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Hernando De Soto; A Biography

Conquistador, Incas, Precious Gems

When Hernando De Soto, the dashing young Spanish explorer landed on the east coast of Florida in 1539, probably in the Tampa Bay area, it was a sad day for the natives of Southeast North America. The conquistador’s brutality and greed, which became increasingly evident in the following months, was a poor introduction for them to the character and culture of the white race.

Hernando De Soto was born in 1500 in the Spanish province of Extremadura. He was the second son of a hidalgo, a type of middle-class land owner. Hernando was educated to age fourteen as befitted his family’s status.

His teenage years were spent at sea. In 1514, he made a voyage to the Indies, and in 1519, he joined a voyage of discovery to Panama. The challenge and adventure of life at sea appealed to him and he soon became an able sailor.

In 1524, he sailed with Francisco de Cordoba, a slave trader, to Nicaragua, in Central America. After Cordoba was killed, De Soto made a comfortable profit by engaging in the slave trade for himself.

In 1530, a fellow Spaniard, Francisco Pizzaro, recruited De Soto for an expedition to Peru. The conquistadors sailed from the port of Panama with 3 ships and over 200 men. During this adventure, they met and killed the ruler of the Incas, Atahualpa, and conquered the Inca Empire.

Thousands of Inca citizens were killed and a rich treasure of gold, silver and precious gems was stolen. Francisco De Soto returned to Spain in 1536, a very wealthy man. He married Ines de Bobadilla in 1537 and set up a household in Seville.

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However, he was not to remain idle for long. De Soto was summoned by King Charles V, appointed governor of Cuba, and granted the right to conquer Florida, which was all of North America known about at that time.

De Soto gathered 950 armed men, priests, and 10 ships. They set sail from Sanlucar, Spain and landed in Santiago, Cuba, where they spent several months planning the conquest. On May 30, 1539, they sailed from Cuba and landed on the shore of the west coast of Florida.

They set out in search of gold, silver and jewels, but did not find any. On their quest, they explored areas of what is now Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. They were the first white men to see the mighty Mississippi River.

De Soto’s encounters with the natives were always violent and brutal. Many American Indians suffered and died unjustly at the hands of the Spanish intruders, among them, members of the Cherokee, Seminole, Creek, Appalachian and Choctaw tribes.

Fernando De Soto never returned to his homeland. He died in 1542 of a fever, while still searching for the elusive treasure. His men threw his body into the Mississippi River, hoping that the natives, whom he had so ill-used would not learn of his death.

A remnant of the expedition made its way down the coast and arrived at Veracruz, Mexico in 1543.

Reference: The Cato Institute: Hernando De Soto

Retrieved: May 24, 2009 from the World Wide Web