The Juan Pardo Expedition under a magnifying glass

Chiaha . . . an Itza Maya province in Western North Carolina – Part Four

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner

In Part One, readers were told how the author was an eye-witness, almost four decades ago, to when this saga began. A group of Southeastern university professors came to Asheville to announce that a barely visible rise in a pasture on the Biltmore Estate was the site of Guaxuli, “the ancient capital of the Cherokee Nation.” Zimmerman Island, Tennessee, about 90 miles downstream from Asheville, was the site of the famous town of Chiaha. They exclaimed that both Hernando de Soto (1540) and Juan Pardo (1567) had spent the night in Asheville! The professors also came to pick up checks from the Biltmore Estate and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Two state archaeologists and I told them that (1) No 16th century Spanish artifacts had been found in the French Broad River Valley, (2) No “Mississippian Culture” towns were occupied in the French River Valley during the mid-16th century, and (3) that village site on the Biltmore Estate was only occupied in the Woodland Period. The professors ignored us then in the afternoon gave a press conference to announce to the world their “discovery.”

Soon thereafter, the State of North Carolina erected a historical marker in Downtown Asheville, announcing their theories as facts. From then until 2001, the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce used the De Soto at Guaxuli thing as a national marketing theme. The year, 2001? That’s when an archaeological team from Appalachian State University “discovered” that the bump on Biltimore Estate pasture was the remains of a building that was abandoned 1100 years before the De Soto Expedition . . . just as we had told the professors. The state historical marker was taken down.

Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce ad from late 1990s

At the time, I knew very little about the De Soto Expedition and had never heard of Juan Pardo. Oh, and really I didn’t care. Our agency was heavily involved in restoring Asheville’s historic buildings. Only after reading the professors’ book, The De Soto Chronicles, over two decades later, did I realize that Zimmerman Island, Tennessee bore no resemblance to the island, which Chiaha was situated on.

In the 1990s, Professor Charles Hudson of the University of Georgia, published books on the De Soto and Pardo Expeditions, which took both expeditions into northwestern North Carolina. In his versions, the De Soto and Pardo Expeditions visited Asheville (Guaxuli) then turned around and headed northward to visit a Native American town in Burke County, NC. Hudson equated the Native American town of Joara (pronounced like Wara) visited by Pardo, with the town named Xuale (pronounced Jhz-wa-le) visited by De Soto.

He further stated that the expeditions then trekked over a mountain ridge to reach the Toe River Valley then went on a 150 mile (241 km) loop along the Toe River into extreme NW North Carolina then went southward to reach Zimmerman Island, Tennessee. Hudson made this assumption because the chroniclers of these expeditions stated that both towns were at the foot of a mountain escarpment and that the expeditions apparently had no problem surmounting this escarpment.

It would be impossible for the De Soto and Pardo Expeditions to cross this terrain. The professors never visited here or looked at topo maps!

As you can see in the photo at the top of the article and the topo immediately above, Dr. Hudson and his comrades never actually looked at a topographic map of that part of North Carolina. The Berry Site is ten miles to the east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, not at their foot. Three mountain ridges had to be crossed, plus a steep-walled gorge and dangerous mountain rapids (Linville River) in order to even reach the Toe River. It was an impossible task, which totally refutes their theories for Joara and Chiaha.

Four decades later

Two decades ago, the proposed location of Guaxuli in Asheville was disproven by professional archaeologists. The only reason that Chiaha was originally placed on Zimmerman Island was because “De Soto and Pardo came through Asheville.” Zimmerman Island’s environs did not match the descriptions in the De Soto Chronicles for Chiaha. No 16th century Spanish artifacts were found on Zimmerman Island or anywhere else in the French Broad River Valley.

In Part Three, The Americas Revealed reviewed the pertinent passages in various versions of the De Soto Chronicles that described the Province of Chiaha and its geographical relationship to other Native American towns. It was relatively close to Guaxule and Xuale . . . not a 150 mile loop across rough mountain terrain. The site of Chiaha’s capital was obviously somewhere in the Little Tennessee River Gorge of western North Carolina, not in the Tennessee River Valley.

Article in the Asheville Citizen-Times Newspaper – December 1, 2015. Actually, Juan Pardo departed Santa Elena on December 1, 1566 and arrived in Joara 17 days later . . . so even chronologically, the article is inaccurate.

Yet to this day, all references for popular consumption, such as Wikipedia, plus state/federal funded heritage tourism media articles take that generation of academician’s version of Native American and Spanish Colonial history as established fact.

Hudson used his interpretation of the Juan Pardo Chronicles to determine the route of De Soto . . . two, very different, expeditions. Neither the Spanish nor the English version of this document were available to the public in the 1980s, and 1990s, when the routes of these explorers were being determined.

