De Soto, Hernando

De Soto, Hernando

De Soto, Hernando (dĭsōˈtō, Span. ĕrnänˈdō dā sōˈtō), c.1500–1542, Spanish explorer. After serving under Pedro Arias de Ávila in Central America and under Francisco Pizarro in Peru, the dashing young conquistador was made governor of Cuba by Emperor Charles V, with the right to conquer Florida (meaning the North American mainland). He led an expedition that left Spain in 1538 and landed on the Florida coast, probably near Tampa Bay, in 1539. That was the start of an adventure that took him and his band nearly halfway across the continent in search of gold, silver, and jewels, which they never found.

After wintering near Tallahassee they went N through Georgia and the Carolinas into Tennessee, then turned S into Alabama, where De Soto was wounded in a battle with Native Americans. He was so determined to continue his treasure hunt that he refused to inform his men that Spanish vessels were off the coast. In the spring of 1541 they again set forth and were probably the first Europeans to see and cross the Mississippi. A journey up the Arkansas River and into Oklahoma disclosed no treasures, and, discouraged, they turned back to the banks of the Mississippi. There De Soto died; he was buried in the river, so that the Native Americans, whom he had intimidated and ill-used, would not learn of his death.

His men went west again across the Red River into N Texas, then returned to the Mississippi and followed it to the sea. A remnant of the expedition made its way down the coast to arrive at Veracruz in 1543. The chief chronicle of the expedition is by a Portuguese called the Gentleman of Elvas.


See biographies by R. B. C. Graham (1924), T. Maynard (1930, repr. 1969), B. Shipp (1831, repr. 1971), and M. Albornoz (1986); studies by R. F. Schell (1966) and P. Lily (1983).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

De Soto, Hernando


Born 1496(?) in Barcarrota, Spain; died May 21, 1542, on the Mississippi River, North America. Spanish conquistador.

De Soto participated in F. Pizarro’s Peruvian campaigns from 1532 to 1534 and was appointed governor of Cuba in 1538. Setting out in search of the mythical “Land of the Seven Cities,” he arrived with a detachment in Florida in 1539. In 1540 he discovered the Savannah River north of Florida and the Altamaha, Apalachicola, and Alabama rivers to the west. In 1541 he discovered the Tennessee and Arkansas rivers and the Ozark Plateau.


Magidovich, I. P. lstoriia otkrytiia i issledovaniia Severnoi Ameriki. Moscow, 1962.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

de Soto, Hernando

(c. 1500–1542) discovered the Mississippi River. [Sp. Hist.: Benét, 266]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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De Soto, Hernando, The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else.