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Bill Thayer

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On this webpage you can read a chapter of
Stories of Heroism

William Mace

published by
Rand McNally & Company
New York, 1909.

It's all right to copy it or use it any way you want.

I checked this page carefully for mistakes,
and didn't find any:
but if you find one, please let me know!


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 p21  The Men who Succeeded where Columbus Failed

Magellan, who Proved that the World is Round by Sailing Around it

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Ferdinand Magellan

From the portrait designed and engraved
by Ferdinand Selma in 1788

13. Magellan's task. Columbus died believing that he had discovered a part of India. But he had not proved that the earth is round by sailing around it. This great task was left for Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese sailor. While a young man he, too, went to Lisbon. Columbus's great voyage had stirred up the  p22 Portuguese. One of their boldest sailors, Vasco da Gama, finally reached India in 1498 by rounding Africa. Magellan went as a sailor to that far-away land, and made voyages for seven years among the islands of the East.

After returning to Portugal, Magellan sought the king's aid, but he would not help the bold sailor; then, like Columbus, he went to Spain, and in less than two years his fleet of five vessels sailed for the coast of South America (1519). Severe storms tossed the vessels about on the sea for nearly a month. Food and water grew scarce. The sailors threatened to kill Magellan, but the brave captain, like Columbus, kept boldly on until he reached cold and stormy Patagonia.

It was now Easter time, and the long, hard winter of the southern half of the world was already setting in. Finding a safe harbor and plenty of fish, Magellan decided to winter there. But the captains of three ships refused to obey, decided to kill Magellan and lead the fleet back to Spain. Magellan was too quick for them. He captured one of the ships, turned the cannon on the other two, and soon forced them to surrender.

There were no more outbreaks that winter. One of the ships was wrecked. How glad the sailors were when, late in August,  p23 they saw the first signs of spring! But they were not so happy when Magellan commanded the ships to sail still farther south in search of a passage to the westward.

In October, his little fleet entered a wide, deep channel and found rugged, snow-clad mountains rising high on both sides of them. Many of the sailors believed they had at last found the westward passage, and that it was now time to turn homeward.

But Magellan declared that he would "eat the leather off the ship's yards" rather than turn back. The sailors on one ship seized and bound the captain and sailed back to Spain. Magellan with but three ships sailed bravely on until a broad, quiet ocean broke upon his sight. He wept for joy, for he believed that now the western route to India had indeed been found. This new ocean, so calm and smooth, he named the Pacific, and all the world now calls the channel he discovered the Strait of Magellan.

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Magellan's first view of the Pacific Ocean

Beyond the stormy strait he found the waters of the ocean smooth and quiet; hence its name Pacific, meaning peaceful

No man had yet sailed across the Pacific, and no man knew the distance. Magellan was as bold a sailor as ever sailed the main, and he had brave men with him. In November (1520) the three little ships boldly turned their prows toward India. On and on they sailed. Many of the crew, as they looked out upon a little island, saw land for the last time. Many thousand miles had yet to be sailed before land would again be seen. After long  p24 weeks their food supply gave out and starvation stared them in the face. Many grew sick and died. The others had to eat leather taken from the ship's yards like so many hungry beasts.

How big the world seemed to these poor, starving sailors! But the captain never lost courage. Finally they beheld land. It was the group of islands now known as the Mariannes (Ladrones). Here they rested and feasted to their hearts' content.

Then Magellan pressed on to another group of islands which were afterwards called the Philippines, from King Philip of Spain.

Here in a battle with the inhabitants, while bravely defending his sailors, Magellan was killed. Their great commander was gone and they were still far from Spain. Sadly his sailors continued the voyage, but only one of the vessels with about twenty men ever reached home to tell the story of that wonderful first voyage around the world.

