DeSoto's North Carolina
DeSoto's Westward Trails - Press for Overview NORTH CAROLINA

Written by Donald E. Sheppard
Drawings by Cheryl Lucente


"The next day, Friday (May 21, 1540, at dawn under Full Moon, as was Hernando de Soto's habit when entering new regions), they went to Xuala (today's Tryon, North Carolina) which is a town on a plain between some rivers (North Pacolet River and Vaughan Creek); its chief was so well provisioned that he gave to the Christians however much they asked for: tamemes (slaves), corn, little dogs (opossum, shown below), petacas (baskets), and however much he had... In that Xuala it seemed to them that there was better disposition to look for gold mines than in all that they had passed through and seen..." © 1993, University of Alabama Press

Tryon, North Carolina The mountain view is spectacular from Tryon. The Cherokee place name Xuala, spelled "Saluda" by the English, means "the bushy place." When viewed from the mountains above, the foothills below appear "bushy," unlike the tall mountain spruce and fir trees (in photo below). The Saluda River flows southeast from those mountains.

Most Carolina Mountain Spruce-Fir trees are gone...

"This village was situated in the foothills of a mountain range on the bank of a river (North Pacolet River) that, though not very large, had a very strong current..." coming off the mountains.

North Carolina Conquest Map

You can read the translated details of North Carolina's Conquest
written by DeSoto's Chroniclers: Biedma, Rangel, Elvas and Inca

"In the village of Xuala they served and entertained the governor and all his army most attentively, for as it was a part of the Lady's kingdom, and as she had sent orders to that effect, the Indians did everything in their power both to obey their lady and to please the Spaniards." Captain Gallegos' troops, many starved, some very ill, straggled into that camp for short-term recovery over the next few days...

"Tuesday, the 25th of May, they left from Xuala and crossed that day a very high mountain range..." The railroad uses that route today. It's the least inclined into Western North Carolina, but still the steepest railroad grade east of the Mississippi River.

Press for more modern Native Images "They marched for another five days through a mountain range uninhabited (the Indians had fled) but very good country. It had many oaks and some mulberries, and plenty of pasturage for cattle. There were ravines and streams with little water, though they flowed rapidly, and very green and delightful valleys. At the place they crossed it this range was twenty leagues wide (fifty-two miles, from Tryon to Asheville).

...from Tryon to Asheville
Along that way from Tryon, "...they (first) spent the night in a small forest (near today's Saluda, on the Eastern United States Continental Divide), and the next day, Wednesday in a savanna (Hendersonville - elevation 2,200 feet) where they endured great cold, although it was already the twenty-sixth of May; and there they crossed, in water up to their shins..." today's Mud Creek.

The Great River Basin "In these mountains we found the source of the Great (Mississippi) River, by which we left..." North America. They would observe that the French Broad River, which they were approaching along Mud Creek, feeds the Tennessee River, which they would follow in Eastern Tennessee, which feeds the Ohio River, which they would cross in Kentucky, which feeds the Mississippi River, which they would cross in Illinois, and upon which they would make their final escape from America from Arkansas. "When that river comes forth to the sea, the navigation chart states and indicates that it is the river of Spiritu Sancto; which, according to charts of the cosmographer Alonso de Chaves, enters in a great bay..." the Gulf of Mexico.

The Lady The Lady of Cofitachequi, whom they took with them in payment of the good treatment that they had received from her, turned back... (she) stepped aside the road and went into a wood saying that she had to attend to her necessities... and hid herself in the woods, and although we sought her she could not be found (" that province of Xalaque," Cherokee in English). She took with her a box filled with unbored pearls, very valuable... and went to stop at Xualla (Tryon) with a slave who had escaped from camp... and it was certain that they held communication as husband and wife, and that both decided to go back to Cofitachique (Columbia, South Carolina)."

