Standard History of Memphis, Tennessee

Standard History of Memphis, Tennessee – J. P. Young

Patriotism or devotion to one’s country is a sentiment. It is not due to self-interest nor other sordid motive, but is born of the story of her origin and of the achievements of the brave and enterprising ancestral stock, which, out of small beginnings, established and organized and wrought a nation. Every great city is in semblance a small nation, both in government and the loyal co-operation of its people for the common good. And the same patriotic devotion, born of the same sentiment does, or should prevail in every city as in every nation. As our civilization grows older our larger cities are taking more interest in the story of their own origin and development, and concerning some of them many historical volumes have been written, dealing with almost every incident of fact and legend that could be traced. And in many notable instances of cities the greater the knowledge of her history, the greater the pride and love and devotion of her people. The city of Memphis, though rated young among her Eastern sisters in America, is yet one of the most ancient, considering the discovery of her site, and the building of the first habitations of the white man here, on the whole American continent. When it is recalled that the adventurous Hernando De Soto built a cantonment for his troops here and established a little ship-yard, in which he constructed four pirogues or barges, large enough to transport across the Mississippi River in time of high water, five hundred Spanish soldiers, as many more Indian vessels and one hundred and fifty horses, with baggage and other military equipment, in a few hours, and that all this occurred seventy-nine years before the landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock and twenty-four years before the building of the first hut and stockade at St. Augustine, Fla., it will be realized that our story dates far back in ancient American history. Following up this fact much space has been given to the wonderful march of De Soto from Tampa Bay, Fla., to the Chickasaw Bluffs, literally hewing his way as he came with sword and halberd through swarming nations of brave Indians; and to showing that he marched directly from the Chickasaw towns in northeast Mississippi to the Chickasaw Bluffs; and to presenting in fullest detail from the Spanish Chroniclers what De Soto and his people did while on the Bluffs where Memphis now stands. And it was deemed proper also to tell with equal detail of the voyages of Marquette and Joliet and La Salle, past the lonely Chickasaw Bluffs, and of the coming of Le Moyne Bienville with a large army and the construction of a great fortress here, heavily mounted with artillery, in the endeavor to overcome the heroic Chickasaws who resented the French invasions in the effort to conquer their country and to found a great French Empire in Western America, And the story also is told of the effort of Governor Don Manuel Gayoso to establish in like manner a Spanish Empire west of the Mississippi River before the Americans could take hold. Indeed few American cities possess so romantic a story and the archives, not only of the United States, but of France and Spain also are yet rich in historical material awaiting the historian with time and opportunity for investigation.

Standard History of Memphis, Tennessee

Standard History of Memphis, Tennessee.

Format: eBook.

Standard History of Memphis, Tennessee

ISBN: 9783849662417.


Excerpt from the text:




WHEN the light of history first began to illumine the story and traditions of the lower Chickasaw Bluff on the Mississippi River on the day that DeSoto arrived, May 8, 1541, the civilization of western Europe was yet young. Henry the Eighth was king of England and Queen Elizabeth still a young child. Shakespeare was yet to be born twenty-three years later, Galileo and Kepler, the fathers of modern astronomy, twenty-three and thirty years later respectively, Cromwell after fifty-eight years, Milton after sixty-seven years and Sir Francis Bacon, the proposer of inductive reasoning, the basis of all modern science, was not to open his eyes upon the world for yet twenty years to come. For centuries America had slept, a great, silent continent, undisturbed by the boom of guns or the crash of arms. There was no traffic along highways and rivers and her stillness was unbroken by any sound louder than the yell of the savage or the bark of the wolf. Her inhabitants were red nomads, of savage habits, but great mentality, and popularly known as Indians, as they were supposed at first to be connected in some way on the west with the East Indies. These were thinly scattered throughout the territory now occupied by the United States, living for protection mostly in groups of villages, constructed of upright logs or poles, the huts being covered with sections of bark taken from certain trees and sometimes defended by stockades of logs laboriously chopped down with the stone hatchets of the Indians and buried deeply at one end in the ground. These Indians possessed no iron out of which to forge tools or weapons, the tips to the latter, usually arrows only, being wrought as in the stone age, of flint and their hatchets in many instances being made of green porphyry brought from great distances, but more often of flint ground or rubbed smooth.

