DeSoto's South Carolina
DeSoto's Conquest Trails - North and South Carolina
Written by Donald E. Sheppard
Drawings by Cheryl Lucente



Hernando de Soto entered South Carolina from Georgia on April 17th, 1540, by fording the Savannah River's branches (river pictured below) 20 miles below Augusta at today's Atomic Energy Commission Nuclear Waste site.

"He (DeSoto) took corn (from Patofa near Waynesboro, Georgia) for four days and marched for six days (into South Carolina, described below) along a path which gradually grew narrower until it was lost. He marched in the direction where the youth guided him and crossed two rivers by fording (wading the Savannah River), each of which was two crossbow-shots (100 yards) wide." © 1993, University of Alabama Press

The Savannah River below Shell Landing
You can read the translated details of South Carolina's Conquest
written by ConquistadorsBiedma,  Rangel,  Elvas and Inca

"This day we lost many pigs that we had brought tame from Cuba, which the current carried off."

The Atomic Energy Commission Site "The Indian guides had already lost their bearings, and they did not know where to go or what road to give us."

That desolate land (photos above and below) is owned by The Atomic Energy Commission today. Nuclear waste is stored there...

Atomic Energy Commission Waste Land East of Shell Landing
Edisto River bridge "The next day, Sunday, they went to another forest or grove to rest (at today's Energy Commission Heliport site); and the next day, Monday, they traveled without a road (through broken country) and crossed another very large river (Upper Three Runs which fills that crossing basin due to natural downstream elevation variation), and on Tuesday they spent the night alongside a stream (Rosemary Creek below today's Williston), and on Wednesday they arrived at another extremely large river..." South Fork Edisto River at its junction with Goodland Creek - on Full Moon.

"...difficult to cross, which was divided in two branches (South Edisto River and Goodland Creek), with bad entrances and worse exits. Now we carried nothing with us to eat, and with great labor we crossed the river, then arrived at some settlements of Indian fishermen or hunters (shacks are still built there by sportsmen)... and the Indians that they brought lost their bearings, since neither they nor the Spaniards knew the road nor what way they should take..."

Press for More Images "...the governor came out (of that swamp) to a pine grove (on Goodland Creek's east bank, 3 miles downstream from today's Springfield, S.C.) and threatened the youth and made as if he would throw him to the dogs because he had deceived him, saying that it was a march of four days, and for nine days he had marched (over rivers and swamps)... and now the men were weak because of the great economy which had been practiced with regard to the corn. The youth said that he did not know where he was..."

"...and the Indians that brought us lost their bearings, since neither they nor the Spaniards knew the road ("...Because the road they had been following up to that time, which appeared to be a very wide public highway, came to an end, and many narrow paths that led through the woods in every direction were lost after they had followed them for a short distance, and they were without a path.")... and the governor proposed, as he had always done, that it was better to go forward, without his or their knowing in what they guessed correctly or in what they erred. And being perplexed in this labyrinth, on Friday, the twenty-third of April, the governor sent men to look for roads and towns..."

"...(DeSoto) began to give a pound of pork to each Spaniard... and we boiled it in water without salt or anything else. And from here (South Fork Edisto River) the Governor sent (men) in two directions to look for a road...Biedma says, "one he sent upriver to the north and northeast (up the east banks of Goodland and Tampa Creeks), and (the other, Juan de Anasco) went downriver to the southeast (slong the north bank of South Fork Edisto River)..." "...and he gave each one a limit of ten days to go and come back, to see if they found something or saw a trace of a town."

"The horses went without any food, and they and their owners (were) dying of hunger, without a road, with continual rain, the rivers continually swelling and narrowing the land, and without hope of towns or knowledge of where they had to go to look, calling and asking God for mercy. And Our Lord remedied them in this manner: On Sunday, the twenty-fifth of April, Juan de Anasco came with news that he had found a town and food (today's Orangeburg - vegetable haven)... and he brought from there some Indians who spoke with the Indian boy (named Perico) who deceived us... And (the Indian boy) again affirmed the lies (about the treasures of that land) that he had told us, and we believed him...

"The governor sent (many of) the Indians from Patofa back since he had nothing to give them to eat [fearing that they might disrupt any favorable relations he might otherwise establish with the natives of Cofitachequi, if he could find it]."

