Sunday, May 4, 2008

Finding Guaxule

May is an important month in the history of the Southern Appalachians. In fact, the (recorded) history of the Southern Appalachians began in the month of May, because it was in May of 1540 that Hernando de Soto and his 600 Conquistadors crossed the Blue Ridge and stopped over at the village of Guaxule (Guasili).

The de Soto party started their trip across the Southeast a year earlier after landing on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Among de Soto’s followers were three men who chronicled the journey and gave us the first written accounts of European contact with the Cherokees (or perhaps the people who preceeded the Cherokees). One of those writers described the Guaxilians that greeted the Spaniards:

The lord of the province, who also had the same name of Guaxule, came out half a league from the pueblo accompanied by five hundred nobles handsomely dressed in rich mantles made of various kinds of skins and wearing long plumes on their heads, in accordance with the common usage of the whole country. Thus ceremoniously he received the governor, showing by signs his regard for him and speaking to him most courteously and with a very lordly air. He took him to the pueblo, which had three hundred houses, and lodged him in his own. The house was on a high elevation like other similar ones we have described [a mound]. All around it was a public walk along which six men could pass abreast.

And although maize was scarce, or perhaps hidden away from the voracious explorers, the villagers provided "three hundred small dogs" to feed them. In all likelihood, those small dogs were possums, generally not consumed by the Cherokees, but "the Christians liked them and sought them to eat."

Someday, I think it would be great fun to retrace de Soto’s journey across the Southern Appalachians and to revisit Guaxule. And to do it in style, I would need to find the perfect ride for the trip. You know, something along the lines of a, hmmmm, classic DeSoto.

Maybe a sleek 1942 DeSoto Custom convertible

Maybe a pink 1956 DeSoto Firedome

Maybe a pint-sized DeSoto Firemite convertible

Assuming I could get behind the wheel of one of these beauties, the next challenge would be finding Guaxule. And with the accounts of three eyewitnesses to go by, that should be a simple matter. Right?


It might be easier to find the right DeSoto than to find the right Guaxule. At least seven different locations have been suggested as the spot where the conquistadors chowed down on possum.

Guaxule # 1 – Coosawattee Old Town, near Carters, Murray County, Georgia
Guaxule # 2 – Etowah, near Cartersville, Bartow County, Georgia
Guaxule # 3 – Nacoochee Mound, White County, Georgia
Guaxule # 4 – Peachtree, on the Hiawassee River, Cherokee County, North Carolina
Guaxule # 5 – Asheville, Buncombe County, North Carolina
Guaxule # 6 – Embreeville, on the Nolichucky River, Washington County, Tennessee
Guaxule # 7 – Garden Creek, on the Pigeon River near Canton, Haywood County, NC

Well, THAT narrows it down! Actually, recent archaeological research may have eliminated some of these sites from serious consideration. Charles Hudson has spent many years recreating de Soto’s route and has weighed in for Guaxule # 6. But another contemporary researcher, Bob Jones, makes a strong case for Guaxule # 7.

It continues to be one of the great mysteries of the Southern Appalachians, that month of May that marked the beginning of our history. Someday, I hope to hit the road in a classic DeSoto to follow the route of the Spaniards and to find Guaxule for myself.

But I'll take a pass on that roast possum, thank you.

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