The True Story of Christopher Columbus
How The Troubles Of The Admiral Began
Both the farmers and the gold hunters had a hard time of it in the land they had come to
so hopefully. The farmers did not like to farm when they thought they could do so much
better at gold hunting; the gold hunters found that it was the hardest kind of work to get
from the water or pick from the rocks the yellow metal they were so anxious to obtain.
Columbus himself was not satisfied with the small amount of gold he got from the
streams and mines of Hayti; he was tired of the wrangling and grumbling of his men. So,
one day, he hoisted sail on his five ships and started away on a hunt for richer gold mines,
or, perhaps, for those wonderful cities of Cathay he was still determined to find.
He sailed to the south and discovered the island of Jamaica. Then he coasted along the
shores of Cuba. The great island stretched away so many miles that Columbus was
certain it was the mainland of Asia. There was some excuse for this mistake. The great
number of small islands he had sailed by all seemed to lie just as the books about Cathay
that he had read said they did; the trees and fruits that he found in these islands seemed to
be just the same that travelers said grew in Cathay.
To be sure the marble temples, the golden-roofed palaces, the gorgeous cities had not yet
appeared; but Columbus was so certain that he had found Asia that he made all his men
sign a paper in which they declared that the land they had found (which was, as you
know, the island of Cuba) was really and truly the coast of Asia.
This did not make it so, of course; but it made the people of Spain, and the king and
queen, think it was so. And this was most important. So, to keep the sailors from going
back on their word and the statement they had signed, Columbus ordered that if any
officer should afterward say he had been mistaken, he should be fined one hundred
dollars; and if any sailor should say so, he should receive one hundred lashes with a whip
and have his tongue pulled out. That was a curious way to discover Cathay, was it not?
Then Columbus, fearing another shipwreck or another mutiny, sailed back again to the
city of Isabella. His men were discontented, his ships were battered and leaky, his hunt
for gold and palaces had again proved a failure. He sailed around Jamaica; he got as far
as the eastern end of Hayti, and then, just as he was about to run into the harbor of
Isabella, all his strength gave out. The strain and the disappointment were too much for
him; he fell very, very sick, and on the twenty-ninth of September, 1494, after just about
five months of sailing and wandering and hunting, the Nina ran into Isabella Harbor with
Columbus so sick from fever that he could not raise his hand or his head to give an order
to his men.
For five long months Columbus lay in his stone house on the plaza or square of Isabella a
very sick man. His brother Bartholomew had come across from Spain with three supply
ships, bringing provisions for the colony. So Bartholomew took charge of affairs for a