"...and having written some letters and placed them in some gourds, they buried them in a hidden place, and on a large tree left some letters that said where the (other scouts) would find them ("Dig at the foot of this pine tree and you will find a letter..."). And thus they departed... on a Monday, the twenty-sixth of April (1540). This day the governor (and his guard) arrived with some on horseback at the town that is called Himahi (Orangeburg, which spans North Fork Edisto River). He found in this town... more than three thousand pounds of toasted corn..." It's still a great agricultural center now.

Orangeburg, South Carolina "And the next day the army arrived ("There was no other way to town than marks left on the trees by Juan de Anasco"), and they gave out rations of corn... and there were infinite mulberries... and delicious and very fragrant strawberries. And apart from this they found there by the fields infinite roses... this town they named Succor ("Relief," in English)."

"The next day... (the one) who had gone to explore (up the east bank of Goodland Creek) arrived and brought four or five Indians, and not one of them would make known the town of their lord nor disclose its location, although they burned one of them alive in front of the others." "Thereupon, another (at Himahi) said that two days' journey thence was a province called Cofitachiqui." Lobillo, who scouted northward for Cofitachequi, "came with news of roads and he left behind two lost companions and the Governor reprimanded him severely, and without letting him rest or eat, he made him return to look for them under penalty of his life should he not bring them."

Orangeburg, South Carolina "During this time the eight hundred Indians (who carried baggage into this province from Patofa, Georgia) did all the harm and injury they could to their enemies, as secretly as possible. They scoured the country for four leagues (ten miles) in every direction, wherever they could do damage. They killed the Indians who they could find, men and women, and took off their scalps to carry away as evidence of their exploits. They sacked the village and temples wherever they could, but did not burn them, as they wished to do, so that the governor would not see or know about it. In short, they left nothing undone that they could think of to harm their enemies and avenge themselves. The cruelty would have continued if on the fifth day of this state of affairs the things that Patofa and his Indians had done and were doing had not come to the governor's attention... (DeSoto) decided to dismiss Patofa so that he might take his men and return at once to his own country. This he did..."

DeSoto may have led Patofa's vengeful Indians, the bearers of the army's supplies, to Orangeburg deliberately to keep them away from Cofitachequi (on 1715 French Map, today's Columbia). Those bearers would be replaced with Himahi's Indians, who were on friendly terms with Cofitachequi.

Columbia, South Carolina


"Friday, the last day of April (1540), the Governor took some on horseback... and went toward Cofitachequi (up Lobillo's road) and spent the night hard by a large and deep river..." the giant Congaree River below today's Columbia. "On the way there Indians were captured who declared that the chieftainess of that land had already heard of the Christians and was awaiting them in her towns." © 1993, University of Alabama Press

"He sent Juan de Anasco with some on horseback to try to have some interpreters and canoes ready in order to cross the river which hitherto had been on one side of them, cut across in front of them and the village," where the Saluda River joins the Congaree River to become the Congaree River at Columbia. "The next day the governor (having waited near Dixiana) arrived at the crossing in front of the town."

"That large river that flowed through Cofitachequi, according to the mariners among the Spaniards, was the one which they called Santa Elena on the coast. They did not know this for certain, but according to the direction they had traveled, it seemed to them that it would be this one."

"According to the information that we had from the Indians, the sea was up to thirty leagues (80 miles, another says, "two days' journey away" by canoe) from there. We found out that the people that went with Ayllon scarcely went inland at all but rather stayed always on the seacoast, until Ayllon became sick and died. Afterward the people killed one another, each one intent on taking command, and many others (died) of hunger; one who had found himself there told us that of six hundred men that Ayllon had settled in that land, not more than fifty-seven had escaped, largely because of losing a large ship loaded with provisions." Those escapees had spread rumors of gold in this land before DeSoto's Expedition left Spain.

"Indians brought (a sister of) Cofitachequi on a litter with much prestige. And she sent a message to us that she (the Lady of Cofitachequi) was delighted that we had come to her land, and that she would give us whatever she could."

