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De Soto, Hernando

A History of Florida


De Soto's Commission. Ponce de Leon had sailed with Columbus, De Narvaez had fought against Cortez for his honors in Mexico, and Hernando de Soto, who undertook to finish the work they had begun in Florida, had served as soldier in the West Indies and then in Peru under Pizarro. When he planned an expedition to conquer Florida, so great was his reputation as a successful soldier that he had no difficulty in getting permission from the king of Spain. He received the title of "Adelantado of Florida and marquis of all the lands he might discover, and Adelantado of Cuba."

Lands at Tampa Bay. It was a splendid retinue that sailed with him from Spain in 1538, all eager for adventure in the land they believed to be "the richest country that unto that day had been discovered." After a winter at Cuba then sailed in the spring for Florida. On the 25th of May, 1539, they landed at Tampa Bay after a voyage of six days. As it was Whitsunday, De Soto called the bay Espiritu Santo (Holy Spirit), and by this name it was known for many years. The name of Tampa was afterward given on account of an Indian village of that name near by. This was very near the place where De Narvaez had landed.

Recount De Soto's former experience. What were the titles given? Date and place of landing. Former name of Tampa Bay. Origin of name Tampa.

Romance of Ortiz and the Indian Princess. Near the landing place, just where the city of Tampa now stands, was an Indian village, whose chief was called Hirrihigua. When De Narvaez's vessels had anchored off the shore eleven years before, the Indians had enticed on shore and captured a young man of eighteen, Juan Ortiz, and a comrade. Ortiz's companion, who tried to free himself, was immediately killed, but Ortiz was, put to torture by being stretched on a staging of green poles with a slow fire burning it. Now Hirrihigua had a lovely young daughter. Her heart was filled with pity at sight of the youth who, though he had harmed no one, was put to such cruel torture. Weeping bitterly she threw herself at the stern chieftain's feet, and pleaded with him for mercy. Out of love for his daughter the chief released Ortiz, and the Indian maiden dressed his wounds and cared for him until he was well.

But Hirrihigua hated the sight of the white man, and after a few months Ortiz's life was again in danger. Again the Indian maiden saved him. She told him of his danger and said that he must go to Mucoso, a neighboring chief to whom she was betrothed, and who, for her sake, would befriend him. She herself went with him part of the way one dark night, and gave him directions how to find Mucoso. Mucoso received him kindly, and refused to give him up at Hirrihigua's bidding. Hirrihigua was very angry and declared that he would never give his daughter in marriage to Mucoso so long as he befriended the Spaniard. But even then he could not overcome his daughter's mercy nor the young chief's sense of honor, and Ortiz was protected by Mucoso until the coming of Do Soto. By that time Ortiz had been living among the Indians so long that he looked and talked like an Indian and had at most forgotten his own language. But he gladly joined his countrymen and went on with De Soto march.

Tell the story of Ortiz.

The March. It was not until July that De Soto, after sending one or more of his ships back to Cuba with news of his landing, began his march northward. The knights and soldiers of Spain in their glittering armor, the spirited horses with their necks proudly arched, all in splendid array, with gayly waving pennons and strains of martial music, passed through the forest.

De Soto's March
De Soto's March

When did De Soto march? Appearance of the Spanish army.

Conflicts with the Indians. The natives were no better pleased to see him than they had been to see De Narvaez, and there was one fight after another. Sometimes there was trouble in getting provisions, and the hungry strangers were glad to eat the young stalks of maize. But after they crossed the Withlacoochee they found plenty of nuts, vegetables, and fruit at a village called Ocalee. This was at, or near, the present site of Ocala. After leaving Ocalee they entered the province of a very powerful and warlike chief, Vitachuco. Here, on a plain between two lakes, there was a bloody battle. It is said that in this battle two hundred Indians, forced into a lake, swam and fought for a day and night without putting foot to bottorn. Though a great many Indians were taken prisoners in this battle, several days later they made a successful struggle for liberty, and in the confusion De Soto himself was nearly killed.

