||Soto, Hernando de, ca. 1500-1542
||Letter of Hernando de Soto at Tampa Bay to the Justice and Board of Magistrates in Santiago de Cuba
||Bourne, Edward Gaylord (editor) and Buckingham Smith (translator). Narratives of the Career of Hernando de Soto in the Conquest of Florida as Told by a Knight of Elvas and in a Relation by Luys Hernandez de Beidma, Factor of the Expedition. Together with an Account of de Soto's Expedition Based on the Diary of Rodrigo Ranjel, His Private Secretary Translated from Oviedo's Historia General y Natural de las Indias. (New York: A.S. Barnes and Company, 1904). Volume 2, pages 159-165.
||8 / 0
Hernando de Soto, (ca. 1500-1542) was a Spanish conquistador active
in the exploration of Central America and conquest of Peru. His
career began in 1519 in Central America with Pedrarias Dávila.
On completing the campaign to conquer Peru and sack Cuzco, Soto
returned to Spain a wealthy man. Spanish King Charles V sent him
to conquer Florida in 1539; he died in 1542 during the expedition.
Soto Expedition to Florida, the American South and Texas,
The King of Spain gave Hernando de Soto the funds and resources
to conquer and colonize the American continent. Not knowing the
size of North America, the King gave Soto four years to conquer
America and locate riches that would entice Spanish settlers and
investors to follow. Six-hundred-forty volunteers joined the expedition
that left Cuba in 1539. Among them were expert tradesmen that might
help settle a new land. Carpenters, merchants, engineers, blacksmiths,
priests, and farmers were among Soto’s “army.” They carried with
them all manner of military equipment, as well as seeds, nails,
horses, dogs, and pigs. The massive entourage spent four years walking
four-thousand miles through the interior of North America but did
not establish a settlement. The Soto expedition began in Cuba and
moved on to cover territory in what today are the states of Florida,
Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi,
Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Texas. For its exact route during
the four-year journey, see the reference map accessible from this
document’s home page.
From his campaigns against the Inca in Peru, Soto had earned
a reputation for killing Indians as sport, and his North
American expedition was among the most savage on record. Soto’s
army brutalized and enslaved Indians they encountered all across
the southeast, killing thousands and spreading disease
throughout the native populations. Many nations first observed
on this trip were decimated by diseases introduced during their
first contact with Europeans.
Overcome with fever in the third year of the trip, Soto died
in May 1542 on the banks of the Mississippi River. Before dying,
he conferred command of the expedition to Luys de Moscoso.
Moscoso hid Soto’s death from the local Indians because Soto had
told them that he was immortal, but when Indian servants became
curious about a fresh grave, Moscoso had unearthed the
explorer’s body, wrapped it in cloth, weighted it with sand, and
sunk it in the river.
Once in control of the expedition, Moscoso tried to discover the
fastest route home. Indian guides, however, led the Spanish into
the wastes of east Texas in the hope that they would be lost and
then starve. Moscoso managed to find his way back to the Mississippi
where the expedition built seven small ships in six months. The
remaining Spaniards and their animals then set sail downriver. As
they progressed, groups of Indians in large canoes attacked them.
When the Spanish sent boats with soldiers to repulse these attacks,
the Indians ditched the Spaniards’ boats, beat them with wooden
clubs, and then drowned the armor-clad soldiers. The Indians then
followed a bowshot behind the ships and patiently shot the Spaniards
with arrows. Up to fifty canoes followed the Spaniards, attacking
them day and night. The Spanish finally reached the mouth of the
Mississippi River and headed west. They sailed into the Rio Panico,
Mexico, on September 10, 1543, with only 300 men remaining from
the original 640.
Letter from Soto to the Cuban Magistrates
This letter describes his departure from Cuba May 18, 1539, and
his arrival in Florida in June. He recounts that when they arrived
on the bay, the local Indians abandoned the region, permitting establishment
of an outpost. Soto learned that a Christian held by one of the
neighboring chiefs might be a helpful translator, so he tracked
this person down in the Florida interior. Once acquired, the Indian
became a loyal translator of the various languages and dialects
spoken by the tribes in northern Florida. The letter directs the
Spanish to complete the erection of a fort on Tampa Bay at Espiritu
Santo, and is dated July 9, 1539.
This document exists only in a contemporary copy found in the Archivo
de las Indias in Spain. It was first published by Buckingham Smith
in his Colección de varios documentos para la historia
de la Florida y tierras adyacentes. Tomo I (London, 1857).
Other Internet and Reference Sources
A useful timeline of the years 1527-1547 that shows the relationships
between the travels of Narváez, Núñez Cabeza
da Vaca, Soto, Ulloa, and Coronado is available from the University
of Arizona at
More information can also be found at