Mobile Tribe and Tohome Tribe

So far as our information goes, the first white men to have dealings with the Indians of Mobile Bay were probably the Spaniards under Pinedo. Pinedo was sent out by Garay, governor of Jamaica, in the year 1519, to explore toward the north, and he appears to have coasted along the northern shore of the Gulf of Mexico from the peninsula of Florida to Panuco. In the description of this voyage in the Letters Patent we read that after having covered the entire distance “they then turned back with the said ships, and entered a river which was found to be very large and very deep, at the mouth of which they say they found an extensive town, where they remained 40 days and careened their vessels. The natives treated our men in a friendly manner, trading with them, and giving what they possessed. The Spaniards ascended a distance of 6 leagues up the river, and saw on its banks, right and left, 40 villages.” 1

The river referred to is usually identified with the Mississippi, but I am entirely in accord with Mr. Hamilton in finding in it the River Mobile. 2 When first known to us the banks of the Mississippi near the ocean were not permanently occupied by even small tribes, and occupancy the year around would have been practically impossible. On the other hand, the shores of Mobile River must once have been quite thickly settled, for Iberville, on his first visit to the Indian tribes there, notes numbers of abandoned Indian settlements all along the way. There seems to be practically no other place answering to the description here given. The later depopulation can be accounted for by the wars of which Iberville speaks and by the pestilences, which seem to have moved just a little in advance of the front rank of white invasion.

Narvaez encountered some of the Indians of Mobile Bay 3 but it is open to question whether they were the ones in possession in Iberville’s time. The Province of Achuse or Ochus, discovered by Maldonado, may also have been here, and again it may have been about Pensacola. 4

Our next historical encounter with the Mobile tribes was that famous and sanguinary meeting between De Soto and the Mobile, which has served to immortalize the Indians participating almost as much as does the city which bears their name.

According to Ranjel they first heard of the people of Mobile at “Talisi,” probably the Creek town now known as Tålsi, where messengers reached them from Tascaluça, the Mobile chief. His name is in the Choctaw language or one almost identical with Choctaw, just as we should expect, and means ”Black warrior.” Ranjel calls him ”a powerful lord and one much feared in that land.” ”And soon,” he adds, “one of his sons appeared and the governor ordered his men to mount and the horsemen to charge and the trumpets to be blown (more to inspire fear than to make merry at their reception). And when those Indians returned the commander sent two Christians with them instructed as to what they were to observe and to spy out, so that they might take counsel and be forewarned.”

On Tuesday, October 5, 1540, the army left Talisi and, after passing through several villages, encamped the following Saturday, October 9, within a league of Tascaluça’s village. “And the governor dispatched a messenger, and he returned with the reply that he would be welcome whenever he wished to come.” Ranjel’s narrative goes on as follows:

Sunday, October 10, the governor entered the village of Tascaluça, which is called Athahachi, a recent village. And the chief was on a kind of balcony on a mound at one side of the square, his head covered by a kind of coif like the almaizal, so that his headdress was like a Moor’s, which gave him an aspect of authority; he also wore a pelote or mantle of feathers down to his feet, very imposing; he was seated on some high cushions, and many of the principal men among his Indians were with him. He was as tall as that Tony of the Emperor, our lord’s guard, and well proportioned, a fine and comely figure of a man. He had a son, a young man as tall as himself, but more slender. Before this chief there stood always an Indian of graceful mien holding a parasol on a handle something like a round and very large fly fan, “with a cross similar to that of the Knights of the Order of St. John of Rhodes, in the middle of a black field, and the cross was white. And although the governor entered the plaza and alighted from his horse and went up to him, he did not rise, but remained passive in perfect composure, and as if he had been a king.

The governor remained seated with him a short time, and after a little he arose and said that they should come to eat, and he took him with him and the Indians came to dance; and they danced very well in the fashion of rustics in Spain, so that it was pleasant to see them. At night he desired to go, and the commander told him that he must sleep there. He understood it and showed that he scoffed at such an intention for him, being the lord, to receive so suddenly restraints upon his liberty, and dissembling, he immediately despatched his principal men each by himself, and he slept there not-withstanding his reluctance. The next day the governor asked him for carriers and a hundred Indian women; and the chief gave him four hundred carriers and the rest of them and the women he said he would give at Mabila, the province of one of his principal vassals. And the governor acquiesced in having the rest of that unjust request of his fulfilled in Mabila; and he ordered him to be given a horse and some buskins and a scarlet cloak for him to ride off happy.

At last, Tuesday, October 12, they departed from the village of Atahachi, taking along the chief, as has been said, and with him many principal men, and always the Indian with the sunshade attending his lord, and another with a cushion. And that night they slept in the open country. The next day, Wednesday, they came to Piachi, which is a village high above the gorge of a mountain stream; and the chief of this place was evil intentioned, and attempted to resist their passage; and as a result, they crossed the stream with effort, and two Christians were slain, and also the principal Indians who accompanied the chief. In this village, Piachi, it was learned that they had killed Don Teodoro and a black, who came from the ships of Pamphilo de Narvaez. 5

Saturday, October 16, they departed thence into a mountain where they met one of the two Christians whom the governor had sent to Mabila, and he said that in Mabila there had gathered together much people in arms. The next day they came to a fenced village, and there came messengers from Mabila bringing to the chief much bread made from chestnuts, which are abundant and excellent in that region.

