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esteemed? Everywhere about De Soto, on his past marches through that great fur-bearing country, lay the “richest province” he sought; and already, far to the north, the codfishers of France on the Newfoundland Banks were carrying home furs to trade in the markets of St. Malo and Rouen. There is the irony of tragedy in the picture of the intrepid gold-hunter's body consigned to the keeping of the Father of Waters shrouded in furs
which were to constitute the great wealth of this continent for more than two hundred years. On the broad flood of the Mississippi, flowing over De Soto's last resting place, were to pass the canoes and the pirogues of the fur traders, laden with the packs of peltry which should turn to gold in the French and English markets.
The adelantado had fallen, but the wanderings of his followers were by no means over. “Some were glad of the death of Don Hernando de Soto, holding it certain that Luís de Moscoso, who was given to leading a gay life, preferred to see himself at ease in a land of Christians, rather than continue the toils of war, discovering and subduing, which the people had come to hate, finding the little recompense that followed." After consultation with
his officers, Moscoso decided to try to reach Mexico by land. On the 5th of June the Spaniards moved westward, headed for Pánuco. They crossed southern Arkansas and reached the Red River near Texarkana, but were prevented for a week by a flood from crossing the river. Their march duplicated many past events, in battles with Indians, in slave-catching raids, and ambushes. At the Red River they changed their course to the south and entered the Caddo villages of eastern Texas; then, veering southwest again, they came to a large river, probably the middle Brazos. Here, as in Missouri and Oklahoma, they heard of the buffalo plains beyond, but did not reach them. October had come, winter was on the way, and the country promised little succor through the cold and
So they turned back on their trail to one of the villages on the Mississippi near the mouth of the Arkansas, where De Soto had died.
They now resolved to descend the Great River, which must somewhere empty into the sea. In order to do so they must build a fleet of brigantines, capable of weathering the winds and billows of the ocean. And now Moscoso performed a feat in shipbuilding, parallel to that of Narváez at the Bay of Horses. At his orders timber was felled; a forge
was set up, and iron chains converted into spikes. A Portuguese who had learned to saw lumber while a captive in Morocco, and who had brought saws with him, cut the planks and taught other men to help him. A Genoese, the only man “who knew how to construct vessels,” built the brigantines with the help of four or five Biscayan carpenters; and two calkers, one a Genoese, the other a Sardinian, closed up the cracks with “the oakum, got from a plant like hemp, called enequen.” A cooper, who was so ill that he could barely get about, managed nevertheless to make for each of the seven ships two half-hogsheads to hold fresh water. Sails were made of woven hemp and skins; ropes and cables from mulberry bark; and anchors from stirrups. In June the brigantines were finished, and the high floods floated them off the building ground into the river; fortunately, for if they had been dragged down the bank “there would have been danger of tearing open the bottoms, thereby entirely wrecking them, the planks being thin, and the spikes made short for the lack of iron.” Twenty-two horses were taken aboard; the others, being done for as mounts, were killed and their flesh was served.
On July 3, 1543, the three hundred and twenty
Spaniards and one hundred Indian slaves set sail for their unknown port. The rest of the captives had been released. Savages along their course several times beset the vessels, and ten Spaniards were slain. Seventeen days after their departure from the mouth of the Arkansas they reached the sea. At first they sailed westward, following the shore line, then steered for the open but turned in again to the coast, thinking their frail vessel safer within hail of the shore. They experienced hunger and thirst, doubts and fears, and storms of the sea. Fierce head winds forced them, at one time, to spend fourteen days in a sheltered inlet on the Texas coast. On the day when again it blew fair for them, they “very devoutly formed a procession for the return of thanks,” and as they moved along the beach they supplicated the Almighty to take them to a land in which they might better do Him service.
On September 10, 1543, two months and seven days after launching their brigantines, they entered the mouth of the Pánuco River, which flows into the Gulf one hundred and fifty miles north of Vera Cruz. It waters the Tampico region, today made golden by its output of petroleum. But of oil Moscoso neither knew nor cared. Here Indians
“in the apparel of Spain” told them in their own tongue that there was a Christian town fifteen leagues inland; “they felt as though life had been newly given them; many, leaping on shore, kissed the ground; and, all on bended knees, with hands raised above them, and their eyes to heaven, remained untiring in giving thanks to God.” Weatherbeaten and toil-worn, they entered the town, each man clad in deerskins “dressed and dyed black" and carrying his pack on his back; and all went directly to the church to return thanks for their preservation and to take part “in the divine offices which for a long season had not been listened to by them.” The three hundred and ten men were warmly received by their countrymen and treated to the best the country provided.
In October, that Maldonado who had waited in vain at Pensacola Bay to deliver to Don Hernando Doña Isabel's letters and had twice since sought for him along the Florida coast, arrived at Vera Cruz. And he bore back to Cuba the news of Don Hernando's fate. When Doña Isabel learned of her husband's death she withered under the blow and died within a few days. And there was no man now in the Spanish islands who desired to tempt heaven in the barren land of Florida.