Written by Donald E. Sheppard
Drawings by Cheryl Lucente
TO THIS POINT CHRONICLERS
From Hernando de Soto's 1539-40 winter camp in Florida, Biedma, the King's Agent, wrote "Our ships headed for Cuba and we marched north..." into today's Georgia (trail map at right).
The Gentleman of Elvas, another witness, says, "On Wednesday, the 3rd of March, 1540, the governor left Anhaica Apalache in search of Yupaha (others would call it Cofitachequi, a land on another sea, according to Biedma, the Atlantic Ocean). He ordered all his men to provide themselves with food for a long journey through uninhabited land. Horsemen carried the corn on their horses and those marching on their backs, because most of the captured Indians had died from the hard life they suffered, being naked and in chains all winter. After a march of four days (to and across today's Southeastern Alabama), we came to a deep river (the Chattahoochee River, in photo below, Georgia's western border) where a large raft was made..." © 1993, University of Alabama Press
Rangel, DeSoto's personal secretary, says, "the river was so broad that our best thrower never managed to throw a stone across it" Elvas continues, "because of the strong current, a chain cable (made from bondage chains, "strongly joined with S hooks of iron") was fastened on each side of the river. The raft was crossed over alongside the chain..."
Four full days and part of another were spent rafting the army and their possessions across the spring thaw flooded river. Horses were pulled across with ropes and tackle. As each day's group crossed they advanced northward to explore and camp over a fairly large area.
Inca's informant says, "The adelantado (DeSoto, with the first crossing group) desired to be the first to see it, in order to learn whether the natives of that province were as rough and warlike as those of Apalache, and also because it was a constantly observed custom of his that he must go himself to any new discovery of provinces because he was not satisfied with the reports of others, but wished to see with his own eyes. Therefore he chose forty cavalry and sixty infantry..."
Rangel implies that on Wednesday, March 10, 1540, his eight reported day out of Apalache, "On the other bank of the river we (with DeSoto's crossing group) found a province, which is called Capachiqui, very abundant in food..." image below.
Biedma says, "We saw some towns of the province, and others we could not because it was a land of very great swamps..." Sheffield Mills, Kirkland, Sawhatchee, Weaver Creeks and Porter Pond, image below. "Here we found a difference in the houses of the Indians; we found them as caves below the ground, while up to here they were covered with palms and straw."
Elvas says, "After crossing the (Chattahoochee) river... we reached a town called Capachiqui (today's Blakely). On Friday, March 11, they saw the Indians had hidden in the woods. Next day, five Christians went to look for mortars which the Indians use for crushing corn. They went to some Indian houses near to the camp which were surrounded by a forest. Within the forest many Indians were walking about who came to spy on us. Five of them separated from the others and attacked our men. One of our men came running to the camp. They found one of our men dead and three badly wounded. The Indians fled through a swamp (Dry Creek) with a very dense wood around it where the horses could not enter."
Rangel says, "...thus we (the entire army) passed on to sleep at another town farther on (near today's Kolomoki Mound State Park, image below). But (first) we came upon a bad swamp next to town (Blakely) with a strong current, and before arriving (to camp that night) we crossed a large stretch of water (Breastworks Branch, dammed today beside Main Street, photo above) that came to the saddle pads of the horses in such a manner that all the army was not able to finish crossing that day on account of it (today that road is closed after heavy rains)... we left (Kolomoki camp), on the sixteenth of March, and spent the night at White Spring (at the head of Spring Creek, west of Edison). This is a very beautiful spring, with a great abundance of good water and fish...
"We went onward and came upon two rivers (Pachitla and Ichawaynochaway Creeks, which are like rivers) where we made two bridges of pine trees, and the great current broke them, and we made another bridge of timbers crossed in a certain way, which a gentleman described, at which we all laughed, but it was true what he said; and having made the bridges in that way, we crossed very well. And on Monday the army finished crossing those rivers and they spent the night in a pine forest... And early on Tuesday (under the Full Moon of March 22, 1540, on a dawn raid across planted fields, pictured below) they arrived at Toa (today's Dawson). We found a fair-sized town there, larger than any we had found up to there."
