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The Men Who Found America by  Frederick Winthrop Hutchinson

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HOW DE SOTO CAME TO THE FATHER OF WATERS

[77] IN the olden days, while the bold Columbus was sailing across the ocean, there lived in a gray, mossy castle in Spain a young lad named Ferdinand de Soto. This Ferdinand was a very lonely boy. He had no father and no mother, and there were no other boys with whom he could play. All he could do was to watch the birds flying in the green woods near the castle, and listen to their sweet songs. Sometimes, in the long, beautiful afternoons, he would go out walking with his faithful dog, or ride on top of his big black horse, that the boy had known and loved ever since he was a little baby.

Ferdinand did not go to school. There weren't many schools in those days and only the very rich could go; and Ferdinand, though he lived in a castle, was very poor. But he did learn how to ride on a horse and how to fence with a sword. His servant taught him these things. This servant was a good, strong old man, with eyes as black as coal and hair and [78] beard as white as snow. Soon the young Ferdinand learned so well that he could fence better than his teacher, and as for horses, Ferdinand could ride horses that the old man was afraid to mount.

One day there came to the castle a very rich nobleman, named Don Pedro. He looked at the handsome young Ferdinand and was very much pleased with him. Ferdinand was very polite and had good manners, so at last Don Pedro said to him, "You seem like a very fine lad. How would you like to come to my palace and learn to read and write and become a great soldier like your father used to be?" "I should like it very much," replied the young Ferdinand. "I should like to learn many things and then be a soldier; and when I am a man I wish to go to America like Columbus." "Very well," said Don Pedro; "come with me and live in my palace."

You can imagine how happy the young Ferdinand was to leave the gloomy old castle to go with Don Pedro. And he was still happier when he got there; for the rich Don Pedro had a daughter named Isabella. This Isabella was as beautiful as the day and as good as she [79] was beautiful. The two children liked each other, and in the lonely afternoons they played many games while the sun cast its long shadows on the green grass. Ferdinand now had lessons. He learned to read and to write; he went to a great school where they taught him many wonderful things, and every day he grew taller and stronger, until at last his birthday came around again and he was nineteen years old.

Then a strange thing happened. The young Isabella, too, had grown up to be a beautiful girl, with wonderful deep gray eyes, and red lips that curved like a bow, and her hair was as black as the darkest night. Ferdinand loved Isabella very tenderly, and Isabella loved Ferdinand, and they wanted to marry and live happily ever afterwards. But Don Pedro was away in America and they had to wait until he came back.

At last Don Pedro came home, and Ferdinand went up to him and said, "Don Pedro, you have been very good to me. You have brought me up like your own son. Now I am a man and I love your daughter, Isabella. May I have her as my wife?"

Now, Don Pedro was a greedy man, and he wanted his daughter to marry a great, rich lord, [80] and not a poor young boy like Ferdinand. So he said, "No, I will not let you marry my daughter. You have taken my food, but you may not take my child." So Ferdinand was sad and did not know what to do, for he loved Isabella very dearly; but he could not marry her against her father's wishes.

Then Don Pedro thought of a very clever plan. He said to himself, "If the young Ferdinand and the young Isabella live here in my castle, their love will grow until it knows no bounds; and perhaps some day when I am away serving my King, these young people will get married. That will never do. But if I can get Ferdinand away, then Isabella will forget him, and will marry a great, rich lord and live in a beautiful, big castle."

So the clever Don Pedro said to Ferdinand, "You have always wanted to be a soldier and go to America like the great Christopher Columbus. Now is your time. You are a man, and can gain honor and gold for yourself, and new countries for your King. You must not think of Isabella; you must think of America."

The words of the clever Don Pedro moved the heart of the brave young lad. "You are [81] right, Don Pedro," he answered; "I will go to America."