Monday, October 18, St. Luke’s day, the governor came to Mabila, having passed that day by several villages, which was the reason that the soldiers stayed behind to forage and to scatter themselves, for the region appeared populous And there went on with the governor only forty horsemen as an advance guard, and after they had tarried a little, that the governor might not show weakness, he entered into the village with the chief, and all his guard went in with him. Here the Indians immediately began an areyto, 6) which is their fashion for a ball with dancing and song. While this was going on some soldiers saw them putting bundles of bows and arrows slyly among some palm leaves, and other Christians saw that above and below the cabins were full of people concealed. The governor was informed of it, and he put his helmet on his head and ordered all to go and mount their horses and warn all the soldiers that had come up. Hardly had they gone out when the Indians took the entrances of the stockade, and there were left with the governor, Luis de Moscoso and Baltasar de Grallegos, and Espindola, the captain of the guard, and seven or eight soldiers. And the chief went into a cabin and refused to come out of it. Then they began to shoot arrows at the governor. Baltasar de Gallegos went in for the chief, he not being willing to come out. He disabled the arm of a principal Indian with the slash of a knife. Luis de Moscoso waited at the door, so as not to leave him alone, and he was fighting like a knight and did all that was possible until “not being able to endure any more, he cried, Señor Baltasar de Gallegos, come out, or I will leave you, for I cannot wait any longer for you.” During this, Solis, a resident of Triana of Seville, had ridden up, and Rodrigo Ranjel, who were the first, and for his sins Solis was immediately stricken down dead; but Rodrigo Ranjel got to the gate of the town at the time when the governor went out, and two soldiers of his guard with him, and after him came more than seventy Indians who were held back for fear of Rodrigo Ranjel’s horse, and the governor, desiring to charge them, a negro brought up his horse; and he told Rodrigo Ranjel to give aid to the captain of the guard, who was left behind, for he had come out quite used up, and a soldier of the guard with him; and he with a horse faced the enemy until he got out of danger, and Rodrigo Ranjel returned to the governor and had him draw out more than twenty arrows, which he bore fastened to his armour, which was a loose coat quilted with coarse cotton. And he ordered Ranjel to watch for Solis, to rescue him from the enemy, that they should not carry him inside. And the governor went to collect the soldiers. There was great valour and shame that day among all those that found themselves in this first attack and beginning of this unhappy day; for they fought to admiration and each Christian did his duty as a most valiant soldier. Luis de Moscoso and Baltasar de Grallegos came out with the rest of the soldiers by another gate.

As a result the Indians were left with the village and all the property of the Christians, and with the horses that were left tied inside, which they killed immediately. The governor collected all of the forty horse that were there and advanced to a large open place before the principal gate of Mabila. There the Indians rushed out without venturing very far from the stockade, and to draw them on the horsemen made a feint of taking flight at a gallop, withdrawing far from the walls. And the Indians believing it to be real, came away from the village and the stockade in pursuit, greedy to make use of their arrows. And when it was time the horsemen wheeled about on the enemy, and before they could recover themselves, killed many with their lances. Don Carlos wanted to go with his horse as far as the gate, and they gave the horse an arrow shot in the breast. And not being able to turn, he dismounted to draw out the arrow, and then another came which hit him in the neck above the shoulder, at which, seeking confession, he fell dead. The Indians no longer dared to withdraw from the stockade. Then the Commander invested them on every side until the whole force had come up; and they went up on three sides to set fire to it, first cutting the stockade with axes. And the fire in its course burned the two hundred odd pounds of pearls that they had, and all their clothes and ornaments, and the sacramental cups, and the moulds for making the wafers, and the wine for saying the mass; and they were left like Arabs, completely stripped, after all their hard toil. They had left in a cabin the Christian women, which were some slaves belonging to the governor; and some pages, a friar, a priest, a cook, and some soldiers defended themselves very well against the Indians, who were not able to force an entrance before the Christians came with the fire and rescued them. And all the Spaniards fought like men of great courage, and twenty-two died, and one hundred and forty-eight others received six hundred and eighty-eight arrow wounds, and seven horses were killed and twenty-nine others wounded. Women and even boys of four years of age fought with the Christians; and Indian boys hanged themselves not to fall into their hands, and others jumped into the fire of their own accord. See with what good will those carriers acted. The arrow shots were tremendous, and sent with such a will and force that the lance of one gentleman named Nuno de Tovar, made of two pieces of ash and very good, was pierced by an arrow in the middle, as by an auger, without being split, and the arrow made a cross with the lance.

On that day there died Don Carlos, and Francis de Soto, the nephew of the Governor, and Johan de Gamez de Jaen, and Men Rodriguez, a fine Portugues gentleman, and Espinosa, a fine gentleman, and another named Velez, and one Blasco de Barcarrota, and many other honoured soldiers; and the wounded comprised all the men of most worth and honour in the army. They killed three thousand of the vagabonds without counting many others who were wounded and whom they afterwards found dead in the cabins and along the roads. Whether the chief was dead or alive was never known. The son they found thrust through with a lance.

