The True Story of Christopher Columbus
by Elbridge S. Brooks
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By Elbridge S. {Streeter} Brooks

[This was orginally done on the 400th Anniversary of 1492 as was the great Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Interesting how our heroes have all been de-canonized in the interest of Political Correctitude—Comments by Michael S. Hart]


This "True Story of Christopher Columbus" is offered and inscribed to the boys and girls of America as the opening volume in a series especially designed for their reading, and to be called "Children's Lives of Great Men." In this series the place of honor, or rather of position, is given to Columbus the Admiral, because had it not been for him and for his pluck and faith and perseverance there might have been no young Americans, such as we know to-day, to read or care about the world's great men.

Columbus led the American advance; he discovered the New World; he left a record of persistence in spite of discouragement and of triumph over all obstacles, that has been the inspiration and guide for Americans ever since his day, and that has led them to work on in faith and hope until the end they strove for was won.

"The True Story of Christopher Columbus" will be followed by the "true story" of others who have left names for us to honor and revere, who have made the world better because they lived, and who have helped to make and to develop American freedom, strength and progress.

It will be the endeavor to have all these presented in the simple, straightforward, earnest way that appeals to children, and shows how the hero can be the man, and the man the hero. E. S. B.



Men who do great things are men we all like to read about. This is the story of Christopher Columbus, the man who discovered America. He lived four hundred years ago. When he was a little boy he lived in Genoa. It was a beautiful city in the northwestern part of the country called Italy. The mountains were behind it; the sea was in front of it, and it was so beautiful a place that the people who lived there called it "Genoa the Superb." Christopher Columbus was born in this beautiful city of Genoa in the year 1446, at number 27 Ponticello Street. He was a bright little fellow with a fresh-looking face, a clear eye and golden hair. His father's name was Domenico Columbus; his mother's name was Susanna. His father was a wool-comber. He cleaned and straightened out the snarled-up wool that was cut from the sheep so as to make it ready to be woven into cloth.

Christopher helped his father do this when he grew strong enough, but he went to school, too, and learned to read and write and to draw maps and charts. These charts were maps of the sea, to show the sailors where they could steer without running on the rocks and sand, and how to sail safely from one country to another.

This world was not as big then as it is now—or, should say, people did not know it was as big. Most of the lands that Columbus had studied about in school, and most of the people he had heard about, were in Europe and parts of Asia and Africa. The city of Genoa where Columbus lived was a very busy and a very rich city. It was on the Mediterranean Sea, and many of the people who lived there were sailors who went in their ships on voyages to distant lands. They sailed to other places on the Mediterranean Sea, which is a very large body of water, you know, and to England, to France, to Norway, and even as far away as the cold northern island of Iceland. This was thought to be a great journey.

The time in which Columbus lived was not as nice a time as is this in which you live. People were always quarreling and fighting about one thing or another, and the sailors who belonged to one country would try to catch and steal the ships or the things that belonged to the sailors or the storekeepers of another country. This is what we call piracy, and a pirate, you know, is thought to be a very wicked man.

But when Columbus lived, men did not think it was so very wicked to be a sort of half-way pirate, although they did know that they would be killed if they were caught. So almost every sailor was about half pirate. Every boy who lived near the seashore and saw the ships and the sailors, felt as though he would like to sail away to far-off lands and see all the strange sights and do all the brave things that the sailors told about. Many of them even said they would like to be pirates and fight with other sailors, and show how strong and brave and plucky they could be.

Columbus was one of these. He was what is called an adventurous boy. He did not like to stay quietly at home with his father and comb out the tangled wool. He thought it would be much nicer to sail away to sea and be a brave captain or a rich merchant.

When he was about fourteen years old he really did go to sea. There was a captain of a sailing vessel that sometimes came to Genoa who had the same last name—Columbus. He was no relation, but the little Christopher somehow got acquainted with him among the wharves of Genoa. Perhaps he had run on errands for him, or helped him with some of the sea-charts he knew so well how to draw. At any rate he sailed away with this Captain Columbus as his cabin boy, and went to the wars with him and had quite an exciting life for a boy.

Sailors are very fond of telling big stories about their own adventures or about far-off lands and countries. Columbus, listened to many of these sea-stories, and heard many wonderful things about a very rich land away to the East that folks called Cathay.

If you look in your geographies you will not find any such place on the map as Cathay, but you will find China, and that was what men in the time of Columbus called Cathay. They told very big stories about this far-off Eastern land. They said its kings lived in golden houses, that they were covered with pearls and diamonds, and that everybody there was so rich that money was as plentiful as the stones in the street.

This, of course, made the sailors and storekeepers, who were part pirate, very anxious to go to Cathay and get some of the gold and jewels and spices and splendor for themselves. But Cathay was miles and miles away from Italy and Spain and France and England. It was away across the deserts and mountains and seas and rivers, and they had to give it up because they could not sail there.

At last a man whose name was Marco Polo, and who was a very brave and famous traveler, really did go there, in spite of all the trouble it took. And when he got back his stories were so very surprising that men were all the more anxious to find a way to sail in their ships to Cathay and see it for themselves.

But of course they could not sail over the deserts and mountains, and they were very much troubled because they had to give up the idea, until the son of the king of Portugal, named Prince Henry, said he believed that ships could sail around Africa and so get to India or "the Indies" as they called that land, and finally to Cathay.

Just look at your map again and see what a long, long voyage it would be to sail from Spain and around Africa to India, China and Japan. It is such a long sail that, as you know, the Suez Canal was dug some twenty years ago so that ships could sail through the Mediterranean Sea and out into the Indian Ocean, and not have to go away around Africa.

But when Columbus was a boy it was even worse than now, for no one really knew how long Africa was, or whether ships really could sail around it. But Prince Henry said he knew they could, and he sent out ships to try. He died before his Portuguese sailors, Bartholomew Diaz, in 1493, and Vasco de Gama, in 1497, at last did sail around it and got as far as "the Indies."

So while Prince Henry was trying to see whether ships could sail around Africa and reach Cathay in that way, the boy Columbus was listening to the stories the sailors told and was wondering whether some other and easier way to Cathay might not be found.

When he was at school he had studied about a certain man named Pythagoras, who had lived in Greece thousands of years before he was born, and who had said that the earth was round "like a ball or an orange."

As Columbus grew older and made maps and studied the sea, and read books and listened to what other people said, he began to believe that this man named Pythagoras might be right, and that the earth was round, though everybody declared it was flat. If it is round, he said to himself, "what is the use of trying to sail around Africa to get to Cathay? Why not just sail west from Italy or Spain and keep going right around the world until you strike Cathay? I believe it could be done," said Columbus.

By this time Columbus was a man. He was thirty years old and was a great sailor. He had been captain of a number of vessels; he had sailed north and south and east; he knew all about a ship and all about the sea. But, though he was so good a sailor, when he said that he believed the earth was round, everybody laughed at him and said that he was crazy. "Why, how can the earth be round?" they cried. "The water would all spill out if it were, and the men who live on the other side would all be standing on their heads with their feet waving in the air." And then they laughed all the harder.

But Columbus did not think it was anything to laugh at. He believed it so strongly, and felt so sure that he was right, that he set to work to find some king or prince or great lord to let him have ships and sailors and money enough to try to find a way to Cathay by sailing out into the West and across the Atlantic Ocean.

Now this Atlantic Ocean, the western waves of which break upon our rocks and beaches, was thought in Columbus's day to be a dreadful place. People called it the Sea of Darkness, because they did not know what was on the other side of it, or what dangers lay beyond that distant blue rim where the sky and water seem to meet, and which we call the horizon. They thought the ocean stretched to the end of a flat world, straight away to a sort of "jumping-off place," and that in this horrible jumping-off place were giants and goblins and dragons and monsters and all sorts of terrible things that would catch the ships and destroy them and the sailors.

So when Columbus said that he wanted to sail away toward this dreadful jumping-off place, the people said that he was worse than crazy. They said he was a wicked man and ought to be punished.

But they could not frighten Columbus. He kept on trying. He went from place to place trying to get the ships and sailors he wanted and was bound to have. As you will see in the next chapter, he tried to get help wherever he thought it could be had. He asked the people of his own home, the city of Genoa, where he had lived and played when a boy; he asked the people of the beautiful city that is built in the sea—Venice; he tried the king of Portugal, the king of England, the king of France the king and queen of Spain. But for a long time nobody cared to listen to such a wild and foolish and dangerous plan—to go to Cathay by the way of the Sea of Darkness and the Jumping-off place. You would never get there alive, they said.

And so Columbus waited. And his hair grew white while he waited, though he was not yet an old man. He had thought and worked and hoped so much that he began to look like an old man when he was forty years old. But still he would never say that perhaps he was wrong, after all. He said he knew he was right, and that some day he should find the Indies and sail to Cathay.