I think that Ferdinand must have been very sad when he had spoken these words; for little did he know whether, in all his life, he would ever again look upon the sweet, beautiful face of Isabella. Perhaps on his way to America the little ship would strike a rock or go down in a storm, and Ferdinand would be drowned. Or perhaps the Indians would kill him, or he would die of a fever, or would be cast into prison, with nothing to eat or drink but bread and water, and the rats would squeak, and the day would be as dark as the night. Perhaps he would be thrown into such a prison by some wicked man and never be set free again. And even if he came back after many hard years and many great perils, he might find that Isabella had married and forgotten all about him; so you may well believe that Ferdinand, brave young man as he was, wept bitter tears when he said good-by to the fair Isabella.

And yet Ferdinand was anxious to go. All the brave young Spaniards wanted to go to America to fight the Indians, to teach them about God, to find gold for themselves and new [82] countries for the King. Every now and then some young man would come back from America with gold, and silver, and pearls, and rubies, and beautiful, wonderful birds, and strange things that no man had ever set eyes on before; and many were the stories about the red men who lived in the beautiful land of America.

Well, at last the ship was ready and Ferdinand sailed away, and for fifteen long years he stayed in America. I cannot begin to tell you of all the wonderful sights he saw there, or of the many bold deeds that he did. Of all the brave men who had gone to America, none was braver than Ferdinand de Soto. After a while he met the Spanish General, Pizarro, who was going to Peru to conquer that country. Pizarro told De Soto about Peru and the Incas, of their wonderful temples and palaces, and how rich they were with all their gold and silver. "I am going to Peru to conquer that country," he said to De Soto, "and I want you to come with me because you are such a brave man."

Now, when Pizarro. said these words to De Soto and told him of all the dangers he would meet in that new land, the young Ferdinand was not afraid. He loved danger as he loved the [83] beautiful Isabella whom he had left in Spain. "I will go with you, Pizarro," said Ferdinand, "and I will be a brave and true soldier." And so, during all that great war against the Incas of Peru, Ferdinand fought bravely by the side of Pizarro, the wisest and the bravest of all the men in that army.

When Peru was conquered, and after many other great adventures, Ferdinand returned to Spain. Fifteen years had passed since he had left. Now he was no longer a poor boy, but a rich and powerful man, and everybody respected him because of his wise words and brave deeds. You may be sure that Ferdinand was very happy to see once more the beautiful country in which he was born. However much you may travel, you are always happy when at last you come back to your own home. So it was with Ferdinand. He almost cried with joy when he saw again the old, mossy castle where he had played as a boy. There were the same old trees, the same long, dusty road where he used to ride upon his great black horse; but most happy of all was Ferdinand when he saw again the beautiful Isabella. She was more lovely than ever. Her father, the clever Don Pedro, was now dead, and [84] during all of these long years the beautiful Isabella had loved the young Ferdinand. She had been very sad because Ferdinand was away, but she never forgot him; and when the great lords of Spain had come to her and asked her to marry them, she always shook her head and spoke sadly. "No, my good lord," she answered; "I love the young Ferdinand de Soto who fights for his King in the land of America. I shall wait until he comes for me."

So they were married, and all the great lords and ladies who were invited to the wedding said they had never seen so handsome a couple. There were plenty of cakes and wine for all the people who came, and there was a table where the poor could sit down and eat as much as they wished. Everybody laughed and cried for joy. Then Ferdinand took his beautiful wife to a great palace in Seville, and there they lived so happily that the days flew by like minutes, and even the King envied them because they were so happy.

The brave Ferdinand was very good to his beautiful wife. He bought for her all that her heart could desire. So it happened that he spent all the gold and silver that he had brought with him from America. Then, one day, Fer- [85] dinand said to his wife, "I shall go to America again to bring you more gold and more silver and all the beautiful things that are found in that country." Ferdinand said this to make his wife happy; but the beautiful Isabella was not happy. "I was so sad when you went away the last time," she said, "I cannot bear to have you leave me again. Let me, I pray you, go with you and share your dangers."

