Here's the 2nd part of Chapter 3!
Spaniards Conquer the Aztecs and the Incas
Columbus started Spain's first colony on the West Indian island of Hispaniola, which today is Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Using this and other island bases, Spanish explorers and colonizers sailed to the mainland of North and South America. Within 100 years after Columbus's first voyage, Spaniards had explored, conquered, and colonized a great empire in the Americas. An empire is made up of the territories and peoples under the control of a powerful country or ruler. The richest parts of Spain's New World empire were in the West Indies, Mexico, and Peru.
Hernando Cortes had learned to command troops in the Spanish conquest of the West Indies. In 1519 this Spanish explorer led an expedition to Mexico. It consisted of 600 men with 17 horses and 10 cannons. The Spaniards landed near present-day Vera Cruz and marched inland into the great empire of the Aztecs. The Spaniards' goals were to claim land for Spain, to seek gold and other treasure, and to convert the Indians to Christianity. The men who led the Spanish expeditions were called conquistadores. This word means "conquerors" in Spanish.
The Spanish horses amazed the Aztecs. At first the Aztecs treated Cortes and his men like gods. But Cortes ordered the seizure of Montezuma, the Aztec ruler. Then Cortes forced the Indians to hand over their gold and silver ornaments to him. He made them dig new supplies of precious metals from deep mines.
Finally the Aztecs rebelled and drove the Spaniards from their capital city. But the Aztecs' victory was only temporary. More troops from the West Indies came to Cortes's aid, as did thousands of Indians who had been conquered by the Aztecs and who hated them. In the fighting that followed, Montezuma was killed, and the Spaniards again took the Aztec capital.
With the Aztec empire under his control, Cortes directed further conquests in Mexico. Mexico was used as the base from which other Spanish explorers moved north into what is now the southwestern United States.
In South America, another Spaniard, Francisco Pizarro, conquered the Incan empire of Peru. Pizarro commanded fewer than 200 men. Yet the Spaniards, mounted on horses and armed with swords and guns, attacked and killed thousands of Incas. Pizarro then seized the Incas' gold and silver. Most of these precious metals went into the royal treasury of Spain.
The conquering of the Aztec and Incan empires destroyed two powerful Native American civilizations. With the flow of wealth from the Americas, Spain became the richest and most powerful country in Europe for more than a century.
De Soto's March to the Mississippi
In 1539, Hernando de Soto led an expedition that landed in Florida. For 4 years the expedition marched through the wilderness. From Florida it moved north into present-day Georgia and the Carolinas. In 1541 the Spaniards reached the Mississippi River at a point south of the present location of Memphis, Tennessee.
De Soto died of fever while his expedition was camped on the banks of the Mississippi. One of his lieutenants led the surviving men west to the Brazos River in what is now Texas and then back to the Mississippi. After building boats and rafts, the Spaniards floated down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.
De Soto's expedition failed to find gold or any other wealth. Nearly half of the 600 Spanish soldiers died in the wilderness. However, the expedition made it possible for Spain to add the southeastern part of what is now the United States to the Spanish empire.
The "Golden Cites"
Tales of "golden cities" led the Spaniards to explore the mountains, plains, and deserts of the American Southwest. Francisco Coronado entered this region in 1540 with an army of 300 Spaniards and 1,300 Indians.
Francisco Coronado and his men discovered Indians living in pueblos. But these were not the golden cities they sought. To cover more territory in the search, the expedition split up. One group became the first Europeans to see the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. Coronado himself led another group as far north as present-day Kansas and Nebraska. All he found were grass-covered plains and large herds of buffalo.
Disappointed, Coronado led his expedition back to Mexico. He reported to the governor, "There is not any gold nor any other metal in all that country."
While Coronado explored by land, Hernando de Alarcon tried to link up with Coronado's expedition by sailing up the Colorado River from the Gulf of California. The plan failed because neither Coronado nor Alarcon knew the vast extent of the American Southwest.
Pacific Coast Exploration
About the same time, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was oredered to explore the Pacific coast by sea. Cabrillo died along the way, but the two ships he had commanded sailed as far north as present-day Oregon. When exploring parties from the ships went ashore, they saw and spoke to many Indian tribes.
Spaniards gave the name California to the land they explored along the Pacific coast. The name came from an imaginary land described in a popular book of the time. But reports on the actual land were discouraging. There were no Aztec or Inca empires along the western coast of North America.
The Spaniards used three different methods of settlement in the New World. Sometimes a large land grant was given to a Spanish noble or other person as a reward for that person's service to Spain. The Spanish king also awarded encomiendas to certain colonists. An encomienda was a large estate where a group of Indians lived under the colonist's care and supervision. The colonist was to teach and protect the Indians, and convert them to Christianity. In return the Indians were to spend most of their working time in the colonist's fields or mines. The encomienda system was misused, however, and the Indians became little more than slaves.
The large estates on which these colonists lived were called haciendas. A hacienda could be a plantation or ranch. Sometimes the word hacienda also referred to the owner's house.
Another type of settlement was the mission. A mission usually consisted of a church, living quarters for the priests and Indians, and workshops. At the mission the Indians were converted to Christianity, taught Spanish, and introduced to European customs. They were also taught to raise livestock and to grow crops in the fields surrounding the mission. Many learned crafts such as weaving, carpentry, and blacksmithing. Missions were the most common form of Spanish settlement in the present-day United States.
Spanish soldiers also helped to settle the New World. They built presidios, or small forts, to protect the colonists from invasion by the Indians, the English, and the French. Some of these presidios grew into towns or cities. St. Augustine, Florida, is the oldest permanent European settlement in the continental United States. It begans as a presidio in 1565.
Spanish Colonial Government
To rule their vast territories in the New World, the Spaniards divided their empire into two great viceroyalties, or regions, called New Spain and Peru. New Spain included all of Spanish America north of Panama. Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and part of Texas formed the northern boundary of New Spain. The viceroyalty of Peru included the present countries of Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, and Chile. Each viceroyalty was governed by a viceroy, or vice-king.He stood in the place of the Spanish king in America.
The Spanish system of government gave rise to four social classes in the Americas. At the top were the major officeholders of the empire. There were the viceroys, judges, high church officials, and governors. Most of these officials were born in Spain. Usually they returned to their homeland after their term of service in the New World. There were called peninsulares because they came from the Iberian Peninsula.
Below this group were the creoles, people born of Spanish parents in the Americas. They were priests, army officers, merchants, and small landowners. The mestizos were of mixed European and Indian ancestry. Mulattoes were of mixed European and black ancestry. They formed a lower middle class of small farmers and shopkeepers. The Indians and the blacks, who were imported as slaves, belonged to the lowest class.
Spanish Influence in America
Signs of Spanish influence are readily seen in the United States today. Churches, public buildings, and ranch-style houses in the Southwest show the influence of Spanish colonial architecture. Some laws regulating the use of water in this dry region are of Spanish origin.
We think of the cowhand as being typically American. But the vaquero, or Spanish cowhand, invented most of the equipment used on the range. The cowhand's hat is called a sombrero, and his rope, the lariat, comes from the Spanish term la reata. Longhorn cattle were brought to the West by Spanish colonists, as were the ancestors of the cowhand's horse. Riding and roping contests called rodeos date from an old Spanish custom.
Spain's worldwide empire lasted for more than four centuries. Today immigrants from former colonies of that empire are numerous in several regions of the United States. In the areas where these immigrants and descendants of immigrants live, the Spanish language is still widely spoken.
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Check out Part One of Chapter 3!