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Where is Mauvila?

On the 460th anniversary of the great battle of Mauvila, described by some historians as the most decisive conflict in North American history, the actual site of the battle between Hernando de Soto and the Indian chief Tascalusa remains unknown.

Despite centuries of effort by archaeologists and historians to locate the most famous of American Indian sites, including major projects by the United States government (1938-40) and the State of Alabama (1989-90), the site is still a mystery. What seems somewhat certain is that Mauvila was located in South or Central Alabama.

But exactly where? The United States De Soto Expedition Commission, led by a team of distinguished scholars commissioned to trace the first great European entrada through what is now the United States (in 1539-42), laid out De Soto's route from his landing place at Tampa Bay, then followed him through Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas. Yet it was never able to agree on the site of Mauvila, although it finally settled on a place called Choctaw Bluff in Clarke County, Alabama.

This was not too distant from where historians of the 18th Century, such as Albert Pickett and Peter Hamilton, placed Mauvila. In the last sixty years, however, many new theories have evolved. Rational arguments have been made for Mauvila sites in Mobile County (where a town was named for it, and where the supposed descendants of the Mauvilians were documented as living in the late 1600's), as well as for the Alabama counties of Baldwin, Washington, Greene, Choctaw, Marengo, Dallas, Wilcox, Monroe and Perry.

Some remnants of the early Spanish have been found in several of those counties, but the largest number of relics from the conquistador period have been found in Baldwin county where it is certain Tristán de Luna established several settlements in 1559-61.

The Alabama State De Soto commission of 1989-90 aspired to find Mauvila by the 450'b anniversary of the battle. It did not succeed, but inspired numerous other investigations, extending the possibilities into Jackson, George and Green counties in Mississippi and even into Florida somewhere above Pensacola.

Perhaps the most widely-heralded new theory is that of Dr. Charles Hudson, a University of Georgia scholar. Hudson placed the principal town of Coosa in Georgia, put Piache on the Alabama River near Selma and located Mauvila somewhere between Demopolis, Thomaston, Cahaba and Marion.

While Dr. Hudson's theory has many subscribers, Dr. Caleb Curren of Pensacola, who has done more field work than any other scientist, and author Jay Higginbotham, whose recent work Mauvila, is the only book on the battle, both believe Clarke County is still the most likely location.

Meanwhile, the search goes on. Once the site of Mauvila is located, believed to be only a matter of time due to the rapid development of new technologies, it should be easily proven. Some twenty or thirty Spaniards are buried there, along with numerous Indians (estimates vary between 2,500 and 11,000 killed outright). In addition, the burned timbers of an entire town and the tens of thousands of artifacts lost in the soil as a result of the battle would give ample proof of Mauvila's location.

Why have historians considered Mauvila such a vital event? And why would historians such as George Bancroft call it the most decisive battle in North American history? Aside from the fact that the United States and Canada may today be another Argentina or Peru or Mexico had the battle had a different result, there are many other questions that arise, such as: What were the causes of the battle? Could it have been avoided? Did Tascalusa really engineer a surprise attack? Were the Spanish soldiers of fortune as cruel as they have sometimes been charged? Or even crueler? For what reasons were the religious seeking to convert the natives.

In view of the many questions raised by Mauvila and its vital importance to American history, it seems strange that not a single book has ever been published on the event. Until now, that is.

On Oct. 18, the 460th anniversary of the great Battle of Mauvila, A.B. Bahr & Co. (a division of Factor Press) is issuing the first full-length book on the subject. Written by Jay Higginbotham, a prize-winning author who served on the Alabama De Soto commission in 1989-90, the 307-page book is a stirring and dramatic recreation of the battle. Told from the viewpoint of both Spanish and Indians participants, Mauvila sheds new light on many of the unanswered questions of the noted confiict.

Mauvila is published in hard-copy only and is available in bookstores and libraries.

 
 
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