Hernando de Soto was a Spanish conquistador known for leading the first European exploration of the Americas that discovered the Mississippi River. In 1541, de Soto and his party crossed the Mississippi in search of treasure. However, he died shortly thereafter from a fever.
Prior to his explorations of North America, de Soto became wealthy during conquests of the Central American nations of Panama and Nicaragua. By 1530, de Soto was the most prominent slave trader in all of Nicaragua. De Soto leveraged his wealth and prominence in the region to join Francisco Pizarro on his pursuit for gold and exploration of the northern coast of South America.
In his capacity as Pizarro’s chief lieutenant, de Soto became the first European to meet with the Inca emperor Atahualpa. After Atahualpa's execution in 1533, de Soto and the rest of Pizarro's men became rich as they divided among themselves all of the Inca Empire's gold amassed in an attempt to secure Atahualpa's release. De Soto served as the lieutenant governor of the city of Cuzco and helped found the city of Lima with Pizarro in 1535. Pizarro, de Soto and the rest of the men assisted in the downfall of the Inca Empire, as they killed large numbers of the Incas and exposed the rest to European diseases that killed many of the people remaining.