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the south bank of the Arkansas River. Here the Spaniards spent three months, during one of which snow fell almost continuously. The shackled Indians built a high palisade about the camp,
hauled wood for fires, and trapped rabbits for food. Juan Ortiz, the castaway of Narváez's expedition, died at Autiamque; and, as he was the only man with a fair knowledge of Indian speech, his loss was a serious blow to De Soto's army.
Spring came, and in March, 1542, De Soto broke camp and continued down the Arkansas. By this time, of the six hundred who had come with him from Spain "he had not over three hundred efficient men, nor more than forty horses. Some of the beasts were lame, and useful only in making out the show of a troop of cavalry; and, for the lack of iron, they had gone a year without shoes.” De Soto resolved now to go to the seacoast, which he imagined to be not far off. There he would build two vessels, one to be sent to New Spain and the other to Cuba, “calculating, out of his property there, to refit and again go back to advance, to discover and to conquer farther on towards the west.” It was three years since he had been heard of by Doña Isabel, nor did he know how she fared. In April he reached Guachoya, at the mouth of the Arkansas,
and, as usual, lodged his men in the town, from which most of the natives had fled at his approach. To ascertain how near the sea was, he sent several men down the Mississippi, but when they returned after more than a week's absence it was to tell him that only the river's tide, to bayous and swamps, stretched for miles upon miles below. Nor could the Indians they had captured down the river tell them of any other great water.
No news of the sea — and men and horses dying off; his little company ringed round with hostile tribes, whom he had treated without mercy in the days of his strength; and no succor anywhere; “of that reflection he pined.” At the recognition, at last, of defeat the strong spirit of Don Hernando broke and his body weakened under the fever of torment that took hold of him. But still he had
From his straw pallet he dispatched a messenger commanding the chief of Quigaltam across the river to send him carriers and provisions; for he was the “Child of the Sun," and "whence he came all obeyed him, rendering their tribute.” The chief returned answer that the Child of the Sun should be able to dry up the river between them. On that token, he would believe. “If you desire to see me come where I am
neither for you nor for any man, will I set back
Here, at last, by his words, was the “greatest prince” so long sought. De Soto was already low by the time his messenger returned; but, on hearing the chief's insolent answer, his haughty spirit blazed up once more and he grieved that there was not bodily force left in him to enable him to cross the river and abate that pride. As an object-lesson not alone to the lofty cacique but also to the Indians of Guachoya, whose treachery he feared, he sent an expedition to lay waste and slaughter the town of Nilco some distance off. The Spaniards took the inhabitants so entirely by surprise that, when the captain ordered all males slain, not an Indian was ready to draw his bow in defense. “The cries of the women and children were such as to deafen those who pursued them. About one hundred men were slain; many were allowed to get away badly wounded that they might strike terror into those who were absent. Some persons were so cruel and butcher-like that they killed all before them, young and old, not one having resisted little or much.” If the Indians of Guachoya had indeed been planning an attack, the object lesson had the desired effect.
De Soto's hour had struck, and he lay dying in loneliness. His officers and men, gloomy over their own prospects and resentful against the commander who had led them to this pass, held aloof
each one himself having need of sympathy, which was the cause why they neither gave him their companionship nor visited him.” On the day before his death he called for them. After giving thanks to God, he confessed his deep obligations to them all “for their great qualities, their love and loyalty to his person"; and he asked their prayers and their forgiveness of any wrongs that he might have dealt them. And, to prevent divisions, he requested them to elect his successor, saying “that this would greatly satisfy him, abate somewhat the pains he suffered, and moderate the anxiety of leaving them in a country, they knew not where.” One officer responded in behalf of all, "consoling him with remarks on the shortness of the life of this world,” and with many other high-sounding cold phrases; and requested the Governor himself to select their new leader. De Soto chose Luís de Moscoso; and the others willingly swore to obey him.
On the morrow, the 21st of May, having made his last will and his last confession, “departed this life
the magnanimous, the virtuous, the intrepid captain, Don Hernando de Soto, Governor of Cuba and adelantado of Florida. He was advanced by fortune, in the way she is wont to lead others, that he might fall the greater depth.'
The death of the Child of the Sun was kept secret from the Indians, from fear of an uprising. His body was buried at night just within the walls of the town and the Indians were told that he had ascended to the Sun; but the natives observed that the earth near the wall had been disturbed and were seen talking among themselves. So, as secretly as it had been buried, De Soto's body was dug up. A safer grave must be found for it - a grave safer to the living. Packed with sand to weight it down, and the mass wrapped and closely bound in “shawls,” it was taken out in a canoe to midstream, and there under the blackness of the night — with no sound save a whispered order and one deep answering note from the waters — it sank into the river.
What were these “shawls,” fashioned into a winding-sheet for the man who had hungered for riches and died empty of them? Were they the mantles of marten, deer, and beaver skins the Indians wore and which the Spaniards so little