Elvas says, "Beyond that place a difference was seen in the houses, for those behind were covered with hay (image at left) and those of Toa were covered with canes in the manner of tile... Throughout these cold lands each of the Indians has his house for the winter plastered inside and out. They shut the very small door at night and build a fire inside the house so that it gets as hot as an oven, and stays so all night long.... Besides those houses they have others for summer with kitchens nearby where they build their fires and bake their bread. They have barbacoas in which they keep their corn, that is a house raised up on four posts and timbered like a loft and with a floor of cane... the houses of the lords are larger and have balconies in front, under which are cane seats resembling chairs... Native blankets are made of the inner bark of trees and some from a plant like daffodils, the Indian women cover themselves with these, wrapping one from the waist down and another over the shoulder with the right arm uncovered. The Indian men wear only one over the shoulders in the same way and have their privies covered with a truss of deerskin resembling the breech cloths formerly worn in Spain. The skins are well tanned... and of this they make shoes."
Rangel says, "Wednesday, the twenty-forth of the month the Governor left from there at midnight (with the moon straight up), secretly, with up to forty horsemen... and they traveled all that day until the night, when he found a bad and deep crossing of water (Kinchafoonee Creek Swamp), and although it was night, they crossed it, and they walked this day twelve leagues" 32 miles through today's Americus to Andersonville. The troops departed Toa that morning and camped at Kinchafoonee Creek.
Rangel continues, "...and the next day (the Thursday before Easter Sunday), in the morning, they (the horsemen) arrived at the province of Chisi (others called it Ichisi or Achese) and crossed a branch of a large river (the Flint River, that province's boundary, five miles northeast of Andersonville), very broad, some of it on foot, and even a good part of it swimming and attacked a town that was on an island (inside the river's branch) in this river where they captured some people and found food... they all had for lunch some hens of the land, which are called turkeys, and loins of venison that they found roasted on a barbacoa, which is like a grill... and the Indian boy Perico that they had brought from Apalache (Florida) as guide led them there. And they (the horsemen with DeSoto) passed on to other towns (up the east bank of Flint River), and at a bad crossing of a swamp (Beaver Creek below today's Montezuma), some horses drowned, because they were put in to swim with the saddles, while their owners crossed over on a beam which traversed the current of the water. And crossing this, Benito Fernandez, a Portuguese, fell from the wood beam and drowned..." as the troops marched toward Americus.
Elvas says, "...a short distance on (at today's Montezuma, one quarter-mile from Beaver Creek, where they stopped)... the Indians had never heard of Christians (and) they plunged into a river (the Flint River). A few Indians were seized, men and women, and one of them understood the Indian boy who was guiding us to Yupaha (Cofitachequi, in today's South Carolina). On that account, DeSoto was more certain of what the boy said, for we had passed through lands having different languages, some of which the boy had not understood. The governor sent one of the Indians captured there to call the Chief who was on the other side of the (Flint) river..." at today's Oglethorpe, directly opposite Montezuma. The troops would be there in two days, having spent their third night on their trail at Andersonville.
Rangel says, "This day we arrived at a town (Montezuma) where principal Indians came as messengers from (Chief) Ichisi (near today's Warner Robins, who ruled Georgia between the Flint and Oconee Rivers), and one of them asked the governor: "Who are you? What do you want? Where are you going?" And they brought presents of hides and blankets of the land, which were the first gifts as a signal of peace."
According to Elvas, "the governor said... that he was the son of the sun and came from where it dwelt and that he was going through that land and seeking the greatest lord and the richest province in it. The Chiefs (of Montezuma and Oglethorpe) said that a great lord lived on ahead; that his domain was called Ocute..." in the next province beyond the Oconee River, of course, to rid themselves of the Spaniards. The troops arrived at Oglethorpe that evening then crossed the Flint River in native canoes the next day, Easter Sunday, March 28th, 1540.
"The chief (of Montezuma) gave DeSoto a guide and interpreter for that province. The governor ordered his Indians to be set free... He left a wooden cross raised very high in the middle of the public place..." that Easter Sunday.
Rangel says, "On (Monday, they) left (Montezuma) for Chisi (the main village of Chisi Province), it rained so much, and a small river (Beaver Creek, which DeSoto had crossed below Montezuma where the drowning occured) swelled in such a manner, that if they bad not made much haste to cross, all of the army would have been endangered. This day Indian men and women came forth (from today's Perry) to receive them (where the army spent the night). The women came clothed in white and they made fine appearance, and they gave to the Christians tortollas of corn and some bundles of spring onions exactly like those of Castile, as fat as the tip of the thumb and more. And that was a food which helped them much from then on; and they ate them with tortillas, roasted and stewed and raw, and it was a great aid to them because they are very good. The white clothing in which those Indian women came clothed are some blankets of both coarse and fine linen. They make the thread of them from the bark of the mulberry tree; not from the outside but rather of the middle; and they know how to process and spin and prepare it so well and weave it, that they make very pretty blankets...
