It happened today - April 2, 2016
Juan Ponce de Leon had quite an interesting life as a Spanish colonial administrator. Not necessarily an admirable one, being rewarded for ruthlessness against the aboriginal inhabitants of Hispaniola with land and slaves. He became governor of San Juan Bautista, later Puerto Rico, then lost a power struggle with Christopher Columbus’ son Diego in partial compensation for which he was given the right to go and take over whatever he could find north of existing Spanish possessions provided he paid for it himself. One of these was Florida.
The ups and downs of Spanish colonial policy saw him return to Spain to “report” and win friends, a trip that saw him knighted and become the first conquistador to be given a personal coat of arms, and sent back to assert control over Florida and whomp on the Carib Indians inexplicably resisting Spanish expansion on various Caribbean Islands. Unfortunately, six years after setting sail from Spain back to the New World with this renewed mandate, he achieved not immortality but its exact opposite when shot by a Calusa warrior in Florida using a poisoned arrow.
Somehow an account written 14 years after his death tagged him with seeking waters that would cure his aging, supposedly located on an island in the Bahamas due east of Miami. The story was repeated 16 years later and, 24 years after that, the search got transferred to Florida.
In fact he wasn’t even 50 when he died so he wasn’t really a candidate to go hobbling off in quest of such a fable if it was even being told. And I don’t know if he was a sufficiently superstitious sucker to fall for such a tale if it was. Mind you, colonial ventures were often so ill-planned, aiming at fabulous treasures not to be found like the fabled gold the English sought in Virginia, that it wouldn’t be that surprising.
Another explanation is that he was looking for a local aphrodisiac, which won’t make you younger but might temporarily restore certain youthful qualities including acting stupidly in quest of physical pleasure. Plenty of middle-aged would-be adventurers today are susceptible to similar blandishments from pharmaceutical firms about recovering their lost youth through Viagra or hair tonics, arguably proving that we don’t shed our youthful follies when we shed our youth.
On the other hand, it may all have just been made up, and somehow stuck to him forever in folklore. Given his actual life, maybe he’s better off just being remembered as a bold quixotic chump.