Barnard Shipp.

The history of Hernando de Soto and Florida; or, Record of the events of fifty-six years, from 1512 to 1568 online

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in ascending the Tallapooca Kiver is : Mucelasse and Savannuca, opposite each other ;
Tuccabatcbe, Coolome, Otasse or Atasse, and Talisse. It is thus they are found in
Bartram's Travels ; and they are written as he wrote them.


Creek Buildings, Mystical Fire, Public Squares, etc. — "At last
having repacked and set off again, in the evening we arrived at the banks of
the great Tallapoosa Biver, and came to camp under shelter of some Indian
cabins, in expansive fields, close to the river bank, opposite the town of
Savannuca.* Next morning, very early, though very cold, and the surface of
the earth as hoary as if covered with a fall of snow, the trader standing on the
opposite shore entirely naked, except a breech-clout, f and encircled by a
company of red men in the like habit, hailed us, and presently, with canoes,
brought us all over and conducted us to the town of Mucclasse, a mile or two

"The trader obliged me with his company on a visit to the Alabama (an
Indian town at the confluence of the two fine rivers, the Tallapoosa and Coosa,
which here resign their names to the great Alabama), where are to be seen
traces of the ancient French fortress, Thoulouse ; here are yet lying half buried
in the earth, a few pieces of ordnance, four and six pounders. Staying all
night at Alabama, where we had a grand entertainment at the public square,
with music, and dancing, we returned next day to Mucclasse; where, being
informed of a company of traders about setting off from Tuccabatche for
Augusta, I made a visit to that town to know the truth of it, but on my arrival
there they were gone ; but, being informed of another caravan which was to
start from the Ottasse town in two or three weeks' time, I returned to Muc-
classe in order to prepare for my departure.

"Now, having all things prepared for my departure, early in the morning,
I set off; passed through continued plantations and Indian towns on my way
up the Tallapoosa River, being everywhere treated by the inhabitants with
marks of friendship, even as though I had been their countryman and relation.
Called by the way at the beautiful town of Coolome, where I tarried some
time. Leaving Coolome, I recrossed the river at Tuccabatche, an ancient and
large town ; thence continued up the river, and at evening arrived at Attasse
(Ottasse), where I continued near a week, waiting the preparations of the
traders with whom I was to join in company to Augusta.

"The next day after my arrival, I was introduced to the ancient chiefs, at
the public square ; and in the evening, in company with the traders, who are
numerous in this town, repaired to the great rotunda, where were assembled
the greatest number of ancient venerable chiefs and warriors that I had ever
beheld : we spent the evening and greater part of the night together, in drink-
ing cassine and smoking tobacco. i>

" The great council house or rotunda is appropriated to much the same pur-
poses as the public square, but more private, and seems particularly dedicated
to political affairs ; women and youth are never admitted ; and I suppose it is
death for a female to presume to enter the door, or approach within its pale.
It is a vast conical building or circular dome, capable of accommodating many
hundred people ; constructed and furnished within, exactly in the game manner
as those of the Cherokees [see page 650], but much larger than any I had

* Bartram is now returning. His route is reversed ; he ascends along the Tallapoosa.
t A piece of cloth arranged like a baby's clout, but supported by a belt above the


seen of them : there are people appointed to take care of it, to have it daily
swept clean, and to provide canes for fuel, or to give light.

