Hernando de Soto was born in 1500 of a respectable family in Spain. As a young man, DeSoto sailed to and learned slaving skills in Panama. Vicious dogs, fast horses and extortion became his hallmark. He earned the title "Child of the Sun" for conducting dawn raids on unsuspecting villages. DeSoto captured village chiefs then extorted their citizens for their re-turn. He was influenced by three New World Explorers: Ponce de Leon, who discovered North America (La Florida), Balboa, who discovered the Pacific Ocean (the South Sea) below Panama, and Magellan, who sailed that ocean to the Orient, the greatest market on earth.
While DeSoto was in Panama, Balboa was put to death by its dictator for over-stepping his bounds without the strength of a personal army to hold his ground. Learning from that, and with an army of his own, DeSoto signed on with Francisco Pizarro to conquer South America in 1532. Spectacular brutality earned DeSoto huge Incan ransoms.
He became one of the richest men in the world before leaving Peru in 1536. DeSoto returned to Spain to seek recognition at Court, but was not accepted there as a peer. Narvaez and an-other Conquistador had recently disappeared while attempting to colonize North America at two different places, thus tarnishing the reput-ation of New World Conquestadors in general but setting the stage for DeSoto's attempt to establish his own.
He married Isabel de Bobadilla, whose family held power at court. At that time, Cabeza de Vaca, a nine year surivor of the Narvaez Expedition and first to explore today's America, stirred Europeans with stories of great riches to be found there.
The King, despite DeSoto's petition to "make the discovery of the South Sea" (the Pacific Ocean), granted his trusted soldier a four year commission to colonize and hold La Florida instead. DeSoto was assigned the governorship of Cuba from which to stage his invasion of today's United States, land once "Owned" by Ponce de Leon and Narvaez. Vazquez de Coronado was dispatched from Mexico to explore and conquer the western part of North America at the same time. DeSoto selected volunteers from Spain, Portugal and Cuba, many from African descent. Some were far-mers, soldiers, traders, accountants, ship builders, carpenters, tailors and clergymen. They averaged 24 years of age and some had been in the New World before... some with DeSoto. DeSoto's soldiers provided their own weapons, horses, hounds, servents and other equipment. Some even brought their own wives. They sailed to Cuba with stores of trade goods, shields, armor, cross-bows, guns, black-powder, nails, tools, seed and plows for the conquest and settlement of our mainland. More animals... horses, hardtack, long-legged pigs and mules, were bartered from Cuban plantion owners. DeSoto's livestock count came to at least five hundred, inculding two hundred and thirty-seven horses.
DeSoto landed in Charlotte Harbor, Florida, on June the 1st, 1539. One month later, he marched his army inland then spent that winter in North Florida. With news of gold toward the sun's rising, he headed northeast during the spring of 1540, traveling through Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas. Find-ing no gold, he headed west through most of Tennessee, then south back through Georgia and Alabama. His object was to meet his ships at Mobile Bay. In October 1540, Chief Tuscaloosa's Tribe ambushed DeSoto's army 100 miles above that port. Despite emerging victorious, DeSoto retreated his army to the north beyond the Tennessee River, to isolate them from escape and thereby, to preclude bad news from reaching prospective settlers in Spain.
In the spring of 1541, DeSoto proceeded due north through Kentucky and Indiana; his scouts as far as Chicago. Finding no ocean to cross to China for Spanish trade, but Lake Michigan instead, DeSoto retreated south-west through Illinois and Missouri searching for Cabeza de Vaca's fabled native cities of gold. DeSota wintered in Arkansas and on May 21, 1542, died of anguish at Lake Village. His weighted body was placed in the Mississippi River and his army fled to Mexico. Hernando de Soto led the first Europeans deep into America in 1540. At the age of 39, DeSoto was rich from Incan gold and wanted to colonize North America. To do so he planned to open a passage to trade Spain's New World fortunes with China. Cabeza de Vaca had reported a northern sea to DeSoto, who thought it was the Pacific Ocean. DeSoto's three year search for that sea, and enough gold to lure settlers to his planned American colony, was well recorded by his volunteers between Florida and Lake Michigan (the northern sea), then on to Texas for escape into Maxico... Spain's nearest outpost on the North American Continent.
On orders from the King, seven deep draft vessels, bound ultimately for Vera Cruz, were used to transport DeSoto's stores from Cuba to Florida. Those ships would then be on their way to Mexico. Two shallow-draft vessels owned by DeSoto, carried a number of the force. All set sail from Havana on May 18, 1539. His object was to land his horses and cargo as soon as possible; long sea trips were know to cause broken legs among the horses. Juan Ponce de Leon had explored Florida's coast and discovered Charlotte Harbor in 1513 but died from wounds received between it and the Bay of Juan Ponce on his return to colonize in 1521. The Bay of Juan Ponce is located 60 miles north-east of Key West between Cape Sable and Marco Island.
In 1528, Panfilo de Narvaez, along with Cabeza de Vaca on a much smaller scale than DeSoto, aimed to colonize Charlotte Harbor but a storm kept him from first stopping at Havana to procure needed provisions. Narvaez' fleet was blown into the Gulf of Mexico, leaving one ship behind and he found Florida several days later. With a critical food shortage, Narvaez was forced to disembark his army between breaker islands. He sent his ships to Havana for supplies with orders to meet him futher up the coast where they all thought Juan Ponce's good harbor to be located. They had been blown futher north than they had realized and the captains of the vessels reported finding the harbor just five leagues south of his disembarkation point. Stump Pass, at today's Englewood on Lemon Bay, was exactly that distance from the mouth of Charlotte Harbor on the Florida Town-ship survey of 1896; Narvaez had disembarked from there.