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. 7

Biedma’s account of this affair is as follows:

From this point (Coça) we went south, drawing towards the coast of New Spain, and passed through several towns, before coming to another province, called Taszaluza, of which an Indian of such size was chief that we all considered him a giant. He awaited us quietly at his town, and on our arrival we made much ado for him, with joust at reeds, and great running of horses, although he appeared to regard it all as a small matter. Afterward we asked him for Indians to carry our burdens; he answered that he was not accustomed to serving any one, but it was rather for others all to serve him. The governor ordered that he should not be allowed to return to his house, but be kept where he was. This detention among us he felt — whence sprang the ruin that he afterwards wrought us, and it was why he told us that he could there give us nothing, and that we must go to another town of his, called Mavila, where he would bestow on us whatever we might ask. We took up our march in that direction, and came to a river, a copious flood, which we considered to be that which empties into the Bay of Chuse. Here we got news of the manner in which the boats of Narvaez had arrived in want of water, and of a Christian, named Don Teodoro, who had stopped among these Indians, with a negro, and we were shown a dagger that he had worn. We were here two days, making rafts for crossing the river. In this time the Indians killed one of the guard of the governor, who, thereupon, being angry, threatened the cacique, and told him that he should burn him if he did not give up to him those who had slain the Christian. He replied that he would deliver them to us in that town of his, Mavila. The cacique had many in attendance. An Indian, was always behind him with a fly brush of plumes, so large as to afford his person shelter from the sun.

At nine o’clock one morning we arrived at Mavila, a small town very strongly stockaded, situated on a plain. We found the Indians had demolished some habitations about it, to present a clear field. A number of the chiefs came out to receive us as soon as we were in sight, and they asked the governor, through the interpreter, if he would like to stop on that plain or preferred to enter the town, and said that in the evening they would give us the Indians to carry burdens. It appeared to our chief better to go thither with them, and he commanded that all should enter the town, which we did.

Having come within the enclosure, we walked about, talking with the Indians, supposing them to be friendly, there being not over three or four hundred in sight, though full five thousand were in the town, whom we did not see, nor did they show themselves at all. Apparently rejoicing, they began their customary songs and dances; and some fifteen or twenty women having performed before us a little while, for dissimulation, the cacique got up and withdrew into one of the houses. The governor sent to tell him that he must come out, to which he answered that he would not; and the captain of the bodyguard entered the door to bring him forth, but seeing many Indians present, fully prepared for battle, he thought it best to withdraw and leave him. He reported that the houses were filled with men, ready with bows and arrows, bent on some mischief. The governor called to an Indian passing by, who also refusing to come, a gentleman near took him by the arm to bring him, when, receiving a push, such as to make him let go his hold, ho drew his sword and dealt a stroke in return that cleaved away an arm.

With the blow they all began to shoot arrows at us, some from within the houses, through the many loopholes they had arranged, and some from without. As we were 80 wholly unprepared, having considered ourselves on a footing of peace, we were obliged, from the great injuries we were sustaining, to flee from the town, leaving behind all that the carriers had brought for us, as they had there set down their burdens. When the Indians saw that we had gone out, they closed the gates, and beating their drums, they raised flags, with great shouting; then, emptying our knapsacks and bundles, showed up above the palisades all we had brought, as much as to say that they had those things in possession. Directly as we retired, we bestrode our horses and completely encircled the town, that none might thence anywhere escape. The governor directed that sixty of us should dismount, and that eighty of the best accoutred should form in four parties, to assail the place on as many sides, and the first of us getting in should set fire to the houses, that no more harm should come to us; so we handed over our horses to other soldiers who were not in armour, that if any of the Indians should come running out of the town they might overtake them.

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.

This day the Indians slew more than twenty of our men, and those of us who escaped only hurt were two hundred and fifty, bearing upon our bodies seven hundred and sixty injuries from their shafts. At night we dressed our wounds with the fat of the dead Indians, as there was no medicine left, all that belonged to us having been burned. We tarried twenty-seven or twenty-eight days to take care of ourselves, and God be praised that we were all relieved. The women were divided as servants among those who were suffering most. We learned from the Indians that we were as many as forty leagues from the sea. It was much the desire that the governor should go to the coast, for we had tidings of the brigantines; but he dared not venture thither, as it was already the middle of November, the season very cold; and he found it necessary to go in quest of a country where subsistence might be had for the winter; here there was none, the region being one of little food. 8

The Elvas narrative parallels that of Ranjel in most particulars but adds interesting details. It confirms the Ranjel narrative in stating that the first messenger from Tascaluça reached De Soto at the Tålsi town. From what he tells us a little farther on it would seem that the village called Caxa by Ranjel was the first belonging to the Province of Tascaluça, or Tastaluça as Elvas has it. ”The following night” he goes on to say, ”he [De Soto] rested in a wood, two leagues from the town where the cacique resided, and where he was then present. He sent the field marshal, Luis de Moscoso, with fifteen cavalry, to inform him of his approach.”

From this point we will follow the narrative consecutively:

The cacique was at home, in a piazza. Before his dwelling, on a high place, was spread a mat for him, upon which two cushions were placed, one above another, to which he went and sat down, his men placing themselves around, some way removed, so that an open circle was formed about him, the Indians of the highest rank being nearest to his person. One of them shaded him from the sun with a circular umbrella, spread wide, the size of a target, with a small stem, and having a deerskin extended over cross-sticks, quartered with red and white, which at a distance made it look of taffeta, the colours were so very perfect. It formed the standard of the chief, which he carried into battle. His appearance was full of dignity: he was tall of person, muscular, lean, and symmetrical. He was the suzerain of many territories and of a numerous people, being equally feared by his vassals and the neighboring nations. The field marshal, after he had spoken to him, advanced with his company, their steeds leaping from side to side, and at times towards the chief, when he, with great gravity, and seemingly with indifference, now and then would raise his eyes and look on as in contempt.

