Okay, everybody knows he wasted a lot of time wandering around Florida
looking for the Fountain of Youth
but theres so much more to the story, so, here goes.
Ponce, The Early Years
Ponce de Leon was born in Spain near the town of what is today Palencia. He was born into a noble family and served some time as a page in the court of King Ferdinand V and Queen Isabella I. In 1492, he fought with the Spanish troops that eventually drove the Moors out of Granada, which at the time, was the last Muslim stronghold in Spain.
In 1493, the Ponce (as he would be called today), sailed on Christopher Columbus's second voyage to America. He became a soldier in the Spanish settlement of Hispaniola, in the West Indies. In the ensuing years, 1502 - 1504, the Ponce led the Spanish forces against the Indians that inhabited eastern Hispaniola. After he and his Spanish cronies defeated the Indians, he was appointed governor as a reward.
The Ponce, however, grew bored with his duties as governor and left Hispaniola in 1508 to explore what later became Puerto Rico. Lo and behold, this proved fruitful because he discovered gold on the island and managed to conquer it within a year. As fate would have it, the Ponce became governor of Puerto Rico and rose up to be one of the wealthiest and powerful Spaniards in what was then known as the New World.
Ah, but all good things must come to an end. The Ponce had some political rivals that managed to remove him from office in 1512. Never one to rest on his laurels, the Ponce sent out on a new adventure with the intent of increasing his wealth. With the blessing of King Ferdinand, the Ponce set out to find and colonize the island called Bimini. At the time, this imaginary island was said to be the home of the aforementioned Fountain of Youth. The Ponce had heard descriptions of the fountain from the local Indians.
Ponce, the Later Years
In 1513, with King Ferdinand's blessing, the Ponce led an expedition to find Bimini. He wound up exploring the area of the Bahamas and managed to visit a bunch of islands that had been unknown to the Europeans at the time. In April of 1513, he landed in Florida, which he thought was another island. With much fanfare, he claimed it for Spain. According to a couple of legends, Ponce named the land "Florida" for the many flowers he found growing there, ironically, the Spanish word for flowery is....Florida. Another tale has it that he named it after after a period in the Easter season which the Spanish call Pascua florida.....Not very original if you ask me...
The part of Florida that the Ponce landed in is what is today St. Augustine. He wound up sailing down the coast and explored almost the entire eastern shoreline and southern tip of Florida. Still, he kept looking for the Fountain of Youth. His quest led him up the western coast of Florida. Still, no fountain.... In June of 1513, the Ponce then decided to return to Puerto Rico but wound up in what is now the Yucatan, which he thought was Bimini.
In 1514, the Ponce had had enough and decided to return to Spain with the news of his findings. The good King Ferdinand took stock of the news and ordered the Ponce back to the New World with goal of colonizing both Bimini and Florida. While he was at it, the king ordered Ponce to get rid of the Carib Indians in the West Indies. This was no laughing matter, the Carib Indians were known as fierce warriors who's idea of fun was to cannabalize their enemies. The Ponce gave it his best shot until about 1521.
In February of 1521, the Ponce sailed from Puerto Rico with two ships that had about 200 men and enough supplies to establish a colony. Alas, poor Ponce, as he landed in Florida, Indians attacked and our hero was wounded. He and a few other survivors of the attack managed to escape to Cuba, where he died....