The people's voice of reason

Discovering Alabama: Costly to ALL!

Last month, we talked about the Native Peoples of Alabama, The Indians. In studying the history of our state, anyone will see the importance of our geography as the dynamic companion of History. Already we see the importance of the names of rivers, creeks, counties, towns, and other geographical terms still living with us today.

Alabama is truly a land of contrasts. My native state, North Carolina, is a land of contrasts. The eastern shore has flat lands, rivers, and oceans. The western part of N.C. has vast mountains. Alabama is a large and a rich state of more than 51,000 square miles. This does not include the coastal waterways in the Gulf of Mexico. Alabama’s shoreline on the Gulf Coast extends about 70 miles.

The State of Alabama is located about halfway between New York and Mexico. Our climate is declared semi-tropical. While we are in the North Temperate Zone, we are closer to the Southern end which is marked by the Tropic of Cancer. The term "tropical" comes from the name of the Tropic of Cancer. Our climate helps explain our variety and richness of plants and animal life in Alabama, as well as our long growing season. Alabama's climate has been proven over many decades to be an attraction to all kinds of industries.

Rainfall is abundant over the state, but especially on the Alabama coastlines. Our Mid-State does sometimes suffer from a lack of rainfall.

We were blessed with rivers and natural waterways and have many small rivers and creeks. With limited space for an article, we can at least focus on several. The Mobile River receives waters from The Tombigbee and the Alabama River. Other rivers flow into the Gulf of Mexico. The Alabama River flows from a point near Montgomery southward until it joins the Tombigbee. The Cahaba is a tributary of the Alabama River, which drains the central part of the State.

The Tennessee River in North Alabama travels through the northwest corner of the State and through the states of Tennessee and Kentucky, and those send waters to the Gulf of Mexico.

Through all of Alabama History, we have been blessed with rich mineral resources. Coal and iron are the "big twins." Alabama also has limestone, granite, mangenese, gas, oil, brick clay, and even more.

There was so much to attract others to our shores. Spaniards were the first explorers to come in the 16th Century. Searching for gold and glory, they longed to see Spain's expansion of power. Ships sailing from Spain to Mexico often passed by Alabama's Gulf Shores. There was a map discovered and published as early as 1507 in Europe, which showed information about Alabama and the adjoining coast line. The map actually showed much of the American land area, and used the name America, and displayed the honor of the name to Amerigo Vespucci. The map of 1507 seems very amazing.

The earliest Spanish explorer known to have reached Alabama was Alonzo Alvarez de Pineda. He was sent out by the Governor of Jamaica, Don Francisco de Garay. He had a special deal with the King of Spain to cooperate with the King regarding a vast domain on the Gulf of Mexico. With four ships, Pineda entered Mobile Bay. Pineda traded with the native Indians, and remained there 40 days while writing about his adventures and observations of Alabama's coast. He went 15 miles up the Mobile River and discovered 40 small Indian villages. A few years later, another Spanish explorer, Panfilo de Narvadez and his followers, came to South Alabama. Theirs was a dramatic story, with 400 soldiers and 80 horses. It must have been quite a scene in 1528. After cruising for 30 days and visiting some Florida coastlines, they reached Alabama. The actions between the explorers and the Indians were distrustful on both sides, and the explorers left toward Mississippi and out of Alabama History. Sadly there had been several hostages held for a short time during the difficult interaction.

That brings us to Hernando DeSoto, who crossed over the northeastern corner of Alabama, to engage in the most important early exploration in Alabama. He was a seasoned explorer, a man of about 50 years old, who had served with Pizarro in the conquest of Peru.

De Soto's explorations were not financed by his government, but by private enterprise, for personal profit. For this venture, De Soto had invested his personal fortune as well. On June 28, 1540, De Soto entered Alabama. He became the first European to discover the Tennessee River, the first to enter Jackson County, the first to cross Sand Mountain, and the first to discover much of Alabama, except for those few who did come to the Gulf Coast fringes for a short time.

De Soto continued searching for gold and was persistent and determined. He did acquire a large quantity of precious pearls which the Indians had extracted from fresh water mussels in the rivers. The pearls must have

encouraged the men who had sought gold, and given them new hope even in the midst of the wilderness.

Included in De Soto's army were numerous Portuguese and a number of other nationalities, although most were Spanish. Altogether there may have been as many as 600 men.

At Tallisi, De Soto encountered the son of Chief Tuscaloosa, who had been sent as a messenger of his father. The son was 18 years old, but taller than any man among the hundreds in De Soto's command, and taller than any other Indian present.

De Soto quickly released the Coosa Indian Chief that De Soto was holding hostage.

De Soto's command went throughout 15 or more counties that we know of: St Clair, Jackson, Etowah, Marshall, Calhoun, Talladega, Coosa, Elmore, Montgomery, Autauga, Lowndes, Dallas, Wilcox, Monroe, and Clarke.

The Battle of Mabila:

(Maubila • Mavila)

This battle was one of the bloodiest battles with any Indians on Alabama soil. The Indians in South Alabama were more warlike than any other that De Soto had encountered.

It is no surprise that the Indians were furious to see their corn supply destroyed. It was their salvation for physical survival. Even worse, some Indians were captured and made slaves, and burden-bearers for De Soto. De Soto had the best armor to protect his soldiers from Indian arrows. The Spanish had their cross bow, while the Indians had the bow and arrow. The Spaniards had horses, and that was a big advantage as well.

Chief Tuscaloosa led his men in the Battle of Mabila. Early in De Soto's arrival, friendly exchanges had been made between the Spaniards and the Indians.De Soto gave the Chief a horse and the Indians gave gifts to the Spaniards. They even played music and danced to show friendship. But when the Spaniards seized their Chief, the Indians were ready for war. Heavy fighting broke out at the village gate. The Spanish had the advantage of weapons, and they set fire to the village. De Soto was wounded, but he continued to fight. The Spanish lost their pearls in the fire, and most of their gun powder was destroyed. The estimate of the Indians killed is about 2,500 in the battle. Following the battle, De Soto went northward to Grove Hill, Dixon Mill, Linden, and Old Spring Hill, and on to discover the Tennessee River, the Tombigbee and many lesser streams. He discovered the Mississippi River in that winter of 1540-41.

De Soto died as he had lived-exploring to the end of his life. His last battle, that of Mabila, was the largest battle in Alabama and in all of America at that time between the Indians and the Europeans. De Soto was buried in the Mississippi River by his faithful men, to avoid the Indians finding out about his death.

Those men remaining reached Mexico, and from there, returned to Spain. We are fortunate that a number of his men kept the journals.

Bobbie Ames writes from The Hoffman Education Center for the Family, where the ministry promotes Christian Education that is foundational to the Historic Biblical Principle Approach. Consulting services are available through the Hoffman Research Library. She can be reached at P. O. Box 241405, Montgomery, AL 36124, or at


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