The Final Report of the Official Commission

America was not the vast, open wilderness which today's teachers and students are led to believe it was

The Final Report of the Official Commission

In 1936, Congress created a Commission to identify DeSoto's trail through America. His well recorded journey was the first and last of its kind. Foreign diseases, unknowingly introduced by his army, changed America forever. Dr. John R. Swanton, a Harvard anthropologist, was appointed to that Commission by President Franklin D. Roosevelt along with six citizens from six southern states. Elected to Chair both the Commission and its Fact Finding Committee, Dr. Swanton presented a report describing DeSoto's activity in ten southern states to Congress nine months later. Approved, "refined" and published by Congress in 1939, "The Final Report of the United States DeSoto Expedition Commission" still stands as our primary intelligence of Native America in classrooms across the country, despite the fact that modern science casts considerable doubt on its validity.

Independent studies, outside the influence of Depression era politics, have illustrated oversights of DeSoto's peoples' descriptions. Mostly written in Spanish, thay have all been translated since the DeSoto Trail theory of 1857, which the Commission largely adopted, was hypothesized. Evidence presented here would indicate that North America was extensively inhabited, at places which are cities today, by Native Americans. America was not the vast, open wilderness which today's teachers and students are led to believe it was.

This Internet Site presents what Spaniards wrote in light of modern scientific technology, improved Native American cultural understanding and complete English translation of all known records of DeSoto's expedition. Its conclusions vary substantially with the Commission's, however. The Commission proposed that archaeology would someday prove their route beyond any doubt, but that science has failed to prove DeSoto's presence anywhere except in Florida, and the evidence there is very scant. If anything, archaeology has raised suspicion given the want of landscape identity and Spanish artifacts at sites which the Commission believed DeSoto stayed at for extended periods.

On the other hand, the sciences of cartography, geography and medicine have made giant strides this century, well beyond anything imagined in 1936. Satellite imagery, laser topography and computer graphics provide very precise description of this entire continent. Geographers have shown that its contours - its mountains, rivers, plains and swamps - many of which were described in DeSoto's people's records, have not formed or moved since DeSoto was here. Modern maps and aerial photographs were used in this study to track DeSoto's army. Field studies have verified the existence of landmarks and trails, shown on the maps and aerial photos, which DeSoto's people described. Our team has traveled over 30,000 miles in the last four years tracking DeSoto through fourteen of our United States and hundreds of its cities.

Native America was described by DeSoto's people in personal journals, but the Native Americans described in them were alien to the Commission's comprehension of Native Americans. Today, modern medical science has shown the profound effect the world's diseases had on Native America's population shortly after DeSoto's people introduced foreign viruses to this continent. Giant Indian cities, farms and provinces, all described by DeSoto's people at places which are cities today, were destroyed by epidemic; few were found by later explorers from whom was gained the knowledge of Native America which the Commission, and most of today's public, learned in school. The Commission, however, did not realize this, and, perhaps owing to parochial bias against Crusading Spanish Catholics, chose not to believe DeSoto's peoples' descriptions of Native American lifestyle.

The names of various Indian villages, recorded in the DeSoto Chronicles, were used, however, by those who proposed various DeSoto Trails which the Commission adopted. Today we know that most of those villages were misidentified; Indian villages had moved, along with their inhabitants, away from contaminated population centers shortly after DeSoto arrived and well before other Europeans reported Native America. Southwestward Tribal displacement, due to disease, intertribal competition, war and European colonization, became apparent late in this century owing to long term study of Native American oral history. Unknown to archaeologists, America's cities were built over Indian village sites, thereby obscuring evidence of "Contact" Indian occupation and sixteenth century Spanish presence at those sites.

What follows is a presentation of the emergence of one critical part of the DeSoto Trail theory which the Commission adopted. Many refinements to their overall theory have been proposed over the years, mostly by Southern archaeologists incorporating locally favored Indian sites and mostly along the lines of the Commission's DeSoto Trail theory.