"As their vigils and manner of conducting their vespers and mystical fire in
this rotunda are extremely singular and altogether different from the customs
and usages of any other people, I shall proceed to describe them. In the first
place, the governor or officer who has the management of this business, with
his servants attending, orders the black drink to be brewed, which is a decoc-
tion or infusion of the leaves and tender shoots of the caasine : this is done
under an open shed or pavilion, at twenty or thirty yards' distance, directly
opposite the door of the council house. Next he orders bundles of dry canes
to be brought in : these are previously split and broken in pieces to about the
length of two feet, and then placed obliquely crossways upon one another on
the floor, forming a spiral circle round about the great centre pillar, rising to a
foot or eighteen inches in height from the ground ; and this circle spreading as
it proceeds round and round, often repeated from right to left, every revolution
increases its diameter, and at length extends to the distance of ten or twelve
feet from the centre, more or less, according to the length of time the assembly
is to continue. By the time these preparations are accomplished, it is night,
and the assembly have taken their seats in order. The exterior extremity or
outer end of the spiral circle takes fire and immediately rises into a bright
flame (but how this is effected I did not plainly apprehend ; I saw no person
set fire to it ; there might have been fire left on the earth ; however, I neither
saw nor smelt fire or smoke until the blaze instantly ascended upwards), which
gradually and slowly creeps round the centre pillar, with the course of the sun,
feeding on the dry canes, and affords a cheerful, gentle, and sufficient light
until the circle is consumed, when the council breaks up. Soon after this
illumination takes place, the ancient chiefs and warriors are seated on their
cabins or sofas on the side of the house opposite the door, in three classes or
ranks, rising a little, one above and behind the other ; and the white people
and red people of confederate towns in the like order on the left hand ; a
transverse range of pillars, supporting a thin clay wall, about breast high,
separating them; the king's cabin or seat is in front; the next to the back of
it the head warriors ; and the third or last accommodates the young warriors,
etc. The great war chief's seat or place is on the same cabin with and im-
mediately to the left hand of the king, and next to the white people ; and to the
right hand of the mico or king the most venerable head-men and warriors are
seated. The assembly being now seated in order, and the house illuminated,
two middle-aged men, who perform the offices of slaves or servants pro tem-
pore, come in together at the door, each having very large conch-shells full of
black drink, and advance with slow, uniform, and steady steps, their eyes or
countenances lifted up, singing very low but sweetly ; they come within six or
eight paces of the king's and white people's cabins, where they stop together,
and each rests his shell on a tripod or little table, but presently takes it up
again, and, bowing very low, advances obsequiously, crossing or intersecting
each other about halfway : he who rested his shell before the white people
now stands before the king, and the other who stopped before the king stands
before the white people ; when each presents his shell, one to the king, and the
other to the chief of the white people, and as soon as he raises it to his mouth,


the slave titters or sinjjs two notes ; each of which continues as long as he has
breath ; and as long as these notes continue, so long must the person drink or
at least keep the shell to his mouth. These two lon^ notes are very solemn,
and at once strike the imagination with a religious awe or homage to the
Supreme, sounding somewhat like a-hoo-ojah and a-lu-yah. After this man-
ner the whole assembly are treated, as long as the drink and light continue to
hold out ; and as soon as the drinking begins, tobacco and pipes are brought.
The skin of a wild-cat or young tiger stuffed with tobacco is brought, and laid
at the king's feet, with the great or royal pipe beautifully adorned; the skin
is usually of the animals of the king's family or tribe, as the wild-cat, otter,
bear, rattlesnake, etc. A skin of tobacco is likewise brought and cast at the
feet of the white chief of the town, and from him it passes from one to another
to till their pipes from, though each person has besides his own peculiar skin of
tobacco. The king or chief smokes first in the great pipe a few whiffs, blowing
it off ceremoniously, first towards the sun, or as it is generally supposed to the
Great Spirit, for it is puffed upwards, next towards the four cardinal points,
then towards the white people in the house ; then the great pipe is taken from
the hand of the mico by a slave, and presented to the chief white man, and
then to the great war chief, whence it circulates through the rank of head men
and warriors, then returns to the king. After this each one fills his pipe from
his own or his neighbor's skin.

