Hernando de Soto (1496/98 - May 21, 1542) was a Spanish explorer and conquistador. He explored and colonized Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras and Peru, where the expedition, led by Francisco Pizarro, conquered the Incan Empire. In 1536 de Soto returned to Spain a rich man due to the gold stolen from the Incas. In 1537 the King of Spain granted him the rights the conquer Florida. He led the first European expedition deep into the territory of the modern-day United States, thus becoming the first European documented to have crossed the Mississippi River. A vast undertaking, de Soto's North American expedition ranged throughout the southeastern United States searching for gold and a passage to China. De Soto died in 1542 on the banks of the Mississippi River in Arkansas or Louisiana. Engraving taken from page 10 of "The Life, Travels and Adventures of Hernando de Soto, discoverer of the Mississippi" by Lambert A. Wilmer. Steel engravings by J. & S. Sartain, 1859.