106. Why America Was Named for Americus Vespucius. The New World should have been named for (See map) Columbus, and it is, sometimes, called the "Land of Columbia." History, however, takes the name of this fair country from one who, probably, least deserved it— Americus Vespucius.

It is not certain how many voyages he made to this country, when he made them, where he made them, or that he ever commanded an expedition. Why then should he be honored by having his name given to America?

It is said that Vespucius coasted along South America as far south as Brazil. He wrote letters telling his friends very fully about what he had seen. He declared that the regions he saw went far beyond any parts of the Old World in animals, plants, and men, and that the climate of these regions was better than anything he had ever known.

The printing press spread this story of Americus. One day a professor of geography in what is now France proposed that this new region, which Americus described so fully, be called "Amerige." The suggestion was taken up, and after a short time that name was applied to the whole of the New World.

107. Balboa Discovers the Pacific. Spaniards were ransacking every corner of the New World in search of adventure. One of them, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, had gone on a trading expedition and settled in Santo Domingo, but he failed to make a success of his new venture. Burning to recover his lost fortune, he set out for the Isthmus of Panama. When he reached it the Indians pointed the way toward a mighty sea whose sands hid great stores of gold. The Indians had already learned how to get rid of Spaniards!

In September, 1513, Balboa and his men set out to cross the Isthmus to find this greac body of water. Through forests so dense that the sun could not shine, they made their slow, toilsome way to the mountains. These they climbed amid great hardships. They reached the top one day, and, far to the westward, Balboa saw the mighty sea. Stirred by the sight, he and his men climbed down the western slopes and in four days were standing on its shores. When the tide rose, Balboa drew his sword, rushed into its waters, and took possession in the name of the king and queen of Spain. He called it the South Sea, but afterwards it was named the Pacific.

By this adventure Balboa helped to convince Europe that Columbus had discovered a new world. It remained for Magellan to prove that India, or the Far East, might indeed be reached by sailing westward.

108. Magellan Begins His Great Voyage (1519).

Though a Portuguese by birth, Magellan sailed under the flag of Spain. Five vessels composed his fleet. He made direct for South America, where he found winter just beginning, although it was only Easter time!

Magellan’s sailors wanted to return home, and rebelled openly, but he suppressed them. One ship was wrecked during the winter. When spring came in August, he sailed farther south along the coast of Patagonia and entered the strait now bearing his name. The crew of another ship rebelled, seized their captain, and sailed back to Spain. The other sailors begged Magellan to return also. "I will go on if we have to eat the leather off the ships’ yards," was his famous reply.

He did sail on until he reached the quiet sea to which he gave the name Pacific. In November the three remaining ships boldly turned their prows toward India, across the trackless ocean, which no man had ever sailed before. After long weeks their food supply gave out, and then Magellan’s statement literally came true. The sailors did eat the leather from the ships’ yards like hungry dogs.

Finally they reached the Philippine Islands, where Magellan lost his life in defending his sailors from the natives. Sadly the remainder, now reduced to twenty men in a single vessel, made their slow way across the Indian Ocean, around Africa, and home (1521). Five vessels full of enthusiastic sailors began the voyage. Now but twenty half-starved men in one vessel, their leader gone, were left to tell the tale of that wonderful first voyage around the world. This voyage proved that Columbus was right in thinking the world round, and that "India" could be reached by sailing westward.

109. Cortés Invades Mexico (1519). While Magellan was making his great voyage across the Pacific, Hernando Cortés had found one of the richest cities in the world—Mexico. He took twelve ships, landed on the coast of what is now Mexico, and sent every ship to the bottom of the sea in order to keep his men from deserting.

Cortés, his men, and horses, too, were protected by great iron coats, and the men were armed with swords and guns. Besides, they had a few cannon, whose noise would strike terror to the hearts of the Indians, even if they did not kill many.

Day after day Cortés and his men marched inland from the coast, fighting terrible battles with the natives. The Indians in Mexico were called Aztecs. Being clad in cotton clothes, with only bows and arrows for weapons and protected by leather shields, they were no match for the Spaniards, in. their coats of mail.

The Spaniards marched through the mountain passes, and a beautiful sight met their eyes. As far as human sight could carry, they beheld a charming valley ifiled with cities. These cities were built over lakes, where canals took the place of streets and canoes carried the people from place to place.

