John S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) Abbott.

Ferdinand de Soto. The discoverer of the Mississippi online

. (page 1 of 19)
Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottFerdinand de Soto. The discoverer of the Mississippi → online text (page 1 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by D Alexander and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at (This file was
produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)







Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1873, by
in the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington.

Newburgh, N. Y. PRINTERS,










Mr. Theodore Irving, in his valuable history of the "Conquest of
Florida," speaking of the astonishing achievements of the Spanish
Cavaliers, in the dawn of the sixteenth century says:

"Of all the enterprises undertaken in this spirit of daring
adventure, none has surpassed, for hardihood and variety of
incident, that of the renowned Hernando de Soto, and his
band of cavaliers. It was poetry put in action. It was the
knight-errantry of the old world carried into the depths of
the American wilderness. Indeed the personal adventures, the
feats of individual prowess, the picturesque description of
steel-clad cavaliers, with lance and helm and prancing
steed, glittering through the wildernesses of Florida,
Georgia, Alabama, and the prairies of the Far West, would
seem to us mere fictions of romance, did they not come to us
recorded in matter of fact narratives of contemporaries, and
corroborated by minute and daily memoranda of

These are the wild and wondrous adventures which I wish here to
record. I have spared no pains in obtaining the most accurate
information which the records of those days have transmitted to us.
It is as wrong to traduce the dead as the living. If one should be
careful not to write a line which dying he would wish to blot, he
should also endeavor to write of the departed in so candid and
paternal a spirit, while severely just to the truth of history, as to
be safe from reproach. One who is aiding to form public opinion
respecting another, who has left the world, should remember that he
may yet meet the departed in the spirit land. And he may perhaps be
greeted with the words, "Your condemnation was too severe. You did not
make due allowance for the times in which I lived. You have held up my
name to unmerited reproach."

Careful investigation has revealed De Soto to me as by no means so bad
a man as I had supposed him to have been. And I think that the candid
reader will admit that there was much, in his heroic but melancholy
career, which calls for charitable construction and sympathy.

The authorities upon which I have mainly relied for my statements, are
given in the body of the work. There is no country on the globe, whose
early history is so full of interest and instruction as our own. The
writer feels grateful to the press, in general, for the kindly spirit
in which it has spoken of the attempt, in this series, to interest the
popular reader in those remarkable incidents which have led to the
establishment of this majestic republic.



_Childhood and Youth._


Birthplace of Ferdinand De Soto. - Spanish Colony at Darien. - Don Pedro
de Avila, Governor of Darien. - Vasco Nuñez. - Famine. - Love in the
Spanish Castle. - Character of Isabella. - Embarrassment of De
Soto. - Isabella's Parting Counsel. 9


_The Spanish Colony._

Character of De Soto. - Cruel Command of Don Pedro. - Incident. - The
Duel. - Uracca. - Consternation at Darien. - Expedition
Organized. - Uracca's Reception of Espinosa and his Troops. - The
Spaniards Retreat. - De Soto Indignant. - Espinosa's Cruelty, and
Deposition from Command. 21


_Life at Darien._

Reinforcements from Spain. - Aid sent to Borrica. - Line of Defense
Chosen by the Natives. - Religion of the Buccaneers. - The Battle and
the Rout. - Strategy of Uracca. - Cruelty of Don Pedro. - The
Retreat. - Character of Uracca. - Embarrassment of Don Pedro. - Warning
of M. Codro. - Expedition of Pizarro. - Mission of M. Codro. - Letter of
De Soto to Isabella. 37


_Demoniac Reign._

Giles Gonzales. - Unsuccessful Contest of De Soto with Gonzales. - Bold
Reply of De Soto to the Governor. - Cruelty of Don Pedro to M.
Codro. - Assassination of Cordova. - New Expedition of Discovery. - Revenge
upon Valenzuela. - Reign of Don Pedro at Nicaragua. - Unwise Decision of
De Soto. 55


_The Invasion of Peru._

The Kingdom of Peru. - Its Metropolis. - The Desperate Condition of
Pizarro. - Arrival of De Soto. - Character of the Spaniards. - Exploring
Tour of De Soto. - The Colony at San Miguel. - The General
Advance. - Second Exploration of De Soto. - Infamous Conduct of the
Pizarros. 72