The governor approached him, but he made no movement to rise; he took him by the hand, and they went together to seat themselves on the bench that was in the piazza.

Here follows the speech of the chief, real or imaginary, which we will omit.

The governor satisfied the chief with a few brief words of kindness. On leaving, he determined for certain reasons, to take him along. The second day on the road he came to a town called Piache; a great river ran near, and the governor asked for canoes. The Indians said they had none, but that they could have rafts of cane and dried wood, whereon they might readily enough go over, which they diligently set about making, and soon completed. They managed them; and the water being calm, the governor and his men easily crossed. . . .

After crossing the river of Piache, a Christian having gone to look after a woman gotten away from him, he had been either captured or killed by the natives, and the governor pressed the chief to tell what had been done; threatening, that should the man not appear, he would never release him. The cacique sent an Indian thence to Mauilla, the town of a chief, his vassal, whither they were going, stating that he sent to give him notice that he should have provisions in readiness and Indians for loads; but which, as afterwards appeared, was a message for him to get together there all the warriors in his country.

The governor marched three days, the last of them continually , through an inhabited region, arriving on Monday, the eighteenth day of October, at Mauilla. He rode forward in the vanguard, with fifteen cavalry and thirty infantry, when a Christian he had sent with a message to the cacique, three or four days before, with orders not to be gone long, and to discover the temper of the Indians, came out from the town and reported that they appeared to him to be making preparations for that while he was present many weapons were brought, and many people came into the town, and work had gone on rapidly to strengthen the palisade. Luis de Moecoso said that, since the Indians were so evil disposed, it would be better to stop in the woods; to which the governor answered, that he was impatient of sleeping out, and that he would lodge in the town.

Arriving near, the chief came out to receive him, with many Indians singing and playing on flutes, and after tendering his services, gave him three cloaks of marten skins. The governor entered the town with the caciques, seven or eight men of his guard, and three or four cavalry, who had dismounted to accompany them; and they seated themselves in a piazza. The cacique of Tastaluca asked the governor to allow him to remain there, and not to weary him any more with walking; but, finding that was not to be permitted, he changed his plan, and under pretext of speaking with some of the chiefs, he got up from where he sate, by the side of the governor, and entered a house where were many Indians with their bows and arrows. The governor, finding that he did not return, called to him; to which the cacique answered that he would not come out, nor would he leave that town; that if the governor wished to go in peace, he should quit at once, and not persist in carrying him away by force from his country and its dependencies.

The governor, in view of the determination and furious answer of the cacique, thought to soothe him with soft words; to which he made no answer, but with great haughtiness and contempt withdrew to where Soto could not see nor speak to him. The governor, that he might send word for the cacique for him to remain in the country at his will, and to be pleased to give him a guide, and persons to carry burdens, that he might see if he could pacify him with gentle words, called to a chief who was passing by. The Indian replied loftily that he would not listen to him. Baltasar de Gallegos, who was near, seized him by the cloak of marten skins that he had on, drew it off over his head, and left it in his hands; whereupon the Indians all beginning to rise he gave him a stroke with a cutlass, that laid open his back, when they, with loud yells, came out of their houses, discharging their bows.

The governor, discovering that if he remained there they could not escape, and if he should order his men, who were outside of the town, to come in, the horses might be killed by the Indians from the houses and great injury done, he ran out; but before he could get away he fell two or three times, and was helped to rise by those with him. He and they were all badly wounded: within the town five Christians were instantly killed. Coming forth, he called out to all his men to get farther off, because there was much harm doing from the palisade. The natives discovering that the Christians were retiring, and some, if not the greater number, at more than a walk, the Indians followed with great boldness, shooting at them, or striking down, such as they could overtake. Those in chains having set down their burdens near the fence while the Christians were retiring, the people of Mauilla lifted the loads on to their backs, and, bringing them into the town, took off their irons, putting bows and arms in their hands, with which to fight. Thus did the foe come into possession of all the clothing, pearls, and whatsoever else the Christians had beside, which was what their Indians carried. Since the natives had been at peace to that place, some of us, putting our arms in the luggage, went without any; and two, who were in the town, had their swords and halberds taken from them and put to use.

The governor, presently as he found himself in the field, called for a horse, and, with some followers, returned and lanced two or three of the Indians; the rest, going back into the town, shot arrows from the palisade. Those who would venture on their nimbleness came out a stone’s throw from behind it, to fight, retiring from time to time, when they were set upon.

At the time of the affray there was a friar, a clergyman, a servant of the governor, and a female slave in the town, who, having no time in which to get away, took to a house, and there remained until after the Indians became masters of the place. They closed the entrance with a lattice door; and there being a sword among them, which the servant had, he put himself behind the door, striking at the Indians that would have come in; while, on the other side, stood the friar and the priest, each with a club in hand, to strike down the first that should enter. The Indians, finding that they could not get in by the door, began to unroof the house; at this moment the cavalry were all arrived at Mauilla, with the infantry that had been on the march, when a difference of opinion arose as to whether the Indians should be attacked, in order to enter the town; for the result was held doubtful, but finally it was concluded to make the assault.