"And they put one on from the waist down, and another tied by one side and the top placed upon the shoulder, like those of Bohemians or Egyptians who are in the habit of sometimes wandering through Spain. The thread is such that he who found himself there (with DeSoto, in the vanguard) certified to me that he saw the women spin it from the bark of the mulberry trees and make it good as the most precious thread from Portugal that the women in Spain procure in order to sew, and some more thin and even, and stronger. The mulberry trees are exactly like those of Spain, and as large and larger; but the leaf is softer and better for silk, and the mulberries better for eating and even larger than those from Spain, and the Spaniards also made good use of them many times, in order to sustain themselves."
Biedma, says, "We spent five or six days in passing through this province which is called Chisi (which spanned 70 miles from the Flint River, at Montezuma, beyond the Ocmulgee River to the Oconee River at today's Oconee township), where we were well served by the Indians, from the little that they had..." along their way.
Rangel says of that trail, "They arrived that day at a town (Perry) of a chief subject to Ichisi, a pretty town and with plenty of food, and the chief gave them willingly of what he had, and they rested there on Tuesday...
"...and then on Wednesday, the Governor and his army departed, and they arrived at the Great River (the Ocmulgee just below Warner Robins, photo at left) where they (the Indians) had many canoes in which they (DeSoto and staff) crossed very well (that afternoon) and arrived at the town of (Ichisi), who was one-eyed, and he gave them very good food and fifteen Indians to carry the burdens." The troops would cross the next morning.
[DeSoto's navigators reasoned that this "Great River," the Ocmulgee, was the Peace River which flows into Charlotte Harbor, their port of entry in Florida. After all, on their way up the Gulf Coast they had encountered only two other large rivers: the Suwannee and the Apalachicola. When they departed Florida from Marianna, headed northeast, they crossed two big rivers, the Chattahoochee and the Flint Rivers which, they figured, were the Apalachicola and the Suwannee Rivers, respectively. The next great river they would logically encounter would be, according to their logic, the Peace River, Gulf Coast Florida's other "Great River," where they had landed. The Gulf of Mexico, in their eyes, was the southern east-west shoreline of this "Island" of Florida: North America.]
Rangel continues, "They were there Thursday, the first of April, and they placed a cross on the mound of his town and informed them through the interpreter of the sanctity of the cross, and they received it and appeared to adore it with much devotion... Friday, the second day of the month of April, this army departed from there and slept in the open (on a plateau in the hills, four miles east of today's Jeffersonville), and the next day they (DeSoto's advanced group) arrived at a good river (the Oconee River, Ocute Province's boundary) and found deserted huts, and messengers arrived from Altamaha (who lived across the river at today's Oconee) and led them to a town (today's Toomsboro) where they found an abundance of food, and a messenger from Altamaha (the chief beyond the river) came with a present, and the following day (when the entire army caught up with DeSoto) they brought many canoes and the army crossed (the Oconee River) very well..." into Altamaha with their pigs, horses and supplies into today's Oconee.
Biedma says of that crossing place, "Here we found a river (the Oconee River) that did not flow to the south like the others that we crossed. It flowed east, to the sea where the lawyer Ayllon had come (the Atlantic, upon the coast of which their kinsman, a wealthy judge named Ayllon, had shipwrecked while attempting settlement there a dozen years before in 1526), and because of this we gave much more credit to what the Indian boy (Perico) told us, and we believed all of his lies. This province was well populated with Indians and they all served us (deceiving DeSoto in the process, as we shall see). We questioned the Indians about the province we were searching for (Yupaha, according to the Indian boy), which was called by them Cofitachique, and they told us that it was not possible to go there; there was neither road nor anything to eat on the way, and we would all die of hunger."
According to Rangel, "From there (at today's Oconee) the governor sent a message summoning the chief Camumo (probably of today's Harrison, 13 miles east of Oconee), and they said that he ate and slept and walked continually armed, that he never took off his weapons, because he was on the frontier of another chief called Cofitachequi, his enemy, and that he would not come without weapons, and the governor replied and said that he should come as he might wish. And he came and the governor gave him a large feather colored with silver, and the chief took it very happily and said "You are from heaven, and this your feather that you gave me, I can eat with it, I will go forth to war with it; I will sleep with my wife with it...