I do not wish you to think that Columbus was the first man to say that the earth was round, or the first to sail to the West over the Atlantic Ocean. He was not. Other men had said that they believed the earth was round; other men had sailed out into the Atlantic Ocean. But no sailor who believed the earth was round had ever yet tried to prove that it was by crossing the Atlantic. So, you see, Columbus was really the first man to say, I believe the earth is round and I will show you that it is by sailing to the lands that are on the other side of the earth.

He even figured out how far it was around the world. Your geography, you know, tells you now that what is called the circumference of the earth—that is, a straight line drawn right around it—is nearly twenty-five thousand miles. Columbus had figured it up pretty carefully and he thought it was about twenty thousand miles. If I could start from Genoa, he said, and walk straight ahead until I got back to Genoa again, I should walk about twenty thousand miles. Cathay, he thought, would take up so much land on the other side of the world that, if he went west instead of east, he would only need to sail about twenty-five hundred or three thousand miles.

If you have studied your geography carefully you will see what a mistake he made.

It is really about twelve thousand miles from Spain to China (or Cathay as he called it). But America is just about three thousand miles from Spain, and if you read all this story you will see how Columbus's mistake really helped him to discover America.

I have told you that Columbus had a longing to do something great from the time when, as a little boy, he had hung around the wharves in Genoa and looked at the ships sailing east and west and talked with the sailors and wished that he could go to sea. Perhaps what he had learned at school—how some men said that the earth was round—and what he had heard on the wharves about the wonders of Cathay set him to thinking and to dreaming that it might be possible for a ship to sail around the world without falling off. At any rate, he kept on thinking and dreaming and longing until, at last, he began doing.

Some of the sailors sent out by Prince Henry of Portugal, of whom I have told you, in their trying to sail around Africa discovered two groups of islands out in the Atlantic that they called the Azores, or Isles of Hawks, and the Canaries, or Isles of Dogs. When Columbus was in Portugal in 1470 he became acquainted with a young woman whose name was Philippa Perestrelo. In 1473 he married her.

Now Philippa's father, before his death, had been governor of Porto Santo, one of the Azores, and Columbus and his wife went off there to live. In the governor's house Columbus found a lot of charts and maps that told him about parts of the ocean that he had never before seen, and made him feel certain that he was right in saying that if he sailed away to the West he should find Cathay.

At that time there was an old man who lived in Florence, a city of Italy. His name was Toscanelli. He was a great scholar and studied the stars and made maps, and was a very wise man. Columbus knew what a wise old scholar Toscanelli was, for Florence is not very far from Genoa. So while he was living in the Azores he wrote to this old scholar asking him what he thought about his idea that a man could sail around the world until he reached the land called the Indies and at last found Cathay.

Toscanelli wrote to Columbus saying that he believed his idea was the right one, and he said it would be a grand thing to do, if Columbus dared to try it. Perhaps, he said, you can find all those splendid things that I know are in Cathay—the great cities with marble bridges, the houses of marble covered with gold, the jewels and the spices and the precious stones, and all the other wonderful and magnificent things. I do not wonder you wish to try, he said, for if you find Cathay it will be a wonderful thing for you and for Portugal.

That settled it with Columbus. If this wise old scholar said he was right, he must be right. So he left his home in the Azores and went to Portugal. This was in 1475, and from that time on, for seventeen long years he was trying to get some king or prince to help him sail to the West to find Cathay.

But not one of the people who could have helped him, if they had really wished to, believed in Columbus. As I told you, they said that he was crazy. The king of Portugal, whose name was John, did a very unkind thing—I am sure you would call it a mean trick. Columbus had gone to him with his story and asked for ships and sailors. The king and his chief men refused to help him; but King John said to himself, perhaps there is something in this worth looking after and, if so, perhaps I can have my own people find Cathay and save the money that Columbus will want to keep for himself as his share of what he finds. So one day he copied off the sailing directions that Columbus had left with him, and gave them to one of his own captains without letting Columbus know anything about it, The Portuguese captain sailed away to the West in the direction Columbus had marked down, but a great storm came up and so frightened the sailors that they turned around in a hurry. Then they hunted up Columbus and began to abuse him for getting them into such a scrape. You might as well expect to find land in the sky, they said, as in those terrible waters.

And when, in this way, Columbus found out that King John had tried to use his ideas without letting him know anything about it, he was very angry. His wife had died in the midst of this mean trick of the Portuguese king, and so, taking with him his little five-year-old son, Diego, he left Portugal secretly and went over into Spain.

Near the little town of Palos, in western Spain, is a green hill looking out toward the Atlantic. Upon this hill stands an old building that, four hundred years ago, was used as a a convent or home for priests. It was called the Convent of Rabida, and the priest at the head of it was named the Friar Juan Perez. One autumn day, in the year 1484, Friar Juan Perez saw a dusty traveler with a little boy talking with the gate-keeper of the convent. The stranger was so tall and fine-looking, and seemed such an interesting man, that Friar Juan went out and began to talk with him. This man was Columbus.

As they talked, the priest grew more and more interested in what Columbus said. He invited him into the convent to stay for a few days, and he asked some other people—the doctor of Palos and some of the sea captains and sailors of the town—to come and talk with this stranger who had such a singular idea about sailing across the Atlantic.

It ended in Columbus's staying some months in Palos, waiting for a chance to go and see the king and queen. At last, in 1485, he set out for the Spanish court with a letter to a priest who was a friend of Friar Juan's, and who could help him to see the king and queen.

At that time the king and queen of Spain were fighting to drive out of Spain the people called the Moors. These people came from Africa, but they had lived in Spain for many years and had once been a very rich and powerful nation. They were not Spaniards; they were not Christians. So all Spaniards and all Christians hated them and tried to drive them out of Europe.

The king and queen of Spain who were fighting the Moors were named Ferdinand and Isabella. They were pretty good people as kings and queens went in those days, but they did a great many very cruel and very mean things, just as the kings and queens of those days were apt to do. I am afraid we should not think they were very nice people nowadays. We certainly should not wish our American boys and girls to look up to them as good and true and noble.

When Columbus first came to them, they were with the army in the camp near the city of Cordova. The king and queen had no time to listen to what they thought were crazy plans, and poor Columbus could get no one to talk with him who could be of any help. So he was obliged to go back to drawing maps and selling books to make enough money to support himself and his little Diego.

But at last, through the friend of good Friar Juan Perez of Rabida, who was a priest at the court, and named Talavera, and to whom he had a letter of introduction, Columbus found a chance to talk over his plans with a number of priests and scholars in the city of Salamanca where there was a famous college and many learned men.

Columbus told his story. He said what he wished to do, and asked these learned men to say a good word for him to, Ferdinand and Isabella so that he could have the ships and sailors to sail to Cathay. But it was of no use.

What! sail away around the world? those wise men cried in horror. Why, you are crazy. The world is not round; it is flat. Your ships would tumble off the edge of the world and all the king's money and all the king's men would be lost. No, no; go away; you must not trouble the queen or even mention such a ridiculous thing again.

So the most of them said. But one or two thought it might be worth trying. Cathay was a very rich country, and if this foolish fellow were willing to run the risk and did succeed, it would be a good thing for Spain, as the king and queen would need a great deal of money after the war with the Moors was over. At any rate, it was a chance worth thinking about.

And so, although Columbus was dreadfully disappointed, he thought that if he had only a few friends at Court who were ready to say a good word for him he must not give up, but must try, try again. And so he staid in Spain.


When you wish very much to do a certain thing it is dreadfully hard to be patient; it is harder still to have to wait. Columbus had to do both. The wars against the Moors were of much greater interest to the king and queen of Spain than was the finding of a new and very uncertain way to get to Cathay. If it had not been for the patience and what we call the persistence of Columbus, America would never have been discovered—at least not in his time.

He staid in Spain. He grew poorer and, poorer. He was almost friendless. It seemed as if his great enterprise must be given up. But he never lost hope. He never stopped trying. Even when he failed he kept on hoping and kept on trying. He felt certain that sometime he should succeed.

As we have seen, he tried to interest the rulers of different countries, but with no success. He tried to get help from his old home-town of Genoa and failed; he tried Portugal and failed; he tried the Republic of Venice and failed; he tried the king and queen of Spain and failed; he tried some of the richest and most powerful of the nobles of Spain and failed; he tried the king of England (whom he got his brother, Bartholomew Columbus, to go and see) and failed. There was still left the king of France. He would make one last attempt to win the king and queen of Spain to his side and if he failed with them he would try the last of the rulers of Western Europe, the king of France.

He followed the king and queen of Spain as they went from place to place fighting the Moors. He hoped that some day, when they wished to think of something besides fighting, they might think of him and the gold and jewels and spices of Cathay.

The days grew into months, the months to years, and still the war against the Moors kept on; and still Columbus waited for the chance that did not come. People grew to know him as "the crazy explorer" as they met him in the streets or on the church steps of Seville or Cordova, and even ragged little boys of the town, sharp-eyed and shrill-voiced as all such ragged little urchins are, would run after this big man with the streaming white hair and the tattered cloak, calling him names or tapping their brown little foreheads with their dirty fingers to show that even they knew that he was "as crazy as a loon."