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Magellan's Route around the World

Magellan, the bold Portuguese sailor, discovered the strait that bears his name and planned the first successful trip made around the world

While Magellan was proving that Columbus was right in thinking the world round and that India could be reached by sailing to the west, other men had begun already to find in the new world rich cities like those of which Columbus had dreamed of finding.

 p25  Cortés, who found the Rich City of Mexico

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The Armor of Cortés

Now in the museum at Madrid

14. Cortés Invades Mexico. Columbus died disappointed because he had not found the rich cities which everybody believed were somewhere in India. Foremost among Spanish soldiers was Hernando Cortés, who, in 1519, sailed with twelve ships from Cuba to the coast of what is now Mexico. His soldiers and sailors were hardly on land before he sank every one of his ships. His men now had to fight. They wore coats of iron, were armed with swords and guns, and they had a few cannon and horses. Every few miles they saw villages and now and then cities. The Indians wore cotton clothes, and in their ears and around their necks and their ankles they had gold and silver ornaments. The Spaniards could hardly keep their hands off these ornaments, they were so eager for gold. They were now sure that the rich cities were near at hand, which Columbus had hoped to find, and which every Spaniard fully believed would be found.

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House of Cortés, Covoacan, Mexico

Over the main doorway are graven the arms of the Conqueror, who lived here while the building of Coyoacan, which is older than the City of Mexico, went on

 p26  The people of Mexico had neither guns near swords, but they were brave. Near the first large city, thousands upon thousands of fiercely painted warriors wearing leather shields, rushed upon the little band of Spaniards. For two days the fighting went on, but not a single Spaniard was killed. The arrows of the Indians could not pierce iron coats, but the sharp Spanish swords could easily cut leather shields. The simple natives thought they must be fighting against gods instead of men, and gave up the battle.

Day after day Cortés marched on until a beautiful valley broke upon his view. His men now saw a wonderful sight: cities built over lakes, where canals took the place of streets and where canoes carried people from place to place. It all seemed like a dream. But they hastened forward to the great capital city. It, too, was built over a lake, larger than any seen before and it could be reached only along three great roads of solid mason work.

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The nephew of Montezuma and the last Indian emperor of Mexico. After the statue by Don Francisco Jimenes

An Indian corn bin, Tlaxcala

These are community or public bins, stand in the open roadway, and are still fashioned as in the days of Cortés

These roads ran to the center of the city where stood, in a great  p27 square, a wonderful temple. The top of this temple could be reached by one hundred fourteen stone steps running around the outside. The city contained sixty thousand people, and there were many stone buildings on the flat roofs of which the natives had beautiful flower gardens.

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Hernando Cortés

From the portrait painted by Charles Wilson Peale, now in Independence Hall, Philadelphia

Montezuma, the Indian ruler, received Cortés and his men very politely and gave the officers a house near the great temple. But Cortés was in danger. What if the Indians should rise against him? To guard against this danger, Cortés compelled Montezuma to live in the Spanish quarters. The people did not like to see their beloved ruler a prisoner in his own city.

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Cortés before Montezuma

After the original painting by the Mexican artist, J. Ortega, now in the National Gallery of San Carlos, Mexico

But no outbreak came until the Spaniards, fearing an attack, fell upon the Indians, who were holding a religious festival, and killed hundreds of them. The Indian council immediately chose Montezuma's brother to be ruler and the whole city rose to drive out the now hated Spaniards. The streets and even the house tops were filled with angry warriors. Cortés compelled Montezuma to stand upon the roof of the Spanish fort and command his people to stop fighting.

But he was ruler no longer. He was struck down by his own warriors, and died in a few days, a broken-hearted man. After several days of hard fighting, Cortés and his men tried to get out of  p28 the city but the Indians fell on the little army and killed more than half of the Spanish soldiers before they could get away.

15. Cortés conquers Mexico. Because of jealousy a Spanish army was sent to bring Cortés back to Cuba. By capturing this army Cortés secured more soldiers. Once more he marched against the city. What could bows and arrows and spears and stones do against the terrible horsemen and their great swords, or against the Spanish foot soldiers with their muskets and cannon? At length the great Indian city was almost destroyed, but thousands of its brave defenders were killed before the fighting ceased (1521). From this time on, the country gradually filled with Spanish settlers.

