Hernando De Soto's 1540 Exploration of the Carolinas

Written by Donald E. Sheppard

This an account of de Soto's campaign through South Carolina and North Carolina in 1540. Click here to see Map 1. Click here to see Map 2.


Hernando de Soto entered South Carolina during Full Moon on April 21, 1540. He forded the Savannah River's branches at Shell Landing's broad flats on that river.

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

"He (de Soto) took corn (from Patofa, Georgia) for four days and marched for six days 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 (the Savannah River and South Fork Edisto River at Aiken State Park) by fording, each of which was two crossbow-shots wide."

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

"He came to another river (North Fork Edisto River at Black Creek, in heavy rains) with a more powerful current... (it has a steeper slope)"

"... difficult to cross, which was divided in two branches (Black Creek at North Fork Edisto), with bad entrances and worse exits (with a massive swamp at the approach, which the railroad and highway cross today on causeways; the terrain elevation doubles to more than 500 feet just beyond there). 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 today, probably for the same reason.)..."

"...the governor came out to a pine grove 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..."

"...(de Soto) began to give a pound of pork to each Spaniard... and we boiled it in water without salt or anything else. And from here the Governor sent (some) in two directions to look for a road; one he sent upriver, north and north-east (up Black Creek - there is NOTHING up that grade, even today), and the other he sent down river, south and south-east (down North 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."

[Perhaps thinking that he had been deceived by the Indian guides who had lead him into these foothills, and with heavy rains precluding his visibility of any mountains ahead, de Soto may have stopped there to determine if there were villages with foods or barren mountains ahead.]

"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, (Captain) Juan de Anasco came with news that he had found a town and food..."

"The governor sent (many of) the Indians from Patofa back since he had nothing to give them to eat [and, fearing that they might disrupt any favorable relations he might otherwise establish with so wealthy a nation as Cofitachequi, if he could find it, de Soto sent many of Patofa's people back home]."

"He (Captain Juan de Anasco) who went south and southwest (down the North Fork Edisto River) came back in four days with news that he had come upon a little village with some food ("twelve or thirteen leagues [thirty-three miles] away..." today's Orangeburg, South Carolina's vegetable garden), 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... We all then departed to go to the little village... "

"...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 Spaniards would find them ("Dig at the foot of this pine tree and you will find a letter..."). And thus they departed with (Captain) Juan de Anasco on a Monday, the twenty-sixth of April (1540). This day the governor arrived with some on horseback at the town that is called Himahi (Orangeburg), and the army remained two leagues (five miles) back, the horses being tired. He found in this town... more than three thousand pounds of toasted corn."

"And the next day the army arrived ("There was no other way to town than marks left on the trees by (Captain) 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... (one) who had gone to explore (up Black 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 (Columbia), although they burned one of them alive in front of the others, ("Thereupon, another said that two days' journey thence was a province called Cofitachiqui,")... (another Spaniard) 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."

"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 governors attention....(de Soto) decided to dismiss (Chief) Patofa so that he might take his men and return at once to his own country. This he did..."

[De Soto's scouts, at his command, may have led Chief Patofa's hostile Indians, the bearers of the army's supplies, to this place deliberately to keep them away from Cofitachequi (today's Columbia). Those bearers would be replaced before de Soto left with Orangeburg Indians, who were on friendly terms with Cofitachequi.]

"Friday, the last day of April (1540), the Governor took some on horseback, the most rested... and went toward Cofitachequi and spent the night hard by a large and deep river (the Santee River, "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,"), and he sent (Captain) 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 from the west) "The next day the governor arrived at the crossing in front of the town..." He was on the south bank of the Saluda River just above that river's junction with the Congaree.

"Cofitachique (or "Eupaha" according to the Indian boy, Perico) was on the bank of a river that we believed was the river of Santa Elena..." the Congaree-Santee River, which had been visited years earlier by the Spaniard Ayllon's people whose colony had failed. Some of them made it back to Spain with wild stories of gold in this land before de Soto's people departed Spain.

"...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 Broad River) and divided with us half of the town..." The Broad River splits today's Columbia: de Soto stayed on the west side, which his men called "The Point," between the Saluda and Broad Rivers. His foot soldiers stayed on the east bank, in today's downtown Columbia, to eat the food grown and stored there.

"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, and all could not cross (the Saluda River, just below Columbia's Zoo, with de Soto's personal supplies) until the next day, Tuesday, and not without cost and loss of seven horses which drowned. These were among the fattest horses, which fought against the current, but the thin ones, which let themselves go (survived)."

"As soon as he was lodged in the town (Boozer Mall is built about where DeSoto stayed), 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 of 600+ was strewn, as was de Soto's habit), the forests being clear and having many walnuts and mulberries. They said that the sea (the Atlantic Ocean) was two days' journey away..."

"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 men camped in many of them to find 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, or other wayward Spaniard, 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 chief, 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 (up the east bank of the Saluda River), 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."