At last he decided to make one more attempt before giving it up in Spain. His money was gone; his friends were few; but he remembered his acquaintances at Palos and so he journeyed back to see once more his good friend Friar Juan Perez at the Convent of Rabida on the hill that looked out upon the Atlantic he was so anxious to cross.

It was in the month of November, 1491, that he went back to the Convent of Rabida. If he could not get any encouragement there, he was determined to stay in Spain no longer but to go away and try the king of France.

Once more he talked over the finding of Cathay with the priests and the sailors of Palos. They saw how patient he was; how persistent he was; how he would never give up his ideas until he had tried them. They were moved by his determination. They began to believe in him more and more. They resolved to help him. One of the principal sea captains of Palos was named Martin Alonso Pinzon. He became so interested that he offered to lend Columbus money enough to make one last appeal to the king and queen of Spain, and if Columbus should succeed with them, this Captain Pinzon said that he would go into partnership with Columbus and help him out when it came to getting ready to sail to Cathay.

This was a move in the right direction. At once a messenger was sent to the splendid Spanish camp before the city of Granada, the last unconquered city of the Moors of Spain. The king and queen of Spain had been so long trying to capture Granada that this camp was really a city, with gates and walls and houses. It was called Santa Fe. Queen Isabella, who was in Santa Fe, after some delay, agreed to hear more about the crazy scheme of this persistent Genoese sailor, and the Friar Juan Perez was sent for. He talked so well in behalf of his friend Columbus that the queen became still more interested. She ordered Columbus to come and see her, and sent him sixty-five dollars to pay for a mule, a new suit of clothes and the journey to court.

About Christmas time, in the year 1491, Columbus, mounted upon his mule, rode into the Spanish camp before the city of Granada. But even now, when he had been told to come, he had to wait. Granada was almost captured; the Moors were almost conquered. At last the end came. On the second of January, 1492, the Moorish king gave up the keys of his beloved city, and the great Spanish banner was hoisted on the highest tower of the Alhambra—the handsomest building in Granada and one of the most beautiful in the world. The Moors were driven out of Spain and Columbus's chance had come.

So he appeared before Queen Isabella and her chief men and told them again of all his plans and desires. The queen and her advisers sat in a great room in that splendid Alhambra I have told you of. King Ferdinand was not there. He did not believe in Columbus and did not wish to let him have either money, ships or sailors to lose in such a foolish way. But as Columbus stood before her and talked so earnestly about how he expected to find the Indies and Cathay and what he hoped to bring away from there, Queen Isabella listened and thought the plan worth trying.

Then a singular thing happened. You would think if you wished for something very much that you would give up a good deal for the sake of getting it. Columbus had worked and waited for seventeen years. He had never got what he wanted. He was always being disappointed. And yet, as he talked to the queen and told her what he wished to do, he said he must have so much as a reward for doing it that the queen and her chief men were simply amazed at his—well, what the boys to-day call "cheek"—that they would have nothing to do with him. This man really is crazy, they said. This poor Genoese sailor comes here without a thing except his very odd ideas, and almost "wants the earth" as a reward. This is not exactly what they said, but it is what they meant.

His few friends begged him to be more modest. Do not ask so much, they said, or you will get nothing. But Columbus was determined. I have worked and waited all these years, he replied. I know just what I can do and just how much I can do for the king and queen of Spain. They must pay me what I ask and promise what I say, or I will go somewhere else. Go, then! said the queen and her advisers. And Columbus turned his back on what seemed almost his last hope, mounted his mule and rode away.

Then something else happened. As Columbus rode off to find the French king, sick and tired of all his long and useless labor at the Spanish court, his few firm friends there saw that, unless they did something right away, all the glory and all the gain of this enterprise Columbus had taught them to believe in would be lost to Spain. So two of them, whose names were Santangel and Quintanilla, rushed into the queen's room and begged her, if she wished to become the greatest queen in Christendom, to call back this wandering sailor, agree to his terms and profit by his labors.

What if he does ask a great deal? they said. He has spent his life thinking his plan out; no wonder he feels that he ought to have a good share of what he finds. What he asks is really small compared with what Spain will gain. The war with the Moors has cost you ever so much; your money-chests are empty; Columbus will fill them up. The people of Cathay are heathen; Columbus will help you make them Christian men. The Indies and Cathay are full of gold and jewels; Columbus will bring you home shiploads of treasures. Spain has conquered the Moors; Columbus will help you conquer Cathay.

In fact, they talked to Queen Isabella so strongly and so earnestly, that she, too, became excited over this chance for glory and riches that she had almost lost, Quick! send for Columbus. Call him back! she said. I agree to his terms. If King Ferdinand cannot or will not take the risk, I, the queen, will do it all. Quick! do not let the man get into France. After him. Bring him back!

And without delay a royal messenger, mounted on a swift horse, was sent at full gallop to bring Columbus back.

All this time poor Columbus felt bad enough. Everything had gone wrong. Now he must go away into a new land and do it all over again. Kings and queens, he felt, were not to be depended upon, and he remembered a place in the Bible where it said: "Put not your trust in princes." Sad, solitary and heavy-hearted, he jogged slowly along toward the mountains, wondering what the king of France would say to him, and whether it was really worth trying.

Just as he was riding across the little bridge called the Bridge of Pinos, some six miles from Granada, he heard the quick hoof-beats of a horse behind him. It was a great spot for robbers, and Columbus felt of the little money he had in his traveling pouch, and wondered whether he must lose it all. The hoof-beats came nearer. Then a voice hailed him. Turn back, turn back! the messenger cried out. The queen bids you return to Granada. She grants you all you ask.

Columbus hesitated. Ought he to trust this promise, he wondered. Put not your trust in princes, the verse in the Bible had said. If I go back I may only be put off and worried as I have been before. And yet, perhaps she means what she says. At any rate, I will go back and try once more.

So, on the little Bridge of Pinos, he turned his mule around and rode back to Granada. And, sure enough, when he saw Queen Isabella she agreed to all that he asked. If he found Cathay, Columbus was to be made admiral for life of all the new seas and oceans into which he might sail; he was to be chief ruler of all the lands he might find; he was to keep one tenth part of all the gold and jewels and treasures he should bring away, and was to have his "say" in all questions about the new lands. For his part (and this was because of the offer of his friend at Palos, Captain Pinzon) he agreed to pay one eighth of all the expenses of this expedition and of all new enterprises, and was to have one eighth of all the profits from them.

So Columbus had his wish at last. The queen's men figured up how much money they could let him have; they called him "Don Christopher Columbus," "Your Excellency" and "Admiral," and at once he set about getting ready for his voyage.


The agreement made between Columbus and the king and queen of Spain was signed on the seventeenth of April, 1492. But it was four months before he was quite ready to sail away.

He selected the town of Palos as the place to sail from, because there, as you know, Captain Pinzon lived; there, too, he had other acquaintances, so that he supposed it would be easy to get the sailors he needed for his ships. But in this he was greatly mistaken.

As soon as the papers had been signed that held the queen to her promise, Columbus set off for Palos. He stopped at the Convent of Rabida to tell the Friar Juan Perez how thankful he was to him for the help the good priest had given him, and how everything now looked promising and successful.

The town of Palos, as you can see from your map of Spain, is situated at the mouth of the river Tinto on a little bay in the southwestern part of Spain, not far from the borders of Portugal. To-day the sea has gone away from it so much that it is nearly high and dry; but four hundred years ago it was quite a seaport, when Spain did not have a great many sea towns on the Atlantic coast.

At the time of Columbus's voyage the king and queen of Spain were angry with the port of Palos for something its people had done that was wrong—just what this was we do not know. But to punish the town, and because Columbus wished to sail from there, the king and queen ordered that Palos should pay them a fine for their wrong-doing. And this fine was to lend the king and queen of Spain, for one year, without pay, two sailing vessels of the kind called caravel's, armed and equipped "for the service of the crown"—that is, for the use of the king and queen of Spain, in the western voyage that Columbus was to make.

When Columbus called together the leading people of Palos to meet him in the church of St. George and hear the royal commands, they came; but at first they did not understand just what they must do. But when they knew that they must send two of their ships and some of their sailing men on this dreadful voyage far out upon the terrible Sea of Darkness, they were terribly distressed. Nobody was willing to go. They would obey the commands of the king and queen and furnish the two ships, but as for sailing off with this crazy sea captain—that they would not do.

Then the king's officers went to work. They seized some sailors (impressed is the word for this), and made them go; they took some from the jails, and gave them their freedom as a reward for going; they begged and threatened and paid in advance, and still it was hard to get enough men for the two ships. Then Captain Pinzon, who had promised Columbus that he would join him, tried his hand. He added a third ship to the Admiral's "fleet." He made big promises to the sailors, and worked for weeks, until at last he was able to do what even the royal commands could not do, and a crew of ninety men was got together to man the three vessels. The names of these three vessels were the Capitana (changed before it sailed to the Santa Maria), the Pinta and the Nina or Baby. Captain de la Cosa commanded the Santa Maria, Captain Martin Alonso Pinzon the Pinta and his brother, Captain Vincent Pinzon, the Nina. The Santa Maria was the largest of the three vessels; it was therefore selected as the leader of the fleet—the flag-ship, as it is called—and upon it sailed the commander of the expedition, the Admiral Don Christopher Columbus.

