Friday, July 19, 2013

DeSoto National Memorial Park

For those who genuflect at the altar of political correctness (and if you haven't guessed already, I'm not one of those), it's kind of tricky to have a national monument devoted to a guy who was essentially a marauding pirate determined to leave his mark on the world, but the website for the DeSoto National Memorial gives it a pretty good go:

In May 1539, Conquistador Hernando de Soto’s army of soldiers, hired mercenaries, craftsmen and clergy made landfall in Tampa Bay. They were met with fierce resistance of indigenous people protecting their homelands. De Soto’s quest for glory and gold would be a four year, four thousand mile odyssey of intrigue, warfare, disease, and discovery that would form the history of the United States.

De Soto sailed to the New World in 1514, arriving to kick ass and chew bubblegum - and he had no gum. He quickly set about organizing that which was there to be organized, in the manner he saw fit, and soon came to prominence with his trademark scheme to kidnap the chiefs of native villages and then extort the villagers for their safe return. He did make some historically noteworthy achievements - he led the first European expedition deep into the territory of the modern-day United States and was the first European documented to have crossed the Mississippi River - but he was notorious around the world for his brutality.

The De Soto National Memorial in Bradenton marks what is believed to be the location of Espiritu Santo, the point of disembarkation for DeSoto's expedition. In May 1539, Hernando de Soto and an army of over 600 soldiers mounted their campaign here, executing the order of King Charles V to sail to La Florida and "conquer, populate, and pacify" the land.

Most of the Florida sites on DeSoto's trail have been built over, but in recent decades two have been documented as definitively associated with de Soto's expedition: the Governor Martin Site (at the former Apalachee village of Anhaica in Tallahassee) in 1986 and the White Ranch Site (in the Potano territory just outside Ocala) in 2005.

But even without all the historical considerations, DeSoto National Memorial in Bradenton is a beautiful park, relatively free of crowds, and provides yet another opportunity to "get away from it all" in the hustle of bustle of wacky, wonderful Florida. But watch out for the crazy creatively-anachronistic gang from Camp Uzita, a living history camp that runs from December through April, and who put on a yearly in-costume re-enactment of DeSoto's landing on the beaches of Tampa Bay.

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