DeSoto’s Trail through Texas
The Texas portion of DeSoto's Conquest Trail was unusual in that its army was led by a different General. Hernando de Soto, who had led his army across America searching for gold and a passage to China during the preceding three years, had died just weeks before. The new general, Luis de Moscoso, was amiable and well liked, but not the leader DeSoto had been. Native Americans perceived his weakness, gullibility, within days of his Louisiana entry. That weakness would be exploited by Indian guides who would lead the army into dangerous places, hoping to starve them to death, in Texas. The army's only Spanish speaking Indian language interpreter had also died, so the army was forced to rely on sign language and grunts to communicate with deceptive Caddo and Tonkawan Indian guides. Their directions would confuse America's best historians for centuries. DeSoto's people entered Texas on June 27th, 1542. They would leave Texas four months later... then return to its Gulf Coast the following Summer. Texas got its name from Tejas, the largest Indian settlement in Texas in 1542.
Most tribe names recorded in Texas by DeSoto's army appear to be of Caddoan origin, despite the fact that many other language groups of Indians lived in Texas at the time; particularly the Tonkawan Indian group, from Waco southward, and the Coahuiltec Language group to westward. The Spaniards had relied on Caddoan Indians from Chavete (Shreveport) for translations while in Texas, however, which would account for the lack of certain Tonkawan place names in the Spanish journals. The Aays Province area Indians in East Texas, were probably Coahuiltec; hostile toward Caddoans and not very well known by Caddoan guides. The guide for the army in that region was said to have been assigned by his chief (of Waco) to deliberately lead the army into a region where they would perish. That guide led the army to the Coahuiltec village of Aays, where the only battle in that neighborhood took place. The fact that the Mission Tejas/Caddo Mounds area had been restored when the army returned would indicate that its surrounding villages, others of the Caddoan language group, had helped the Hasinai rebuild their villages during the army's absence. The army was in Tonkawan or Coahuiltec Indian Country while those Tajas Caddoan villages were being rebuilt.
The Aays Indians were primarily on Ayish Creek, northeastern Texas, between the Sabine and Neches Rivers.
In 1542 the Aays (or Ayish) were visited by the Spaniards under Moscoso as mentioned above. They are next noted in 1686-87 by the companions of La Salle. In 1716 the mission of Nuestra Senora de los Dolores was established among them by the Franciscans, abandoned in 1719, reestablished in 1721, and finally given up in 1773, the success of the mission having been very small. Their proximity to the road between the French post at Natchitoches and the Spanish post at Nacogdoches seems to have contributed to their general demoralization. In 1779, 20 families were reported. In 1785, a total population of 300. Sibley (1832) reported only 20 individuals in the tribe in 1805, but in 1828 there were said to be 160 families. Soon afterward they joined the other Caddo tribes and followed their fortunes, and they must have declined very rapidly for only a bare memory of them is preserved.