"...some Indians brought (the Lady of) Cofitachequi on a litter with much prestige. And she sent a message to us that she was delighted that we had come to her land, and that she would give us whatever she could, and she sent a string of pearls of five or six strands to the Governor. She gave us canoes in which we crossed that river (the Congaree) and divided with us half of the town..." The Lady

"She was young and of fine appearance, and she removed a string of pearls that she wore about her neck and put it on the Governor's neck, in order to ingratiate herself and win his good will... And the Indians walked covered down to the feet with very excellent hides, very well tanned, and blankets of sable and mountain lions which smelled; and the people are very clean and very polite and naturally well developed."

"Monday the third of May, all the rest of the army arrived (having spent four days marching up the Congaree River to Columbia), and all could not cross until the next day, Tuesday..." DeSoto's horsemen forded the Saluda River's rocky flats (pictured below) instead, to a grassy place they called "The Point" between the Saluda and Broad Rivers, but "not without cost and loss of seven horses which (slipped and) drowned. These were among the fattest horses, which fought against the current, but the thin ones, which let themselves go (survived)."

The Saluda River, just below Columbia's Zoo

"As soon as he (DeSoto) was lodged in the town (downtown Columbia), another gift of many hens was made to him. The land was very pleasing and fertile, and had excellent fields along the rivers (the Saluda, Broad and Congaree Rivers - around which the army was strewn), the forests being clear and having many walnuts and mulberries. They said that the sea (the Atlantic Ocean) was two days' journey away..." Another says, "According to the Indians, the sea was up to thirty leagues (eighty miles) from there."

"Around the town within the compass of a league and a half (four miles) were large uninhabited towns, choked with vegetation, which looked as though no people had inhabited them for some time." The army camped in many of them for food for themselves and their animals.

"The Indians said that two years ago there had been a plague in that land and they had moved to other towns (Ayllon may have introduced the virus which caused this plague). In the barbacoas (storage bins) of the towns there was considerable amount of clothing and blankets made of thread from the bark of trees and feather mantles - white, gray, vermilion, and yellow - made according to their custom, elegant and suitable for winter. There were also many deerskins, well tanned and colored, with designs drawn on them and made into pantaloons, hose and shoes..." which the army ravaged.

"The chieftainess, observing that the Christians esteemed pearls, told the Governor that he might order certain graves in that town to be examined, for he would find many, and that if he wished to send to the inhabited towns, they could load all their horses. The graves of that town were examined and fourteen arrobas (175 pounds) of pearls were found, babies and birds being made of them."

"...although they were not good because they were damaged through being below the ground and placed amidst the adipose tissue of the Indians. Here we found buried two Castilian axes for cutting wood, and a rosary of beads of jet and some (trinkets) of the kind that they carry from Spain to barter with the Indians. All this we believed they had obtained from barter with those who went with the (lawyer) Ayllon."

Trail to Camden in 1773 - Press for Detail"On the seventh of May... Gallegos (DeSoto's Captain) went with most of the people of the army to Ilapi... (thence to Talimeco, on the Wateree River opposite today's Camden) to eat seven barbacoas (storage bins) of corn that they said was there, which were a deposit of the Chieftainess... This Talimeco was a town of great importance, with its very authoritative oratory on a high mound; the house of the chief (was) very large and very tall and broad, all covered, high and low, with very excellent and beautiful mats, and placed with such fine skill that it appeared that all the mats were only one mat."

"Only rarely was there a hut which might not be covered with matting. This town has very good savannas and a fine river (the Wateree River), and forests of walnuts and oak, pines, evergreen oaks and groves of sweetgum, and many cedars. In this river was... found a bit of gold; and such a rumor became public in the army among the Spaniards, and for this it was believed that this is a land of gold, and that good mines would be found there [which happened in 1799 north of Camden, setting off America's first gold-rush]."

Native Slaves "In the villages under the jurisdiction and overlordship of Cofachiqui through which our Spaniards passed they found many Indians native to other provinces who were held in slavery. As a safeguard against their running away, they (Cofachiqui's people) disabled them (their neighbors) in one foot, cutting the nerves above the instep where the foot joins the leg, or just above the heel. They held them in this perpetual and inhuman bondage in the interior of the country away from the frontiers, making use of them to cultivate the soil and in other servile employment's. These were the prisoners they captured in the ambushes that they set against one another at their fisheries and hunting grounds, and not in open war of one power against another with organized armies (as was the European habit at that time)."

