As you may imagine, there was great excitement and curiosity in Spain, after the voyages of Columbus, about the new lands beyond the Western Ocean.
Several of the men who had sailed with Columbus were ready to undertake new voyages of discovery. Among them was Yañez Pinzon.
You will remember that when Columbus made his first voyage he set out with three vessels. One of these was the Niña. It was commanded by Yañez Pinzon.
After Columbus had returned from his second voyage, Yañez Pinzon succeeded in fitting out a fleet to go to the New World.
In 1499 he sailed with four caravels from Palos, the same port from which Columbus had sailed. Pinzon took with him some of the sailors who had been with Columbus, and also his three principal pilots. These pilots were men who understood how to use the astrolabe and to tell the course of the ship at sea.
Pinzon's fleet sailed toward the Canary and Cape Verde Islands, and after passing them its course was southwest across the Atlantic. At length the fleet crossed the equator, and Pinzon was the first explorer to cross the line in the western Atlantic.
The fleet sailed on for nearly five hundred miles to the southward. Here Pinzon met a terrific storm, which came very near sending his whole fleet to the bottom. He was now not far from the coast, and after the storm was over he discovered land. The land proved to be the most eastern point of South America. This was in the month of January, in the year 1500.
Pinzon and a company of his men went ashore. They did not remain long, however, as they found the Indians very hostile. The Indians attacked the Spaniards and killed several of their number. They were so furious that, after chasing the Spaniards to their boats, they waded into the sea and fought to get the oars. The Indians captured one of the rowboats, but the Spaniards at last got off to their vessels.
Pinzon then set sail and steered northward along the coast.
When his fleet came near the equator, he noticed that the water was very fresh. Accordingly he gave orders to fill the water casks of his fleet. The freshness of the water of the sea led him to sail in toward the shore.
At length he discovered whence the large volume of fresh water came. It flowed out of the mouth of a great river.
It was the mouth of the river Amazon, and so great is the volume of water which it pours into the sea that its current is noticed in the ocean two hundred miles from the shore.
This fact is not so surprising when we learn that the main mouth of this great river is fifty miles wide, that the river is four thousand miles long, including its windings, and that, besides many smaller branches, it has five tributaries, each over a thousand miles long, and one over two thousand miles long, flowing into it.
Pinzon anchored in the mouth of the river, and found the natives peaceful. In this respect they were unlike those he had met farther south. They came out to his ships in a friendly way in their canoes. But when Pinzon, a short time later, left the river, he cruelly carried off thirty-six of the Indians who had been friendly to him.
While Pinzon's fleet was in the mouth of the river, it came a second time near being wrecked.
Pinzon was, of course, in strange waters. He did not know that twice each month the tide does not rise in the usual way, but rushes up the mouth of the Amazon with great force. The tide, as a rule, is about six hours in rising and six hours in falling. In the mouth of the Amazon, however, at new moon and at full moon the tide swells to its limit in two or three minutes. It comes as a wall of water, twelve or fifteen feet high, followed by another wall of the same height. Often there is a third wall of water, and at some seasons of the year there is a fourth wall.
This peculiar rising of the tide is called the bore. The noise of this rushing flood can be heard five or six miles off. It comes with tremendous force, and sometimes uproots great trees along the banks. During the few days when the tide rushes up the river in this way vessels do not remain in the main channel, but anchor in coves and protected places.
Pinzon, as we have said, did not know about the sudden rising of the tide. His fleet was anchored in the main channel when the bore came, and it dashed his vessels about like toy boats and almost wrecked them.
After repairing the damage done to his fleet, he made up his mind that there was little gold to be found in those parts, and so he sailed out of the mouth of the great river, and then turned northward along the coast.
It may be of interest to know what befell Pinzon after he left the mouth of the Amazon. We will tell you briefly.
He sailed along the coast to the northwest, and passed the mouth of the Orinoco, another large river of South America. About a hundred and fifty miles beyond the Orinoco, he entered a gulf and landed. Here he cut a large quantity of brazil wood to take back to Spain.
Then he sailed for the island of Hispaniola, now called Haiti. From this island he sailed to the Bahama Islands.
It was July when he reached the Bahamas. Misfortune again came to his fleet. While anchored in the Bahamas a hurricane came up, and two of his vessels were sunk. A third was blown out to sea. The fourth vessel rode out the storm, but the crew, thinking all the while she would sink, took to their small boats and at length reached the shore. The Indians came to them when they landed, and proved friendly.
