Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around. — G. K. Chesterton

Story of the Thirteen Colonies - Helene Guerber

"The Father of Waters."

The year 1519 was eventful for the Spanish. In that year Magellan started out on his journey around the world, Pineda explored the Gulf coast, and Cortez,—a very brave Spaniard,—landing at Vera Cruz, marched into the country and took Mexico, the city of a great Indian chief named Montezuma.

Although Cortez had only five hundred men, and the Indians were very numerous, he soon became master of the whole country, which belonged to Spain for many a year. The Indians in Mexico were partly civilized, and the region was rich in gold and precious stones. Another Spaniard, named Pizarro, shortly after conquered Peru, and owing to the cargoes of gold constantly sent from Mexico, Peru, and other parts of the newly discovered lands, Spain soon became the wealthiest country in Europe.

Although the Spaniards were anxious to grow rich, they also wished to convert the natives. Besides soldiers and colonists, therefore, every vessel brought out priests to convert the heathen. These men were very good, and so fearless that they went everywhere, preaching and teaching with great zeal.

They tried to learn the natives' language, and often questioned the people about the country. All that they heard they repeated to their leaders, who, finding there was much gold in the northwest, resolved to go in search of it. A party headed by Narvaez set out, therefore, to explore and conquer the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

But Narvaez was very unfortunate. While he was inland his ships sailed on, and when he came back to the shore they were out of sight. Painfully making his way along through the tangled woods for many miles, he finally reached the coast again and built a second fleet. This, however, was wrecked at the mouth of the Mississippi ("The Father of Waters"), where Narvaez was drowned.

Four of the followers of Narvaez, narrowly escaping death, soon after fell into the hands of the Indians. By pretending to be magicians, these men made the Indians fear them. They lived eight years among various savage tribes, wandering all across the continent to the Gulf of California, and finally came back to Mexico, where their leader, Cabeza de Vaca, told their adventures to the Spaniards. He was the first European to visit the region between the Mississippi and California, and it is said that he tramped more than ten thousand miles during those eight years of captivity.

The tales told by Vaca and his companions made the Spaniards long to visit the country and find the Seven Cities of Cibola, where they fancied they could secure much gold. A priest named Marcos therefore set out to question and convert the natives. Taking one of Vaca's companions, a negro servant, as guide, Marcos wandered on foot into New Mexico, where he saw from afar seven Zuni pueblos, or villages.

Hearing from the Indians that these were the Seven Cities of Cibola, he went back to report what he had seen. A Spaniard named Coronado now set out with an army of about two hundred and fifty men. He made his way into the new country, visited the Cibola pueblos, and hearing wonderful tales of Acoma, a city built in the skies, set out to find it. After many hardships, he and his little army came into a wide valley, in the center of which rose a huge rock, with straight sides more than three hundred feet high, and with a broad flat top of about seventy acres.

On the top of this rock the Indians had built one of their cliff dwellings, which they reached by narrow rocky stairways. Coronado visited this strange city, but finding the people poor, and hearing there was gold farther north, he pressed on, and even came to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado.

While Coronado was thus exploring much of the south-western part of our country, another Spaniard, De Soto, who had helped conquer Peru,—set out from Cuba with nine vessels and an army of nearly a thousand men. He landed in Tampa Bay, and, searching for gold, wandered for three years through the forests of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Often attacked by hostile Indians, and suffering greatly from hunger and sickness, he nevertheless reached the Mississippi River, and crossed it near Lower Chickasaw Bluffs.

But he could not find the El Dorado, or "Land of Gold," he was seeking, and after exploring the region between the Missouri and the Red rivers, and losing many men, he resolved to turn back. Before long, however, De Soto died of malaria (1541), and the Spaniards, after secretly burying him, told the Indians he had gone on a long journey. But when they saw that the savages did not believe them, and gazed suspiciously at the upturned soil, they began to fear the Indians would treat De Soto's remains shamefully.

De Soto's first view of the Mississippi

In the middle of the night, therefore, they took their dead leader up out of his grave, and wrapped him in a cloak weighted with sand. Then, rowing out into the Mississippi, they noiselessly lowered his body into the middle of the great stream which he had been the first European to visit since the Spaniards were shipwrecked at its mouth in 1519.

His little army, after making a desperate attempt to retrace its way overland, came back to the Mississippi. Here the Spaniards built huge rafts, and, floating down the stream, reached its mouth at the end of nineteen days. Then, coasting along the Gulf, they made their way to a Mexican settlement, where they told the story of all their adventures during this long search for gold.


Front Matter

Our Country Long Ago
The Barbarous Indians
The Mounds
Where the Northmen Went
The Northmen in America
Queer Ideas
Prince Henry the Navigator
Youth of Columbus
Columbus and the Queen
"Land! Land!"
Columbus and the Savages
Home Again
Columbus Ill-treated
Death of Columbus
How America Got its Name
The Fountain of Youth
"The Father of Waters"
The French in Canada
French and Spanish Quarrels
The Sky City
Around the World
Nothing but Smoke
Smith's Adventures
The Jamestown Men
Smith Wounded
Pocahontas Visits England
Hudson and the Indians
The Mayflower
Plymouth Rock
The First Thanksgiving
Snake Skin and Bullets
The Beginning of Boston
Stories of Two Ministers
Williams and the Indians
The Quakers
The King-Killers
King Phillip's War
The Beginning of New York
Penn and the Indians
The Catholics in Maryland
The Old Dominion
Bacon's Rebellion
A Journey Inland
The Carolina Pirates
Charter Oak
Salem Witches
Down the Mississippi
La Salle's Adventures
Indians on the Warpath
Two Wars with the French
Washington's Boyhood
Washington's Journey
Washington's First Battle
Stories of Franklin
Braddock's Defeat
Wolfe at Quebec
England and her Colonies
The Stamp Tax
The Anger of the Colonies
The Boston Tea Party
The Minutemen
The Battle of Lexington
Bunker Hill
The Boston Boys
The British leave Boston
Declaration of Independence
A Lady's Way of Helping
Christmas Eve
The Fight at Bennington
Burgoyne's Surrender
Winter at Valley Forge
The Quaker Woman
Putnam's Adventures
Indian Cruelty
Boone in Kentucky
Famous Sea Fights
The "Swamp Fox"
The Poor Soldiers
The Spy
A Traitor's Death
Two Unselfish Women
Surrender of Cornwallis
British Flag hauled down
Washington's Farewell