Frequently Asked Questions

Does the De Soto Trail follow the exact route taken by Conquistador Hernando de Soto in 1539?

The exact route that Hernando de Soto took through the state of Florida is not known. Throughout the years, historians and archaeologists have studied historical documents and archaeological sites and artifacts to piece together a trail that De Soto may have followed. The exact course is impossible to determine due to changes in the landscape, population growth, and the lack of defining physical archaeological evidence. The only place in the United States known to have been visited by De Soto is his winter encampment site in Tallahassee, Florida. Artifacts found there attest to his presence.

What path does the De Soto Trail follow?

The De Soto Trail roughly follows a route outlined by two of the foremost De Soto and Florida history scholars. With more than 60 years of combined study, Charles Hudson and Jerald T. Milanich laid out the current course using information from historical documents and archaeological sites. Planners with the National Park Service and the Florida Department of Transportation agreed to plot the trail through city, county, state, and national lands. The resulting De Soto Trail offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy many of the state's unique and valuable green spaces.

Why are sea routes indicated on the De Soto trail map? What happened to the ships after De Soto landed?

The icons indicate the routes taken by De Soto's ships along the coast of La Florida. The expedition did not arrive directly from Europe but first sailed from the Spanish port of Seville to Cuba, where De Soto claimed the seat of governor granted to him by King Charles V. While there, he sent his captain and navigator Juan de Añasco to map the coast of La Florida and locate suitable landing sites. After securing supplies for the expedition, De Soto loaded nine ships and sailed north.

Two weeks later, De Soto and his men sailed into present-day Tampa Bay. On May 30, 1539, De Soto chose a natural deepwater harbor near present-day Piney Point in Manatee County to drop anchor. His army quickly took over the small Indian village of Uzita, located at the mouth of today's Little Manatee River. After several weeks, they marched off into the wilds of La Florida, leaving behind Captain Pedro Calderon and 100 soldiers at Uzita. The ships sailed back to Cuba. Some later returned to camp Uzita with supplies.

In the winter of 1539, De Soto sent Juan Añasco to scout the coast near their camp at Anhaica, present-day Tallahassee. Finding a suitable harbor, Añasco returned to Uzita to retrieve the remaining men and sail back with the supply ships. Francisco Maldonado and others continued sailing west, scouting for other Indian villages and harbors. Maldonado and his men made landfall at the village of Ochuse, present-day Pensacola, before returning.

In March 1540, De Soto instructed his captains to sail for Cuba and return with supplies to a bay near present-day Mobile, Alabama. When the ships returned, they received word that De Soto had headed further north into the interior of the American Southeast. This was the last contact with De Soto's expedition until survivors arrived in Panchuco, Mexico on September 11, 1543.

How do we know the names of people and places Hernando de Soto and his expedition encountered back in 1539?

The primary source used by De Soto Trail scholars and planners was The De Soto Chronicles, a series of published accounts of four survivors of Hernando de Soto's Florida expedition. Each document is a separate and unique narrative describing the writer's personal experiences during the journey. Study of The De Soto Chronicles revealed the general names of Indian tribes and villages that existed in the 16th century. It also provided descriptions of geographical features, such as bays, inlets, rivers, and villages that made up Florida's landscape over 450 years ago (Clayton et al. 1993).

Why do we have a trail dedicated to Hernando de Soto?

Though the De Soto Trail highlights his historic 1539–1543 expedition through Florida, it is not dedicated to the conquistador Hernando de Soto. Each kiosk offers information and points of view of both the Spanish and Native Americans of the time period. The De Soto Trail does not romanticize or vilify individuals, cultures, or events. It allows visitors to gain an understanding of De Soto's expedition and the native tribal societies they encountered in 16th-century America.

How were sites chosen for the De Soto Trail?

Each site was picked based on several factors. First, it had to be close to the area through which De Soto's expedition was thought to have marched. Second, the site had to have historical or environmental significance.



What Native American tribes lived in Florida at the time of De Soto's expedition?