"On the seventh of May... Gallegos (de Soto's Captain) went with most of the people of the army (the foot soldiers, most of whom were housed around today's Columbia on the east bank of the Broad River by that time) to Ilapi... (thence to Talimeco, 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 (in Camden) 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, just upstream of Camden in Cabarrus County, NC, setting off America's first gold rush]."

"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, well set up and proportioned, and more civilized than any who had been seen in all the land of Florida; and all were shod and clothed. The youth (Perico) told the governor 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 (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 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.

"Since the governor's purpose was to seek another treasure like that of Peru, 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 allotted in repartimiento, 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 Ochus (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 (who de Soto had heard about in Georgia)."

[Editor's Note: A section of the Great Smoky Mountains, just west of Nantahala, is still called Chiaha today: de Soto would find it seven weeks later. Native Americans must have traveled much lighter and faster than he.]

"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 de Soto and the lady) turned again north and traveled (up the west bank of the Broad River).."

"Wednesday, the (twelfth) of May, the Governor (with the horsemen) left Cofitachequi (the rest of the army had gone to Camden with Captain Gallegos), and in two days (having camped at Newberry) he arrived at the province of Chalaque (Cherokee Indians, near Union) 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 recent plague - given that their village was difficult to locate along well traveled roads). And they slept in a pine forest, where many (Cherokee) Indian men and women began to come in peace with presents..."

"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."

"....the soldiers were marching along (northwest) at midday (from Camden with Captain Gallegos) 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. The rodeleros 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."

"...on Monday, the seventeenth of that month, they (with de Soto) departed from there and spent the night in a forest (near Jonesville); and on Tuesday they went to Guaquili (Spartanburg), and the Indians came forth in peace and gave them corn, although little, and many hens roasted on barbacao, 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 Wednesday they went to a canebrake (Inman), and on Thursday to a small savanna (Landrum) where a horse died (probably of starvation); and some foot soldiers of (Captain) Gallegos arrived, making known to the Governor that he was approaching."

[Captain Gallegos, who had led most of the army's foot soldiers from Columbia to Camden for food, had come up the east bank of the Broad River, recrossing it near Spartanburg. De Soto waited for Gallegos there, at Inman and Landrum while gathering food for the horses. All would make a dawn raid on the first village of North Carolina.]

"From the village of Cofachiqui (Columbia, South Carolina)... to the first valley of the province of Xuala (Tryon, North Carolina), ...it was about fifty leagues (130 miles), more or less, all of it through a level and pleasant country with small rivers flowing through it at a distance of three or four leagues (about ten miles) from one another. They saw few mountains (until they reached Tryon), and these had much grass for cattle and were easy to traverse on foot or on horseback. The whole fifty leagues generally, both that which they found inhabited and cultivated and that which was uncultivated and fit for tillage, had good soil. The whole distance traveled from the province of Apalache (Panama City, Florida) to that of Xuala (Tryon, North Carolina) where we (who followed Captain Gallegos) found the governor and his army was, if I have not miscounted, fifty-seven daily journeys. The march was generally northeast, and many days was toward the north. The large river that flowed through Cofachiqui (the Congaree-Santee River), 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."

"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 for the increase of his holy Catholic faith. We take four and a half leagues (twelve miles) as an average of the fifty-seven daily journals those Spaniards marched from Apalache (above Panama City, Florida) to Xuala (Tryon, North Carolina), though some may have been longer and others shorter. According to this calculation, they have marched a little less than 260 leagues (685 miles) to Xuala, and from the Bay of Espiritu Santo (Charlotte Harbor, Florida) to Apalache we said that they traveled 150 leagues (395 miles). Thus in all they covered a little less than four hundred leagues (1,053 miles during their first full year in North America)."


"The next day, Friday (May 21, 1540), in the morning under Full Moon, as was Hernando de Soto's habit of doing when taking new regions), they went to Xuala (Tryon, North Carolina) which is a town on a plain between some rivers (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), 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..."

[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 Tryon, the foothills below appear to be bushy. They are covered with very bushy scrub, unlike the tall mountain spruce and fir trees.]

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

"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."

"They found little corn, and for that reason, although the men were tired and the horses very weak, the governor did not stop over two days."

"The governor set out from Xuala for Guaxule (the Cherokee name for Asheville), crossing over very rough and lofty mountains."

"In these mountains we found the source of the Great (Mississippi) River, by which we (eventually departed North America; the French Broad River is the head of the "Great River," the Mississippi River, upon which the army would make its escape three years later)..."

"Tuesday, the 25th of May, they left from Xuala and crossed that day a very high mountain range (the railroad uses that grade today because it is the least inclined into North Carolina from the south, but the steepest railroad grade east of the Mississippi River. The tracks follow Indian trails, just like de Soto did.)."

"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)."

