Tascaluza, also spelled Tascalusa, Tuskalusa, Tastaluca, Tuskaloosa, or Tuscaloosa, meaning "warrior black" in western Muskogean (died 1540) was a Native American political leader, head of string of Mississippian towns and villages on the Coosa and Alabama Rivers that later became confederated into the Choctaw nation. The city of Tuscaloosa, Tuscaloosa County, and the Black Warrior River are named for Tascaluza.
Tascaluza appears in records preserved from Hernando de Soto's travels in present-day Alabama. Their first encounter was precipitated when the Spanish, holding a Coosa chief and his sister hostage, entered the vacated village of Talisi on September 18, 1540. De Soto sent a messenger to find the village chieftain with a demand for food, skins, bearers and women. When those good were delivered, De Soto released the sister. Tascaluza's son then led an envoy to Talisi to meet De Soto and learn their plans. The Spanish left the village on October 5 heading toward the Tallapoosa River, which they reached in four days, not far from Tascaluza's fortified village of Atahachi.
With Tascaluza's permission, De Soto entered Atahachi and was received in a shelter built atop a raised mound. Tascaluza occupied a cushioned seat, had his head wrapped in what was seen by the Spanish as a Moorish-style turban, and wore a cloak of feathers which reached to his feet. He was described as tall and well-proportioned. He was accompanied by a servant holding a feathered parasol or fly fan, decorated with what looked to them like a white Maltese cross on a black field.
During their visit, De Soto's men demonstrated horsemanship on the village's plaza with a type of jousting game, sometimes employed to intimidate, but this time without apparent effect. The natives countered with a demonstration of dances. After a meal, De Soto demanded that Tasculuza provide his company with more bearers and women. The chief replied that he was not a servant, but a master. The Spanish took him hostage, after which Tascaluza agreed to provide bearers, and informed them that they could receive women at another town, Mabila, across the river. In return for his cooperation, the chief was presented with a red cloak and a pair of boots. De Soto departed from Atahachi on October 12 with Tascaluza. They crossed near Piachi on hastily-built rafts. The group arrived at Mabila on October 18.
At Mabila, De Soto found the surroundings recently cleared of brush, fortifications and bastions recently built, and far more young warriors than women or children. Just outside the town De Soto was greeted by the village chieftain and presented with fur robes. The Spanish were brought inside and entertained by singers and dancers. Tascaluza left the group and entered a house. The Spaniard who was sent to bring him back found it full of warriors. De Soto proposed to leave the village in peace if provided with bearers, but the offer was refused. The chieftain had his arm cut off during a struggle with one of De Soto's men and soon a full pitched battle was underway.
The Spanish, numbering about 40 horsemen with a guard of crossbowmen and halberdiers, initially fled, but regrouped with others from the expedition outside the town to make their counter assault. After hours of fighting, the Spanish succeeded in cutting an opening through the log palisade, and then set fire to everything inside. The Spanish eventually killed all of the natives, none of whom surrendered. Estimates of native casualties range from fewer than 2,500 to as many as 7,500. Tascaluza's son was among the dead. De Soto's forces lost 20 men, though 250 more were seriously wounded and all their collected supplies had been lost. De Soto himself suffered minor injuries. After the battle, he and his men retreated from the river area for more than a month to recover and resupply.
Speculation about the actual site of Mabila has occupied historians for generations. In 2021 University of Alabama archeologist Ashley Dumas reported finding numerous Spanish and Native American artifacts at several sites in Marengo County.
- Maxwell, Thomas (July 1, 1876) "Tuskaloosa: The Origin Of Its Name. Its History, Etc." Alabama Historical Society
- Hudson, Charles (1997) Knights of Spain, Warriors of the Sun: Hernando De Soto and the South's Ancient Chiefdoms Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press ISBN 9780820318882
- Knight Jr, Vernon James, ed. (2009) The Search for Mabila: The Decisive Battle between Hernando De Soto and Chief Tascalusa. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press
- Fox, Justin (November 8, 2016) "The 1540 Battle That Changed the South" Bloomberg
- Yurkanin, Amy (November 14, 2021) "Alabama researchers closing in on site of Spanish explorer’s pivotal battle with Chief Tascalusa." The Birmingham News