The True Story of Christopher Columbus
How A Boy Brought The Admiral To Grief
Columbus kept sailing on from one island to another. Each new island he found would,
he hoped, bring him nearer to Cathay and to the marble temples and golden palaces and
splendid cities he was looking for. But the temples and palaces and cities did not appear.
When the Admiral came to the coast of Cuba he said: This, I know, is the mainland of
Asia. So he sent off Louis, the interpreter, with a letter to the "great Emperor of Cathay."
Louis was gone several days; but he found no emperor, no palace, no city, no gold, no
jewels, no spices, no Cathay—only frail houses of bark and reeds, fields of corn and
grain, with simple people who could tell him nothing about Cathay or Cipango or the
So day after day Columbus kept on his search, sailing from island to island, getting a
little gold here and there, or some pearls and silver and a lot of beautiful bird skins,
feathers and trinkets.
Then Captain Alonso Pinzon, who was sailing in the Pinta, believed he could do better
than follow the Admiral's lead. I know, he said, if I could go off on my own hook I could
find plenty of gold and pearls, and perhaps I could find Cathay. So one day he sailed
away and Columbus did not know what had become of him.
At last Columbus, sailing on and troubled at the way Captain Alonso Pinzon had acted,
came one day to the island of Hayti. If Cuba was Cathay (or China), Hayti, he felt sure,
must be Cipango (or Japan). So he decided to sail into one of its harbors to spend
Christmas Day. But just before Christmas morning dawned, the helmsman of the Santa
Maria, thinking that everything was safe, gave the tiller into the hands of a boy—perhaps
it was little Pedro the cabin boy—and went to sleep. The rest of the crew also were
asleep. And the boy who, I suppose, felt quite big to think that he was really steering the
Admiral's flagship, was a little too smart; for, before he knew it, he had driven the Santa
Maria plump upon a hidden reef. And there she was wrecked. They worked hard to get
her off but it was no use. She keeled over on her side, her seams opened, the water leaked
in, the waves broke over her, the masts fell out and the Santa Maria had made her last
Then Columbus was in distress. The Pinta had deserted him, the Santa Maria was a
wreck, the Nina was not nearly large enough to carry all his men back to Spain. And to
Spain he must return at once. What should he do?
Columbus was quick at getting out of a fix. So in this case he speedily decided what to
do. He set his men at work tearing the wreck of the Santa Maria to pieces. Out of her
timbers and woodwork, helped out with trees from the woods and a few stones from the
shore, he made quite a fort. It had a ditch and a watch-tower and a drawbridge. It proudly
floated the flag of Spain. It was the first European fort in the new world. On its ramparts
Columbus mounted the cannons he had saved from the wreck and named the fort La