Ferdinand De Soto, The Discoverer of the Mississippi American Pioneers and Patriots

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The Crown could not go wrong. If de Soto was successful, the King would gain a new colony, new subjects, and a fresh supply of bullion for the royal coffers. If de Soto failed, the court would merely sympathize with his widow, comment on the sad loss of so brave and loyal a subject, and promptly issue the Florida license to somebody else.

De Soto, in fact, was not the first to hold it. But this did not stop the ambitious de Soto. First there had been great riches discovered in Mexico, then in Peru to the south; now surely, somewhere in the heart of the unknown North America a bold conquistador would find immense wealth. It was reported that but for a squabble over his contract, Cabeza de Vaca would have joined up with de Soto; as it was, he advised several of his cousins to go along on the new venture.

This combination of rumor, experience, optimism, and the spirit of adventure conjured up a giant mirage of certain success.

Eventually volunteers joined him. In seven vessels they put to sea on Sunday morning, April 7, , joining a fleet of twenty sail bound tor Mexico. The transatlantic voyage was a gay holiday. The weather held clear and the fleet stayed close together; captains and hidalgos were able to pay courtesy calls from one vessel to another and give graceful luncheons and dinners. They reached Cuba by early June, and de Soto spent a year there, establishing his governorship and planning the expedition.

He had scoured Spain for supplies, sparing no expense, and now he scoured Cuba in the same manner. He even took aboard a herd of swine, a stroke of genius that gave the army a mobile larder all the way to the Mississippi and beyond. Finally he said good-bye to his wife. She did not see her husband again. On May 30, , the army began going ashore at Tampa Bay on the Florida coast. There was no sign of Indians, and the venture still had the air of a holiday. The young cavaliers were enchanted by the beauty of the scene—the dazzling blue of sea and sky, the white curve of the sand leading up to the woods of cypress, live oak, and ash.

Tents and pennons rippled in the breeze, horses were exercised on the beach to shake off the effects of the voyage. The first patrols, probing inland, also succumbed to the festive mood. Small groups of lancers rode off, the sand spurting beneath the hoofs of the chargers, to hunt in the woods for Indians or deer; it did not matter which.

Soon columns of smoke rising up over the dense green of the forest showed that contact had been made with the Indians and that the natives were passing the alert from village to village. Then a patrol returned to report that the beautiful woodland was in fact hopeless country for cavalry maneuvers. The forest was a maze of ponds and marshes, separated by impassable undergrowth.

The horses became entangled in thickets, or sank up to their haunches in quagmires, cutting their legs on hidden snags. Luckily, there were occasional Indian trails which followed dry ground, and on these footpaths the cavalry could improve its pace. But the trails were too narrow for more than two lancers to ride abreast, and this crippled their effectiveness; the massed charge, the favorite conquistador attack, would be out of the question in Florida.

And that was not all. The patrol had surprised a small party of natives. Two of the Indians had been spitted on lances, but the others had fled into the woods, whence they began shooting arrows at their attackers from the shelter of the trees. By the time the patrol regained the safety of the open beach, two horses had been killed and several wounded. This was serious, for horses were irreplaceable and the Spanish depended on their cavalry to outmaneuver and frighten the natives. The optimistic conquistadors did not know it then, but the next four years would provide an almost daily repetition of this rough punishment, as ambush followed ambush and the invading army was raked from end to end by the stinging hit-and-run attacks of the Indians.

Not long after the landing, de Soto had a tremendous stroke of luck, possibly the only one of the whole Florida expedition. An advance patrol of cavalry came across a band of Indians in a clearing. Without pausing to consider why the Indians were exposing themselves in the open, the horsemen levelled their lances and charged. The Indians fled into the trees, leaving one man wounded on the ground and another standing there apparently in a state of shock. He had been on his way to the Spanish camp with a party of friendly Indians when the lancers had attacked them.

American Pioneers and Patriots (Makers of American History in Twelve Volumes)

Juan Ortiz was a godsend for de Soto—a reliable, intelligent guide who spoke the local dialect fluently, knew the Indian customs, and could provide information on the politics and geography of the land. Uncomfortable in the closefitting Spanish clothes after eleven years of nakedness, he went around camp dressed in a long, loose linen wrap. The army now marched forward with more confidence. Through Ortiz, de Soto managed to establish contact with Mucozo, the friendly Indian chief who had looked after the marooned Spaniard.