When we think of a voyage across the Atlantic nowadays, we think of vessels as large as the big three-masted ships or the great ocean steamers—vessels over six hundred feet long and fifty feet wide. But these "ships" of Columbus were not really ships. They were hardly larger than the "fishing smacks" that sail up and down our coast to-day. Some of them were not so large. The Santa Maria was, as I have told you, the largest of the three, and she was only sixty-three feet long, twenty feet wide and ten and a half feet deep. Just measure this out on the ground and see how small, after all, the Admiral's "flag-ship" really was. The Pinta was even smaller than this, while the little Nina was hardly anything more than a good-sized sail boat. Do you wonder that the poor people of Palos and the towns round about were frightened when they thought of their fathers and brothers and sons putting out to sea, on the great ocean they had learned to dread so much, in such shaky little boats as these?

But finally the vessels were ready. The crews were selected. The time had come to go. Most of the sailors were Spanish men from the towns near to the sea, but somehow a few who were not Spaniards joined the crew.

One of the first men to land in America from one of the ships of Columbus was an Irishman named William, from the County Galway. And another was an Englishman named either Arthur Laws or Arthur Larkins. The Spanish names for both these men look very queer, and only a wise scholar who digs among names and words could have found out what they really were. But such a one did find it out, and it increases our interest in the discovery of America to know that some of our own northern blood—the Irishman and the Englishman—were in the crews of Columbus.

The Admiral Columbus was so sure he was going to find a rich and civilized country, such as India and Cathay were said to be, that he took along on his ships the men he would need in such places as he expected to visit and among such splendid people as he was sure he should meet. He took along a lawyer to make out all the forms and proclamations and papers that would have to be sent by the Admiral to the kings and princes he expected to visit; he had a secretary and historian to write out the story of what he should find and what he should do. There was a learned Jew, named Louis, who could speak almost a dozen languages, and who could, of course, tell him what the people of Cathay and Cipango and the Indies were talking about. There was a jeweler and silversmith who knew all about the gold and silver and precious stones that Columbus was going to load the ships with; there was a doctor and a surgeon; there were cooks and pilots, and even a little fellow, who sailed in the Santa Maria as the Admiral's cabin boy, and whose name was Pedro de Acevedo.

Some scholars have said that it cost about two hundred and thirty thousand dollars to fit out this expedition. I do not think it cost nearly so much. We do know that Queen Isabella gave sixty-seven thousand dollars to help pay for it. Some people, however, reckoning the old Spanish money in a different way, say that what Queen Isabella gave toward the expedition was not over three or four thousand dollars of our money. Perhaps as much more was borrowed from King Ferdinand, although he was to have no share in the enterprise in which Queen Isabella and Columbus were partners.

It was just an hour before sunrise on Friday, the third of August, 1492, that the three little ships hoisted their anchors and sailed away from the port of Palos. I suppose it was a very sorry and a very exciting morning in Palos. The people probably crowded down on the docks, some of them sad and sorrowful, some of them restless and curious. Their fathers and brothers and sons and acquaintances were going—no one knew where, dragged off to sea by a crazy old Italian sailor who thought there was land to be found somewhere beyond the Jumping-off place. They all knew he was wrong. They were certain that nothing but dreadful goblins and horrible monsters lived off there to the West, just waiting to devour or destroy the poor sailors when these three little ships should tumble over the edge.

But how different Columbus must have felt as he stepped, into the rowboat that took him off to his "flag-ship," the Santa Maria. His dreams had come true. He had ships and sailors under his command, and was about to sail away to discover great and wonderful things. He who had been so poor that he could hardly buy his own dinner, was now called Don and Admiral. He had a queen for his friend and helper. He was given a power that only the richest and noblest could hope for. But more than all, he was to have the chance he had wished and worked for so long. He was to find the Indies; he was to see Cathay; he was to have his share in all the wealth he should discover and bring away. The son of the poor wool-weaver of Genoa was to be the friend of kings and princes; the cabin boy of a pirate was now Admiral of the Seas and Governor of the Colonies of Spain! Do you wonder that he felt proud?

So, as I have told you, just before sunrise on a Friday morning in August, he boarded the Santa Maria and gave orders to his captains "to get under way." The sailors with a "yo heave ho!" (or whatever the Spanish for that is) tugged at the anchors, the sails filled with the morning breeze, and while the people of Palos watched them from the shore, while the good friar, Juan Perez, raised his hands to Heaven calling down a blessing on the enterprise, while the children waved a last good-by from the water-stairs, the three vessels steered out from Palos Harbor, and before that day's sun had set, Columbus and his fleet were full fifty miles on their way across the Sea of Darkness. The westward voyage to those wonderful lands, the Indies and Cathay, had at last begun.


Did you ever set out, in the dark, to walk with your little brother or sister along a road you did not know much about or had never gone over before? It was not an easy thing to do, was it? And how did your little brother or sister feel when it was known that you were not just certain whether you were right or not? Do you remember what the Bible says about the blind leading the blind?

It was much the same with Columbus when he set out from Palos to sail over an unknown sea to find the uncertain land of Cathay. He had his own idea of the way there, but no one in all his company had ever sailed it, and he himself was not sure about it. He was very much in the dark. And the sailors in the three ships were worse than little children. They did not even have the confidence in their leader that your little brother or sister would probably have in you as you traveled that new road on a dark night. It was almost another case of the blind leading the blind, was it not?

Columbus first steered his ships to the south so as to reach the Canary Islands and commence his real westward voyage from there. The Canary Islands, as you will see by looking in your geography, are made up of seven islands and lie off the northern corner of Africa, some sixty miles or so west of Morocco. They were named Canaria by the Romans from the Latin canis, a dog, "because of the multitude of dogs of great size" that were found there. The canary birds that sing so sweetly in your home come from these islands. They had been known to the Spaniards and other European sailors of Columbus's day about a hundred years.

At the Canaries the troubles of Columbus commenced. And he did have a lot of trouble before his voyage was over. While near the island called the Grand Canary the rudder of the Pinta, in which Captain Alonso Pinzon sailed, somehow got loose, then broke and finally came off. It was said that two of the Pinta's crew, who were really the owners of the vessel, broke the rudder on purpose, because they had become frightened at the thoughts of the perilous voyage, and hoped by damaging their vessel to be left behind.

But Columbus had no thought of doing any such thing. He sailed to the island of Gomera, where he knew some people, and had the Pinta mended. And while lying here with his fleet the great mountain on the island of Teneriffe, twelve thousand feet high, suddenly began to spit out flame and smoke. It was, as of course you know, a volcano; but the poor frightened sailors did not know what set this mountain on fire, and they were scared almost out of their wits' and begged the Admiral to go back home. But Columbus would not. And as they sailed away from Gomera some sailors told them that the king of Portugal was angry with Columbus because he had got his ships from the king and queen of Spain, and that he had sent out some of his war-ships to worry or capture Columbus.

But these, too, Columbus escaped, although not before his crews had grown terribly nervous for fear of capture. At last they got away from the Canaries, and on Sunday, the ninth of September, 1492, with a fresh breeze filling their sails, the three caravels sailed away into the West. And as the shores of Ferro, the very last of the Canary Islands, faded out of sight, the sailors burst into sighs and murmurings and tears, saying that now indeed they were sailing off—off—off—upon the awful Sea of Darkness and would never see land any more.

When Columbus thought that he was sailing too slowly—he had now been away from Palos a month and was only about a hundred miles out at sea—and when he saw what babies his sailors were, he did something that was not just right (for it is never right to do anything that is not true) but which he felt he really must do. He made two records (or reckonings as they are called) of his sailing. One of these records was a true one; this he kept for himself. The other was a false one; this he kept to show his sailors. So while they thought they were sailing slowly and that the ocean was not so very wide, Columbus knew from his own true record that they were getting miles and miles away from home.

Soon another thing happened to worry the sailors. The pilots were steering by the compass. You know what that is—a sort of big magnet-needle perfectly balanced and pointing always to the north. At the time of Columbus the compass was a new thing and was only understood by a few. On the thirteenth of September they had really got into the middle of the ocean, and the line of the north changed. Of course this made the needle in the compass change its position also. Now the sailors had been taught to believe so fully in the compass that they thought it could never change its position. And here it was playing a cruel trick upon them. We are trapped! they cried. The goblins in this dreadful sea are making our compass point wrong so as to drag us to destruction. Go back; take us back! they demanded.

But Columbus, though he knew that his explanation was wrong, said the compass was all right. The North Star, toward which the needle always pointed, had, so he said, changed its position. This quieted the sailors for a while.

When they had been about forty days out from Palos, the ship ran into what is marked upon your maps as the Sargasso Sea. This is a vast meadow of floating seaweed and seagrass in the middle of the Atlantic; it is kept drifting about in the same place by the two great sea currents that flow past it but not through it.