"This chief was subject to a great chief who is called Ocute, and he asked the governor to whom he had to give tribute to in the future, if he should give it to the governor or to Ocute... and he (DeSoto) responded that he held Ocute as a brother, that he should give Ocute his tribute until the governor should command otherwise. From there the governor sent messengers to Ocute, and he came there, and the governor gave him a hat of yellow satin, and a shirt, and a feather, and he placed a cross there in Altamaha, and it was well received...
"The next day, the eighth of April, the Governor departed from there with his army, and he took Ocute with him, and they went to sleep at some huts, and on Friday they arrived at the town of Ocute (today's Davisboro, having been led well south of Sandersville, Ocute's real home). And the Governor got angry with him, and he (Ocute) trembled with fear; and after that a great number of Indians came with supplies (from Sandersville), and they gave the Christians as many Indian burden bearers as they wished, and a cross was placed, and they appeared to receive it with as much devotion and adored it on their knees, as they saw the Christians do."
Inca says, "So that they (the Natives) would remember them, the governor gave them, among other presents, two swine, male and female, for breeding. He had done the same for the chief of Altapaha and the lords of the other provinces who had come out peacefully and made friends with the Spaniards. Though hitherto we have not mentioned that we brought these animals with us, it is true that DeSoto brought more than three hundred head, male and female, which multiplied greatly and were exceedingly useful in the great necessities that our Castilians suffered in this discovery. If (by now) the Indians have not destroyed them, it is probable that... there are many of them there today (when this report was published in 1609), for besides those the governor gave to the friendly chiefs, many others were lost along the roads, though they were well and carefully guarded. While on the march one of the companies of cavalry (horsemen) was assigned to herd and guard them." Feral pigs, which we call "wild pigs," of which there are tens-of-thousands in today's Georgia, are descendant from DeSoto's.
Inca continues, "We have not mentioned hitherto a piece of artillery the governor brought along with his army... the governor, having seen that (a cannon) served for nothing except a burden and annoyance, requiring men to care for it and pack mules to transport it, decided to leave it with the chief (of) Cofa (Ocute) to keep... So that he might see (the importance of) what he (DeSoto) was leaving for him, the governor ordered the piece aimed from the house of the chief toward a large and very beautiful live-oak tree that was outside the village, and he knocked it down entirely with two shots, at which the chief and his Indians were amazed."
Elvas says, "The Chief sent him (DeSoto) two thousand Indians bearing gifts, namely rabbits, partridges, corn bread, two hens, and many dogs (all from Sandersville), which are esteemed among the Christians as if they were fat sheep because there was a great lack of meat and salt. Of this there was so much need and lack in many places and on many occasions that if a man fell sick, there was nothing with which to make him well; and he would waste away of an illness which could have been easily cured in any other place, until nothing but his bones were left and he would die from pure weakness, some saying: "If I had a bit of meat or some lumps of salt, I should not die"...
"The Indians do not lack for meat; for they kill many deer, hens, rabbits, and other game with their arrows. In this they have great skill, which the Christians do not have; and even if they had it, they had no time for it, for most of the time they were on the march, and they did not dare to turn aside from the paths (which were Indian trails between Indian villages). And because they lacked meat so badly, when the six hundred men with DeSoto arrived at any town and found twenty or thirty dogs, he who could get one and who killed it thought he was not a little agile. And if he who killed one did not send his captain a quarter, the latter, if he learned of it... gave him to understand it in the watches or in any other matter of worth that arose with which he could annoy him. On Monday, April 12, the governor left Ocute (today's Davisboro), the Chief having given him four hundred tamemes, that is, Indians for carrying."
Biedma says, "...and they gave us some of the foods they had and told us that if we wished to go make war on the lady of Cofitachiqui, they would give us all that we might want for our journey. They told us that there was no road by which to go (in the direction DeSoto was heading, having been misled from the road which ran from Sandersville through today's Augusta on the Savannah River, that chief's frontier outpost before Cofitachiqui, thereby sparing both cities of DeSoto), since they had no dealings with one another because they were at war; sometimes when they came to make war on one another, they passed through hidden and secret places where they would not be detected... Having seen our determination, they gave us eight hundred Indians to carry our food and cloths, and other Indians to guide us (below Augusta); we headed straight east (instead of northeast to Augusta) and traveled for three days (toward the Savannah River). The Indian (boy, Perico) who had deceived us told us that in three days he would get us there."
