The Spanish Inroads

The history of Alabama begins with the invasion of the country by the Spaniards under DeSoto in 1540, which was forty-three years subsequent to the discovery of the northern continent of America by John Cabot. Prior to the visit of DeSoto nothing is known of this region. Hernande DeSoto, a cavalier of Spain, athirst for the riches and renown which had crowned the valor and daring of Cortez and Pizarro, obtained the consent of Charles V. to his project for the subjugation of Florida. By this name was the continent of North America known to the Spaniards, and DeSoto doubted not to find within its broad limits cities and empires which would rival those of the tropics in opulence and splendor. Commissioned governor of Cuba by his sovereign, and seconded in his scheme by all, he landed at Tampa’ Bay, in May 1539, with about one thousand chosen men. Marching northward, he wintered near the site of the present town of Tallahassee. He then traversed Georgia to the Savannah, thence as far northwest as the Conesauga. Following that stream to its confluence with the Etowah, a short distance further west he came to the town of Chiaha, supposed to have been situated where Rome, Ga., now stands. Proceeding thence westward along the western bank of the Coosa, the expedition entered what is now the State of Alabama and county of Cherokee in June 1540. The first town they reached within our borders was called Acostee, and the inhabitants of it were more turbulent than any they had encountered since leaving south Georgia. While at Acostee, two soldiers, who had been sent to explore the mountains for precious stones and ores, returned with nothing of value but the skin of a buffalo. Crossing to the east bank of the river, the Spaniards calve to a town called Talla at the end of a day’s march. They were now in the fruitful country called Cosa or Coosa by its inhabitants, and now embraced within the counties of Calhoun, Talladega, Coosa, Clay, and Elmore, The town of Coosa was now reached. It was the capital of the kingdom, and was situated on the river between the mouths of Talladega and Tallaseehatchee creeks, in the present county of Talladega. Here the invaders tarried twenty-five days, then moved southward through the towns of Tallamuchasee, Utawah, Ullibahalee, and Towassee, to a town called Tallasee, on the Tallapoosa. Remaining at this place twenty days, DeSoto received from the king of the powerful tribe to the southward an invitation to visit him. This he proceeded to do, with his entire force. Crossing the river, and pursuing a southwest direction, a march of two days duration brought them face to face with the Indian king, a giant, name Tuskaloosa. This haughty prince accompanied his armed guests to a fortified town on the Alabama river, called Piachee. [1]This town is thought by both Meek and Pickett to have been situated in the present county of Wilcox; the former locating it ‘near Evans’ Landing,” (near Clifton), and the latter … Continue reading

Crossing the river, the Spaniards proceeded down the west bank to the capital of this formidable nation. Tuskaloosa, whose cunning and pride were only equalled by his ferocity, had here congregated thousands of his warriors, and they were concealed in large sheds or houses within the wooden walls or palisades of the city. The battle began the morning of the 18th of October, soon after DeSoto and his advance guard were admitted within the enclosure. Forced back and outside by overwhelming numbers, they were soon reinforced by the main body, and now stormed the city. The savages fought with stubborn and wild ferocity, but the superior equipments of the Europeans made a great carnage. The conflict raged all day, and its horrors were supplemented by the ravages of the devouring flames, for the houses were fired. Night closed upon the city in ruins, the conflict having lasted nine hours, and resulted in the repulse of the Indians. Eighteen Spaniards were killed, and 150 wounded, while 2,500 of the brave natives were left dead on the field. Other accounts estimate the losses on both sides at much higher figures. The account of the expedition of DeSoto is accurately given by no less than three different authors. One of these was a Portuguese cavalier who shared in its perils; a second was Biedma, the commissary of the expedition; and the third was Gerchlasso de la Vega, who took down its incidents from the lips of two of the surviving soldiers, and from journals kept by others. Certainly no Indian battle fought on the soil of the United States was more bloody.’ [2]“I know not if a more bloody Indian fight ever occurred on the soil of the United States” — Bancroft, vol. 1, page 48.