The sailors did not know this, of course, and when the ships began to sail slower and slower because the seaweed was so thick and heavy and because there was no current to carry them along, they were sure that they were somewhere near to the jumping-off place, and that the horrible monsters they had heard of were making ready to stop their ships, and when they had got them all snarled up in this weed to drag them all down to the bottom of the sea.

For nearly a week the ships sailed over these vast sea-meadows, and when they were out of them they struck what we call the trade-winds—a never-failing breeze that blew them ever westward. Then the sailors cried out that they were in an enchanted land where there was but one wind and never a breeze to blow the poor sailors home again. Were they not fearfully "scarey?" But no doubt we should have been so, too, if we had been with them and knew no more than they did.

And when they had been over fifty days from home on the twenty-fifth of September, some one suddenly cried Land! Land! And all hands crowded to the side. Sure enough, they all saw it, straight ahead of them—fair green islands and lofty hills and a city with castles and temples and palaces that glittered beautifully in the sun.

Then they all cried for joy and sang hymns of praise and shouted to each other that their troubles were over. Cathay, it is Cathay! they cried; and they steered straight for the shining city. But, worst of all their troubles, even as they sailed toward the land they thought to be Cathay, behold! it all disappeared—island and castle and palace and temple and city, and nothing but the tossing sea lay all about them.

For this that they had seen was what is called a mirage—a trick of the clouds and the sun and the sea that makes people imagine they see what they would like to, but really do not. But after this Columbus had a harder time than ever with his men, for they were sure he was leading them all astray.

And so with frights and imaginings and mysteries like these, with strange birds flying about the ships and floating things in the water that told of land somewhere about them, with hopes again and again disappointed, and with the sailors growing more and more restless and discontented, and muttering threats against this Italian adventurer who, was leading the ships and sailors of the Spanish king to sure destruction, Columbus still sailed on, as full of patience and of faith, as certain of success as he had ever been.

On the seventh of October, 1492, the true record that Columbus was keeping showed that he had sailed twenty-seven hundred miles from the Canaries; the false record that the sailors saw said they had sailed twenty-two hundred miles. Had Columbus kept straight on, he would have landed very soon upon the coast of Florida or South Carolina, and would really have discovered the mainland of America. But Captain Alonso Pinzon saw what looked like a flock of parrots flying south. This made him think the land lay that way; so he begged the Admiral to change his course to the southward as he was sure there was no land to the west. Against his will, Columbus at last consented, and turning to the southwest headed for Cuba.

But he thought he was steering for Cathay. The islands of Japan, were, he thought, only a few leagues away to the west. They were really, as you know, away across the United States and then across the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles farther west than Columbus could sail. But according to his reckoning he hoped within a day or two to see the cities and palaces of this wonderful land.

When they sailed from the Canaries a reward had been offered to whomsoever should first see land. This reward was to be a silken jacket and nearly five hundred dollars in money; so all the sailors were on the watch.

At about ten o'clock on the evening of the eleventh of October, Columbus, standing on the high raised stern of the Santa Maria, saw a moving light, as if some one on the shore were running with a flaming torch. At two o'clock the next morning—Friday, the twelfth of October, 1492 the sharp eyes of a watchful sailor on the Pinta (his name was Rodrigo de Triana) caught sight of a long low coastline not far away. He raised the joyful shout Land, ho! The ships ran in as near to the shore as they dared, and just ten weeks after the anchors had been hauled up in Palos Harbor they were dropped overboard, and the hips of Columbus were anchored in the waters of a new world.

Where was it? What was it? Was it Cathay? Columbus was sure that it was. He was certain that the morning sun would shine for him upon the marble towers and golden roofs of the wonderful city of the kings of Cathay.


A little over three hundred years ago there was a Pope of Rome whose name was Gregory XIII. He was greatly interested in learning and science, and when the scholars and wise men of his day showed him that a mistake in reckoning time had long before been made he set about to make it right. At that time the Pope of Rome had great influence with the kings and queens of Europe, and whatever he wished them to do they generally did.

So they all agreed to his plan of renumbering the days of the year, and a new reckoning of time was made upon the rule that most of you know by heart in the old rhyme:

Thirty days hath September, April, June and November; All the rest have thirty-one, Excepting February which alone Hath twenty-eight—and this, in fine, One year in four hath twenty-nine.

And the order of the days of the months and the year is what is called, after Pope Gregory, the Gregorian Calendar.

This change in reckoning time made, of course, all past dates wrong. The old dates, which were called Old Style, had to be made to correspond with the new dates which were called New Style.

Now, according to the Old Style, Columbus discovered the islands he thought to be the Indies (and which have ever since been called the West Indies) on the twelfth of October, 1492. But, according to the New Style, adopted nearly one hundred years after his discovery, the right date would be the twenty-first of October. And this is why, in the Columbian memorial year of 1892, the world celebrated the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America on the twenty-first of October; which, as you see, is the same as the twelfth under the Old Style of reckoning time.

But did Columbus discover America? What was this land that greeted his eyes as the daylight came on that Friday morning, and he saw the low green shores that lay ahead of his caravels.

As far as Columbus was concerned he was sure that he had found some one of the outermost islands of Cipango or Japan. So he dropped his anchors, ordered out his rowboat, and prepared to take possession of the land in the name of the queen of Spain, who had helped him in his enterprise.

Just why or by what right a man from one country could sail up to the land belonging to another country and, planting in the ground the flag of his king, could say, "This land belongs to my king!" is a hard question to answer. But there is an old saying that tells us, Might makes right; and the servants of the kings and queens—the adventurers and explorers of old—used to go sailing about the world with this idea in their heads, and as soon as they came to a land they, had never seen before, up would go their flag, and they would say, This land is mine and my king's! They would not of course do this in any of the well-known or "Christian lands" of Europe; but they believed that all "pagan lands" belonged by right to the first European king whose sailors should discover and claim them.

So Columbus lowered a boat from the Santa Maria, and with two of his chief men and some sailors for rowers he pulled off toward the island.

But before he did so, he had to listen to the cheers and congratulations of the very sailors who, only a few days before, were ready to kill him. But, you see, this man whom they thought crazy had really brought them to the beautiful land, just as he had promised. It does make such a difference, you know, in what people say whether a thing turns out right or not.

Columbus, as I say, got into his rowboat with his chief inspector and his lawyer. He wore a crimson cloak over his armor, and in his hand he held the royal banner of Spain. Following him came Captain Alonso Pinzon in a rowboat from the Pinta, and in a rowboat from the Nina Captain Vincent Pinzon. Each of these captains carried the "banner of the green cross" on which were to be seen the initials of the king and queen of Spain.

As they rowed toward the land they saw some people on the shore. They were not dressed in the splendid clothes the Spaniards expected to find the people of Cathay wearing. In fact, they did not have on much of anything but grease and paint. And the land showed no signs of the marble temples and gold-roofed palaces the sailors expected to find. It was a little, low, flat green island, partly covered with trees and with what looked like a lake in the center.

This land was, in fact, one of the three thousand keys or coral islands that stretch from the capes of Florida to the island of Hayti, and are known as the Bahama Islands. The one upon which Columbus landed was called by the natives Guanahani, and was either the little island now marked on the map as Cat Island or else the one called Watling's Island. Just which of these it was has been discussed over and over again, but careful scholars have now but little doubt that it was the one known to-day as Watling's Island. To see no sign of glittering palaces and gayly dressed people was quite a disappointment to Columbus. But then, he said, this, is probably the island farthest out to sea, and the people who live here are not the real Cathay folks. We shall see them very soon.

So with the royal banner and the green-cross standards floating above him, with his captains and chief officers and some of the sailors gathered about him, while all the others watched him from the decks of his fleet, Columbus stepped upon the shore. Then he took off his hat, and holding the royal banner in one hand and his sword in the other he said aloud: I take possession of this island, which I name San Salvador,(*) and of all the islands and lands about it in the name of my patron and sovereign lady, Isabella, and her kingdom of Castile. This, or something like it, he said, for the exact words are not known to us.

(*) The island of San Salvador means the island of the Holy Saviour. Columbus and the Spanish explorers who followed him gave Bible or religious names to very much of the land they discovered.

And when he had done this the captains and sailors fell at his feet in wonder and admiration, begging him to forgive them for all the hard things they had said about him. For you have found Cathay, they cried. You are our leader. You will make us rich and powerful. Hurrah for the great Admiral!

And when the naked and astonished people of the island saw all this—the canoes with wings, as they called the ships, the richly-dressed men with white and bearded faces, the flags and swords, and the people kneeling about this grand-looking old man in the crimson cloak—they said to one another: These men are gods; they have come from Heaven to see us. And then, they, too, fell on the ground and worshiped these men from Heaven, as they supposed Columbus and his sailors to be.

And when they found that the men from Heaven did not offer to hurt them, they came nearer; and the man in the crimson cloak gave them beads and pieces of bright cloth and other beautiful things they had never seen before. And this made them feel all the more certain that these men who had come to see them in the canoes with wings must really be from Heaven. So they brought them fruits and flowers and feathers and birds as presents; and both parties, the men with clothes and the men without clothes, got on very well together.

