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to despoil and altars to desecrate; but, alas, they were ever doomed to disappointment. "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick," and as day after day and week after week went by with only the long, endless stretches of prairie and woodland in view, De Soto's heart sank within him. He grew more silent, and, in his despair, pressed on, as if determined to make some great discovery, or carry his decreasing band beyond human reach.
In ascending the Mississippi, they were often obliged to wade through morasses. At length they came, as it would seem, upon the district of Little Prairie, and the dry and elevated lands which extend toward New Madrid in Missouri. Here the Spaniards were worshipped as children of the sun, and the blind were brought in their presence to be healed by these sons of light. "Pray only to God for whatever you need," De Soto told them.
The pecan nut, the mulberry, and several species of wild plum furnished food for the wanderers. At a place called Pocaha,* somewhere in the State of Missouri or Kansas, the Spaniards halted forty-five days. This marked the extent of their northward
* This place was evidently in Livingston County, Missouri. In 1889 Mr. Goben, near Spring Hill in Livingston County, Missouri, found, in the ledge of a cliff, some images and plates with inscriptions on them, which, by good authority, were supposed to have been the property of De Soto's missionaries.
march. Estevan, with a small party, went a little further northwest, to find only endless stretches of prairie, but thinly populated and with the bisons roaming over the plains. Then came long, weary months of wandering over the plains in every direction which the imagination of the Spaniards or caprice of their leader would indicate that gold was to be found. Estevan and Nicosia had but one horse between them, which carried their arms and baggage, while they trudged along on foot, close behind the grim chieftain, who walked at the head of his diminished army. Their numbers were constantly reduced by sickness and famine. Some favored returning; others were for pressing on to Mexico and joining Cortez. They found the natives a little further advanced in civilization than on the eastern side of the river. They were an agricultural people, with fixed places of abode, subsisting on the products of the field rather than the chase.
The condition of the Spaniards was now growing desperate. The sixth of March, 1542, found De Soto on the Washita River, in what is now known as Paul's Valley, Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory, north of Red River.* By following Red
* There is a species of wild swine in this part of the Indian Territory, said to be descended from the herd of De Soto, some of which escaped him at this place.
River, on the 17th of April they came to the Mississippi Kiver. On asking if there were settlements below, De Soto was told that the lower banks of the Mississippi were an uninhabited waste. Unwilling to believe such disheartening news, he sent Estevan, with eight of his horsemen, to descend the banks of the Mississippi and explore the country. For eight days Estevan pressed on through bayous and almost #impassable cane-brakes, being able to advance only about thirty miles. The report was received by De Soto with anxiety. His horses and men were dying around him, and the natives day by day became more bold in proportion to the weakening of his ranks. At Natches, the governor tried to overcome the chief by claiming a supernatural birth and demanding obedience and tribute.
"You say you are a child of the sun," the undaunted chief replied. "Dry up this river and I will believe you. Do you desire to see me? Visit the town where I dwell. If you come in peace, I will receive you in good faith; if in war, I will not shrink from you."
"Alas, I am no longer able to punish the temerity of these savages," De Soto groaned, on receiving this insulting reply. The governor's stubborn pride was changed by long disappointments into a wasting melancholy, and only a few evenings later Es