Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hernando DeSoto and The Lady of Cofitachequi

This is an illustration I was commissioned to do for Hopscotch magazine. The explorer is De Soto, who pillaged his way through what is now Southern United States looking for the mountains of gold he expected to find there. He questioned natives quite sternly, and when he didn't get the answers he liked he might be inclined to, oh, set them on fire and so forth. Nice guy, huh?

The story I'm illustrating is mainly about a Native American leader called The Lady of Cofitachequi. I learned from encyclopedia.com that

Nearly every time a Mississippian chief met a European explorer, he or she tried to enlist the newcomers in a military alliance aimed at a rival chiefdom. The Lady of Cofitachequi was no different. Across the river from de Soto she boarded a canoe over which an ornamented awning was stretched. Eight women accompanied her while several men in another canoe towed the royal vessel ashore. She seated herself before de Soto and offered to do what she could to help the expedition, opening a large storehouse of corn to the Spaniards, vacating her own home for de Soto, and ordering that the newcomers be given use of half of the residences in the town. She also provided rafts and canoes for the Spaniards to cross the river. As a final gesture she took off a great length of pearls as large as hazelnuts and handed it over to de Soto, and he returned the favor with a ruby ring. Acutely aware of the importance of generosity, the Lady of Cofitachequi constantly apologized that she could not help more. What the Spanish did not understand was that by accepting her hospitality they had entered into an alliance with Cofitachequi.
So she was under the impression that this great military force was going to help her take care of enemies. DeSoto had a different take on the transaction.

De Soto wanted gold and silver, so he asked the Lady of Cofitachequi to bring out samples of the minerals her people had. They presented beautiful copper objects that the Spanish admired, and they showed de Soto a chunk of mica, neither of which satisfied his appetite for riches. Gold and silver, not copper and mica, were the ores of fame and fortune. To retain the Spaniards interest the Lady of Cofltachequi pointed them in the direction of a temple where the bodies of former chiefs were kept and told them to take as many [pearls] as you like.... The Spaniards took from the temples bags of pearls and bundles of skins, but it was not enough to warrant a longer stay. Having consumed nearly all of the food in the town, de Soto and his men asked the Lady of Cofltachequi about the location of other nearby chiefdoms where they might find more treasure.
De Soto typically captured the chiefs he visited and forced them to lead him to the next chiefdom whereupon he would either kill them or turn them loose. In May 1540 the Spanish left Cofltachequi and forced the chief to accompany them. Rather than let her ride on a horse, de Soto forced her to walk with the partys Indian slaves. The party headed for the Appalachian Mountains where de Soto hoped to find Chiaha, a tributary town of the Coosa chiefdom. As they marched, the governor ordered, one of the Spaniards wrote, a guard to be placed over [the Lady of Cofltachequi] not giving her such good treatment as she deserved.... Just before the expedition entered the adjoining province of Xuale, which the Lady of Cofitachequi also governed, she stepped aside from the road and went into a wood saying that she had to attend to her necessities. After a brief search the Spaniards failed to find her. They continued on their way, but they never forgot the remarkable welcome they had received from the Lady of Cofitachequi.
I'll be she never forgot them either!

1 comment:

Paul Bozzo said...

Very interesting story. Sad but interesting. Somebody "just trying to make a buck." Gee?