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DE SOTO NATIONAL MEMORIAL

“They say there are many trades among [the Indians] . . . an abundance of gold and silver and many pearls. May it please God that this may be so; for of what these Indians say I believe nothing but what I see, and must well see; although they know, and have it for a saying, that if they lie to me it will cost them there lives.”
Hernando de Soto, July 9, 1539
In a letter to the Magistrates of Cuba, shortly after landing in Florida

Hernando de Soto, icon of the age of the conquistador, was only about 14 years old when he first set sail from Spain, in about 1514. His time spent fighting off both Spanish poachers and native inhabitants of Panama and Nicaragua left the young warrior with ample resources and a thirst for gold. This was soon quenched when he joined Francisco Pizarro in his famous conquest of the Inca Empire in Peru. In the late 1530's, now rich, but growing bored, de Soto lobbied to lead his own expedition into the heart of what is now the Southeastern United States. In exchange for de Soto personally financing the trip, King Charles V granted him both the Governor-ship of Cuba, as well dominion over the lands and peoples of La Florida (Spanish term for “all of North America”).

In May 1539, de Soto landed on the Florida mainland in Tampa Bay, bringing with him around 600 conquistadors, 200 or so horses, a herd of pigs and packs of vicious war dogs. What followed was four years of violent encounters with Native Americans while searching fruitlessly for a civilization possessing riches like the Aztecs of Mexico or the Incas of Peru. By 1543, with de Soto dead and half his men gone, the expedition abandoned its quest and traveled by river and sea to Spanish settlements in Mexico. Unknowingly, the descriptions of new peoples and abundant lands provided by participants would prove to be the true legacy of the quest, contributing to inspire later Europeans to colonize North America.


De Soto National Memorial Visitor Center

From an account of the most notable things that occurred on the expedition to the viceroy of Mexico immediately following the end of the expedition:

“ . . . the viceroy [of Mexico] was very gratified to hear of the extensiveness of that kingdom [La Florida], the advantages that it had for raising all kinds of cattle, and the fertility of the soil for crops of grain, fruit, and vegetables.”
Garcilaso de la Vega
De Soto Chronicler

De Soto National Memorial is located off of Interstates 75 or 275, in Bradenton, Florida. Exhibits and rangers help to unravel the complex cultural interactions between the native population and the Spanish explorers. Inside the museum, detailed maps focus in on significant incidents that peppered de Soto's four-year journey into the country, while exhibits on the north porch feature information discovered in archeological sites along de Soto's trail. The center features a short film and numerous sixteenth century artifacts including Spanish armor and weapons, as well as examples of Native American pottery and projectile points.


Nature Trail

The 25-acre Memorial is open year round, though the winter months prove to be the most rewarding in this subtropical location. From mid-December to mid-April programs are offered daily. At Camp Ucita, Rangers and volunteers recreate the feel of an Indian village captured by de Soto and used as a base camp. Highlights include interpreters dressed in period costume, special events, and various demonstrations including cooking, blacksmithing, armor repair and military weapons demonstrations. The sight of a flying crossbow arrow or the smoking aftermath of the firing of the 16th century black-powder weapon called the arquebus provides an exciting sense of immediacy to the study of history. Cap off your visit with a self-guided walk through de Soto's half-mile nature trail, which winds through the same type of impenetrable mangrove swamp and coastal environment first encountered by the Spanish.

Contact Information:
De Soto National Memorial
P.O. Box 15390
Bradenton, FL 34280-5390
941-792-0458

Information provided by the National Park Service