_The Atrocities of Pizarro._

Fears of Pizarro. - Honorable Conduct of the Inca. - The March to
Caxamarca. - Hospitable Reception. - Perfidious Attack upon the
Inca. - His Capture and Imprisonment. - The Honor of De Soto. - The
Offered Ransom. - Treachery and Extortion of Pizarro. 90


_The Execution of the Inca, and Embarrassments of De Soto._

Pledges of Pizarro. - His Perfidy. - False Mission of De Soto. - Execution
of the Inca. - His Fortitude. - Indignation of De Soto. - Great
Embarrassments. - Extenuating Considerations. - Arrival of Almagro. - March
Towards the Capital. 107


_De Soto Returns to Spain._

Dreadful Fate of Chalcukima. - His Fortitude. - Ignominy of Pizarro. - De
Soto's Advance upon Cuzco. - The Peruvian Highway. - Battle in the
Defile. - De Soto takes the Responsibility. - Capture of the Capital and
its Conflagration. - De Soto's Return to Spain. - His Reception
there. - Preparations for the Conquest of Florida. 126


_The Landing in Florida._

The Departure from Spain. - Arrival in Cuba. - Leonora and
Tobar. - Isabella Invested with the Regency. - Sad Life of
Isabella. - Sailing of the Expedition. - The Landing at Tampa
Bay. - Outrages of Narvaez. - Noble Spirit of Ucita. - Unsuccessful
Enterprises. - Disgrace and Return of Porcallo. 144


_The March to Ochile._

The March Commenced. - The Swamps of Florida. - Passage of the
Morass. - Heroism of Sylvestre. - Message to Acuera. - His Heroic
Reply. - Fierce Hostility of the Indians. - Enter the Town of
Ocali. - Strange Incident. - Death of the Bloodhound. - Historical
Discrepancies. - Romantic Entrance to Ochile. 163


_The Conspiracy and its Consequences._

The Three Brother Chieftains. - Reply of Vitachuco to his
Brothers. - Feigned Friendship for the Spaniards. - The Conspiracy. - Its
Consummation and Results. - Clemency of De Soto. - The Second
Conspiracy. - Slaughter of the Indians. - March of the Spaniards for
Osachile. - Battle in the Morass. 180


_Winter Quarters._

Incidents of the March. - Passage of the River. - Entering
Anhayea. - Exploring Expeditions. - De Soto's desire for Peace. - Capture
of Capafi. - His Escape. - Embarrassments of De Soto. - Letter of
Isabella. - Exploration of the Coast. - Discovery of the Bay of
Pensacola. - Testimony Respecting Cofachiqui. - The March Resumed. 199


_Lost in the Wilderness._

Incidents at Achise. - Arrival at Cofa. - Friendly Reception by
Cofaqui. - The Armed Retinue. - Commission of Patofa. - Splendors of the
March. - Lost in the Wilderness. - Peril of the Army. - Friendly
Relations. - The Escape from the Wilderness. - They Reach the Frontiers
of Cofachiqui. - Dismissal of Patofa. - Wonderful Reception by the
Princess of Cofachiqui. 220


_The Indian Princess._

Crossing the River. - Hospitable Reception. - Attempts to visit the
Queen Mother. - Suicide of the Prince. - Futile search for
Gold. - The Discovery of Pearls. - The Pearl Fishery. - The Princess
a Captive. - Held in Silken Chains. - Her Escape. - Location of
Cutifachiqui. - The March Resumed. 240


_The Dreadful Battle of Mobila._

The Army in Alabama. - Barbaric Pageant. - The Chief of
Tuscaloosa. - Native Dignity. - Suspected Treachery of the
Chief. - Mobila, its Location and Importance. - Cunning of the
Chief. - The Spaniards Attacked. - Incidents of the Battle. - Disastrous
Results. 259


_Days of Darkness._

The Melancholy Encampment. - The Fleet at Pensacola. - Singular Resolve
of De Soto. - Hostility of the Natives. - Beautiful Scenery. - Winter
Quarters on the Yazoo. - Feigned Friendship of the Cacique. - Trickery
of Juan Ortiz. - The Terrible Battle of Chickasaw. - Dreadful Loss of
the Spaniards. 276


