Soto, Hernando De, Explorations of

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SOTO, HERNANDO DE, EXPLORATIONS OF. While Francisco Vásquez de Coronado was seeking the mythical Seven Cities of Cíbola in the southwestern United States, another Spanish conquistador, Hernando de Soto, was similarly in quest of treasure in the Southeast. De Soto, who had been involved in Francisco Pizarro's conquest of the Peruvian Incas, secured a royal grant for the conquest of Florida. Sailing from Havana with a company of about 600 men, de Soto landed on what is now Tampa Bay in the spring of 1539. This was the beginning of a four-year journey of conquest that took him halfway across the continent seeking riches he never found. As he traveled, de Soto ruthlessly pillaged and massacred thousands of Native Americans, while many of his followers were killed or died of disease and exposure.

De Soto passed the first winter at an Apalachee Indian village near the site of Tallahassee. Hearing rumors

of wealth to the north, he wandered through Georgia to Creek villages and proceeded through Piedmont country and the western part of the Carolinas—an area that later became Cherokee territory but was perhaps occupied by the Sioux at the time. De Soto advanced through Tennessee and moved south through Creek territory, arriving in October 1540 at Mauvila (or Mabila), a great Choctaw town, where a fierce battle ensued. De Soto was wounded, and the Spaniards estimated that three thousand Indians were killed. After they recuperated, the Spaniards headed northwest in November, wintering among the Chickasaws and battling Indians at Cabusto, Chicaca, and Alabamo. In May 1541 de Soto discovered and crossed the Mississippi River. The Spaniards spent the winter of 1541–1542 in northeastern Arkansas and in the spring of 1542 moved down the Arkansas River to the Mississippi once more. De Soto fell ill and died near Natchez on 21 May 1542. The soldiers sank his body in the great river, fearing the Indians would attack if they discovered that de Soto was not immortal—as they had been told Christians were—and reported that he had gone to the sun. After fighting off Indian attacks in east Texas, the Spaniards built barges to float down the Mississippi. Eventually, on 10 September 1543, 320 survivors—of the original company of 600—landed at the mouth of the Pánuco River in the Gulf of Mexico.


Galloway, Patricia, ed. The Hernando de Soto Expedition: History, Historiography, and "Discovery" in the Southeast. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.

Whayne, Jeannie, ed. Cultural Encounters in the Early South: Indians and Europeans in Arkansas. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1995.

Kenneth M.Stewart/a. r.

See alsoCibola ; Coronado Expeditions ; Explorations and Expeditions: U.S.