1541 Spanish Conquistador Hernando De Soto reaches the Mississippi On May 8, 1541, south of present-day Memphis, Tennessee, Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto reaches the Mississippi River, one of the first European explorers to ever do so. After building flatboats, de Soto and his 400 ragged troops crossed the great river under the cover of night, in order to avoid the armed Native Americans who patrolled the river daily in war canoes. From there the conquistadors headed into present-day Arkansas, continuing their fruitless two-year-old search for gold and silver in the American wilderness. Born in the last years of the 15th century, de Soto first came to the New World in 1514. By then, the Spanish had established bases in the Caribbean and on the coasts of the American mainland. A fine horseman and a daring adventurer, de Soto explored Central America and accumulated considerable wealth through the Indian slave trade. In 1532, he joined Francisco Pizarro in the conquest of Peru. Pizarro, de Soto, and 167 other Spaniards succeeding in conquering the Inca empire, and de Soto became a rich man. He returned to Spain in 1536 but soon grew restless and jealous of Pizarro and Hernando Cortes, whose fame as conquistadors overshadowed his own. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V responded by making de Soto governor of Cuba with a right to conquer Florida, and thus the North American mainland. In late May 1539, de Soto landed on the west coast of Florida with 600 troops, servants, and staff, 200 horses, and a pack of bloodhounds. From there, the army set about subduing the natives, seizing any valuables they stumbled upon, and preparing the region for eventual Spanish colonization. Traveling through Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, across the Appalachians, and back to Alabama, de Soto failed to find the gold and silver he desired, but he did seize a valuable collection of pearls at Cofitachequi, in present-day Georgia. Decisive conquest eluded the Spaniards, as what would become the United States lacked the large, centralized civilizations of Mexico and Peru. As was the method of Spanish conquest elsewhere in the Americas, de Soto ill-treated and enslaved the natives he encountered. For the most part, the Indian warriors they met were intimidated by the Spanish horsemen and kept their distance. In October 1540, however, the tables were turned when a confederation of Indians attacked the Spaniards at the fortified Indian town of Mabila, near present-day Mobile, Alabama. All the Indians were killed along with 20 of de Soto’s men. Several hundred Spaniards were wounded. In addition, the Indian conscripts they had come to depend on to bear their supplies fled with the baggage. De Soto could have marched south to reconvene with his ships along the Gulf Coast, but instead he ordered his expedition northwest in search of America’s elusive riches. In May 1541, the army reached and crossed the Mississippi River, probably the first Europeans ever to do so. From there, they traveled through present-day Arkansas and Louisiana, still with few material gains to show for their efforts. Turning back to the Mississippi, de Soto died of a fever on its banks on May 21, 1542. In order that Indians would not learn of his death, and thus disprove de Soto’s claims of divinity, his men buried his body in the Mississippi River. The Spaniards, now under the command of Luis de Moscoso, traveled west again, crossing into north Texas before returning to the Mississippi. With nearly half of the original expedition dead, the Spaniards built rafts and traveled down the river to the sea, and then made their way down the Texas coast to New Spain, finally reaching Veracruz, Mexico, in late 1543. 1884 Harry S. Truman is born On this day in 1884, Harry S. Truman is born in Lamar, Missouri. The son of a farmer, Truman could not afford to go to college. He joined the army at the relatively advanced age of 33 in 1916 to fight in World War I. After the war, he opened a haberdashery in Kansas City. When that business went bankrupt in 1922, he entered Missouri politics. Truman went on to serve in the U.S. Senatefrom 1934 until he was chosen as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fourth vice president in 1945; it was during his Senate terms that he developed a reputation for honesty and integrity. Upon FDR’s death on April 12, 1945, Truman became the 33rd president of the United States, assuming the role of commander in chief of a country still embroiled in World War II. With victory in Europe imminent, Truman agonized over whether or not to use the recently developed atomic bomb to force Japan to surrender. After only four months in office, Truman authorized the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945. He and his military advisors argued that using the bomb ultimately saved American and Japanese lives, since it appeared that the Japanese would fiercely resist any conventional attempt by the Allies to invade Japan and end the war. The use of the new weapon, dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August, succeeded in forcing Japan’s surrender, but also ushered in the Cold War. From that point until the late 1980s, the U.S. and Russia raced to out-spend and out-produce each other in nuclear weaponry. After the war, the long-term and deadly effects of radiation fall-out on human beings were bleakly illustrated in pictures of the Japanese who survived the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Images and information released after the war regarding illnesses and environmental devastation related to nuclear weapons shocked the world and earned Truman lasting criticism for ushering in the possibility of complete global annihilation through nuclear warfare. Although best known—and reviled by some—as the only president to choose to use nuclear weapons against innocent civilians in combat, Truman’s time in the executive branch was also notable in other areas. In 1941, Truman drove 10,000 miles across the country in his Dodge to investigate potential war profiteering in defense plants on the eve of World War II. After World War II, Truman helped push the Marshall Plan through Congress, which provided desperately needed reconstruction aid to European nations devastated by the war and on the verge of widespread famine. He also supported the establishment of a permanent Israeli state. Truman was also known for his explosive temper and fierce loyalty to his family. In December 1950, his daughter Margaret gave a singing recital that was panned the following day in the Washington Post. Truman was so furious that he wrote a letter to the editor in which he threatened to give the reviewer a black eye and a broken nose. This was just one of many events that illustrated Truman s feisty, no-nonsense style, for which he was earlier given the nickname “Give ’em hell, Harry.” Truman served as president for two terms from 1945 to 1953, when he and his wife Bess happily retired to Independence, Missouri, where he often referred to himself jokingly as “Mr. Citizen.” He died there on December 26, 1972. Incidentally, Harry Truman's middle name really was just “S.” According to the Truman Library the “S” was a compromise between the names of his grandfathers, Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young.