Friday, March 5, 2021

Chasing a Spanish Explorer Across the Mississippi Delta

Photographer Tom Beck photographing a Clarksdale Bell on display at Parkin believed to have come from the De Soto expedition.

“History never really says goodbye. History says, ‘See you later,’” late writer Eduardo Galeano.
And so that happened a couple of weeks ago when Delta archeologist, Jessica Crawford and one of our Delta Magazine photographers, Tom Beck, travelled with me early one morning to Parkin, Arkansas where we visited Parkin Archeological State Park in search of Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto artifacts as we researched his journey across the Southeast for an articled just published in Delta Magazine.
There has been much speculation about De Soto’s trek across the South. However, one part of this history that is almost certain: De Soto and his men camped on the Parkin grounds in the summer of 1541 as many scholars believe this property was the site of the Indian village of Casqui that De Soto’s secretaries mentioned in their meticulous notes they kept of their journey in the new world. Archeological evidence uncovered from the grounds also suggests this. And, scholars believe De Soto and his expedition crossed the Mississippi Delta on their way to Arkansas.
Hernando de Soto was a Spanish explorer and conquistador who led the first European expedition deep into the territory of the modern-day United States. And, he is the first European documented as having crossed the Mississippi River. This small carving is believed to have come from the De Soto expedition. Made of olive wood, the small piece was found in a yard in Batesville many years ago and dates from the De Soto era. Photo courtesy of Steve Gelvin.

Where that crossing actually took place continues to be debated. Many suggest the crossing took place in the northern portion of the Delta, perhaps in southern DeSoto County around the Walls area. Other academics believe his crossing took place around the Coahoma/Tunica County line. Then, there a few researchers who feel the crossing took place in my neck of the woods, Bolivar County. We’ll never be sure, but a Spanish weapon called a Halberd was found in the Schlater area that researchers have given a high probability that it came from De Soto’s expedition.
From Parkin, Jessica, Tom and I spent time in Tunica at the Tunica Riverpark Museum gathering more De Soto information. Then 320 miles later, we finished our day at the Museum of the Mississippi Delta in Greenwood where the Halberd is on display.
The Delta has no shortage of history and De Soto’s journey across the area continues to be at the top of the list.

Scott Coopwood, publisher of Delta Magazine.

Delta Magazine is considered one of the most unique regional lifestyle publications, which some even call “the most southern magazine on earth.” The Mississippi Delta is known for its literary, musical and culinary heritage, as well as for its legendary entertaining style and social traditions. The bi-monthly Delta Magazine embodies every aspect of the Mississippi Delta with its fresh content, cutting-edge photography and devoted readership. Learn more by visiting

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