||True Relation of the Vicissitudes That Attended the Governor Don Hernando de Soto and Some Nobles of Portugal in the Discovery of the Province of Florida Now Just Given by a Fildalgo of Elvas
||Bourne, Edward Gaylord (editor) and Buckingham Smith (translator). Narratives of the Career of Hernando de Soto in the Conquest of Florida as Told by a Knight of Elvas and in a Relation by Luys Hernandez de Beidma, Factor of the Expedition. Together with an Account of de Soto's Expedition Based on the Diary of Rodrigo Ranjel, His Private Secretary Translated from Oviedo's Historia General y Natural de las Indias. (New York: A.S. Barnes and Company, 1904). Volume 1, pages i-xxvii, 1-223.
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The author, simply called “A Gentleman of Elvas,” was a
member of Soto’s expedition whose identity is unknown. He was
Portuguese and joined Soto from the town of Elvas, Portugal,
which lies on the border of Spain.
Soto Expedition to Florida, the American South and Texas,
The King of Spain gave Hernando de Soto the funds and resources
to conquer and colonize the American continent. Not knowing the
size of North America, the King gave Soto four years to conquer
America and locate riches that would entice Spanish settlers and
investors to follow. Six-hundred-forty volunteers joined the expedition
that left Cuba in 1539. Among them were expert tradesmen that might
help settle a new land. Carpenters, merchants, engineers, blacksmiths,
priests, and farmers were among Soto’s “army.” They carried with
them all manner of military equipment, as well as seeds, nails,
horses, dogs, and pigs. The massive entourage spent four years walking
four-thousand miles through the interior of North America but did
not establish a settlement. The Soto expedition began in Cuba and
moved on to cover territory in what today are the states of Florida,
Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi,
Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Texas. For its exact route during
the four-year journey, see the reference map accessible from this
document’s home page.
From his campaigns against the Inca in Peru, Soto had earned
a reputation for killing Indians as sport, and his North
American expedition was among the most savage on record. Soto’s
army brutalized and enslaved Indians they encountered all across
the southeast, killing thousands and spreading disease
throughout the native populations. Many nations first observed
on this trip were decimated by diseases introduced during their
first contact with Europeans.
Overcome with fever in the third year of the trip, Soto died
in May 1542 on the banks of the Mississippi River. Before dying,
he conferred command of the expedition to Luys de Moscoso.
Moscoso hid Soto’s death from the local Indians because Soto had
told them that he was immortal, but when Indian servants became
curious about a fresh grave, Moscoso had unearthed the
explorer’s body, wrapped it in cloth, weighted it with sand, and
sunk it in the river.
Once in control of the expedition, Moscoso tried to discover the
fastest route home. Indian guides, however, led the Spanish into
the wastes of east Texas in the hope that they would be lost and
then starve. Moscoso managed to find his way back to the Mississippi
where the expedition built seven small ships in six months. The
remaining Spaniards and their animals then set sail downriver. As
they progressed, groups of Indians in large canoes attacked them.
When the Spanish sent boats with soldiers to repulse these attacks,
the Indians ditched the Spaniards’ boats, beat them with wooden
clubs, and then drowned the armor-clad soldiers. The Indians then
followed a bowshot behind the ships and patiently shot the Spaniards
with arrows. Up to fifty canoes followed the Spaniards, attacking
them day and night. The Spanish finally reached the mouth of the
Mississippi River and headed west. They sailed into the Rio Panico,
Mexico, on September 10, 1543, with only 300 men remaining from
the original 640.
The account of the gentleman of Elvas was the earliest
published account of the Soto expedition. It was first published
in Evora, Portugal, in 1557. In 1609, English explorer Richard
Hakluyt translated the narrative into English, hoping that the
Fidalgo’s description of “Virginia” would promote interest in
England’s new settlements. The document is notable because it
was written within a few years of the expedition and it is the
only account by a Portuguese member of Soto’s troops.
Other Internet and Reference Sources
A useful timeline of the years 1527-1547 that shows the relationships
between the travels of Narváez, Núñez Cabeza
da Vaca, Soto, Ulloa, and Coronado is available form the University
of Arizona at
More information can also be found at