De Soto's Route. Crossing the Suwanee and continuing his march to the northwest, he reached Anhayea in October and passed the winter there. From Anhayea he sent exploring parties in different directions. One of these parties found at Aute the poor little forge of De Narvaez, with some trace of the work that had been done there. His vessels arrived at the harbor near Aute and were sent to explore the coast to the west. Then in the spring De Soto left his winter quarters and began his march to the northeast in search of gold and pearls. You can easily trace his march on the map. He went from Apalachee Bay northeast, crossing the Savannah River, then west or northwest to the gold region of upper Georgia, then southwest almost to Pensacola Bay, and from there northwest to the Mississippi a few miles below where the city of Memphis is now, then west beyond the river and back again to its banks. You must remember that the Spaniards called all of this country Florida.

What conflicts were there with the Indians? Where were provisions scant? Where abundant? What places did De Soto reach?

Relations with the Indians. The Indians feared and distrusted De Soto, but finding that they could not drive him away, they tried to make friends with him. One chief sent two thousand men to meet him with presents of corn cakes, partridges, hens, conies, and many dogs for food. A tribe near the Tennessee River sent him seven hundred hens, another twenty baskets of mulberries, and still another, as a very great compliment, sent him three hundred dogs. We are sorry to know that he laid waste the fields and villages through which he passed, and that he took many Indians prisoners, treating them very cruelly.

Near the Savannah River De Soto was met by the Indian queen of the province of Colitachiqui. She was young and very beautiful. The Spanish writers called her "the ladie of the countrie." On the 1st of May she crossed the river in a canopied canoe, her attendants following in other canoes. Meeting De Soto, she presented him with skills and shawls, then took off her beautiful pearl necklace, and placed it on De Soto's neck. Afterward she told him where he could find a great many more pearls. Yet this generosity did not save. her from being taken prisoner and led away on foot. A month later she escaped.

What return did De Soto make for the Indians' kindness? What was the result of this treatment?

When the Spaniards reached Mauvilla, at the present site of Mobile, on the Alabama River, there was a battle with the Indians. Eighteen Spaniards were killed, 150 were wounded. The Indians bad seized the baggage of the Spaniards with all their pearIs, and these were burned when the village was set on fire by the white men.

De Soto
De Soto and the Indian Queen

Discovery of the Mississippi. After this battle De Soto learned that his ships were at Pensacola Bay—only a few days' journey from Mauvilla; but he kept their arrival a secret from his men, fearing that they would all want to return home. The vessels, after long waiting in vain, returned to Cuba. De Soto next turned to the northwest on the journey that led him to the Mississippi. This the Spaniards called simply the Great River. They made boats and rafts from the trees on the banks and so crossed. The summer, autumn, and winter were spent in exploring the regions beyond; but in the spring he decided to go to the coast and send a vessel to Cuba to ask for help in carrying on the expedition. He had now lost 250 men and 150 horses.

He returned to the Mississippi, but made slow progress on the journey to the coast. For the first time be became discouraged—he who had borne up so bravely. For, through all the trials and disappointments of the march, his gallant heart and nerve had never before failed. He had cheered and encouraged his men, and had believed so strongly that he would succeed that they had believed it too. But now he fell ill. He himself knew and those about him knew that his long march was ended.

Why did not De Soto join his ships when he could? How did he cross the Mississippi? What did he plan?

Death and Burial. He called his men about him, and bade them farewell, thanking them for their love and loyalty. He said he had meant to reward them when it should please God to prosper him. He begged that they would forgive any wrong he had done them, and that they would pray God to forgive him his sins. He said he would feel less sorrow at leaving them in a strange country if they would choose a leader and promise to obey him. They asked him to appoint their leader, and this he did. On the next day be died. Great care was taken to conceal his death and place of burial from the Indians. In the hush of night, by the pale light of stars, he was borne to the middle of the great river of his discovery, and sorrowfully, with whispered prayers, buried beneath its waters. After many hardships the comrades who survived him reached Mexico to tell the story of suffering and failure.