_The Discovery of the Mississippi._

The Fortress of Hostile Indians. - Its Capture. - The Disastrous
Conflict. - The Advance of the Army. - Discovery of the Mississippi
River. - Preparations for Crossing. - Extraordinary
Pageants. - Unjustifiable Attack. - The passage of the River. - Friendly
Reception by Casquin. - Extraordinary Religious Festival. 296


_Vagrant Wanderings._

Trickery of Casquin. - The March to Capaha. - The Battle and its
Results. - Friendly Relations with Capaha. - The Return Journey. - The
March Southward. - Salt Springs. - The Savages of Tula. - Their
Ferocity. - Anecdote. - Despondency of De Soto. 315


_Death of De Soto._

Ascent of the Mississippi. - Revenge of Guachoya. - Sickness of
De Soto. - Affecting Leave-taking. - His Death and Burial. - The
March for Mexico. - Return to the Mississippi. - Descent of the
River. - Dispersion of the Expedition. - Death of Isabella. 334


_Childhood and Youth._

Birthplace of Ferdinand De Soto. - Spanish Colony at Darien. - Don
Pedro de Avila, Governor of Darien. - Vasco Nuñez. - Famine. - Love
in the Spanish Castle. - Character of Isabella. - Embarrassment of
De Soto. - Isabella's Parting Counsel.

In the interior of Spain, about one hundred and thirty miles southwest
of Madrid, there is the small walled town of Xeres. It is remote from
all great routes of travel, and contains about nine thousand
inhabitants, living very frugally, and in a state of primitive
simplicity. There are several rude castles of the ancient nobility
here, and numerous gloomy, monastic institutions. In one of these
dilapidated castles, there was born, in the year 1500, a boy, who
received the name of Ferdinand de Soto. His parents were Spanish
nobles, perhaps the most haughty class of nobility which has ever
existed. It was, however, a decayed family, so impoverished as to find
it difficult to maintain the position of gentility. The parents were
not able to give their son a liberal education. Their rank did not
allow them to introduce him to any of the pursuits of industry; and
so far as can now be learned, the years of his early youth were spent
in idleness.

Ferdinand was an unusually handsome boy. He grew up tall, well formed,
and with remarkable muscular strength and agility. He greatly excelled
in fencing, horseback riding, and all those manly exercises which were
then deemed far more essential for a Spanish gentleman than literary
culture. He was fearless, energetic, self-reliant; and it was manifest
that he was endowed with mental powers of much native strength.

When quite a lad he attracted the attention of a wealthy Spanish
nobleman, Don Pedro de Avila, who sent him to one of the Spanish
universities, probably that of Saragossa, and maintained him there for
six years. Literary culture was not then in high repute; but it was
deemed a matter of very great moment that a nobleman of Spain should
excel in horsemanship, in fencing, and in wielding every weapon of
attack or defence.

Ferdinand became quite renowned for his lofty bearing, and for all
chivalric accomplishments. At the tournaments, and similar displays of
martial prowess then in vogue, he was prominent, exciting the envy of
competitive cavaliers, and winning the admiration of the ladies.

Don Pedro became very proud of his foster son, received him to his
family, and treated him as though he were his own child. The Spanish
court had at that time established a very important colony at the
province of Darien, on the Isthmus of Panama. This isthmus, connecting
North and South America, is about three hundred miles long and from
forty to sixty broad. A stupendous range of mountains runs along its
centre, apparently reared as an eternal barrier between the Atlantic
and Pacific oceans. From several of the summits of this ridge the
waters of the two oceans can at the same time be distinctly seen. Here
the Spanish court, in pursuit of its energetic but cruel conquest of
America, had established one of its most merciless colonies. There was
gold among the mountains. The natives had many golden ornaments. They
had no conception of the value of the precious ore in civilized lands.
Readily they would exchange quite large masses of gold for a few glass
beads. The great object of the Spaniards in the conquest of Darien was
to obtain gold. They inferred that if the ignorant natives, without
any acquaintance with the arts, had obtained so much, there must be
immense quantities which careful searching and skilful mining would

The wanton cruelties practised by the Spaniards upon the unoffending
natives of these climes seem to have been as senseless as they were
fiendlike. It is often difficult to find any motive for their
atrocities. These crimes are thoroughly authenticated, and yet they
often seem like the outbursts of demoniac malignity. Anything like a
faithful recital of them would torture the sensibilities of our
readers almost beyond endurance. Mothers and maidens were hunted and
torn down by bloodhounds; infant children were cut in pieces, and
their quivering limbs thrown to the famished dogs.

