1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Soto, Ferdinando de
SOTO, FERDINANDO [Fernando, or Hernando] DE (1496?-1542), Spanish captain and explorer, often, though wrongly, called the discoverer of the Mississippi (first sighted by Alonzo de Pineda in 1519), was born at Jeréz de los Caballeros, in Estremadura, of an impoverished family of good position, and was indebted to the favour of Pedrarias d'Avila for the means of pursuing his studies at the university. In 1519 he accompanied d'Avila on his second expedition to Darien. In 1528 he explored the coast of Guatemala and Yucatan, and in 1532 he led 300 volunteers to reinforce Pizarro in Peru. He played a prominent part in the conquest of the Incas' kingdom (helping to seize and guard the person of Atahualpa, discovering a pass through the mountains to Cuzco, &c.), and returned to Spain with a fortune of 180,000 ducats, which enabled him to marry the daughter of his old patron d'Avila, and to maintain the state of a nobleman. Excited by the reports of Alvaro Nuñez (Cabeza de Vaca) and others as to the wealth of Florida (a term then commonly used in a much wider extension than subsequently), he sold great part of his property, gathered a force of 620 foot and 123 horse, armed four ships, and obtained from Charles V. a commission as “adelantado of the Lands of Florida” and governor of Cuba. Sailing from San Lucar in April 1538, he first went to Havana, his advanced base of operations; starting thence on the 12th of May 1539 he landed in the same month in Espiritu Santo Bay, on the west coast of the present state of Florida. For nearly four years he led his men in fruitless search of gold hither and thither over the south-east of the North American continent. His exact route is often doubtful; but it seems to have passed north into Georgia as far as 35' N., then south to the neighbourhood of Mobile, and finally north-west towards the Mississippi. This river was reached early in 1541, and the following winter was spent on the Ouachita, in modern Arkansas and Louisiana, west of the Mississippi. As they were returning in 1542 along the Mississippi, De Soto died (either in May or June; the 25th of June is perhaps the true date), and his body was sunk in its waters. Failing in an attempt to push westwards again, De Soto's men, under Luis Moscoso de Alvarado, descended the Mississippi to the sea in nineteen days from a point close to the junction of the Arkansas with the great river, and thence coasted along the Gulf of Mexico to Panuco.
Of this unfortunate expedition three very different narratives are extant, of seemingly independent origin. The first was published in 1557 at Evora, and professes to be the work of a Portuguese gentleman of Elvas, who had accompanied the expedition: Relaçam verdadeira dos trabalhos ǭ ho gouernador dō Fernādo d'Souto & certos fidalgos portugueses passarom no d'scobrimēto da Provincia da Florida. Agora nouamēte feita per hu fidalgo Deluas. An English translation was published by Hakluyt in 1609 (reprinted from the 1611 edition by the Hakluyt Society [London, 1851]), and another by an anonymous translator in 1686, the latter being based on a French version by Citri de la Guette (Paris, 1685). The second narrative is the famous history of Florida by the Inca, Garcilasso de la Vega, who obtained his information from a Spanish cavalier engaged in the enterprise; it was completed in 1591, first appeared at Lisbon in 1605 under the title of La Florida del Ynca, and has since passed through many editions in various languages. The third is a report presented to Charles V. of Spain in his Council of the Indies in 1544, by Luis Hernandez de Biedma, who had accompanied De Soto as His Majesty's factor. It is to be found in Ternaux-Compans' “Recueil de pièces sur la Floride” in the Historical Collections of Louisiana (Philadelphia, 1850) and in W. B. Rye's reprint for the Hakluyt Society of Hakluyt's translation of the Portuguese narrative (The Discovery and Conquest of Terra Florida, London, 1851).
See also Bancroft's History of the United States, vol. i.; J. H. M‘Culloch, Researches . . . concerning the aboriginal history of America (Baltimore, 1829); Albert Gallatin, “Synopsis of the Indian Tribes,” in Archaeologia Americana, vol. ii. (Cambridge, Mass., 1836); E. G. Bourne (ed.), Narratives of the Career of Hernando de Soto in the Conquest of Florida (2 v., New York, 1904); J. W. Monette, History of the Discovery and Settlement of the Valley of the Mississippi (New York, 1846, 2 vols.).