"What we have committed in the
Indies stands out among the most unpardonable offenses ever committed
against God and mankind and this trade (Indian slavery) as one of the
most unjust, evil and cruel among them."
-- Bartolome de las Casas, "History of the Indies"
The FCAT exercise for
Before de Soto came
to La Florida he plied his art in South America. Here is the story of
de Soto and the Incas.
Teacher Resource Link for
Hernando de Soto
Hernando de Soto
Arrives and Explores Florida
Hernando de Soto
(pictured at left) was
born in Extremadura, a desperately poor region of Spain. He became
incredibly rich brutally enslaving the natives of Nicaragua. He
trained with a sadistic leader named Pedrarias, who entertained
himself with the sport of using elite war-dogs to hunt and devour
"infidel" natives. In 1530, he accepted the role of second commander
in a fateful venture, commanded by Hernando Pizzaro. Together they set
conquered the mighty Incas of Peru. They brought down a great native
American empire with only 168 men and twenty-five horses. The
effects of the conquest
are felt to this day.
For his efforts Hernando de Soto was
given the title Governor of Cuba by the king of Spain, Carlos V, in 1536.
He was also given "La Florida," the area previously given to PŠnfilo de
NarvŠez. De Soto wanted to rule on his own. He got a
concession from the Spanish king to conquer new land. He would be the
governor of any territories he subjugated. He set sail from Havana
Harbour on Sunday, May 18th, 1539.
De Soto chose to use Cuba as a
home base for his supplies and for planning his expeditions into what is
today the United States. He spent his
fortune recruiting, arming, and transporting his own army. When he left
Spain in 1538, he was heavily in debt. He believed, however, that he would
regain his fortune by finding gold in "La Florida."
The Expedition to
De Soto sent guides
ahead to locate and chart a course for his army. The expedition set sail
for Florida on the 18th of May 1539, with five large vessels and four
smaller ones. On these vessels were de Soto's army as well as priests,
women, horses, mules, war dogs, and pigs. On May 25th, they made landfall
in the Tampa Bay area. De Soto's expedition initially landed at Piney
Point. They made camp at Uzita, which was a native village on the northern
shore of the Little Manatee River.
Amazingly, a cavalry
patrol found a Spanish survivor from an earlier expedition. He had been
searching for gold along with NarvŠez eleven years earlier. The Spanish
survivor's name was Juan Ortiz and he had been living as an Indian.
Ortiz's rescue was a great find for de Soto since Ortiz could communicate
in Spanish and many of the native languages. He could also function as a
guide for the area. As de Soto's expedition moved inland, however, they
met different native groups whose languages were unfamiliar to Ortiz.
The March Inland
The march inland
began July 15, 1539, and entered previously unexplored areas of Florida's
forests, rivers, bogs, and sand hills. In the vicinity of Zephyrhills and
Lumberton, they found no water and several people on the journey almost
died of thirst. When they finally came to the Alafia River, they
constructed a bridge and crossed successfully.
Hernando de Soto and
his men trudged through the wetland areas at the Cove of the Withlacoochee
River. One of de Soto's challenges was crossing the Withlacoochee River
because it had such strong currents. The army stretched a rope from one
side to the other and managed to cross successfully.
On July 29th, de
Soto occupied the Timucuan Indian province of Ocali (near present-day
Ocala). There, de Soto left the main part of his army and led a smaller
group through present-day Levy and Alachua counties. When they reached the
Santa Fe River, they crossed it and camped at a village named
Aguacaleyquen. Hernando de Soto then sent a small group of men back to
lead his main group northward to be reunited with them.
