Tascalusa's Burial Ground
October 1, 2023 | View PDF
This month marks the 483rd anniversary of Hernando de Soto's great battle at Mauvila, a location that so far has not been found and examined. But one thing that has been discovered is a small mound complex that yielded the graves of important natives who had fought there, possibly including the great chief, Tascalusa.
The Pine Log Creek site (1Ba462), in the Alabama-Tombigbee Confluence Basin, might have seemed to be a routine native-American burial at first, but it has turned out to be a spectacular discovery.
The site was first mentioned in 1969 by Dr Herbert H. Holmes, who commented, “A skeleton unearthed by my father and uncle on the banks of Pine Log Creek, together with the copper buttons and insignia on the casket was identified as that of a soldier of De Soto.”
The claim of a casket and “a soldier of De Soto” is utterly false. The Spaniards would have never buried their dead among Indian graves, and they would have never made caskets while traveling through a wilderness. The copper buttons and insignia were probably real, but they were not what made this place special.
In 1981, an archaeology team from the University of South Alabama investigated this site and found five holes dug by pothunters. Scattered around them were human bones and large pottery sherds. The University made a “sketch map” and collected the bones and debris remaining on the surface. Later they recovered the looted artifacts from the pothunters and obtained some “general provenance data.” Unfortunately, the landowners did not allow any further excavation and study of the site.
The graves yielded 4265 shell-tempered sherds, 46 shell-tempered vessels—some whole—some partial, six copper headdress pieces, 58 stone items, 72 shell beads and pins, and “38 European artifacts, likely all 16th century Spanish.” The latter included sword fragments, a lance or pike head, a bridle and cheek plate, a mule shoe, iron spikes, and 4 faceted seven layer chevron beads.
But the really extraordinary objects were two brass Spanish religious items—a capstan-style candlestick and a holy water container—objects that the Hernando de Soto expedition had specifically documented being stolen during the battle at Mauvila. The Spaniards would have never traded or given away their personal utensils for saying Mass. These were none other than items that the Indians had pilfered from the Spaniards' stash during the battle. They were not items from Tristan de Luna or any other Spanish expeditions.
Without any doubt, these graves were related to Mauvila. And they were not just any random burials. Considering the huge quantity of precious (to the Indians) metal objects that were buried there, the skeletons were undoubtedly very important high-ranking people—Tascalusa's “principals,” and very likely including his son.
Tascalusa's son had been documented as “lanced” by Soto's men. The probability of him being buried at this site is very high. He was recorded being as tall as Tascalusa himself, but more slender. Tascalusa's own death was never documented. Some Indians claimed he had escaped. Others said he was probably killed, but his body was never found. If Tascalusa had been killed and recovered by his warriors, he also would have been buried here.
One of the big questions that has never been answered is how big and how tall was Tascalusa? Soto’s men described him as a “giant,” but what was his actual size? There is no realistic documentation, except one likely false claim that his feet dragged on the ground while he sat on a horse.
If Tascalusa or his son were buried here, examination of the bones could verify their true sizes. Has anybody ever bothered to examine the recovered bones to see if any came from a very large or tall individual? Have any DNA tests been done to prove or disprove any family relationships to other tribes in the area? What about relationships to today’s natives? How many of the bones have been saved, and how many were just left behind? Finally, are there any intact skeletons remaining that the looters had missed?
The site's position is something of an enigma. It is several miles south of the likely location of Mauvila (at or near Stolls Point, next to Hals Lake). Why were these important warriors buried there? One plausibility could be that the Indians had feared the Spaniards might later return to the battle site and desecrate their graves. So they buried their important “war heroes” beyond the areas the Spaniards had ravaged and in the opposite direction of where they proceeded.
Since 1981, the Pine Log Creek site has been neglected. For a long time, the property owners have rejected studies by archaeologists. This was a very selfish decision. It was also a very foolish one; it left the site as a target for looters instead of allowing experts to save, study, and protect the contents.
What about today? The property has likely changed hands since then. Perhaps the current owners understand the precious information that can be gained from a serious study, as well as needed protection. Has anybody even bothered to contact the owners recently? If they are still refusing, WHY?
Considering the site's great importance, an archaeological “eminent domain” might be proposed to study it. It would allow qualified people to dig and study the site and contents, but at the end, in all fairness, after studies and documentation have been done, recovered artifacts would be returned to the property owners.
Right now, archaeologists need to get off of their duffs and get to work. The 500th anniversary of the Battle of Mauvila is only 17 years away. Very little work has been done to search for it, and the few who have made any attempts have very wrongfully concluded that it was somewhere at or near the lower portion of the Cahaba river==far beyond the documented 30 leagues from Ochuse (Pensacola, Florida), and in spite of the burned daub and other evidence that had previously been discovered by Caleb Curren just west of Choctaw Lake. And of course, the Pine Log Creek site itself proves that Mauvila was only a short distance away.
In the future, perhaps some years from now, after the site has been fully explored and all artifacts and skeletons have been extracted and secured, local natives might want to erect a monument there to honor the brave warriors who gave their lives at the Battle of Mauvila.
1. Curren, Caleb, Archaeology in the Mauvila Chiefdom, Mobile Historic Development Commission, 1992.
2. Little, Kieth J. and Harrelson, Kevin, Pine Log Creek, Ethnohistoric Archaeology in the Alabama-Tombigbee Confluence Basin, Jacksonville State University, 2005.
3. Martin, John, The Road to Mauvila, 2014