The Hernando de Soto Expedition: History, Historiography, and "Discovery" in the Southeast

By Patricia Galloway | Go to book overview

Jack D. Elliott Jr.


Of Roads and Reifications: The Interpretation of Historical Roads and the Soto Entrada

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and scaling-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
and whether pigs have wings."

Lewis Carroll, "The Walrus and the Carpenter"

In "The Walrus and the Carpenter," a poem in Lewis Carroll Through the Looking Glass, the walrus refers to "speaking" of "things" in the form of a seemingly nonsensical array of nouns and questions. In the same book a rather pedantic Humpty Dumpty explains his inscrutable speech by declaring, "When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more or less." Carroll elaborated on the whole matter in his Symbolic Logic when he argued that "any writer of a book is fully authorized in attaching any meaning he likes to any word or phrase he intends to use. If I find an author saying, at the beginnings of his book, 'Let it be understood that by the word black I shall always mean white, and that by the word white I shall always mean black,' I meekly accept this ruling, however injudicious I may think it."1 One would gather that although quite a variety of speech is possible, referents may or may not be obvious; but if they are not obvious, they should be clarified. This has not always been the case.

This chapter deals with the usages of the term "road" and how that usage has been unwittingly abused by not taking into consideration the complexity involved in the term's referent.2 In specific, I address the example of how speculators on the route of Hernando de Soto through present-day Mississippi have made the assumption that Indian trails, or roads, of the early nineteenth century were in use during the sixteenth century and thus were probably used by the Spaniards. The assumption is based upon a rather naive

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