The large wealth and the rank of Don Pedro de Avila gave him much
influence at the Spanish court. He succeeded in obtaining the
much-coveted appointment of Governor of Darien. His authority was
virtually absolute over the property, the liberty, and the lives of a
realm, whose extended limits were not distinctly defined.

Don Pedro occupied quite an imposing castle, his ancestral mansion, in
the vicinity of Badajoz. Here the poor boy Ferdinand, though descended
from families of the highest rank, was an entire dependent upon his
benefactor. The haughty Don Pedro treated him kindly. Still he
regarded him, in consequence of his poverty, almost as a favored
menial. He fed him, clothed him, patronized him.

It was in the year 1514 that Don Pedro entered upon his office of
Governor of Darien. The insatiate thirst for gold caused crowds to
flock to his banners. A large fleet was soon equipped, and more than
two thousand persons embarked at St. Lucar for the golden land. The
most of these were soldiers; men of sensuality, ferocity, and thirst
for plunder. Not a few noblemen joined the enterprise; some to add to
their already vast possessions, and others hoping to retrieve their
impoverished fortunes.

A considerable number of priests accompanied the expedition, and it is
very certain that some of these at least were actuated by a sincere
desire to do good to the natives, and to win them to the religion of
Jesus: - that religion which demands that we should do to others as we
would that others should do to us, and whose principles, the governor,
the nobles, and the soldiers, were ruthlessly trampling beneath their
feet. Don Pedro, when measured by the standard of Christianity, was
proud, perfidious and tyrannical. The course he pursued upon his
arrival in the country was impolitic and almost insane.

His predecessor in the governorship was Vasco Nuñez. He had been on
the whole a prudent, able and comparatively merciful governor. He had
entered into trade with the natives, and had so far secured their good
will as to induce them to bring in an ample supply of provisions for
his colony. He had sent out Indian explorers, with careful
instructions to search the gold regions among the mountains. Don
Pedro, upon assuming the reins of government, became very jealous of
the popularity of Nuñez, whom he supplanted. His enmity soon became so
implacable that, without any cause, he accused him of treason and
ordered him to be decapitated. The sentence was executed in the public
square of Acla. Don Pedro himself gazed on the cruel spectacle
concealed in a neighboring house. He seemed ashamed to meet the
reproachful eye of his victim, as with an axe his head was cut off
upon a block.

All friendly relations with the Indians were speedily terminated. They
were robbed of their gold, of their provisions, and their persons were
outraged in the most cruel manner. The natives, terror-stricken, fled
from the vicinity of the colony, and suddenly the Spaniards found all
their supplies of provisions cut off. More than two thousand were
crowded into a narrow space on the shores of the gulf, with no
possibility of obtaining food. They were entirely unprepared for any
farming operations, having neither agricultural tools nor seed.
Neither if they had them could they wait for the slow advent of the
harvest. Famine commenced its reign, and with famine, its invariable
attendant, pestilence. In less than six months, of all the glittering
hosts, which with music and banners had landed upon the isthmus,
expecting soon to return to Europe with their ships freighted with
gold, but a few hundred were found alive, and they were haggard and in

The Spaniards had robbed the Indians of their golden trinkets, but
these trinkets could not be eaten and they would purchase no food.
They were as worthless as pebbles picked from the beach. Often lumps
of gold, or jewels of inestimable value, were offered by one starving
wretch to another for a piece of mouldy bread. The colony would have
become entirely extinct, but for the opportune arrival of vessels from
Spain with provisions. Don Pedro had sent out one or two expeditions
of half-famished men to seize the rice, Indian corn, and other food,
wherever such food could be found.

The natives had sufficient intelligence to perceive that the colonists
were fast wasting away. The Indians were gentle and amiable in
character, and naturally timid; with no taste for the ferocities
of war. But emboldened by the miseries of the colonies, and beginning
to despise their weakness, they fell upon the foraging parties with
great courage and drove them back ignominiously to the coast.
The arrival of the ships to which we have referred with provisions
and reinforcements, alone saved the colony from utter extinction.

