Hernando de Soto

De Soto, Hernando

Hernando De Soto (dĬsō´tō, Span. ĕrnän´dō dā sō´tō), c.1500–1542, Spanish explorer. After serving under Pedro Arias de Ávila in Central America and under Francisco Pizarro in Peru, the dashing young conquistador was made governor of Cuba by Emperor Charles V, with the right to conquer Florida (meaning the North American mainland). He led an expedition that left Spain in 1538 and landed on the Florida coast, probably near Tampa Bay, in 1539. That was the start of an adventure that took him and his band nearly halfway across the continent in search of gold, silver, and jewels, which they never found.

After wintering near Tallahassee they went N through Georgia and the Carolinas into Tennessee, then turned S into Alabama, where De Soto was wounded in a battle with Native Americans. He was so determined to continue his treasure hunt that he refused to inform his men that Spanish vessels were off the coast. In the spring of 1541 they again set forth and were probably the first Europeans to see and cross the Mississippi. A journey up the Arkansas River and into Oklahoma disclosed no treasures, and, discouraged, they turned back to the banks of the Mississippi. There De Soto died; he was buried in the river, so that the Native Americans, whom he had intimidated and ill-used, would not learn of his death.

His men went west again across the Red River into N Texas, then returned to the Mississippi and followed it to the sea. A remnant of the expedition made its way down the coast to arrive at Veracruz in 1543. The chief chronicle of the expedition is by a Portuguese called the Gentleman of Elvas.

See biographies by R. B. C. Graham (1924), T. Maynard (1930, repr. 1969), B. Shipp (1831, repr. 1971), and M. Albornoz (1986); studies by R. F. Schell (1966) and P. Lily (1983).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Hernando de Soto: Selected full-text books and articles

De Soto and the Conquistadores By Theodore Maynard Longmans, Green, 1930
Hernando de Soto and the Indians of Florida By Jerald T. Milanich; Charles Hudson University Press of Florida, 1993
The de Soto Chronicles: The Expedition of Hernando de Soto to North America in 1539-1543 By Lawrence A. Clayton; Vernon James Knight; Edward C. Moore University of Alabama Press, vol.2, 1993
The De Soto Chronicles: The Expedition of Hernando de Soto to North America in 1539-1543 By Lawrence A. Clayton; Vernon James Knight Jr.; Edward C. Moore University of Alabama Press, vol.2, 1995
First Encounters: Spanish Explorations in the Caribbean and the United States, 1492-1570 By Jerald T. Milanich; Susan Milbrath University of Florida Press, 1989
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Hernando de Soto's Expedition through the Southern United States"
Towns and Temples along the Mississippi By David H. Dye; Cheryl Anne Cox University of Alabama, 1990
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 10 "The Hernando de Soto Expedition: From Mabila to the Mississippi River"
Florida Indians and the Invasion from Europe By Jerald T. Milanich University Press of Florida, 1998
Librarian’s tip: "The Army of Hernando de Soto" begins on p. 127
The Spanish Borderlands: A Chronicle of Old Florida and the Southwest By Herbert E. Bolton Glasgow, Brook, 1970
Librarian’s tip: Chap. III "Hernando de Soto"
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