By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Conquistadors made camp at the Natchez Trace Parkway Visitors Center in Tupelo on Saturday morning.
Representatives of Mississippi Valley Educational Programs were clothed in Spanish garb from the 1500s and armed with swords and crossbows.
They were demonstrating Mississippi’s earliest Spanish history in connection with National Hispanic Heritage Month.
Members of Cub Scout Pack 220 listened to their stories and explored armor and weapons with awe.
“Today if you ask the average American what the frontiersmen had, they will say, ‘His trusty flintlock rifle,’ and things like that,” said Kent Goff, of Parkin Ark. “Really, the first frontiersmen in America were wearing armor – steel and iron – and using swords and crossbows and early matchlock guns. Weapons of the late medieval times.”
Goff and his team showed visitors how the conquistadors would have camped, traveled, fought, eaten and survived.
“We taught them the sort of strategies they followed,” he said. “What would you pack for an expedition? Of course the kids are talking about bringing all kinds of things but you have to carry it 3,000 miles. You learn to live with very little.”
Goff talked about the differences in the weaponry used by the Native Americans and Spanish. While the Spanish had more advanced weapons, he said some – like a gun used to shoot armored riders off horses – were mostly useless against the fast, constantly moving Native American riders.
“The conquistadors were fighting against a primitive Stone Age people,” he said, “But in actuality, the Stone Age people had many advantages. Their bows could penetrate most of this armor, they could shoot faster, shoot farther and were more adaptable to the style of fighting – versus European warfare where everyone fights in a big formation.”
Goff said it is important to remember the conquistadors because they built the road map for what is now American history.
“One of the things that’s forgotten is (Hernando) DeSoto’s army came through, landed in 1539, and cut across the whole Southeast,” he said. “Their intent was to find colonies and find gold. Both failed, but the accounts they left behind inspired the French and the British to get in on the colonial race to North America. The descriptions of the great lands and resources – other than gold – pushed for others to explore.”
He said DeSoto’s expedition was the South’s first real written history and is where recorded American history began.