So soon as the advance and the rear of the force were come up the governor commanded that all the best armed should dismount, of which he made four squadrons of footmen. The Indians, observing how he was going on arranging his men, urged the cacique to leave, telling him, as was afterwards made known by some women who were taken in the town, that as he was but one man, and could fight but as one only, there being many chiefs present very skilful and experienced in matters of war, any one of whom was able to command the rest, and as things in war were so subject to fortune, that it was never certain which side would overcome the other, they wished him to put his person in safety; for if they should conclude their lives there, on which they had resolved rather than surrender, he would remain to govern the land; but for all that they said, he did not wish to go, until, from being continually urged, with fifteen or twenty of his own people he went out of the town, taking with him a scarlet cloak and other articles of the Christians’ clothing, being whatever he could carry and that seemed best to him.

The governor, informed that the Indians were leaving the town, commanded the cavalry to surround it; and into each squadron of foot he put a soldier, with a brand, to set fire to the houses, that the Indians might have no shelter. His men being placed in full concert, he ordered an arquebuse to be shot off; at the signal the four squadrons, at their proper points, commenced a furious onset, and, both sides severely suffering the Christians entered the town. The friar, the priest, and the rest who were with them in the house, were all saved, though at the cost of the lives of two brave and very able men who went thither to their rescue. The Indians fought with so great spirit that they many times drove our people back out of the town. The struggle lasted so long that many Christians, weary and very thirsty, went to drink at a pond near by, tinged with the blood of the killed, and returned to the combat. The governor, witnessing this, with those who followed him in the returning charge of the foot-men, entered the town on horseback, which gave opportunity to fire the dwellings; then breaking in upon the Indians and beating them down, they fled out of the place, the cavalry and infantry driving them back through the gates, where, losing the hope of escape, they fought valiantly; and the Christians getting among them with cutlasses, they found themselves met on all sides by their strokes, when many, dashing headlong into the flaming houses, were smothered, and heaped one upon another, burned to death.

They who perished there were in all two thousand five hundred, a few more or less; of the Christians there fell eighteen, among whom was Don Carlos, brother-in-law of the governor; one Juan de Gamez, a nephew; Men Rodriguez, a Portuguese; and Juan Vazquez, of Villanueva de Barcarota, men of condition and courage; the rest were infantry. Of the living, one hundred and fifty Christians had received seven hundred wounds from the arrows; and God was pleased that they should be healed in little time of very dangerous injuries. Twelve horses died, and seventy were hurt. The clothing the Christians carried with them, the ornaments for saying mass, and the pearls, were all burned there; they having set the fire themselves, because they considered the loss less than the injury they might receive of the Indians from within the houses, where they had brought the things together. 9

The chronicler adds that De Soto learned here that Maldonado ”was waiting for him in the port of Ochuse, six days’ travel distant.” Fearing, however, that the barrenness of his accomplishment up to that time would discourage future settlements in his new province, he remained in that place twenty-eight days and then moved on toward the northwest. He says of this land of Mauilla:

The country was a rich soil, and well inhabited; some towns were very large, and were picketed about. The people were numerous everywhere; the dwellings standing a crossbow-shot or two apart. 10

In 1559 a colony consisting of 1,500 persons left Mexico under Don Tristan de Luna and landed in a port on the north coast of the Gulf of Mexico. If this was in the Bay of Ichuse or Ychuse, as some say, it was probably Mobile Bay, and yet there are difficulties, for the environs of Mobile Bay appear to have been well populated in early times, while the explorers found few inhabitants. Falling short of provisions, a detachment of four companies of soldiers was sent inland, and 40 leagues from the port they came upon a village called Nanipacna, which the few Indians they met gave them to understand had been formerly a large place, but it had been almost destroyed by people like themselves. The impression is given that this event had happened a very short time before, but, if there was any truth in the assertion, it could have occurred only during De Soto’s invasion; and this is probably the event to which reference was made, because the distance of this place from the port is about the same as that given by the De Soto chroniclers as the distance of Mabila from the port where Maldonado was expecting them. 11 Another point of resemblance is shown by the name, which is pure Choctaw, meaning ”Hill top.” 12)

In Vandera’s enumeration of the provinces visited by Juan Pardo in 1566 and 1567 ”Trascaluza” is mentioned as ”the last of the peopled places of Florida” and seven days’ journey from “Cossa.” 13 It was not, however, reached by that explorer. In the letter of May 19, 1686, so often quoted, there is a reference to the tribe, bay, and river of “Mobila” or “Mouila. ” When it was written the people so called were at war with the Pensacola. 14 A bare notice of the Mobile occurs also in a letter of 1688. 15

After this no more is heard of the Mobile tribes until Iberville established a post in Biloxi Bay which was to grow into the great French colony of Louisiana. There were then two principal tribes in the region, the Mobile and the Tohome or Thomez, the former on Mobile River, about 2 leagues below the junction of the Alabama and the Tombigbee, while the main settlement of the latter was about McIntosh’s Bluff, on the west bank of the latter stream. 16 Pénicaut distinguishes a third tribe, already referred to, which he calls Naniaba and also People of the Forks. 17 This last name was given to them because they lived at the junction of the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers, the former evidently because their settlement was on a bluff or hill. It is still retained in the form Nanna Hubba and in the same locality. 18 Since Iberville does not mention this tribe and speaks of encountering the Tohome at the very same place, 19 it is probable that they were sometimes considered a part of the latter.

