Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

men young." Others added that on a neighboring shore there was a river of the same magical powersa river believed by many to be the Jordan. With these visions in his mind, Ponce de Leon, sailing in command of three brigantines from Porto Rico, where he had been Governor, touched the main-land, in the year 1512, without knowing that he had arrived at it. First seeing it on Easter Sunday-a day which the Spaniards called Pascua Florida, or“ Flowery Easter” - he gave this name to the newly discovered shore. He fancied it to be an island whose luxuriant beauty seemed to merit this glowing name—the Indian name having been Cantio. He explored its coast, landed near what is now St. Augustine, then returned home, and on the way delegated one of his captains, Juan Perez, to seek the island of Bimini and to search for the Fountain of Youth upon it. Perez reached the island, but achieved nothing more.

Long after these days, Herrera tells us, both Indians and Spaniards used to bathe themselves in the rivers and lakes of all that region, hoping to find the enchanted waters. Ponce de Leon once agaiñ visited his supposed island, and was mortally wounded by Indians on its shores. He never found the Fountain of Youth, but he found Florida; and for the multitudes who now retreat from the northern winter to that blossoming region, it may seem that his early dreams were not so unfounded after all.

The conquest of Mexico by Cortez revived anew the zeal of Spanish adventure, and a new expedition to Florida was organized which led ultimately to a new discovery—that of the first land route across the width, though not across the largest width, of North America. Alvar Nuñez, commonly called Cabeça de Vaca, sailed from Spain to Florida, in 1527, as treasurer of an armada, or armed fleet. They probably landed at what is now called Charlotte Harbor, in Florida, where Cabeça de Vaca and others left their ships and went into the interior as far as what is now Alabama. Then they were driven back in confusion, and reached the sea in utter destitution and helplessness. They wished to build ships and to get away; but they had neither knowledge nor tools nor iron nor forge nor tow nor resin nor rigging. Yet they made a bellows out of deer-skins, and saws out of stirrups, resin from pine-trees, sails from their shirts, and ropes from palmetto leaves and from the hair of their horses' tails. Out of the skins of the legs of horses, taken off whole and tanned, they made bottles to carry water. At last they made three boats, living on horse-meat until these were ready. Then they set sail, were shipwrecked again and again, went through all sorts of sorrows, lived on half a handful of raw maize a day for each person, and were so exhausted that at one time all but Cabeça de Vaca became unconscious, and were restored to life by being thrown into the water on the capsizing of the boat-a tale which, it is thought, may have suggested to Coleridge his picture of the dead sailors coming to life in the “Ancient Mariner."

During this voyage of thirty days along the coast they passed a place where a great fresh-water river ran into the sea, and they dipped up fresh water to drink; this has been supposed to be the Mississippi, and this to have been its first discovery by white men. Cabeça de Vaca must at any rate have reached the Lower Mississippi before De Soto, and have penetrated the northern part of Mexico before Cortez, for he traversed the continent; and after eight years of wandering, during which he saw many novel wonders, including the buffalo, he found himself with three surviving companions at the Spanish settlements on the Gulf of California, near the river Culiacan. The narrative of Cabeça de Vaca has been translated in full by Buckingham Smith, and no single account of Spanish adventure combines so many amazing incidents. His pictures of the country traversed are generally accurate and complete, and he had almost every conceivable experience with the Indians. He was a slave to tribes which kept white captives in the most abject bondage, and every day put arrows to their breasts by way of threat for the morrow. And he encountered other tribes which brought all their food to the white men to be breathed upon before they ate it; tribes which accompanied their visitors by thousands as a guard of honor in their march through the country; and tribes where the people fetched all the goods from their houses, and laid them before the strangers passing by, praying them, as visitors from heaven, to accept their choicest possessions. Yet all these tales are combined with descriptions so minute and occurrences so probable that the main narrative must be accepted for truth, though it is impossible to tell precisely where belief should begin or end.

Such were some of the early Spanish discoveries. I pass by the romantic adventures of Cortez and Pizarro; they were not discoveries, but rather conquests, and their conquests lay almost wholly beyond the borders of the region now known as the United States of America. There is nothing more picturesque in the early history of any country than the period of Spanish adventure; nor is there anything sadder than the reverse of the picture, when we consider the wrongs endured by the native population. Those gentle races whom Columbus found so hospitable and so harmless were soon crushed by the invaders, and the more powerful tribes of the main-land fared no better. Weapons, tortures, fire, and even blood-hounds fiercer than wild beasts were used against them. Spanish writers delight to describe the scars and wounds of these powerful animals, some of which were so highly esteemed as to be rated as soldiers under their own names, receiving their full allowance of food as such, the brute being almost as cruel and formidable as a man. For the credit of civilization and Christianity it is to be remembered that the same nation and faith which furnished the persecutors supplied also the defenders and the narrators; and most of what we know of the wrongs of the natives comes through the protests, not always unavailing, of the noble Las Casas. This good bishop unceasingly urged upon the Spanish rulers a policy of mercy. He secured milder laws, and, as bishop, even refused the sacraments at one time to those who reduced the Indians to slavery. But it was soon plain that to carry out this policy would be practically to abolish the sacraments, and so neither Church nor State sustained him. He has left us the imperishable record of the atrocities he could not repress. “With mine own eyes," he says, “I saw kingdoms as full of people as hives are of bees, and now where are they? ... Almost all have perished. The innocent blood which they had shed cried out for vengeance; the sighs, the tears, of so many victims went up to God."

IV

THE OLD ENGLISH SEAMEN

PROBABLY

ROBABLY no single class of men ever made a

greater change in the fortunes of mankind than was brought about by the great English seamen of the sixteenth century. Some of them were slavetraders, others were smugglers, almost all were lawless men in a lawless age; but the result of their daring expeditions was to alter the destiny of the American continent, and therefore the career of the human race.

In the year 1500 Spain, with Portugal, was the undisputed master of the New World. At the present time neither Spain nor Portugal owns a foot of land in either North or South America. The destiny of the whole western world has been changed; and throughout almost all the northern half of it the language, the institutions, the habits have been utterly transformed. At the time when Europe was first stirred by the gold and the glory brought from the newly discovered America, it was only Spain, and in a small degree Portugal, that reaped the harvest. These were then the two great maritime and colonizing powers of Europe; and two bulls from Pope Alexander VI., in 1493, had permitted them to divide between them any newly discovered portions of the globe. Under this authority Portugal was finally permitted to keep Brazil—which had been first col

« AnteriorContinuar »