Most readers figured out that To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis has layers. The ancillary characters all reference the history of the Natchez Trace.

And Hernando de Soto was one of those historical figures.

The Spanish conquistador explored Southeastern North America in the 1500’s. He wandered up from Spanish Florida with his rag-tag band, through the modern states of Georgia, South and North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and possibly Louisiana. His Spanish horses thundered through Native American settlements, exposing the natives to diseases. And alcohol. Both scourges that started their decline.

If you ever spot a wild boar, you can blame Hernando de Soto. He brought a few big pigs with him from Spain. For food. The clever ones escaped the knife and were fruitful. In a few centuries, they spread over more than half a continent. Outsiders. Just like the treasure-seekers who introduced them.

In the winter of 1540-1541, De Soto and his men camped along the Natchez Trace, a few miles south of present-day Tupelo, Mississippi. They traded with the mound builders. Maybe they heard about the wide river to the west. Smallpox settled in when they moved on, decimating the Mississippian peoples who guarded the Trace for almost a millennia.

A year later, De Soto followed them. Legend has it that he’s buried on the western bank of the Mississippi River, somewhere in Arkansas or Louisiana.

Maybe Hector de Silva redeems the old conquistador.

Or maybe not.

Click here to see the best photos from Day 19 of my Natchez Trace 444-mile walk: Andra Watkins Tumblr

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Keep those Reader Questions coming.

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