Exploration and Settlement

Hernando De Soto

What areas of the United States did Hernando de Soto explore?

Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto (c. 1500–1542) ventured throughout the Southeast before he caught fever and died along the banks of the Mississippi River.

Having been part of a brutal expedition that crushed the Inca Empire (in what is now Peru), in 1536 de Soto returned to Spain a hero. But he sought to go back to the New World and got his wish when King Charles I (1500–1558) appointed him governor of Cuba and authorized him to conquer and colonize the region that is now the southeastern United States.

Arriving in Florida in the winter of 1539, de Soto and an army of about 600 men headed north during the following spring and summer. In search of gold and silver, they traveled through present-day Georgia, through North and South Carolina, through the Great Smoky Mountains, and into Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. After defeating the Choctaw leader Tuscaloosa in October 1540 in south-central Alabama, the Spaniards headed north and west into Mississippi. They crossed the Mississippi River on May 21, 1540, and de Soto died later that same day. Since he had shown no mercy in his conquests of the native peoples, de Soto’s troops sunk his body in the river so that it would not be discovered and desecrated by the Indians. Then his army continued on without him; under the direction of Luis de Moscoso they reached Mexico in 1541.


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