Their villages were commonly imbedded at some central point in the country occupied by the tribe and between the borders of their territory and that of the next tribe was usually a neutral strip of considerable and sometimes vast extent, claimed by one or both contiguous tribes as a hunting ground, but never permanently occupied. About their villages were extensive cleared fields in which they raised crops of maize, called by the Indians mahiz, which means Indian corn as now known. They likewise grew large quantities of beans, pumpkins and squash, which, together with nuts and dried meats prepared from the wild game of the forest, afforded them subsistence. The southeastern Indian tribes, and probably others also, prepared oils from the nuts of the woods, such as walnuts, pecans and hickory nuts, which were pronounced by the early Spaniards to be a very fine relish, and they made large quantities of oil from the fat of bears, which they used as lard. The family ties were very strong with most tribes of Indians and their tenderness and affection for their children was a striking trait of these people.

Confining our inquiry to those tribes which had relations with the Chickasaw bluffs, that part of the United States between the Savannah River and the Mississippi and south of the Tennessee River was, in 1541, covered by a distinctive racial population known as Appalachees. Between the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, and southeastward into North Alabama and Georgia and in East Tennessee the Cherokees were then located. The Appalachees were divided into a number of tribes which were bound by no political ties and were very exclusive. Among these were the Seminoles of Florida, the Uchees in Northern Georgia, the Mauvila or Mobilians in Southern Alabama, the Chickasaws in North Mississippi and West Tennessee, the Creeks or Muscogees in Georgia and Southeastern Alabama, the Choctaws in Central Mississippi and Alabama, and the Natchez in Southern Mississippi and Louisiana. The Akansas and Quapaws, of Siouan stock and of the same blood as the Omahas, occupied the west bank of the Mississippi opposite Memphis and at the date of DeSoto ‘s arrival the large tribe occupying, with its chief town and fortress known as Chisca, the site of modern Memphis, seemed to be subject to the tribes across the river under a great chief known as the lord or chief of Pacaha or, by other chroniclers called Capaha, probably the Spanish for Quapa, which was likewise the name of a town. This tribe at the lower Chickasaw bluffs was not related to the Chickasaws and was probably a colony of the trans-Mississippi settlers. The brave Chickasaws whose northern resident limit was in part the Tallahatchie River were then, as always afterwards, though few in numbers, the dominant race of Indians south and west of the Tennessee River and indeed, of the present Eastern Gulf States, though West Tennessee was in the time of DeSoto, as in the days of LaSalle and Bienville claimed, but used only as a hunting ground by them.

All these tribes kept up a pretty constant communication with each other, their embassies or delegations of chief men, passing over vast distances, undisturbed by the tribes through whose territory they traveled, always on foot, as they possessed neither horses nor cattle. But they would frequently, through some real or fancied slight or injury, go to war with each other and they always guarded their well-known boundaries, as well as their more vaguely defined hunting grounds, with jealous care and determination.

Choctaw legend gives to the site of Memphis a fantastic interest in its narrative of mythical events of great antiquity. The legend relates that many centuries ago the Choctaws and Chickasaws, led by two brothers, Chacta and Chicsa, came from the far west. On crossing the Mississippi River they found the country occupied by the Nahonla, giants who were very fair and had come from the East. There was also a race of giants here who were cannibals and who kept the mammoths, animals whose great bones are found everywhere in the clay and gravel deposits of the lower Mississippi Valley, herded, and used them to break down the forests, thus causing the prairies. At last all the cannibals and their gigantic mammoths, except one of the latter, which lived near the Tombigbee River, became extinct. The Great Spirit attempted to destroy him with lightning, but he foiled the bolts by receiving them on his head. Finally being hard pressed by the Great Spirit, he fled to the Socta-Thoufah, „steep bluffs,“ (now Memphis), cleared the river at a bound and hied him away to the Rocky Mountains.

