Hernando De SotoConquistador / Explorer
Born: c. 1500
Died: 21 May 1542
Birthplace: Jerez de los Caballeros, Spain
Best known as: Spanish conquistador who explored North America, 1539-42
Hernando de Soto was a Spanish conquistador who landed in present-day Florida in 1539, then tore around the southeastern and midwestern parts of North America until he died in 1542. Little is known of his early life, other than he came from minor nobility in Spain and made it to Panama by the time he was about 14 years old. By 1519 or so he had a reputation as a fierce fighter and expert horseman, and he is known to have been in on Francisco Pizarro
's conquest of Peru in the 1530s. In 1537 he returned to Spain a rich man and took a wife, and in 1538 he was named governor of Cuba and given a commission to colonize North America. De Soto (or Soto) set out from Cuba and landed near Tampa Bay in 1539. During his search for riches he and his army spread war and disease through a large portion of what is now the United States, including Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois and Arkansas. In Arkansas (or possibly Louisiana) he died, either from a fever or from battle wounds, on 21 May 1542. The survivors of his expedition fled to Mexico.
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