But Columbus, as we know, had come across the water for one especial reason. He was to find Cathay, and he was to find it so that he could carry back to Spain the gold and jewels and spices of Cathay. The first thing, therefore, that he tried to find out from the people of the island—whom he called "Indians," because he thought he had come to a part of the coast of India was where Cathay might be.

Of course they did not understand him. Even Louis, the interpreter, who knew a dozen languages and who tried them all, could not make out what these "Indians" said. But from their signs and actions and from the sound of the words they spoke, Columbus understood that Cathay was off somewhere to the southwest, and that the gold he was bound to find came from there. The "Indians" had little bits of gold hanging in their ears and noses. So Columbus supposed that among the finer people he hoped soon to meet in the southwest, he should find great quantities of the yellow metal. He was delighted. Success, he felt, was not far off. Japan was near, China was near, India was near. Of this he was certain; and even until he died Columbus did not have any idea that he had found a new world—such as America really was. He was sure that he had simply landed upon the eastern coasts of Asia and that he had found what he set out to discover—the nearest route to the Indies.

The next day Columbus pulled up his anchors, and having seized and carried off to his ships some of the poor natives who had welcomed him so gladly, he commenced a cruise among the islands of the group he had discovered.

Day after day he sailed among these beautiful tropic islands, and of them and of the people who lived upon them he wrote to the king and queen of Spain: "This country excels all others as far as the day surpasses the night in splendor. The natives love their neighbors as themselves; their conversation is the sweetest imaginable; their faces smiling; and so gentle and so affectionate are they, that I swear to Your Highness there is not a better people in the world."

Does it not seem a pity that so great a man should have acted so meanly toward these innocent people who loved and trusted him so? For it was Columbus who first stole them away from their island homes and who first thought of making them slaves to the white men.


Columbus kept sailing on from one island to another. Each new island he found would, he hoped, bring him nearer to Cathay and to the marble temples and golden palaces and splendid cities he was looking for. But the temples and palaces and cities did not appear. When the Admiral came to the coast of Cuba he said: This, I know, is the mainland of Asia. So he sent off Louis, the interpreter, with a letter to the "great Emperor of Cathay." Louis was gone several days; but he found no emperor, no palace, no city, no gold, no jewels, no spices, no Cathay—only frail houses of bark and reeds, fields of corn and grain, with simple people who could tell him nothing about Cathay or Cipango or the Indies.

So day after day Columbus kept on his search, sailing from island to island, getting a little gold here and there, or some pearls and silver and a lot of beautiful bird skins, feathers and trinkets.

Then Captain Alonso Pinzon, who was sailing in the Pinta, believed he could do better than follow the Admiral's lead. I know, he said, if I could go off on my own hook I could find plenty of gold and pearls, and perhaps I could find Cathay. So one day he sailed away and Columbus did not know what had become of him.

At last Columbus, sailing on and troubled at the way Captain Alonso Pinzon had acted, came one day to the island of Hayti. If Cuba was Cathay (or China), Hayti, he felt sure, must be Cipango (or Japan). So he decided to sail into one of its harbors to spend Christmas Day. But just before Christmas morning dawned, the helmsman of the Santa Maria, thinking that everything was safe, gave the tiller into the hands of a boy—perhaps it was little Pedro the cabin boy—and went to sleep. The rest of the crew also were asleep. And the boy who, I suppose, felt quite big to think that he was really steering the Admiral's flagship, was a little too smart; for, before he knew it, he had driven the Santa Maria plump upon a hidden reef. And there she was wrecked. They worked hard to get her off but it was no use. She keeled over on her side, her seams opened, the water leaked in, the waves broke over her, the masts fell out and the Santa Maria had made her last voyage.

Then Columbus was in distress. The Pinta had deserted him, the Santa Maria was a wreck, the Nina was not nearly large enough to carry all his men back to Spain. And to Spain he must return at once. What should he do?

Columbus was quick at getting out of a fix. So in this case he speedily decided what to do. He set his men at work tearing the wreck of the Santa Maria to pieces. Out of her timbers and woodwork, helped out with trees from the woods and a few stones from the shore, he made quite a fort. It had a ditch and a watch-tower and a drawbridge. It proudly floated the flag of Spain. It was the first European fort in the new world. On its ramparts Columbus mounted the cannons he had saved from the wreck and named the fort La Navidad—that is, Fort Nativity, because it was made out of the ship that was wrecked on Christmas Day-the day of Christ's nativity, his birthday.

He selected forty of his men to stay in the fort until he should return from Spain. The most of them were quite willing to do this as they thought the place was a beautiful one and they would be kept very busy filling the fort with gold. Columbus told them they must have at least a ton of gold before he came back. He left them provisions and powder for a year, he told them to be careful and watchful, to be kind to the Indians and to make the year such a good one that the king and queen of Spain would be glad to reward them. And then he said good-by and sailed away for Spain.

It was on the fourth of January, 1493, that Columbus turned the little Nina homeward. He had not sailed very far when what should he come across but the lost Pinta. Captain Alonso Pinzon seemed very much ashamed when he saw the Admiral, and tried to explain his absence. Columbus knew well enough that Captain Pinzon had gone off gold hunting and had not found any gold. But he did not scold him, and both the vessels sailed toward Spain.

The homeward voyage was a stormy and seasick one. Once it was so rough that Columbus thought surely the Nina would be wrecked. So he copied off the story of what he had seen and done, addressed it to the king and queen of Spain, put it into a barrel and threw the barrel overboard.

But the Nina was not shipwrecked, and on the eighteenth of February Columbus reached the Azores. The Portuguese governor was so surprised when he heard this crazy Italian really had returned, and was so angry to think it was Spain and not Portugal that was to profit by his voyage that he tried to make Columbus a prisoner. But the Admiral gave this inhospitable welcomer the slip and was soon off the coast of Portugal.

Here he was obliged to land and meet the king of Portugal—that same King John who had once acted so meanly toward him. King John would have done so again had he dared. But things were quite different now. Columbus was a great man. He had made a successful voyage, and the king and queen of Spain would have made it go hard with the king of Portugal if he dared trouble their admiral. So King John had to give a royal reception to Columbus, and permit him to send a messenger to the king and queen of Spain with the news of his return from Cathay.

Then Columbus went on board the Nina again and sailed for Palos. But his old friend Captain Alonso Pinzon had again acted badly. For he had left the Admiral in one of the storms at sea and had hurried homeward. Then he sailed into one of the northern ports of Spain, and hoping to get all the credit for his voyage, sent a messenger post-haste to the king and queen with the word that he had returned from Cathay and had much to tell them. And then he, too, sailed for Palos.

On the fifteenth of March, 1493, just seven months after he had sailed away to the West, Columbus in the Nina sailed into Palos Harbor. The people knew the little vessel at once. And then what a time they made! Columbus has come back, they cried. He has found Cathay. Hurrah! hurrah! And the bells rang and the cannons boomed and the streets were full of people. The sailors were welcomed with shouts of joy, and the big stories they told were listened to with open mouths and many exclamations of surprise. So Columbus came back to Palos. And everybody pointed him out and cheered him and he was no longer spoken of as "that crazy Italian who dragged away the men of Palos to the Jumping-off place."

And in the midst of all this rejoicing what should sail into the harbor of Palos but the Pinta, just a few hours late! And when Captain Alonso Pinzon heard the sounds of rejoicing, and knew that his plans to take away from Columbus all the glory of what had been done had all gone wrong, he did not even go to see his old friend and ask his pardon. He went away to his own house without seeing any one. And there he found a stern letter from the king and queen of Spain scolding him for trying to get the best of Columbus, and refusing to hear or see him. The way things had turned out made Captain Alonso Pinzon feel so badly that he fell sick; and in a few days he died.

But Columbus, after he had seen his good friend Juan Perez, the friar at Rabida, and told him all his adventures, went on to Barcelona where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were waiting for him. They had already sent him letters telling him how pleased they were that he had found Cathay, and ordering him to get ready for a second expedition at once. Columbus gave his directions for this, and then, in a grand procession that called everybody to the street or window or housetop, he set off for Barcelona. He reached the court on a fine April day and was at once received with much pleasure by the king and queen of Spain.

Columbus told them where he had been and what he had seen; he showed them the gold and the pearls and the birds and curiosities he had brought to Spain as specimens, of what was to be found in Cathay; he showed them the ten painted and "fixed-up" Indians he had stolen and brought back with him.

And the king and queen of Spain said he had done well. They had him sit beside them while he told his story, and treated this poor Italian wool-weaver as they would one of their great princes or mighty lords. They told him he could put the royal arms alongside his own on his shield or crest, and they bade him get together at once ships and sailors for a second expedition to Cathay—ships and sailors enough, they said, to get away up to the great cities of Cathay, where the marble temples and the golden palaces must be. It was their wish, they said, to gain the friendship of the great Emperor of Cathay, to trade with him and get a good share of his gold and jewels and spices. For, you see, no one as yet imagined that Columbus had discovered America. They did not even know that there was such a continent. They thought he had sailed to Asia and found the rich countries that Marco Polo had told such big stories about.

