A Trail through Time: The Hernando de Soto Trail of 1539


Hernando de Soto

Hernando de Soto has been viewed as a controversial figure in Florida and America’s history.  In Spain and in some areas of the U.S. he is seen as a romanticized hero and adventurous explorer. However, many of the Southeastern Native American tribes would more likely view him as a monster or a destructive man.  Either way you look at it, he was a product of his time and Medieval Europe.  He was born around 1500 in Spain in the province of Extremadura. This province produced many  of the Spanish explorers we study today, such as Francisco Pizzarro (among others).  He was the second son of a minor Spanish noble, and therefore he had no claim to the family’s wealth. De Soto probably saw the riches and glory of the New World as his way to create his own wealth and reputation. At the young age of fourteen he sailed to Central America as an enlisted man. It was there that he learned the terrorizing skills that he would later use on the native populations in La Florida. Before that though, he would fine tune his skills as a member of Francisco Pizzarro’s army that successfully overthrew the Incas in South America. He returned to Spain with a wealth of Incan treasure and married the daughter of King Charles V.  However, the privileged life of a Spanish noble and husband was not for him and he received a grant from the king for the rights to conquer and govern the new Spanish territory, La Florida.

In 1539 de Soto came to Florida and encountered the native inhabitants of the state. At the time these people were already experiencing cultural change, the mound building

A general map depicting Native American communities in Florida at the time of de Soto's arrival in 1539.

Mississippian culture had started to decline and new tribes were increasing their dominance over the land. In the North Central Region of Florida the Apalachee were becoming the dominant chiefdom in the area. Throughout Florida villages would trade, create alliances and battle with each other. Extensive trade routes had been established and stretched throughout Florida.  When Hernando de Soto arrived there were nearly 3500,000 natives already living in Florida. Less than 20 years later many of the villages were found abandoned and the native populations had been scattered sparsely throughout the state. Many were killed by the Spanish or European diseases that the Spanish had brought with them.

The St. Marks Historic Railroad Trail.

The Hernando de Soto Trail follows the path he took the first year of his historic expedition through Florida in 1539. Along this route there are 34 stops that mark significant points in his journey through the state. There are kiosks at each of these locations that discuss the cultural and environmental conditions associated with these sites and the historic events that took place there. Hernando de Soto traveled this route by boat, foot and horseback, but fortunately for us, all of these sites are easily accessed by car! On May 25, 1539 the ships anchored near the mouth of Tampa Bay and he traveled northward up through Florida. You are able to relive this historic trek through La Florida by following a map that can be found at any one of the 34 locations along this trail. In the North Central Region there are several sites that are part of this trail. The St. Marks Historic Railroad Trail, Kate Ireland Park,  the Governor Martin House at De Soto’s 1539 Winter Encampment Site,  Riley Palmer Construction,  Lafayette Heritage Trail Park,  the First Federal Sports Complex and Falling Creek Falls Park are just a few of the included locations in this region. If you would like to learn of more locations please stop by the Governor Martin House (1001 De Soto Park Dr., Tallahassee) during business hours to pick up your free map and brochure or visit any of the other previously listed sites to pick up a brochure. Additionally, you can follow @FPANNrthCentral on twitter. For the next few weeks, until we have gone through all 34 locations along the trail, we will be tweeting information (including websites) for each site pertaining to Hernando de Soto’s travels throughout the State of Florida. We will also post this information on our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/FPANnorthcentral. So be sure to follow us to learn more about this trail and kiosk locations in your area, and don’t forget to pick up your free copy of the map and brochure so that you have it handy for your next road trip through Florida!


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Loren Blalock
    Oct 03, 2011 @ 08:58:06

    No matter what people think of Hernando de Soto or Spanish Conquistadors in the New World and their early contact with the Native American in the 16th Century it is imperitive to the preservation of America’s rich, cultural heritage unimpaired that any archaeological evidence from this period of Florida History be publicly preserved officially no matter where it was found, isolated find or part of a state or national historic trail in order that the historical truth be known and prevent our heritage from becoming lost again and forgotten forever. May the State Archaeologist of Florida finally realize the true importance of 1539 not only as it applies to the First Winter Encampment but also the discovery of a famous landing that very same year or the archaeological evidence thereof no matter whose theory is supported by it. Failure to allow a National Memorial the luxury of honoring their own past and the very reason for their own existence is truly a sad day for historic preservation not to mention a mistake for the Museum of Florida History to hide their own past and pretend History never happened at the same time they keep on commemorating it did. Let the past be able to speak for itself. Only then will scholars be able to prove their theories or rewrite the history books when required. Thank you.


