Camping where De Soto and Pardo camped
by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner
The primary reason that I am certain that both the Hernando de Soto and Pardo Expeditions stayed in what is now Franklin, NC is that I took copies of the accounts of the De Soto and Pardo with me as I camped across the mountains of western North Carolina during 2010. I was often able to match the views that they saw almost five centuries ago. Throughout the winter of 2022, we will be visiting the places that the De Soto and Pardo Expeditions camped, while in the Southern Highlands.
The scene above was photographed in late February 2010. I was on the rim of the Little Tennessee River Gorge, looking down at a partially drained Fontana Lake . . . just upstream from the dam.
For those of you familiar with the De Soto Chronicles . . . this is where a captain hurled a javelin at a deer, but missed. The javelin went over the rim of the gorge and unfortunately gored one of the best-liked members of the expedition as he was fishing on the edge of the river.
Can’t believe everything that universities publish!
One thing the readers should know. The university professors, who authored The De Soto Chronicles, did NOT do the “homework” that they claimed to have done . . . at least in regard to the routes of De Soto and Pardo in South Carolina, North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. They came into my office in Asheville City Hall, armed with state highway maps that showed the routes of the Spanish explorers with masking tape.
The academicians were clearly not familiar with the terrain of western North Carolina or the Spanish language. *I was Executive Director of the Asheville-Buncombe Historic Resources Commission. They claimed to be experts on the Spanish colonization efforts, but consistently did not pronounce the Spanish words correctly.
Two state archaeologists and I told the profs that there were no occupied Mississippian Culture town sites in the French Broad River, Swannanoa River and Toe River Basins during the mid-1500s. No Spanish artifacts had been found in the Asheville Area, but were fairly common around Franklin, Murphy and Robbinsville, NC . . . in the extreme western end of the state.
They ignored us . . . gave a press conference, which announced that De Soto and Pardo came through Asheville . . . picked up big checks from the Asheville Chamber of Commerce and Biltmore Estate . . . then drove home without ever putting their feet anywhere the Spaniards had put their feet.
And now for the rest of the story . . .
It was bitter cold in the Smoky Mountains, when I first became a 24/7 camper. I stacked six of my grandmother’s handmade quilts over the sleeping bag and then built a “cave” around my head with pillows. Of course, the dogs snuggled around me.
Not too long after I was homeless, two men came up to the tent in the snow, while I was asleep. They collapsed the tent then beat my head and chest with clubs or baseball bats. Fortunately, the dogs were desperately trying to get out of the tent at one end and so they didn’t hit the dogs. The only part any real damage was done was the area around my mouth, nose and cheeks, which were not protected by the pillows and quilts. When I came to, there was a lot of blood frozen on my face and permeated into the tent fabric. I guess they left me for dead.
No one would treat me in Graham County, NC, although I had plenty of money in my checking account at that time. I was supposed to close on a FannieMae mitigation loan in mid-January, so had over $3000 in the bank that paid for moving my belongings to a rental bin and for food later on. The excuse they used was that I had no health insurance, was from out of state and had no permanent address.
I later learned from a Snowbird Cherokee friend that every time I stopped at an emergency clinic or doctor’s office, a federal law enforcement officer would call them and tell them that I was a gay male prostitute and had AIDS. Of course, those were all lies, but I did have a US Navy Corpsman’s first aid kit with me. I ended up having to sew up my face myself. The kit did have lidocaine and antibiotics.
Thinking that next time, the neo-Nazis or crooked cops might just shoot me rather than beat me, I thought someone needed to know where to find my body. I didn’t want to disturb my sister, because she lived a long way off, so I sent an email from the county library to ex-girlfriend, Juliana. [The Shenandoah Chronicles] She had dumped me 12 years earlier, because I didn’t have enough money . . . just before I got the big contract to prepare the Comprehensive Plan and Downtown Revitalization Plan for Smyrna, GA.
However, she still had fond memories of our time together. So I told her in the email that, if I went missing, this is where my body was and attached the photo above. From then on she has sent me greeting cards at Christmas and for my birthday. She is also a subscriber to The Americas Revealed.
As it turned out, the guerilla warfare skills I learned in Guatemala and in Virginia came back to me and no one was ever able to harm me again. There were, however, a couple of dozen attempted attacks on my camp that year.
Now you know!