Columbus, you may be sure, was "all the rage" now. Wherever he went the people followed him, cheering and shouting, and begging him to take them with him on his next voyage to Cathay.

He was as anxious as any one to get back to those beautiful islands and hunt for gold and jewels. He set to work at once, and on the twenty-fifth of September, 1493, with a fleet of seventeen ships and a company of fifteen hundred men, Columbus the Admiral set sail from Cadiz on his second voyage to Cathay and Cipango and the Indies. And this time he was certain he should find all these wonderful places, and bring back from the splendid cities unbounded wealth for the king and queen of Spain.


Do you not think Columbus must have felt very fine as he sailed out of Cadiz Harbor on his second voyage to the West? It was just about a year before, you know, that his feeble fleet of three little ships sailed from Palos port. His hundred sailors hated to go; his friends were few; everybody else said he was crazy; his success was very doubtful. Now, as he stood on the high quarter-deck of his big flag-ship, the Maria Galante, he was a great man. By appointment of his king and queen he was "Admiral of the Ocean Seas" and "Viceroy of the Indies." He had servants, to do as he directed; he had supreme command over the seventeen ships of his fleet, large and small; fifteen hundred men joyfully crowded his decks, while thousands left at home wished that they might go with him, too. He had soldiers and sailors, horsemen and footmen; his ships were filled with all the things necessary for trading with the Indians and the great merchants of Cathay, and for building the homes of those who wished to live in the lands beyond the sea.

Everything looked so well and everybody was so full of hope and expectation that the Admiral felt that now his fondest dreams were coming to pass and that he was a great man indeed.

This was to be a hunt for gold. And so sure of success was Columbus that he promised the king and queen of Spain, out of the money he should make on this voyage, to, himself pay for the fitting out of a great army of fifty thousand foot soldiers and four thousand horsemen to drive away the pagan Turks who had captured and held possession of the city of Jerusalem and the sepulcher of Christ. For this had been the chief desire, for years and years, of the Christian people of Europe. To accomplish it many brave knights and warriors had fought and failed. But now Columbus was certain he could do it.

So, out into the western ocean sailed the great expedition of the Admiral. He sailed first to the Canary Isles, where he took aboard wood and water and many cattle, sheep and swine. Then, on the seventeenth of October, he steered straight out into the broad Atlantic, and on Sunday, the third of November, he saw the hill-tops of one of the West India Islands that he named Dominica. You can find it on your map of the West Indies.

For days he sailed on, passing island after island, landing on some and giving them names. Some of them were inhabited, some of them were not; some were very large, some were very small. But none of them helped him in any way to find Cathay, so at last he steered toward Hayti (or Hispaniola, as he called it) and the little ship-built fortress of La Navidad, where his forty comrades had been left.

On the twenty-seventh of November, the fleet of the Admiral cast anchor off the solitary fort. It was night. No light was to be seen on the shore; through the darkness nothing could be made out that looked like the walls of the fort. Columbus fired a cannon; then he fired another. The echoes were the only answer. They must be sound sleepers in our fortress there, said the Admiral. At last, over the water he heard the sound of oars—or was it the dip of a paddle? A voice called for the Admiral; but it was not a Spanish voice. The interpreter—who was the only one left of those ten stolen Indians carried by Columbus to Spain—came to the Admiral's side; by the light of the ship's lantern they could make out the figure of an Indian in his canoe. He brought presents from his chief. But where are my men at the fort? asked the Admiral. And then the whole sad story was told.

The fort of La Navidad was destroyed; the Spaniards were all dead; the first attempt of Spain to start a colony in the new world was a terrible failure. And for it the Spaniards themselves were to blame.

After Columbus had left them, the forty men in the fort did not do as he told them or as they had solemnly promised. They were lazy; they were rough; they treated the Indians badly; they quarreled among themselves; some of them ran off to live in the woods. Then sickness came; there were two "sides," each one jealous of the other; the Indians became enemies. A fiery war-chief from the hills, whose name was Caonabo, led the Indians against the white men. The fort and village were surprised, surrounded and destroyed. And the little band of "conquerors"—as the Spaniards loved to call themselves—was itself conquered and killed.

It was a terrible disappointment to Columbus. The men in whom he had trusted had proved false. The gold he had told them to get together they had not even found. His plans had all gone wrong.

But Columbus was not the man to stay defeated. His fort was destroyed, his men were killed, his settlement was a failure. It can't be helped now, he said. I will try again.

This time he would not only build a fort, he would build a city. He had men and material enough to do this and to do it well. So he set to work.

But the place where he had built from the wreck of the unlucky Santa Maria his unlucky fort of La Navidad did not suit him. It was low, damp and unhealthy. He must find a better place. After looking about for some time he finally selected a place on the northern side of the island. You can find it if you look at the map of Hayti in the West Indies; it is near to Cape Isabella.

He found here a good harbor for ships, a good place on the rocks for a fort, and good land for gardens. Here Columbus laid out his new town, and called it after his friend the queen of Spain, the city of Isabella.

He marked out a central spot for his park or square; around this ran a street, and along this street he built large stone buildings for a storehouse, a church and a house for himself, as governor of the colony. On the side streets were built the houses for the people who were to live in the new town, while on a rocky point with its queer little round tower looking out to sea stood the stone fort to protect the little city. It was the first settlement made by white men in all the great new world of America.

You must know that there are some very wise and very bright people who do not agree to this. They say that nearly five hundred years before Columbus landed, a Norwegian prince or viking, whose name was Leif Ericsson, had built on the banks of the beautiful Charles River, some twelve miles from Boston, a city which he called Norumbega.

But this has not really been proved. It is almost all the fancy of a wise man who has studied it out for himself, and says he believes there was such a city. But he does not really know it as we know of the city of Isabella, and so we must still say that Christopher Columbus really discovered America and built the first fort and the first city on its shores—although he thought he was doing all this in Asia, on the shores of China or Japan.

When Columbus had his people nearly settled in their new city of Isabella, he remembered that the main thing he was sent to do was to get together as much gold as possible. His men were already grumbling. They had come over the sea, they said, not to dig cellars and build huts, but to find gold—gold that should make them rich and great and happy.

So Columbus set to work gold-hunting. At first things seemed to promise success. The Indians told big stories of gold to be found in the mountains of Hayti; the men sent to the mountains discovered signs of gold, and at once Columbus sent home joyful tidings to the king and queen of Spain.

Then he and his men hunted everywhere for the glittering yellow metal. They fished for it in the streams; they dug for it in the earth; they drove the Indians to hunt for it also until the poor redmen learned to hate the very sound of the word gold, and believed that this was all the white men lived for, cared for or worked for; holding up a piece of this hated gold the Indians would say, one to another: "Behold the Christian's god!" And so it came about that the poor worried natives, who were not used to such hard work, took the easiest way out of it all, and told the Spaniards the biggest kind of lies as to where gold might be found—always away off somewhere else—if only the white men would go there to look for it.

On the thirteenth of January, 1494, Columbus sent back to Spain twelve of his seventeen ships. He did not send back in them to the king, and queen, the gold he had promised. He sent back the letters that promised gold; he sent back as prisoners for punishment some of the most discontented and quarrelsome of his colonists; and, worst of all, he sent to the king and queen a note asking, them to permit him to send to Spain all the Indians he could catch, to be sold as slaves. He said that by doing this they could make "good Christians" of the Indians, while the money that came from selling the natives would buy cattle for the colony and leave some money for the royal money-chests.

It is not pleasant to think this of so great a man as Columbus. But it is true, and he is really the man who, started the slave-trade in America. Of course things were very different in his time from what they are to-day, and people did not think so badly of this horrible business. But some good men did, and spoke out boldly against it. What they said was not of much use, however, and slavery was started in the new world. And from that act of Columbus came much sorrow and trouble for the land he found. Even the great war between the northern and southern sections of our own United States, upon one side or the other of which your fathers, or your grandfathers perhaps, fought with gun and sword, was brought about by this act of the great Admiral Columbus hundreds of years before.

So the twelve ships sailed back to Spain, and Columbus, with his five remaining ships, his soldiers and his colonists, remained in the new city of Isabella to keep up the hunt for gold or to become farmers in the new world.


Both the farmers and the gold hunters had a hard time of it in the land they had come to so hopefully. The farmers did not like to farm when they thought they could do so much better at gold hunting; the gold hunters found that it was the hardest kind of work to get from the water or pick from the rocks the yellow metal they were so anxious to obtain.

Columbus himself was not satisfied with the small amount of gold he got from the streams and mines of Hayti; he was tired of the wrangling and grumbling of his men. So, one day, he hoisted sail on his five ships and started away on a hunt for richer gold mines, or, perhaps, for those wonderful cities of Cathay he was still determined to find.

