MANATEE -- As a crew rowed a 25-foot hand-crafted boat toward shore, two horsemen dresses in full conquistador regalia trotted down the beach.
The occupants of the boat disembarked and a priest gave a blessing in Spanish before the a man in chain-mail armor claimed La Florida for the King of Spain.
About 100 onlookers got a sense of what it was like on May 30, 1539, when Hernando de Soto landed on the west coast of Florida near the DeSoto National Memorial where the historical re-enactment took place Saturday.
Staff and volunteers have performed this re-enactment for the last 17 years. Before that, it was part of the DeSoto Historical Society's Heritage Festival events dating back to 1941, according to Jorge Acevedo, acting superintendent of the DeSoto National Memorial.
This year's spectators also learned about life and culture of the native people and the explorers at booths set up on the beach.
Kea Kamiya, 10, was learning about DeSoto in her fifth-grade history class at Kinnan
"Here you can actually see what happened and feel what it was like," Kea said, who was at the event with her mother and father, Sunda and Sage Kamiya, and sisters, Kali, 8 and Kiri, 3.
Joy and Don Hemstreet were visiting from Morganton, N.C., and were interested in seeing the re-enactment because of the connection of DeSoto to North Carolina.
"We were curious about DeSoto," said Joy Hemstreet. "His expedition went through North Carolina and near Morganton is where Juan Pardo established a settlement."
Pardo was a Spanish explorer who followed DeSoto in 1566-67 and built a fort near the Indian town of Jaora.
"They think this was the first settlement in the United States," Joy Hemstreet said.
"It was before Jamestown."
It is the history that drew Lucie Riddell, 14, who was visiting Bradenton with her mother and father, Tracey and Jim Riddell, and sister, Sylvia, 11.
"I read about DeSoto before coming," said Lucie, "Everyone (the re-enactors) seemed to know the meaning of why (DeSoto came)."
The Riddells have been traveling in a recreational vehicle through the United States for the past five months and do not know when they will settle down in one place again.
With both girls being home schooled, Tracey Riddell said these kinds of events were good for teaching experiences.
"We delayed our leaving Bradenton for two days for this event," said Jim Riddell.
Acevedo said one of the missions of the National Park Service was to provide opportunities for the public to learn history.
It was important to present the history accurately, he said.
Prior to the park service taking over the re-enactment, the event included scenes of conquistadores slaughtering actors dress as Native Americans.
In September 1993, the Historical Society stopped the landing re-enactment after American Indian groups protested.
Acevedo made a point to mention during the landing, Indians would have left the area long before DeSoto landed, and if any did stay they would have been hiding in the wooded areas beyond the beach.
"We have to learn from history," he said, "so we don't repeat it again."