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1539
Four Hundred And Fifty Years Ago

June 2024
1min read


Hernando de Soto had a noble ancestry, wealth, fame, good looks, and a lust for gold. This last quality dominated his life. After his lucrative plundering of Peru, the Spanish crown granted de Soto the title of governor of Florida in 1538. He sailed from Spain with a volunteer force and landed at Tampa Bay on May 30, 1539.

Pursuing rumors of gold fields, de Soto’s 550-man army cut its way through the swamps and forests of the Southeast, slaughtering or enslaving any Indian tribes that resisted. De Soto was a man who could, in the presence of Dominican friars, mutilate the face of an Indian prisoner before killing him, yet piously observe mass the next day. His party celebrated the first Christmas in what would become the United States.

The expedition accumulated a grisly record of cruelty. Ironically, no gold was found in three years of campaigning before de Soto died at the mouth of the Arkansas River in 1542. A year later his men finally left North America for Spain, equally infamous and emptyhanded.

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