The ones which seemed more agreeable to modern archaeologists in 1985 were included in the Introduction to the most recent verbatim reprint of the Commission's Report. Dr. Jeffrey P. Brain, a Harvard anthropologist, wrote that Introduction, highlighted several refinements to the Commission's theory and presented a map of a broader swath of DeSoto Trail possibilities across the Southern States. He concluded that, short of finding more original documentation of the expedition, archaeology is the only prospect for refining the Commission's Trail theory.

Dr. Swanton, the DeSoto Commission's Chairman, had spent thirty years studying Southeastern Indians and realized that some of the Indian names written in the DeSoto chronicles matched those quoted from Southeastern Indians in later historic documents. DeSoto's Indian name "Chicasa," for instance, matched the name of a tribe known to have lived in northern Mississippi in the early 1800's. French and English records confirmed that "Chickasaw" Indians had lived there since the late 1600's. Believing that those Indians had been visited by DeSoto in today's Mississippi, Dr. Swanton deduced that if that village site could be located then the DeSoto descriptions of "Chicasa" could be applied there to gain better understanding of that proximity, that tribe, their neighbors and their culture.

Under immense political pressure from interested localities and Congressmen while serving on the Committee, Dr. Swanton became aware of various DeSoto Trail theories, but none was more acceptable at that time than that of Henry R. Schoolcraft, a Federal Indian Agent and pioneer anthropologist of the 1800's. Schoolcraft, who published his DeSoto Trail hypothesis in 1857, had also recognized that certain Indian names in the available DeSoto records of his day matched Indian tribal names he had heard from Native Americans still living in the Southeast in the early 1800's. Schoolcraft's knowledge of Indian language, trails and habitat apparently won enough popular support for the Commission to use his DeSoto Trail theory as the pattern for its own. Starting in Florida, at DeSoto's supposed landing place, the Commission's proposed DeSoto Trail closely followed Schoolcraft's Indian trails for nearly two thousand miles, through "Chicasa" in Mississippi, to the Mississippi River near Memphis, Tennessee.

Schoolcraft had followed those trails and had found the Kaskaskia Indian Tribe in Missouri in 1818. That tribe lived at about the same distance above Memphis as the "Casqui" Indians described by DeSoto's people beyond "The Great River" at "Quizquiz," which DeSoto encountered beyond "Chicasa." Believing that "Casqui" was the name DeSoto used for the Kaskaskia Indians, Schoolcraft surmised that Memphis, lying just northwest of the historic location of "Chicasa" in Mississippi and on the bank of Mississippi River, was where DeSoto crossed "The Great River" at "Quizquiz." He never realized, however, that the Kaskaskia Tribe was not called "Casqui" by Native Americans; that title was used for the Kashinampo Tribe, which Dr. Swanton knew but believed resided in Arkansas in 1541.

Neither Mr. Schoolcraft nor Dr. Swanton ever realized that the name "Quizquiz" came from Peru and not from Native America, despite their amusing efforts to identify which Native American language group it belonged to. The name "Quizquiz" was only used by DeSoto to encourage his troops to cross "The Great River," the worst obstacle he encountered in America. DeSoto had conquered "Quizquiz" just before becoming extremely rich in Peru's City of Gold. All of his troops knew that, the anthropologists did not. Apparently they were not familiar with DeSoto's Peruvian history, published in English in 1847, by another Harvard fellow.

Schoolcraft's proposed DeSoto Trail through Florida, Georgia, and Alabama was followed by the Commission, however, based upon his profound knowledge of historic tribal location coupled with the directions provided by DeSoto's people from their landing place in Florida. Those directions were good enough for most DeSoto trail seekers of his day to follow along pretty much the same route through those states.

Direction of march and days traveled, from the English translations of DeSoto chronicles available in the mid-1800's, were simply applied to available maps. Schoolcraft's knowledge of Southern Indian names, trails and habitat further defined his published trail theory. But both he and the Commission were so distracted by DeSoto's visit to "Chicasa" beyond Tuscaloosa, Alabama, thinking that "Chicasa" must have been found in Mississippi, that the direction provided by DeSoto's people beyond Tuscaloosa was simply ignored. DeSoto's people said they marched NORTH during their next seven months in America, not northwest toward Memphis.

