Archeologists and historians have long been interested in the route of the Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto, who
traveled through the southern United States for four years in the middle 1500s. Four chronicles of the expedition
were written, and they include interesting details about the Native American groups encountered by the Spaniards.
The accounts are incomplete, however, and researchers disagree about the exact route of the expedition. We do know
that the expedition crossed the Mississippi River in June of 1541. The crossing place has been long debated, and
several crossing points have been proposed.
Archeology as a tool for learning about Arkansas's past serves as a unique technique for finding evidence of the
expedition. Archeology can be used to fill in the gaps in the chronicles. Research in other Southern states, especially
Florida, has demonstrated that archaeology can find clues that help us understand where the expedition traveled
and what effect the Spanish presence had on the Native American inhabitants.
Very little evidence of De Soto's expedition has been found in Arkansas. The most convincing evidence so far has
been found at the Parkin Site, a village site near the present town of Parkin on the St. Francis River. A small
bead made of several layers of glass was found at the site, and we know from archaeological work on other De Soto
contact sites that this type of bead was carried by the expedition for giving or trading to the Indians. In addition,
a Clarksdale brass bell and two fragmentary bells were excavated at the site. Bells of this distinctive style were
also carried by the expedition. We have also found several additional De Soto related artifacts at Parkin, including
two lead shot (one of which was .61 caliber), and another fine Clarksdale bell was donated to us that was reportedly
picked up from pothunters' backdirt on the site in the late 1960s or 1970s. We also excavated a bronze coin a few
years ago, but it had been hammered and abraded so much that no writing or design was discernible. Although it
could be a Spanish coin, it could also be an Indian head cent, since many people have lived on and around the site
in the last century and a half (and it was found in an area with lots of modern disturbance).
But can these few small artifacts demonstrate that the De Soto expedition actually visited the Parkin Site? By
themselves, the answer is no, because the artifacts could have been brought to the site by Indian traders. But
when we combine the artifacts with the information in the expedition accounts, it may be possible to identify the
Parkin Site as one of the towns mentioned by the writers.
After crossing the Mississippi River, the expedition passed through an Indian province called Aquixo. The residents
of this region told
De Soto of a great chief named Casqui, who lived in a town three days' journey from there. The expedition traveled
to Casqui's town, passing through other smaller towns which were ruled by ruled by other towns him. Upon arriving,
Casqui himself greeted the Spaniards, and friendly relations were established. After both leaders exchanged gifts,
the Spaniards stayed two nights outside the town before proceeding on their journey. While at the town of Casqui,
De Soto preached to the residents and had a large cross built from two pine trees. This cross was erected on top
of a large mound at the village and was worshipped by Casqui and his subjects.
Archeologist believe that the Parkins Archeological Site is the main town of
the Casqui province, where the chief resided. The native towns in the area are described in the chronicles as being
surrounded by moats with log palisade walls. The Parkin Site is surrounded by a moat (now a ditch) which is still
visible today. It is located on the east bank of the St. Francis River,