The Stories of El Dorado


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Stories of El Dorado



Happiness is found only in El Dorado, which no one yet has been able to reach.

—Spanish Proverb

Copyrighted 1904, by Frona Eunice Wait
San Francisco, California

This book is dedicated to dear little Jack
Morgan Gillespie, with the most affectionate
and sincere regards of his devoted friend,



“It has only recently been recognized as a fact,” says Prof. A. F. Bandelier, “that on the whole American continent, the mode of life of the primitive inhabitants was formed on one sociological principle, and consequently the culture of these peoples has varied, locally, only in degree, not in kind. The religious principles were fundamentally the same among the Sioux and the Brazilians, and physical causes more than anything else have been at the bottom of the local differences.” Such has been my own experience in studying the stories of El Dorado which form the subject of this book, and in presenting a man—a culture hero—who came by sea from the East, I am justified by a more complete set of records than is known to the superficial student. As this man’s principles of life were the same, we are forced to the conclusion that all the heroes were one conception, handed down by oral tradition, but widely separated as to locality, by the lapse of time, by migrations and commercial relations of the different tribes.

As to where these myths originated, or how old they are, I have nothing to suggest, since in presenting these simple variants, it is no concern of mine. It is sufficient for my purpose to know that they exist. To me they lend a dignity to our country by investing it with a misty past, replete with a mythology as rich and sublime as that of any of the races of antiquity. Not only will the study of them inspire patriotism and make us better acquainted with the inner lives of the red men, but it will tend to create an interest in our sister republics which cannot fail to be of lasting practical benefit. We know much more of Europeans than we do of the peoples of this continent.

If mythology is to be taught in the schools at all, surely our own should have consideration, and in familiarizing ourselves with the traditions of El Dorado, we shall have one more incentive for higher living. We shall learn that the great souls of the races that have preceded us, in the Americas, have faced the same problems of life, which are the heritage of our common humanity; that within its dark shadows they too have struggled, hoped, and prayed.

No words incorporated into the English language have been fraught with such stupendous consequences as El Dorado. When the padres attempted to tell the story of the Christ, the natives exclaimed “El Dorado,” or what the imperfect translations have made El Dorado—the golden. As the ignorant sailors and adventurers had been kept from mutiny by Columbus’ promise of gold, it is no wonder that they seized upon the literal meaning instead of the spiritual one.

The time, being that of Don Quixote and of the Inquisition, accounts for the childish credulity on one side and the unparalleled ferocity on the other. The search for El Dorado, whether it was believed to be a fabulous country of gold, or an inaccessible mountain, or a lake, or a city, or a priest who anointed himself with a fragrant oil and sprinkled his body with fine gold dust, must always remain one of the blackest pages in the history of the white race. The great heart of humanity will ever ache with sympathy for the melancholy and pitiful end of the natives, who at the time of the conquest of Mexico were confidently expecting the return of the mild and gentle Quetzalcoatl, the Mexican variant of this universal myth. None of the cruelties attributed to the Indian had its origin in resistance to the acceptance of a new faith. On the contrary he fought solely in defense of his home, and from Patagonia to Alaska was always willing to listen to the Christian ideas of God and the hereafter.

I have devoted the first seven variants to the original myth, while the others pertain to the transitions to, and misconceptions of, the name El Dorado. A lust for gold acquired by conquest was the underlying motive of the discoveries and explorations made in the western hemisphere, and is the beginning of all American history. We have unconsciously added some variants to it in California, where the mythical kingdom of Quivera became the land of gold of the ’49 epoch. El Dorado has long been a household word for anything rich and golden.

I begin by bringing the Golden Hearted from an island in the east, the Tlapalla, from whence he came, and to which he returned in the legend. In all variants he gave a distinct promise of return. This accounts for the awe inspired by Europeans in the minds of the natives, causing them everywhere to fall easy victims to the unscrupulous adventurers swarming into their country. That there should have been confusion seems unavoidable under the circumstances, but certainly Fate never played a more cruel prank than to have one race of men speak and act constantly from the standpoint of tradition and religious belief, while the other thought solely of material gain.

Only in Hiawatha and the Pueblo Montezuma have I taken liberty with the original. The former is based on the recent researches into Algonquin and Chippewa myths of Michabo, the great White Hare. In the Pueblo Montezuma I have followed Prof. Bandelier as to the latest conceptions of the Wrathy Chieftain. My authority for making the Amazon Queens degenerate priestesses of the sun, is J. A. Von Heuvel, the defender of Sir Walter Raleigh’s connection with the South American version of the El Dorado legend. To Hubert Howe Bancroft’s abridgement of Father Sahagan’s translation of the Popol Vuh am I much indebted.

In all accessories I have utilized the products or characteristics of localities visited by the mythical hero, but have avoided investing him with a religious character or surrounding him with supernatural phenomena. It will be wise to make a distinction between the purely mythical, and that which led to history.