The French Broad River "The next day they spent the night in an oak grove (at King's Ford on the French Broad River, northwest of Hendersonville), and the following day, alongside a large creek, which they crossed many times..." (as they marched down the west bank of the French Broas River between towering mountains; first fording the French Broad and Mills Rivers, then the branches of McDowell, Line, Avery and Clayton Creeks, camping near the river above West Haven). "The next day messengers came in peace, and they arrived in Guaxule." today's Asheville. "they gave us a quantity of dogs and some corn, of which they had little."

Asheville - 1994
"Gauxule (photos above and below)...was situated among many small streams that flowed through various parts of the village. Their sources were in these mountains where the Spaniards had passed through and in others beyond (the rivers converge at Asheville then flow northward as the French Broad River)... All around it was a public walk along which six men could pass abreast..." Cherokee legend holds that its tribes and clans met there to compete from time to time; the "walk," described by the Spaniards, was a Cherokee race track. "Jua Gaux-u-le," in Cherokee, means "The Place Where They Race."

Indian Dogs were probably Virginia Opossum!"The Indians there made him (DeSoto) service of three hundred dogs (probably Virginia Opossum, indigenous to America, photo at right), for they observed that the Christians liked them and sought them to eat, but they are not eaten among the Indians." "...and because this was a good resting place the soldiers called it, while throwing dice, the House of Guaxule, a good encounter..." "...from there DeSoto went in six daily journeys of five leagues each..."

Few roads traverse the Smoky Mountains
Great Smoky Mountain Expressway The Great Smoky Mountain Expressway, today's main east-west mountain highway, follows the same native trails which Hernando de Soto followed beside the mountains from Asheville into today's Tennessee.

Map to Chiaha "...and went with his army to an oak grove alongside a river (they passed through New Found Gap, west of Asheville, and camped beside the deep Pigeon River at Canton), and the next day we passed through Canasoga." In Cherokee that name means Bethel Church - Against the Slopes"Against the Slopes;" it's

against the steep slopes of Woodrow and Bethel Church, five miles below Canton, which was called Canasoga by English settlers. DeSoto had turned south at Canton to cross the Pigeon River above its branches at Woodrow "...and spent the night in the open" (below Waynesville, having passed through Pigeon Gap).

Balsum Gap at Scott Creek Trussel
"On Wednesday we (crossed the Blue Ridge at Balsam Gap, then followed Scott Creek southwest, photo at right, then) spent the night alongside a swamp (it's still there, two miles above Sylva), and the next day we ate a very great number of mulberries" as they marched down the Tuckasegee River's north bank, camping just below today's Cherokee Indian Reservation.

"The next day we went alongside a creek (the Oconaluftee River) next to the river that they had crossed in the savannah (at Hendersonville) where the (Lady of Cofitachequi) went away (the Oconaluftee River parallels the French Broad River's north-south axis)... and now it (the Tuckasegee River) was large..." below it's junction with the Oconaluftee River. "...the next day, Friday, we wentTuckasegee River below Governors Island (farther downstream, left photo) to a pine forest and a creek..." Forney Creek, where they camped. "And the next day, Saturday, in the morning, we crossed a very broad river, across a branch of it (the Little Tennessee River downstream of the Tuckasegee and Nantahala Rivers' merging)... and entered Chiaha, which is on an island of the same river." They crossed the Little Tennessee River's branch at Chiaha's Island Village.

"All of these rivers joined together within a short distance to form a large river of such volume that at Chiaha, which was thirty leagues (78 miles) from Guaxule (Asheville, an accurate road measure), it was larger than the Guadalquivir at Savilla (Spain)."

Tuskeegee Valley - Press for a Cherokee Brief Chiaha's Island Village, located at the base of Chiaha Mountain, is covered by Fontana Dam Reservoir today, but was shown on area maps prior to the dam's construction. Chiaha Province extended up the grassy Tuskeegee Creek Valley (photo at right) where the army camped in groups. Their horses were hemmed by mountains, just south of Chiaha's Island Village where DeSoto camped with his guards and hosts.

