DE SOTO, FErturNANno, 1496-1542; one of the early Spanish explorers of North America. Ire distinguished himself when young in literary studies and athletic exer cises. In 1519, he accompanied Pedrasias Davila, his patron, to the isthmus of Darien, and was a most daring and independent opponent of the tyrannical rule of that otlicer, who was afterwards governor of Darien. Leaving Davila's service, in 1528, lie explored the coast of Guatemala and Yucatan, seeking for a supposed water communication between the Atlantic and Pacific. In 1532, lie was in Pizarro's expedition for the conquest of Peru, and used all his influence with the Spanish butcher to prevent the murder of the Peruvian king. Having amassed a fortune, De Soto returned to Spain and married Davila's daughter. In 1536, moved by the reports of the mystical El Dorado, he undertook the conquest of Florida, and sailed in April, 1538, with 20 officers, 24 priests, and 600 men.
May 25, 1539, ho landed at Tampa bay, and followed the track of Narvaez, a former Spanish invader. In July, 1539 his ships were sent back to Havana. In 1540, lie slowly
worked westward, having many conflicts with the Indians. His second winter was spent in the Chickasaw country. These Indians, in the spring, burnt his camp and their own villages, because he attempted to force them to carry his baggage, and 40 of his men were burnt to death. After several days of marching mainly through swamps he reached the Mississippi, June, 1541, being the first European to. look upon that mighty river. He constructed rude barges and crossed over, marching towards the highlands of White river, the w. limit of exploration. Turning s. and passing the hot springs of Arkansas, lie passed his third winter on the Washita river. In the spring he moved down the Washita to the Mississippi; and was marching along the latter river when he was taken with fever and died either in May or June, 1542. To keep the knowledge of his death from the natives, his body was sunk at night in the middle of the river. His wife died at Havana on the third day after bearing of his fate.