Central States Archaeological Societies
Central States Archaeological Societies

THE PARKIN SITE: HERNANDO DE SOTO IN CROSS COUNTY, ARKANSAS

Dr. Jeffrey M. Mitchem Ph.D, Associate Archeologist, Arkansas Archeological Survey, Parkin, Arkansas



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,

 

Late Haley engraved tripod water bottle from the Caddo culture. Found in Sevier County, Arkansas. From the collection of Larry Parkhill.

 

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