Hernando de Soto
Hernando de Soto (c. 1496/98 – May 21, 1542) was a Spanish explorer and conquistador who led the first European expedition deep into the territory of the modern-day United States (Florida, Georgia, Alabama and most likely Arkansas), and the first documented European to have crossed the Mississippi River.A vast undertaking, de Soto's North American expedition ranged throughout the southeastern United States searching for gold, silver and a passage to China. De Soto died in 1542 on the banks of the Mississippi River in what is now Guachoya, Arkansas or Ferriday, Louisiana.Hernando de Soto was born to parents who were hidalgos of modest means in Extremadura, a region of poverty and hardship from which many young people looked for ways to seek their fortune elsewhere. He was born in Jerez de los Caballeros, in the current province of Badajoz. However, three towns—Badajoz, Barcarrota and Jerez de los Caballeros—claim to be his birthplace. He spent time as a child at each place, and he stipulated in his will that his body be interred at Jerez de los Caballeros, where other members of his family were interred. The age of the Conquerors came on the heels of the Spanish reconquest of the Iberian peninsula from Islamic forces. Spain and Portugal were filled with young men seeking a chance for military fame after the Moors were defeated. With discovery of new lands to the west (which they thought at the time to be East Asia), they were attracted to whispers of glory and wealth.De Soto sailed to the New World with the first Governor of Panama, Pedrarias Dávila. In 1520 he participated in Gaspar de Espinosa's expedition to Veragua, and in 1524, he participated in the conquest of Nicaragua under Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba. There he acquired an encomienda and a public office in Leon, Nicaragua.Brave leadership, unwavering loyalty, and ruthless schemes for the extortion of native villages for their captured chiefs became de Soto's hallmarks during the Conquest of Central America. He gained fame as an excellent horseman, fighter, and tactician.During that time, de Soto was influenced by the achievements of Juan Ponce de León, who discovered Florida; Vasco Núñez de Balboa, who discovered the Pacific Ocean (he called it the ""South Sea"" on the south coast of Panama), and Ferdinand Magellan, who first sailed that ocean to the Orients.