In Our Day We Don't Allow A Hundred And Thirty Years To
Elapse Between Glimpses Of A Marvel.
If somebody should discover a
creek in the county next to the one that the North Pole is in, Europe
and America would start fifteen costly expeditions thither:
explore the creek, and the other fourteen to hunt for each other.
For more than a hundred and fifty years there had been white settlements
on our Atlantic coasts. These people were in intimate communication
with the Indians: in the south the Spaniards were robbing,
slaughtering, enslaving and converting them; higher up, the English were
trading beads and blankets to them for a consideration, and throwing in
civilization and whiskey, 'for lagniappe;' and in Canada the French were
schooling them in a rudimentary way, missionarying among them, and
drawing whole populations of them at a time to Quebec, and later to
Montreal, to buy furs of them. Necessarily, then, these various
clusters of whites must have heard of the great river of the far west;
and indeed, they did hear of it vaguely, - so vaguely and indefinitely,
that its course, proportions, and locality were hardly even guessable.
The mere mysteriousness of the matter ought to have fired curiosity and
compelled exploration; but this did not occur. Apparently nobody
happened to want such a river, nobody needed it, nobody was curious
about it; so, for a century and a half the Mississippi remained out of
the market and undisturbed. When De Soto found it, he was not hunting
for a river, and had no present occasion for one; consequently he did
not value it or even take any particular notice of it.
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