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


Winter at Pine Bluff, Arkansas


Hernando de Soto's army re-entered Arkansas in the middle of November, 1542. The King's Agent says, "Having arrived here (at Lake Village), we did not find as good provisions as we thought, because we did not find food in the town, since the Indians had hidden it. We had to look for another town in order to be able to winter and fashion the ships."© 1993, University of Alabama Press

A week later at Nilco (Star City) above Lake Village, under the November 22nd Full Moon, Elvas says, "Reaching Nilco they found so little corn that it did not suffice for the (time it would take) building ships. The cause of this was that when the Christians were at Guachoya (Lake Village) at seed time, the Indians had not dared sow the lands of Nilco for fear of them; and they knew no other land thereabout where there was any (abundance of) corn. That was the most fertile land thereabout and where they had most hope of finding corn. They were all thrown into confusion; and most of them thought it had been a bad plan to have turned back from Daycao (Austin, Texas)... for there was neither pilot nor chart, they did not know where the (Mississippi) river entered the sea, they had no information concerning the latter; they had nothing with which to make sails nor calk nor pitch..."

You can read the details of DeSoto's Army's Winter in Arkansas
written by the DeSoto ChroniclersBiedma,  Elvas  &  Inca

Toltec MoundBiedma says, "Thank God we discovered two towns much to our purpose that were on the great river and had a great quantity of corn and were palisaded and there we halted and built our ships with much labor." Elvas says of that discovery, "They left Nilco at the beginning of December... at a distance of two days' journey thence, near the great river were two towns of which the Christians had never heard, called Aminoya... in an open and level ground, at a half league's distance (1.3 miles) apart..." just below today's Pine Bluff on the Arkansas River's big bend. Toltec natives of that neighborhood had built mounds, like the one pictured at left, in their village.

The Arkansas River Lock near Pine Bluff Inca says, "They found on the banks of the river in the place where they happened to reach it, two villages near one another, each having 200 houses. A moat of water taken from the river itself surrounded them both and formed an island (there are several there, just west of today's Pine Bluff Lock and Dam) sixteen leagues (42 miles) up the (Arkansas) river from the (a) village of Guachoya..." Province - the northern boundary of which was near Arkansas Post. There are several islands just east of Pine Bluff on firm, flat ground behind International Paper's giant pulp mill. "(DeSoto's army) formed a squadron that still numbered more than 320 infantry (soldiers) and 70 cavalry (horsemen), and attacked one of the villages, whose inhabitants abandoned it without making any defense. That village and its province were called Aminoya."

Elvas says, "It was surrounded with a stockade and was a quarter of a league from the great river..." Inca continued, "...our forces attacked the other village and gained it with equal facility..."

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Tons of corn and other vegetables were moved into one town; the other was torn down for firewood and shelter. Later Inca says, "Seeing that the last days of January of the year 1543 had now come, they gave orders for cutting timber for making the brigantines (two-masted boats with a brigantineforemast fully square-rigged and aftermast rigged with a fore-and-aft mainsail - the one in the photo at right is larger and much better rigged than theirs) in which they intended to go by way of the river down to the North Sea (the Atlantic Ocean; a gulf of which, the Gulf of Mexico, was their destination). There was a great abundance of timber throughout the vicinity (that's why they call it Pine Bluff). They worked diligently to obtain the other things that were needed, such as rigging, tow, resin from trees for tar, blankets for sails, oars, and nails. Everyone applied himself to this work very busily and willingly."

Elvas adds, "For building ships, there was there the best wood they had seen in all the land of Florida..." which is why the paper mill is located there today. An old woman there, Inca's informant says, asked where his people planned to winter given that "every fourteen years that Great River overflowed its bed and covered the whole country, and the natives took refuge in the top floors of the houses; and she said that year was the fourteenth..."

Elvas continues, "As soon as they were come to Aminoya, the governor (Moscoso) ordered the chains which each one had brought for his Indians (as harnesses) and all the other iron in the camp to be collected. He ordered a forge set up, nails made, and timber cut for building brigantines... and with one who knew how to build ships... four or five carpenters, who hewed the planks for him, built the brigantines... The Indians of a province located two days' journey up the river, by name Tagoanate (Little Rock, called Guahate by a tribe two years earlier in Northern Arkansas), as well as those of Nilco and Guachoya and others roundabout (living in the Toltec Mounds area on the river's north bank), seeing that the brigantines were being built... frequently came and brought an abundance of fish..." probably to hasten the army's departure.

Press for More Images like this for SchoolChief Nilco dispatched a relative to appease the army with offerings and several days later Chief Gouchoya brought his people in, "and every eight days they went to their houses and returned with new presents and offerings," according to Inca. "Having calculated what size the brigantines would have to be in order to hold all the people who must embark on them, we found that we would need seven... the necessary materials were gathered for this number of brigantines, and in order to prevent the winter rains from hindering the work, we built four very large shelters that served as dockyards (there are a number of dockyards there today), where we all labored equally... Some sawed the timber to make boards, others finished it with iron axes, others beat iron into nails, others made charcoal, others fashioned oars, and others twisted the ropes...

