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©John R. Turner

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The DeSoto Trail
The Manatee River runs into Tampa Bay just west of Bradenton. Right where it flows out into the breadth of the bay a small peninsula juts about a third of the way across the channel to the northeast. It was from this spot in the summer of 1539, that Hernando DeSoto launched his attempt to find the supposed cities of gold in what is now the southeastern United States. After wandering for four thousand miles, killing thousands of natives, and suffering terrible hardships themselves the much-reduced expedition made it to the northernmost Spanish settlement on the coast of Mexico. But DeSoto  wasn't with them. He died on the banks of the Mississippi in 1542, and his body was committed to the Father of Waters. Nobody found any gold. Now the place where the search began is commemorated by a national memorial, with a visitors' center, trails winding through the mangrove swamps, and a magnificent grove of gumbo limbo trees.
It's a quiet spot, with no sensational features. Yet you could scarcely find a more enjoyable place for an afternoon outing and a picnic lunch. I like to see federal dollars used for purposes like the DeSoto Memorial. They teach the people something of our history. They offer opportunities for families to establish pleasant memories. And, perhaps, best of all, they proclaim that we are, at least in some respects, a civilized culture.