De Soto's Landing Port
by Donald E. Sheppard
Of the many attempts to locate Hernando de Soto's Florida port of entry, none has been more influential than the United States Congress' Final Report of the U.S. Hernando de Soto Expedition Commission in 1939: they said he landed at Tampa Bay. Their conclusion, however, raises serious doubts about their overall credibility.
Their Report starts with their 1936 establishment, purpose, Presidential appointment of six congressmen including one from Tampa Bay, and a summary of three meetings held by their group: the first in Washington, the second in Tampa, and the last in Alabama.
The Tampa meeting was held during that city's promotion of a "Pan American Exposition" to celebrate the 400th anniversary of De Soto's landing. A host of "interested" Tampa dignitaries attended. The Commission was shown "territory around Tampa Bay, the region were De Soto landed."
In 1937 Congress approved a Commission endorsed resolution "providing for participation by the United States in the Pan American Exposition to be held in Tampa in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the landing of Hernando de Soto in Tampa Bay."
The Commission concluded, "it is beyond reasonable doubt that Narvaez (with Cabeza de Vaca) landed on Pinellas Peninsula (west of Tampa Bay, mapped above, pp 121)..." and (thereby), "The location of De Soto's port on the south side of Tampa Bay ("Landing Point" on map above) and near the sea is confirmed (pp 136)..."
Biedma, the King's Agent with De Soto, wrote about their departure from De Soto's landing point, "We went west and then turned northwest..." The Commission realized that particular course "...would have carried them into the Gulf of Mexico (pp 149)," but that didn't matter. Biedma's report, written for the King of Spain, is the only signed eyewitness account of De Soto's activity in America existing today: Spain has perserved Biedma's original document. What he reported is beyond reproach.
Dr. Ripley P. Bullen, Florida's most respected anthropologist, pointed out the errors in the Commission's selection of Tampa Bay as De Soto's landing place, but to no avail. He wrote, "Any Indian site to qualify as De Soto's Ucita (his landing place) must possess geographical attributes which agree with those assignable to that site by close reading of the De Soto narratives..."