Exit of the Day... to DeSoto County
EXIT OF THE DAY: I-95n Exit 129, To: RT 70 West to Okeechobee, Florida, east to Ft Pierce, FL
“Ok Road Crew, now we are going back to the times when the first Europeans came to America.
Way back in 1539 — just 47 years after Columbus — Hernando de Soto is credited with discovering Florida. I say credited because upon coming ashore with his flotilla of 700 Conquistadors at lower Tampa Bay on Florida’s Gulf Coast, they immediately came upon a shipwrecked Spanish Sailor.
That European had lived already for some time among the local Native Americans. This castaway then served as De Soto’s guide on his epic 3 year trek from Florida up through Georgia, crossing the Appalachians from North Carolina into Tennessee and Alabama, crossing the Mississippi into Louisiana, and thus becoming the first Europeans to cross the River into the west.
In fact, DeSoto’s expedition was credited as the first Europeans to “discover” the Mississippi. But of course tens of thousands of Native Americans lived along its banks every day for thousands of years.
De Soto’s Guide was named Juan Ortiz. A gifted linguist who likely also used Native American sign language, he recruited guides from each tribe along the route.
The main initiative of the trek of course was to seek gold. And Native Americans must have propelled the army forward with fables of vast bonanzas just a little further up the trail “toward the setting sun.”
The expedition was generally belligerent with one battle alone inflicting over 2000 fatalities on a single Mississippian Tribe.
What peaceful exchange occurred no doubt was thanks to Juan Ortiz. Still Juan Ortiz caused tension within the Spanish Officer Corps since he refused to dress as a Spaniard.
When Gold was not forthcoming, other officers questioned Juan's motives. However, De Soto remained loyal to Juan Ortiz, allowing him the freedom to dress and commingle freely with the Native Americans.
After 3 years, in 1542, the army of 700 Conquistadors was ultimately reduced to just over 300. But neither Juan Cortiz nor Hernando De Soto made it back to Mexico City.
Juan Cortiz died anonymously along the western part of the trek, while De Soto died of Fever in May 1542. Fearing mutilation by vengeful Indians, De Soto's body was weighted and after night fall commended to the waters of the Mississippi.
The positive ramifications of De Soto’s march were that much territory was mapped for posterity.
Other lasting impacts were that European Pigs escaped to become feral razorbacks and escaped horses were first introduced to native peoples.
But on a large scale, western diseases like smallpox and measles devastated Native American Populations. So DeSoto’s landing in Florida marks the beginning for some, and the end for many others.
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