The great or public square generally stands alone, in the centre of the high-
est part of the town. It consists of four square or cubical buildings, or houses
of one story, uniform, and of the same dimensions, so situated as to form an
exact tetragon, encompassing an area of half an acre of ground, more or less,
according to the strength or largeness of the town, or will of the inhabitants :
there is a passage or avenue at each corner of equal width : each building is
constructed of a wooden frame, fixed strongly in the earth, the walls filled in,
and neatly plastered with clay mortar ; close on three sides, that is the back
and two ends, except within about two feet of the wall- plate or eaves, which is
left open for the purpose of a window and to admit a free passage of the air ;
the front or side next to the area is quite open, like a piazza. One of these
buildings is properly the council house, where the mico, chiefs, and wai-riors,
with the citizens who have business, or choose to repair thither, assemble every
day in council, to hear, decide, and rectify all grievances, complaints, and
contentions, arising between the citizens ; give audience to ambassadors and
strangers', hear news and talks from confederate towns, allies, or distant na-
tions ; consult about particular affairs of the town, as erecting habitations for
new citizens, or establishing young families, concerning agriculture, etc. This
building is somewhat different from the other three : it is closely shut up on
three sides, that is, the back and two ends, and besides, a partition wall longi-
tudinally from end to end divides it into two apartments, the back part totally
dark, only three small arched apertures or holes opening into it from the front
apartment or piazza, and little larger than just to admit a man to crawl in upon
his hands and knees. This secluded place appears to me to be designed as a
sanctuary* dedicated to religion, or rather to priestcraft, for here are deposited .

* " Sanotoriam or sncred temple j and it is said to be death for any person but the
mice, war chief, and high priest to enter in, and none are admitted but by permission
of the priests, who guard it day and night."


all the sacred things, as the physic pot, rattles, chaplets of deer's hoofs, and
other apparatus of conjuration ; and likewise the calumet or great pijje of
peace, the imperial standard, or eagle's tail, which is made of the fea-
thers of the white eagle's tail,* curiously formed and displayed, like'an open
fan on a sceptre or staff, as white and clean as possible when displayed for
peace, but when for war, the feathers are painted or tinged with vermilion.
The piazza or front of this building is equally divided into three apartments,
by two transverse walls or partitions, about breast high, each having three
orders or ranges of seats, or cabins, stepping one above and behind the other,
which accommodate the senate and audience, in the like order as observed in
the rotunda. The other three buildings which compose the square, are alike
furnished with three ranges of cabins or sofas, and serve for a banqueting house,
to shelter and accommodate the audience and spectators at all times, particu-
larly at feasts or public entertainments, where all classes of citizens resort day
and night in the summer or moderat.e season ; the children and females, how-
ever, are seldom or never seen in the public square.

The pillars and walls of the houses of the square are decorated with various
paintings and sculptures ; which I suppose to be hieroglyphic, and as a historic
legendary of political and sacerdotal affairs : but they are extremely pictur-
esque and caricature, as men in a variety of attitudes, some ludicrous enough,
others having the head of some kind of animal, as those of a duck, turkey,
bear, fox, wolf, buck, etc., and again those kinds of creatures are represented
having the human head. These designs are not ill executed ; the outlines bold,
free, and well proportioned. The pillars supporting the front or piazza of the
council house of the square are ingeniously formed in the likeness of vast
speckled serpents, ascending upwards, the Ottasses being of the snake family or
tribe. At this time the town was fasting, ttiking medicine, and I think I may
say, praying, to avert a grievous calamity of sickness, which had lately afflicted
them, and laid in the grave abundance of their citizens. They fast seven or
eight days, during which time they eat or drink nothing but a meagre gruel,
made of a little corn flour and water, taking at the same time, by way of medi-
cine or physic, a strong decoction of the roots of the iris versicolor, which is a
powerful cathartic : they hold this root in high estimation ; every town culti-
vates a little plantation of it, having a large artificial pond, just without the
town, planted and almost overgrown with it, where they usually dig clay for
pottery, and mortar and plaster for their buildings, and I observed where they
had been lately digging up this root.

In the midst of a large oblong square adjoining this town (which was sur-
rounded with a low bank or terrace), is standing a high pillar, round like a pin
or needle ; it is about forty feet in height, and between two and three feet in
diameter at the earth, gradually tapering upwards to a point ; it is one piece of
pine wood, and arises from the centre of a low, circular, artificial hill, but it
leans a little to one side. I inquired of the Indians and traders what it was
designed for, who answered they knew not : the Indians said their ancestors
found it in the same situation, when they first arrived and possessed the coun-
try, adding that the red men or Indians, then the possessors, whom they ran-

* Vultur sacra.


quished, were as ignorant as themselves concerning it, saying that their ances-
tors likewise found it standing so. This monument, simple as it is, may be
worthy of the observations of a traveller, since it naturally excites at least the
following queries : for what purpose was it designed ? its great antiquity and
incorruptibility — what method or machines they employed to bring it to the
spot, and how they raised it erect? There is no tree or species of the pine,
whose wood, i. e., so large a portion of the trunk, is supposed to be incorruptible
exposed in the open air to all weathers, but the long-leaved pine (JHnus palus-
tris), and there is none growing within twelve or fifteen miles of this place."

