National memorial or community group?

BRADENTON, Fla. — As someone who grew up in Manatee County, the only thing I knew about Hernando De Soto for sure was that we had a parade in his honor every year. Probably one of the most widely attended events of the year, the De Soto parade attracts young and old, locals and visitors, in an extravagant exhibition of businesses, charities and student organizations in the county.

Pirates, wenches, ladies and conquistadors fill the streets as De Soto’s “ship” leads the show. The float is filled with Manatee County’s “Royal Family.” The nominated ladies of the Queen’s Court attend the Queen of the De Soto Pageant who stands beside the nominated Hernando De Soto of the year, attended by his 225 Conquistadors, made up of community leaders in the area.

After the stress of the pageant, the Royal Family travels the states and Spain, promoting Manatee County and engaging in volunteer work. As someone who was nominated to be in the De Soto Pageant (but had to decline) I can tell you that it is an incredible honor that many girls in the county strive for all during high school.

Well, at this point, you may be asking yourself what this has to do with the De Soto National Memorial. When I visited the De Soto National Memorial almost my first question to the rangers was, “How much involvement do you guys have with the De Soto parade?”

I quickly learned that due to a previous court decision, the park is not allowed to sponsor the revelry on the grounds that it is celebrating a “hero” who in fact massacred thousands of Native Americans.

“We do attend the Historical Society’s meetings and supervise some events but we do not participate in any large capacity because of the court decision,” said Ranger Dan Stephens when I asked my question.

Surprised, I confessed I had always thought that the Hernando De Soto Historical Society was directly linked to the park. Ranger Stephens assured me that most people make that assumption since they had been more substantially linked to them in the past.

As someone who attends many of the Historical Society events during the year, I will now look at it in a different light. While the society draws its name from our National Memorial, it has become only a community organization and not a representation of history.

While the society will be planning the 74th annual De Soto parade this April, they have also added music festivals, food festivals, fishing tournaments, fashion shows and more all throughout the year.

Hernando De Soto came to South Florida with the intent to conquer the land and kill or use the native peoples here, but the Hernando De Soto Historical Society invokes his name to bring a community together and involve the community in volunteer work. Look how much can change in 500 years!

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