by Donald E. Sheppard ©2016 NACC|
Spanish Conquistadors wrote the oldest description we have of inland America. Geographic Intelligence makes it possible for us to precisely track Hernando de Soto's Expedition, Europe's first and longest, between Native American villages. Their trails, which natives led them down, are highways today. The villages are today's cities, for the most part, in fourteen American States.
DIRECT OBSERVATIONS by the King's Agent Fernandez de Biedma, DeSoto's personal secretary Rodrigo Rangel, plus those of a Central Portuguese Officer who modestly called himself A Gentleman of Elvas, were used to locate and track DeSoto in this report.
The DeSoto Chronicles*
were published by 3 Expedition Officers plus one other using survivor interviews
Garcilaso de la Vega, herein called "Inca," published a book based on interviews with survivors, among them one of DeSoto's Thirty Lancers. Inca's works were used here despite his random place name confusion.
*The latest published translations of these works, The Desoto Chronicles, the Expedition of Hernando DeSoto to North America 1539-1543, edited by Doctors Lawrence A. Clayton, Vernon James Knight, Jr. and Edward C. Moore of the University of Alabama in 1993, were used throughout and credited © 1993, University of Alabama Press.
refer to statements of one or more Chroniclers; B stands for Biedma, E for Elvas, R for Rangel and I for Inca, each linked to an annotated Clayton 1993 internet page.
V refers to Cabeza de Vaca in The Journey of Alvar Nunez Cabeza De Vaca, 1542, translated by Fanny Bandelier in 1905.
TRACKING HERNANDO DESOTO'S ARMY
None of DeSoto's maps or field notes is known to exist. His chroniclers, however, described his movements and activity calling him "Governor". He is referred to as "DeSoto" throughout this paper, that being common vernacular, although "De Soto" is proper. I believe that each chronicler reported what he saw or understood, but that each saw and heard things from different vantage points. In the confusion of unexplored wilderness they and their informants were among tribes who spoke languages so alien to their own that place names varied among them. Their only Spanish-speaking interpreter needed a line of native linguists to communicate.
In 1936 U.S. Congress funded a group of historians to place DeSoto's trail. They published The Final Report of the United States De Soto Expedition Commission (Swanton 1939) approximating a trail which has misled the public ever since. It is taught in our schools today. However, in the last 75 years human knowledge has advanced to the point that refinement of their DeSoto trail theory is certainly in order. This report attempts to do just that.
DESOTO'S TRAIL ON GOOGLE EARTH and CONQUEST CALENDARS
Archeology was once thought to be the key to locating DeSoto's trail, but that science has failed to do so in the many years since ethnologists and historians surrendered that study to them. Little evidence of conquest has been found. That which has been has led to suspicious conclusions.
On the other hand, knowledge in other sciences has flourished in the years since the DeSoto trail theory we learned was first deduced in 1857. We now realize that early trail seekers had little knowledge of post-DeSoto tribal migration, geographic reality, 16th century compass declination, moon phases, tides and mariners' terminology.
Moon phases were critical to conquistadors. Moonlit nights offered security and mobility for troops and livestock. Plus, particular moon phases made Florida harbors passable for deep draft Spanish galleons. Spring Tides, which only occur on new and full moon, increase the waters' depths, allowing ships to sail into particular harbors. DeSoto's biggest mistake in Florida arose from ignoring that fact. It cost him dearly at landing.
From then on, the moon's phase would be taken into account for every tactical decision DeSoto made. Precise lunar intelligence of the sixteenth century became available with the advent of atomic time measure and digital computers. Only now can we focus on DeSoto's genius and folly.
The King's Agent with DeSoto described his trail through Florida in relation to the coast. To him and other seamen the word "coast" meant navigable water nearest to land; a functional sea lane. Historians have used the shoreline of our shallow Gulf of Mexico in placing DeSoto's trail. That shoreline lies ten to thirty miles inland of Florida's "coast:" they placed DeSoto's trail about that distance inland of his real one.
Likewise, the King's Agent used the nautical term "road" several times meaning a navigable waterway across the high seas; also ignored in the Final Report. The term "in the open," meaning "out of the hills or mountains" in Spanish vernacular, used by Rangel many times to describe his trails in rough terrain, was simply overlooked in the Final Report.
