Friday, August 6, 2010

Hernando de Soto - Explorer or Greedy Grave Robber?

Hernando de Soto
Explorer or Greedy Grave Robber?
by Angela L MSSPI

Hernando de Soto was born between 1496 and 1500 in the mountainous area of Jerez de los Caballeros in Badajoz Spain. At the age of 14, de Soto sailed for the Isthmus of Panama with the aging governor of Darien, Pedro Arias Davila. He had seen many shipments of products and goods from the Indies as a child. Gold, sugar, herbs, cotton, hides, and wood inspired many stories of the possibilities for riches and promise across the Atlantic.
While serving under the harsh Davila,(right) de Soto earned a reputation as a conquistador known for his stubbornness, bravery, and boldness. As reward for his raids of Indian land and treasures, he received gold and slaves. De Soto had served as Lieutenant for Francisco Pizarro during his expedition to conquer the Inca Indians. Since Pizarro was successful in conquering the Incas of Peru, de Soto shared in the wealth and made a fortune for his work in Mexico.

Some sources claim that In 1537 de Soto married Ines de Bobadilla ,the youngest daughter of Pedro Arias Davila. The Southern Frontier by John Anthony Carusso (1969) however, claims that her name was Dona' Isabel.
On the Wikipedia link for Davila, Ines de Bobodilla is listed as the wife of Davila and Isabel is listed as the daughter. So there is some confusion as to her actual name.

After serving under Davilla in Central America and under Francisco Pizarro (left) in Peru, the dashing young conquistador was made governor of Cuba by Emperor Charles V.

Many a tale had been told by the Indians in Mexico (New Spain) about seven cities to the north where precious jewels might be found in abundance and gold in such quantities that ordinary tools were made from it. King Charles V of Spain ( pictured right) also heard of the reported wealth waiting to be discovered.

As a result, he gave de Soto a grant to lead an expedition to Florida to conquer, and subdue the population and bring back the riches. He was given the rights to take what he wanted and enslave the native people if necessary, to aquire it.

On 18 May, 1539, de Soto set sail , (leaving his bride in Cuba) with a fleet of nine vessels. He had with him 1000 men exclusive of the sailors, all well armed and making up what was considered to be the best equipped expedition that had ever set out for conquest in the New World. Some sources listed him as leaving in 1538 with seven ships, about 600 men, 250 horses, and many bloodhounds.
According to John A Carusso's book The Southern Frontier (1969) de soto was also granted a track of land, 12 leagues square, anywhere in Florida that touched neither seaport or chief town. He was free to import, one hundred Negro slaves , a third of whom would be women, which were given to him free of duty. King Charles V also laid claim to half of all gold, jewels, silver, pearls or any other objects of value, which de Soto might obtain while on the expedition. De Soto was given authority by the King to plunder burial grounds, seplecures, Indian temples and sacred sites. After the Kings cut ,the spoils were to be divided equally among the conquerers.
They proceeded with favorable weather until 25 May, when land was seen and they cast anchor in a bay to which they gave the name of Espiritu Santo (now Tampa Bay). The army landed on Friday, 30 May, 1539. That was the start of an adventure that took de Soto and his band nearly halfway across the continent in search of gold, silver, and jewels.

Hernando de Soto is widely known for his expeditions,and his discoveries and is considered the first white man to see the Mississippi River. However in my research and reading the stories of his many conquest, I found that he was a vicious fighter, frequently raiding Native villages, killing or enslaving all in the way of his quest to discover riches. He would have the elders of the villages shot in open fields in execution lines, he made examples out of the warriors, placing them in chains, he also took many as slaves and guides on his expeditions. Most history books and educators will tell you of his brave struggles to explore. But in my reading and researching the subject of Hernando de Soto, I was quite surprised to see what a gold greedy and pitiless conqueror he was and his blatant mistreatment of the Native American Tribal People. Sometimes, he never even attempted to talk to them first, he would scout out their villages and attack without warning, pillaging for treasure.

He also brought with him to the New World , pigs. The pigs were to be used as starters for pig farms in the new Spanish colony. Some were gifted to local chiefs who soon enjoyed the taste of cooked swine and adapted the meat to their barbacoas (barbeque) or raised cooking platforms. The remaining pigs served as emergency food sources during De Soto's trek through Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas.

But these same pigs may have left a terrifying invisible legacy. In their book, “The Hernando de Soto Expedition,” Ann Romenofsky and Patricia Galloway suggest that millions of Native people died because they lacked previous exposure to swine borne diseases, This previous exposure was critical in building their immune systems against the deadly diseases. These diseases include brucellosis, anthrax, leptospirosis, tuberculosis, trichinosis, cysticercosis and various strains of flu. Considering the fact that many swine diseases can be transmitted to deer and even turkeys, the two most important food animals used by southeastern Indians, the likelihood that this occurred becomes even greater.

When arriving in Confitachequi, he met an Indian Princess. She gave him a string of pearls as a welcome gift. He would later discover that the burial grounds were loaded with buried treasures of pearls. So he looted the burial grounds of 350 pounds of pearls. But de Soto was not satisfied with pearls, and decided to push forward. While the princess had accepted him and treated him most graciously, he had plans to take her along as part of his expedition as an interpreter. When she declined his invitation, he put her under guard and forced her to march on foot with his female slaves. But the princess managed to escape with a trunk full of pearls. De Soto did not pursue her.