"... (along the way) they spent the night in a small forest (today's Saluda, at the top of that pass), 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, the river by which they afterward left in the ships that they made (they crossed the French Broad river at King's Ford). When that river comes forth to the sea, the navigation chart states and indicates that it is the river of Spiritu Sancto (the Mississippi River, which the French Broad feeds); which, according to charts of the cosmographer Alonso de Chaves, enters in a great bay (the Gulf of Mexico)... from there (King's Ford, north of Hendersonville), where they crossed the river in water up to their shins, 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 ("In that province of Xalaque," Cherokee in English). She took with her a box filled with unbored pearls, very valuable... and went to stop at Xuala (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 next day they spent the night in an oak grove, and the following day, alongside a large creek (the French Broad River at today's Asheville Airport), which they crossed many times (as they marched down that valley between towering mountains); and the next day messengers came in peace, and they (the army) arrived in Guasili (Asheville)... and because this was a good resting place the soldiers called it, while throwing dice (thereafter), the "House of Guasili," a good encounter... "

"... they gave us a quantity of dogs and some corn, of which they had little.."

"The Indians there made him (de Soto) service of three hundred dogs, for they observed that the Christians liked them and sought them to eat, but they are not eaten among the Indians. In Guaxulle and along the road there was very little corn..."

"Gauxule (Asheville)...was situated among many small streams that flowed through various parts of the village (near today's Biltmore Estate). Their sources were in these mountains where the Spaniards had passed through and in others beyond (the creeks converge at Asheville: all flow northward from there 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 in at today's Asheville 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"). The governor was in this village four days... from there he went in six daily journeys of five leagues each (about thirteen miles each day)..."

"...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 "Against the Slopes;" it's against the steep slopes of Woodrow and Bethel Church, five miles south of Canton, which was still called Canasoga by English settlers. De Soto followed that route in order to cross the Pigeon River at its branches at Woodrow "...and spent the night in the open" (west of Bethel Church at Waynesville, both Cherokee villages, having passed through Pigeon Gap).

"On Wednesday we (crossed the Blue Ridge, westward through Balsam Gap, following Scott Creek southwest 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 passed through today's Dillsboro and northwestward along the Tuckasegee River to Whittier and Thomas Valley just below today's Cherokee Indian Reservation. The Great Smoky Mountain Expressway follows that same trail from Asheville today, except between Canton and Waynesville, where the Expressway crosses Lake Junaluska, a massive swamp in 1540.

"The next day we went alongside a creek... and now it was large (the Tuckasegee River enlarges with the Oconaluftee River at Governors Island, where they slept)... the next day, Friday, we went to a pine forest and a creek (by fording the Tuckasegee River southwestward at Bryson City to the pastures of Long Branch Creek at Lauada - as does today's Great Smoky Mountain Expressway)... And the next day, Saturday, in the morning, we crossed a very broad river, across a branch of it (they crossed the Little Tennessee River at its confluence with the Tuckasegee River - as does today's Great Smoky Mountain Expressway)... and entered Chiaha, which is on an island of the same river..."

[Editor's Note: That "island," located at the base of today's Chiaha Mountain, is covered by Fontana Reservoir. "Chiaha" extended up Panther, Wolf, Stecoah, Sawyer and Tuskeegee Creek valleys, where the army camped in groups, as was de Soto's habit of ordering. The horses were probably pastured in Stecoah Valley, the largest field hemmed by mountains below the "island," where de Soto camped with his guards.]

"All of these rivers joined together within a short distance (of their crossing point) to form a large river of such volume that at Chiaha, which was thirty leagues (79 miles) from Guaxule (Asheville), it was larger than the Guadalquivir at Savilla (Spain)."

"This village, Chiaha, was situated on the (east) end of a large island more than five leagues (thirteen miles) long, which the river formed (measured from the "island" to today's Cheoa River). The Chief went out to receive the governor and welcomed him cordially with all the demonstrations of affection and pleasure that he could show, and the Indians whom he had brought with him did the same with the Spaniards, being very pleased to see them. Taking them across the river (the Little Tennessee River) 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..."

[Editor's Note: 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 de Soto in the first place, given his Cherokee surroundings. Local Cherokee don't mention the name Chiaha to this day. In Yuchi "Chiaha" means "The High Place," indicating that Chiaha came from a distant, down-river tribe.]

"Chiaha was isolated between two arms of a river 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 the Army 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).

"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."

"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."

"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."

"The chief told us... that thirty leagues away (seventy nine miles over the Great Smoky Mountains) there were mines of yellow metal (near today's Knoxville/Gatlinburg; a place called "Chisca" by 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 had learned that by telling the Spaniards that gold could be found just over the horizon they could quickly be rid of them."

"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..."

"...(we) cut down and destroyed their large maize fields... 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."

"In the land of Chiaha these Spaniards first found the towns palisaded (enclosed with high fence; the people of Chiaha were not Cherokee but lived in their mountains and collected tribute from them; they did not speak the same language as the Cherokee but one resembling their neighbors to the west). (Chief) Chiaha gave us five hundred tamemes, and de Soto's Captains consented to leave off the collars and chains."

"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..." ("which, we said, was five leagues" [thirteen miles from Chiaha])"...where the river came together again..." at the Little Tennessee River's bend on itself - which is the only westward pass in those mountains. "...but we had much hardship there in crossing the river that flowed very strong, 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 (horse) after another; and in this manner all the army crossed well."


© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved