A Desperate Trek Across America

Florida panhandle, Fall 1528

The 250 starving Spanish adventurers dubbed the shallow estuary near their campsite the “Bay of Horses,” because every third day they killed yet another draft animal, roasted it, and consumed the flesh. Fifty men had already died of disease, injury, and starvation. What was worse, after having walked the length of Florida without finding gold, those still alive had lost contact with their ships. They were stranded in an alien continent. Read more »

The Spain Among Us

After half a millennium we scarcely feel the presence of Spain in what is now the United States. But it is all around us.

In 1883 Walt Whitman received an it Santa Fe and deliver a poem at a celebration of the city’s founding. The ailing sixty-four-year-old poet wrote back from his home in Camden, New Jersey, that he couldn’t make the trip or write a poem for the occasion, but he sent along some remarks “off hand”: “We Americans have yet to really learn our own antecedents, and sort them, to unify them They will be found ampler than has been supposed, and in widely different sources.Read more »

Forts Of The Americas

On their weathered stone battlements can
be read the whole history of the three-century
struggle for supremacy in the New World

On the northwest shoulder of South America, looking out over the blue waters of the Caribbean, an ancient citadel stands guard above a Spanish city. Three thousand miles to the north, where the Gulf of St. Lawrence meets the gray rollers of the North Atlantic, the guns of another once-menacing fortress stare sullenly across a bleak, empty sea. The tropical city is Cartagena, Colombia. The northern bastion is Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, once called the “Gibraltar of the West.” Read more »

Starting Again In San Francisco

No city has more energetically obliterated the remnants of its past. And yet no city has a greater sense of its history.

On the edge of a pond a few blocks from my home, there is a knee-high chunk of granite with a bronze plate on one side, marking the spot where a band of Spanish soldiers commanded by a captain named Juan Bautista de Anza pitched camp on a March afternoon in 1776. They were scouting the site of what is now San Francisco, and like most San Franciscans ever since, they came here hoping to change their lives. Read more »