Since on their return, Narvaez and his army could not be found, the captains of the vessels searched the shoreline for him, but to no avail. The next year, rescuers sent to find Narvaez also found Charlotte Harbor, thinking he would have settled there by that time. He had been there but had a skirmish with that herbor's chief, Hirrihigua,and led his army away. The rescuers noticed a sheet of paper on a stick at the head of the harbor, which they thought Narvaez had left for them. When some of the men went to read the note they were captured by Chief Hirrihigua, whose nose had been cut off by Narvaez.
One of the rescuers, a boy named Juan Ortiz, spent several years of captivity and torture by Chief Hirrihigua, who had much enmity of Spaniards. Ortiz survived and learned the chief's langu-age in the process but the other captured men were killed. Ortiz would finally escape with the help of Hirrihigua's daughter to her fiancees near-by village where he was given safe refuge by Chief Mococo, and learned that chief's lan-guage during years of hostile captivity.
DeSoto's scouts, in the luckiest stroke of their entire campaign, would find Ortiz shortly after their landing. He would serve DeSoto's army as guide and chief interpreter for the rest of his life. DeSoto's people would reward the good Chief Mococo with excess Spanish armor when the port was finally abandoned. Florida's early pioneers would find that armor and call Chief Mococo's abandoned village site "Old Spanish Fields."
The King's Comptroller, Juan de Anasco,
was dispatched from Havana. Anasco found Ponce de Leon's Charlotte Harbor and took four Indians from among Chief Hirrihigua's people. Anasco was licensed by the King to barter with them. Anasco envisioned developing that trade with Havana, a port Cabeza de Vaca reported to lie 100 leagues due south of there. The captives knew the shoreline and could locate their home port, Charlotte Harbor, on their return with DeSoto's fleet. Their village, Ucita, at the head of that harbor, would ultimately become DeSoto's base of operations. Narvaez, with Cabeza de Vaca, had been through that village and had cut off Chief Hirrihigua's nose, then proceeded in-land. Juan Ortiz had been there and had fled for his life.
Before his return to Cuba, Anasco carefully sounded the harbor, noted the tide's effect on it, and then measured the distance back to Havana via Dry Tortuga; 75 or 80 leagues, as reported to his officers in Havana. He advised DeSoto to sail on May 25th to catch the Full Moon and Spring Tides at arr-ival, but DeSoto chose to sail on favor-able winds instead, one week early. The men sighted Florida due north on May 25th, ten leagues west of the Bay of Juan Ponce, but the transport cap-tains would go no closer than one or two leagues from land until sighting the harbor entrance. They reported the coast in four brazas of water (22 feet) on a northern landfall and dropped anchor 4 or 5 leagues below the port, occurs at only one place in Florida, at Sanibel Island.
DeSoto, his guard, Anasco and the captives were transferred into DeSoto's smaller brigs to find the harbor that evening, leaving the cumbersome transport ships at anchor. If the fleet over-shot the harbor, the large ships could not tack back to it against the high south-erly winds, which were reported to enter the harbor's pass. To preclude that, DeSoto went downwind, northward in his small maneuverable brigs, advancing to where he thought the harbor's entrance was located. He sailed out of sight of the fleet which had moved out into deeper water for safe overnight anchorage. That evening DeSoto found Charlotte Harbor's entrance at Boca Grande Pass, but was kept from returning by darkness and wind. DeSoto spent the night at a deserted Indian Village, possibly on Useppa Island, much to the chagrin of his people.
The next morning, DeSoto sailed back out of the pass to explore the enormous sand bar at the haror's entrance and to summon the fleet. He was spotted four leagues downwind of the fleet's anchorage as he tacked across the high winds. The fleet advanced downwind between vessels DeSoto stationed on either side of the narrow channel to guide the fleet into the harbor. Since they had left Havana a week earlier than Anasco had advised, DeSoto's fleet could not cross the harbor's shallow channel just south of Cape Haze, despite efforts to do so. They were forced to anchor two leagues inside the pass in deep water to wait for the Spring Tides. Those tides were five days away on a Full Moon, so while they waited, the men comforted the horses with fresh foliage and berries from the islands and bays west of Cape Haze, just to the north of their anchorage. Twenty horses perished before they landed however, and Anasco was publicy scolded for the delay which may have contributed to their injuries. Anasco had warned DeSoto about the harbor's shallows before leaving Havana, however, thereby establishing May 25th as the proposed departure date to hit Spring Tides on their arrival; a date formally acknowledged by DeSoto.
The horses were finally disembarked with the other livestock onto Cape Haze. On the night of May 30th, DeSoto's guards sailed up to the head of the harbor and Ucita was taken in a dawn raid. The Indians, having been aware of the ships for a week, had fled. His style of capturing the chief and enslaving the citizens had been thwarted by delay. Hos-tages were not to be taken en masse from Ucita, setting off a series of mishaps which would disrupt the campaign for months. Without forced labor, the men would have to perform all the menial tasks of landing and carrying supplies overland on their drparture, and the transport captains would get but a few captives to take with them. The next day, on Spring Tides, the fleet sailed up the harbor to within a mile of Locust Point, the closest mainland to the channel at the head of the bay where the men disembarked. They made their way through the marshes toward the village of Ucita, two leagues from where they landed. In the mean-time, the horsemen driving the livestock made their way toward Ucita, a twelve league trip, as it is today around the cape's swamps and over the Myakka River at the head of the harbor. That moonlit trip would be the entire cavalry's longest non-stop ride in Florida.
