Hernando de Soto, rich from the 1536 Conquest of Peru, was the first to explore North America. He sought a northern passage to trade Spain's New World Gold with China, the finest market in the world. His people were the first Europeans to chronicle this "Island of Florida." They followed trails that became our highways, describing Native Americans along their way at places that are cities today. DeSoto's Trails through fourteen states were found using the latest geographic, lunar, and hydrologic intelligence. His soldiers' perceptions of America, over four years and 4,000 miles, are linked throughout this presentation.|
Cabeza de Vaca explored America's Gulf Coast just prior to DeSoto. While in Houston (circled above), natives convinced Vaca that wealthy tribes and the Pacific Ocean were located to the north. After he contacted Coronado in Mexico and DeSoto in Spain, their trails would lead there. Not finding an ocean or riches, both would reverse direction above Houston. Coronado went home, DeSoto would die here.
DeSoto's huge army landed in Florida in 1539. They circled through Georgia, South and North Carolina, Tennessee, North Georgia and Alabama searching for gold along their way to supply ships at Mobile Bay. They lost their spoils in fires of battle just above Mobile. DeSoto led his demoralized army due north, away from the ships, beyond the Tennessee River to prevent their escape.
In 1541 they trekked farther north, through Kentucky and Indiana, scouts as far as Chicago. Not finding an ocean and thereby a passage to China as he had anticipated, but Lake Michigan instead, he led his army southwest, through Southern Illinois, still searching for that illusive passage.
When DeSoto sighted the Mississippi River, which obviously drained a continent and NOT an island, as he had surmised, in disgust he headed through the mountains of Missouri, searching for Vaca's wealthy tribes.
Finding no gold in or around those mountains, DeSoto turned south. He died of anguish in Arkansas in 1542. His army fled toward Mexico City, Spain's nearest outpost on the continent. They passed through Louisiana and Texas, the scouts as far as San Antonio. Not finding enough food to proceed, they backtracked that Fall to Arkansas.
The army built boats that winter then drifted down the "Great River," first the Arkansas then the Mississippi, skirting today's Mississippi. Attacked at Vicksburg, the army paddled downstream through Louisiana, then along the Texas Coast to Mexico in the summer of 1543. Half of the men survived.
Spanish armies were NEVER sent deep into America after DeSoto and Coronado. That is reason enough to suppose that they searched the better part of it. After all, Spain explored and/or colonized ALL of the New World elsewhere. England and France would continue searching for a seaway to China for the next century, allowing Spain to plunder the New World elsewhere.
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Tracking DeSoto's army over such a long distance comes down to following them from one place to the next. Starting at Havana, which hasn't moved since they sailed from it, into a Florida port that behaves the same today, using their well-written directions, one can locate where they landed. Their camp was described in relation to their landing. When they left it they described their next camp in relation to geographic features and their last camp, and so on.
Those camps, for the most part, are cities again today, scattered across America at ten to fourteen mile interval - a day's walk for most, including DeSoto's army. The trails they followed between campsites are roads today, making tracking them simple on Google Earth... but only if you start each day's journey at the right place! Enjoy the wealth of knowledge written by them.
Hernando de Soto's Trails on Google Earth - Conquest Calendars
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