Distance-measurement was important during Conquest. To most of us, distance traveled is the mileage we read on an odometer. To sixteenth century colonizers, however, it meant the actual distance between marks, along straight lines, measured in leagues by pacers (image at right) and plotted by cartographers for eventual land title. There are 2.6 statute miles (4.2 kilometers) per Spanish judicial league: 5,000 paces, as used by DeSoto in Cuba. (see Columbus's League by Keith A. Pickering; or Blake 1988; Brain 1985:xvi; Chardon 1980:295; Hodge 1907:22 footnote 2; Swanton 1939:104).
Most of America's land is titled in reference to a grid similar to the one DeSoto planned; with statute miles our units of "legal" measure. That land titling concept was inherited from the Romans (King 1990:99). DeSoto's people knew that he could only claim lands inland of two hundred leagues of coast for his colony, and that they could claim homesteads only within the boundaries of that colony. Some of them kept track of desirable locations in their Chronicles. Modern topographic maps of North America and Google Earth allow us to follow their directions with astonishing precision.
One very concise record of DeSoto's Florida trail was made when his Thirty Lancers rode back down it from North Florida (mapped at left). The length of their reported ride, however, has been discredited and shortened by historians by an amount, 40 miles, believed by them to have been exaggerated by Garcilaso de la Vega in his journal of his informant. The Thirty Lancers rode on Hunters Moon at journey's mid-way, unknown until the advent of powerful computers, enabling their well lit early dawn to late evening passages between places confused by scholars until now.
The climate was cooler when DeSoto was here. His army seldom complained of hot weather or long summer marches, but they did complain about cold winters, two in heavy snows. Because they used the Julian calendar, their dates occurred ten days earlier then they would have on our Gregorian calendar. Since their cooler winters started about two weeks earlier than ours do at any particular site, their climate would have felt like ours there about twenty-four days later. Their first week of December would have felt like ours does in late December at any particular site. At springtime that calendar offset was nullified by their two-week longer winters. Their location's climate felt about like ours does on the same dates on our springtime calendar at any particular place. Midwestern spring floods peaked in May on their calendar, just like they do on ours.
DeSoto's army had over two-hundred horses,B
each requiring adequate food and water every day. Horses were so important to DeSoto's mission that pastures or Indian villages with stored food were always his intermediate destinations. But Native Americans had no horses so their lifestyles were not accommodating to DeSoto's. To make allowance for this, DeSoto marched his army in six divisions.E Each camped separately at various fields and Indian villages. DeSoto's army was strewn across the landscape as it advanced, their campsites often at great interval. Horsemen provided DeSoto with intelligence for selecting desirable campsites for each, then "posted" his marching orders accordingly. Each captain was kept aware of the others.
Florida's 130,000 acre rock phosphate ridge and its giant pebble phosphate fields are almost forgotten today. Most were mined-out well before many of us were born. In DeSoto's time, however, Florida's phosphate ridges and fields were the centers of life on peninsular Florida's west side. They had large, naturally fertile pastures with enough grain to comfortably support DeSoto's entire army and its livestock. DeSoto's army rested on them until the food ran out due to consumption and packing for the road ahead. Unfortunately, archaeologists will never get to study them. Surface mining has destroyed them.
Detailed satellite images, Google Earth, lunar tables, conquest calendars and laser-defined topography did not exist until now. Today we have the benefit of these tools, plus newly-annotated translations of the DeSoto's Chronicles, to track his conquest. Some confusion can arrise understanding what the chroniclers meant by their using a chief's name for their village and/or province; and Garcilaso the Inca confused place names and provincial boundaries. I attempt to clarify this by using the name assigned by the chronicler who, in my opinion, best describes each place, province or event. Most specifics, however, are similarly titled by the various chroniclers. Forgotten activity in conquest probably accounts for other aberrations. The chroniclers's scattered localitions during particular events could, likewise, account for variations in ranging, timing and sequencing among their reports.
If we are to find DeSoto's trail and learn more about the places he visited, then surely we must begin by applying what his people wrote. This work is an attempt to do just that; it
varies substantially from previous works, however. What follows is my version of the events, circumstances, and geographic locations involved in DeSoto's landing and movements. An earlier observation of our Gulf of Mexico Coast by Cabeza de Vaca was also used. I have done my best to use all of the DeSoto chronicles, without bias from other published DeSoto route reconstructions. I have attempted to match the geographic descriptions provided by DeSoto's Chroniclers with existing locations in America. Today's place names are used in many cases to facilitate identification of sites which may not otherwise be known to those less familiar with America's history.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
During my research, I, Donald E. Sheppard, have visited every site mentioned in this report to verify my interpretations of source data. My interest is purely avocational, however. I have helped scientists find things over the years - quarters, transportation, sponsorship, volunteer diggers, favorable publicity and significant sites (including the Tatham Mound, 2 photos below) using historic documentation (1836 letters, shown below) and dogged persistence. In the process, I have learned a few things about our country, including how difficult it is to trudge the swamps DeSoto was supposed, by "Official" trail seekers, to have forded.