The fate of the king, Tuskaloosa, is not satisfactorily known; one account stating that he perished in the battle; another that he retired from the city soon after it began. DeSoto had determined to go to the sea at Ochus, now called Pensacola, the capacious harbor there having been discovered by a detachment of his command while he was wintering in Florida. He had ordered vessels from Havana to await him there, with supplies for the expedition; and they were then at that point. But he is thought to have feared a disbandment of the command should his followers see so convenient a means of escape from the privations of their fruitless achievements. He therefore turned his face northward. The country through which he now passed was called Pafallaya, and was not inhabited. Ninety miles from Mauvilla were two towns, Tallapatawa and Cabusto. The latter was on the river, probably between where Eutaw and Carthage now stand. The natives were implacably hostile, and the passage of the Warrior had to be forced in the face of a large body of then. The Spaniards then ascended the east bank of the Tonlbikbee, and passed out of Alabama. Crossing the latter river, they found the Chicacas (Chicasas), and fought more than one bloody battle with them. Reaching the Yazoo, they stormed a fortress belonging to the Alibamos, which was defended with desperate valor. DeSoto then reached the Chicagua river, now called the Mississippi, in May 1541. [3]DeSoto is generally considered the discoverer of the Mississippi. Howbeit, in 1519, Garay, the Spanish Viceroy of Jamaica sent an expedition to explore the coast of the Mexique Sea, west of Florida, … Continue reading

Crossing it, he journeyed a year in the western wilds; but his search for gold was unsuccessful, and, baffled and despondent, he returned to the great river. Reaching it at a point just below the mouth of the Arkansas, he began to make preparations to reach the Gulf by water, when he died of fever, in May 1542. His body was consigned, at the dead of night, to the waters of the great river of which he was the discoverer. “The wanderer,” says Bancroft, “had crossed a large part of the continent in search of gold, and found nothing so remarkable as his burial place.” His successor, Moscoso, attempted. to reach Mexico by land, but returned after six month’s wandering to attempt the transit by water. They sailed July 2, 1543, and the remnant of 320 souls-all that remained of the 1000 who landed at Tampa, flushed with hope, and fired by the desire for gold-left the inhospitable shores of their weary pilgrimage. They were repeatedly attacked on the voyage, but reached the Gulf within sixteen days, and arrived at the town of Panuco, Mexico, Sept. 10. Thence they went to the city of Mexico. Thus ended an enterprise as fruitless in its achievements as it was bold in its conception, and arduous in its execution. It was an expenditure of treasure and blood with no useful result save that of throwing some light on the condition of Alabama at an earlier period, and to a fuller extent, than was accorded to any other region of the American Union for a century afterwards. An European army traversed what is now the State of Alabama, from one end to the other, eighty years before the Puritans landed at Plymouth, and forty years before the birth of Smith, the founder of Virginia. But it was, as Meek calls it, “an isolated chapter in the “annals of ” the country. “The dark curtain that had “covered her territory was suddenly lifted; a brilliant but ” bloody panorama passed across the stage; and then all was “shrouded in primeval darkness. – Hon. A. B. Meck of Mobile.


1This town is thought by both Meek and Pickett to have been situated in the present county of Wilcox; the former locating it ‘near Evans’ Landing,” (near Clifton), and the latter “in the upper part of the county of Wilcox;” but the distance traversed, some sixty miles from Tallasee, would seem to indicate a point nearer Selma. The impression of these authors that the city of Mauvilla was in Clarke county (Pickett says at Choctaw Bluff,) is also partly confirmed by the fact, that after crossing the river at Piachee, they passed through a populous country on the third day. As the Indians nowhere resided on the alluvial lands, but always on light soil, it is quite probable that Manville was in Clarke, for much of western Dallas and Wilcox is of the former character.
2“I know not if a more bloody Indian fight ever occurred on the soil of the United States” — Bancroft, vol. 1, page 48.
3DeSoto is generally considered the discoverer of the Mississippi. Howbeit, in 1519, Garay, the Spanish Viceroy of Jamaica sent an expedition to explore the coast of the Mexique Sea, west of Florida, for a passage to the westward. Alvarez Alonzo de Pineda led this expedition, and on the charts made by his pilots, the estuaries of the Mississippi are traced, and called: Rio Espiritu Santo. And, in 1528, Cabeza do Vaca, with part of Narvaez’s ill-starred expedition, while coasting westward, discovered one of its outlets.

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