  • We are told that Xuale and Joara are the same words and they were located at the Berry Site . . . even though the Berry Archaeological Site bears no physical resemblance to the descriptions of Xuale and Joara in the De Soto and Pardo Chronicles.
  • We are told that De Soto came through Asheville and then went to Chiaha on Zimmerman Island, Tennessee. The justification now is that he first went to “Xuale or Joara” at the Berry Site in Burke County, NC.
Fort San Marcos and Santa Elena on Parris Island, SC

The Juan Pardo Expeditions

Captain Juan Pardo arrived in the new Spanish colony of Santa Elena in 1566 to take command of its garrison and supervise construction of Fort Filipe.  In December 1566, he led a company of 120 soldiers, plus five officers, to explore the interior and demand submission of the Native American provinces, towns and villages to the King Filipe II of Castille and Aragon (Spain). He departed Santa Elena again on September 1, 1568 . . . exploring an extensive portion of South Carolina and western North Carolina until he returned to Santa Elena in March 1569. Part Five will provide an overview of De La Bandera’s report.

You can read online the edited version Herbert E. Ketchum translation of Relacion de la Florida (Account of Florida) by Juan de la Bandera.  During the late 1940s, Ketchum was a post-graduate student in French at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. In 1950, Ketchum obtained photostats of the original handwritten Relaccion and began translating it into English. He completed a 90 page rough draft of the translation, then filed the document along with photostats at the UNC library . . . never to be worked on again.

Juan de la Bandera was a licensiado (university-educated legal notary (notario), who also served as adjutant for Pardo’s expedition. Unfortunately, De la Bandera, probably because of being a lawyer, did not usually provide distances between individual towns and villages, but rather the distance between Santa Elena and Pardo’s ultimate destination.  He also provided minimal descriptions of the geography and vegetation.

In 1990, LSU professor Paul E. Hoffman obtained a copy of Ketchum’s rough draft and De La Bandera’s report in 16th century Spanish then re-translated it, but the online version of Hoffman’s re-translation is credited to Charles Hudson as the editor. At least when I met Hudson in Asheville in the 1980s, he was unable to even pronounce Spanish words, much less, translate them. In the introduction to the edited copy, Hoffman stated that he changed Ketchum’s spellings of Native American words, removed most of the “thus said’s” and changed the interpretation of a few Spanish words.

In later years, Dr. Hoffman translated several other . . . more brief . . . descriptions of Juan Pardo’s journeys in the Lower Southeast. The most pertinent to the determination of Chiaha’s location is the report made in 1584 by Domingo Gonzalez de Leon. His report will referenced in Part Five.

Even after being edited, the syntax of the De la Bandera report is very awkward and hard to read, because of being constantly filled with flattery for Juan Pardo and the Spanish monarch . . . plus giving thanks to “Jesus Christ Our Savior and his Mother Blessed Mary, who is always stainless” . . . each time they force yet another Native village or province to submit to Spanish authority.    

Little is known about Juan Pardo, before or after his assignment as a Spanish army captain, based at Fort San Felipe in Santa Elena (Parris Island, SC).  We can tell you a little more about him that Wikipedia does. Pardo (Hebrew: פרדו) is a very old surname of Sephardic Jewish origin that derives from the Greek and Latin name Pardus which means leopard.  It evolved in Spain to Pardo and came to mean brown . . . a pejorative adjective, referring to the darker skin pigmentation of Sephardic Jews, who immigrated there from North Africa. 

Thus, we know that Juan Pardo’s family were Conversos at some point in the past.  There was a Pardo during that era, who was an official of the Inquisition, so the name alone did not indicate recent conversion.  On the other hand, his family’s conversion could have been recent.  Long time Spanish Catholics were suspicious of recent converts.  They could be innocent of practicing their traditional Jewish faith and still be burned at the stake.  Thus, many Converso families migrated to the Americas to escape close surveillance by the Inquisition.

Pardo  actually traveled to three major destinations between 1566 and 1569 . . . the province of Joara, the upper Wateree-Catawba River Basin, plus the Hiwassee and Little Tennessee River basins in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.  He also attempted also to reach Kusa, but was forced to turn around and return to Chiaha.  The first expedition departed in December 1566, not  March 1567 as several Wikipedia articles state.  

Pardo clearly had instructions not to alienate the natives with brutal acts like De Soto’s men repeatedly committed.  He was to peacefully persuade the “caciques” (chiefs) to swear obedience to the King of Spain, but also take possession of lands that the caciques gave him.

The chapel at Santa Elena

Unraveling Relaccion de la Florida

I read this only published English translation of Relaccion de la Florida, line by line. I soon ran into passages that made me suspect that either the author or the translator or both had been munching on hallucinogenic morning glory seeds. It is NOT the consistently reliable resource for charting the travels of Captain Pardo, which it is made out to be by several anthropologist-authors.

