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Andrew Lytle: At the Moon’s Inn

This novel is a fictional account of the de Soto expedition to Florida between 1539 and 1543. There are four sources for the expedition – three by participants and one consisting of interviews with participants forty years after the events. All give a differing account of what happened and are often far from complete. The last of the chronicles, by Garcilaso de Vega, based on interviews forty years after the events, is often deemed to be the least reliable but is the one that led to the legend of de Soto as a romantic hero and is the one that Lytle seems to use.

The books starts with an account of early expeditions to the New World, including that of Pizarro, in which de Soto participated. One of the four survivors of the Narvaéz expedition warns him against going to Florida. Once the expedition is under way, they face considerable hardship. De Soto ensures the cooperation of the Native Americans by holding a chief hostage, till food and other services had been made available. He also becomes more ruthless. Finding pearls in one town, he befriends the female chief, till his army has recovered, and then attacks the town. There is one chapter on the famous battle with Chief Tuskaloosa, which the Spaniards won, but at great cost. Despite his men’s pleas, de Soto carries on, still looking for gold. They became the first Europeans to see the Mississippi but it is here that de Soto died. Under Luis de Moscoso, the survivors managed to get away and return to Spain. They found no gold, built no settlements and left only devastating Western diseases.

Much of the story is seen through the eyes of Tovar who is loyal to de Soto, but eager to enjoy what they found, not because of possible riches but because of the women, one of whom he marries. The expedition is a failure but Lytle clearly has some admiration for de Soto, despite his greed and treachery. He tells, as always, a good story about a key event in the history of America.

Publishing history

First published 1941 by Bobbs-Merrill