosa were ushered into the great public square of Maubila with songs, music upon Indian flutes, and the graceful dancing of beautiful brown girls. They alighted from their chargers, and seated themselves under a ‘canopy of state.’ Remaining here a short time, the Chief requested that he should no longer be held as a hostage, nor required to follow the army any further. The Adelantado hesitated in reply, which brought Tuscaloosa immediately to his feet, who walked off with a lofty and independent bearing, and entered one of the houses. DeSoto had scarcely recovered from his surprise, when Jean Ortiz followed the Chief and announced that breakfast awaited him at the Governor’s table. Tuscaloosa refused to return, and added, ‘If your Chief knows what is best for him, he will immediately take his troops out of my territory.’ In the meantime, Charamilla, one of the spies, informed the Governor that he had discovered over ten thousand men in the houses, the subjects of Tuscaloosa and other neighboring Chiefs; that other houses were filled with bows, arrows, stones and clubs; that the old women and children had been sent out of the town, and the Indians were at that moment debating the most suitable hour to capture the Spaniards. The General received this startling-intelligence with the deepest solicitude. He secretly sent word to his men to be ready for an attack. Then, anxious to avert a rupture, by regaining- possession of the person of the Chief, he approached him with smiles and kind words, but Tuscaloosa scornfully turned his back upon him, and was soon lost among the host of excited warriors. At that moment a principal Indian rushed out of the same house, and loudly denounced the Spaniards as robbers, thieves and assassins, who should no longer impose on their great Chief by depriving him of a liberty with which he was born, and his fathers before him. His insolence, and the motions which he made to shoot at a squad of Spaniards with a drawn bow, so incensed Baltasar de Gallegos that, with a powerful sweep of his sword, he split down his body and let out his bowels! Like bees in a swarm the savages now poured out upon the Spaniards. DeSoto placed himself at the head of his men, and fought face to face with the enemy, retreating slowly and passing the gate into the plain. His cavalry had rushed to rescue their horses, tied outside the walls, some of which the Indians came upon in time to kill. Still receding to get out of the reach of the enemy, DeSoto at length paused at a considerable distance upon the plain. The Mobilians seized the Indian slaves, packed upon their backs the effects of the expedition, which had now arrived and lay scattered about, drove the poor devils within the walls, knocked off their irons, placed bows in their hands and arrayed them in battle against their former masters. In the first sally, DeSoto had five men killed and many wounded, himself among the latter number. Having captured the baggage, the victors covered the ground in advance of the gate, and rent the air with exulting shouts. At that moment the Governor headed his cavalry, and followed by his footmen, charged them back into the town. The Indians rushed to the portholes and towers and shot upon the invaders clouds of arrows, compelling them again to retire from the walls. A small party of Spaniards were left in a perilous situation. Three cross-bow men, an armed friendly Indian, five of DeSoto’s guard, some servants and two priests, not having time to join the others when first attacked in the square, took refuge in the house set apart for their commander. The savages sought an entrance at the door, but the unhappy inmates bravely defended it, killing many of the assailants. Others clambered upon the roof to open the covering, but were as successfully repulsed. Separated from their friends by a thick wall, and in the midst of thousands of enemies panting to lap their blood, their destruction appeared inevitable. During the long struggle for existence, the holy fathers engaged in earnest prayer for their deliverance, while the others fought with a desperation which rose with the occasion.
Seeing the Spaniards again retreat, the Indians rushed through the gates, and dropping down from the walls, engaged fiercely with the soldiers, seizing their sweeping swords and piercing lances! Three long hours were consumed in the terrible conflict first one side giving way and then the other. Occasionally DeSoto was strengthened by small squads of horsemen who arrived, and without orders, charged into the midst of the bloody melee. The Governor was everywhere present in the fight, and his vigorous arm hewed down the lustiest warriors. That sword, which had often been dyed in the blood of Peruvians, was now crimsoned with the gore of a still braver race. The invincible Baltasar de Gallegos, who struck the first blow, followed it up, and was only equaled by the commander in the profuse outpouring of savage blood. Far on the borders of the exciting scene rode his brother, Fray Juan, a Dominican friar, who constantly beckoned him to quit the engagement on foot, and take the horse which he bestrode, in order to fight the better. But Baltasar, gloating on blood, heeded him not; when presently an Indian arrow, which made a slight wound upon the back of the worthy father, caused him to retire to a less dangerous distance. Indeed, during the whole battle the priests kept the plain, watched the awful carnage with intense anxiety, and often fell upon their knees, imploring Almighty God to give victory to the Spaniards.
At length the matchless daring of DeSoto and his troops forced the Indians to take a permanent position within Maubila, closing after them its ponderous gates. The sun began to lower towards the tops of the loftiest trees, when Moscoso and the last of the army arrived. He had strangely loitered by the way, allowing the soldiers to scatter in the woods and hunt at their leisure. His advanced guard heard at a distance the alarm of drums and the clangor of trumpets. With beating hearts they passed back the word along the scattered lines, from one to the other, and soon the hindmost rushed to the support of their exhausted and crimson-stained comrades. Joined by all his force, DeSoto formed the best armed into four divisions of foot. Provided with bucklers for defense, and battle-axes to demolish the walls, they made a simultaneous charge, at the firing of an arquebuse. Upon the first onset, they were assailed with showers of arrows and dreadful missies. Repeated blows against the gates forced them open. The avenues were filled with eager soldiers, rushing into the square. Others, impatient to get in, battered the stucco from the walls and aided each other to climb over the skeleton works. A horrible and unparalleled carnage ensued. The horsemen remained on the outside to overtake those who might attempt to escape. The Indians fought in the streets, in the square, from the tops of the houses and walls. The ground was covered with their dead, but not one of the living entreated for quarters. The Spaniards were protected with bucklers and coats of mail, while the poor Indians were only covered with the thin shield which the Great Spirit gave them at the dawn of their existence. The troops entered the town in time to save the two priests and their companions, who had so long held out against such fearful odds. The battle, which now waxed hotter and more sanguinary than ever, cannot be as graphically described as the heroic deeds on either side so justly deserve. Often the Indians drove the troops out of the town, and as often they returned with increased desperation. Near the wall lay a large pool of delicious water, fed by many springs. It was now discolored with blood. Here soldiers fell down to slake the intense thirst created by heat and wounds, and those who were able rose again, and once more pitched into a combat characterized by the most revolting destruction of human life. For some time the young females had joined in the fight, and they now contended side by side with the foremost warriors, sharing in the indiscriminate slaughter. Heated with excitement, smarting with his wounds, and provoked at the unsubdued fierceness of the natives. DeSoto rushed out alone by the gate, threw himself into the saddle, and charged into the town. Calling, with a loud voice, upon “Our Lady and Santiago,” he forced his charger over hundreds of fighting men and women, followed by the brave Nuno Tobar. While opening lanes through the savage ranks and sprinkling his tracks with blood, he rose on one occasion to cast his lance into a gigantic warrior. At that instant a powerful arrow went deep into the bottom of his thigh. Unable to extract it, or to sit in his saddle, he continued to fight to the end of the battle, standing in his stirrups. Everywhere that mighty son of Spain now gorged upon Alabama blood! His fearless bounds filled the boldest soldiers with renewed courage. At length the houses were set on fire, and the wind blew the smoke and flames in all directions, adding horror to the scene. The flames ascended in mighty volumes! The sun went down, hiding himself from the awful sight! Maubila was in ruins, and her inhabitants destroyed!”
After DeSoto and his men left this county we heard no more of the white man in these parts until about 260 years later.