Battle of Mabila

Published on May 1, 2012 by Amy

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De Soto Burns Mabila
De Soto Burns Mabila

As de Soto approached the town, the chief of Mabila came out to greet him, bringing him three robes of marten skins as a gift. De Soto and several of his men dismounted and entered the town, as the native bearers placed the Spaniards’ supplies next to the palisade. The Mabilians danced and sang to the Spaniards, seemingly to allay their fears and to distract them. While the spectacle unfolded, Tuskaloosa told de Soto he was tired of marching with the Spaniards, and wished to stay in Mabila. De Soto refused, and the chief asked to confer with some of his nobles in one of the large wattle and daub houses on the plaza. De Soto sent Juan Ortiz to retrieve him, but the Mabilians refused him entrance to the house. Tuskaloosa told de Soto and his expedition to leave in peace, or he and his allies would force him to leave.

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When de Soto sent men into the house to retrieve the chief, they discovered it was full of armed warriors prepared to protect their chief. De Soto asked the Chief of Mabila to demand the porters promised by Tuskaloosa, and the Spaniards would leave. The man refused, and a Spaniard grabbed him; in the ensuing scuffle, the chief had his arm cut off by the Spaniard’s sword. With this, the Mabilians attacked the Spanish, who immediately ran for the gate and their horses. Natives came from all of the houses and attacked the Spaniards. The Mabilians grabbed the provisions and equipment left outside the palisade and brought the supplies into the town. After making it outside, the Spaniards regrouped and assaulted the village. After numerous assaults and many hours (the battle lasted eight or nine hours), the Spaniards were able to hack holes into the walls of the palisade and reenter the town.

“ We entered the town and set it on fire, whereby a number of Indians were burned, and all that we had was consumed, so that there remained not a thing. We fought that day until nightfall, without a single Indian having surrendered to us- they fighting bravely on like lions. We killed them all, either with fire or the sword, or, such of them as came out, with the lance, so that when it was nearly dark there remained only three alive; and these, taking the women that had been brought to dance, placed the twenty in front, who, crossing their hands, made signs to us that we should come for them. The Christians advancing toward the women, these turned aside, and the three men behind them shot their arrows at us, when we killed two of them. The last Indian, not to surrender, climbed a tree that was in the fence, and taking the cord from his bow, tied it about his neck, and from a limb hanged himself. ”

—- Luys Biedma 1544

After the battle

The Spaniards burned down Mabila, and nearly all the Mabilians and their allies were killed, either in the battle, in the subsequent fires, or by suicide. Chief Tuskaloosa’s son was found among the dead, although the chief was not. Biedma asserts that over five thousand were in the town, of which almost none was able to escape. For several weeks afterward, the Spanish made forays to neighboring villages for supplies of maize, deerskins, and other goods. They found many wounded and dead Mabilians in the houses. The natives had made two serious mistakes: they had not realized the advantage the Spaniards had when mounted on horses, and they had relied too heavily on their palisade. Once their palisade was breached, they were too crowded in the village to mount a successful defense.

Over the next few centuries, the Tuskaloosa, Coosa, Plaquemine Mississippian peoples from the Mississippi and Pearl River valleys, and other native peoples came together to form a confederacy that became the historic tribe known as the Choctaw.

Twenty-two Spaniards were slain, or died in a few days after the engagement. Among those lost or killed were Diego de Soto, the nephew of the Governor; Baltasar de Gallegos, Juan Vazquez de Barracarrota, Juan de Gomez de Jaen, Don Carlos Enriquez, who had married de Soto’s niece; and Mem Rodriquez, a cavalier of Portugal who had served with distinction in Africa and upon the Portuguese frontiers. One hundred-forty eight were wounded, some multiple times.Forty-five horses were slain—an irreplaceable loss. All the camp material and baggage were consumed in the fire in the house where the Indians stored it, except that of Captain Andres de Vasconellos, who arrived late in the evening. All the clothes, medicines, instruments, books, much of the armor, all the fresh water pearls taken from Cofitachequi, the relics and robes of the priests, their flour and wine, used in the holy sacrament, and many other things which the wilderness could not supply were consumed by the flames. Although the Spaniards won the battle, the loss of their goods and so many horses was a crippling blow to their morale. The Spaniards were wounded, sickened, surrounded by enemies and virtually without equipment in an unknown territory. The battle “broke the back” of the campaign, and they never fully recovered.

“ After the end of the battle as described, they rested there until the 14th of November, caring for their wounds and their horses, and they burned over much of the country. And up to the time when they left there, the total deaths from the time the Governor and his forces entered the land of Florida, were one hundred and two Christians, and not all, to my thinking, in true repentance. ”

De Soto had learned that his ships were anchored on the coast but, fearing that news of his failure to find riches or found a colony would reach Spain if his men reached Mobile Bay, he convinced the expedition to keep heading northwest instead of south. They proceeded to the village of Taliepacana and then on to Mozulixa. From there the expedition proceeded to Zabusta, a village on the Black Warrior River, possibly at the site of the Moundville Archaeological Site. De Soto continued to lead his expedition to the Mississippi River, where he died in 1542 in present-day Arkansas or Louisiana. The survivors eventually made their way to the Spanish settlement at Mexico City. Most settled in the New World and never returned to Spain.

Source: wikipedia Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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