Hernando de Soto
The explorer and soldier
discovered the Mississippi,
but  blazed a trail of death
across the American South.
Governor Martin House
The De Soto site was found
in the yards of the one-time
home of Florida Governor
John Martin.
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - DeSoto Winter Encampment Site, Florida
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - DeSoto Winter Encampment Site, Florida
DeSoto Winter Encampment - Tallahassee, Florida
De Soto Winter Encampment Site
Archaeologists have located the site where
Hernando de Soto spent the winter of 1540-1541
near the heart of downtown Tallahassee.
Winter Campsite of DeSoto
Hernando de Soto and his army spent years
exploring the American South, but while
many sites are identified with the explorers,
their presence has positively been identified
in only one - Tallahassee, Florida.

Almost within sight of Florida's capitol
complex is the De Soto Winter Encampment
Site. Now a small state-owned park area, the
site preserves the ground where De Soto
and his men camped during the winter of

The location was then the site of the Native
American village of Anhaica Apalache, one of
the principal villages of the Apalachee Nation.

De Soto and his army arrived here in the late
fall of 1539 after blazing a trail of death and
destruction northward up the peninsula of
Florida. In addition to battles with resisting
Native Americans, the Spanish explorers had
enslaved men and women, raided the stocks
of food the Indians needed to survive the
winter and destroyed villages and towns.

After fighting their way up the state and
across the Suwannee River, the army
entered the territory of the Apalachee. The
warriors of this nation resisted with hit and
run attacks and by burning many of their own
fields. Despite such resistance, however,
DeSoto pushed his way west to the area of
present-day Tallahassee and occupied
Anhaica Apalache.

There he established a winter camp. Many of
the soldiers occupied homes they had taken
from the Apalachee inhabitants of the town,
but the Spanish also built new structures and
fortified the village to defend themselves
against attack.

In addition to consuming the supplies of food
they found at Anhaica, the conquistadors
also raided other villages in the area, taking
food and enslaving any inhabitants they
could catch. The Apalachee responded by
ambushing small detachments and by
setting fire to the winter encampment. It was
partially destroyed, but DeSoto and his men

Horsemen left this site on a rapid return to
Tampa Bay to communicate with the ships
there and direct them north to the mouth of
the St. Marks River. There De Soto's men
made contact with them again and brought
ashore supplies. De Soto ordered the
vessels to move west along the coast of the
Gulf of Mexico. He intended to turn inland and
eventually reconnect with his ships
somewhere to the west around present-day
Pensacola or Mobile.

The Spanish spent the winter at Anhaica
Apalache and likely observed Christmas at a
special mass there. It has been claimed by
some that this was the first Christmas
observance in the continental United States -
and it may have been - but it is also possible
that earlier explorers or traders actually were
the first to observe Christmas in the country.
After spending the winter in the village, De
Soto and his army - with a long train of slaves
in chains - turned north into Georgia. They
expedition penetrated the country as far north
as North Carolina and eventually crossed the
Mississippi River.

It had long been assumed that the location of
the winter encampment was somewhere in
the vicinity of the modern city of Tallahassee,
but its exact location had proved enigmatic.

Archaeologists determined that the large
mound group at Lake Jackson had been
abandoned years before the arrival of DeSoto
and it was feared for many years that the site
had been lost beneath the pavement and
concrete of the modern city.

The late B. Calvin Jones, an archaeologist for
the state, however, located unusual artifacts
while investigating the grounds of the
Governor John Martin House. They turned out
to be relics of the DeSoto expedition.
Additional excavations at the site revealed
such unique items as coins, pieces of chain
mail armor, tips from crossbow darts and
even pig bones (swine were introduced into
the United States by Hernando de Soto).

The site is now a small, largely undeveloped,
state park. A marker and interpretive panel
tell the story of the site, but there are no other
facilities.  To visit the park, follow Apalachee
Parkway from the Capitol to Magnolia and
turn right. Then turn right on Lafayette to
DeSoto Park Drive.

The park can be visited during daylight hours.
There is no entry fee.
Marker at De Soto Site
This state marker helps
visitors understand the
significance of Tallahassee's
De Soto Site.
A Capital City
The DeSoto Encampment
Site is almost within sight of
today's Florida State Capitol.
What is now Tallahassee
was then the capital of the
Apalachee Nation.
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Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
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