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An excellent horseman, de Soto was appointed captain of a cavalry exploration troop.
Setting out from Panama to Nicaragua and later Honduras, de Soto quickly proved his worth as an explorer and trader, reaping large profits through his bold and commanding exchanges with the natives.
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Despite having a new wife and home in Spain, de Soto grew restless when he heard stories about Cabeza de Vaca's exploration of Florida and the other Gulf Coast states.
Enticed by the riches and fertile land de Vaca had allegedly encountered there, de Soto sold all his belongings and used the money to prepare for an expedition to North America.
By May 18, 1539, de Soto and his fleet at last set out for Florida. For the next three years de Soto and his men explored the southeastern United States, facing ambushes and enslaving natives along the way. In Alabama, de Soto encountered his worst battle yet, against Indians in Tuscaloosa.
Victorious, de Soto and his men next headed westward, serendipitously discovering the mouth of the Mississippi River in the process.
De Soto's voyage would, in fact, mark the first time that a European team of explorers had traveled via the Mississippi River.