Desoto is best known for his exploration of the Southeastern United States and his discovery of the Mississippi River
Hernando de Soto’s earliest experience in the New World was in South and Central America– where he had helped conquer the Incas. Tales of gold found in North America had fascinated de Soto. He was determined to discover it. Having become rich from his earlier adventures, de Soto was able to personally finance a well-equipped expedition. His crew included 620 Spanish and Portuguese volunteers. He took over 200 horses, as well as livestock to eat.
In May 1539 de Soto landed in Florida, by present day Bradenton. They met up with Juan Ortiz, who had been captured by the natives in an earlier expedition. Ortiz had learned the native language. He became de Soto's guide.
The expedition headed north, through the territory that today is Georgia, into South Carolina. From there, de Soto's expedition continued into the mountains of North Carolina. After failing to find gold there, de Soto headed into Tennessee. He followed the Tennessee River into Alabama.
The Spanish were led into a fortified Indian town, called Mabila, in Southern Alabama. The Indians ambushed them there. De Soto was able to fight his way out of the city burning it down. However, 200 of his men were killed and 150 were wounded. De Soto also lost much of his equipment. The expedition spent the winter of 1540-1541 in Mississippi.
In May 1541, de Soto reached the Mississippi River and headed north along the River. He finally crossed the Mississippi River near today’s Memphis. De Soto's expedition continued to explore, passing a difficult winter. The next spring, De Soto came down with a fever and died.
The surviving expedition members decided to cut their journey short and spent six months making their way to Mexico. 311 of the 620 Spaniards who began the expedition made it back from the journey. During their three years in North America they had killed thousands of Indians.