The map at left chronicles de Soto's trek east of the Mississippi
At War with the
De Soto violated the
king's ordinance to treat the natives well and convert them to
Catholicism. He let it be known that he would not let anyone stand in his
way. De Soto enslaved, mutilated, and executed the natives, often without
De Soto had one
open-field battle at Napituca near Live Oak. De Soto and his men were
positioned in the surrounding woods in anticipation of an ambush. When the
natives arrived, they charged. Some of the Indians were captured as
slaves. Others were shot. De Soto held some chiefs as prisoners for a
encounter, the Spaniards traveled west and came to the River of Deer (now
known as the Suwannee River). In the beginning of October, de Soto and his
men crossed the Aucilla River with difficulty. Upon crossing it, they
entered the Apalachee's main area. The natives destroyed their crops and
burned their villages as they drew back, so that de Soto and his men could
not use them.
The Spaniards were now under
constant attack by the natives, who would kill the Spanish dispatch
riders. In addition, brave native hostages used as guides often led army
troops directly into ambushes, even though it most certainly meant death
for them as well as the Spaniards.
As de Soto continued
to head west, he came upon Anhaica, the main town of the Apalachee. It was
here that he made camp for the winter. He also sent a small group of men
southward to Tampa Bay to lead his ships and remaining supplies to him at
Anhaica. The remains of iron crossbows, iron nails, and dated copper coins
have been found at this site.
De Soto Heads North
De Soto and his army decided to head north
out of Florida into Georgia. Later, he explored areas of North and South
Carolina, as well as Tennessee and Alabama. By the early 1540s, he headed
across the Mississippi River to look for gold and silver in what is now
Illustration at left by Theodore de Bry for a German edition of
Brevisima Relacion de la destruycion de las Indias ("A Brief
Relation of the destruction of the Indies")
By Bartolome de las Casas, 1552.
Note: Spanish savagery: cutting off of hands and noses, dogs
hunting natives, and mass slaughter and murder.
next four years, De Soto butchered his way up the Mississippi Valley. He
took armored trained-to-kill war-dogs, horses and even cannon. He
traveled on well-used roads and paths and enslaved the locals,
forcing them to act as guides and translators. De Soto was
disappointed because the natives didn't have great collections of
gold or European luxuries, but seemed overly concerned with other
forms of wealth, such as food, necessities and art.
He burnt and outright destroyed many of the great
cultural centers in the American mid-west. The historical documents
from the period are extensive and excellent. His chroniclers painted a
portrait of a collection of wandering butchers and a savage mercenary
army, merciless, greedy, remorseless, bent on pillage and plunder.
Modern European-colonist textbooks call him an
"explorer", but he was really nothing of the kind. Little more than a
pirate and in fact many times worse, De Soto's actions temporarily
united nations of the region in an active hatred of the "Christians".
However, over the course of several years he managed to thoroughly
destabilize regional political relations and diplomatic systems.
In 1542, he became ill and died of a
died on the Mississippi at a town called Anilco. Only a few of his
soldiers made their way back to Spanish-occupied Mexico, by fleeing
downriver and attempting a desperate overland journey.
Hernando de Soto's barbarians laid waste an entire
When the French ventured down the Mississippi
Valley only sixty years later, they found a few tiny villages. All
around them they saw the remains of some great culture they couldn't
identify. The obliteration seemed complete. Vast, now wild cornfields
and orchards stretched as far as the French adventurers could see.
Forest was slowly reclaiming what
once been a fertile, accomplished civilization.
Soon, there was little left of these great nations
but overgrown earthen mounds and ruins, rotting remains of cities,
graves for archaeologists to find and a few struggling bands of
survivors. Showing the resilience and power of life and the natural
world, forest reclaimed the land almost immediately. When the Dutch,
French and English arrived on the scene a hundred years later, they
had no idea of the historical extent of the slowly recovering native
Moundville and Cahokia and countless other sites are
reminders of the effects that invasion, war and disease can have on
societies. This is an excellent warning for other states and peoples.
We are social animals, and rely on delicate social structures for our
survival. What may at first seem like minor disturbances can escalate
into tragic catastrophes. The historic marker above only tells a tiny
part of the story...