Hernando De Soto

Spanish Explorer & Conquistador

Born: c. 1496 (?)

Died: 1542

Starting in 1519, De Soto served under the Spanish adventurer Francisco Pizarro for 13 years. Young and ambitious, he made his mark as a slave trader and built a fortune in Nicaragua and Panama through partnerships with Hernan Ponce de Leon and Francisco Campanon.

De Soto defeated a rival, Gil Gonzalez Davila, to gain control of Nicaragua. Upon learning that there was gold along the Pacific coast, De Soto joined with Pizarro in the conquest of Peru in 1532, trading his ships for a lieutenant position in Pizarro’s fleet. He captained part of the fleet that defeated the Incas and was the first European to meet the Incan Emperor Atahualpa.

With the permission of King Charles of Spain, De Soto organized an expedition to Florida, seeking a legendary rich empire in the wilderness. Starting in 1539, De Soto’s party traveled through Florida, South and North Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi. Hew discovered the Mississippi River in 1541 and crossed it in order to explore Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Even though he had made great progress in exploring previously unknown areas, he was unsuccessful in finding any gold or treasure.

De Soto died during the march back to Florida and was buried in the Mississippi River, so that hostile natives would not abuse his body.

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