Rangel goes on, "and (we) arrived at Cofaqui (brother of Ocute, just beyond Ogeechee River at today's Louisville, where they camped - in 1864 General Sherman would use that road, marching east from Sandersville to Louisville via Davisboro, during his March to Savannah), and the principal Indians came with gifts... This Chief Cofaqui was an old man, full-bearded..."
Inca says, "By the way that they were going (through the fields, photo above), which proved to be the narrowest point of the province of Cofaqui..." between the Ogeechee River and Brier Creek near today's Waynesboro, mapped below, "they left it in two daily journeys..." camping first at Buckhead Creek.
Elvas says of that journey, they "...reached a province of an Indian lord called Patofa (squatting at Waynesboro, just inside Cofaqui Province), who, since he was at peace with the lord of Ocute and the other lords round him, he had heard of the governor some days before and desired to see him...
"This land, from that of the first peaceful chief (at today's Montezuma) to the province of Patofa - a distance of fifty leagues (132 miles, an incredibly accurate measure) - is a rich land, beautiful, fertile, well watered, and with fine fields along the rivers...
At Patofa, the Indian boy named Perico (himself believing that he was on the road to Augusta) said, "...that four day's journey thence toward the rising sun was the province of which he spoke (Yupaha, which others called Cofitachequi, which was only 60 miles from Augusta on the right road). They (the Patofas) said that they knew of no settlement in that direction, but that toward the northwest they knew a province called Coosa, a well provisioned land and of very large villages (which DeSoto would encounter 3 months later in North Georgia). The chief told the governor that if he wished to go thither, he would furnish him service of a guide and Indians to carry (the burdens); and if (he wanted to go) in the direction indicated by the youth (east) he would also give him all those he needed..."
Chief Ocute probably assigned the leadership of the native army to Chief Patofa, given that Ocute was never mentioned again. He knew DeSoto was on the wrong road to Cofitachequi and would probably kill whoever was leading when his deliberate misdirection was discovered.
Rangel says, "On Thursday, the fifteenth of that month, Perico, the Indian boy who had been their guide since Apalache (Marianna, Florida), began to lose his bearings, because now he did not know any more of the land, and he made himself out to be possessed (they were 20 miles south of the right road to Cofitachequi, which ran thru today's Augusta then 60 more miles to Cofitachequi)... they had to take (other Indian) guides... in order to go to Cofitachequi, across an uninhabited region of nine or ten days' journey...
"Many times I am amazed by the gambling spirit, or tenacity or pertinacity, or perhaps I should say constancy, because it gives better impression of the way these deceived conquistadors went on from one difficulty to another, and from another to yet a worse one, and from one danger to others and others, here losing a comrade and there three and over there more, and going from bad to worse, without learning their lesson. Oh marvelous God, what blindness and rapture under such an uncertain greed and such vain preaching as that which Hernando de Soto was able to tell those deluded soldiers that he led to a land where he had never been... because he knew nothing of the islands of the land to the North (today's America), knowing only the method of government of... Nicaragua, and of Peru, which was another manner of dealing with the Indians; and he thought that experience from there sufficed to know how to govern here on the coast of the North, and he deluded himself, as this history will relate..."
Elvas continues, "He (DeSoto) took corn (from Patofa) for four days and marched (Biedma says, "straight to the east...") for six days along a path which gradually grew narrower (in South Carolina) until it was lost. He marched in the direction where the youth guided him and crossed two rivers by fording, each of which was two crossbow-shots wide..." the Savannah River at Shell Bluff Landing, on today's South Carolina border. The river was flooded by Appalachian Mountains spring thaw.
Rangel says of the last part of that trail, "Friday, the sixteenth of the month, the Governor and his people spent the night at a creek (Briar Creek east of Waynesboro, having gathered what foods they could that day) then crossed an extremely large river, divided into branches, and broader than a long shot of a crossbow, and it had many bad fords of many flat stones, and it came up to the stirrups, and in places up to the saddle pads. The current was very strong, and there was not a man on horseback who dared to take a foot soldier on the river. The foot soldiers passed across further upstream on the river, through very deep water... They made a string of thirty or forty men tied one to another, and thus they crossed (the Savannah River), the ones holding themselves to the others; and although some were in much danger, thanks to God not one drowned, because they aided them with the horses, and gave them the butt of their lance or the tail of their horse, and thus all came forth and slept in the forest..." in South Carolina.
South Carolina Conquest Trails North Georgia