It was through tribes like these above described that DeSoto hewed his bloody way from Tampa Bay, Florida, to the Mississippi River, lured by that „auri sacra fames,“ the accursed thirst for gold, undergoing the most dreadful toil and suffering, but never finding the gold. El Dorado the Golden, or the riches embodied in the wild dream of Cabeza de Vaca. He was moreover unconscious of the fact as he journeyed and toiled that the soil of the lands beneath his feet has proven one of the world’s greatest sources of wealth, and that a single cotton crop raised on these same lands now produces more gold than existed in all Europe during his era.

As the lower Chickasaw bluffs first came into prominence in the world’s history on the arrival of DeSoto, a brief abstract of his journey and exploits will be here given, derived from the original narrative of „The Portuguese Gentleman,“ Ranjeld, DeSoto’s private secretary, Biedma and Garcilaso de la Vega all, except the last named, companions of his march, and whose writings have come down to us and now exist in several splendid translations. But this will be preceded by a short sketch of his life.

Hernando DeSoto, frequently written Ferdinand DeSoto, was, according to the narrative of the Portuguese Gentleman, or the Gentleman of Elvas, the anonymous knight who was a companion on his great march through Florida, born at Xeres de Badajos in Spain, but the date of his birth is not by him given. Garcilaso de la Vega, commonly known as the Inca, gives his birthplace at Villa nueva de Barcarota, and Herrara assigns the same town as the birthplace and the date is fixed at about 1501. Buckingham Smith asserts that he was born at Xeres in the province of Estremadura, and the Encyclopedia Brittanica names Xeres de Caballeros in Estremadura as the place where he first saw the light and the year 1496 as the date. He was said to have been of gentle birth on both his father’s and mother’s side, but was without means, his whole possessions, according to the Knight of Elvas, being his sword and buckler. DeSoto was indebted to his patron Pedro Arias de Avila, generally written Pedrarias Davila, whose attention he had attracted, for the means of acquiring his education. With Davila he went when a mere youth, to the „Indies of the Ocean, „ or the West Indies, of which his patron had been appointed governor and was by the governor appointed to the command, as captain, of a company of cavalry. Soon after, by order of Davila, he took part with Pizarro in the Conquest of Peru. Here he greatly distinguished himself and attracted the attention of that shrewd but accomplished cut-throat who „soon singled him out from the hardy spirits around him and appointed him his lieutenant. Was there a service of special danger to be performed, DeSoto had it in charge; was there an enterprise requiring sound judgment and careless daring, DeSoto was sure to be called upon.“

DeSoto, narrates Garcilaso de la Vega, commanded one of the troops of horse which captured the Inca, Atahualpa and put to rout his army. He finally shared in the spoil wrung from this unfortunate prince and in the looting of Cuzco. He is alleged in the Spanish chronicles to have been the officer who indicated on the wall of the great room in the Inca’s palace, by the reach of his arm and sword, the line to which the room was required to be filled with gold for his ransom, by the unfortunate monarch. He later returned to Spain laden with wealth, his share amounting to 180,000 cruzados or crowns of gold. Here he lived at the court of the emperor in almost imperial style and loaned of his money to the shrewd Charles V. Soon after he was married to Dona Ysabel, daughter of his former patron Davila and was appointed by the emperor, Charles V, Governor and Captain General of Cuba and Florida with the more exalted civic title of Adelantado or President of Florida.

DeSoto, after some delay, determined to attempt the conquest of Florida, chiefly by reason of the reports brought from there by Cabeza de Vaca, one of the four survivors of the ill-fated Narvaez expedition, which led him to believe that the land contained rich treasures of gold. DeSoto for this purpose organized at his own expense an expedition composed of six hundred hardy adventurers, including many knights and soldiers of distinction and a brilliant escort of Portuguese hidaljos or gentlemen under Andre de Vasconcelo, and with these he sailed in seven ships April 6, 1538, from San Lucar de Borrameda for Santiago de Cuba and after nearly a year’s sojourn in that island sailed May 8, 1539, for Florida and landed May 25, at Tampa Bay.



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