May 8, 1541: Hernando de Soto crosses the Mississippi River
Coming to America in the 1500s was a long journey. There were no delayed American Airlines flights to rely on. For Europeans, many of them wanted to take a good look at the region. One conquistador became the first European to cross the river known as The Big Muddy.
Taking it over
Hernando de Soto helped Spain take over Peru and the Inca Empire. His efforts earned him wealth at every turn. While it was fun at the start, things got to be a bit dull. Fellow conquistadors Francisco Pizarro and Hernando Cortes started gaining more popularity in their field. De Soto was offended that he was suddenly tossed to the side by his own peers. To make himself the top dog again, he decided to set his conquering sights elsewhere. He wanted to take over Florida, which was discovered by Ponce de Leon. Under the Order of Santiago, he was given the right to conquer Florida.
Deep down in Florida
De Soto didn’t simply rush into taking over the land overnight. Planning took three years, but De Soto still didn’t think he as fully prepared. In May 1539, he started his travels to Florida with 620 men split between nine ships. To give their journey a boost, 200 horses were also present. During his time in Florida, De Soto learned about gold and other valuables scattered in the South. Instead of taking over Florida, he decided to look for this treasure.
Take me to the river
The expedition worked its way through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Throughout the journey, De Soto managed to find nothing of importance. Chaos ensued when his crew was attacked by the Mobilian tribe in Alabama. After escaping, De Soto’s army burned the town to the ground, killing 6,000 Native Americans in the process.
On May 8, 1541, De Soto became the first European to cross the Mississippi River. He didn’t stop to throw a celebration, though. De Soto wanted to get the hell out of the area before more violence erupted. He traveled further into Oklahoma and Texas before settling in Arkansas. The following year, De Soto died in McArthur, Arkansas from a fever. While De Soto didn’t conquer land or find gold, he stirred up beef between Europeans and Native Americans.