Some Comments for DeSoto Freaks

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 5

Charles McNutt
University of Memphis, Emeritus

In 2009 Terry Childs and I published a new interpretation of DeSoto’s route in northeastern Arkansas in Southeastern Archaeology. In that article we observed that DeSoto’s crossing of the Mississippi River on June 18, 1541, posed two questions: (1) where did DeSoto cross the Mississippi River, and (2) where was the Mississippi River when DeSoto crossed it. The favored answer to (1) is northwest Mississippi, although Terry and I suggest southwest Tennessee, near the Shelby County-Tipton County line. The favored answer to (2) is Fisk Channel 15 (e.g. Phillips, Ford, and Griffin 1951). In our 2009 article, Terry and I assumed either Channel 13 or 14. I have recently re-examined this problem (2018, North American Archaeologist) and have set forth reasons to accept Channel 13 (possibly 14) for the river DeSoto crossed; Channel 15 is almost certainly incorrect (Figure 1, Figure 2). This is a matter of some consequence in attempting to correlate protohistoric sites and river channels.


Figure 1 (Left). Phillips, Ford, and Griffin 1951:Figure 60, showing Fisk channel 15 at AD1550. On left, capital letters indicate seriation periods; A and B are Mississippian. On top, time scale AD; below time scale are Fisk channel numbers. Krieger correlations on dotted line; channel-seiation period correlations shown as stair-steps.
Figure 2 (Right).  Phillips, Ford, and Griffin 1951:Figure 60 var., showing Fisk channel 13 at AD 1550.

In concluding their correlation of the Fisk 15 channel with the AD 1550 time-line, they conclude that it was “interesting that the greatest discrepancy between Fisk’s and Krieger’s dating seems to occur in this least satisfactory portion [Mississippian period] of our site-channel correlation (Phillips, Ford, and Griffin 1951:305; my insertion) (see Figure 1). The suggestion in Figure 2 resolves this problem nicely.