The Passion Of Hernando De Soto


Finally, on September 10, fifty-two days after leaving the mouth of the Mississippi, they reached the Spanish settlement at the mouth of the Panuco River. Of the original 622 members of the Florida army, exactly half had returned to civilization. Like living scarecrows the survivors limped ashore and sank to the ground to kiss the sand and give thanks to God for their unforeseen salvation. But the credit for their survival belonged to their own incredible resilience and to Moscoso. The easygoing man of pleasure had extricated his force almost without loss from the heart of the continent. Using excellent judgment, he had succeeded where the more dashing de Soto had failed. It was his reward that he was the only man to make a profit from the venture—he wooed and married a rich Mexican widow and took her back to Spain, where, presumably, he lived the life of ease he had always craved.

Of the other survivors there is little record. A few stayed in the Americas to farm or join other conquistador armies; some made their way back to Spain; and one or two took holy orders in thanks for their deliverance. Nothing was ever heard of the Spanish deserters who had chosen to go native; the North American continent swallowed them without trace.

In the years that followed, Spain’s colonial ambitions paid little attention to the “Rio Grande.” There may have been some passing thoughts of an expedition tracing the river to its source in the interior, but de Soto’s experiences had convinced the Spaniards that their efforts would be wasted. The Mississippi was not a highway to Golconda. A few trading posts were established near the delta but they did not prosper; the Spaniards turned increasingly to the problem of linking their older colonies rather than striking out into unknown territory, and it was not for another 150 years that white men sailed the Mississippi again. When they did, Spain was declining as a colonial power and the newcomers were Frenchmen arriving from the opposite end of the continent, the far northeast.