Very late that night, the horsemen finally arrived near Ucita. They had trudged through the swamps and over the mouth of the Myakka River, although the Spring Tides were shallow that night, they found themselves on the opposite side of Tippecanoe Bay from the men and exhausted, slept where they were on today's El Jobean. The men, having been misled for hours by Anasco's four captives, watched the horse-men's campfires from the opposite bank of Tippecanoe Bay, neither group realizing they were separated by only one league of hard ground. The next day, the horsemen found the passage around the lagoon at the head of the bay and reassembled with the men. On June third, with all the dignitaries and necessary paraphernalia ashore, DeSoto took formal possession of North America.
Ucita, DeSoto's landing site on June 1st, 1539, was a native village at the head of Charlotte Harbor. It can be located using four precise statements by DeSoto's Chroniclers: the first comes from the liberated captive Juan Ortiz; the second, a description of the army's depart-ure from another eye witness; the third, Inca's journal of the "Thirty Lancers" return to port; and finally, by the army's reported movements in that area written by various chroniclers.
DeSoto's army left Ucita on July 15th, 1539 on a New Moon, headed for Ocale Province, where they planned to spend the winter in its "abundance of gold, silver and many pearls" as scouts reported captives had proclaimed. DeSoto marched west from Ucita, but did not cross the Myakka River on the Indian Bridge or attempt to ford the river there. His horsemen had learned why not to ford it six weeks earlier. DeSoto marched up the firm east bank of the river instead, headed northwest. That trail would cross the Myakka River's northeast bend seven leagues from Ucita and a little more than a league below Mococo's west bank village. They camped on the river's bank opposite Mococo's Village their first night out, having traveled about six leagues that day. The trail they took is the only trail shown from Charlotte Harbor on the John Lee Williams Map of Eastern Florida of 1827: it bypasses the massive swamp west of the river's big bend where Ortiz first sighted Mococo's workers just below their village years earlier.
The next morning, the army crossed a bridge they built over the Myakka River just below Mococo's Village, then stopped to visit the chief. The chief shed tears at the army's dep-arture knowing full well that the sur-rounding villagers would retaliate for his kindness to the invaders. The army rounded Lower Myakka Lake that afternoon by turning northeast near Mococo's Village, then crossed Howard Creek and camped on the shore of Myakka Lake a league be-yound the creek; making about five leagues their second day. Howard Creek, just below that camp, looks like a river with high banks so it was also bridged by the army. On the army's next morning at that camp, the horses were spooked by a rabbit and ran back down the trail for more than a league before terrified troops could get control over them. The horses had run back to the tree line at Howard Creek but not over the bridge, then stopped. DeSoto's people christened Myakka Lake, accordingly, the Lake of the Rabbit, and the army had crossed two bridges upon leaving Ucita as Rangel reported.
With Paracoxi Village as their intermediate destination, Hernando de Soto's army continued to the northeast for three more days. They camped the first night at what they called the lake of St. John. It lies northeast of Sarasota. The next day the army traveled over a desert plain where DeSoto's servant "died" of thirst, located at the junction of four of Florida Counties: Hillsborough, Polk, Manatee and Hardee. The horses drank what could be transported and, one can observe even today, there are no lakes, springs, sink holes or creeks in that region, a most unusual place. The third day they came to what they called the plain of Guacoco, Florida's largest field of heavy sub-surface phosphate deposits, nature's fertilizer. That plain covered at least 130,000 acres of phosphate fields, the only one like it in all of Florida; the Indians called that entire province by the name of the village quartered there; Paracoxi. The army gathered maize in quanity for the first time, having traveled 14 leagues from Myakka Lake in three days. They camped just south of the Paracoxi Village.
DeSoto's ambition to push his army rapidly overland, at six leagues the first day and five the second, proved more than the army could handle. They averaged just over four-and-a-half leagues their last three days on the trail. That pace would hold for the next year, even the captives acquired from Paracoxi's fields to lighten their load. That march-ing schedule, five days on the road and two at rest for the entire army would hold, with few exceptions, for the next three year's marches.
Inca says that the Paracoxi Village was twenty-five leagues northeast of Ucita, which is the distance and direction they had traveled in Florida. Biedma says that Paracoxi Village is twenty leagues from the coast, measured from the coast near the mouth of Tampa Bay. Upon DeSoto's arrival, his scouts reported that a wide body of water, just three leagues beyond, had such deep mud on either side that it was impassable for the army; referring to the Peace River. But they also reported that they had found a very good crossing of that swamp, which the army could reach in just two days.
The next day they turned east and hiked three leagues, crossed the wide and shallow spillway with ease, then camped half-a-league beyond on a plain called Tocaste near a large lake. At Tocaste, DeSoto was informed of the impassib-ility of the county futher on; the Green Swamp northeast of there was too large to move an army over. With one division, DeSoto re-crossed the spillway and explored the west side of Lake Hancock for another passage to the north searching for Ocale. He rode through the villages and found the lakes and swamps to its north impassable for the army and livestock.
On the third day of DeSoto's search, he was led by a guide to a broad road leading away from the swamp to a passage through another which was free of mud at its entrance and exit. The Great Swamp would lead DeSoto to Ocale, a place reported by Elvas to lie west of Paracoxi Province. All northbound trails from points below Tampa Bay once converged at this ford-ing place. The nearest man-made bridge is a league-and-a-half upstream at Fort Foster. That bridge was first constructed at the request of the U.S. Army in 1828; the road over that bridge would lead north through hostile Seminole Indian country. The Seminole War started there.
