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De Soto Expedition, Route of the

When the Spanish expedition of Hernando de Soto crossed the Mississippi River on June 28, 1541 (June 18 on the Julian calendar, which was used at the time), it entered what is now Arkansas. It spent the next eleven months roaming around the state until de Soto’s death on May 31, 1542 (May 21 on the Julian calendar). After his death, the survivors made their way to Mexico. There have been many attempts to identify the expedition’s route through Arkansas, using information from the four written accounts of the expedition. Three of these were written by men who had accompanied the expedition, and the fourth was authored forty or fifty years later, based on interviews with survivors. The route reconstructions …

de Soto, Hernando

Hernando de Soto was a Spanish explorer who led an expedition into the southern United States. He and his soldiers were the first Europeans to set foot in what is now Arkansas. Four written accounts of the expedition provide details about his trek through the state. De Soto was born in the Extremadura region of western Spain around 1500, but the exact date is uncertain. He probably was born in the town of Jerez de los Caballeros. The second son of Francisco Méndez de Soto and Leonor Arias Tinoco, he had at least two younger sisters and an older brother. Although the family was of noble heritage, de Soto was poor and borrowed money to travel to the New World …

Jean Laffite’s Espionage Mission

Jean Laffite was a well-known smuggler and privateer (considered a pirate by some) who operated in the Gulf of Mexico. A hero of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, Laffite undertook a secret espionage expedition in 1816 that traversed the Missouri Territory (later the Arkansas Territory) on behalf of the Spanish. Lafitte was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in November 1815 at the same time that his friend, architect Arsene Latour, was in town to supervise the proofing and printing of Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814–1815. As a Spanish agent interested in Spain’s territory north and west of the Louisiana Purchase, Latour may have been instrumental in convincing the impoverished Lafitte to join him …

Spanish Explorers and Settlers

The only Spanish expedition into present-day Arkansas began when Hernando de Soto led his party across the Mississippi River on June 18, 1541. The Spaniards had already endured two years of wandering throughout the American southeast, hoping to duplicate the conquest and colonization of a wealthy and powerful nation, as had been done twenty years earlier with the Aztecs of Mexico. De Soto’s band of fortune seekers trudged on for another two years after crossing into Arkansas, where they encountered many large, agriculturally prosperous native chiefdoms, but none of the gold or silver that they sought. By the end of the expedition, approximately half their number, including de Soto himself, had died from sickness, hunger, exposure, or conflict with the …

Spanish Land Grants

Arkansas inherited a complex legacy of land grants from its time as part of Spanish Louisiana. Beginning in 1769, royal governor Alejandro O’Reilly established regulations concerning the size of permissible concessions and the conditions by which applicants could perfect titles to their land. Subsequent governors upheld and expanded similar regulations, but in practice, most grants made during Spanish rule were approved upon request only by the commandant of the nearest settlement. Formal surveys of the grants were rarely made, which further frustrated attempts to determine rightful ownership of granted land once Spanish Louisiana became part of the United States. O’Reilly’s regulations prescribed a three-year probationary period during which claimants were expected to clear the frontage of their land, build ditches …