Published April 17, 2016
ADA, OKLAHOMA – Cloaked in the dreary predawn hours of March 4, 1541, Chickasaw warriors defended their tribe in a decidedly one-sided victory against an unwelcome intruder.
The fiery battle is vividly captured in “First Encounter,” an award-winning documentary film exploring the Chickasaw Nation’s confrontation with Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto in the tribe’s Mississippi ancestral homeland.
Mississippi Public Broadcasting will air “First Encounter” for Mississippians to enjoy on Sunday, April 17, at 4:30 p.m. (check local television listings).
Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said the documentary is the first in the Chickasaw Heritage Series. The series shows important historical events from the Chickasaw Nation’s perspective.
“Hernando de Soto is a significant figure in the history of North America. While his story has been told from various points of view, we believe our perspective adds significant context to the historical narrative,” said Gov. Anoatubby.
In December 1540, more than 400 Spaniards trespassed into Chickasaw territory near what is present-day Columbus, Mississippi.
The two sides faced off on opposing banks of the Tombigbee River.
Chickasaw warriors rained arrows on the invaders but de Soto’s force greatly outnumbered them. De Soto and his men were not deterred by the opening salvo from Chickasaw archers. Incessant cold and deepening snow stymied the expedition’s northwesterly exploration. It sought shelter, sustenance, warmth and rest in an abandoned Chickasaw village.
Chickasaw leader Miculasa and tribal elders extended hospitality to de Soto’s expedition, but an uneasy truce prevailed between the factions through the bitter winter. In March 1541, de Soto announced his impending departure, demanding 200 Chickasaw men accompany his expedition as porters. He also demanded a contingent of Chickasaw women to serve his men.
Rather than comply, Chickasaws launched a surprise attack, with archers setting fire to their own abandoned village.
Historians believe 60 expedition members were slain. The tribe lost one warrior. The attack could have completely annihilated the expedition, historians note. However, true to Chickasaw warfare techniques, warriors struck a mighty, swift and deadly blow, then retreated to safety.
Miraculously, de Soto survived but his expedition was torn asunder. De Soto and his men fled Chickasaw territory forfeiting clothes, weapons and other necessities.
On May 21, 1542, de Soto died on the west bank of the Mississippi River near what today is McArthur, Arkansas. His remains were weighed down with blankets, sand and rocks and delivered to the steady current of the mighty river.
“First Encounter” was judged Best Short Documentary at the Trail Dance Film Festival last year. The film is narrated by the late Ed Hermann, a veteran of the silver screen and television.
It is not the Chickasaw Nation’s first foray in movie-making. The Chickasaw Nation recently produced a feature film about a treasured Chickasaw storyteller.
“Te Ata” tells of the early career of famed Chickasaw actress and Native American storyteller Te Ata Thompson Fisher. Te Ata was born in Indian Territory in 1895. Christened Mary, an aunt gave her the name Te Ata which means “Bearer of the Morning.”
She entertained President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British royalty, toured Europe and performed at Carnegie Hall.
Te Ata was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1957 and the Chickasaw Hall of Fame in 1990. She was named Oklahoma’s first state “Treasure” in 1987.
Q’Orianka Kilcher portrays Te Ata; “Dances with Wolves” Oscar-nominated actor Graham Greene is cast as Chickasaw Nation Gov. Douglas H. Johnston, and “Twilight” heartthrob Gil Birmingham portrays Te Ata’s father, Thomas
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