Obsolete De Soto Trail Theory

Written by Donald E. Sheppard in 2016

Dr. John R. Swanton's 1939 De Soto Trail ReportPerhaps some qualification of this thesis is in order, given its departure from the long-standing contention that Hernando de Soto came to North America to explore for gold. That contention is founded in a misunderstanding of where De Soto, Spain's foremost early American explorer, actually traveled. Since 1939 when Dr. John R. Swanton, as Chairman of the United States De Soto Expedition Commission (image at right), was profoundly influenced by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft's De Soto Trail theory of 1857, academics have concluded the same things about De Soto's movements in North America.

Historians relinquished the study of conquest trails to archaeologists when scholars pronounced that their new science would eventually prove Dr. Swanton's theory. Their crowning achievement: finding a few De Soto era artifacts in Tallahassee, Florida (story below), which, they say, proves De Soto wintered there! Florida's Capitol city, its most scientifically excavated place, has, thereby, grossly misled the public by claiming to be not just De Soto's wintering place but De Soto's pivotal turning point in Florida; all to an historic loss for millions of Americans.

The internet has ushered in a new freedom of ideology among conquest historians. Long the domain of archaeology alone, broader knowledge of geography, astrophysics and sociology has brought an emergence of perspective which transcends ancient conquest trail placement ideology. These new tools, and others, are available to students on the internet.

This Site provides a fresh start at understanding Hernando de Soto's journey and, thereby, his motives for coming here, by applying new tools to historic documentation in order to locate his North American trail. Old pockets of publishing power once slowed advances in historic understanding, but the internet allows easy publication of ideas counter to established conquest perception.

Schoolcraft's De Soto Trail Theory of 1857

Tallahassee's "Evidence" of De Soto's
Winter Encampment Site

Tallahassee's De Soto Winter Encampment Site

From the State of Florida

In March 1987, Archaeologist Calvin Jones of the Florida Department of State, Bureau of Archaeological Research, sought permission to dig several test holes on a six-acre tract of land destined for development near downtown Tallahassee. He believed that remains of a late 17th-century Spanish mission lay buried there, which would be destroyed by the Impending construction. To Jones's surprise, the limited excavation instead yielded Spanish and Indian artifacts from the early 16th-century, as well as building debris and other evidence suggesting occupation.

Of two known events that could be represented by these finds, De Soto's 1539-40 winter encampment seemed the MORE LIKELY when historic documents were studied for details. If the site did harbor remains of the Spaniards' five-month bivouac, it would provide the first direct archaeological link with a De Soto encampment [ed - but not that De Soto wintered there!]. The potential significance of the discovery was lost to no one, including the land developers, who agreed to postpone construction until the site could be studied scientifically.

Archaeologist Charles Ewen produced artifacts and other evidence supporting the site's De Soto connection. In addition to early 16th-century Spanish and Indian pot sherds, archaeologists unearthed coins, beads, nails, links of chain mail armor, and the tip of a crossbow arrow. Features indicative of long-term occupation, including trash pits, hearths and building remains, also were found. But the most important discovery came in the form of bone fragments and teeth from a pig's jaw. De Soto was the first European to bring pigs to La Florida.

To ensure that part of the encampment site would be preserved, the Trust for Public Land, a private preservation organization, negotiatec with the developers to purchase about five acres of the imperiled property, agreeing to hold it until the State could buy the land from the Trust. The parcel which the State purchased In August 1988 also included the home of Florida's twenty-third governor, John Martin, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

De Soto was in Tallahassee for four days!       Front Page