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native occupants of the soil consent to be driven from their ancient patrimony? Should their feebleness submit patiently to contempt, injury, and the loss of their lands? The desire of self-preservation, the necessity of self-defense, seemed to demand an active resistance; to preserve their dwelling-places, the English must be exterminated; in open battle the Indians would be powerless; conscious of their weakness, they could not hope to accomplish their end except by a preconcerted surprise. The crime was one of savage ferocity; but it was suggested by their situation. They were timorous and quick of apprehension, and consequently treacherous; for treachery and falsehood are the vices of cowardice. The attack was prepared with inpenetrable secrecy. To the very last hour the Indians preserved the language of friendship; they borrowed the boats of the English to attend their own assemblies; on the very morning of the massacre they were in the houses and at the tables of those whose death they were plotting. "Sooner," said they, "shall the sky fall, than peace be violated on our part." At length, on the 22d of March (1622), at midday, at one and the same instant of time, the Indians fell upon an unsuspecting population, which was scattered through distant villages, extending one hundred and forty miles on both sides of the river. The onset was so sudden that the blow was not discerned till it fell. None were spared; children and women, as well as men; the missionary, who had cherished the natives with untiring gentleness; the liberal benefactors, from whom they had received daily benefits, all were murdered with indiscriminate barbarity, and every aggravation of cruelty. The savages fell upon the dead bodies, as if it had been possible to commit on them a fresh murder.
In one hour three hundred and forty-seven persons were cut off. Yet the carnage was not universal; and Virginia was saved from so disastrous a grave. The night before the execution of the conspiracy it was revealed by a converted Indian to an Englishman, whom he wished to rescue; Jamestown and the nearest settlements were well prepared against an attack; and the savages, as timid as they were ferocious, fled with precipitation from the appearance of wakeful resistance. Thus the larger part of the colony was saved.
THE DISCOVERY OF THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER.
ALL the disasters which had been encountered, far from diminishing the boldness of De Soto,* served only to confirm his obstinacy by wounding his pride. Should he, who had promised greater booty than Mexico or Peru had yielded, now return as a defeated fugitive, so naked that his troops were clad only in skins and mats of ivy? The search for some wealthy region was renewed; the caravan marched still farther to the west.
For seven days it struggled through a wilderness of forests and marshes, and at length came to Indian settlements in the vicinity of the Mississippi. The lapse of nearly three centuries has not changed the character of the stream. It was then described as more than a mile broad, flowing with a strong current, and, by the weight of its waters, forcing a channel of great depth. The water was always muddy; trees and timber were continually floating down the streaın.
The Spaniards were guided to the Mississippi by the natives; and were directed to one of the usual crossing-places, probably at the lowest Chickasa Bluff, not far from the thirty-fifth parallel of latitude. The arrival of the strangers awakened curiosity and fear. A multitude of people from the western banks of the river, painted and gayly decorated with great plumes of white feathers, the warriors standing in rows with bow and arrows in their hands, the chieftains sitting under awnings as magnificent as the artless manufactures of the natives could weave, came rowing down the stream in a fleet of two hundred canoes, seeming to the admiring Spaniards "like a fair army of galleys."
They brought gifts of fish and loaves made of the fruit of the persimmon. At first they showed some desire to offer resistance; but, soon becoming conscious of their relative weakness, they ceased to defy an enemy who could not be overcome, and suffered injury without attempting open retaliation. The boats of the natives were too weak to transport horses; almost a month expired before barges large enough to hold three horsemen each were constructed for crossing the river. At length the Spaniards embarked upon the Mississippi, and were borne to its western bank.
* HERNANDO DE SOTO. A Spanish explorer, born about 1500, discovered the Mississippi River in 1541, and died in Louisiana in 1542. He was one of the boldest and bravest of the many brave leaders who figured in the discoveries, and distinguished themselves in the wild warfare of the Western World.
The Dacotah tribes, doubtless, then occupied the country southwest of the Missouri. De Soto had heard its praises; he believed in its vicinity to mineral wealth, and he determined to visit its towns. In ascending the Mississippi the party was often obliged to wade through morasses; at length they came, as it would seem, upon the district of Little Prairie, and the dry and elevated lands which extend towards New Madrid.
Here the religions of the invaders and the natives came in contrast. The Spaniards were adored as children of the sun, and the blind were brought into their presence, to be healed by the sons of light. "Pray only to God, who is in heaven, for whatsoever ye need," said De Soto in reply; and the sublime doctrine which, thousands of years before, had been proclaimed in the deserts of Arabia, now first found its way into the prairies of the Far West.
