Sea purslane plant growing out of the rocks. This was taken while exploring the beaches at the De Soto National Memorial in Bradenton, Florida. Imagine a similar landscape that Conquistador Hernando de Soto must have seen as he made landfall on these beaches in May of 1539. This photo was taken August 2, 2014.
In May 1539, de Soto landed nine ships with over 620 men and 220 horses in south Tampa Bay. He named it Espíritu Santo after the Holy Spirit. The ships brought priests, craftsmen, engineers, farmers, and merchants; some with their families, some from Cuba, most from Europe and Africa. Few had traveled before outside of Spain, or even their home villages.
Near de Soto’s port, the party found Juan Ortiz, a Spaniard, living with the Mocoso. Ortiz had been captured by the Uzita while searching for the lost Narváez expedition, and had later escaped to Mocoso. Ortíz knew the Timucua language and served de Soto as an interpreter as he traversed the Timucuan-speaking areas on his way to Apalachee.
He established a unique method for guiding the expedition and communicating with various tribal dialects. He recruited guides from each tribe along the route. A chain of communication was established whereby a guide who had lived in close proximity to another tribal area was able to pass his information and language on to a guide from a neighboring area. Because Ortiz refused to dress as an hidalgo Spaniard, other officers questioned his motives. De Soto remained loyal to Ortiz, allowing him the freedom to dress and live among his friends. Another important guide was the seventeen-year-old boy Perico, or Pedro, from modern-day Georgia. He spoke several of the local tribes’ languages and could communicate with Ortiz. Perico was taken as a guide in 1540 and treated better than the rest of the slaves, due to his value to the Spaniards.
The expedition traveled north, exploring Florida’s West Coast, encountering native ambushes and conflicts along the way. De Soto’s first winter encampment was at Anhaica, the capital of the Apalachee. It is one of the few places on the route where archaeologists have found physical traces of the expedition. It was described as being near the “Bay of Horses”. The bay was named for where the starving members of the preceding Narváez expedition killed and ate their horses while building boats for escape.