"This village, Chiaha (Island), was situated on the (east) end of a large island (Chiaha Province) more than five leagues (thirteen miles) long, which the river(s) formed (between the Little Tennessee and Cheoa Rivers to the north and west then Yellow and Tuskeegee Creeks to the south and east - The Island Province, mapped above). The Chief went out to receive the governor (from his island village) and welcomed him cordially with all the demonstrations of affection and pleasure that he could show, and the Indians whomLower Stecoah Valley he had brought with him did the same with the Spaniards, being very pleased to see them. Taking them across the river (from his island village site to Tuskeegee Creek valley) in many canoes and rafts they had ready for this purpose, they lodged them in their houses, as if they were their own brothers. All the other service and entertainment they accorded them were similar in measure, their desire being, as they expressed it, to take out their hearts and lay them before the Spaniards, so that they might see with their own eyes how much pleasure it gave them to know the Spaniards..."

Chief Chiaha was NOT Cherokee; he was a Yuchi from Tennessee. He extracted homage from the Cherokee, a common native custom, which may be why Chief Chiaha welcomed DeSoto in the first place, given his Cherokee surroundings. Local Cherokee do NOT mention the name Chiaha to this day. In Yuchi "Chiaha" means "The High Place," indicating that Chiaha came from downstream.

Shallow Mine Shaft at Chiaha "Chiaha was isolated between two arms of a river (Cheoa and the Little Tennessee) and was settled near one of them (the Little Tennessee River)... Very excellent fields lay along them... There the Governor rested for thirty days..." while his army searched the surrounding mountains for gold, which is what they had come for in the first place. One shallow mine shaft, fired to sixteenth century standards, still exists in Chiaha's Sawyer Creek Valley; the Spaniards may have dug it.

A Walnut Tree at Chiaha "Saturday, the fifth of June, was the day that they entered in Chiaha; and since from Xuala (Tryon, North Carolina) all their travel had been through a mountain range and the horses were tired and thin, and the Christians likewise fatigued, it was advisable to halt and rest there; and they (the Indians) gave them an abundance of good corn, of which there is much... and considerable oil of walnuts and acorns which they knew how to extract very well, and it was very good and helped them very much for their sustenance, although some are wont to say that the oil of walnuts causes flatulence; notwithstanding, it is very delicious..."

"...the Chief came to visit the Governor and made him a present of a handsome string of pearls. If they had not been pierced with fire they would have been a fine gift because the string was two fathoms (about twelve feet) long and the pearls as large as hazel nuts, almost perfectly matched. The Governor received them... and in return gave him pieces of velvet and cloth of various colors and other things from Spain, which the Indians valued highly."

"The Governor asked him if those pearls were found in his country, and the chief replied that they were, and that in the Temple and burial place of their fathers and grandfathers... there were great quantities of pearls; and if he wanted them, he could have... as many as he desired... The Governor told him that he appreciated the good will and although he desired the pearls he would not injure the burial place of his ancestors, however much he might want them."

"The string that he had given the Governor he had received only because it was a present from him, and he wished to know only how they (the Indians) took the pearls from the shells... "The chief told him that on the next day at eight o'clock in the morning his lordship would see how it was done, for that afternoon and night the Indians would fish for them. The Chief immediately directed that forty canoes be sent out with orders that they fish for the shells, with all diligence, and come back in the morning. When morning came, the chief ordered much wood to be brought and heaped up on a level space on the riverbank. It was set on fire and a large bed of coals made, and as soon as the canoes arrived he ordered that the coals be spread out and the shells that the Indians brought (in the canoes) to be thrown upon the bed of coals. The pearls opened from the heat of the fire and they were enabled to hunt for the pearls inside them. From almost the first shells that they opened the Indians took out ten or twelve pearls as large as medium-sized chick-peas and brought them to the chief and the governor, who were watching together to see how they took them out. They saw that they were very good and perfect except that the heat and smoke of the fire had already damaged their fine natural color.