The people were dark... "The people were dark, well set up and proportioned, and more civilized than any who had been seen in all the land of Florida (North America); and all were shod and clothed. The youth (Perico) told the governor (at Columbia) that he was now beginning to enter that land of which he had spoken to him. And since it was such a land and he understood the language of the Indians, some credence was given him. He requested that he be Baptized, for he wished to become a Christian. He was made a Christian and was called Pedro."

"...The governor ordered him to be loosed from the chain in which he had gone until then ("The Castilians did not offer the lady Baptism..."). That land, according to the statement of the Indian (boy Pedro), had been very populous and was reputed to be a good land. According to appearances, the youth (Pedro), whom the governor had taken as guide, had heard of it, and what he had learned from hearsay he asserted to have seen, and enlarged at will what he saw."

"...In that town (Columbia) were found a dagger and some beads of Christians, whom the Indians said had been in the port two days journey thence; and that it was now many years since Ayllon had arrived there in order to make a conquest of that land; that on arriving at the port he died; and there ensued a division, quarrels, and deaths among several of the principle persons who had accompanied him as to who should have the command; and without learning anything of the land they returned to Spain from that port."

"All the men were of the opinion that they should settle in that land as it was an excellent region; that if it were settled, all the ships from New Spain, and those from Peru, Santa Marta, and Tierra Firme, on their way to Spain, would come to take advantage of the stop there, for their route passes by there; and as it is a good land and suitable for making profits." Some of those men would return to Columbia years later with the Spanish Explorer Juan Pardo.

Stubbern People - Press for More Images"Since the governor's purpose was to seek another treasure like that of Peru (and to find a South Sea passage to China), he had no wish to content himself with good land or with pearls, even though many of them were worth their weight in gold and, if the land were to be (settled by Spain), those pearls which the Indians would get afterward would be worth more; for those they have, inasmuch as they are bored by fire, lose their color thereby.

"The governor replied to those who urged him to settle that there was not food in that whole land for the support of his men for a single month; that it was necessary to hasten to the port of Ochuse (Mobile, Alabama) where (Captain) Maldonado was to wait; that if another richer land were not found they could always return to that one whenever they wished; that meanwhile the Indians would plant their fields (with seeds the Spaniards gave them) and it would be better provided with corn.

"He asked the Indians whether they had heard of any great lord farther on. They said that twelve days' journey thence was a province called Chiaha which was subject to the lord of Coosa..." a powerful chief who DeSoto had heard about in Georgia. A section of mountains, just west of Nantahala Gorge, is still called Chiaha today. It would take DeSoto 24 marching days to get there.

"Thereupon the governor determined to go in search of that land; and as he was a man hard and dry of word, and although he was glad to listen to and learn from the opinion of all, after he had voiced his own opinion he did not like to be contradicted and always did what seemed best to him. Accordingly, all conformed to his will, and although it seemed a mistake to leave that land for another land that might have been found round about where the men might maintain themselves until the planting might be done there and the corn harvested, no one had anything to say to him after his determination was learned."

"...because the Indians had already risen and that it was learned that the Lady was minded to go away if she could without giving guides or tamemes for carrying because of offenses committed against the Indians by the Christians for among many men there is never lacking some person of little quality for who for very little advantage to himself places the others in danger of losing their lives the governor ordered a guard to be placed over her and took her along with him, not giving her such good treatment as she deserved for the good will she had shown him and the welcome she had given him."

"We (stayed) in the town of this lady for about ten or eleven days, and then it was advisable for us to leave from there in search of food, because here there was none... (the horses and people had used it up very quickly)... We (with DeSoto and the Lady) turned again north and traveled (up the west bank of the Broad River).."

DeSoto crossed the Broad River to the Point where the horses had been pastured, then on "Wednesday, the (twelfth) of May, the Governor left Cofitachequi (the army had gone to Camden with Captain Gallegos during the week before), and in two days (having camped at Chapin his first night out) he (DeSoto) arrived at the province of Chalaque (Cherokee Indians, near today's Newberry) but he could not find their town, nor was there an Indian who would disclose it." These Cherokee may have been recent arrivals onto land depopulated by the plague in Cofitachequi, given that their village was not on that province's trail. "And they slept in a pine forest, where many Indian men and women began to come in peace with presents."

