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Timeline / Colonizers and Resistance / AD 1560: A conquistador finds Coosa villages abandoned

AD 1560: A conquistador finds Coosa villages abandoned

Tristán de Luna is ordered to establish a Spanish settlement on the Gulf Coast and an overland trade route to what is now South Carolina. In what is now Georgia, he expects to find villages of the powerful Coosa people, which Hernando de Soto described 20 years earlier. Instead, he finds villages almost abandoned. An ailing slave left behind by de Soto had spread an epidemic that swept through Coosa towns.

Historians believe that a series of epidemics nearly wiped out southeastern tribes in only decades. One of them—possibly a combination of pneumonic and bubonic plagues, or typhus— killed millions of Mesoamericans from 1545 to 1548. Colonists also transmitted the influenza virus to Native peoples. The virus became epidemic in the Caribbean and Mesoamerica in 1559, following its sweep across Europe two years earlier.