Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernando de Soto landed in Florida in 1539 to begin the first European expedition deep into the territory of the modern-day United States. A formidable undertaking, de Soto’s expedition took him throughout the southeastern United States searching for gold, silver and the ever-elusive passage to China. Although he was not the first explorer to visit Florida, he was the first to reach and cross the Mississippi River (and the only Spanish explorer to have a large-finned automobile named after him).
De Soto got his start in the conquistador business under the tutelage of that explorer and great statesman, Francisco Pizarro, traveling with Pizarro and his Spanish ambassadors as they befriended the native Incas. Along the way, he became a wealthy man, returning as such to Spain. But an explorer is an explorer, and de Soto was not one to sit around on his Incan gold. He returned to the New World as the Governor of Cuba. From there, de Soto was expected to colonize the North American continent for Spain within four years, for which his family would be given a sizable piece of land (Georgia maybe).
De Soto selected 620 eager Spanish and Portuguese volunteers for the governing of Cuba and conquest of North America. They embarked from Havana on seven ships and two caravels, with tons of heavy armor and equipment, more than 500 livestock, including 237 horses and 200 pigs. Their planned four-year foray took them through Florida to Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas.
Unfortunately, de Soto was unable to complete the trip; he died in 1542 on the banks of the Mississippi River in Arkansas or Louisiana. This was a bit of an embarrassment since de Soto had passed himself off as an immortal sun god to the local natives, although some of the them had become skeptical of his deity claims (“Him no God, kemo sabe, him Spanish.”) His men concealed his death and hid his body somewhere along or in the Mississippi. And to this day the actual location of his burial remains a mystery, known only as Hernando’s Hideaway. Olé!