May 30, 2017
According to the “Today in History” site it was on May 30, 1539, when explorer Hernando de Soto landed near Tampa Bay, Florida. Being that it was almost June and not January, de Soto didn’t spend long there. After all, Disney World would not be carved from the alligator infested swamp lands until October, 1971, 432 years later. And June in Florida is rather hot and humid, so I can’t really blame him for not wanting to be there that time of year. Who would?
De Soto is an interesting explorer. Sponsored by Spain his mission appears to have been to claim what was to become the United States for the mother country. He left Florida and meandered about the south through Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. Things were going okay until he got to Alabama where he encountered a rather hostile group of native people. According to the infallible Wikipedia:
“De Soto’s expedition spent another month in the Coosa chiefdom before turning south toward the Gulf of Mexico to meet two ships bearing fresh supplies from Havana. Along the way, de Soto was led into Mauvila (or Mabila), a fortified city in southern Alabama. The Mobilian tribe, under Chief Tuskaloosa, ambushed de Soto’s army. Other sources suggest de Soto’s men were attacked after attempting to force their way into a cabin occupied by Tuskaloosa. The Spaniards fought their way out, and retaliated by burning the town to the ground. During the nine-hour encounter, about 200 Spaniards died, and 150 more were badly wounded, according to the chronicler Elvas. Twenty more died during the next few weeks. They killed an estimated 2,000-6,000 warriors at Mabila, making the battle one of the bloodiest in recorded North American history.”
De Soto was, it seemed the first team to face the mighty Crimson Tide. The Spaniards escaped to Mississippi but their quest for a national championship was doomed. Their bad luck continued and they were plagued by more unhappy natives, disease and lack of supplies. De Soto, committed to his mission, eventually was stopped by the Big Muddy near what is the happy sounding, present day, Sunflower Landing, Mississippi. He saw that body of water as a pain in the neck, keeping him from his westward march for domination. His relationship with the Mississippi River did not end well. No, it wasn’t the natives who killed him nor did he drown in the river. Instead it was a fever. He died May 21, 1542 in a native village on the western banks of the river near present day MacArthur, Arkansas.
It ended up that it was the stodgy British who, seventy years later, successfully established colonies in the new world. But those people had to live in Massachusetts in the winter since cheap flights to Florida were not yet a thing. I would have been stodgy too.
For more about the life of Hernando de Soto: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hernando_de_Soto
For more about alligators (because they fascinate me and it’s kinda freaky to think, if the urban legend is true, that EVERY pond, lake, roadside ditch and swamp in Florida contains at least one), click this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_alligator