Now does the desert wake and
croon of hidalgos coming—
Now for her children’s sake she is whetting her sword to slay,
And the armored squadrons break, and our iron-shod hoofs are drumming
On the rocks of the mountain pass—we are free, we are off and away!
Hush—did a man’s
foot fall in the pasture where we go straying?
Listen—is that the call of a man aware of his right?
Hearken, my comrades all—once more the Game they are playing!
Masters, we come, we come, to be one with you in the fight!
THE WHITE MEDICINE MAN
“Cavalry without horses, in ships without sailors, built by blacksmiths without forges and carpenters without tools. Now who in Spain will believe that?” commented Cabeca de Vaca.
It was the evening of the twenty-first of September, 1528. Five of the oddest looking boats ever launched on any sea were drawn up on the shore of La Baya de Cavallos, where not a horse was in sight, though there had been twoscore a fortnight ago. On the morrow the one-eyed commander of the Spaniards, Pamfilo de Narvaez, would marshal his ragamuffin expedition into those boats, in the hope of reaching Mexico by sea.
“We shall tell of it when we are grandfathers—if the sea does not take us within a week,” said Andres Dorantes with a sigh. “I think that God does not waste miracles on New Spain.”
“Miracles? It is nothing less than a miracle that this fleet was built,” said Cabeca de Vaca valiantly. And indeed he had some reason for saying so.
Narvaez, with a grant from the King which covered all the territory between the Atlantic and the Rio de los Palmas in Mexico, had staked his entire private fortune on this venture. He had landed in Baya de le Cruz—now Tampa Bay—on the day before Easter. The Indians had some gold which they said came “from the north.” Cabeca, who was treasurer of the expedition, strongly advised against proceeding through a totally unknown country on this very sketchy information. But Narvaez consulted the pilot, who said he knew of a harbor some distance to the west, ordered the ships to meet him there, and with forty horsemen and two hundred and sixty men on foot, struck boldly into the interior.
It was an amazing country. It had magnificent forests and almost impassable swamps, gorgeous tropical flowers and black bogs infested with snakes, alligators and hostile Indians, game of every kind and dense jungles into which it retreated. There seemed to be no towns, no grain-land and no gold-bearing mountains. The persevering explorers crossed half a dozen large rivers and many small ones, wading when they could, building rafts or swimming when the water was deep. After between three and four months of this, half-starved, shaken with swamp fever, weary and bedraggled, they reached the first harbor they had found upon the coast they followed, but no ships were there. Whether the ships had been wrecked, or put in somewhere only to meet with destruction at the hands of the Indians, they never knew.