The Mobile are, of course, the identical tribe with which De Soto had such a sanguinary encounter. The meaning of the name, properly pronounced Mowil, is uncertain; Mr. Halbert suggests that it is from the Choctaw moeli, to skim, and also to paddle. Since De Soto’s time the tribe had moved much nearer the sea, probably in consequence of that encounter and as a result of later wars with the Alabama. On the French map of De Crenay there is a place marked “Vieux Mobiliens” on the south side of the Alabama, apparently close to Pine Barren Creek, between Wilcox and Dallas Counties, Alabama. 20 This was probably a station occupied by the Mobile tribe between the time of De Soto and the period of Iberville.

Nothing positive is known regarding the history of the Tohome before they appear in the French narratives. On the De Crenay map above alluded to, however, there is a short affluent of the Alabama below where Montgomery now stands called ”Auke Thomé, ”evidently identical with the creek now known as Catoma, the name of which is probably corrupted from Auke Thomé. Auke is evidently oke the Alabama word for “water” or “stream”, and the Thomé is the spelling for the Tohome tribe used on the same map. The natural conclusion is that the creek was named for the tribe and marked a site which they had formerly occupied. 21 Thus they, like the Mobile, would appear to have come from the neighborhood of the Alabama country.

Iberville says that Tohome means ” Little Chief,” but he is evidently mistaken. 22 “Little Chief” would require an entirely distinct combination in Choctaw or any related language; the nearest Choctaw word is perhaps tomi tommi, or tombi, which signifies “to shine,” or “radiant,” or “sunshine,” but we really know nothing about the meaning of the tribal name.

In April, 1700, Iberville ascended Pascagoula River to visit the tribes upon it, and there he learned that the village of the Mobile was three days’ journey farther on toward the northeast and that they numbered 300 men. The Tohome were said to be one day’s journey beyond on the same river of the Mobile and they also were said to have 300 men.

On leaving Pascagoula, Iberville selected two of his men to go, with the chief of that nation and his brother, to the Choctaw, Tohome, and Mobile, sending the chief of each nation a present and inviting them to come and enter into relations of friendship with him. 23 His people returned in May, having gone as far as the village of the Tohome, but they had turned back there on account of the high waters. 24 In the winter of 1700-1701 Bienville sent to the Mobile Indians for corn. 25 In January, 1702, after Iberville had reached Louisiana on his third voyage, he sent Bienville to begin work upon a fort on Mobile River, and soon afterwards followed him in person. This fort, as Hamilton informs us, was located at what is now known as Twenty-seven Mile Bluff. 26 On March 4 he sent his brother ”to visit many abandoned settlements of the savages, in the islands which are in the neighborhood of this place. ” He continues as follows :

My brother returned in the evening. He noted many places formerly occupied by the savages, which the war against the Conchaque and Alibamons has forced them to abandon. The greater number of these settlements are inundated about half a foot when the waters are high. These habitations are in the islands, with which this river is full for thirteen leagues. He made a savage show him the place where their gods are, of which all the nations in the neighborhood tell so many stories, and where the Mobilians come to offer sacrifices. They pretend that one can not touch them without dying immediately; that they are descended from heaven. It was necessary to give a gun to the savage who showed the place to them. He approached them only stealthily and to within ten paces. They found them by searching on a little rise in the canes, near an ancient village which was destroyed, in one of these islands. They brought them out. They are five figures: of a man, a woman, a child, a bear, and an owl, made in plaster so as to look like the savages of this country. For my part I think that it was some Spaniard who, at the time of Soto made in plaster the figures of these savages. It appeared that that had been done a long time ago. We have them at the establishment; the savages, who see them there, are surprised at our hardihood and that we do not die. I am bringing them to France although they are not much of a curiosity. 27

Five days later Iberville left to visit the Tohome, and he gives us the following account of his trip:

The 9th I left in a felucca to go to the Tohomés. I spent the night five leagues from there; one finds the end of the islands three leagues above the post. From the post I have found almost everywhere, on both sides, abandoned settlements of the savages, where it is only necessary to place settlers, who would have only canes or reeds, or roots, to cut in order to sow; the river, above the islands, is half a league wide and five to six fathoms deep.

The 10th I spent the night with the Tohomés, whom I found eight leagues distant from the post, following the windings of the river. The first settlements, called [those of the] Mobiliens, are six leagues from it. These two nations are established along the two banks of the river and in the islands and little rivers, separated by families; sometimes there are four or five and sometimes as many as twelve cabins together. They are very industrious, working the earth very much. The greater number of their settlements are inundated during the high waters for from eight to ten days. The village of the Tohomés, that is to say of the Little Chief, where there are about eight or ten cabins together, is at about the latitude of 31 degrees 22 minutes. They have communicating trails from one to another; that place may be six and a half leagues to the north a quarter northeast from the post. Following the rising grounds one comes easily to these villages; it would be easy to make wagon roads; one can go there and return at present on horseback. The ebb and flow come as far as the Tohomés when the waters are low. According to the number of settlements, which I have seen abandoned this river must have been well peopled. These savages speak the language of the Bayogoulas, at least there is little difference. There are in these two nations 350 men. 28

Pénicaut mentions the arrival of the chiefs of several nations of Indians at the Mobile fort in 1702 to sing the calumet, and among them those of “the Mobiliens, the Thomez, and the people of the Forks [the Naniaba]. 29 The following further translation from Pénicaut contains some interesting information regarding the tribes with which we are dealing:

At this time five of our Frenchmen asked permission of M. de Bienville to go to trade with the Alibamons in order to have fowls or other provisions of which they had need. They took the occasion to leave with ten of these Alibamons, who were at our fort of Mobile and who wished to return. On the way they stopped five leagues from our fort in a village where were three different nations of savages assembled, who held their feast there. They are called the Mobiliens, the Tomez and the Namabas; they do not have a temple, but they have a cabin in which they perform feats of jugglery.

