Faculty Experiences

On the trail of De Soto

One fascinating visit I made on a trip to the Tampa Bay area of Florida was to the De Soto National Memorial Park. In the early 1530s, Spaniard Hernando De Soto made his fortune conquering the Incas under Fernando Pizarro's leadership. He was subsequently granted his own expedition by the king of Spain, and in May 1539 he landed his army on the shores of Tampa Bay, determined to find gold, secure lands for Spain, and produce converts to the Catholic Church.

De Soto's expedition, courtesy Library of Congress
De Soto's expedition, courtesy Library of Congress

De Soto subsequently led his army on a four-year, four-thousand-mile odyssey through what is now the southeastern United States. The park documents this journey, including De Soto's brutal interactions with the Native Americans he and his army encountered. De Soto was the first European documented as having crossed the Mississippi River, on the banks of which he died and was buried in May 1542.

—Jo Prockop
 Director, Center for Learning