The De Soto National Memorial is dedicated to the historic landing of Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in Florida in 1539. The conquistador arrived in the Tampa Bay area, fulfilling the orders of King Charles V. He landed with an army of more than 600 soldiers, nine ships laden with supplies, sophisticated weapons and 220 horses. De Soto’s ultimate goal was to "conquer, populate, and pacify" La Florida.
De Soto ended up being the first European explorer documented to have reached as far as the Mississippi River in his expeditions. De Soto’s landing also marked the first organized exploration by Europeans in what is now the southern U.S.
While exploring North America, the Spanish conquistador came in contact with different Native American tribes during his search for gold and riches. De Soto encountered the Chickasaw people in 1540 and demanded Chickasaw men for his organized exploration to be used as slaves and porters. The Chickasaws’ refusal came in the form of a brutal attack on de Soto’s camp, as well as a sound defeat of the Spanish soldiers.
The purpose of the De Soto National Memorial is to preserve the accurate and controversial history of de Soto’s exploration and help illustrate its significance to U.S. history. The De Soto National Memorial museum is located in Manatee County, Florida, across 26 acres of the western Florida coast. The museum is situated along 3,000 feet of shoreline at the mouth of the Manatee River. Admission to the visitor center is free.
The museum includes various exhibits, nature trails, bird watching, guided tours, a theater for viewing the film “Hernando de Soto in America,” and an expansive bookstore. Exhibits at the museum include period artifacts, weapons and historic armor. Visitors can also check out “Camp Uzita,” a theatrical history performance running from December through April. This feature of the museum includes a reenactment of de Soto's historic arrival on the beaches of Tampa Bay.