I have studied places on ancient maps for 45 years, searched for and found some places, surveyed them, surfaced collected them, excavated a few, and turned over everything I have ever found to the proper public custodian. I owe Florida my education: two Master's Degrees, one in Science from the University of West Florida, the other in Arts from the University of Florida, a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from the University of South Florida, an Associate in Arts from the St. Petersburg Junior College, and a high school diploma from Clearwater High School. I am an airplane pilot and Commissioned Officer in the U.S. Navy. Over the years I have sailed Florida's coasts and flown its skies. My family has lived in Central Florida for seven generations. ...Contact the Author
ABOUT THIS PRESENTATION
The study of DeSoto's conquest is inseparable from that of Panphilo de Narvaez. Both were Spanish conquistadors who are known to have entered and exited Florida near the same locations, within a dozen years of each other. Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca provides us with a narrative of the Narvaez Expedition. DeSoto's chroniclers, who wrote their perceptions of the De Vaca/Narvaez trail, and described the place where he built his boats for escape, are relied upon here for additional intelligence of his conquest.
Once DeSoto established his winter quarters in North Florida, he dispatched his Thirty Lancers to ride back down his trail to bring forward all troops and ships left at port. The Lancer's journal, questionably understood but factually related by Inca, was used herein to establish distances between places which the chroniclers failed to record when they went up that trail. Inca's account of the Thirty Lancers will, therefore, be discussed before DeSoto's arrival in North Florida. I know of no other way to substantiate this incredible journey as it unfolds.
Hernando de Soto was born in 1500 of a respectable family in Spain. As a young man, DeSoto sailed to and learned slaving skills in Panama. Vicious dogs, fast horses and extortion became his hallmark. DeSoto earned the title "Child of the Sun" for conducting dawn raids on unsuspecting villages. He captured village chiefs then extorted their citizens for their return.
DeSoto was influenced by 3 New World Explorers: Ponce de Leon, who discovered North America (La Florida), Balboa, who discovered the Pacific Ocean (the South Sea) below Panama, and Magellan, who sailed that ocean to the Orient, the greatest market on earth. DeSoto's ambitions would, to a large extent, be governed theirs.
While DeSoto was in Panama, Balboa was put to death by his dictator for over-stepping his bounds without the strength of a personal army to hold his ground. Learning from that, and with an army of his own, DeSoto signed on with Francisco Pizarro to conquer South America in 1532. Spectacular brutality earned DeSoto huge Incan ransoms. He became one of the richest men in the world before leaving Peru in 1536.
DeSoto returned to Spain to seek recognition at Court, but was not accepted there as a peer. Narvaez and another conquistador had recently disappeared while attempting to colonize North America at two different places, thus tarnishing the reputation of New World Conquistadors in general but setting the stage for DeSoto's attempt to establish his own. He married Isabel de Bobadilla, whose family held power at court. At that time, Cabeza de Vaca, a nine year survivor of the Narvaez Expedition and first to explore our Gulf Coast, stirred Europeans with stories of great riches to be found there.E
The King, despite DeSoto's petition to "make discovery in the South Sea" (the Pacific Ocean), granted his trusted soldier a four year commission to colonize and hold La Florida instead (see The King's Concession to DeSoto). DeSoto was assigned the governorship of Cuba from which to stage his invasion of North America, land once "owned" by Ponce de Leon, Narvaez and another failed conquistador. About that time, Vazquez de Coronado was dispatched from Mexico to explore and conquer the western part of North America.
DeSoto selected 620 eager conquest volunteers from Spain and Portugal, many of African descent. Some were farmers, others soldiers, traders, accountants, builders, navigators, carpenters, tailors or clergymen
Hoffman. They averaged 24 years of age. Some had been in the new world before, some with DeSoto.
They provided their own weapons, horses, hounds, servants and equipment: some brought their wives. They sailed to Cuba with stores of clothing, trade goods, shields, armor, helmets, cross-bows, guns, black powder, nails, tools, seeds and plows for the conquest and settlement of our mainland. More animals - horses, long legged pigs, blood hounds and mules - were bartered from Cuban plantation owners (Letters from Cuba). DeSoto's livestock count came to many hundreds, including two hundred and twenty-three horses,B when they set sail for Florida.
DeSoto's Conquest of America
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