"Our people were engaged in these activities throughout the months of February, March and April... (while) the Indians brought many blankets, new and old..." Blankets were used for sail making. Nilco, the closest friendly chief, provided more than the other tribes and warned the Spaniards of a pending attack by others. "Thus it must be known that opposite the village of Guachoya (Lake Village) on the other side of the Great (Mississippi) River, there was a very large province called Quigaltam (today's Greenville, Mississippi) abounding in food and well populated. Its lord was young and warlike and was beloved and obeyed throughout his state and feared in the others because of his great power." His attack on the Spaniards would not occure until the troops drifted down the Arkansas River into the Mississippi River that summer. In the meantime, "On the 18th of March 1543, which that year fell on Palm Sunday while the Spaniards were marching in procession... the river rose so furiously and with such a rush that it entered the gates of the village of Aminoya, and two days thereafter one could not go through the streets except in canoes... before this rise reached its greatest height, which was on the 20th of April..." on Full Moon. The spring thaw of the nearby Ozark Mountains, as mentioned earlier, caused the Arkansas River's early flood. "At the end of April the river began to recede as slowly as it had risen... by the end of May the river was back in its bed."

Inca says, "Our Spaniards built seven little caravels, and since they did not have enough nails to cover them entirely, they covered one space at the stern and another at the prow on which they could place the ship-stores. They laid some loose planks across the center to make a deck, and by raising one of them up they could draw out the water that they might have taken in.

Elvas says, "The building of the brigantines (was) completed in the month of June - it being summer and a long time having passed since it had rained - the river rose up to the town until it reached the brigantines, whence they were taken by water to the river." The Mississippi River's spring flood, which occurs well after the Arkansas River's, had backed up into the Arkansas River causing the second flood at Pine Bluff.

Inca says, "They butchered the hogs, which they had hitherto kept for breeding in spite of all their past hardships, and they still reserved 18 of them... they gave three, two females and one male for breeding, to each of the friendly chiefs. The meat of those that were killed was salted for the journey... they provided canoes to carry the horses that they had remaining... The canoes were fastened together by twos, so that the horses could be carried ("they killed 20 of the 50 that remained" for meat and hides)... each brigantine carried one canoe at the stern to serve as a ship's boat... they busied themselves in embarking the ship-stores and the horses, and in dressing the brigantines and the canoes with boards and skins of animals as a defense against the arrows... As many as twenty-five or thirty Indians, men and women, embarked with them, having been brought in their service from distant countries."

The Great River Journey
Read the translated details of the Army's Downstream journey
by Conquistadors, Chronicled by:  Biedma,  Elvas  &  Inca

Elvas says, "They abandoned 500 Indians... among whom were many boys and girls who spoke and understood Spanish... three hundred and twenty-two Spaniards left Aminoya in seven brigantines, of good construction except that the planks were thin because of the shortness of the spikes and they were not pitched. They had no decks by which to keep the water from coming in. In place of decks, they laid planks so that the sailors could go above to fasten the sails and the men might be sheltered below and above...

"The governor appointed captains of them and gave each one his brigantine, taking from each one his oath and word that he would be obedient to him until reaching the land of the Christians. The governor took one of the brigantines for himself - the one he considered best. They left Aminoya (Pine Bluff on the Arkansas River, 66 miles upstream of the Mississippi River) on the second day of July, 1543..." New Moon, starting their 666 mile river journey to the Gulf of Mexico. "...they they passed Guachoya (Province) where the Indians were awaiting them in canoes on the river... the Indians accompanied the governor's ship in their canoes. Coming to where an arm of the river led off to the right (into the Mississippi River), they said the province of Quigaltam (starting at Greenville) lay nearby. They importuned the governor to go make war on them, and said that they would aid them. But since they said that Quigaltam lay three days' journey below (at Vicksburg, verses at Greenville which troops had earlier raided in Quigaltam's large Mississippi province), it seemed to the governor that the Indians had planned some treachery against him. There he took leave of them and proceeded on his voyage where the force of the water was greater. The current was very powerful and, aided by rowing, they journeyed at a good rate." They would continue 600 miles downstream on the Mississippi River from there to the Gulf of Mexico averaging 50 miles per day.

Escape Raft "The first day (along the Mississippi River on July 4th, 1543) they landed (to feed themselves and the horses) in a wood on the left side of the river (at Benoit, Mississippi, on map above) and at night they slept in the brigantines. Next day they came to a town (six miles above Greenville) where they landed, but the people there did not dare await them. An Indian woman whom they captured there, on being questioned, said that that town belonged to a cacique called Huhasene, a vassal of Quigaltam, and that Quigaltam was awaiting them with many men. Men of horse went down the river and found some houses (at Greenville) in which was considerable maize. They immediately went there and stopped for a day, during which they threshed out and gathered what maize they needed."

The Mississippi River forked just below Greenville at that time. The Spaniards chose the left, southerly fork, on their departure to hasten their journey and to bypass Lake Village on the right fork (today's Lake Chicot), where DeSoto's body had been placed the year before.

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