DeSoto dispatched riders on the Full Moon with orders for the army to advance and cross that swamp and the riders had to back-track un-seen for safety, through an inhab-ited region. They reported seeing a great many Indians that night per-forming pagan ceremonies around giant fires. Once the riders were re-inforced by the army at the spillway to ward-off morning attackers, a few rode the full twelve leagues to the Great Swamp to reinforce DeSoto.
In the next two days the rest of the army would march the remaining eight leagues to the Great Swamp. The Indians fled when the army advanced. By the time the army arrived at the Great Swamp, DeSoto had crossed it and rode and additional six leagues into Ocale Province (Inca calls it Acuera Province). DeSoto had ridden a trail from just above the Hillsborough River to Dade City which Florida pioneers would call "The Fort King Road" Florida's Second Seminole War would erupt on that road above Dade City. DeSoto's army spent five days struggling to cross the Great Swamp and emerging from it into "Uqueten Village." They would hike up the same road that DeSoto followed into Ocale. The men pil-laged the maize fields near Acura Village, but they camped in Dade City.
Narvaez had crossed the Great Swamp at the same place and for the same reason eleven years before DeSoto. He had encountered several hundred Indians while crossing the swamp with "great difficulty" but was led to their village half-a-league away. Narvaez had found large quantities of maize close by. When Vaca was dispatched to find a harbor reported to be nearby (Tampa Bay), he had encountered wetlands filled with oysters and a river he could not cross. The Hillsborough River broadens just below its branches at the Great Swamp. When scouts re-crossed the swamp they proceeded down the river's south bank tree line, they found a shallow bay the next morning. They had found McKay Bay on May 20, 1528, at which Spring Low Tide occurs on the morning of the new moon, they could wade across it. If they had seen the deep water of Tampa Bay from McKay Bay, it would have looked like the Gulf of Mexico. They had returned that day with news thet the "harbor" was too shallow for ships, and Narvaez had proceeded north looking for his ships along the shallow Gulf shoreline.
Once DeSoto's men all crossed the Great Swamp and encamped around the small village of Ocale, DeSoto sent scouting parties out in all directions; they found villages and fields but no treasure. The captives from Paraoxi who had lied about Ocale were fed to the dogs. Fresh captives who had witnessed the feeding, were believed when they said gold rich lands were just one week to the north. With that news, DeSoto advanced with one battalion toward Apalache. Biedma said that place would be found by traveling ever toward New Spain, at a distance of ten to twelve leagues from the coast. "The Coast" he was referring to was the four braza (24 feet) deep sea lane, as illustrated by the transport captains at landfall. On average, the coast is located about 17 miles (seven leagues) off-shore from Florida's western shoreline, putting DeSoto's trail about three to five leagues inland of that shoreline. Months later when DeSoto's Thirty Lancers returned down this trail from Apalache, it took them exactly one week to get back to that point.
Like Narvaez before him, DeSoto would proceed northward from Dade City, but down the mighty Withlacoochee River. Then his trail would go over Florida's rock phosphate ridge and "as it had maize in abundance, they gave it the name Villafarta" meaning "fertile place" in Spanish. Then his trail would cross a river, enter another prov-ince and pass through "many forests with streams that flowed through it and very level." These were Florida's "flat-woods" as Florida's new pioneers would call them, between the mighty Withlacoochee and St. Marks River. All of these pine trees would be harvested in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by the "Naval Stores," companies which would first drain them of sap, to distill for turpentine and caulk residues, then build railroads through that sandy flat country to remove the massive felled timbers.
Most of DeSoto's trail from Dade City was a railroad until recently. That trail went through Rital, Istachatta, Fort Cooper (near Inverness), Hernando and South Dunnellon
(southwest of Ocala). DeSoto's people would call them, respectively, Ytara, Potano, Utinama, Mala Paz (Bad Peace) and Cholupaha. He camped at each of these places at four league intervals. Inca said they traveled 19 leagues in doing so. The rock phosphate ridge that DeSoto came to 12 leagues north of Dade City became well known to the U.S.Army. On it, they fought the biggest battles of the Seminole Wars at:
"Cove of the Withlacoochee."
DeSoto's people called Hernando "Bad Peace" for New Moon misbehavior by the natives. Although Rangel only alluded to it, DeSoto probably slaughtered a number of these natives. Evidence of Spanish activity has been excavated nearby at both Ruth Smith and the Tatham Mounds. The Seminole Indians called that area Char-lo-pop-ka. DeSoto's captives called that area Cho-lu-pa-ha; today its called Tsala A-pop-ka; probably the same name. Only Inca called that place Ocale, the name the others gave to the entire province. DeSoto's division built a wooden bridge near Cholupaha to cross the River of Discords between "precipices on either side as high as the length of two pikes and as perpendicular as two walls." That bridge was built on the Withlacoochee River located at Dunnellon, with the only vertical banks that high on the river. DeSoto called it the River of Discords because his favorite greyhound, Bruto, was killed chasing Indians in it.
DeSoto left Dunnellon, following the same Indian trails Narvaez and Vaca had used, bound for the Caliquen Village, 16 leagues up the way as told by the captives. DeSoto's men passed the first 8 leagues in two days but, half way through the 3rd day, probably while they were struggling to ford the Waccasassa River and Otter Creek, DeSoto and his guard proceeded to the Caliquen Village. That village was just west of today's Chiefland, once the headquarters of the Peninsular Naval Stores Company (west-south-west of Gainesville). It's a ghost town today just over a league south of the Suwannee River. The "flat woods" are all gone and a small cemetery markes the spot where the Caliquen village once stood and a long, crescent shaped hill just south of it where Chief Caliquen lived. Biedma called this village Aqua-caleyquen, Rangel called it Aqua-caleyquen. Cabeza de Vaca, with Narvaez, had called it the chief Dul-chanchellin. Only Inca called it Ochile, which would confuse him and many trail seekers for centuries to come.
