Book Review: Ferdinand De Soto

Written by John S C Abbott in 1898, this is an interesting depiction of De Soto. I mostly looked for this book for this reason: I was hoping to find the earliest record of any person or entity that entered the United States and read what they found, what they saw. For my own personal study in Book of Mormon archeology, this would be critical.

I was amazed to find that the author commented (and reading the book I can understand) on how De Soto was not the conqueror that everyone has portrayed him to be.

While Columbus never entered the mainland (that we know of), others did immediately after. There was first the record of Panfilo de Narvaez in 1527, but most of his work focused on the southern part of the United States, namely around the Gulf of Mexico.

This book recalls while De Soto and his group started making their way up the mainland in 1539 and one of their unplanned missions was to repair damage done by Narvaez 10 years earlier. According to Abbott, De Soto was a selfish man, looking for gold and his own plot of land, but not necessarily to conquer the natives. Narvaez was supposedly not as casual in his quest, and did much damage. And so often De Soto tried to distance himself from Narvaez to make friends with the natives.

This is not to excuse the damage De Soto had done to the natives, but after reading this book, I wouldn’t put De Soto in the camp of “conqueror” but instead “misfit”. De Soto did build some relations with the natives, but often, fights ensued. And I never really read about his desire to “conquer”.

Diseases did come from his band, and it did infect the natives, but the diseases came from being stuck in the land, known at the time as Florida, over the winter after being lead from one place after another by the natives and eventually getting lost. I would say it was a group effort (I’m sure I will get disagreements from this, but it is only from reading this book. Make your own conclusion).

As far as connections to the natives, a few items I pulled from here having to do with their findings:

1. De Soto never found any gold, but supposedly found a native with a gold ax, thus their drive to find “the stash”. The natives kept leading them to gold, but never successfully found any.

2. De Soto, as well as Narvaez, were mistaken for a god or a supreme being of some type at one time or another.

3. The natives did not always live in tents, but more structures. In fact, they commented on how amazed they were as seeing more permanent structures, which did not seem to match their savagery.

4. When meeting with a female leader of one of their tribes (might have been the Indian Princess), she led them to a place where monuments were built to ancient spiritual leaders (would love to know where that is).

5. They knew how to farm.

6. They were very skilled in warfare.

7. They dressed in very little clothing, even in the winter (to those who think Book of Mormon lands had to be to the south because the Lamanites were hardly dressed).

8. And lastly, there was city after city after city, and they generally named them after whoever founded the city or was the leader of the time.

I am sure there is more. This book is a gem, but it might be hard to find. Thanks to the Pioneer Book store in Provo for finding this one.

One other thing to mention, there was a TV special on cable about the travels of De Soto. This special included a group of historians who re-mapped the travels of De Soto and concluded that De Soto could have gone as far north as Chicago, Illinois. I am trying to find that show, if anyone has any information on that, would be grand.

I am currently editing the next season of Hidden in the Heartland, hoping to have new material by March.

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