For weeks, the three tiny ships sailed west. As the sea stretched on, the crews began to grumble and whisper of mutiny. Columbus alternately encouraged, exhorted, and threatened them.
On October 12, 1492, after six weeks at sea, a lookout on the Pinta spotted a sliver of beach glowing in the moonlight. Land! Columbus named the island San Salvador, “Holy Savior.” After dawn, Columbus and his companions marched onto the beach and planted a staff of banners into the sand, claiming the land for Spain.
Convinced he had indeed found the Indies, Columbus named the people of the islands “Indians,” a name the native people of North and South America have carried for centuries afterward. Columbus spent the next two months exploring the Bahama Islands and the coasts of Cuba and Hispaniola.
He captured six Indians and stowed on his ships a collection of gold trinkets, colorful parrots, and other evidence of his discoveries. Then he set sail for Spain. When he arrived in March, he was greeted as a hero and news of the discovery spread through Europe.