The disastrous failure of the expedition of Vasquez de Ayllon to Florida did not discourage attempts on the part of others in the same direction. Velaspuez, governor of Cuba, jealous of the success of Cortez in Mexico, had sent Pamphilo de Narvaez to arrest him. In this attempt Narvaez had been defeated and taken prisoner. Undeterred by this failure he had solicited and received of Charles V. the position of governor over Florida, a territory at that time embracing the whole southern part of what is now the United States, and reaching from Cape Sable to the Panuco, or River of Palms, in Mexico. With three hundred men he, in 1528, landed near Appalachee Bay, and marched inland with the hope of opening a country rich and populous. Bitterly was he disappointed.
Swamps and forests, wretched wigwams with their squalid inmates everywhere met his view, but no gold was to be found. Discouraged, he and his followers returned to the coast, where almost superhuman toil and skill enabled them to build five boats, in which they hoped to work westward to the Spanish settlements. Embarking, they stole cautiously along the coast for some distance, but were at last driven by a storm upon an island, perhaps Galveston, perhaps Santa Rosa, where Narvaez and most of his men perished. Four of his followers survived to cross Texas to the Gulf of California and reach the town of San Miguel on the west coast of Mexico. Here they found their countrymen, searching as usual for pearls, gold, and slaves, and by their help they made a speedy return to Spain, heroes of as remarkable an adventure as history records. These unfortunates were the first Europeans to visit New Mexico. Their narrative led to the exploration of that country by Coronado and others, and to the discoveries of Cortez in Lower California.
Ferdinand de Soto, eager to rival the exploits of Cortez in Mexico, and of his former commander, Pizarro, in Peru, offered to conquer Florida at his own expense. Appointed governor-general of Florida and of Cuba, he sailed with seven large and three small vessels. From Espiritu Santo Bay he, in 1539, marched with six hundred men into the country of the Appalachians and discovered the harbor of Pensacola. After wintering at Appalachee he set out into the interior, said to abound in gold and silver. Penetrating northeasterly as far as the Savannah, he found only copper and mica. From here he marched first northwest into northern central Georgia, then southwest into Alabama. A battle was fought with the natives at Mavila, or Mobile, in which the Spaniards suffered serious loss. Ships that he had ordered arrived at Pensacola, but de Soto determined not to embark until success should have crowned his efforts. He turned back into the interior, into the country of the Chickasaws, marched diagonally over the present State of Mississippi to its northwest corner, and crossed the Mississippi River near the lowest Chickasaw Bluff. From this point the general direction of the Spanish progress was southwest, through what is now Arkansas, past the site of Little Rock, till at last a river which seems to have been the Washita was reached. Down this stream de Soto and his decimated force floated--two hundred and fifty of his men had succumbed to the hardships and perils of his march--arriving at the junction of the Red with the Mississippi River on Sunday, April 17, 1542. At this point de Soto sickened and died, turning over the command to Luis de Moscoso. Burying their late leader's corpse at night deep in the bosom of the great river, and constructing themselves boats, the survivors of this ill-fated expedition, now reduced to three hundred and seventy-two persons, made the best of their way down the Mississippi to the Gulf, and along its coast, finally reaching the Spanish town near the mouth of the Panuco in Mexico.
See also: 1518-1520


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