Charles Hudson Chester B. DePratter Marvin T. Smith
On Sunday, 25 May 1539, a fleet of five ships, two caravels, and two brigantines sighted the western coast of Florida and cast their anchors. During the next four years, Hernando de Soto and his army would explore much of the interior of the southern United States, from Florida to Texas.
As an episode in the age of European New World exploration, the de Soto expedition was equal in historical significance to Francisco Vásquez de Coronado's 1540-1542 exploration of the southwestern United States. When judged in terms of the bravery, endurance, and intrepidness of the participants and the cruelty with which they treated the Indians, the expedition is comparable to those of Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro. The difference was that Cortés and Pizarro succeeded in discovering complex native societies which possessed precious metals and had large populations of people who could be exploited for mining and food production; de Soto failed to discover any such societies, for in North America there were none.
The importance of the de Soto expedition, however, is not to be measured merely in terms of whether it can stand comparison with similar adventures by contemporaries. It also is important for what it reveals about the native societies that dominated the sixteenth-