DeSoto captured the chief in a dawn raid, then returned back down the trail to find his division three leagues back. They had advanced in his day-long absence, probably another 4 leagues or so, making the distance between the Withlacoochee River and Caliquen Vill-age about 15 leagues Because Caliquen Village was so large, extending north-ward over a league to the Suwannee River, and its chief held captive, DeSoto sent for the remainder of his army from Ocale before attempting to prodeed. He was reassured of Apalache's abundance at Caliquen, but was warned about Chief Caliquen's warring brother Napituca, whose village was on the road to Apalache. DeSoto was reminded of the plight of Narvaez for the first time there, in detail by the captives from that province. Over the next several weeks, the remainder of the army advanced from Ocale and DeSoto posted them around Caliquen as they arrived. The army had burried its heavy implements before advancing believing in an imminent return to winter in Ocale. Once the army was rested and more captives were taken, the army crossed the Suwannee River, camped, then proce-eded for one week to Chief Napituca's Village. That route segment would be the army's longest slog through the swamplands.
The Thirty Lancers would pass through the Napituca Village on their way back down the trail and report finding bodies of many dead Indians, killed at DeSoto's direction, still strewn over Napituca's fields. The Lancers would proceed 8 leagues beyond the village to camp late that night, then ride 18 leagues the next night and camp 5 leagues short of a big river. They would struggle to ford that river the next day, but in doing so would leave a perfect description of today's Lower Clay Landing on the Swannee River, their most precise description of any place in Florida. To warm and dry themselves, they would spend the rest of the day and early evening between bon-fires in the Caliquen Village. Inca had called that village Ochile when the army went up the trail. then confused it with the similarly-titled Ocale, the province on the south bank of the Withlacoochee River just below the Suwannee River, when he reported the Lancers returned down the trail. Be that as it may, the Lancers camped in Caliquen Village just below Lower Clay Landing, not where Inca refers.
DeSoto's army had left Caliquen Village and blazed the Indian trail which the Thirty Lancers followed back. At their normal pace of four-and-a-half leagues per day, they would have camped next at today's Cross City, which they called Uriutina, a "town of pleasant view and with much food." Then they followed the route of today's railroad, which was built over Indian trails, and camped at Hines, then between Tennille and Salem, then at Athena, then at Hampton Springs, and then at the Econfina River ;
which they called Many Waters; camping at each of these places at just over four league intervals. Finally, they crossed the natural bridges of the Aucilla River and forded Cow Creek Swamp and entered the Napituca Village on September 15th, 1539.
That course, "ten to twelve leagues from the coast and always toward New Spain", as Biedma reported, departs today's north-south railroad and Highway 19 just south of Perry
and straightens the paths of today's roads, although through very swampy terrain. The trail led through Hampton Springs instead of Perry, then across Napituca's Plain and then into Tallahassee. The Trirty Lancers would pass back down that same trail and camp eight leagues below Napituca Village at today's Hampton Springs, then at Cross City 18 leagues from there, then cross the Suwannee River at Lower Clay Landing 5 leagues from Cross City. Napituca Village lies just above today's Nutal Rise, near a plain between the Wacissa and Aucilla Rivers, 8 leagues from Hampton Springs. Miles of abandoned rail-road weave through the fields just east of that plain. Those tracks were built through those swamps to "harvest" those gigantic pines after they were drained of sap for distilling turpentine.
Inca said, "near the pueblo was a large plain. On one side was a high and dense forest that covered a large tract of land and on the other side were two lakes. The first was small, and would measure one league in circumference; it was clear of growth and mud but was so deep that three or four steps from the shore one could not touch bottom. The second, which was futher away, was very large, its ex-tent unknown." The Indians stationed their forces between the forest and these two lakes. These lakes are part of the Wacissa River and disappears in the surrounding swamps and looks exactly the way Inca described it. Both are very deep near their banks because the river flows through them and underground between them. Andrew Jackson would fight the First Seminole War at that exact location.
Napituca's plain lies one league west of the Aucilla River's natural bridges, another river underground near Nutall Rise, which explains why the Lancers did not report a river-crossing there. A large swamp, today's Cow Creek Swamp at the southeast edge of the plain, was reported by Rangel when the army entered the village. Napituca Village is completely surrounded by massive swamps and is almost impenetrable even today. It provided Napituca's people shelter in a very hostile environment. Rangel said that their Apalachen neighbors were "most valiant... great spirit and boldness, the fiercest in all of Florida." DeSoto fought Napituca's people near the "lakes" when they attacked the army. Most of the natives fled to the small lake, shooting back for most of that day and night, but were surrounded and captured by DeSoto's army. Days later, they were all executed.
Rangel, with DeSoto, and Vaca with Narvaez, all reported "flute players" near a West Central Florida road which Vaca said..."was difficult to travel but wonderful to look upon. In it were vast forests, the trees being astonishingly high." It is believed they were all in the flat-woods when they made similar reports, and both Narvaez and DeSoto used the same trail leading to Napituca, a village which Narvaez found and called "Apalachen." Napituca Village might have been in Apalache Province at that time, given the warring nature of that province and the European diseases most likely delivered by Narvaez. "The Lakes" says Vaca, "are much larger here, as we sailed they fled to the lakes nearby, shooting from the lakes which was safety to themselves that we could not retaliate", all similar to the incident observed by DeSoto's Army.
