Spanish Explorer and Conquistador. He became the first European to explore the territory of the southeastern modern-day United States and the first to document crossing the present-day Mississippi River. He was born in either Barcarrota or Badajoz, in the region of Extremadura, Spain. Attracted by stories of fortune as a young boy with the discovery of new lands to the West, he sailed to the New World in 1514 with the first Governor of Panama, Pedrarias Davila. He participated in the Spanish conquest of Central America, where he gained fame as an excellent horseman, fighter, and tactician, but was known for his brutality. He became influenced by the achievements of Spanish explorers Juan Pone de Leon who discovered Florida, Ferdinand Magellan who first sailed the Pacific Ocean to the Far East, and Vasco Nunez de Balboa who discovered the Pacific Ocean. In 1530 he became a regidor (or council member) of Leon, Nicaragua and led an expedition up the Yucatan Peninsula in an attempt to find a passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, which was unsuccessful. He then left Nicaragua to join Francisco Pizarro on his quest to conquer Peru and the Incan Empire. Pizarro made him a captain of his army and they attack and defeated the Inca forces under Atahualpa at the Battle of Cajamarca, capturing Atahualpa, demanding a huge ransom of gold and silver for his release, which they received but Atahualpa was executed to prevent his rescue. He and Pizarro's army advanced on Cuzco, the capital of the Inca Empire, where they defeated the Inca forces and captured the city, plundering and looting its gold and silver and, when combined with the ransom for Atahualpa along with the plunder from his camp, it made him very wealthy. In 1534 he was serving as the lieutenant governor of Cuzco while Pizarro was building his new capital (later known as Lima) on the Pacific Coast. Later that year, after being turned down to be second-in-command of an expedition to explore and conquer the southern half of the Incan Empire, he packed his treasure and returned to Spain. He petitioned King Charles of Spain for the governorship of Guatemala but was granted the governorship of Cuba instead, with intentions of colonizing the North American Continent for Spain. Hearing stories of Cabeza de Vaca, who had just returned to Spain after surviving in North America as a castaway, he set sail for Cuba with 620 men, with heavy armor and equipment, and livestock to sustain a planned four-year expedition. In May 1539 he landed on the west coast of present-day Florida with over 620 men, including priests, craftsmen, engineers, farmers, and merchants (including some family members), from Cuba, Europe, and Africa. He moved up Florida to the western panhandle and camped there for the winter. The following spring he continued northward, through present-day Georgia, present-day South Carolina and western North Carolina in the Appalachian Mountains where his expedition stopped and rested. From there he entered present-day Tennessee and further into present-day Alabama where he spent another month before heading south to the Gulf of Mexico to meet two ships bearing supplies. Along the way he was attacked by the Mobilian Native American tribe led by Chief Tuscaloosa near the fortified city of Mabila. According to one of his chroniclers, after a nine-hour battle about 200 soldiers died with another 150 badly wounded. While they killed an estimated 2,000 to 6,000 of Tuscaloosa's warriors and won a decisive victory, they lost most of their possessions and one-fourth of their horses. To avoid any word of their encounter reaching Spain, de Soto decided not to meet the ships and traveled west instead into present-day Mississippi, where they spent the winter. In the spring of 1541, his camp was attacked by the Chickasaw Native American tribe, resulting in the loss of around 40 men along with the remainder of their equipment. Knowing full well they could have been annihilated, the Chickasaw let them go and on May 8 they reached the Mississippi River. After a month of constructing floats, de Soto and his expedition crossed the Mississippi and traveled westward into present-day Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. While in Arkansas, they became the first Europeans to see the "Valley of the Vapors,' or what in now known as Hot Springs. After wintering on the Arkansas River, he moved on without any general goal in mind. His men clashed with the Tula Native American tribe in western Arkansas and proceeded back to the Mississippi River where, on May 21, 1542 he died from a fever on the western banks of the Mississippi. Before his death, he turned over his command to Luis de Moscoso Alvarado. Because he had told the Native Americans that he was an immortal sun god (as a trick to gain their submission without conflict), his men concealed his death and buried his body in the middle of the Mississippi River during the night. The remains of his expedition, many of whom were sick or injured, without most of their horses, decided to return to Mexico City over land but that proved to be too difficult and so they returned to the Mississippi River, where they constructed boats and by July they managed to sail down the river to the Gulf of Mexico, encountering hostile tribes who attacked them along the way. They finally reached the Spanish frontier town of Panuco and after resting for a month, traveled on to Mexico City. Of the initial 700 participants in the expedition, only a little over 300 survived. The De Soto automobile line, developed by the Chrysler Corporation, was named in his honor.
Bio by: William Bjornstad
Isabel Arias De Bobadilla De Soto
unknown–1543 (m. 1537)