So the good Ferdinand de Soto kissed his brave wife and told her she might go with him; and many young lords of Spain wanted to go also. They all knew how bold and true and wise Ferdinand was; so the ships were filled with young nobles, all dressed in bright-colored clothes. After a long journey, the ships came to the island of Hispaniola, where there were many Spaniards. Here Ferdinand told Isabella to wait for him. "There are many dangers where I go," he said; "but soon I will come back with gold and silver and all that the heart can desire." Little did Ferdinand know when he kissed his wife good-by that he would never again see her in all this world. Boldly he sailed to the land of Florida. Here he found many wonderful things, but nowhere did he find the great mines [86] of gold and silver that Cortez had seen in Mexico and Pizarro in Peru. The Indians told him that gold and silver could be found in the great wild country to the West; so Ferdinand and his little army marched toward the West. Every day they moved further and further away from their home, and further and further away from the lonely Isabella, who waited on the island. Everywhere they looked for gold, but the Indians always pointed toward the West, where the sun sets. Always they said to the Spaniards, "Go West; go far West into the wild, wild country and there you will find gold."

In their long, hard march, the brave Ferdinand de Soto and his little army had many adventures. Sometimes the Indians were friendly and would sit down with the white men about the fire and smoke their long pipes. This was a sign among the Indians to show that they were friends with the white men. But sometimes the Indians were not friendly and fought with the Spaniards. I do not blame these Indians for fighting with De Soto. Before De Soto had come to this land, there had been other Spaniards there, and these men had been very, very cruel. They had killed many Indians and thrown their [87] pretty little babies into the river, and one day they took the Indian chief and cut his nose off. Some of the Indians thought that all Spaniards were cruel and wicked, and so they fought against De Soto and killed many of his men. Then other misfortunes befell De Soto. There were many great rivers to cross and there were no boats; so De Soto made canoes out of the trunks of trees and moved his little band of soldiers over on these. But sometimes the boats were unsafe, and horses and men were drowned. Then, too, many of the men died of fever because they had to go through great swamps, where no white men had ever been before, and where you sank into the ground up to your waist. Sometimes there was not enough food, and many of the men grew sick and died; so the soldiers grew afraid and begged to be taken home. But the bold De Soto said, "No; we are all brave men and we must never turn back."

Then there happened one of the greatest things in all the world. De Soto had come to America to find gold and he did not find it; but he found what was much greater, a mighty river. This river was the greatest in all [88] America. it was so large and great that the Indians called it the Mississippi, which means in their language the Father of Waters. This river has become the great water way of America; cities have grown up on it, boats have gone up and down its wide waters, and more good has come from it than from many barrels of gold. And it was Ferdinand de Soto who first found this river, who first came to the Father of Waters.


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"IT WAS FERDINAND DE SOTO WHO FIRST FOUND THIS GREAT RIVER, WHO FIRST CAME TO THE FATHER OF WATERS."

When De Soto saw this Mississippi River, there were no boats on it and no cities near it. It was just a great, wide river, gleaming in the sun, stretching out its wide arms toward the north and the south. But De Soto was happy. He loved the river as he loved the beautiful Isabella, who waited for him so many, many miles away. And now Ferdinand was willing to turn back. The Indians were not at all friendly, and his army was very little and very weak. Many of the soldiers were sick from the fever; so sadly De Soto turned his back on the great river and started his march home.

But before he had gone many miles, the great Ferdinand de Soto fell sick. Every day he grew worse, and every day he longed to see his [89] beautiful Isabella and the wonderful Mississippi River that he had found. But the fever grew worse and worse, and at last the brave Ferdinand de Soto died.

The sad soldiers buried him in the forest and then started homewards. But before they had gone many steps, one of the soldiers, who was very clever, thought of a plan. "If the Indians find De Soto's grave," he said, "they will know that our brave leader is dead. Then they will no longer fear to attack us. Therefore, let us bury him in the great river that he loved so well, so that no man can find his grave." And this they did. They took up his body and put it into the hollow of a great, heavy tree, and in the dead of night they placed it in the river and let it sink. This was almost four hundred years ago. Yet, perhaps, even to-day, at the bottom of the great Mississippi River, there lies the body of the brave Ferdinand de Soto, who, among all white men, was the first to come to the Father of Waters.


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