The cannon and gunfire from the small boat could be heard through the trails at the DeSoto National Memorial on Saturday as reenactors gave spectators a blast from the past.
The boat responsible for the cannon fire was the one carrying conquistador Hernando de Soto and his men, at least, reenactors portraying the group who claimed Florida for Spain more than 500 years ago. This marked the 78th year of the portrayal of the beginning of the four-year, 4,000-mile journey for the Europeans.
Daniel Stephens, Park Ranger and interpreter for the National Park Service, portrayed a priest that blessed the land de Soto claimed.
Stephens said the cannon made its return this weekend after not being used for the last couple years. De Soto and his crew would have used the cannon when they got near the shore to salute their arrival and clear the area of any potential hostilities, Stephens said.
However, the portrayal also marks the end of Living History season at the DeSoto National Memorial.
While some of the nearly 50 visitors at the 1 p.m. landing came specifically so see the reenactment, some said they stumbled upon the opportunity.
From their yacht in the Manatee River, Christine Grovenstein and her guests visiting from Michigan could see — and hear — the reenactment.
Grovenstein said they were “delighted” to get off their yacht and check out what all the commotion was about.
“I think they’re going to remember this very vividly,” Grovenstein said of her guests.
Trish McDougall and her 13-year-old daughter visiting from New Jersey made plans to see the landing reenactment. McDougall said they are self-proclaimed “national park junkies” and aim to visit every national park. Their stop Saturday at the DeSoto National Memorial was just one of many on their journey.
McDougall said they looked at area events online, found the DeSoto landing and made plans to see it in the afternoon. She thought the event was “very cool.”
The reenactment itself takes about a month to plan and no less than 15 to 20 volunteers, Stephens said. Volunteers suited up for two shows Saturday, one at 10 a.m. and another at 1 p.m. Stephens said the crowds for both landings were about the same size, around 50 to 60 people.
Several of those in the afternoon crowd stayed after the landing was over to ask questions and chat with reenactors about weapons, equipment and horses used in the time of DeSoto’s landing.
Stephens said they added the afternoon show about five years ago for those that may have missed the morning performance.