Coming to America: A Romo Family in 1539
Latinos have been in America longer than any other ethnic or racial immigrant group. This is an account of how a Romo family came to America.
In 1539 Maria Romo bid farewell to her three sons, Alonso, Diego, and Arias as they joined an adventurous group to help their kinsman, Hernando de Soto, recruit men willing to sail to the New World in search of wealth and exploration.
The three brothers, Arias Tinoco, Alonso Romo, and Diego Tinoco, were the sons of Gutierre Garcia Calderon and Maria Romo. It is likely that they had different fathers. Diego is often listed as Diego Arias Tinoco, while Alonso is also listed as Alonso Romo de Cardenosa.
The three Romos were related by blood to De Soto, according to the accounts of that era, and hailed from the same village in the Province of Badajoz. They were joined by Pedro Calderon, age 51, likely a brother to their father also from Badajoz.
In the 1500s when these three brothers were born, their province offered little livelihood other than farming
for uneducated youth. De Soto had gone to the New World in 1510 as a 14-year- old soldier and had participated in the conquest of Nicaragua. But it was his military service with Francisco Pizarro in the Conquest of Peru that made him a wealthy man.
De Soto returned to Spain in 1536, wealthy from the plunder of the Inca Empire. Upon his return, De Soto
became familiar with the stories of Cabeza de Vaca who had shipwrecked in 1528 in Matagorda Bay near present day Galveston, Texas. De Vaca’s accounts were published in Spain, and talk of finding another Inca empire that would yield gold riches became popular.
When De Soto was “granted the right to conquer Florida” by the King of Spain in 1536, he instantly began the recruitment of 600 men to sail with him to the New World. Numerous recruits came from Elvas, Portugal, a few miles west of the Spanish border and the town of Badajoz. Alonso Romo, whom De Soto appointed as one of his cavalry captains, likely assisted his primo De Soto in selecting good men for the adventure.
In June 1538, De Soto arrived in Santiago de Cuba aboard the San Cristobal. He was accompanied by a 950-man expedition. His kinsman, Alonso Romo, was placed as commander of a large ship De Soto named “San Anton.” Arias Tinoco was given charge of the large ship Santa Barbara.
There were a total of seven ships and two smaller ships referred to as brigantines. Pedro Calderon, a kinsman to the Romos, was placed in charge of one of the brigantines. Because of their command of three ships and
military rank, their participation is well documented. Thus, we are able to follow the Romos and their kinsman Pedro Caldernon from the beginning of the expedition to the end of their adventures.
Upon landing in Florida, near present-day Tampa Bay, De Soto and his men had their first bit of good luck.
Juan Ortiz, a survivor of the ill fated Panfilo Narvaez expedition of Florida in 1528, had been living among the
Indians and joined with De Soto as a translator. Over De Soto’s four thousand mile sojourn, the explorers
encountered many tribes and often struggled with communications given the hundreds of dialects used in
the vast region between Florida and Texas.
The expedition did not go well. As historian David Weber wrote: “Journeying wherever rumors of gold took
them, De Soto and his men left a trail of shattered lives, broken bodies, ravaged fields, empty storehouses, and
Upon reaching the great Mississippi River, De Soto fell ill and died in a short time. The loyal brothers, Alonso, Arias, and Diego, were chosen to bury him at night in the river in a bag loaded with sand to keep their Indian enemies from learning of the Spanish leader’s death.
The expedition continued for several more months traveling as far west as the Colorado River near present day Austin, Texas. There, the weary explorers decided it would be easier to travel along the Gulf coast by boat. They turned back and marched toward the Mississippi River where they constructed seven sturdy boats to take them to the Gulf of Mexico.
From the Gulf of Mexico they sailed south along the coast until they reached the mouth of the Panuco River, a
river which connected them with Mexico City. The Romo brothers and their cousin Pedro Calderon survived, and the majority of the 300 survivors remained in the Americas.
The mystery of where the Romo brothers lived out their lives is buried perhaps in some obscure documents
in Spain. I have some leads, but I am not expecting to solve this question anytime soon. The topic of Latino
immigration is of great interest to me. I am also convinced that we know too little of the narratives of Latino families and their experiences in coming to America. There remains much to learn and I will continue to explore more of my family history. I also encourage you to do the same.
Copyright 2020 by By Dr. Ricardo Romo. All images used in this blog in the public domain.