De Soto National Memorial
Bushnell, FL - Events of Wednesday, February 19 to Friday, February 21, 2014
Last Wednesday, we headed a few miles north of Bushnell to Alliance Coach in Wildwood to have the brake system on the motor home flushed. Because brake fluid can absorb moisture, flushing the system is recommended as routine maintenance every several years to avoid the kind of problems we had a couple of years ago on our old Saturn Vue when one of the front brakes kept hanging up. With our bank account several hundred dollars lighter, we were back in Blueberry Hill and had the motor home set up again shortly after noon.
Because we weren't sure how long the work would take, we had previously made plans with Marilyn and Alan to go to Coyote Rojo for lupper just in case we got back too late for Margery to cook dinner. Coyote Rojo is a Mexican restaurant located right across the main road from the campground.
We started off with the traditional corn chips and salsa. The corn chips were especailly good - nice and thin, hot and very crisp. We also like the salsa at Coyote Rojo because it has fresh cilantro in it.
Prices at Coyote Rojo are very reasonable. Dinners range in price from around $6 for combo specials to $13 for fajitas. Marilyn and Alan shared a steak and chicken fajita combo, Margery had a pick-two combo with a chile relleno and a chicken burrito, and Paul had a supreme chicken burrito. Everything was yummy!
With beautiful weather in the forecast for Friday, we decided to head out for some sightseeing. One of the things we wanted to see while we were in Florida this year was the De Soto National Memorial down in Bradenton, FL.
Hernando De Soto was a Spanish explorer and conquistador. During our visit to the memorial, we learned he was the first European to explore deep into the eastern part of North America.
De Soto was born in Spain around 1500. He was influenced by other explorers like Ponce de Leon, Balboa and Magellan who had gone to the New World before him. In the 1530s, he joined with Francisco Pizarro in the conquest of the Incas in Peru.
After returning to Spain, De Soto was granted the governorship of Cuba. Drawn by legends of cities of gold and untold wealth, De Soto departed Cuba in early 1539 and headed for Florida. He took with him 9 ships, over 600 men, over 200 horses, a herd of pigs and all the arms they thought they would need to sustain their exploration, conquest and colonization the eastern part of North America.
The expedition landed on the west coast of Florida on May 29, 1539. Although the exact spot of the landing is unknown, it is believed to have been somewhere along the southern side of Tampa Bay near the mouth of the Manatee River. In 1948, a small peninsula near the mouth of the river was designated as the De Soto National Memorial.
Admission to the De Soto National Memorial is free. There is a small visitor center that has a few artifacts and that shows a video with the history of De Soto's expedition. Camp Uzita is a replica of what the original camp may have looked like, and from December through April it is the location of talks and demonstrations by costumed interpreters. There is also a nature trail that winds through the mangroves along the banks of the Manatee River, and there are several small beaches that can be accessed from the trail or from the water if you happen to arrive by boat.
We headed to the visitor center to get oriented. On the way we passed one of several gumbo limbo trees on the site. The trees have attractive red bark and long, low branches that sometimes parallel the ground.
The gumbo limbo tree is native to the southern part of Florida, the Caribbean Islands and down into Central and South America. The tree grows well in coastal areas because it is tolerant of salty soil and it is wind resistant.
Also outside the visitor center was a reproduction of a ship's boat that would have been used by the Spanish to row to shore from the larger sailing ships.
Contrasting the ship's boat above was an Indian dugout canoe.
We watched the video on De Soto's expedition in the visitor center. De Soto left about 100 men behind to guard his supply base at Tampa Bay and headed north with the rest of his expedition. The response of the Indians ranged from friendly in the early part of the trip to hostile later on as news of the harsh treatment of the Indians by the Spanish began to spread among the Indian villages. There were many skirmishes, most of which were initiated by the Spanish, and punishment for resisting was severe. The expedition also captured Indians and forced them to help carry supplies as De Soto searched for the ever-elusive gold, which the Indians always told him was in the next village or over the next hill.
By the summer of 1540, De Soto had passed through present-day Georgia and had reached the Carolinas. With still no city of gold in sight, they headed west into Tennessee, then south into Alabama. They built rafts and crossed the Mississippi, then headed into Arkansas.
In 1542, De Soto was stricken by a fever, possibly the result of an infection caused by being wounded by an Indian arrow, and he died along the banks of the Mississippi in either southern Arkansas or northern Louisiana. He was buried in the waters of the Mississippi in order to hide his death from the Indians because the Indians believed he was an immortal sun god.
De Soto died about three years into the expedition that was originally planned to last four years. By that time, almost half the men had been lost to illness or to Indian attack, and those who remained were in poor health. There were few supplies and there was no will to carry on, so De Soto's second in command decided to abort the expedition and find a way home. They headed southwest intending to cross present-day Texas and end up in Mexico City.
As they crossed Texas they eventually realized there was little water and there were few Indian villages for them to raid for food, so they were forced to turn back to the Mississippi and to began building boats. They finally completed their boats in the spring of 1543 and set off down the Mississippi in July after waiting for the spring floods to subside.
The expedition encountered hostile Indians who pursued their boats in canoes and shot arrows at them most of the way to the mouth of the Mississippi. The Spaniards then sailed south along the Gulf coast of Texas and finally reached a Spanish settlement along the Mexican coast. Most of the expedition's survivors remained in the New World settling in Mexico, Cuba and other Spanish colonies. Some even volunteered for a later expedition to La Florida.
From the visitor center we headed over to Camp Uzita and were just in time for the next presentation. The costumed volunteer told about how difficult life was on the expedition.
The volunteer also described the weapons used by the Spanish and by the Indians. The Spanish had crossbows as well as an early version of a matchlock musket called an arquebus. The arquebus took about 30 seconds to load, wasn't very accurate, and tended to clog up and require cleaning every 10 or 12 shots. By contrast, a skillful Indian warrior could fire off 20 to 30 arrows a minute with his long bow. However, the noise and flames from the muzzle of the arquebus were very frightening to Indians who were seeing that type of weapon for the first time.
Camp Uzita also had a display of reproductions of Spanish armor visitors could try on. There was a breastplate, chain mail and helmets.
Wow, was that stuff heavy! We can't imagine tramping through the woods in the heat and humidity wearing all that extra weight, not to mention how cold all that metal would be in winter.
After the presentation at Camp Uzita, we headed down the nature trail. We will continue with that part of our visit to the De Soto National Memorial in our next post.