Soto, Hernando de

born с 1496/97, Jerez de los Caballeros, Badajoz, Spain
died May 21, 1542, along the Mississippi River

Spanish explorer and conquistador.

He joined the 1514 expedition of Pedro Arias Dávila (1440–1531) to the West Indies, and in Panama he quickly made his mark as a trader and explorer. By 1520 he had accumulated a small fortune through his slave trading in Nicaragua and on the Isthmus of Panama. He joined Francisco Pizarro on an expedition to conquer Peru in 1532, returning to Spain in 1536 with great wealth. Commissioned by the Spanish crown to conquer what is now Florida, he departed in 1538 in command of 10 ships and 700 men. On that expedition he explored the extensive region that was to become the southeastern U.S. and discovered the Mississippi River for Europeans. Overcome by fever, he died in Louisiana and was buried in the Mississippi River.

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▪ Spanish explorer
Hernando also spelled  Fernando 
born c. 1496/97, Jerez de los Caballeros, Badajoz, Spain
died May 21, 1542, along Mississippi River [in present-day Louisiana, U.S.]
 Spanish explorer and conquistador who participated in the conquests of Central America and Peru and, in the course of exploring what was to become the southeastern United States, discovered the Mississippi River.

Early years
      De Soto spent his youth in the family manor house at Jerez de los Caballeros. His parents intended him to be a lawyer, but in 1514, while still in his teens, he told his father of his desire to go to the Indies, and he left for Sevilla (Seville). Despite his youth, de Soto's zeal and his prowess as a horseman helped gain him a place on the 1514 expedition of Pedro Arias Dávila (Arias Dávila, Pedro) to the West Indies. In Panama, de Soto quickly made his mark as a trader and expeditioner (Latin America, history of), reaping high profits by his skill and daring. By 1520 he had accumulated considerable capital through his slave trading in Nicaragua and on the Isthmus of Panama, after successful partnerships with Hernán Ponce de León and Francisco Campañón. In 1524–27 de Soto defeated his archrival, Gil González de Ávila, in a struggle for control of Nicaragua, and he subsequently expanded his trade in Indian slaves.

      In 1530 de Soto lent Francisco Pizarro (Pizarro, Francisco) two ships to investigate reports of gold located south of Darién on the Pacific coast (now in northwestern Colombia). After de Soto's patron, Dávila, died in 153l and Pizarro's expedition confirmed the reports of gold, de Soto joined the new enterprise. In return for the use of his ships, Pizarro named de Soto his chief lieutenant, and the conquest of Peru began the next year (1532). De Soto, as the expedition's captain of horse, was the driving force in the Spaniards' defeat of the Incas (Inca) at Cajamarca, and he was the first European to make contact with the Inca emperor Atahuallpa.

      Following the Spaniards' capture of Atahuallpa, de Soto seized Cuzco, the Inca capital. For political reasons, he became the emperor's friend and protector, but Pizarro, fearing Atahuallpa's influence over his Inca subjects, had the emperor executed even though the latter's subjects had raised an enormous ransom in gold in order to ensure his release. Dissatisfied with Pizarro's leadership and coveting a governorship of his own, de Soto returned to Spain in 1536. The shares that he had accumulated in the sack of Peru, though less than half of Pizarro's, made him one of the wealthiest of the returning conquistadors.

      In Spain de Soto married Isabel de Bobadillo, daughter of Dávila, and was accepted into the prestigious Order of Santiago. He grew restless in Spain, however, and in 1537 he sought special permission to conquer Ecuador, with special rights to the Amazon River basin. Instead, he was commissioned by the Spanish crown to conquer what is now Florida. In addition, he was made governor of Cuba.

Exploration of southern North America
 In April 1538 de Soto embarked from the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda in command of 10 ships and 700 men. After a brief stop in Cuba, the expedition landed in May 1539 on the coast of Florida, at a point somewhere between present-day Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor. After spending the winter at the small Indian village of Apalache (near Tallahassee, Florida), de Soto moved northward and through Georgia and then westward through the Carolinas and Tennessee, led by native guides whom he abducted along the way. Though he did not find the gold he was looking for, he did collect a valuable assortment of pearls at a place called Cofitachequi, in eastern Georgia. Near Lookout Mountain, in southeastern Tennessee, de Soto and his men turned southward into Alabama and headed toward Mobile Bay where they expected to rendezvous with their ships. But at the fortified Indian (American Indian) town of Mauvila (near Mobile), a confederation of Indians attacked the Spaniards in October 1540. The natives were decimated, but the Spanish were also severely crippled, losing most of their equipment and all their pearls.

      After a month's rest, de Soto decided to turn north once again and head inland in search of treasure. This was a fateful decision that was to have disastrous results. Moving northwest through Alabama and then west through Mississippi, de Soto's party was attacked relentlessly by Indians. On May 21, 1541, the Spaniards saw for the first time the Mississippi River, the “Father of the Water” south of Memphis, Tennessee. They crossed the river and made their way through Arkansas and Louisiana. Then, early in 1542, de Soto turned back to the Mississippi River. Overcome by fever, he died in Louisiana, and his comrades buried his body in the Mississippi. Luis de Moscoso, whom de Soto had named his successor, led the expedition's remnants (half the original party) down the Mississippi on rafts, and they reached Mexico in 1543.

Additional Reading
Miguel Albornoz, Hernando de Soto: Knight of the Americas (1986), is an informative biography. Narratives of de Soto's Florida expedition are found in modern translations of the original conquistador histories, such as John Grier Varner and Jeannette Johnson Varner (eds.), The Florida of the Inca (1951, reissued 1980), after Garcilaso de la Vega; James Alexander Robertson (ed.), True Relation of the Hardships Suffered by Governor Fernando de Soto (1932); and Edward Gaylord Bourne (ed.), Narratives of the Career of Hernando de Soto in the Conquest of Florida, 2 vol. (1904, reissued 1974). Miscellaneous documents and essays, with an attempt to trace de Soto's North American route, are presented in John R. Swanton (ed.), Final Report of the United States De Soto Expedition Commission (1939, reprinted 1985). More recent chronicles of his American expeditions are Jerald T. Milanich (ed.), The Hernando de Soto Expedition (1991); Lawrence A. Clayton, Vernon James Knight, Jr., and Edward C. Moore (eds.), The De Soto Chronicles, 2 vol. (1993); Jerald T. Milanich and Charles Hudson, Hernando de Soto and the Indians of Florida (1993); Charles Hudson, Knights of Spain, Warriors of the Sun: Hernando de Soto and the South's Ancient Chiefdoms (1997); and Patricia Galloway (ed.), The Hernando de Soto Expedition (1997).

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Universalium. 2010.

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