|Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto|
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Spanish explorer De Soto crossed Alabama in 1540” was originally published in the May 26, 1977 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)
Atop the high banks at Claiborne, and looking south as the river flows, the tall, cylinder-shaped structure of the state grain elevator comes into view. Little thought is given, except that one may marvel at modern man’s ability to construct such an engineering feat.
Perhaps a few might pause and wonder what happened along these banks back across history’s faded pages before Claiborne was settled and the early settlers saw fit to stop here and build the many homesteads scattered across the countryside.
Few realize that on the very spot where the grain elevator now stands, an event took place that helped shape the destiny of this country for all time.
The year was 1540, and Hernando De Soto, the famed Spanish explorer, was returning southward after his swing in what is now north Alabama and Georgia.
As he moved southward, moving this way and that, he avoided the rough terrain and sought out the larger Indian villages, where he could replenish his supplies and take by force slave labor that would carry these supplies across the country to the west.
Not much is known as to how long it took for the army to cross the Alabama River. Pickett’s History of Alabama, probably the most authoritative of all the records on De Soto, states that the cross was made on Oct. 15 and Oct. 16, 1540.
The army had stopped earlier at the large village of Piache and rested. The village of Piache was located near where Limestone and Flat creeks join the mighty Alabama River.
Lack of salt
De Soto’s soldiers were suffering a disease caused by lack of salt. It was at Piache that the Indians showed the Spaniards a certain type of weed that they burned and mixed in the food, thus curing the disease.
After he crossed the river at the site below Claiborne, De Soto’s line of march carried him to the large village of Maubila. Here his army destroyed so completely this large village of nearly 11,000 that the exact location was never found.
The battle of Maubila lasted nine hours, and in it De Soto lost 82 of his most valuable followers and 40 of his best trained war horses, not to mention most of his supplies and medicines.
De Soto was defeated. Wounded and sick, he never completely recovered from the battle of Maubila. The river crossing marked the beginning of the end for this soldier of fortune, who had run roughshod across the land, bringing death and destruction wherever he went.
Had he chosen not to cross the river that fateful day, history might have afforded many different incidents. But fate sometimes can be a cruel companion, and that day in October there by the river proved no exception.
(This column also included a photo of the state grain elevator with the following caption: Grain elevator is now where De Soto planned to cross river.)
(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School, served in the Korean War, lived for a time among Apache Indians, moved to Monroe County in June 1964 (some sources say 1961) and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. For years, Singleton’s column “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. Some of his earlier columns also appeared under the heading of “Monroe County History: Did You Know?” He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)