On a sweltering day in May of 1539, Hernando de Soto and an army of over 600 soldiers splashed ashore in the Tampa Bay area. They arrived in nine ships laden with supplies: two hundred and twenty horses, a herd of pigs, a pack of vicious war dogs, cannon, matchlock muskets, armor, tools and rations. It was everything they would need to execute the order of King Charles V: sail to La Florida and "conquer, populate and pacify" the land.
But this expedition would never yield the gold and treasure these men so desperately sought. Instead, they marched from one village to the next, taking food and enslaving the native peoples to use as guides and porters. Hopes were dashed, fortunes squandered, and hundreds of lives lost on this calamitous journey. The de Soto expedition would change the face of the American Southeast forever, and cause Spain to drastically reevaluate her role in the New World. Ultimately, it was the first hand accounts of survivors, describing the native cultures and the richness of the land, which became the journey's enduring legacy.
The mission of De Soto National Memorial is to preserve the controversial story of this four year, four thousand mile odyssey and interpret it's significance in American history.
Living History programs are conducted daily from mid-December through mid-April. Rangers and Volunteers dressed in period clothing present talks on a variety of historical topics related to De Soto's Expedition & demonstrate weapons/crafts.
The park's twenty two minute orientation film "Hernando de Soto in America" is shown daily in the Visitor Center theatre. The Visitor Center includes displays of the park's museum collection of armor, weapons, and related period items.
The Nature Trail winds along the shoreline and through several Florida ecosystems; including a mangrove forest like the one de Soto's men would have encountered when they landed.
De Soto National Memorial is located at the northern terminus of 75th Street North West, Bradenton, Florida. Visitors can reach the park from I-75 or I-275. From I-75 follow State Road 64 west (also Manatee Avenue), for approximately twelve miles to 75th Street West. Turn right (north) onto 75th Street West, and proceed two and five-tenths miles to the park entrance and the terminus of 75th Street.
From I-275 exit 1, follow US-19 into Bradenton. Turn west onto State Road 64, for approximately five miles to 75th Street West. Turn right (north) onto 75th Street West, and proceed two and five-tenths miles to the park entrance and the terminus of 75th Street.