Of the four known accounts of the Hernando de Soto expedition into the southeastern interior of the present United States, that of the royal factor Hernández de Biedma is the briefest. It is also the only one hat is primary-- that is, it was written by a man who participated in the expedition from at least the time it departed Cuba in 1539 until it reached Pánuco in New Spain in 1543. Hernández de Biedma's account is, by all appearances, a firsthand, contemporary, succinct, and straightforward report of the events he witnessed. Historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists frequently use it in their attempts to reconstruct the trajectory and experiences of the expedition, or the geography, culture, society, and economy of the native peoples the expedition encountered, but the Biedma account has attracted little (or no) attention for its own sake, perhaps because of its very brevity and lack of elaboration. Yet, while undoubtedly lacking the drama or detail--and the problems that they raise--of the other chronicles, the Hernández de Biedma narrative is not without interest. Given the document's importance as a primary source and the frequency with which it is cited, it is appropriate that it receive consideration here.
Among the known Soto narratives, Luis Hernández de Biedma's chronicle is the only holograph manuscript written by an eyewitness. The document may be found in the Patronato section (Patronato 19, ramo 3) of the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, having previously been housed in the Archivo General de Simancas and transferred to the Archive of the Indies with all other records in Simancas pertaining to the Americas. Patronato is a special section that includes, in particular, many of the records relating to the early exploration, conquest, and governance of the Indies. All the documents contained therein were moved there from other locations, hence they are no longer in their original archival "context." Of course, the same may be true of many of the records extant in these archives. Nonetheless, the special nature of the Patronato section guarantees that, whatever might have been consid-