Luna Expedition

In 1560, twenty years after the Hernando de Soto entrada traversed the Upper Tennessee Valley in its search for gold, burden bearers, and food, a second Spanish expedition crossed into Tennessee near present-day Chattanooga. The Tristan de Luna expedition sought to validate Spain's claim to La Florida, the present southeastern United States, by creating a flourishing colony. A veteran of the Coronado expedition in the west, Tristán de Luna y Arellano was appointed to establish a town at Ochuse in Pensacola Bay and open roads to the Mississippian Coosa chiefdom in northern Georgia, and from there to Santa Elena in South Carolina.

Luna's fleet anchored in Pensacola Bay on August 14, 1559. Five days later, a hurricane destroyed most of the ships, tools, supplies, and food. The stranded colonists eked out a living in the bay area for several months, but by February, they had been forced to move north to the Mississippian town of Nanipacana on the Lower Alabama River. The people of Nanipacana, however, fled their towns, destroying their stored food supplies as they left.

On April 15, Luna, again desperate for food, sent Mateo del Sauz north to Coosa with a translator, two friars, forty cavalry, and one hundred infantry. The translator was a woman taken from Coosa by the Soto expedition twenty years earlier. Soto had reported an abundance of food in Coosa, and Luna hoped Sauz also would find food there. Two and a half months later, Sauz and his weary party straggled into the main Coosa town, near present Carters, Georgia.

Some of the principal men of Coosa complained to Sauz that their former vassals, the Napochies, who lived near the Tennessee River, refused to send them tribute. The Coosa suggested the hungry Spanish might receive more food if the Napochies became Coosa vassals again. Sauz reluctantly consented to a combined Spanish-Coosa attack against the Napochies. About August 21, twenty-five Spanish cavalry and twenty-five infantry, in addition to three hundred Coosa warriors, advanced north and west toward the Napochie province.

The Coosa-Spanish force stormed the first Napochie town they encountered, but found it abandoned. The Napochies from here as well as a second Tennessee River town had already crossed to the other side of the river earlier in the day. The Spaniards and the outraged Coosas pursued the Napochies, who escaped to a nearby island, possibly Chattanooga Island.

Trapped and outnumbered, the Napochies sued for peace, consenting to become Coosa vassals and renewing their deliveries of game, fruits, and nuts three times a year. Sauz's expedition and the Coosa warriors left the Tennessee Valley Napochie towns at the end of August 1560 and returned to Coosa.

Citation Information

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  • Article Title Luna Expedition
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date July 24, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018