The 16th-century Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernando de Soto (c. 1496-1542) arrived in the West Indies as a young man and went on to make a fortune in the Central American slave trade. He supplied ships for Francisco Pizarro’s southward expedition and ended up accompanying Pizarro in his conquest of Peru in 1532. Seeking greater glory and riches, de Soto embarked on a major expedition in 1538 to conquer Florida for the Spanish crown. He and his men traveled nearly 4,000 miles throughout the region that would become the southeastern United States in search of riches, fighting off Native American attacks along the way. In 1541, de Soto and his men became the first Europeans to encounter the great Mississippi River and cross it; de Soto died early the next year.