The Shallot Salutes…Hernando de Soto

"Hey, look, a river!" - Hernando de Soto

When people mention the great explorers, quite a few names come to mind: Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, Francisco Pizarro, Hernán Cortes, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, Amerigo Vespucci, Indiana Jones, Han Solo, and the guy in The Mummy movies, among others.  One name that is frequently forgotten is Hernando de Soto.  de Soto was a 16th century Spanish conquistador and explorer who came to the  already discovered New World for riches and fame.  But while most of the New World had already been found, de Soto decided to head west.  What he discovered was the 4th largest river in the world. That’s right: de Soto is the man credited with discovering the Mississippi River.  While many had definitely crossed the Mississippi before, de Soto is the first to actually document the experience, putting him head and shoulders above the rest.  Based on size alone, this puts him in a slightly lower class than Vasco Núñez de Balboa, the man who “discovered” the Pacific Ocean.

Not only was de Soto a fairly mediocre explorer, he was also a conman.  To get the Native Americans to follow him, he was able to convince them that he was an infallible “Sun God.”  Sadly, de Soto never left the banks of the Mississippi; he died there after an agonizing illness…so much for being immortal.  His legacy remained dormant for nearly 450 years, but he had a brief moment of fame in the 20th century when the also mediocre George Costanza declared de Soto his “favorite explorer.”  So, for writing down that he saw a river that countless people before him definitely knew about and thus guaranteeing himself a mention in all middle school history texts, for lying outrageously to natives, for appearing on Seinfeld, and for being generally unimpressive, The Shallot salutes Hernando de Soto.

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