Dr. Swanton's Commission declared that Memphis was at or near the place where DeSoto discovered "The Great River," owing, most likely, to political pressure that it do so. DeSoto is, therefore, credited with discovering the Mississippi River near Memphis; that city's claim to fame. The DeSoto Trail theory used to substantiate that came directly from Schoolcraft's 1857 report. Today, we know that the "Chicasa" lived due north of Tuscaloosa near Chickasaw Old Fields, in southern Tennessee, just below the "Alibamo" Indians, who DeSoto encountered immediately upon leaving "Chicasa."

That tribe lived around Nashville and spoke the same language as the "Casqui" Indians to the north of them, extending through Kentucky and into Indiana beyond the Ohio River, and the same language as the "Coste" Indians east of Nashville, who DeSoto had encountered the previous summer near Knoxville. Those three tribes, the "Alabamo, Casqui and Coste" all lived next to each other in that unique language group, as we know today thanks to Native American linguistic studies, not scattered from the Carolina Mountains to Arkansas, as Dr. Swanton supposed (in "Indians of the Southeastern U.S.," Map 10, Tribal movements... he shows the "Casqui" Tribe moving north and east from Arkansas toward the Ohio River in historic times and, likewise, the "Alabamo" and "Chicasa" moving through Alabama and Mississippi, against the known movement of tribes around them. He never knew that those three tribes had moved from the north and east before the late 1600's).

The Commission's proposed zig-zag DeSoto Trail, to accommodate their various beliefs, goes against factual knowledge of DeSoto's history elsewhere. DeSoto typically marched directly toward his objectives, usually for weeks or months at a time.

Dr. Swanton knew a great deal about Southeastern Indians and their exact historic locations, but never mentioned the exact location of "Chickasaw" in any of his publications. Our misfortune is that he, and later scholars alike, neglected to consider that DeSoto might have found "Chicasa" near Chickasaw Old Fields - known to lay due north of Tuscaloosa - then marched north through Tennessee and beyond.

The States of Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri were excluded from the Commission's consideration as points from which DeSoto's people first described Native America, despite the fact that conspicuous topographic features there match DeSoto's peoples' location descriptions perfectly, a serious problem for the Commission's want of landscape identity in Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana. "The Great River," which DeSoto crossed beyond "Chicasa," was probably the Ohio River north of Chickasaw Old Fields, just as he had crossed the Tennessee River, probably at Muscle Shoals, Alabama, due north of Tuscaloosa, Alabama; all according to what his people said he did. Mississippi was only visited by DeSoto while on a raid of "Sacchuma" near Chickasaw Old Fields. That tribe's "forever" domain in northeast Mississippi, the very State whose Congressman proudly sponsored the DeSoto Trail Commission legislation, might have persuaded Dr. Swanton that DeSoto passed through Mississippi; but, alas, DeSoto had only visited there.

Since the Commission chose to ignore what Desoto's people wrote about them, our understanding of Native Americans has been frozen in time. Itinerant Indians living in teepees, riding horses, waiving spears and shooting arrows at frounteer settlers seems to be the stereotype of Native Americans. Few Americans learned what DeSoto's people reported about Native Americans in American schools.

Reluctance to have us believe what DeSoto's people wrote about Native Americans, living precisely where American cities are built today, may be owed to aging Federal litigation involving Native American land claims, or perhaps prejudicial politics played a part in the 1930's Congressional view, given DeSoto's people's reports of Native America's complete inter-racial harmony and respect for women. Dr. Swanton, an otherwise brilliant scholar, got caught up in the politics of his day, seemingly against his will, but for President Roosevelt's Reconstruction efforts in a Depression ravaged America. We, as concerned citizens, have every reason to investigate what DeSoto's people wrote about Native America's people, given that everything else they wrote about their journey through Native America has proven to be credible.

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