By Dave Davis 2013
Treat the earth well,
It was not given to you by your parents.
It was loaned to you by your children.”
Native American Proverb
During the early part of the 16th century, the Spanish began their expeditions into the New World in their quest for riches in the form of gold and silver. It was a time of great competition between explorers attempting to be the first to expand the Spanish Empire. Famously Ponce de Leon discovered La Florida in 1533 which allowed geographers and map makers to better outline the coast which de Leon hugged during his travels. His perception that it was an island misled geographers for a number of years. Historic documents do describe a quest for a body of water known for its restoration of vigor but the Fountain of Youth was not a focus of de Leon’s. Upon learning of La Florida, further expeditions were made ready. Hernando de Soto’s exploration, which began in the vicinity of present day Tampa Florida in 1539, was a four year journey which provided more information about the strange new continent.
Other expeditions filtered their way into the southeastern United States. Expeditions such as Tristan de Luna de Arellano traveled into the interior southeast from 1559 to 1561 including the chiefdom of Coosa in Northwest Georgia and Juan Pardo who led two expeditions into the present day Carolinas are also chronicled.
What a strange world it must have been stepping into what they must have considered an undeveloped and tangled landscape after having been at sea for months prior to their arrival. These new comers were warriors riding into a land of what they considered savages ruled by mighty chiefs. Each chiefdom was purposely distanced apart from another in order to ensure a semi peaceful relationship with nearby chiefdoms. Each principal chief or cacique lived in areas surrounded by earthen mounds and fortified walls with hand dug moats. These rulers were presented with gifts of corn, exotic materials from foreign lands, and other tributes by their subjects. During the past seventy five years, archaeologists have reconstructed the past life ways of these people through their excavations of village sites and burials. Coupled with the work of dedicated historians, we now have a better understanding of how these native peoples lived and died. We will never fully understand their world.
Theirs was a hermetic world providing all that was needed. Respectful of the land and its gift of life giving resources, the native peoples were dependent upon the land which figured prominently into their spiritual being. Their needs were meager as they did not desire wealth or the need to satisfy a gluttonous royalty. The principal chief’s rulings were simple and they obeyed without question. He and the other leaders asked only what the earth would provide. Their only loyalty was to the ethereal gods and to the cacique who communicated the will of the Creator. In times of famine or strife, theirs was a community that continued to be self sustained as it had always been from birth to death. They must have considered that dark times had arrived with the new strangers. These interlopers were not here to commune but rather to bring greed and lust to their land.
Native American groups surely were frightened by the sight of an entourage of bearded newcomers. Dressed in quilted shirts with bright colored sashes and tall hip boots, their appearance must have been most curious to the natives. The presence of never before seen animals such as the horses bearing the soldiers were cause enough for the Indians to scatter from their villages. The horsemen wore the heaviest armor consisting of chain mail or if preferred a breastplate of sorts. Their weapons were a long lance in conjunction with a small shield. The foot soldiers wore peaked steel helmets along with quilted shirts armored with small steel plates and were equipped with sharpened steel weapons such as short double edged swords, halberds, and crossbows. Matchlock guns were also a weapon employed by the Spanish explorers. They were close combat weapons which would have to suffice since heavy artillery could not be used in the thick and tangled environment.
The Spanish found the New World to be a land of hardships when they depleted their own supplies of foodstuffs between chiefdoms. This land proved not to be a place of abundant riches but rather difficult terrain for their pedestrian journey. In order
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