On August 14, the New York Times published an article describing how ISIS uses their Islamic beliefs to justify rape and sex slavery. The story explains how ISIS soldiers pray before and after each rape, and even go to the bizarre extreme of explaining to their victims that what they are doing is really worship of God. The story was repeated by US media outlets across the land.
Not one of them made mention of Hernando De Soto, who did something very similar during his expedition of terror through what is now the US Southeast from 1539 to 1541.
De Soto’s army of several hundred armed Spanish men, many riding horses and leading trained attack dogs, marched into village after village and town after town, though Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana. In their company were captive Indians chained with neck collars. In fear the leaders of the villages sent emissaries offering gifts. These were received graciously by De Soto and a meeting with the chief would be arranged. At the meeting the village chief was invariably taken captive and chained. In exchange for his release, De Soto demanded food, servants to carry their gear, and women to be delivered to their camp. The latter would be baptized before they were raped in order to provide religious cover for the Catholic rapists. As for captured Indians who refused to reveal the location of their village, De Soto ordered their hands or noses cut off, or he burned them alive or had them torn apart by the dogs, one at a time, to extract information. The Wikipedia account of De Soto makes no mention of most of this, certainly not the sexual assaults that were inflicted upon town after town.
De Soto traveled with a personal secretary, Rodrigo Ranjel, who kept a journal. (It was finally translated into English in 1904.) Somewhere in northern Alabama, in late 1540, Ranjel included this passage:
The historian [Ranjel, speaking of himself in the third person] asked a very intelligent gentleman who was with this Governor [De Soto], and who went with him through his whole expedition in this northern country, why, at every place they came to, this Governor and his army asked for those tamemes or Indian carriers, and why they took so many women and these not old nor the most ugly; and why, after having given them what they had, they held the chiefs and principal men; and why they never tarried nor settled in any region they came to, adding that such a course was not settlement or conquest, but rather disturbing and ravaging the land and depriving the natives of their liberty without converting or making a single Indian either a Christian or a friend.
He replied and said: That they took these carriers or tamemes to keep them as slaves or servants to carry the loads of supplies which they secured by plunder or gift, and that some died, and others ran away or were tired out, so that it was necessary to replenish their numbers and to take more; and the women they desired both as servants and for their foul uses and lewdness, and that they had them baptized more on account of carnal intercourse with them than to teach them the faith… [emphasis added]
Ranjel then got on his soap box:
Oh, wicked men! Oh, devilish greed! Oh, bad consciences! Oh, unfortunate soldiers! that ye should not have understood the perils ye were to encounter, and how wasted would be your lives, and without rest your souls! … Give ear, then, Catholic reader, and do not lament the conquered Indians less than their Christian conquerors or slayers of themselves, as well as others, and follow the adventures of this Governor, ill governed, taught in the School of Pedrarias de Avila, in the scattering and wasting of the Indians of Castilla del Oro; a graduate in the killing of the natives of Nicaragua and canonized in Peru as a member of the order of the Pizarros; and then, after being delivered from all those paths of Hell and having come to Spain loaded with gold, neither a bachelor nor married, knew not how nor was able to rest without returning to the Indies to shed human blood, not content with what he had spilled…
Despite this plunder and rape described by one of his own men, school textbooks in the US celebrate De Soto. The story of De Soto’s journey is often placed in a chapter entitled something like “The Age of Exploration”. De Soto is described as an “explorer” who “explored” the southeast United States. He discovered the Mississippi River. Today, there are counties, towns, parks, elementary and high schools, and bridges named after him. De Soto is honored to this day in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington DC in a 12 foot by 18 foot painting with nearly life-size characters, in which two scantily-clad native women cower before him (see zoom above; full painting below). (I’m not sure why they are depicted this way; indigenous women in most cultures were fairly conservative.) The same image has appeared on the back of the $10 bill and $500 bill in the past.
Of course, this is not the only sexual crime against Native Americans to be overlooked by history as told in the US. ISIS’s planning and management of the sex slaves is reminiscent Hernán Cortés’s conquest of Tenochitlán (Mexico City), in which he separated the attractive women from the unattractive, keeping the former for himself, but all of them were branded with a g for guerra. ISIS’s pamphlets providing theological justification for sex slavery are reminiscent of the debates in Spain at the Council of the Indies regarding the questionable human status of Native Americans. The kidnapping, rape, and impregnation of Pocahontas is another classic sexual assault, glossed over and re-written into a love story. Another 12′ x 18′ painting, this one of Pocahontas’s baptism, also while in captivity, hangs in the Capitol Rotunda. In addition to the obvious parallel theological need to Christianize one’s sexual partner (willing or unwilling), the Pocahontas saga recalls Boko Haram’s claims that the school girls they kidnapped have converted to Islam and been married off. There is yet another 12′ x 18′ foot painting in the Capitol Rotunda with Native Americans, this one showing Columbus landing in the Bahamas with naked Native women running through the forest (above). That makes three enormous paintings in the Capitol depicting naked or captive Native women. Congressmen condemning ISIS for their sex slavery walk past these every day. It is right to condemn ISIS, but De Soto deserves a mention. He, too, developed a theology of rape and employed it for several years across the American South.