Hernando De Soto, Spanish soldier and explorer, acquired a fortune as the Second-in Command in Pizzaro's conquest of the Incas in Peru. He used his wealth to outfit an expedition to the Florida region in hopes of discovering new riches. After being appointed governor of Cuba and "The Lands of Florida" by the Emperor Charles V, he gathered a force of 600 men and sailed from Havana in 1539, landing in the vicinity of Tampa Bay on the Florida Gulf Coast.

From there he led his men through what is now Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. The expedition reached The Mississippi River in May, 1541, and went on to Arkansas and Louisiana, where De Soto died. The success of his journey was insured and assured at the beginning... right there in Tampa Bay.

The exploring force left the big ship and in long boats landed with great aplomb and exhilaration on the Florida coast. Five trusted crewmen were sent back to the mother ship with secret orders: "Burn the boat out of the water." The trailblazers on shore watched in horror as their only way of return to past life and security was a blazing beacon against the late afternoon sky.

As the last mast sank into the ashen waves and calm settled over the bay, De Soto exclaimed, "The boat is forever gone. Welcome home!"