My explorer is Hernando de Soto. The life of Hernando de Soto is an inspiration to us all. He is my role model, along with Tom of Blink 182. When I grow up I want to be just like Hernando de Soto.
One thing we learned this semester in World History class is that our diverse and wondrous world has always been dominated by thieving, treacherous, vicious, pestilential, murderous bastards. But of all of history's great thieving, treacherous, vicious, pestilential, murderous bastards, there have been few bastards as thieving, treacherous, vicious, pestilential, or murderous as Hernando de Soto. Hernando de Soto makes today's crack dealers, school shooters, and gangster rappers look positively genial.
Hernando de Soto had many good qualities. In Spain, he was known for his elegant if foppish and absurdly expensive taste in clothes. Received as a hero by the Spanish court between his spasms of genocide, he cut a dashing figure indeed, charming the ladies with his exquisite affectations and "witticisms."
Such a lifestyle, however, is expensive, and De Soto soon heard rumors of cities of gold in the New World, guarded only by primitively-armed savages with little resistance to disease. The rest, as our textbook points out in its very title, is history.
De Soto joined Pizarro's heroic expedition to annihilate Inca civilization and its practitioners and take all their stuff. Renowned for his gratuitous cruelty toward the natives, de Soto was known to decapitate a heathen merely to test the sharpness of his sword.
With his stolen wealth, he set up shop in Central America as a slave trader: at that time an innovative and progressive idea to uplift the New World into civilization. Here he perfected the manacles and instruments of torture that were to help make his name immortal. And yet, Hernando de Soto still had dreams, just like we do today. He wanted not only to be wealthy and cruel, but extremely wealthy and extremely cruel. Thus he had the Spanish crown appoint him governor of Cuba, so that he could strip the island to finance expeditions into the North American mainland.
De Soto invaded Florida in 1539, landing near Tampa Bay with a small army that carried state-of-the-art restraints, pikes, crossbows, and perhaps the odd pair of thumb-screws, along with relics of Christ. At every turn in his years-long expedition, he was welcomed with elaborate ceremonial greetings and rich gifts. And yet when he asked after the city of gold, the natives simply looked bewildered. And so he developed the habit, when greeted courteously by a chief, of taking that chief hostage. Then he would loose his "wardogs" - canines bred to kill - and some few savages would be ripped open, disemboweled, and devoured. If a remaining tribesman showed signs of irritation with this procedure, he could expect to be summarily executed, along with his wife and children..
Hernando de Soto eventually became the first Christian to see the Mississippi River. We will never have a clear idea of how densely populated North America was before de Soto arrived: the venereal diseases spread by his rapine and the plagues spread by his hygiene proved fatal essentially to an entire continent. Sadly, de Soto himself died of disease, somewhere in the malarial swamps of what became the southern United States.
But though de Soto failed to find his city of gold, he tried his very best, and no amount of revisionist or politically correct history can take that away from him. Hernando de Soto dreamed big, and wouldn't let anything - especially human lives - get in his way. Maybe when I grow up I won't adventure into new continents, but rather into the infinities of space itself. Or maybe I'll just thoroughly explore my office cubicle. Either way, I will keep looking for my city of gold. I want to be an explorer just like Hernando de Soto, for though we may thank whatever God we worship that Hernando de Soto is dead, the spirit of exploration lives on in each of us.