[graphic] De Soto National Memorial

[photo] Beach area at De Soto National Memorial
Photograph from NPS Destinations Magazine
De Soto National Memorial in Bradenton, Florida, commemorates the landing and legacy of the 1539 expedition of Hernando de Soto. Hernando de Soto, icon of the age of the conquistador, was only about 14 years old when he first set sail from Spain, in about 1514. His time spent fighting off both Spanish poachers and native inhabitants of Panama and Nicaragua left the young warrior with ample resources and a thirst for gold. This was soon quenched when he joined Francisco Pizarro in his famous conquest of the Inca Empire in Peru. In the late 1530s, now rich, but growing bored, de Soto lobbied to lead his own expedition into the heart of what is now the Southeastern United States. In exchange for de Soto personally financing the trip, King Charles V granted him both the Governor-ship of Cuba, as well dominion over the lands and peoples of La Florida (Spanish term for “all of North America”).

[Historic photo] Natural trail at De Soto National Memorial
Photograph from NPS Destinations Magazine

In May 1539, de Soto landed on the Florida mainland in Tampa Bay, bringing with him around 600 conquistadors, 200 or so horses, a herd of pigs and packs of vicious war dogs. What followed was four years of violent encounters with American Indians while searching fruitlessly for a civilization possessing riches like the Aztecs of Mexico or the Incas of Peru. By 1543, with de Soto dead and half his men gone, the expedition abandoned its quest and traveled by river and sea to Spanish settlements in Mexico. Unknowingly, the descriptions of new peoples and abundant lands provided by participants would prove to be the true legacy of the quest, contributing to inspire later Europeans to colonize North America. Today De Soto National Memorial helps unravel the complex cultural interactions between the native population and the Spanish explorers. Inside the museum, detailed maps focus in on significant incidents that peppered de Soto's four-year journey into the country, while exhibits on the north porch feature information discovered in archeological sites along de Soto's trail. The center features a short film and numerous 16th-century artifacts including Spanish armor and weapons, as well as examples of American Indian pottery and projectile points. Cap off your visit with a self-guided walk through de Soto's half-mile nature trail, which winds through the same type of impenetrable mangrove swamp and coastal environment first encountered by the Spanish. For more information, visit the official De Soto National Memorial NPS website.

(text from National Park Service Destinations Magazine, Winter 2001)

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