Ruskin, FL Monday March 2
History lesson time today. Traveled to Bradenton FL, about a 60 minute trip to visit De Soto National Monument. The National Monument is run by the National Park Service, which presented its usual detailed and balanced analysis of its subject through video, publications, and a living history presentation. In their words: “In his native country and many parts of the United States, he is regarded as a romantic hero and trail blazing explorer. In Central and South America, as well as in American Indian tribes of the Southeast, many regard him as a monster and overzealous madman…..The expedition was inconsequential for Spain but disastrous for the Indians it encountered, leaving behind disease and social dislocation.” When he arrived, maybe 350,000 native people lived in Florida. Less than 20 years later, the area had many abandoned villages and scattered people with tribes decimated by European diseases.
Hernando De Soto was a Spanish conquistador who traveled 4000 miles over four years from the Tampa FL area up into North Carolina and Tennessee, over to Arkansas, and down the Mississippi River to Mexico. Actually De Soto did not make the full trip; he died of an infection and was buried in the Mississippi River. His men competed the journey back to Spanish held land in Mexico.
The time we spent at the Monument was extremely interesting and full of information we had not known or had not remembered. De Soto and the Spanish had just finished over 700 years of constant fighting to reclaim Spain from the Moors. The Spaniards were brutal and skilled at fighting. Their use of armor, guns, horses, fighting dogs, metal swords, and large crossbows allowed a small number of soldiers to overcome much larger numbers of native Americans. The Indians were taller, over 6′ usually compared to less than 5 1/2 for the Spanish, and could unleash arrows by the dozens but the arrows could not compete against the chain mail and metal armor protection the Spanish wore. The Spanish weighed around 135 pounds and their armor might weigh another 135 pounds. The Indians had never seen fighting dogs that were large and trained to attack and kill.
Starting at age 14, De Soto had fought with the Spanish in South and Central America. Under Pizarro’s army, he came home rich from the gold and wealth of the conquered Inca. He became bored and was granted a royal charter to conquer La Florida for Spain and God at his own cost. De Soto was inflamed with the idea of even greater gold and riches here than what had been found in South America. He could have established colonies but drove his men, only 50% of whom survived, to keep searching, fruitlessly, for gold.
In addition to the diseases the Europeans brought, De Soto continued the Spanish pattern of brutality to conquer people. Indians were massacred. Captured Indians were enslaved to carry the Spanish goods and equipment; they were forced to act as guides; and “He captured women as diversions for his men.” Indian tribes kept telling De Soto stories of gold and riches “just a little bit further” to try to keep the Spaniards moving. We Americans tend to forget history and the tale of “pagans” killed by Europeans and Americans is ignored. The Spanish government and Catholic Church were accomplices in the plundering and ill treatment.
De Soto’s journey certainly increased European knowledge of this new continent. It is our responsibility to remember the effects, on native people and to recollect America was not just settled by the English. France and Spain played major roles also. The Spanish and Mexican impact on the southern U.S. did not start with immigrants crossing the border just a few years ago. They began the whole colonization of this area.
Well, I probably have bored you by now but we enjoyed and learned from the time spent at De Soto National Monument. Oh, one last tidbit. De Soto did not land at this site. He probably actually landed just about where we are staying. However, a group of women in the Bradenton area pushed for the monument, this parcel of land was donated, and in 1949 the National Monument opened.
Lunch was at one location of a small local chain called Peaches and then we continued history by visiting the South Florida Museum in downtown Bradenton. This museum started small with a collection owned by a local resident and has been expanded several times. Some of the notable exhibits included a history of the development of the town, a planetarium show, and an aquarium that houses the oldest living manatee in captivity.
“Snooty”, the manatee, was born in 1948 and has been living at the aquarium since 1949. He gets special hand feedings daily. In the history exhibit, there was no mention of the early Spanish settlements in the panhandle area that are prominently mentioned in museums there. The natural history exhibit re-counted why no dinosaur fossils have been uncovered in southern Florida-it was underwater at the time of the dinosaurs. The exhibit on explorer and navigation tools ignored the astrolabe, prominently mentioned at De Soto. The museum did mention that citrus fruit is not native to Florida, but a “positive” invasive species.
A stroll along the Manatee Riverwalk in downtown Bradenton, and a stop for ice cream, completed our travels for the day. Sunset was back home at the resort.
Ed and Chris March 3 10:15 pm