10 A BICENTENNIAL HISTORY OF MISSISSIPPI Many of them were veterans of the Moorish wars back in Spain, so they were trained in the most modern warfare of that era. It was unlike anything the natives had ever seen. With only spears and arrows they were no match and could not confront the invaders head on. They did, however, torment the Spaniards, generally from a distance, and eventually wore them down. De Soto went on to find, and cross, the Mississippi River. He died on its banks, and his remaining soldiers abandoned the quest for gold and struck out for New Spain (Mexico). They could not get past the Texas deserts, and had to turn back to the Mississippi River. From there, they beat a hasty retreat downstream one step ahead of the angry and indignant natives. De Soto’s main accomplishment was finding a huge river unlike anything in Europe. He left no permanent footprint other than the long-legged, long- snouted Iberian pigs that were the forebears of the famous razorbacks that today roam throughout the South. There were no other European forays into the area for the next 140 years. The 16th century French, like the Spanish before them, sought a westerly trade route to China, but they took a more northerly course. Beginning with Jacques Cartier in 1534, the French explored along the St. Lawrence Seaway and into the Great Lakes region. The first permanent French settlement of Quebec, well into the Canadian interior, was established in 1541, about the same time that de Soto was wandering through Mississippi. From Quebec, the French went south and brought settlers into the Illinois district. They became firmly established in Canada, along the Great Lakes, and in the present-day Midwest (Illinois, Missouri, and Indiana), and with a lucrative fur trade established, they began to expand southward. The English also began settlement. They landed at Jamestown (1607) in Virginia, and from there, English colonies were established and settled along the Atlantic coast from New Hampshire to Georgia. They made little effort to expand beyond the Appalachians, but English traders were frequent visitors into the Native American lands to the west and were likely the first sustained contacts between Europeans and the Mississippi Native Americans living inland from the coast. The Native Americans in Mississippi knew little or nothing about the European newcomers, and had no idea how their presence would eventually change their lives. After de Soto’s unwelcome intrusion, the indigenous people settled back into their normal patterns of living. There were three major tribes in Mississippi, the Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Natchez, and about twenty lesser tribes scattered around the state. The tribes lived in relative harmony, and there were only the sketchiest of boundaries between them. The Choctaws ranged over the central and eastern portions of the state; the Chickasaws were concentrated in the northeast; and the Natchez occupied the southwest along the Mississippi River. A number of small tribes lived along the Coast including the Biloxis, Pascagoulas, and Bayogoulas. In the 140 years following de Soto’s journey, there would be sporadic contacts with European traders from the Spanish colonies of Florida and Mexico and from the English colonies along the Atlantic Seaboard. The Mississippi Native Americans would be introduced to a wide range of European goods including muskets, shirts and trousers, horses, guns and ammunition, pots and pans, and glass beads. They became eager customers and traded mainly with deerskins. Although some of the European traders would come to live among them and even marry into the tribes, there were no attempts at permanent European colonies in what would later become the Mississippi Territory. That pattern would continue until the coming of Robert de La Salle’s expedition in 1682. The French eventually inserted themselves into the 140- year vacuum left by Spain. On May 17, 1673, the explorer Joliet and a Catholic priest named Marquette along with five other adventurers departed from present-day Michigan to explore the Mississippi River in canoes. They took extensive notes as they traveled all the way down to the mouth of the Arkansas River, some 450 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. There the expedition met friendly natives and noticed they possessed European goods. The Canadians feared this might indicate there were other explorers in the area, probably from Spain, so they headed back home to Canada rather than risk confrontation. No other Canadians would attempt to navigate the entire river until 1682 when La Salle launched his expedition. La Salle was born in France into a wealthy family of merchants. At the age of twenty two, he set out to make his own fortune in the New World. Cocky and ambitious, he established a trading post in Montreal and bought land further inland in Quebec. He made several expeditions into the Native American lands around the Great Lakes, establishing trade outposts and prudently claiming all the new lands for the King of France. In 1682, inspired by the Marquette-Joliet discoveries, La The famous exploration of Hernando de Soto was typical of Spanish forays into the newfound lands.