Mobile Indians

Mobile Tribe: Meaning unknown, but Halbert (1901) suggests that it may be from Choctaw moeli, “to paddle,” since Mobile is pronounced moila by the Indians. It is the Mabila, Mauilla, Mavila, or Mauvila of the De Soto chroniclers.

Mobile Connections. The language of the tribe was closely connected with that of the Choctaw and gave its name to a trade jargon based upon Choctaw or Chickasaw.

Mobile Location. When the French settled the seacoast of Alabama the Mobile were living on the west side of Mobile River a few miles below the junction of the Alabama and Tombigbee.

Mobile History. When they make their first appearance in history in 1540 the Mobile were between the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers, and on the east side of the former. Their chief, Tuscaloosa, was a very tall and commanding Indian with great influence throughout the surrounding country. He inspired his people to attack the invading Spaniards and a terrific battle was fought October 18, 1540, for the possession of one of his fortified towns (Mabila), which the Spaniards carried with heavy losses to themselves in killed and wounded, while of the Indians 2,500 or more fell. It is probable that the village of Nanipacna, through which a force of Spaniards of the De Luna colony passed in 1559, was occupied by some of the survivors of this tribe. At a later date they may have settled near Gees Bend of the Alabama River, in Wilcox County, because early French maps give a village site there which they call “Vieux Mobiliens.” A Spanish letter of 1686 speaks of them as at war with the Pensacola tribe. When the French came into the country, the Mobile were, as stated above, settled not far below the junction of the Tombigbee and Alabama. After a post had been established on the spot where Mobile stands today, the Mobile Indians moved down nearer to it and remained there until about the time when the English obtained possession of the country. They do not appear to have gone to Louisiana like so many of the smaller tribes about them and were probably absorbed in the Choctaw Nation.

Mobile Population. After allowing for all exaggerations, the number of Mobile Indians when De Soto fought with them must have been very considerable, perhaps 6,000 to 7,000. Mooney (1828) estimates 2,000 Mobile and Tohome in 1650, over a hundred years after the great battle. In 1702 Iberville states that this tribe and the Tohome together embraced about 350 warriors; warriors; 1725-26 and Boenville (1932, vol. 3, p. 536), gives 60 for the Mobile alone, but in 1730 Regis de Rouillet (1732) cuts this half. among the Mobile, Tohome and Narrates at about 100.

Connection in which they have become noted. The Mobile have attained a fame altogether beyond anything which their later numerical importance would warrant:

  • On account of the desperate resistance which they offered to De Soto’s forces.
  • From the important Alabama city to which they gave their name.

There is a place called Mobile in Maricopa County, Arizona.


Swanton, John R. The Indian Tribes of North America. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 145. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office. 1953.

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