What ended De Soto's explorations? What became of the survivors of the expedition?


  1. The Indian legend of the coming of the white man.
  2. A sketch of Ponce de Leon according to the following outline:
    1. His social position, wealth, time of life, former life.
    2. Traits of character.
    3. His superstition and its relation to his age, and the marvelous discoveries of the time.
    4. His prevailing ambitions and desires.
    5. His ideas of Florida, before and after his first, and after his second expedition.
    6. What he accomplished by each expedition.
    7. What he hoped to accomplish by each.
    8. Why be failed in his purposes.
    9. His connection with each of the following: Hispaniola, Porto Rico, Bahamas, Tortugas, Cuba.
  3. Tabulate in the following form all the expeditions to Florida recorded in Chapter 1:
  4. YEAR

  5. What three commanders lost their lives in these expeditions?
  6. Account for the credibility of the men of that time in believing the stories told by the Indians and De Allyon.
  7. Tell of the first settlement attempted on the mainland by the Spanish.
  8. Were the requirements of De Leon's commission complied with?
  9. Give the purpose, incidents, and results of De Narvaez's expedition to Mexico.
  10. Fit the exploration of De Narvaez into the tabular form prepared.
  11. What seems to have been the dominating ambition of the Spaniards?
  12. What were the relations between the Spaniards and the Indians?
  13. Why did the land and water expeditions never meet as intended?
  14. Give the reasons for the great suffering among the Spaniards.
  15. Tell of the fate of De Narvaeez's expedition.
  16. How did these facts become known?
  17. Under whom and where had each of the first three great explorers of Florida bad training?
  18. Write a composition on the adventures of Juan Ortiz.
  19. Trace De Soto's march from his landing to the time of his death.
  20. Give an account of the foods and other commodities of value used by the Indians.
  21. Describe the different kinds of treatment the Spaniards received from the Indians.
  22. Describe the treatment of the Indians by the Spaniards.
  23. Tell of the Queen and De Soto.
  24. Tell of De Soto's death and burial.


  1. What was accomplished by the second voyage of Columbus?
  2. What is the force of the expression, a "Spanish gentleman"?
  3. What is the meaning of the name "De Leon"? Find Leon on a modern map. What was Leon at that time? What is it now? Explain De Leon's being called "a lion by name."
  4. With whom did De Leon remain at Hispaniola? When were the first settlements made there? Whence the name, Hispaniola? What is its present name?
  5. Read the history of Ponce de Leon prior to his crossing the ocean.
  6. How did he acquire the wealth with which to fit out the expeditions at his own expense?
  7. How long was the Spanish rule in each of the islands named in this chapter maintained?
  8. Who were the Spanish sovereigns during the period covered by these chapters? What changes took place in the importance of Spain as a nation?
  9. On a map, mark the extent of the world then explored, and the portion of it ruled by this emperor.
  10. What was implied in De Leon's raising the cross when he landed? What in his planting the Spanish flag?
  11. Make an outline map of the West Indies and Florida and trace approximately the several voyages, marking the landings and explorations.
  12. Considering the point at which he landed, and the nature of the country there, which of the two origins of the name Florida is more probable?
  13. Notice the date, and mention the flowers that he may have seen.
  14. Read of the Conquests of Mexico. (Prescott.)
  15. Read of De Narvaez expedition to Mexico.
  16. What was the bay Miruelo had discovered? Why did De Narvaez wish to reach it? (See Chapter 1.)
  17. Describe the character of the different parts of the country through which De Narvaez passed.
  18. At what season did he embark upon the gulf? What kind of weather might be expected at that season?
  19. What famous story is a parallel to that of Ortiz?
  20. Account for the continued hostility of the Indians toward De Soto.
  21. Also account for his apparently cruel policy.
  22. Give the reason of De Soto for each of the several directions pursued by him in his march.
  23. Note the traits of character of De Soto as shown by his actions, and compare him with the other Spanish explorers.

Excerpt from Part One, Chapter Three, "Hernando De Soto" A History of Florida, 1904. Next Section; Table of Contents.


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