Moving up thru Tennessee and back down the Alabama River to the province of the Mobile Indians, de Soto met Chief Tuscaloosa

( Tuscaluza...Encyclopedia of Alabama ). Chief Tuscaloosa was a giant of a man, as tall as 7 feet, standing a foot and a half above the Spaniards. At night fall the Chief began to prepare to leave and return to his village, but de Soto objected and took him into custody, thus making a formidable enemy.

While the Chief made a show of trying to obtain 400 carriers for the Spaniards expedition, he secretly sent word to summon his warriors and inform them of his detainment. Tuscaloosa's plan was to entice deSoto to the village of Mabilia which was fortified.

Mabilia was said to be located somewhere between the Alabama and the Tombigbee Rivers in present Clarke Co Alabama.

Unknowingly, de Soto would led his people into the arms of a savage confrontation. Tuscaloosa told de Soto and his expedition to leave in peace, or he and his allies would force him to leave.

When de Soto sent men into the house to retrieve the chief, it was discovered the house was full of armed warriors prepared to protect their chief. De Soto then asked the Chief of Mabila to demand the porters promised by Tuscaloosa, and the Spaniards would leave. The man refused, and a Spaniard grabbed him; in the ensuing scuffle, the chief had his arm cut off by the Spaniards sword. With this, the Mabilians attacked the Spanish, who immediately ran for the gate and their horses.

Natives poured out from all of the houses and began to attack the Spaniards. The Mabilians grabbed the provisions and equipment left outside the palisade and brought the supplies into the town. After making it outside, the Spaniards regrouped and began an assault on the village After a day long battle, Mabila was burned down, and nearly all the Mabilians and their allies were killed, either in the battle, in the subsequent fires, or by suicide. The natives would rather take their own lives than become slaves of the white man. Chief Tuskaloosa's son was found among the dead, although the chief himself was not. Biedma asserts that over five thousand were in the town, of which almost none were able to escape.

De Soto learned that his army was less than a week's travel from the coast, where his supply ships lay at anchor. However, fearing mass desertion and unwilling to abandon his enterprise, the Governor suppressed the news and instead led his battered, ill-equipped company northward into Mississippi, where they endured another cruel winter.

Resentful of de Soto's demands for food, blankets and furs, a group of Chickasaw Indians attacked his camp at night, successfully setting it ablaze. People, livestock and equipment perished; the expedition was left virtually naked. But despite this second devastation, the Spaniards rallied themselves amazingly and spent two weeks fabricating weapons and gear from local materials and salvaged effects. When the Chickasaw returned, the Spaniards defeated them easily, but it was clear that the mission had to continue westward out of this hostile territory.

 The Florida Wildlife Div. differs in opinon as to the route of exploration that deSoto took. None of his original maps are still in existence and while there were several writings describing the expedition and the things encountered, language was a barrier so there is a dispute as to which map is correct so I have included them both.

In May, de Soto and his men reached the Mississippi River, the first Europeans ever to do so. Desoto named the River, The Rio Grande de la Florida, meaning " The Great River of Florida. But the Native Americans in their wisdom, continued to call the river, "Mississippi Father of Waters". Stunned by its size but scarcely aware of the importance of their discovery, the Spaniards moved quickly to build barges for crossing - not only to avoid conflict with brooding locals, but also to continue their relentless quest for riches.
The expedition wandered through modern-day Arkansas and Louisiana for nearly a year until finally it became clear to everyone, including the Governor, that no fortunes would be found. Resigned, exhausted and ailing, de Soto proposed that his army return to the Mississippi, build boats and float down the river, then send a barge to Cuba for help.

However, before he could effect this plan, de Soto died on May 21, 1542 of a fever. His body was wrapped in skins weighted with sand and dumped into the Mississippi River, in order to prevent the desecration of his body by the Indians, whom he had intimidated and ill-used . There is a cross marker commemorating the explorer and his discovery on the banks of the Mississippi, in the city of Memphis TN.

The county of Desoto in North Western Mississippi is named for the explorer and beautiful murals, depicting his expedition, grace the ceilings of the Desoto County Courthouse in Hernando Mississippi.

Although the expedition of deSoto ended drastically and with little success in the venture for riches, it was one of the most elaborate and persistent efforts made by the Spaniards to explore the interior of North America. It was the first extensive exploration of at least six of the Southern states: South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas, and their written history often begins with narratives which tell the story of de Soto's expedition. From these same narratives we also get our first description of the Cherokees, Seminoles, Creeks, Appalachians, Choctaws, and other famous tribes of southern Indians.

The story of this expedition also records the discovery of the Mississippi and the first voyage of Europeans upon it. While history gives credit for the discovery of the Mississippi River to Hernando de Soto, it must be noted that Alonso de Pineda discovered the mouth of the Mississippi in 1519, and that Cabeza de Vaca ( right) crossed it near its mouth in 1528.


The Southern Frontier ( 1969) by John Anthony Carusso, Professor of History West Virginian University.
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition . Copyright 2008 Columbia University Press
SMITH tr., Narrative of the Career of Hernando de Soto in the Discovery of Florida, by a Knight of Elvas (New York, 1866);
SHIPP, History of Hernando de Soto (Philadelphia, 1881)
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Hernando de Soto in Florida, 16th-century engraving by Theodor de Bry
Hernando De Soto. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. New Advent: h Chief Tuscaloosa plaque Desoto & Tuscaloosa

No comments:

Post a Comment