110. A Wonderful Indian City. Cortés hastened forward, following a great road which led to a wonderful Indian city. Several roads ran to its center, where, in a great square, stood a splendid temple, whose top could be reached by one hundred and fourteen steps running around outside. Sixty thousand people lived in this city. Many stone buildings with flat roofs furnished homes for them. Frequently there were flower gardens on the housetops.

Cortés and his men were but a handful in this dense mass of people, who did not welcome them. They seized Montezuma, the Mexican king, and held him prisoner, hoping to keep the people quiet, but this act only made them angrier than ever. They fell upon Cortés’ men in such vast numbers that they killed half of them and their horses. Cortés commanded Montezuma to stand upon the roof of the Spanish fort and forbid his people to fight. But they showed their hostility by casting stones and shooting arrows until they struck down their king, and he died in a few days, a brokenhearted man.

111. The Conquest of the Aztecs. Reënforced by soldiers from Cuba, Cortés went to battle again and finally, after two years, he was master of the city and of the Aztecs in the country around. But Cortés was more than a conqueror—he was a wise governor as well. He rebuilt the city and in many ways tried to make it better. He made the city of Mexico a center of Spanish civilization.. For three hundred years the mines of Mexico poured a constant stream of gold and silver into the lap of Spain. Cortés spent a large part of the fortune which fell to his lot in trying to improve the country. But in spite of the renown and wealth he brought Spain, the king of that country permitted him to die neglected.

112. The Richest City in the World. Francisco Pizarro, another Spaniard, was ambitious to do in South America what Cortés had done in Mexico. He lived in the little town of Panama, and made an expedition along the western coast of South America until he reached a town of two thousand houses, built mostly of sun-dried bricks, with flat tops like the houses in Mexico. He returned, taking with him many valuable figures made of gold and vases of gold and silver. He crossed the ocean and told his story to the King of Spain, who made Pizarro governor of all the lands he might conquer, and gave his leading men high titles.

Pizarro hastened home with the good news, fitted out his expedition, and with banners flying and hopes high in the hearts of his men, sailed for Peru. There they marched inland through beautiful fields of flowers and grain.

The men finally reached the foothills of the Andes Mountains. Up and up they climbed until they reached the higher regions,—where it was much colder than anywhere they had yet been. Over they rushed and down the eastern slopes, where a charming scene opened to their view. In a valley lay a city of ten thousand houses like those Cortés had already found in Mexico. Across the valley was the Inca, the ruler of the country, with his army.

113. Pizarro Captures the Inca. Hernando de Soto, a brave captain, was sent with a troop of cavalry to invite the Inca to visit Pizarro. When told of the number of his soldiers, Pizarro was troubled, but laid his plans in secret. The next day the Inca came with his hosts. The nobles carried the Inca on a gold-bedecked throne. A cannon was fired. It was a signal. The Spaniards rushed forth, and thousands of Indians fell, trying to save their king from the fury of the strangers. The Inca was a prisoner.

To obtain his freedom, so the story runs, he promised to fill the room in which he was a prisoner as high as he could reach with gold. Pizarro accepted the offer, and when he had the gold cruelly put the ruler to death.

114. The Spaniards Find Untold Wealth. The little Spanish army now marched to Cuzco, the capital of Peru. After days of hard fighting they came to the richest city in the world. No man had ever before found so much gold and silver. "Ten planks or bars of silver, each bar twenty feet in length, one foot in breadth and two inches thick," found in one place, showed the great riches to which Pizarro and his followers fell heir.

It was too much for them. They grew jealous, and quarreled. A ringleader was put to death, and his friends broke into Pizarro's palace and murdered him (1533).

And in the end the millions which Spain took from the mines of Peru did her little good.

115. De Soto’s Expedition. Before De Soto’s time came Ponôe de Leon in Florida. He came to the New World, searching vainly for the fountain of youth, and found Florida—a land of flowers as he called it (1513),

Hernando de Soto had already won fame in Peru. The King of Spain made him governor of Cuba and Florida. He was longing to repeat in Florida what Pizarro had done in Peru, and hundreds of Spanish noblemen wanted to enlist under his banner. In 1539 De Soto, with nine vessels carrying many soldiers, twelve priests, six hundred horses, and a herd of swine, landed in Florida from Cuba.

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© 2001 by Lynn Waterman