An Oyster Pearl "Having seen them take out the pearls, the governor went to his lodgings to eat and soon after he had eaten a soldier entered... Showing a pearl that he carried in his hand, he said: "Sir, as I was eating some of the oysters that the Indians brought today, a few which I took to my quarters and had cooked, I found this between my teeth, which almost broke them. As it seemed to me to be a fine one, I brought it to your lordship so that you might send it to your wife Dona Isabel..." The adelantado replied, saying: "I thank you for your good will and accept the present and the favor you do Dona Isabel so that she may thank you and repay you whenever the opportunity arises. But it will be better if you keep the pearl and take it to Havana, so that you can get in exchange for it a couple of horses and two mares and anything else you may need. Because of the good will you have shown toward us, I shall pay, out of my own pocket, the fifth (of the value of the pearl) that belongs to his Majesty.

Today's Cherokee find Oysters at a Place on this Map "The Spaniards who were with the governor examined the pearl, and those among them who regarded themselves as lapidaries of sorts estimated that in Spain it would be worth 400 ducats, because it was the size of a large hazelnut with its husk entire, perfectly rounded and of a clear and lustrous color. Since it had not been opened with fire, as had the others, its color and beauty had not been injured. We give an account of these particulars, though unimportant, because they show the wealth of that country."

"On one of the days that the Spaniards were in this village of Chiaha a misfortune occurred that grieved all of them very much. This was that a gentleman... while walking across a plain near the river with a lance in his hand, saw a dog pass near him and threw the lance at it with the intention of killing it for food, because due to the general scarcity of meat throughout that country, the Castillians ate all the dogs they were able to get. The throw missed the dog, and the lance went skimming across the plain beyond until it fell over the bluff above the river, and it happened to strike in the temple a soldier who was fishing there with a cane pole, coming out on the other side of his head, from which he immediately fell dead. (The gentleman), ignorant of having made this cruel throw, went to look for his lance and found it stuck through the temples of Juan Mateos, for this was the soldier's name... Among all the Spaniards who went on this discovery he alone had gray hair, wherefore everyone called him father and respected him as if he were the father of each of them. Thus there was general grief at the misfortune and miserable death that had overtaken him when he had gone out to enjoy himself. Death is a near and is equally certain for us in all times and places."

Great Smoky Mountains - press for detail "The chief told us... that thirty leagues away (seventy nine miles north over the Great Smoky Mountains) there were mines of yellow metal (at today's Knoxville; a place called "Chisca" by Chief Chiaha)... and that he would furnish guides who would take our people there and back. They (the scouts) left there at once, deciding to go on foot rather than on horseback... so as to accomplish more in less time." There are no roads over those mountains from Chiaha because the mountains are much too steep, even for horses. The Indians knew they could rid themselves of Spaniards by saying that gold could be found over the next horizon.

"The Indians were with (us) fifteen days in peace; they played and swam with us, and in all they served us very well. They went away Saturday, the nineteenth of the month (precisely on the Full Moon) because of a certain thing that the Governor asked them for; and in short, it was women. The next day in the morning..."

A Few Chiaha Crops Today "...(we) cut down and destroyed their large maize fields (photo at left)... and sent word to them that they should return... that our Governor did not wish any Indian women since it cost so dearly for them to give them to us." A Palisaded Native American Indian Village

"In the land of Chiaha these Spaniards first found the towns palisaded..." enclosed with high fence, probably to keep the Cherokee out. Chief "Chiaha gave us five hundred tamemes, and DeSoto's Captains consented to leave off the collars and chains."

A Chiaha Village Site todayAuthor at the Little Tennessee River's narrow ravine "where the river came together again..."

"...where the river came together..." "On Monday, the twenty-eighth of June, the Governor and his people left from Chiaha... we passed through five or six towns (on the way down the south bank of the Little Tennessee River), and we went to sleep at a pine forest, in front of a town..." near Deal's Gap (mapped at left), "...which, we said, was five leagues (13 miles) from Chiaha..." "...where the river came together again..." at the Little Tennessee River's big bend on itself - the main westward passage in those mountains both around it by boat (along the narrow river in photo above) or over it by trail (red line on map at left).

"...but we had much hardship there in crossing the (Little Tennesse) river that flowed very strong (opposite the creek bed from Deal's Gap), and, so that the foot soldiers might not be endangered, we put the horses in the river in single file, tail with head, and we held them still... and the horses received the impact of the current, and below them... the foot soldiers crossed, holding on to the tail, stirrup and mane of one after another; and in this manner all the army crossed well."


