Charles R. Ewen
In October 1539, Hernando de Soto and his expedition of more than 600 Spaniards established their winter camp at an Apalachee Indian village in the environs of what is now Tallahassee, Florida. Coming fewer than 50 years after Columbus's first voyage, it was the first wintering on the longest overland Spanish reconnaissance of the United States in the sixteenth century.
The expedition occupied the Apalachee encampment for five months, until early March 1540. When the camp was abandoned by de Soto and his army in 1540, its location was lost. Nearly 450 years later, in spring 1987, an archaeologist accidently discovered the site, providing us with the first undeniable evidence for the expedition's presence.
De Soto and his army landed with horses, supplies, and equipment at Tampa Bay in May 1539. After marching north through the Florida peninsula, they crossed the Aucilla River and entered the territory of the Apalachee Indians. For several days they moved west from one Indian town to another.
The Apalachee were among the most powerful and agriculturally productive of the native groups encountered by de Soto's expedition in Florida. Organized into a complex chiefdom (a socially stratified