To juggle (jongler), in their language, is a kind of invocation to their great spirit. For my part, and I have seen them many times, I think that it is the devil whom they invoke, since they go out of this cabin raving like those possessed, and then they work sorceries, like causing to walk the skin of an otter, dead for more than two years, and full of straw. They work many other sorceries which would appear incredible to the reader. This is why I do not want to stop here. I would not even mention it if I, as well as many other Frenchmen who were present there with me, had not been witness of it. Those who perform such feats, whether they are magical or otherwise, are very much esteemed by the other savages. They have much confidence in their prescriptions for diseases.

They have a feast at the beginning of September, in which they assemble for a custom like that of the ancient Lacedemonians, it is that on the day of this feast they whip their children until the blood comes. The entire village is then assembled in one grand open space. It is necessary that all pass, boys and girls, old and young, to the youngest age, and when there are some children sick, the mother is whipped for the child. After that they begin dances, which last all night. The chiefs and the old men make an exhortation to those whipped, telling them that it is in order to teach them not to fear the injuries which their enemies may be able to inflict upon them, and to show themselves good warriors, and not to cry nor weep, even in the midst of the fire, supposing that they were thrown there by their enemies. 30

Pénicaut goes on to say that four of the five prospective traders were treacherously killed by Alabama Indians when close to their town, one barely escaping with his life, and that this was the cause of a war between the French and that tribe. 31

La Harpe, a better authority than Pénicaut, places this event in the year 1703. 32 We learn from the same explorer that in May, 1702, eight chiefs of the Alabama had come to Mobile to ask Bienville whether or not they should continue their war with the Chickasaw, Tohome (Tomés), and Mobile, and that Bienville had advised them to make peace. 33 October 1 some of them came down, sang the calumet, and promised to make peace. 34 From this it appears that the alliance which Pénicaut represents as existing between the Alabama and the Mobile and Tohome was not of long standing. The act of treachery in killing four out of five French traders was, it seems, a first act of hostility after peace had been made the year before. The leader of the traders was named Labrie, and the one who escaped was a Canadian. 35 According to Pénicaut, Bienville’s first attempt to obtain reparation for this hostile act had to be given up on account of the treachery of the Mobile, Tohome, People of the Forks, and other Indian allies who misled and abandoned him “because they were friends and allies of the Alibamons against whom we were leading them to war.” 36 La Harpe does not mention this. Bienville led another party later on with little better success. Pénicaut places this expedition in 1702, 37 La Harpe in December, 1703, and January, 1704. 38 Two Tohome are mentioned by La Harpe as deputed along with three Canadians to bring in the Choctaw chiefs in order to make peace between them and the Chickasaw, who had come to Mobile to ask it. This was December 9, 1705.39 On the 18th of the same month it is noted that Bienville ”reconciled the Mobilian nation with that of the Thomés; they were on the point of declaring war against each other on account of the death of a Mobilian woman, killed by a Thomé.” 39

This is the only mention of any difference between these two tribes; it is enough, however, to show that there was a clear distinction between them. In January, 1706, M. de Boisbrillant set out against the Alabama with 60 Canadians and 12 Indians. According to La Harpe he returned February 21 with 2 scalps and a slave. 40 Pénicaut, who places the expedition in 1702, says that he had 40 men, killed all the men in 6 Alabama canoes, and enslaved all of the women and children. He adds that the Mobilians begged the slaves from M. de Bienville, “because they were their relations,” that the request was granted; and that because of this action the Mobile afterwards joined the French in all the wars which they had with the Alabama. 41 In view of the hostilities known to have existed between the tribes in question when the French first arrived in the country this last statement may well be doubted. According to Pénicaut the Alabama and their allies marched against the Mobile in 1708 with more than 4,000 men, but, owing to the forethought of D’Artaguette, who had advised his Indian allies to post sentinels, they accomplished no further damage than the burning of some cabins. 42 This incursion is not mentioned by La Harpe, but, as D’Artaguette was actually in command at the time and La Harpe passes over the years 1708 and 1709 in almost complete silence, such a raid is very probable.

From what has been said above it is apparent that the Mobile and Tohome tribes were originally distinct, but they must have united in rather early French times. The last mention of the latter in the narrative of La Harpe is in connection with the murder, in 1715, of the Englishman, Hughes, who had come overland to the Mississippi, had been captured there and sent as a prisoner to Mobile by the French, and had afterwards been liberated by Bienville. He passed on to Pensacola and started inland toward the Alabama when he was killed by a Tohome Indian. 43 Bienville, about 1725, speaks of the Little Tohome and the Big Tohome, by which he probably means the Naniaba and the Tohome respectively. 44 Although none of our authorities mentions the fact in specific terms, and indeed the map of De Crenay of 1733 still places the Tohome in their old position on the Tombigbee, 45 it is evident from what Du Pratz says regarding them, that by the third decade in the eighteenth century they had moved farther south, probably to have the protection of the new Mobile fort and partly to be near a trading post.