A peace treaty was arranged, and the Indians agreed to supply the invaders with maize and guides. But Mucozo did not possess any gold, and before long the Spaniards wore his hospitality thin. He realized that the sooner the Spanish army left, the better it would be for him and his tribe. He therefore employed a simple ruse which de Soto was to encounter again and again: he informed the Spanish general that although he himself did not have any gold, another tribe some distance away possessed legendary stores of bullion and gems. These guides could lead de Soto to the limits of their tribal territory and then hand him on to Indians of the neighboring tribe.

One chief after another used the same trick to rid himself of the Spanish army, preferably diverting the unwelcome invaders into the lands of a tribal enemy. Of course, de Soto knew exactly what the Indian chiefs were plotting. Yet he had no choice but to move on. He could not afford to exhaust his men in fruitless holding operations, and he was equally worried by shortages of food. Any tribal economy could support his invading army for a limited time only. As soon as the local stocks of maize were eaten, the Spanish were compelled to move on.

They assembled a marching supply of food, packed up their belongings, and forced the local cacique, or chief, to provide a small army of porters. Then the expedition snaked oft through the woods, a long file of cavalry, halberdiers, crossbowmen, arquebusiers, retainers, camp followers including one or two white women , natives, porters, and livestock. The expedition—an enormous questing centipede, groping forward, feeling a path around obstacles—headed up the Florida peninsula, thence toward what is now the state of Georgia.

The cavalry was always busy. Besides scouting ahead the lancers galloped up and down the long line of march, trying to control the unwieldy mass of porters and footmen. The horsemen had to be everywhere at once. They provided the mobile reserve in case of attack; they acted as couriers, carrying messages between the various captains; and they were allotted the undignified role of swineherds.

The pigs thrived, and there were now more than three hundred of them, happily grubbing for roots and nuts on the forest floor. De Soto refused to allow his soldiers to eat the pigs. They were to be preserved against hard times, and the cursing troopers were ordered to chevy the grunting herd along the line of march, taking care not to lose a single animal. Most of the heavy labor and transport was handled by the press-ganged Indian porters, and a steady trickle of fugitives vanished into the bush each night. As the army moved forward, however, the Spaniards noticed that they had less and less trouble from their slave labor; it was evident that once a captive Indian was outside his tribal territory he was reluctant to escape, preferring to stay with the Spanish army rather than run the risk of falling into the hands of a hostile tribe, or of being recaptured by the Spaniards, who might then throw him to their packs of vicious war dogs.

These Indians were unlike any enemy that the conquistadors had met in the New World. In Mexico and South America, campaigns had always culminated in a major battle. A shrewd cavalry charge delivered with tremendous punch could turn this confusion into utter panic. But the Florida Indians would neither be forced into an open fight nor conclude a lasting peace treaty. And the Spaniards never quite grasped the extent of their bravery and tribal loyalty.

  • John S. C. Abbott (E-kitapları);
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  • Histoire d’un casse-noisette. (Annoté).
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One guide after another coolly led the army into swamps or ambushes, even though it was suicide for the man concerned. Even the smallest tribes put up a fight.

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They burned their crops and villages in a scorched-earth policy, cut off and killed isolated Spanish dispatch riders, set ambushes, and hid their food supplies from the invaders. Any solitary Spaniard wandering too near the trees was liable to get an arrow in his back, and at night the bushes around the bivouac rustled with hidden snipers. In the morning it was not uncommon to find the headless body of a Spanish soldier dangling from a tree in full view of the camp.

The steel-clad might of the Spanish veterans had run into the one obstacle it could not crush—guerrilla warfare conducted by skilled archers. The Indians used a stiff bow that discharged arrows with terrific force and considerable accuracy. In one experiment, de Soto watched a warrior put an arrow clean through a plate of Milan steel hung up in a tree eighty feet away.

