Penzon: I'm with a man named Hernando De Soto. He is an explorer for Spain. Hernando, tell us about yourself.
De Soto: I was born in Extremadura, Spain in 1500. As a young boy, I began my life as an adventurer.
Penzon: That is most interesting! I have heard you have explored North America. How did you decide to do that?
De Soto: I had been drawn to the North American continent by stories of hidden cities that contained vast amounts of gold and silver.
Penzon: Wow! How did you hear about this place?
De Soto: I heard from Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca. He had come back after many years from the American continent. He told stories that he had heard about the great wealth that was to be found in the "Seven Cities of Cibola." My mouth watered at the thought of the gold and silver that was to be found.
Penzon: That makes my mouth water too just hearing you talk about it.
De Soto: Before I had gone for the gold, I was invited on an expedition to Peru with a fellow Spaniard, Francisco Pizarro. When we landed in Peru in December 1531, we began the conquest of the Inca Empire.
Penzon: Wow! You were trying to conquer an empire? Now that is what I like to call adventure. Go on.
De Soto: In November 1532, we reached the city of Cajamarca, where Atahualpa, the ruler of the Inca, was camped. Pizarro sent me into the city to meet Atahualpa. The next day Pizarro, pretending to be friendly, invited Atahualpa to dinner, and then took him captive. Having imprisoned Atahualpa, Pizarro became ruler of Peru. During one of the revolts, he ordered the execution of Atahualpa. In spite of my protests the execution was carried out.
Penzon: Wow that Pizarro really did want to rule. Was that the end of your adventures?
De Soto: That's not all, in 1533, I joined Pizarro in taking Cuzco, the capital. In April 1537 the king appointed me the governor of Cuba. As governor, I was granted the right to conquer and colonize the territory north of Cuba on the mainland of North America. Juan Ponce De Leon visited this land in 1513, and it was, at the time, a vast, unexplored wilderness. I sailed from Spain on April 7, 1538 with 600 men and 200 horses.
Penzon: Wow! You had 600 men with you.
De Soto: I landed on the western coast of Florida in May of 1539. My party and I crossed many things including the Appalachian Mountains. I reached the Mississippi River in early May. I had heard stories of the Ozark Mountains, so I headed in that direction with hopes of finding gold and silver. By March of 1542, I decided to turn back and sail down the Mississippi to the sea.
De Soto became ill with a fever and died the night of May 21, 1542. Of the original 600 men in the De Soto expedition, only 311 survived. De Soto died without ever finding treasure in his new territory.
Who Goes There: European Exploration of the New World