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  Hernando de Soto, rich from Conquest in Peru, was the first European to explore inland North America. He sought a northern passage to trade Spain's New World Gold with China, the finest market in the world. His 1,500 people were the first to describe this "Island of Florida." They followed trails which became our highways, describing Native Americans along their way at places which are cities again today. DeSoto's trails in fourteen states were located using the latest geographic, lunar, and sociologic intelligence. His soldiers' records, spanning 5 years and 5,000 miles from 1539 on, are linked throughout this presentation.

Hernando de SotoDeSoto's Trail up the Island of Florida The Island of Florida in DeSoto's World

  Cabeza de Vaca documented America's Southern States (map above right) just prior to DeSoto's and Francisco de Coronado's Conquests. "Vaca gave them to understand that it was the richest land in the world." DeSoto's army would follow most of Vaca's Florida trail confirming Vaca's landmark observations. Coronado would retreat disappointed after two years of searching five western states.

  DeSoto landed his army in Florida on June 1, 1539. In 1540 they circled thru 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 battle nearing that bay (flames on map above), so DeSoto led them north, into Tennessee, away from his ships to prevent any bad news from reaching potential settlers.

  At springtime, 1541, they continued north thru Kentucky and crossed the Great Ohio River into Indiana, scouts explored northward to Chicago. Not finding the Pacific Ocean there, but a tideless Lake Michigan instead, DeSoto turned south then west thru Southern Illinois, still searching for a passage to China.

DeSoto discovered the Mississippi River   When DeSoto sighted the Mississippi River, which obviously drained a continent and NOT an island, as he had surmised, in disgust he headed southwest thru Missouri's mountains, searching for legendary riches.

  Finding no gold, DeSoto marched southeast and spent that winter in Arkansas. Cut off by spring floods in 1542, DeSoto died of anguish. His army fled west toward Mexico, Spain's nearest outpost. They passed thru Louisiana and Texas, scouts as far as San Antonio. Not finding enough food or water to proceed, they backtracked to Arkansas.

Color Conquest Images  They 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 drifted downstream thru Louisiana, then along the Texas Coast to Mexico in the summer of 1543. Half of the men survived the journey.

  Spanish armies were NEVER sent deep into North America after DeSoto and Coronado. That is reason enough to suppose that they had 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 northern passage to China for the next 65 years, allowing Spain to plunder the New World elsewhere.eMail the Author   Millions of students have been here!

                Tracking Hernando de Soto's Army...

DeSotos Trail on Google Earth  ...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 remains the same today, using their written depictions, one can locate where they landed. Their first camp was described relative to their landing site. When they left it they described a trail to their next camp using direction and distance to known geographic features in that neighborhood, 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 still roads today. Land features can be easily validated on Google Earth... but only if you start each day's journey at the right place! Enjoy the wealth of new information here. Acknowledgements

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