When a second plate was put up behind the first, the Indian put his next arrow through both pieces of armor. It was not surprising that after a skirmish the Spanish dead were sometimes found transfixed from front to back by a three-foot arrow tipped with bone, flint, or the needle-sharp claw of a crab. The most deadly arrow of all was a sharpened shaft of cane, its tip hardened over a fire. When one of these scored a direct hit on chain mail, the first six inches shattered into splinters that penetrated the interstices of the mail and left an ugly, festering wound that healed far more slowly than any sword cut.

To protect themselves against these projectiles, the Spanish adopted the native armor of loose quilted jackets stuffed with cotton padding. Even worse than the Indians were the swamps, marshes, and rivers. They delayed and exhausted the army, which often spent whole days wading chest-deep through water. Fortunately, one of the Genoese volunteers and two Cuban half-breeds were engineers and knew how to make bridges and causeways. With ropes brought specially for the purpose, they lashed logs together to make roads across the worst obstacles. At the shallower rivers the horsemen would ride their mounts into the stream and form a long line from bank to bank.

Then the footmen would scramble across, clinging to stirrups, girth bands, and manes. Once or twice crude rafts were improvised, or a block-and-tackle arrangement was used to reel the less willing animals in to the opposite bank. Near the Suwannee River in northern Florida, de Soto finally got the stand-up fight he had been hoping for.

A band of some four hundred Indian warriors tried to rescue their chief, who was a hostage in the Spanish camp. After asking for a parley on open ground, they planted an ambush, concealing their weapons in the long swamp grass. De Soto was too experienced a campaigner to be taken in by their offer and decided to spring the trap. Stationing his cavalry in the cover of the surrounding woods, he and several attendants walked out toward the waiting Indians.

It was a characteristically brave maneuver, and it paid off. The Indians were caught in their own ambush and could not withstand the horsemen. De Soto swung into the saddle of a spare charger and led the slaughter. Most of the halfnaked savages escaped, but some were cut down and a few took refuge by throwing themselves into two small lakes nearby.

There they swam out of crossbow range and hurled insults at the white men. De Soto saw his opportunity to teach the enemy a lesson and stationed pickets around the shores. All night long the sentries picked off the Indians as they tried to swim to the bank, using lily pads for camouflage. Next morning twelve exhausted Indians were still treading water defiantly. De Soto ordered his best swimmers to fish them out and had them put in chains. De Soto had proved his point—his troops were infinitely superior in open battle.

Unfortunately for the Spanish, this was the only occasion on which de Soto was able to show his flair and courage as a field commander. The army spent the winter in an open area near modern Tallahassee. The local inhabitants had fled, leaving behind their well-filled grain bins and fields of standing crops. The Spanish soldiers harvested beans, pumpkins, walnuts, and plums, and built a fortified camp.

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A cavalry patrol reported that the Gulf coast was only eight leagues away. De Soto ordered up the men from the base camp at Tampa, and his supply fleet arrived with fresh provisions. When these had been landed, the general sent his ships back to Cuba, except for one caravel, which he dispatched westward along the coast to find a good harbor.

The caravel returned in February, having located an excellent harbor in Pensacola Bay; and it was arranged that her captain would return there with the supply fleet the following autumn to greet the expeditionary force after its second summer in the field. The Spaniards had spent a miserable winter under daily harassment from the natives, but now they were cheered by news of a queen, in a land far to the east, who received tribute of furs and gold from all the surrounding tribes.

A native prisoner who claimed to be one of her subjects even demonstrated how the yellow metal was dug from the ground, melted, and refined. The Spanish soldiers could hardly wait to invade this promised land, and on March 3, , the army of Florida began marching into the pinelands of what is now Georgia. It was a terrible journey. They were hacking their way through trackless forests which even the Indians shunned. Food ran out, porters starved to death or were sent back to lessen the number of mouths to feed, men-at-arms threw away much of their armor, horses died.

The usual food ration was a handful of parched grain each day. De Soto ordered some of the hogs to be killed, but the issue of half a pound of meat per man scarcely eased the situation.

