Hernando de Soto, rich from Conquest in Peru, was the first European to explore 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, often at places which are cities today. DeSoto's trails in fourteen states were located using the latest geographic, lunar, and sociologic intelligence. His soldiers' records, spanning four years and 4,000 miles from 1539, are linked throughout this presentation.|
Cabeza de Vaca explored America's Gulf Coast just prior to DeSoto. While in Houston (circled above), natives convinced Vaca that wealthy tribes and the Pacific Ocean were located to the north. After he contacted Coronado in Mexico and DeSoto in Spain, their trails would lead there. Not finding an ocean or riches, both would reverse direction above Houston. Coronado went home, DeSoto would die here.
DeSoto's army landed in Florida in 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 Mobile (flames on map) so DeSoto led his army north, into Tennessee, away from his ships to prevent their escape with any bad news.
At springtime they continued north thru Kentucky and crossed the Ohio River into Indiana, scouts as far as Chicago. Not finding an ocean passage to China there, but Lake Michigan instead, DeSoto turned his army southwest, thru Southern Illinois, still searching for that illusive ocean passage.
When DeSoto sighted the Mississippi River, which obviously drained a continent and NOT an island, as he had surmised, in disgust he headed west thru Missouri's mountains, searching for Vaca's wealthy tribes.
Finding no gold or prosperity, DeSoto turned his army south to pass that winter. He died of anguish in Arkansas in 1542. His army fled toward Mexico, Spain's nearest outpost on the continent. They passed thru Louisiana and Texas, scouts as far as San Antonio. Not finding enough food and water to proceed, they backtracked to Arkansas.
The army 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 paddled downstream thru Louisiana, then along the Texas Coast to Mexico in the summer of 1543. Half of the men survived.
Spanish armies were NEVER sent deep into America after DeSoto and Coronado. That is reason enough to suppose that they 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 seaway to China for the next century, allowing Spain to plunder the New World elsewhere.
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Tracking DeSoto's army 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 well recorded directions, one can locate where they landed. Their first camp was described in relation to their landing site. When they left it they described camps along their way in relation to geographic features from their last camp, 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; making land feature validations easy on Google Earth... but only if you start each day's journey at the right place! Enjoy the wealth of knowledge contained here.
Hernando de Soto's Trails on Google Earth - Conquest Calendars
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