The Houses and Council House op the Cherokees. — The town of
Cowe consists of about a hundred dwellings, near the banks of the Tanase,*
and on both sides of the river.

The Cherokees construct their habitations on a different plan from the
Creeks ; that is, but one oblong, four-square building of one story high ; the
materials consisting of logs or trunks of trees, stripped of their bark, notched at
the ends, fixed one upon another, and afterwards plastered well both inside and
out, with clay well tempered with dry grass, the whole covered or roofed with
the bark of the chestnut tree or long broad shingles. This building is, however,
partitioned transversely, forming three apartments, which communicate with
each other by inside doors ; each house or habitation has, besides, a little
conical house covered with dirt, which is called the winter or hot-house ; this
stands a few yards' distance from the mansion house, opposite the front door.

The council or town-house is a large rotunda, capable of accommodating
several hundred people ; it stands on the top of an ancient artificial mount of
earth, of about twenty feet perpendicular, and the rotunda on the top of it
being above thirty feet more, gives the whole fabric an elevation of about sixty
feet from the common surface of the ground. But it may be proper to observe
that this mount on which the rotunda stands is of a much more ancient date
than the building, and perhaps was raised for another purpose. The Chero-
kees themselves are as ignorant as we are by what people or for what purpose
these artificial hills were raised ; they have various stories concerning them, the
best of which amount to no more than mere conjectures, and leave us entirely
in the dark ; but they have a tradition, common with the other nations of
Indians, that they found them in much the same condition as they now appear,
when their forefathers arrived from the west and possessed themselves of the
country, after vanquishing the nations of red men who then inhabited it, who
themselves found these mounts when they took possession of the country, the
former possessors delivering the same story concerning them. Perhaps they
were designed and appropriated by the people who constructed them to some
religious purpose, as great altars and temples similar to the high places and
sacred groves anciently among the Canaanites and other nations of Palestine
and Judea.-f

■'' It is singular how mapmiikers have mngnified the ancient Indian names : bow
much simpler is Tanase than Tennessee, Chata Uche than Chattahoocbee^ Apalachucia
than Apalacbicola ; Tuscaloosa for the name of a river is far preferable to Black
Warrior, which it means, and Kuka to Crooked, which it means.

t Mankind have been erecting mounds from the time of the Scytbla.n kings, who
were buried on the Borysthenea or Dneiper, and the Trojan heroes interred on the


The rotunda is constraeted after the following manner : They first fix in the
ground a circular range of posts or trunks of trees, about six feet high, at equal
distances, which are notched at top to receive into them, from one to another,
a range of beams or wall-plates ; within this is another circular order of very
large and strong pillars, above twelve feet high, notched in like manner at top,
to receive another range of wall- plates, and within this is yet another or third
range of stronger and higher pillars, but fewer in number, and standing at a
greater distance from each other ; and lastly, in the centre stands a very strong
pillar, which forms the pinnacle of the building, and to which the rafters centre
at top ; these rafters are strengthened and bound together by cross-beams and
laths, which sustain the roof or covering, which is a layer of bark neatly placed,
and tight enough to exclude the rain, and sometimes they cast a thin super-
ficies of earth over all. There is but one large door, which serves at the same
time to admit light, and the smoke to escape when a fire is kindled ; but as
there is but a small fire kept, sufficient to give light at night, and that fed with
dry, small, sound wood divested of its bark, there is but little smoke. All
around the inside of the building, between the second range of pillars and the
wall is a range of cabins or sofas, consisting of two or three steps, one above
and behind the other, in theatrical order, where the assembly sit or lean down ;
these sofas are covered with mats or carpets very curiously made of thin splints
of ash or oak, woven or plaited together ; near the great pillar in the centre
the fire is kindled for light, near which the musicians seat themselves, and
round about this the performers exhibit their dances and other shows at public
festivals, which happen almost every night throughout the year.* (Bartram.)