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Routes of the Conquerors, Cortés and Pizarro

Their conquests of Mexico and of Peru brought untold stores of riches to Spain

16. Cortés Visits Spain. After several years, Cortés longed to see his native land once more. He set sail, and reached the little  p29 port of Palos from which, many years before, the great Columbus had sailed in search of the rich cities of the Far East. Here now, was the very man who had found the cities and had returned to tell the story to his king and countrymen. All along the journey to the king the people now crowded to see Cortés, as they had once crowded to see Columbus.

Cortés afterwards returned to Mexico, where he spent a large part of his fortune in trying to improve the country. The Spanish king permitted great wrong to be done to Cortés and, like Columbus, the discoverer, Cortés, the conqueror, died neglected by the king whom he had made so rich. For three hundred years the mines of Mexico poured a constant stream of gold and silver into the lap of Spain.

Pizarro, who Found the Richest City in the World

17. Pizarro's Voyages. While visiting in Spain, Cortés stopped at the old convent where Columbus had found friendly shelter.  p30 Here Cortés met another Spaniard, named Pizarro, who had just returned from his second voyage in search of a country afterwards called Peru. Pizarro had come to ask the king's help in fitting out another expedition to that far-away country where tales of riches outran anything of which Mexico had ever heard.

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Straw boats of Peru

Boats of like fashion were made and used
in Pizarro's day

On his second expedition from Panama, Pizarro reached a town of two thousand houses on the western side of South America. The people of this town wore rich ornaments and had a large army. As the Spaniards sailed on, dangers and sufferings came thick and fast. Pizarro's men declared they would go no farther. Then they went on shore, and the brave leader, taking his sword, drew a line in the sand from east to west, and said: "On that side are toil, hunger, nakedness, desertion, and death; on this side, ease and pleasure. There lies Peru with its riches, here Panama and its poverty. I go west." Pizarro then stepped across the line, followed by his bravest men. The others sailed back to Panama.

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Pizarro presenting the choice

Sixteen heroic men, resolving to dare poverty and danger,
crossed the line with Pizarro

 p31  Finally ships with more men and supplies came, and Pizarro sailed farther south and landed. Here a sight met the eyes of his men which made them "mad with joy." The very walls of the inside of a great temple were covered with gold and silver. Again they sailed southward hearing the story of a mighty ruler whose riches were greater than those of which any Spaniard had ever dreamed.

Pizarro had seen enough. He sailed for Panama, where the people gave him a warm welcome, for they had believed him long ago lost. Pizarro hastened across the Isthmus and sailed for home, to tell his story to the great King of Spain. The king then made Pizarro governor over all the land that he might conquer. He also gave big titles and high offices of that men who had stood by Pizarro.

Pizarro hastened back to America and crossed the Isthmus to Panama, where he fitted out an expedition of three vessels, two hundred men, and fifty horses. With banners flying, and with hopes of great riches in the hearts of his men, Pizarro sailed southward for the third time, finally reaching the coast of Peru.

18. Pizarro Goes to Find the Inca. When more men and horses arrived under De Soto, Pizarro began his march inland  p32 to find the Inca, or ruler of the country. Gardens with rich fruit and beautiful flowers, and farms with fields watered by canals were seen on every side. In a few days, the army reached the foot of the mighty Andes Mountains, on whose peaks the men saw the snows of a thousand years. The way upon was easy at first, but soon they were climbing a steep, narrow road winding along the edge of gorges hundreds of feet deep. The weather grew colder, the trees were different, and soon only barren rocks were all around. They had reached the top. Pizarro halted his army for rest, and built fires so as to warm his men.

Then the little army for seven days marched down the eastern side of the Andes until a beautiful valley burst into view. The Spaniards saw rich farms and green meadows in every direction. In this valley lay a city of ten thousand people whose homes were built of sun-dried bricks or from cut stone.

Across the valley, could be seen hundreds of the white tents of the Inca's army. There in the royal tent, surrounded by his nobles, De Soto found the Inca, and gave him Pizarro's invitation to visit the Spanish army. But what if the Inca's mighty host should swarm across the valley and swallow up their little band? Pizarro made his plans in secret.

 p33  19. The Inca Taken Prisoner. On the next day the Inca came. He was carried upon his gold-bedecked throne by the nobles, whose golden ornaments "blazed like the sun." With the Inca came an army so large that it spread out over the fields and hills as far as the eye could reach. This was, indeed, a strange visit.

