A few weeks ago the fifth-grade students in our grandson Ben’s class were assigned to do reports on different explorers of the New World. Ben happened to draw the name of Hernando de Soto, the Spanish explorer who traveled throughout the Southern portion of what is now the United States, including our home state of Arkansas.
In this post, with permission of Ben and his teacher, we present Ben’s report about this famous explorer and his travels and travails. It is interesting that I mentioned De Soto in an earlier post on this blog, titled “Arkansiana II: Pronunciation of Arkansas,” but which Ben did not consult in composing his report. (To magnify the illustrations, simply click on the images.)
Hernando de Soto
The Great Conquistador
Sept. 21, 2012
The Life of Hernando de Soto
Interesting Facts about Hernando de Soto
Map of the World Showing Hernando de Soto’s Travels
Hernando de Soto’s Expedition Landing in Florida
Map of Proposed Route of the De Soto Expedition
Acrostic Poem about Hernando de Soto
Original Portrait of Hernando de Soto by Ben Peacock
Cartoon of Hernando and Isabella in Heaven
(added for extra credit)
The Life of Hernando de Soto
Hernando de Soto was born in Spain either in 1496 or 1497. He was born to a noble family but his parents were too poor to send him to school. He was educated by a rich count named Don Pedro de Avila.
Growing up he rode horses, played sports, and was a very skilled hunter. He also heard many stories about lands of gold across the seas and dreamed of exploring these places and becoming a man of great wealth.
As a young man, Hernando fell in love with Don Pedro’s daughter, Isabella. However Don Pedro became very angry and told De Soto, “My daughter will marry only a man of great wealth!” A discouraged De Soto decided to seek his fortune in the New World.
Francisco Pizarro, another explorer, was making an expedition to Peru. De Soto joined him and traveled to the rich land of the Inca Indians. In time, De Soto returned to Spain with enough gold to marry the beautiful Isabella.
De Soto and Isabella lived happily in Spain for two years. But De Soto was anxious to explore again. So he decided to sail to Florida in the New World.
The King and Queen of Spain made De Soto Governor of Cuba and gave him money for the trip. He and Isabella left Spain in April 1539. He had seven large ships and three smaller ships. The flagship was the San Christoval. It had a carved skull on the bow of it. All his ships were like regular ships of that time. The voyage to Cuba was exciting and fun. All members of the expedition had dreams of finding gold, silver and other riches. This party landed in Havana, Cuba, in early 1539.
Then De Soto began to get ready for the expedition to Florida and other parts of the New World.
Around the middle of May, De Soto left Havana with a fleet of nine ships. He left his wife Isabella and the lieutenant-governor in charge of the public affairs in Cuba.
He took with him an army of over 500 men and 300 horsemen dressed in shining armor. Many of them brought their dogs. They all brought their own equipment for camping and fighting. De Soto brought tons of supplies—a cannon, gunpowder, crossbows, shields, lances, armor, helmets, seeds, nails, axes, saws, 200 pigs, and many cattle.
The expedition also included many carpenters, mechanics, navigators, lords, engineers, shipbuilders, farmers, blacksmiths, herdsmen, merchants, and prospectors. He also took a number of priests, monks, holy relics, and sacramental bread and wine to make Christians of the natives they would meet.
De Soto landed in Florida in 1539. His main goal was to conquer Florida for Spain and he did. He and his men left Florida and traveled to what we know as North Carolina. From there he went to Tennessee. He was very disappointed that they found no gold. However he discovered a great wide river. He named it the Mississippi.
Actually, the river was a problem to De Soto because he and his 400 men had to cross it. The river was constantly patrolled by unfriendly Indians. It took De Soto’s men about a month to build several floats and they finally crossed the Mississippi River near what is now the city of Memphis, Tennessee. They continued their travels through the present states of Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
In his explorations, De Soto met both friendly and hostile Indians. Finally, in 1541, the expedition became the first Europeans to see the Valley of the Vapors, now called Hot Springs, Arkansas. De Soto and his men enjoyed bathing in the warm, healing waters of these springs. De Soto also claimed this area for Spain.
After a hard winter the Spaniards returned to the Mississippi River. On May 2, 1542, De Soto died from a fever. To keep the natives from knowing about his death his men wrapped his body in blankets weighted with sand and sank it in the middle of the Mississippi River during the middle of the night. He was only 45 years old.
During the long expedition all of the men experienced many hardships and pain. Diseases killed many of the men. The remaining Spaniards finally built seven boats and floated to the Gulf of Mexico. The men were so happy to be back on Spanish soil they kissed the ground.
Word of De Soto’s death reached Isabella in Cuba many months later. She had been very ill for a long while. Heartbroken, she died three days later.
I think De Soto’s expedition was beneficial to Spain because De Soto conquered Florida and claimed it for Spain. He also discovered the Mississippi River and he claimed other areas in the New World for Spain. This made Spain a richer and stronger country.
Five Interesting Facts About Hernando de Soto
1. Walter Chrysler introduced the De Soto automobile in the summer of 1928. This car honored the explorer Hernando de Soto. It was made 386 years after his death.
2. When Hernando de Soto died, his crew wrapped his body in blankets weighted with sand and sank his body in the middle of the Mississippi River so his enemies would not know he was dead. His place of burial is only a few miles from McGehee, Arkansas, where my grandparents grew up.
3. When De Soto fell in love with Isabella, her father refused to let her marry a poor man. Isabella’s father became very angry with De Soto and ordered him to leave. De Soto did leave and later joined an expedition to Peru. He discovered lots of gold in Peru and returned to Spain a very rich man. By then Isabella’s father had died but De Soto and Isabella were still very much in love and they married.
4. This is a portrait of Hernando de Soto, a drawing of his Coat of Arms, and his signature.
5. Hernando de Soto was the first European to see the Mississippi River. He was on the border of what is now Tennessee. His crew crossed the river into Arkansas, close to where the town of Helena, Arkansas, is now. My great-uncle Adrian Peacock lived in Helena, Arkansas.
Acrostic Poem about Hernando de Soto
He was a Spanish
Not afraid to face
Or hostile Indians.
Dying near the Mississippi River
Ended his mission.
So his men sank him in the water.
On went his crew
To tell the world
Of all his wonderful discoveries.
By Ben Peacock
The Story of Arkansas by Hazel Presson
Pages 46-65 Copyright Date 1963
Publisher: Democrat Printing and Lithographing Company
The Big Arkansas Activity Book
Pages 6 and 28 Copyright Date 2001
Publisher: Gallopade International
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia on the Internet
Other free Internet websites