The Happy Island11
Zamna, the Eye of the Sun18
Votan, the People’s Heart31
Lord of the Sacred Tunkel39
The Stars’ Ball45
The National Book52
Manco-Capac, the Powerful One61
Bochica and the Zipa71
The Song of Hiawatha78
Michabo, the Great White Hare80
The Birth of Corn90
The Wrathy Chieftain99
Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent109
Cholula, the Sacred City117
Tulla, the Hiding Nook of the Snake125
Departure of the Golden Hearted132
El Dorado, the Golden140
Bimini, the Fountain of Youth151
Montezuma and the Paba161
The Child of the Sun176
The Gilded Man189
The White Sea of the Manoas197
The Mountain of Gold207
The Amazon Queens219
The Seven Cities of Cibola228
The Kingdom of Quivera240
The Land of Gold250
The New El Dorado262


Leaving the Happy Island (Drawing by Xavier Martinez)17
Each Stitch Must Be Counted” (Painting, The Weaver, by Amadee Joullin)21
The Ball Player (Drawing, Xavier Martinez)30
Who Art Thou?” (Painting, Alexander Para, Mexico City)35
An Old-Fashioned Almanac” (Photograph, Calendar Stone, Mexico City)48
Behold the First Word” (Painting, The Hieroglyph Maker, A. Joullin)55
The Tapir (Tail-piece)60
A Suspension Bridge (Drawing by Xavier Martinez)64
The People Shouted ‘Haille’!” (Painting, The Sun Worshippers, E. Narjot)69
The Flower-Laden Balsa” (Tail-piece)77
The House of Wunzh” (Tail-piece)89
The Wrestling Match (Tail-piece)93
The Wrathy Chieftain” (Painting by J. W. Clawson)104
The Pottery Maker (Drawing, X. Martinez)107
The Humming-Bird Alighted” (Drawing, X. Martinez)111
The Snakeskin Canoe” (Drawing, X. Martinez)124
Here Is Medicine for You” (Drawing, X. Martinez)129
A Song of Farewell” (Drawing, X. Martinez)137
The Torch Bearers (Tail-piece) (Drawing, X. Martinez)139
On, and On the Caravels Sailed” (Official photograph)147
Land! Land Ahead!” (Official photograph)148
The Fountain of Youth” (Drawing, X. Martinez)159
Their Naked Bodies Hacked to Pieces” (Drawing, X. Martinez)185
Drying India Rubber201
The Old Witch, Monella214
A Flower Offering” (Sketch by X. Martinez)224
One of the Seven Cities” (Sketch by X. Martinez)235
Fray Marcos239
An Old Community House249
Discovery of San Francisco Bay” (Painting, Arthur Matthews, by courtesy of S. F. Art Association)253
A Prairie Schooner261

The Happy Island


A LONG time ago there was a beautiful island close by the place in the east where the sun rises. The sea was all around it, and at noonday the sun in the sky seemed to slant just above it. Being near the equator and in a tropic clime the winds were soft and warm and full of the odor of sweet flowers. Sometimes the sea was smooth and clear as glass and then the goldfish and sea mosses floated near the surface and glittered in the sunlight.

At night the moon came out big and round like a silver ball and the stars shone very clear because there was no smoke nor fog in the air. In the moonlight the queer little flying fish would jump up out of the water and dart forth and back in the funniest way as if they were playing some kind of game. Their tiny wet wings glistened like silver gauze, and, when everything else was still, made a peculiar whirring sound by all flapping at once.

The beach was strewn with quantities of conch and abalone shells, also other species of all shapes and sizes and they were as dainty in color as it is possible to imagine. The children of the Happy Island often held the larger ones to their ears to listen to the murmurs and complaints of the insects and other forms of life living inside them. This was only a fancy, but many sea shells do have a soft musical cadence if we care to hear it. Some poets believe that they were the first musical instruments, and that the inhabitants of the sea send messages ashore in this manner.

The ferns grew almost as tall as the trees and there were hundreds of birds skimming through the air, or flitting through the branches singing and chattering and having a very happy time. They were not afraid because no one threw stones at them or tried to frighten them. Everybody was glad to see them put up their little bills and ruffle up their throats in singing, or else spread out their wings and splash water all over their backs while they stood on a pebble or twig taking a morning bath. The people said that when the birds were twittering and chirping they were talking to each other. When they were singing they were telling God how thankful they were for the warm sunshine and plenty to eat.

There was a wonderful city in the center of the island named the City of the Golden Gates because it was surrounded by a high wall of very thick stones, with a great number of gates of gold through which the animals and people passed in and out. Here lived the Old Man of the Sea, as the king was called, and his son was a beautiful youth known as the Golden Hearted because he was so gentle and kind. He was a swift runner and could shoot well with a bow and arrow and was strong enough to wrestle with a big man, but he preferred to make gold ornaments and vessels for his father and was often permitted to go into the king’s treasure house to watch the workmen polish the precious gems which they found in great abundance by digging into the mountains near the city.

The people knew all about white and black pearls and how to get them from the bed of the ocean. In full sight of the island was a large reef of pink and white coral and the young prince went there many times to see the curious little insects building their graceful, airy houses over some rock hidden by the water. He sometimes imagined that he heard the mermaids calling to him. What he really did hear was the wind dashing the waves in and out of the coral chambers as if it were determined to wash them away. The reef was an excellent place to fish, and the Golden Hearted and his companions had many a fine day’s sport there while the divers were searching for the pearl oysters. He fished with a drag-net made by himself, and he could let it out and haul it in again like a regular sailor. He never killed any of the fish, and the divers would not give him the pearls they found because they were compelled to kill the oysters to get them, and this they said made the pearls unlucky and was the reason why they are round and shining like tear drops. The miners brought him all the emeralds they could find, because this was the happiness-bringing stone. Its color is like the soft grass in the springtime, and they wanted him to be always young and have everything his heart desired.

The royal gardens were his special care and in them he was allowed to cultivate any kind of tree or plant or grain. Then from them he must learn the names and habits of the trees producing the best wood for building houses, what plants were good to heal the sick, and all about the grains useful for food either for man or animals. Every flower that had a perfume grew in a separate part of the garden, and those shedding their fragrance at night only were in a bed by themselves. He was required to know the difference between single and double species and why there is such a difference in the same family of plants.

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