Thousands of tribes were spread across the American Southeast during that time period. Each village had its own tribal identity as well as smaller clans or families. When the Europeans came into contact with these villages, they recorded the tribal identity from the names of the village leaders or chieftains. The Spanish recorded several large tribes in Florida. The Timucuan chiefdom of North Florida was a series of allied villages and related chiefs (Brown 1994). The Calusa empire encompassed all of South Florida from Sarasota Bay to the tip of the Florida Keys (Milanich 1998). The Apalachee comprised the single largest tribe in Florida. They controlled the territory between the Aucilla and Ochlockonee Rivers in Florida's Panhandle (Hudson 1997).

How many miles did De Soto's army march in a day?

This is difficult to calculate because De Soto and his chroniclers did not record the distances traveled. It is known that it took De Soto and his army four months to move from Tampa Bay to their winter encampment site in Tallahassee, a distance of roughly 233 miles. They stopped, however, for days or sometimes weeks at a time to rest and forage for food. It is estimated that, when De Soto’s army was on the move, they could cover three to seven miles a day in good weather over favorable terrain (Hudson 1997).

Where were the Seminole living in 1539?

In 1539, the Seminole tribe did not exist. The Seminoles formed from several different native tribes that came together in Florida beginning in the 1700s. Primary among them were the Creek Indians who migrated south after the decimation of most of the local natives under Spanish rule. Their two largest bands were the Mikasukis and the Alachuas. There were probably also a few descendants of the Timucuan, Guale, and Calusa remaining in the area at that time. Soon Europeans began to identify all Native Americans in La Florida as Seminoles, meaning "separatists" or "those who live apart." Other refugee Creeks also fled to the territory after defeat in the Creek Civil War of 1814. (Missall et al. 2004).

Did De Soto come to Florida to conquer?

The primary mission of Hernando de Soto, commissioned by King Charles V, was to explore the land of La Florida and establish a port colony. This new colony was to be a safe harbor and supply port for Spanish fleets operating in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. De Soto was given four years to explore and conquer the land and convert any native people to Christianity (Clayton et al. 1993). Unfortunately, he used this time to lead a futile quest to find and conquer a rich Indian culture, as had been done to the Inca of Peru, which he believed existed in the wilds of the American Southeast (Hudson 1997).

What type of people came on De Soto's expedition?

De Soto brought between 700 and 1,000 people to the shores of La Florida in May of 1539. The expedition included a huge cross section of European society. At the top were the nobility, who were investors and family members of De Soto. These men became the commanders of the expedition’s military units and divisions. De Soto was required to bring priests and friars on the journey for the spiritual well-being of the Spanish and for conversion of the Indians. Tradesmen and merchants also accompanied De Soto, for their skills would be needed when a suitable site for a colony was found. Tradesmen included blacksmiths, carpenters, shipwrights, tailors, and cobblers. The expedition was rounded out by apprentices, pages, servants, and slaves. This group was comprised of children as young as 10 years old, who served as attendants, pages, and apprentices to the tradesmen. Women in their 30s and 40s were used as servants, and Africans, such as Moors, served as bodyguards for the Spanish nobility (Hudson 1997).

What types of animals were brought on the expedition?

Hernando de Soto introduced three new species to the North American continent. He was a cavalry soldier, so he brought along some 220 horses. As a weapon of warfare, he employed several packs of war dogs, large breeds trained to attack and maim. For food, the expedition carried over 400 European pigs. During the long and arduous march, some of the pigs escaped, the origin of many of the feral hog species that exist in the American Southeast today.

Were the Indians De Soto's expedition encountered hostile or peaceful?

The Native Americans they met were generally not any more hostile or peaceful than any other group in North America at that time. The tribes of Florida frequently warred with each other, for territory, honor, and tribute. Some tribes did take a hostile stance to De Soto’s presence in their territory. They had encountered previous expeditions and knew of the Europeans’ cruelty and brutality. Many tribes abandoned their villages and set them on fire so the Spanish would have no reason to stay. Some villages sent small war parties to harass the expedition to hasten it along its way. Only outside of Live Oak, Florida did De Soto encounter a large group of Indians who opposed him. The Battle at Napituca, which was named for the village and chief, proved that Indian warriors could not overcome Spanish weapons and tactics (Milanich et al. 1993).