He sailed to the south and discovered the island of Jamaica. Then he coasted along the shores of Cuba. The great island stretched away so many miles that Columbus was certain it was the mainland of Asia. There was some excuse for this mistake. The great number of small islands he had sailed by all seemed to lie just as the books about Cathay that he had read said they did; the trees and fruits that he found in these islands seemed to be just the same that travelers said grew in Cathay.

To be sure the marble temples, the golden-roofed palaces, the gorgeous cities had not yet appeared; but Columbus was so certain that he had found Asia that he made all his men sign a paper in which they declared that the land they had found (which was, as you know, the island of Cuba) was really and truly the coast of Asia.

This did not make it so, of course; but it made the people of Spain, and the king and queen, think it was so. And this was most important. So, to keep the sailors from going back on their word and the statement they had signed, Columbus ordered that if any officer should afterward say he had been mistaken, he should be fined one hundred dollars; and if any sailor should say so, he should receive one hundred lashes with a whip and have his tongue pulled out. That was a curious way to discover Cathay, was it not?

Then Columbus, fearing another shipwreck or another mutiny, sailed back again to the city of Isabella. His men were discontented, his ships were battered and leaky, his hunt for gold and palaces had again proved a failure. He sailed around Jamaica; he got as far as the eastern end of Hayti, and then, just as he was about to run into the harbor of Isabella, all his strength gave out. The strain and the disappointment were too much for him; he fell very, very sick, and on the twenty-ninth of September, 1494, after just about five months of sailing and wandering and hunting, the Nina ran into Isabella Harbor with Columbus so sick from fever that he could not raise his hand or his head to give an order to his men.

For five long months Columbus lay in his stone house on the plaza or square of Isabella a very sick man. His brother Bartholomew had come across from Spain with three supply ships, bringing provisions for the colony. So Bartholomew took charge of affairs for a while.

And while Columbus lay so sick, some of the leading men in the colony seized the ships in which Bartholomew Columbus had come to his brother's aid, and sailing back to Spain they told the king and queen all sorts of bad stories about Columbus. They were Spaniards. Columbus was an Italian. They were jealous of him because he was higher placed and had more to say than they had. They were angry to think that when he had promised to bring them to the gorgeous cities and the glittering gold mines of Cathay he had only landed them on islands which were the homes of naked savages, and made them work dreadfully hard for what little gold they could find. He had promised them power; they went home poorer than when they came away. So they were "mad" at Columbus—just as boys and girls are sometimes "mad" at one another; and they told the worst stories they could think of about him, and called him all sorts of hard names, and said the king and queen of Spain ought to look out for "their great Admiral," or he would get the best of them and keep for himself the most of whatever he could find in the new lands.

At last Columbus began to grow better. And when he knew what his enemies had done he was very much troubled for fear they should get the king and queen to refuse him any further aid. So, just as soon as he was able, on the tenth of March, 1496, he sailed home to Spain.

How different was this from his splendid setting out from Cadiz two years before. Then everything looked bright and promising; now everything seemed dark and disappointing. The second voyage to the Indies had been a failure.

So, tired of his hard work in trying to keep his dissatisfied men in order, in trying to check the Indians who were no longer his friends, in trying to find the gold and pearls that were to be got at only by hard work, in trying to make out just where he was and just where Cathay might be, Columbus started for home. Sick, troubled, disappointed, threatened by enemies in the Indies and by more bitter enemies at home, sad, sorry and full of fear, but yet as determined and as brave as ever, on the tenth of March, 1496, he went on board his caravels with two hundred and fifty homesick and feversick men, and on the eleventh of June his two vessels sailed into the harbor of Cadiz.

The voyage had been a tedious one. Short of food, storm-tossed and full of aches and pains the starving company "crawled ashore," glad to be in their home land once more, and most of them full of complaints and grumblings at their commander, the Admiral.

And Columbus felt as downcast as any. He came ashore dressed, not in the gleaming armor and crimson robes of a conqueror, as on his first return, but in the garb of what was known as a penitent—the long, coarse gown, the knotted girdle and peaked hood of a priest. For, you see, he did not know just what terrible stories had been told by his enemies; he did not know how the king and queen would receive him. He had promised them so much; he had brought them so little. He had sailed away so hopefully; he had come back humbled and hated. The greatest man in the world, he had been in 1492; and in 1496 he was unsuccessful, almost friendless and very unpopular. So you see, boys and girls, that success is a most uncertain thing, and the man who is a hero to-day may be a beggar to-morrow.

But, as is often the case, Columbus was too full of fear. He was not really in such disgrace as he thought he was. Though his enemies had said all sorts of hard things against him, the king—and especially the queen—could not forget that he was, after all, the man who, had found the new land for Spain; they knew that even though he had not brought home the great riches that were to have been gathered in the Indies, he had still found for Spain a land that would surely, in time, give to it riches, possessions and power.

So they sent knightly messengers to Columbus telling him to come and see them at once, and greeting him with many pleasant and friendly words. Columbus was, as you must have seen, quick to feel glad again the moment things seemed to turn in his favor; so he laid aside his penitent's gown, and hurried off to court. And almost the first thing he did was to ask the king and queen to fit out another fleet for him. Six ships, he said he should want this time; and with these he was certain he could sail into the yet undiscovered waters that lay beyond Hayti and upon which he knew he should find Cathay.

I am afraid the king and queen of Spain were beginning to feel a little doubtful as to this still undiscovered Cathay. At any rate, they had other matters to think of and they did not seem so very anxious to spend more money on ships and sailors. But they talked very nicely to Columbus; they gave him a new title (this time it was duke or marquis); they made him a present of a great tract of land in Hayti, but it was months and months before they would help him with the ships and money he kept asking for.

At last, however, the queen, Isabella, who had always had more interest in Columbus and his plans than had the king, her husband, said a good word for him. The six ships were given him, men and supplies were put on board and on the twentieth of May, 1498, the Admiral set out on his third voyage to what every one now called the Indies.

There was not nearly so much excitement among the people about this voyage. Cathay and its riches had almost become an old story; at any rate it was a story that was not altogether believed in. Great crowds did not now follow the Admiral from place to place begging him to take them with him to the Indies. The hundreds of sick, disappointed and angry men who had come home poor when they expected to be rich, and sick when they expected to be strong, had gone through the land, and folks began to think that Cathay was after all only a dream, and that the stories of great gold and of untold riches which they had heard were but "sailors' yarns" which no one could believe.

So it was hard to get together a crew large enough to man the six vessels that made up the fleet. At last, however, all was ready, and with a company of two hundred men, besides his sailors, Columbus hoisted anchor in the little port of San Lucar just north of Cadiz, near the mouth of the Guadalquivir river, and sailed away into the West.

This time he was determined to find the continent of Asia. Even though, as you remember, he made his men sign a paper saying that the coast of Cuba was Asia, he really seems to have doubted this himself. He felt that he had only found islands. If so, he said, Cathay must be the other side of those islands; and Cathay is what I must find.

So, with this plan in mind, he sent three of his ships to the little settlement of Isabella, and with the other three he sailed more to the southwest. On the first of August the ships came in sight of the three mountain peaks of the large island he called Trindad, or Trinity.

Look on your map of South America and you will see that Trinidad lies almost in the mouth of the Orinoco, a mighty river in the northern part of South America.

Columbus coasted about this island, and as he did so, looking across to the west, he saw what he supposed to be still another island. It was not. It was the coast of South America. For the first time, but without knowing it, Columbus saw the great continent he had so long been hunting for, though he had been seeking it under another name.

So you see, the story of Columbus shows how his life was full of mistakes. In his first voyage he found an island and thought it was the mainland of the Eastern Hemisphere; in his third voyage he discovered the mainland of the New World and thought it only an island off the coast of the Old World. His life was full of mistakes, but those mistakes have turned out to be, for us, glorious successes.


If you know a boy or a girl whose mind is set on any one thing, you will find that they are always talking about that thing. Is not this so? They have what people call a "hobby" (which is a kind of a horse, you know), and they are apt, as we say, to "ride their hobby to death."

If this is true of certain boys and girls, it is even more true of men and women. They get to be what we call people of one idea, and whatever they see or whatever they do always turns on that one idea.

It was so with Columbus. All his life his one idea had been the finding of Asia—the Indies, or Cathay, as he called it—by sailing to the west. He did sail to the west. He did find land. And, because of this, as we have seen, all his voyaging and all his exploring were done in the firm belief that he was discovering new parts of the eastern coast of Asia. The idea that he had found a new world never entered his head.

So, when he looked toward the west, as he sailed around the island of Trinidad and saw the distant shore, he said it was a new part of Asia. He was as certain of this as he had before been certain that Cuba was a part of the Asiatic mainland.

But when he sailed into the mouth of the great Orinoco River he was puzzled. For the water was no longer salt; it grew fresher and fresher as he sailed on. And it rushed out so furiously through the two straits at the northern and southern ends of Trinidad (which because of the terrible rush of their currents he called the Lion's Mouth and the Dragon's Mouth) that he was at first unable to explain it all.

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