Narvaez, apparently did not have a sufficient army to surround the Indians. Then, Vaca says, "The natives told them that the land and villages inland were very poor, but that by journeying south nine days was a town called Aute, with much maize, beans and pump-kins and being near the sea they had fish." Biedma said these Indians told many great lies about the country futher inland and, I think, Narvaez had believed them; Narvaez had no Juan Ortiz to sort them out. If Narvaez had been at Napituca, and departed to the south as Vaca indicates, he would have encountered country exactly as he described. "The first day we got through those lakes and passages without seeing anyone, on the second day we came to a lake difficult of crossing but got through. At the end of a league we arrived at another of the same character, but worse as it was half a league in extent."
Vaca's trail below Napituca Village, at DeSoto's marching rate of four-and-a-half leagues per day, would have passed on one side of the large lake and then gone over Gum Swamp the first day, then over the East River Pool and the St. Marks River near its mouth the next. Narvaez crossed these lakes instead of avioding them because both the pool and the river's flats look like lakes and are almost impossible to hike around even today. They are at the distances from the village and of the dimensions Vaca described. Pioneer trails also crossed both of them at exactly the same place. It is believed DeSoto massacred Napituca's people and enslaved their women and child-ren for what they had done to Narvaez. The chroniclers never mention this reasoning, perhaps for the shame of it, or maybe because it was so obvious to them. The mass slaying of natives would be re-peated only once on DeSoto's three year campaign... when Chief Tuscalusa betrayed him.
In late September, with a well-fed army supported by captives from three provinces, DeSoto set out once more toward his planned winter encampment at Apalache. The trip would take two weeks but the men would rest several days along the way. From Napituca, it is only ten leagues to Tallahassee, across the St. Marks River. The army stopped to bridge that river near Cody on their first night out. The chief of a nearby village, Uzachil, who had sent flute players to amuse the men futher back on the trail, sent dressed deer for the army's fare while they built a bridge of logs the next day. The army therefore named the St. Marks River "The River of the Deer." After completing the bridge the next day, "The army crossed the river and marched two leagues through a countryside without timber," probably up the St. Marks River's west bank arriving at a place where they "found large fields of maize, beans and calabashes." They called that large town Hapallayga, today its called Chaires Crossings, it lies at the east end of Lafayette Valley.
That night under a full moon, DeSoto rode four more leagues into Uzachil and took today's Tallahassee. The villagers had fled into the woods but the army caught up and captured many of them while pillaging the fields for the next two days. More captives were shackled around the neck and chained to the others. They gathered and carried food for the horses. The next day, when the army was ordered to advance, some crossed a mountain. Topography would indicate that both were describing the "mountain" under the Florida State Capitol Building, or one within a mile or so of it, as there are no others in that section of Florida. The village of Uzachil was headquartered there, but the good chief was not to be found.
The army spent that night at a pine wood, almost five leagues west of today's Capitol Building by following the course of today's railroad and the Old Spanish Trail to Midway, where they camped. The next night they camped at "Agile" four-and-a-half leagues up the road, at today's Quincy.
That proximity was called the Tiphulga Indian Reservation as late as 1827 on a Map of the Western Part of Florida by John L. Williams. One of DeSoto's troops was grabbed by his genitals by and unhappy female captive there; he survived, but just barely. The next day, DeSoto in the vanguard, came to the Apalache Swamp, the Apalachicola River, twelve leagues beyound Uzachils boundary; the Ochlockonee River. Most of the army would camp two leagues from the Apalache Swamp, then catch up and struggle to cross it for the next several days while camping near it at the river's mammoth hundred foot deep gorge at Chattachoochee. Inca says the banks were half-a-league apart, just be-low the confluence; the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers. With extensive swamps on either side, the river flows around an island where DeSoto crossed the Apalachicola River Gorge, about two miles below today's dam. Elvas says that the river was wider than a cross-bow shot there, as it is today.
Old Florida trails converged at this crossing place on Florida's original Township Survey and the railroad crosses it there today. Perhaps DeSoto's narrow foot path through the forest in the river's gorge led to that place. The east bank where DeSoto camped on a plain, and the west bank where he built a stockade, are exactly the same now as they were described then. Indian resistance was intense. This mammoth river was the provincial boundary of Apalache; the fourth Indian province DeSoto would "Invade" in Florida. Once all had crossed, DeSoto's army left the stockade and proceeded two leagues up the west bank to camp at a village called Ivitachuco, which had been set ablaze just prior to their arrival; today's Sneads. Then the army passed through the rich fields to Calahuchi Village, camping just north of today's Cypress. The next day, having lost their only good guide, they came to a deep ravine that was difficult to pass two leagues down the road. They met heavy resistance from the Apalachens at that ravine, the worst they saw.
