On a sweltering day in May of 1539, Hernando de Soto and an army of over 600 soldiers splashed ashore in the Tampa Bay area. They arrived in nine ships laden with supplies: two hundred and twenty horses, a herd of pigs, a pack of vicious war dogs, cannon, matchlock muskets, armor, tools and rations. It was everything they would need to execute the order of King Charles V: sail to La Florida and "conquer, populate and pacify" the land.
But this expedition would never yield the gold and treasure these men so desperately sought. Instead, they marched from one village to the next, taking food and enslaving the native peoples to use as guides and porters. Hopes were dashed, fortunes squandered, and hundreds of lives lost on this calamitous journey. The de Soto expedition would change the face of the American Southeast forever, and cause Spain to drastically reevaluate her role in the New World. Ultimately, it was the first hand accounts of survivors, describing the native cultures and the richness of the land, which became the journey's enduring legacy.
The mission of De Soto National Memorial is to preserve the controversial story of this four year, four thousand mile odyssey and interpret it's significance in American history. Visitors can attend living history demonstrations, try on a piece of armor, or walk the nature trail through a Florida coastal landscape similar to the one encountered by conquistadors almost five hundred years ago.