From the beginning the numbers and details didn’t “add up.”

(1) – Pardo initially was ordered to go northward on December 1, 1566 to find the closest edge of the Appalachian Mountains, where he learned from a teenager captured at Fort Caroline, that French Lt. La Roche Ferrière had observed extensive gold deposits in the Kingdom of Apalache . . . that’s Northeast Georgia.

Supposedly, he stopped at a large, culturally-advanced town named Joara at the edge of the mountains, because the trails were blocked by snow. He built a fort there then returned to Santa Elena (Parris Island, SC) on March 7, 1567. Yet . . . he spent the entire winter in the Appalachian Mountains the following year. Juan de la Bandera did not once mention snow or difficulty in winter travel.

According to the translator, De la Bandera stated that it was 120 leguas antiquas (Spanish leagues) from Santa Elena to Joara. The distance is equivalent to 302 miles or 486 km. However, the nearest edge of the Appalachian Mountains to Santa Elena was 220 miles (354 km) and the distance from Santa Elena to the Berry Site in Burke County, NC is 252 mi (405 km). On the other hand, 302 miles or 486 km IS the approximate distance from Santa Elena to Kusa (Coça in Spanish).

(2) – De la Bandera’s report to King Filipe II on the Pardo Expeditions was dated April 1569. Over a year earlier, the king had abolished the use of leguas in all official government documents, but that is the only unit of distance measurement used by De la Bandera. Why did he disobey the king’s edict? For that matter, how did he know what distances they traveled? Did he have a measuring wheel? Supposedly, they did not come into existence until the 1600s.

(3) – On March 15, 1567, Juan Pardo received written orders from the Viceroy in Habana de Cuba and Governor in Santa Elena to lead an expedition to find the shortest route to the silver mines in Zacatecas, Mexico. He was to depart as soon as the danger of a French attack on Santa Elena had subsided. Spanish spies in France had found evidence that the French navy, which was dominated by Protestants, planned to seek revenge for the massacre of Fort Caroline.

Why didn’t Pardo head west into present-day Georgia on the second exhibition? Instead, he headed to what is now northeastern and northern South Carolina. The destination was the large town of Canos, which dominated a province that included much of the Upper Wateree-Catawba-Broad River Basin in northern South Carolina.

Obviously, the Spanish assumed that northern Mexico was much closer to the Atlantic Coast of North America than actually was the case.  However, since the Spanish knew the latitudes of Santa Elena and Ciudad the Veracruz,  there was apparently a secret order from “someone” to explore the interior of La Florida to determine if there were any gold, silver or gem deposits there. Otherwise, Pardo would not have disobeyed a written order.

Fort San Filipe at Santa Elena on Parris Island, SC

How could this be?

As a metaphor for the situation concerning the determination of the real sites for Chiaha and Joara, I look back to a tragic event that occurred soon after the professors’ visit. A resident of Asheville came forward with knowledge of ancient medieval armor and weapons that were in collections for sale in Europe. He was the father of a young woman on my staff, who had just graduated from architecture school.

Funds were gathered from several local donors and the Biltmore Estate to purchase the collections and build an addition to the Asheville Art Museum for them. Several North Carolina university professors were utilized to authenticate, classify and exhibit the artifacts. Prior to opening of the museum, there was a massive distribution of press releases, advertising “the largest collection of medieval armor and weapons in North America.” Experts were invited to fly in from New York City and several Ivy League universities.

One look at the exhibits, and the experts were rolling in the floor laughing. The armor and weapons were cheaply made, relatively modern, replicas. Asheville cultural leaders initially and bitterly contested their observations. However, a national news network investigated the situation and broadcast their findings nationally. North America’s largest medieval armor and weapons collection consisted of 19th century opera costumes and fake weapons, combined with discarded 20th century armor and swords from the famous Swiss Guards at the Vatican.

In Part Five, The Americas Revealed will provide an overview to the contents of Relaccion de Florida and the Relaccion submitted by Domingo Gonzalez de Leon in 1584. Many of the village or tribal names in these reports are recognizable as Native American tribes in the 17th and 18th century. This will help pinpoint where Juan Pardo actually traveled.

A key fact to remember at this point in our series is this: While it is quite easy to find digital images of the original Spanish versions of the De Soto Chronicles, digital images of the original Spanish version of Juan de la Bandera’s report on the Pardo Exhibition appear to be non-existent. Southeastern academicians never cite it as a reference . . . only the 1990 “edited” version of an unpublished translation made in 1950. There are plenty of us out here in internet land, me included, who are quite capable of comparing what was said in Spanish to what we are told in English. It does make one suspicious.

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