Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Secondary Scholarship | 2001, 2002
Transcription in the expedition, and the other one based on the stories told by the soldiers who
returned from the expedition. When Simms wrote Vasconselos the only English
versions which had been published were the books written by the Elvas gentleman.
(Portuguese) and by Luys Hernandez de Biedma. The latter is the shortest of the
four sources and proves the validity of the record by the Elvas gentleman. Theodore
Irving's Conquest of Florida, which Simms recommends in his letter to Picket
reproduces the content of Garcilaso de la Vega's La Florida, whose English
translation had not,yet been published. Furthermore, Rodrigo Rangel's record gives
the accurate location and route of De Soto's armies; but the Spanish report was
published in 1851 and drew little attention even after its publication. Taking all
these into consideration, we can safely conclude that Simms ranks second to none in
his knowledge of De Soto's expedition.'
However, these materials contained too many mysterious descriptions for
nineteenth-and-twentieth-century historians to trace the route of the expedition,
because of the peculiarity of the Spanish measurements and the movement of the
Native Americans caused by the diseases introduced by the Spaniards. The
expedition of De Soto has thus been shut in the dark though many outlines were
written about it. Today many researchers consider it a controversy about the
accurate route which De Soto took, even more than half a century after John R.
Swanton provided a Congress report on the expedition in 1939. According to the
latest research, the point where De Soto landed has been changed to Cape Coral
south of Tampa Bay, and the point where De Soto encounters Cofachiqui's village
(there are various spellings; it is spelt as "Cofachiqui" in Vasconselos) from the
Silver Bluff to Columbia, capital of South Carolina. In addition, the Great River
which became the maximum barrier in De Soto's expedition has thus far been
identified as the Mississippi, but some assert that it is in fact the Ohio and that it is
different from the river which De Soto's army encountered in their last stages of
expedition.
Simms's imagination greatly transforms De Soto's expedition into an
original fiction. The most notable creation is the hero Philip de Vasconselos, a
Portuguese isolated in the De Soto army consisting mainly of the Spanish. Putting
this protagonist who does not have his men in contrast with De Soto and getting him
married to the Native American Princess Cocalla offer examples of Simms's use of
the fictitious in the description of fact and background.
More important changes can be cited to demonstrate his creativity. The
deathbed scene of De Soto where the chief whom he called in to his lodgings

4 For the three narratives of De Soto's expedition, see John R. Swanton, Final Report of the United States De Soto Expedition Commission (Washington, DC: Smithonian Institution Press, 1985), 4-11. For different new views of the De Soto route, see Lawrence A. Clayton, Vernon James Knight, Jr., Edward C. Moore, eds., The De Soto Chronicles: The Expedition of Hernando de Soto to North America in 1539-1543 (Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1993), vol. I, 195, and Donald E. Sheppard, "De Soto's Trail to Appalachee" (The Florida Anthropologist, 1995). For a provocative full analysis of Vasconselos and De Soto's expedition,see Charles S. Watson, "De Soto's Expedition: Contrasting Treatments in Pickett's History of Alabama and Simms's Vasconselos," The Alabama Review, vol. 31, no. 3 (July, 1978), 199-208.


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