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Near the northern border of Georgia, the army found its tribute-collecting queen, the princess of Cofitachequi. But she was a sad disappointment. Her gold turned out to be burnished copper, and her slabs of silver were sheets of mica. The only booty was a heap of river pearls extracted from fresh-water mussels, but most of these were ruined by boring or discolored by fire. The Spaniards collected pounds of the pearls and left in disgust.

Through the southern part of present-day South Carolina, into North Carolina, Tennessee, and northern Alabama, de Soto led his army, as the summer of wore on. One mountain ridge after another had to be climbed; each river looked the same as the previous one they had forded. In a letter to king Francis I. From the sea to the estuary of the river, any ship heavily laden might pass, with the help of the tide, which rises eight feet. But as we were riding at anchor, in a good berth, we would not venture up in our vessel without a knowledge of the mouth.

Therefore we took the boat, and entering the river, we found the country, on its banks, well peopled, the inhabitants not much differing from the others, being dressed out with the feathers of birds of various colors. We passed up this river about half a league, when we found it formed a most beautiful lake three leagues in circuit, upon which they were rowing thirty or more of their small boats, from one shore to the other, filled with multitudes who came to see us.

All of a sudden, as is wont to happen to navigators, a violent contrary wind blew in from the sea, and forced us to return to our ship, greatly regretting to leave this region which seemed so commodious and delightful, and which we supposed must also contain great riches, as the hills showed many indications of minerals. In the year , a band of Dutch merchants, called the East India Company, fitted out an expedition to discover a northeast passage to the Indies.

They built a vessel of about eighty tons burden, called the Half Moon, and manning her with twenty sailors, entrusted the command to an Englishman, Henry Hudson. He sailed from the Texel in his solitary vessel, upon this hazardous expedition, on the 6th of April, Doubling North Cape amid storms and fog and ice, after the rough voyage of a month, he became discouraged, and determined to change his plan and seek a northwest passage. Crossing the Atlantic, which, in those high latitudes, seems ever to be swept by storms, he laid in a store of codfish on the banks of Newfoundland, and, on the 17th of July, ran his storm-shattered bark into what is now known as Penobscot Bay, on the coast of Maine.

Here he found the natives friendly. He had lost his foremast in a storm, and remained at this place a week, preparing a new one. He had heard in Europe that there was probably a passage through the unexplored continent, to the Pacific ocean, south of Virginia. Continuing his voyage southward, he passed Cape Cod, which he supposed to be an island, and arrived on the 18th of August at the entrance of Chesapeake Bay.

He then ran along the coast in a northerly direction and entered a great bay with rivers, which he named South River, but which has since received the name of the Delaware. Still following the coast, he reached the Highlands of Neversink, on the 2d of September, and at three o'clock in the afternoon of the same day, came to what then seemed to him to be the mouths of three large rivers.

These were undoubtedly the Raritan, the Narrows, and Rockaway Inlet. After careful soundings he, the next morning, passed Sandy Hook and anchored in the bay at but two cables' length from the shore. The waters around him were swarming with fish. The scenery appeared to him enchanting. Small Indian villages were clustered along the shores, and many birch canoes were seen gliding rapidly to and fro, indicating that the region was quite densely populated, and that the natives were greatly agitated if not alarmed by the strange arrival.

Soon several canoes approached the vessel, and the natives came on board, bringing with them green tobacco and corn, which they wished to exchange for knives and beads. Many vessels, engaged in fishing, had touched at several points on the Atlantic coast, and trafficked with the Indians. The inhabitants of this unexplored bay had heard of these adventurers, of the wonders which they brought from distant lands, and they were in a state of great excitement, in being visited in their turn.

The bay was fringed with the almost impenetrable forest. Here and there were picturesque openings, where Indian villages, in peaceful beauty, were clustered in the midst of the surrounding foliage. The natives were dressed in garments of deer skin, very softly tanned, hanging gracefully about their persons, and often beautifully ornamented. Many of them wore mantles of gorgeously-colored feathers, quite artistically woven together; and they had also garments of rich furs. Dereistic Free Pdf Books Catalog. Home DMCA. On a whim,I looked up the book on Amazon and bought a gently used copy for myself.

Read it as a girl; am enjoying it more as an older adult. I have loved this series since my friend lent me a copy of the first book, many years ago.