DeSoto's Trail into Tennessee

You can read the translated details of Tennessee's Conquest
written by DeSoto's ChroniclersBiedma,  Rangel,  Elvas,  Inca


Hernando de Soto's Army entered and camped near Deal's Gap, Tennessee, by trudging from North Carolina along the Little Tennessee River Trail. The next day, "On Tuesday (June 29, 1540) we passed through a town..." yesteryear's Tallassee near Deal's Gap (two maps above).

That native place name, Tallassee, was probably the source of the name Tennessee given that Deal's Gap was it's primary entrance point from Charleston, South Carolina, when America's European settlers traded Tennessee furs with the world. "...and there we took corn and went on to sleep in the open..." meaning "out of the mountains."

"Wednesday we crossed a river (the Little Tennessee), and then a town (yesteryear's Toskegee near Fort Louden) and a river (the Tellico River) and we spent the night in the open (on the flats of today's Madisonville). And on Thursday the chief of Coste came forth to receive us in peace, and he led us to sleep in a town of his (Athens)." © Univ. of Alabama, 1993

Hiwassee Island Today "On Friday... the Governor (in the vanguard) arrived at Coste, which is a town on an island of the river (Hiwassee Island, at the Tennessee-Hiwassee River confluence, image at right) which flows great and strong and is difficult to enter... and the Governor (crossed the Hiwassee River onto the island and) entered the town carelessly and unarmed with a few unarmed men (the army had stopped to camp half way from Athens), and when the (unarmed) soldiers... began to climb on the grain storage bins... the Indians began to beat them. The Governor commanded that our men all should suffer it and be tolerant, because of the evident danger in which they were all in..." with most of the army yet to arrive.

"...and that no one should put a hand on his weapons; and the Governor began to quarrel with the soldiers (during the darkness of New Moon on July 4, 1540), and... he also thrashed some of them, and he flattered the chief and told him he did not wish that our people should anger them, and that he wished... to take lodging at the savanna of the island. And the chief and his people went with him... and (when the army arrived) the Spaniards put the Indians in chains with their collars, and the Governor threatened the Indians and said that he would burn all of them, because they had laid hands on the Spaniards."

The scouts, "...returning from discovering the mines..." at Chisca near today's Knoxville - just up the Tennessee River from Hiwassee Island, spending ten days on their journey... "said that the mines were (not of gold but) of very fine brass and that gold and silver would be found if the veins and deposits were sought." Copper and aluminum are mined there today. "Those (scouts) said that the Indians had taken them through a land with such lofty mountains (The Great Smoky Mountains) that it would have been impossible for the camp to march through it (from Chiaha, North Carolina)."

A Honey Bee Tree! "There in Coste was found, in the trunk of a tree, honey from bees, as good or better than can be found in Spain. In that river we found, in some clams they gathered to eat, some pearls, and they were the first pearls we ever saw from fresh water, although there are pearls in many parts of that land."

"Friday, the ninth of July, the adelantado and his army left Coste, and they crossed the other branch of the (Hiwassee) river and spent the night on its banks (down the Tennessee River), and Tali was on the other side; and since the river flows together in one large channel, they could not cross it, and the Indians, believing that they had crossed, sent canoes, and in them their wives and children and clothes, on this side, well away from the Christians; but they were all taken suddenly, and as they went along with the current the Governor made them all turn back, which was the reason why the chief came in peace, and he helped them cross to the other side (of the Tennessee River) in his canoes and gave DeSoto's Trail down the Tennessee Riverto the Christians what they had need of. And thus he did in his land, through which they passed afterward; and they were there on Saturday (crossing the river), and they gave them tamemes, and they departed on Sunday and slept in the open..." out of the hills above Chickamauga Dam.

"On Monday they crossed a river (the Tennessee River near the dam site), and slept in the open (near today's Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport). On Tuesday they crossed another river..." South Chickamauga Creek southbound into today's Georgia.

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