Note (22), page Sit.


" There are two species of vultures in these regions [Florida], I think not
mentioned in history. The first we shall describe is a beautiful bird, near the
size of a turkey buzzard, but his wings are much shorter, and consequently he
falls greatly below that admirable bird in sail. I shall call this" bird the painted
vulture. The bill is long and straight almost to the point, where it is hooked
or bent suddenly down and sharp ; the head and neck bare of feathers nearly
down to the stomach, where the feathers begin to cover the skin and soon be-

shores of the Hellespont, to the mound of Waterloo and the mansoleuni of Kosciusko.
A mound to Wiishington would be the cheapest and most enduring monument that
could be erected to his memory.

* William Bartram, botanist, at the request of Dr. John Fothergill, of London, an
eminent Qu-aker physician and public benefactor, searched the Floridas and western
parts of Carolina and Georgia for the discovery of rare and useful productions of na-
ture, chiefly in the vegetable kingdom. He left Philadelphia on this journey April,
1773, and returned from it to his father's house, on the banks of the river Schuylkill,
within four miles [then] of Philadelphia, January, 1778. The father of the preceding
was John Bartram, a Quak r of Huguenot descent, and the first botanist of America.
He also visited Florida about the year 1758. Mount Hope, " a very high shelly bluff
upon the little lake" of St. John's River, was then so named by him.


come long and of a soft texture, forming a ruff or tippet, in whicli the bird, by-
contracting his neck, can hide that as well as his head ; the bare skin on the
neck appears loose and wrinkled, and is of a deep, bright yellow color, inter-
mixed with coral-red ; the hinder part of the neck is nearly covered with short,
stiff hair, and the skin of this part of the neck is of a dun-purple color, gradu-
ally becomiiig red as it approaches the yellow of the sides and forepart. The
crown of the head is red ; there are lobed lappets of a reddish- orange color,
which he has on the base of the upper mandible. But what is singular, a large
portion of the stomach hangs down on the breast of the bird, in the likeness
of a sack or half wallet, and seems to be a duplicature of the craw, which is
naked and of a reddish flesh-color ; this is partly concealed by the feathers of
the breast, unless when it is loaded with food [which is commonly, I believe,
roasted reptiles], and then it appears prominent. The plumage of the bird is
generally white or cream-color, except the quill-feathers of the wings, and two
or three rows of the coverts, which are of a beautiful dark brown ; the tail,
which is large and white, is tipped with this dark brown or black ; the legs and
feet of a clear white ; the eye is encircled with a gold-colored iris ; the pupil

These birds seldom appear but when the deserts are set on fire [which hap-
pens almost every day throughout the year, in some part or other, by the
Indians, for the purpose of rousing the game, as also by the lightning], when
they are seen at a distsince soaring on the wing, gathering from every quarter,
and gradually approaching the burnt plains, where they alight upon the ground
yet smoking with hot embers. They gather up the roasted serpents, frogs, and
lizards, filling their sacks with them ; at this time a person may shoot them at
pleasure, they not being willing to quit the feast, and indeed seem to brave all

The Creeks or Muscogulges construct their royal standard of the tail-feathers
of this bird, which is called by a name signifying the eagle's tail; this they
carry with them when they go to battle, biit then it is painted with a zone of
red within the brown tips ; and in peaceable negotiations, it is displayed new,
clean, and white. This standard is held most sacred by them on all occasions,
and is constructed and ornamented with great ingenuity." (Bartram.)

Note (23), page 379.

Though throughout the region of the United States there are found ancient
fortifications or entrenched camps, yet none of this kind appear to have been
in use when this country was first explored. The forts then used appear to

Online LibraryBarnard ShippThe history of Hernando de Soto and Florida; or, Record of the events of fifty-six years, from 1512 to 1568 → online text (page 70 of 75)