Experts work on mystery of Mabila
Book details search for site of battle between De Soto, Tascalusa
Condensed by Native Village
Tuscaloosa, Alabama: It's been 2 1/2 years since scholars met in Tuscaloosa
to search for the exact location of Mabila,
a Native American city lost to history.
scholars' findings have led to a new book, “The Search for Mabila: The Decisive Battle Between Hernando de Soto and
Despite the scholars' best efforts, however, Mobila's
was never found.
They only narrowed the search to the Wilcox County area and the old town of
“The truth is that to this day, nobody knows where Mabila is — neither the
editor, nor any of the fifteen contributors to the volume, nor any of the
historians and archaeologists, amateur and professional who have long sought
it,” said Jim Knight from the University of Alabama. “One can rightfully say that the lost battle of Mabila is
the predominant historical mystery of the Deep South.”
disappeared nearly 470 years ago after the Spanish conquistador, Hernando de
Stoto, fought Chief Tascalusa in a bitter battle.
Finding Mabila isn’t like the adventures of Indiana Jones, where tripping ancient booby traps opens a door to a
magnificent lost city. Mabila is, in fact, buried and lost since that fateful
day in 1540.
De Soto began criss-crossing La Florida, (today's southeast United States,) in search of wealth — namely the gold he helped find in an earlier
conquest of Peru.
He staked his fortune, reputation and his life on the expedition. After
his forces entered Alabama, they found a series of
villages on a great river. One was Tascalusa’s chiefdom, Atahachi.
In Atahachi, Chief Tascalusa
refused the Spaniard’s
request for men to carry equipment. Tascalusa had heard of de
Soto’s brutal tactics with other chiefdoms, so he hoped to delay a fight. He
promised the forces they could find slaves and women at Mabila, which he claimed
was under his control.
De Soto entered Mabila on the morning of Oct. 18, 1540. While part of his army
was ransacking other settlements, de Soto was ambushed by Native Americans hiding in
the town. It took the Spanish a day to fight their way out, burn the palisaded
town to the ground, and kill those who fled.
The accounts of Natives killed in battle range between 2,500 -
11,000. Only 18-22 Spaniards died.
No one is sure if Tascalusa died, but Mabila and neighboring cities were razed.
The battle was a deep wound
from which de Soto’s force never recovered. They lost animals and much of their
gear in the fire. De Soto ignored advice to turn south toward Mobile Bay
and the ships that could take them home. Instead, he pressed on.
died in 1542 on the bank of the Mississippi River.
His body was sunk to avoid it being desecrated by Native Americans.
UA history professor Lawrence Clayton says Mabila represents a battle in the struggle for human
rights. For without Mabila and other Spanish atrocities, later
reforms signed into law that restricted conquistadors would not
“Perhaps it is not the hallowed ground of a Gettysburg, but it opens a window
into the past, revealing a panorama of what the human heart is capable of
feeling and doing, for great evil and for great good,” he wrote.
Artwork: The Search for Mabila by Herb Roe