When the Inca reached the great public square of the city, not a Spanish soldier could be seen. Suddenly a signal gun was fired, and the Spaniards rushed from their hiding and charged directly at the Inca. But the people were so willing to die for their beloved ruler that they fought for a long time, and thousands of them had to be killed or trampled down by the Spanish horses before Pizarro and his men could reach the Inca and take him prisoner. When the people saw their nobles killed and the Inca a prisoner they lost heart and quit fighting (1532).

After a few days the Inca told Pizarro that, if the Spaniards would set him free, he would fill the room of his prison, as high as he could reach, with gold. Pizarro agreed, and soon from  p34 all parts of Peru came the Inca's people carrying loads of gold and silver. So anxious were they to have their ruler among them again, that they even took the ornaments from their temples. Millions of dollars worth of gold and silver were gathered. But Pizarro did not keep his word. Instead, he took the great riches and cruelly put the Inca to death.

20. The March to the Capital of Peru. The brave De Soto led the way up the great road toward the top of the Andes. They crossed foaming rivers and fought their way through narrow mountain passes, for the Peruvians were bent on punishing the men who had deceived and put to death their ruler.

Finally, after weary days of marching and fighting, Pizarro and his little army reached Cuzco. Never before in the history of the world had so much gold and silver been found. Vessels of pure gold; golden images; beads of pure gold! In one place were found "ten planks or bars of solid silver, each piece being twenty feet in length, one foot in breadth, and two or three inches thick." These great riches were divided among the Spaniards, according to their rank.

21. The Death of Pizarro. But the conquerors fell to quarreling among themselves. Pizarro and his friends put to death one of the Spanish leaders. After a time the dead leader's friends broke into  p35 Pizarro's palace and killed him. Thus perished a number of the men who had brought so much harm to Peru, and such great wealth to Spain. Every year, for a long time, Spain sent ships to Peru to bring home the rich treasures of the mines.

Suggestions Intended to Help the Pupil

The Leading Facts. 1. Columbus thought the world round but Magellan proved it. 2. Magellan sailed around South America into the Pacific Ocean, across this new sea to the Philippine Islands, where he was killed. 3. His ship reached Spain — the first to sail around the world. 4. Cortés marched against a rich city, afterward called Mexico, captured the ruler, and fought great battles with the people. 5. Cortés captured the city and ruled it for several years. 6. Pizarro invaded Peru, the richest of all countries, captured and put to death the ruler. 7. Pizarro died by the hand of a Spaniard.

Study Questions. 1. What part of the problem of Columbus did Magellan solve? 2. What was Magellan's preparation? 3. Where is Patagonia and how could there be signs of spring late in August? 4. What did Magellan's voyage prove and what remained of Columbus's plans yet to accomplish?

5. Why did Cortés sink his ships? 6. How were Spaniards armed and how were Indians armed? 7. Describe the city of Mexico. 8. Who began the war and what does that show about the Spaniards? 9. How did Cortés get more soldiers? 10. How did the people and king receive Cortés in Spain? 11. How was he treated on his return to Mexico?

12. Who met at the old Convent or Monastery? 13. What sight made the Spaniards "mad with joy?" 14. What did Pizarro see in passing up and down the Andes? 15. Picture the Inca coming to visit Pizarro and Pizarro's reception of him. 16. What pledge did the Inca make? 17. Tell the story of Pizarro's march to the capital. 18. Did Pizarro deserve his fate?

Suggested Readings. Magellan: McMurry, Pioneers on Land and Sea, 161‑185; Butterworth, Story of Magellan, 52‑143; Ober, Ferdinand Magellan, 108‑244.

Cortes: McMurry, Pioneers on Land and Sea, 186‑225; Hale, Stories of Adventure, 101‑126; Ober, Hernando Cortés, 24‑80, 82‑291.

Pizarro: Hart, Colonial Children, 12‑16; Towle, Pizarro, 27‑327.

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Page updated: 11 Sep 06