That ravine, with banks over 80 feet above Spring Creek looks exactly the way it was described then. Pioneer maps show the trail from the crossing place of the Apalachicola River passing north of Blue Spring just seven leagues from the river, then the trail continues westward to cross the natural bridge bridge of the Chipola River. two leagues from the spring. But DeSoto had lost his only good guide "carrying as guide an old Indian woman who got them lost." Once the fighting was over and the army had all crossed the ravine, they "marched two leagues more through a country without cultivated fields or settlements" then camped. They had marched up and over the high east bank "peninsula" of the Chipola River at Spring Creek then camped at today's Florida Caverns State Park. The next morning, when the army resumed its march by fording the Chipola River's "natural bridge" on the Old Spanish Trail, DeSoto proceeded two leagues in advance with the horsemen and one hundred foot soldiers into the principal village of Apalache. All had fled into the woods. Iviahica Village was located just west of today's Marianna, eleven leagues from the river's swamp. DeSoto established his winter headquarters at Iviahica. DeSoto's "monsters" in Florida's "panhandle" would prove to be the Apalache Swamp and the Great Ravine; our "monster in the panhandle" would prove to be the enduring myth that Tallahassee was the location of Iviahica Apalache.
Iviahica Apalache's fields are deep, rich, red mineral sediments nestled between rolling, hills and spring-fed streams. All vegetables grow in profusion there. One look in the fields tells the story of a thous-and year occupation. The fields are strewn with fragments of cultures which settled and farmed there from time to time. The setting is rural Alabama; livestock are pastured on several southern-style plantat-ions. Churches and small cemeteries dot the forested landscape. A village named Webbvile is depicted there on pioneer maps where the Old Spanish Trail bends north into Alabama and the Pensacola Road forks off to the southwest.
Inca says that Juan de Anasco was dispatched from that place to find the seal 198 just before he was sent back down DeSoto's trail leading the Thirty Lancers. Anasco needed to mark the trees along that seashore in order to find Iviahica Apalache on his return from Ucita in DeSoto's ships. He first rode south to Aute, 12 leagues from Iviahica, today's Econfina. He reported crossing only two small rivers along his way to the sea, easy to cross; they are called Econfina and Sweetwater Creeks today. He camped along the way at Compass Lake, the half way point. Just over two leagues beyond Aute, after crossing a creek, Anasco came to the head of a bay; today's North Bay, just above St. Andrew Bay. The creek Anasco forded is called Bear Creek today and it too, is the same with shallow water and a hard bottom. By skirting the bay, Anasco found the place where Narvaez built his boats, on the north shore of today's Bayou George.
Anasco found crosses carved in the trees, carcasses of dead horses, and the forge Narvaez had built to smelt nails from stirrups to build his boats. Then, in order to mark the trees for his own return, Anasco followed along the shore of the bay to the sea, which was three leagues away. The Gulf of Mexico is one league to the south of the harbor's point, today's Panama City, then two leagues out the strait formed by the breaker island where he marked the trees. Vaca says Narvaez called the strait San Miguel when he sailed through it.
If Narvaez had been at Napituca and had departed to the south, he would have passed over Gum Swamp, East River Pool, and the St. Marks River. Then, having been turned west by the Gulf of Mexico, he would have passed a plain, more swamps (the Sopchoppy, Ochlockonee, and New River swamps), and a big stream which he called Magdalina; the Apalachicola River, all as Vaca reported. Just before enter-ing Aute, Narvaez came onto planted fields where his army was fallen upon by the enemy. Narvaez survived and camped at Aute, where the fields to its southeast are still cultivated today. That nine-day trip from Apalache to Aute, at a marching rate of four-and-a-half leagues a day, would have totaled just over forty leagues, but the distance along the trails from what DeSoto called Napituca to today's Econfina is forty five leagues. If Narvaez marched at a rate of five leagues a day, he could have traveled that distance along the trails from Napituca to Econfina. Narvaez could march at that faster rate because he had no livestock to drive.
Since the water in Bayou George is shallow, Narvaez had to time his departure on just the right tides. According to modern lunar reports, that is exactly what he did. Narvaez com-pleted his boats so they could be launched and maneuvered out of the bay on the Spring Tides of the Harvest Moon, September 28th, 1528. That was his first wise move in the con-quest, but no doubt his last. The timing of the Narvaez/De Vaca Florida expedition is, the most neglected event in Florida's exploration history, despite the fact that it was the first. Scholars have ignored critical activity dates from the time of the Narvaez landing, in re-lation to Easter Sunday of that year, to his departure in shallow draft vessels on Spring Tides. Narvaez would vanish, and his defeat would bolster the credibility of the natives who sent him into the wilderness. Their lies, recorded by missionaries near Napituca years later, would be given credence by historians for centuries.
When Biedma, the King's agent, was at Aute, he pronounced the sea to be nine leagues distant. It is that didtance, on a straight line, to the sea from today's Econfina. A navigable harbor, such as St. Andrews Bay, was by definition a coast. They called that harbor the Bay of Aute. When he was there, Biedma said they walked one-hundred and ten leagues from Ucita. It is exactly that distance on a straight line, from Ucita (Charlotte Harbor) to Aute, the way Anasco was instructed to return in DeSoto's ships; Biedma knew that was the "paced and charted" range they had displaced to the bay since leaving Ucita. DeSoto's cartographers must have been much more talented that his trail seekers have surmised.
Upon Anasco's return to Apalache, Captain Maldonado was dispatched westward along the coast in DeSoto's brigs to find an entrance to the sea at which to meet him the following year or, barring that, the next year. Maldonado found "Ochuse" sixty leagues down the coast at Mobile Bay on the Alabama River. Captives taken from there would lead DeSoto into an ambush along his way to that bay.
From Iviahica, DeSoto would hike for a year and a thousand miles before that ambush took place above Mobile Bay. DeSoto's precise cartography accounts for his ability to have known that the captives had led him toward Mobile, the place from which DeSoto had planned to settle and hold North America.