A little to the north of Fort Louis is the nation of the Thomez, which is as small and as serviceable as that of the Chatôts; it is said also that they are Catholics; they are friends to the point of importunity. 46

Keeping toward the north along the bay, one finds the nation of the Mobiliens, near the point where the river of Mobile empties into the bay of the same name. The true name of this nation is Mowill; from this word the French have made Mobile, and then they have named the river and the bay Mobile, and the natives belonging to this nation Mobiliens. 47

The Mobile church registers do not contain any references to the Tohome tribe, but the Mobile, or Mobilians, are mentioned in several places, the first date being in 1715, the last in 1761. 48 The Tohome and Naniaba come to the surface still later in a French document dated some time before the cession of Mobile to Great Britain (1763) 49 and in a list of Choctaw towns and chiefs compiled by the English, 1771-72. 50 It is probable that the languages spoken by them were so close to Choctaw that they afterwards passed as Choctaw and, mingling with the true Choctaw, in time forgot their own original separateness. And this probability is strengthened by a Choctaw census made by Regis du Roullet, a French officer, in 1730, who classes the Tohome, Naniaba, and some Indians “aux mobiliens” as “Choctaw established on the river of Mobile.” 51

History, Mobile, Tohome,

Swanton, John Reed. Early History of the Creek Indians and Their Neighbors. US Government Printing Office. 1902.

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  1. Harrisse, Disc, of N. Amer., p. 168.[]
  2. Hamilton, Col. Mobile, p. 10.[]
  3. See pp. 144-146.[]
  4. See pp. 147-148.[]
  5. See p. 145.[]
  6. A West Indian word for an Indian dance. (Note by Bourne.[]
  7. Ranjol, Trans, in Bourne, Narr. of De Soto, II, pp. 120-128.[]
  8. Bourne;, Narr. of De Soto, II, pp. 16-21.[]
  9. Bourne, Narr. of De Soto, i, pp. 87-87.[]
  10. Bourne, Narr. of De Soto, I, p. 98.[]
  11. See Biedma in Bourne’s Do Soto, II, p. 21.[]
  12. Mr. H. S. Halbert believed that Nanipacna was at Gees Bend on the Alabama River and was that town afterwards indicated as an old site of the Mobile Indians. See pl. 5.[]
  13. Ruidiaz, La Florida, II, p. 486.[]
  14. Serrano y Sanz, Doc. Hist., p. 197.[]
  15. Serrano y Sanz, Doc. Hist., p. 219.[]
  16. Hamilton, Col. Mobile, p. 106.[]
  17. Margry, Déc.. v, pp. 425, 427.[]
  18. Hamilton, Col. Mobile, p. 107.[]
  19. Margry, Déc, IV, p. 514.[]
  20. Hamilton, Col. Mobile, p. 190 and plate 5; see footnote, page 159.[]
  21. Hamilton, Col. Mobile, p. 190 and plate 5. Mr. Halbert has suggested that Thomé may be from a Choctaw word referred to just below and may have nothing to do with the tribe, but I believe he is in error.[]
  22. Margry, Déc. IV, p. 514.[]
  23. Margry, Déc., IV, p. 427.[]
  24. Margry, Déc., IV, p. 429.[]
  25. Margry, Déc., IV, p. 504.[]
  26. Hamilton, Col. Mobile, p. 52.[]
  27. Iberville, in Margry, IV, pp. 512-513.[]
  28. Iberville, in Margry, IV, pp. 513-514. For the Bayogoulas see Bull. 43, Bur. Amer. Ethn.,pp. 274-279.[]
  29. Margry, V, p. 425.[]
  30. Pénicaut, in Margry, V, pp. 427-428.[]
  31. Margry, Déc, V, pp. 428-429.[]
  32. La Harpe, Jour, Hist., pp. 76-77, 79.[]
  33. La Harpe, Jour, Hist., p. 72.[]
  34. La Harpe, Jour, Hist., pp. 73-74.[]
  35. La Harpe, Jour, Hist., pp. 77, 79.[]
  36. Margry, Déc., v, p. 429.[]
  37. Margry, Déc., v, pp. 429-431.[]
  38. La Harpe, Jour. Hist., pp. 82-83. The accounts of these two writers are given on pp. 194-195.[]
  39. La Harpe, Jour. Hist., p. 94.[]
  40. La Harpe, Jour. Hist., p. 96.[]
  41. Margry, Déc., V, p. 432.[]
  42. Margry, Déc., V, p. 478.[]
  43. La Harpe, Jour. Hist., pp. 118-119.[]
  44. French transcriptions, Lib. Cong.[]
  45. Plate 5; Hamilton, Col. Mobile, p. 196.[]
  46. Du Pratz, Hist, de la Louisiane, II, p. 213.[]
  47. Du Pratz, Hist, de la Louisiane, II, pp. 213-214.[]
  48. Hamilton. Col. Mobile, p. 108.[]
  49. Miss. Prov. Arch., I, p. 26.[]
  50. Lib. Cong., MSS.[]
  51. French Transcriptions, Lib. Cong.[]

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