The wild fruits of that region were abundant; the pecan-nut, the mulberry, and the two kinds of wild plums, furnished the natives with articles of food. At Pacaha, the northernmost point which De Soto reached near the Mississippi, he remained forty days. The spot cannot be identified; but the accounts of the amusements of the Spaniards confirm the truth of the narrative of their ramblings. Fish were taken, such as are now found in the fresh waters of that region; one of them, the spade fish, the strangest and most whimsical production of the muddy streams of the west, so rare that, even now, it is hardly to be found in any museum, is accurately described by the best historian of the expedition.
An exploring party, which was sent to examine the regions to the north, reported that they were almost a desert. The country still nearer the Missouri was said by the Indians to be thinly inhabited ; the bison abounded there so much that no maize could be cultivated, and the few inhabitants were hunters. De Soto turned, therefore, to the west and northwest, and plunged still more deeply into the interior of the continent. The highlands of White River, more than two hundred miles from the Mississippi, were probably the limit of his ramble in this direction.
The mountains offered neither gems nor gold; and the disappointed adventurers marched to the south. They passed through a succession of towns, of which the position cannot be fixed, till at length we find them among the Tunicas, near the hot springs and saline tributaries of the Washita. It was at Autiamque, a town on the same river,
that they passed the winter; they had arrived at the settlement through the country of the Kappaws.
The native tribes, everywhere on the route, were found in a state of civilization beyond that of nomadic hordes. They were an agricultural people, with fixed places of abode, and subsisted upon the produce of the fields more than upon the chase. Ignorant of the arts of life, they could offer no resistance to their unwelcome visitors; the bow and arrow were the most effective weapons with which they were acquainted. They seem not to have been turbulent or quarrelsome; but as the population was moderate, and the earth fruitful, the tribes were not accustomed to contend with each other for the possession of territories.
Their dress was, in part, mats wrought of ivy and bulrushes, or of the bark and lint of trees; in cold weather they wore mantles woven of feathers. The settlements were by tribes, each tribe occupied what the Spaniards called a province; their villages were generally near together, but were composed of few habitations. The Spaniards treated them with no other forbearance than their own selfishness demanded, and enslaved such as offended, employing them as porters and guides.
On a slight suspicion, they would cut off the hands of numbers of the natives, for punishment or intimidation; while the young cavaliers, from desire of seeming valiant, ceased to be merciful, and exulted in cruelties and carnage. The guide who was unsuccessful, or who purposely led them away from the settlements of his tribe, would be seized and thrown to the hounds. Sometimes a native was condemned to the flames. Any trifling consideration of safety would induce the governor to set fire to a hamlet. He did not delight in cruelty; but the happiness, the life, and the rights of the Indians were held of no account, The approach of the Spaniards was heard with dismay; and their departure hastened by the suggestion of wealthier lands at a distance.
In the spring of the following year De Soto determined to descend the Washita to its junction, and to get tidings of the sea. As he advanced he was soon lost amidst the bayous and marshes which are found along the Red River and its tributaries. Near the Missis
sippi he came upon the country of Nilco, which was well peopled. The river was there larger than the Guadalquiver at Seville. At last he arrived at the province where the Washita, already united
with the Red River, enters the Mississippi. The province was called Guachoya.
De Soto anxiously inquired the distance to the sea; the chieftain of Guachoya could not tell. Were there settlements extending along the river to its mouth? It was answered that its lower banks were an uninhabited waste. Unwilling to believe so disheartening a tale, De Soto sent one of his men with eight horsemen to descend the banks of the Mississippi, and explore the country. They traveled eight days, and were able to advance not much more than thirty miles, they were so delayed by the frequent bayous, the impassable canebrakes, and the dense woods.
The governor received the intelligence with concern; he suffered from anxiety and gloom. His horses and men were dying around him, so that the natives were becoming dangerous enemies. He attempted to overawe a tribe of Indians near Natchez by claiming a supernatural birth, and demanding obedience and tribute. you are the child of the sun," replied the undaunted chief; the river, and I will believe you. Do you desire to see me? the town where I dwell. If you come in peace, I will receive you with special good-will; if in war, I will not shrink one foot back."
dry up Visit
But De Soto was no longer able to abate the confidence or punish the temerity of the natives. His stubborn pride was changed by long disappointments into a wasting melancholy; and his health sunk rapidly and entirely under a conflict of emotions. A malignant fever ensued, during which he had little comfort, and was neither visited nor attended as the last hours of life demand. Believing his death near at hand, he held the last solemn interview with his faithful followers; and, yielding to the wishes of his companions, who obeyed him to the end, he named a successor. On the next day he died.