Don Pedro, after having been in the colony five years, returned to
Spain to obtain new acquisitions of strength in men and means for the
prosecution of ever-enlarging plans of wealth and ambition. North and
south of the narrow peninsula were the two majestic continents of
North and South America. They both invited incursions, where nations
could be overthrown, empires established, fame won, and where
mountains of gold might yet be found.

It seems that De Soto had made the castle of Don Pedro, near Badajoz,
his home during the absence of the governor. There all his wants had
been provided for through the charitable munificence of his patron. He
probably had spent his term time at the university. He was now
nineteen years of age, and seemed to have attained the full maturity
of his physical system, and had developed into a remarkably elegant
young man.

The family of Don Pedro had apparently remained at the castle. His
second daughter, Isabella, was a very beautiful girl in her sixteenth
year. She had already been presented at the resplendent court of
Spain, where she had attracted great admiration. Rich, beautiful and
of illustrious birth, many noblemen had sought her hand, and among the
rest, one of the princes of the blood royal. But Isabella and De
Soto, much thrown together in the paternal castle, had very naturally
fallen in love with each other.

The haughty governor was one day exceedingly astounded and enraged,
that De Soto had the audacity to solicit the hand of his daughter in
marriage. In the most contemptuous and resentful manner, he repelled
the proposition as an insult. De Soto was keenly wounded. He was
himself a man of noble birth. He had no superior among all the young
noblemen around him, in any chivalric accomplishment. The only thing
wanting was money. Don Pedro loved his daughter, was proud of her
beauty and celebrity, and was fully aware that she had a very decided
will of her own.

After the lapse of a few days, the governor was not a little alarmed
by a statement, which the governess of the young lady ventured to make
to him. She assured him that Isabella had given her whole heart to De
Soto, and that she had declared it to be her unalterable resolve to
retire to a convent, rather than to become the wife of any other
person. Don Pedro was almost frantic with rage. As totally devoid of
moral principle as he was of human feelings, he took measures to have
De Soto assassinated. Such is the uncontradicted testimony of
contemporary historians. But every day revealed to him more clearly
the strength of Isabella's attachment for De Soto, and the
inflexibility of her will. He became seriously alarmed, not only from
the apprehension that if her wishes were thwarted, no earthly power
could prevent her from burying herself in a convent, but he even
feared that if De Soto were to be assassinated, she would, by
self-sacrifice, follow him to the world of spirits. This caused him to
feign partial reconciliation, and to revolve in his mind more cautious
plans for his removal.

He decided to take De Soto back with him to Darien. The historians of
those days represent that it was his intention to expose his young
protégé to such perils in wild adventures in the New World, as would
almost certainly secure his death. De Soto himself, proud though poor,
was tortured by the contemptuous treatment which he received, even
from the menials in the castle, who were aware of his rejection by
their proud lord. He therefore eagerly availed himself of the
invitation of Don Pedro to join in a new expedition which he was
fitting out for Darien.

He resolved, at whatever sacrifice, to be rich. The acquisition of
gold, and the accumulation of fame, became the great objects of his
idolatry. With these he could not only again claim the hand of
Isabella, but the haughty Don Pedro would eagerly seek the alliance
of a man of wealth and renown. Thousands of adventurers were then
crowding to the shores of the New World, lured by the accounts of the
boundless wealth which it was said could there be found, and inspired
by the passion which then pervaded Christendom, of obtaining celebrity
by the performance of chivalric deeds.

Many had returned greatly enriched by the plunder of provinces. The
names of Pizarro and Cortez had been borne on the wings of renown
through all the countries of Europe, exciting in all honorable minds
disgust, in view of their perfidy and cruelty, and inspiring others
with emotions of admiration, in contemplation of their heroic

De Soto was greatly embarrassed by his poverty. Both his parents were
dead. He was friendless; and it was quite impossible for him to
provide himself with an outfit suitable to the condition of a Spanish
grandee. The insulting treatment he had received from Don Pedro
rendered it impossible for him to approach that haughty man as a
suppliant for aid. But Don Pedro did not dare to leave De Soto behind

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottFerdinand de Soto. The discoverer of the Mississippi → online text (page 1 of 19)