U.S. History, Christianity, and Politics PART 2
The Spanish Conquistadors
To conquer the Americas, the Spanish monarchs used their powerful army, led by independent Spanish adventurers known as conquistadors. At first the conquistadors confined their attentions to the Caribbean islands, where the European diseases they unwittingly carried with them devastated the local Indian populations, who had no immunitites against such diseases.
After about 1510 the conquistadors turned their attention to the America mainland. In 1513 Vasco Nunez de Balboa crossed the isthmus of Panama and became the first European to see the Pacific Ocean. The same year, Juan Ponce de Leon explored Florida in search of gold and the fabled fountain of youth. He found neither but claimed Florida for Spain. In 1519 Hernando Cortes led his dramatic expedition against the Aztecs of Mexico. Aided by the fact that the Indians at first mistook him for a god, and armed with firearms, armor,horses, and (unknown to him) smallpox germs all previously unknown in America, Cortes destroyed the Aztec empire and won enormous riches. By the 1550's other such fortune seekers had conquered much of South America.
In North America, the Spaniards sought in vain for riches. In 1528, Panfillo de Navarez led a disastrous expedition through the Gulf Coast region from which only four of the original 400 men returned. One of them, Cabeza de Vaca, brought with him a story of seven great cities full of gold, (The "Seven Cities of Cibola") somewhere to the north. In response to this, two Spanish expeditions explored the interior of North America. Hernando de Soto led a 600-man expedition (1539-1541) through what is now the southeastern United States, penetrating as far west as Oklahoma and discovering the Mississippi River, on whose banks de Soto was buried. Francisco Vasquez de Coronado led an expedition (1540-1542) from Mexico, north across the Rio Grande and through New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Some of Coronado's men were the first Europeans to see the Grand Canyon. While neither expedition discovered rich Indian civilizations to plunder, both increased Europe's knowledge of the interior of North America and asserted Spain's territorial claims to the continent.
CREDIT: "Our Great Nation" Resources for Teachers, 2002.
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