DeSoto's "Seacoast" route from Ucita, as it was reffered to then, shows only two shortcuts available to Anasco when he rode back down it with the Thirty Lancers; all 150 leagues of it from Iviahica, as Inca reported. Anasco's object was to avoid potentially hostile villages that DeSoto had deliberately passed through for food and captives on his way up. Anasco's first bypass was just west of today's Dunnellon, where the Lancers took a southerly course over the Withlacoochee River's flats to the Great Swamp, avoiding the villages on the phosphate ridge near the "Cove" of the Withlacoochee River; cutting off about one league. The Lancers took several female captive from the outlying fields along that way, and those women would end up in Havana. Anasco's second shortcut bypassed Paracoxi Village to the west. There are no swamps or rivers to preclude that cut-off. In that area, DeSoto had been misled to Tocaste on his way up, adding at least eight leagues to his trip.
Anasco proceeded southeast from the Great Swamp, then south from today's Mullberry, saving another league. To avoid Mococo's Village, not knowing if Spain still held favor there, Anasco forded the Myakka River between the Myakka Lakes northeast of the Mococo Village. In the middle of Myakka Lake State Park, between the two Myakka Lakes, there is a bridge and causeway just south of Myakka Lake where the Lancers forded the river. They captured more Indians there who were engaged in a ceremony of fish baking in the woods.
At Ucita, Anasco had only one week to catch the next Spring Tide to pass over Charlotte Harbor's channel shallows. He used the time to careen and load the brigs. That timing was no accident, it was calculated; it would take Anasco just under two weeks to sail from there to Panama City to catch the favorable Spring Tides at that harbor. DeSoto's trail from Ucita to the bay where Narvaez built his boats was only 173 leagues long. Vaca's estimate of 280 leagues traveled by Narvaez to the bay, probably included scouting for food, plus the distance from his landing site to Ucita, then the greater distance to the Great Swamp on his trail up the east side of the Peace River through Arcadia's rich but scattered phosphate fields. Narvaez never got to meet Chief Mococo or his fine people; Mococo's Village was six leagues north of the route Narvaez chose to take to Apalache.
The trail DeSoto used to leave Florida is still there today and is the most apparent segment of his entire route. It starts at Aute (near Panama City), where a good number of troops spent that winter. DeSoto's exit however, started at Iviahica (Marianna) with Rangel, his personal secretary. His trail passed through large vegetable fields along Union Road as it does today, where his army was ordered to harvest and pack for the long journey ahead.
DeSoto's destination was a land rich in pearls, gold and silver, toward the sun's rising. His intelligence of that place came from a young captive, taken at Napituca. DeSoto had planned to raid that place and return to Maldonado's port (Mobile Bay) the next winter and then settle with additional supplies and personel brought from Havana. DeSoto had sent scouts out from Iviahica during the winter, but their reconnaissance was limited by hostile Apalachens once out of range of reinforcement. DeSoto would be the first white man into the next province, an unexplored territory.
Rangel tells that DeSoto departed on Wednesday, March 3, 1540, and spent that night at the river Gaucuco, then arrived at a great river Capachequi early the following Friday. It took him two days plus part of a third to get to the great river. Elvas says it took his people four days to get there, while Biedma says he marched northward five days to get to the great river. Inca, who does not even mention a starting date or a great river as the others had, says his informant traveled three days to the north, camped on a high peninsula for three days, then marched two days to the provincial boundary. These four different statements deserve attention because they say so much about an army that has been so misunderstood for so long.
Less than four leagues North of Iviahica is a peninsula pointing south at the confluence of two creeks: Marshall and Cowart's Creeks, which merge to become the Chipola River.
That peninsula's very high ground, with many fertile fields beyond its trees and swamp on either side, is exactly as Inca described it today, with very deep mud around the point of a high peninsula. Maybe DeSoto called that river Gaucuco (today's Chipola River), the first river he would come to after leaving Iviahica. To the northeast oh Sills is the river basin's northern "natural bridge" located on today's Alabama-Florida border. That fording place and the trail to it are detailed on the border survey map of 1853 and are still there today.
DeSoto marched from Iviahica to Sills the first day, crossing Marshall Creek. The next day he forded the river's branches on Cowart's Creek and rode into Alabama, where he camped just short of the Chattahoochee River. He arrived at the great river on the morning of the third day out of Iviahica. Elvas left Iviahica with DeSoto, but spent an extra day marching at a lesser rate while gathering food and herding pigs. He arrived at the great river the fourth day. Biedma departed from Aute, marched northward for three days to Sills (sixteen leagues), then into today's Alabama to camp, then to the great river five days on the trail. This lends credence to Beidma's being at Aute when he made the observations mentioned earlier. Inca's informant also departed from Aute, but did so two days before Biedma, arriving at Sills the third day out and gathered food there for the next three days. Then he departed for Alabama, camped, and arrived at the provincial boundary on his eighth day out od Aute and six days after the others started their march. If this scenario is correct, the troops arrived at the great river, the provincial boundary, in this order: DeSoto group on the third day; Elvas's the fourth day; Biedma's the fifth day; and the Inca's informant on the sixth.
The great river was the mighty Chattahoochee. It was so large and swift that DeSoto's army had to cross it in turn, on one large wooden raft. It took fife days pulling chains for the entire army to cross. The horses were pulled across by ropes, some of them half-drowned during the effort. DeSoto had planned the army's arrival times at the great river for good reason; not one man would be idle for as much as a day during the process of moving his army into an unknown continent. That was DeSoto's genius. The chroniclers alluded to it and to their admiration of him throughout their journey. He has been America's "Great Unknown" for centuries.