  2. Barbara Hines
    Oct 03, 2011 @ 13:44:25

    This is a great opportunity to announce our new State Archaeologist, Dr. Mary Glowacki. I can assure you that no matter who our State Archaeologist is though, his or her main priority is to protect and preserve as much Florida archaeology as they can, as they realize it is all very important to the unique heritage of the State of Florida. I also would like to make you aware of a great exhibit that will be opening at the Florida Museum of History in 2013 titled, “Forever Changed: La Florida, 1513-1821″. This exhibit will coincide with the Viva Florida 500 state-wide celebration. It will include interactive and educational games, historic documents and images, and more. It will take visitors through the time right before Spanish Contact up through the encounters between the many different cultures in Florida (including the Spanish). FPAN assisted the museum in gathering information and writing descriptions of various archaeological sites throughout Florida that relate to this time period. This information will be included in an educational hands on experience for visitors.

    Additionally, I would like to provide you with some information about the Viva Florida 500 state-wide celebration. http://www.fla500.com/ is the official website for Viva Florida 500. The Florida Department of State is encouraging all citizens and organizations to participate in this state-wide celebration of our heritage.Any organization can plan an event relating to any part of Florida History (especially those relating to our Spanish heritage) and then promote it, for free, on the official Viva Florida 500 calendar on the website. Please check out the website for more information.

    Floridians are proud of their heritage, and the new museum exhibit and the Viva Florida 500 celebration are just two of the many ways that Floridians around the state can learn about our unique history.


  3. Loren Blalock
    Oct 16, 2011 @ 08:42:49

    Thank you for all the information on De Soto’s lost trail in Florida, but I still don’t see the discovery of Hernando’s 1539 Landing Relic pictured or mentioned anywhere in the official record.

    I know how exciting it must be for you to be proud of preserving your past, but how can you overlook something that clearly pertains to this same historical event and even has Hernando de Soto’s name on it along with the very same date the Spaniards landed down there along with other inscriptions that could indicate its very place of origin or the Native American Tribe this 16th Century Expedition encountered along the way.

    To be granted $240,000 from the FLDOT to establish a State Historical Trail without ever spending a dime of that money to publicly acknowledge the discovery of archaeological evidence pertaining to the very historical event of its intended purpose is downright silly and a waste of good anthropological sense. If Dr. John R. Swanton from the Smithsonian Institute and Chairman of the United States De Soto Expedition Commission were still alive today and had a chance to present his report again to Congress, do you obviously think he would do the same and somehow forget or pretend history ever happened at the same time a National Memorial and State Historic Trail keeps on commemorating it did?

    The problem is clear. The solution is simple. Welcome Home! It only takes two simple little words to ensure the history you talk about here doesn’t get lost again and forgotten forever in some bottom drawer in the archaeology lab at the MFH Museum of Florida History managed by the Florida Department of State and the Bureau of Archaeological Research spear headed by whoever is in charge at the Office of State Archaeologist should be responsible to see that something like this is never allowed to happen again in what can only be described as historically unsound preservation practice even though other factors may play an important role for knowledgeable experts on the subject having to officially say we can longer be of any assistance in the saving of our own American History. You ask for help here, and some people are quick to reply, but then it’s followed only by utter silence instead of action in the state and national preservation agencies or departments.
    All we ever asked for was to give History half a chance to speak for itself and on it’s own behalf when those responsible somehow are incapable or not authorized to do so. I don’t think that’s asking for too much from a State Archaeologist to intercede on behalf of archaeological evidence from an important historical event such as this. Not when their own office is sitting right there on site of the same historical trail in question. To ignore the problem or maintain the right to be silent may be guaranteed by the Constitution and archaeologically speaking it’s unsound business practice.Think about it, eh? What do you have to do to ensure the historical truth be known? And sometimes even if history is an isolated find, there’s no need to cover up the fact it was ever found to begin with which also can lead to other archaeological sites being destroyed or neglected. Thank you for allowing me to reply back. It’s complicated, but the more the problem is allowed to grow the more history gets destroyed until there’s nothing left to remember. And someday you’ll appreciate what I said here. Now I’ve addressed this problem to Dr. Mary Glowacki and have yet to hear back from her about discussing the issue. If it’s anything like the conversation with Dr. Ryan Wheeler then history doesn’t stand a chance. And the discoverers of America’s most unwanted history always get the blame. I mean how hard can it be to publicly preserve and put on display a tiny one inch piece of Spanish Silver dated 1539 with a famous explorer’s name on it?


  4. Beth King
    Feb 08, 2012 @ 18:05:14

    If you had two days to explore archaeological sites in northern Florida, where would you go? Would really like a De Soto site!


  5. Barbara Hines
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 18:02:34

    That is a wonderful questions. During the week the Governor Martin House is open to visitors and has a display about the DeSoto archaeological site. It is located at 1001 DeSoto Park Drive in Tallahassee. The entrance is off of Lafayette Street, east of of the light at Seminole Drive. The entrance is across the street (south side of the street) from a barber shop (Kwik Kuts), and you will see a paved driveway with brick walls on either side, drive all the way to the back and you will find the B. Calvin Jones Center for Archaeology, Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research. In that building you will find the exhibit. Feel free to stop by the FPAN office, which is next door, while you are here!


  6. Odelia Keisling
    Jun 21, 2013 @ 16:48:18

    I believe this web site holds very excellent composed written content articles .


Leave a Reply