"And from there the Governor wrote to Baltasar de Gallegos (who was, by that time, 20 miles east of DeSoto on Catawba Trail at Old Cherokee Road) by some Indians, [DeSoto having sent those troops] to the [food storage] barbacoas that they had gone to in order to eat the corn, as mentioned earlier, that they should follow the Governor." The troops, having marched from Camden, through today's Winnsboro, then to the intersection east of DeSoto, would catch-up with him, along their own trail through today's Union, four days later near today's Spartanburg.

"The Indians live on roots of herbs which they seek in the open field and on game killed with their arrows. The (Cherokee) people are very domestic, go quite naked and (are) very fatigued (perhaps due to constant food gathering given their recent move to this land). There was a lord who brought the governor two deerskins as a great act of service. In that land are many wild hens. In one town they performed a service for him, presenting him seven hundred of them, and likewise in others they brought those they had and could get."

Food for the Horses... "Monday, the seventeenth of that month, they (with DeSoto) departed from there (having spent the weekend in a Chalaque pine forest) and spent the night in another forest (near today's Clinton); and on Tuesday they went to Guaquili (today's Enoree), and the Indians came forth in peace and gave them corn, although little, and many hens roasted on a barbacoa, and a few little dogs, which are good food. These are little dogs that do not bark (opossum), and they rear them in the houses in order to eat them. They also gave them tamemes, which are Indians who carry burdens. And on the following day, Wednesday, they went to a canebrake (at today's Roebuck below Spartanburg), and on Thursday to a small savanna (today's Inman) where a horse died; and some foot soldiers of Gallegos arrived, making known to the Governor that he was approaching."

Meanwhile, "The soldiers (with Captain Gallegos) were marching along at midday when suddenly a great tempest of strong contrary winds blew up, with much lightning and thunder, and quantities of large hailstones that fell upon them, so that if there had not happened to be some large walnut trees near the road and some other dense trees under which they took shelter, they would have perished, for the largest of the hailstones were the size of a hen egg and the smallest were the size of a nut.

"Some soldiers held their shields over their heads, but even so when the stones struck an unprotected part of their bodies they hurt them badly. It was God's will that the storm last only a short time; if it had been longer the shelter they had taken would not have been enough to save their lives, and short as it had been they were so battered that they could not march that day or the next."

Captain Gallegos had marched up the opposite side of the Broad River, camping at four league intervals along the Old Cherokee Road beyond Winnsboro to that river's crossing place near Carlisle. He camped at today's Union and Jonesville then near Spartanburg, where "they saw that (DeSoto) had passed and was going on ahead of them. Thereupon two hundred foot soldiers rose up and demanded to march as rapidly as possible, in disobedience to their captains, until they overtook the general..." as mentioned above.

On his eighth traveling day out of Cofitachequi, on the morning of Full Moon, May 21st, DeSoto led a dawn containment raid on Xuala, today's Tryon, North Carolina, at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains. The remaining troops would join him over the next few days.

Inca says, "From the village of Cofitachequi... to the first valley of the province of Xuala... it was about 50 leagues (130 miles, a true measure along Captain Gallegos' 11 days marched trail)... The whole distance traveled from the Province of Apalache (in North Florida) to that of Xuala where we found the governor and his army was, if I have not miscounted, 57 daily journeys. The march was generally northeast, and many days toward the north.

If "We take four and a half leagues as an average of the 57 daily journeys those Spaniards marched from Apalache to Xuala, though some may have been longer and others shorter... they had marched a little less than 260 leagues to Xuala and from the Bay of Espiritu Santo (Charlotte Harbor, Florida, where they landed) to Apalache we said that they traveled 150 leagues. Thus in all they covered a little less than 400 leagues... This doubt and many others that our history leaves unsolved will be cleared up when God, our Lord, shall be pleased to have that land won..."

Inca's estimate was on the high side. The army had marched 49, not 57, daily journeys from Apalache to Xuala, plus eight limited-distance major-river-crossing days. They had traveled 194 leagues, not 260, from Apalache to Xuala, averaging four leagues per day, not four-and-a-half. By adding 150 leagues marched from port to Apalache, a true overland measure, we get 344 leagues marched, 900 miles, not 400 leagues during their first full year in America.

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