In a scene from First Encounter, Chickasaw warriors rain arrows down of the Hernando De Soto expedition from a river bank along the Tombigbee in Mississippi in 1540.
ADA, OKLAHOMA – Cloaked in the dreary predawn hours of March 4, 1541, Chickasaw warriors defended their tribe in a decidedly one-sided victory against an enemy of superior number armed with sophisticated tools of warfare.
That battle and travails leading to it, are vividly captured in First Encounter, a historical documentary film exploring the Chickasaw Nation’s confrontation with Spanish conquistador Hernando De Soto.
Scheduled to debut August 2 at the Chickasaw Cultural Center, the film is the first of many documentaries planned by the tribe for its Chickasaw Heritage Series.
Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said the documentary series is designed to add the tribe’s perspective to important events in American history.
“Hernando De Soto is a significant figure in the history of North America. While his story has been told from various points of view, we believe our perspective adds significant context to the historical narrative,” said Gov. Anoatubby. “Our first encounter with De Soto is a vital part of history which needs to be told.
“We believe our tribe’s first encounter with Europeans is a great place to begin this series. In coming years, we plan to produce additional documentaries which will offer additional insight into the role the Chickasaw people have played in American history.”
First Encounter will premiere in seven presentations at Anoli’ Theater. Showings are scheduled at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.
In December 1540, more than 400 Spaniards trespassed into Chickasaw territory near what is present-day Columbus, Mississippi.
The two sides faced off on opposing banks of the Tombigbee River.
Chickasaw warriors rained arrows on the invaders but De Soto’s force greatly outnumbered them. De Soto and his men were not deterred by the opening salvo from Chickasaw archers. Incessant cold and deepening snow stymied the expedition’s northwesterly exploration. It sought shelter, sustenance, warmth and rest in an abandoned Chickasaw village.
Chickasaw leader Miculasa and tribal elders extended hospitality to De Soto’s expedition, but an uneasy, suspicious truce prevailed between the factions through the bitter winter. While tribal leaders feigned friendship, they prepared for war.
De Soto’s arrogance in March 1541 doomed his expedition. Announcing his impending departure, De Soto demanded 200 Chickasaw men as porters and demanded Chickasaw women to serve his men.
Soon after, Chickasaws launched a surprise attack. Chickasaw archers set fire to the village and began slaying the confused, surprised and dazed foreign invaders.
Historians believe 60 expedition members were slain. The tribe lost one warrior. The attack could have completely annihilated the expedition, historians note.
However, true to Chickasaw warfare techniques, warriors struck a mighty, swift and deadly blow, and then retreated to safety.
Miraculously, De Soto survived but his expedition was torn asunder. De Soto and his men fled Chickasaw territory forfeiting clothes, weapons and other necessities.
On May 21, 1542, De Soto died on the west bank of the Mississippi River near McArthur, Arkansas. Some accounts say his body is buried there. Others claim his remains were weighed down with blankets, sand and rocks and delivered to the steady current of the mighty river.