After the hurricane was over, the vessel that had been carried out to sea drifted back. As soon as the sea was smooth enough Pinzon and his men went on board the two remaining vessels and set sail for Hispaniola.
At Hispaniola he repaired his vessels, and then sailed back to Spain. He reached Palos in September.
About three months after Pinzon sailed away from the mouth of the Amazon it was visited by a Portuguese navigator named Cabral. Although the Portuguese were not so fortunate as to discover America, yet they had been very active in making discoveries for seventy years and more before Columbus's first voyage.
In 1420 they discovered the Madeira Islands. In 1432 they discovered the Azore Islands, which lie eight hundred miles west of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean. Their vessels, from time to time, had been pushing farther and farther down the west coast of Africa. In the middle of the century as many as fifty-one of their caravels had been to the Guinea coast, or the Gold Coast, as it was more often called. In 1484, eight years before Columbus discovered America, they had discovered the mouth of the Kongo River on the African coast.
It is not surprising, then, that their navigators were pushing out across the Atlantic soon after Columbus had led the way.
But though Cabral sailed along the whole coast of Brazil, and took possession of it in the name of the King of Portugal, he did not learn any more about the great river at the mouth of which he anchored than did Pinzon. Had he waited a few months, or had he returned to the river, he might easily have explored its course. For from July to December of each year the east wind blows steadily up the Amazon, and Cabral could have spread his sails and kept them spread as he sailed up the river for two thousand miles or more to the eastern foot of the great mountains of South America, the Andes.
The exploration of the Amazon, however, fell to the lot of another man, Francisco Orellana by name. Orellana did not sail up the river from its mouth, but came down it from one of its sources. This was in 1540, many years, as you see, after Pinzon and Cabral had anchored at the mouth.
Orellana was one of Pizarro's men, and had been with him when the Inca of Peru was taken and afterwards put to death. It was Francisco Pizarro, as you well know, who conquered Peru. After Francisco Pizarro had conquered the country, he made his brother, Gonzalo Pizarro, governor of Quito.
This brother, while at Quito, made up his mind to cross the Andes Mountains and explore the country beyond. So he got ready an expedition, and made Orellana his lieutenant; Orellana was, therefore, second in command of the expedition.
The army was made up of three hundred and fifty Spaniards, four thousand Indians, and one thousand bloodhounds for hunting down the natives.
They had a hard march over the Andes, and suffered very much in crossing. When they were over the mountains, they discovered a river flowing toward the southeast. This was the river Napo.
Pizarro had had so hard a march across the Andes that he felt his men could not stand it to go back by the same way. He therefore encamped by the Napo River, and spent seven months in building a vessel to hold his baggage and those of his men who were ill.
He put Orellana in charge of the vessel, and ordered him to float slowly down the river while the other part of the army marched along the shore. The march was very slow and toilsome, and after a few weeks the food began to get low.
At this time Pizarro heard of a rich country farther down the stream, where the Napo flowed into a larger river. This country he wished to reach. So he sent Orellana in the vessel, with fifty soldiers, down the Napo to the larger river. There Orellana was to get food and supplies for the army and then return.
Pizarro waited and waited in vain for Orellana to return, and at last he and his men had to find their way back across the Andes with scanty food and undergo great hardships.
Orellana and the soldiers with him were carried by the current swiftly down the Napo, and in three days they came into the great river. It was indeed a great river, for the Amazon at the place where the Napo flows into it is a mile in width.
Orellana expected to find here many people and plenty of food. He found, however, only a wilderness. It was about like the country where Pizarro and his army were encamped.
Orellana could barely get food for himself and the men with him, much less enough for Pizarro and his army. To return against the swift current would be a heavy task. After thinking the matter over, he decided to follow the great river to the sea. But he must first win the soldiers who were with him over to his plan. This he soon succeeded in doing, and they started down the Amazon.
It was no easy journey. He and the soldiers suffered greatly. But in August, 1541, after seven months of hardships, they reached the ocean, and a short time after this they sailed to Spain.
When Orellana reached Spain, he gave a glowing account of a wonderful country, rich in precious metals, through which he had passed. According to his story, it was far richer in gold than Peru.
The name El Dorado, "The Golden," was given to this fabled country; and for a score or more of years after Orellana had told his story, efforts were made to find it. Expedition after expedition set out in search of El Dorado. An explorer named Philip von Hutten, who led a party southward into the country from the northern part of South America, believed he caught sight of a city whose golden walls glistened far away in the distance. But he never reached the shining city which he thought he saw, nor was the fabled El Dorado ever found.