When Uncle Palacios announced he had chosen Simon to live in Caracas with him, the Bolivar children looked hopelessly at each other. They knew now that other relatives would take Simon’s older brother and his two sisters. It was bad enough to be separated from each other, but they did not want to leave the white-pillared mansion in the beautiful Aragua Valley, Venezuela, that had always been their home.

Father had died when Simon was only six, but his mother had insisted that the children stay together on the large estate, where its cocoa trees, herds of cattle, and copper mines were taken care of by the thousands of slaves owned by the family. Now, three years later, their mother was dead too, and so the relatives had met to decide who should be responsible for each child.

The house of Uncle Palacios was stiff and formal, and the strictness of the cowled monks who came to teach Simon there was frightening.

Simon missed the river, filled with fish, that flowed through the green valley of his home. He missed the sloping hills and the cool little summer-houses hidden among the trees where he had played. But sometimes it seemed to him that more than anything else he missed having a horse and the freedom to ride it that he had enjoyed all his life.

Uncle Palacios was good to Simon and grieved over the unhappiness of his rich and lonely little nephew. So after a year or two he dismissed the stern monks and hired an exciting young man, Rodriguez Carreno, to live at the house and be a companion and a teacher to Simon.

Rodriguez threw away the dull books Simon had been studying and announced that together they would learn about life and living. He was quick to see the sparkle of interest on the boy’s face, and he caught the longing in Simon’s voice when he talked of the home and horses he had had to leave. The next day the new teacher said, “Among other subjects, I intend to teach you something about the anatomy of animals. We will include the horse. Therefore, we must have a horse stabled in the garden to study and to ride.”

Simon learned much from Rodriguez. He was shocked and hurt when he was told that, in spite of the Bolivar family’s wealth and their high place in Venezuelan society, they were looked down on by their Spanish rulers because they were people of native birth, even though they were of European descent.

He found this to be true when at sixteen he went to live with some of his wealthy and titled relatives in Madrid, Spain. One morning very early, as he was riding his horse on the hills outside of Madrid, he was surrounded by mounted police who told him that because he was a Creole, he would not be allowed to wear his costly jewels and fine clothing.

Simon left Madrid a few days later and went to France. There he was called Prince Bolivar by his friends, who with him enjoyed parties and pleasure. His old companion-teacher Rodriguez expressed disapproval of the way his former student was living and insisted that he and Simon go on a walking tour through Italy. They talked of many things as they walked—of governments, the French revolution, the needs of people, and the ideals of freedom.

One day they stopped to rest on the green hillside overlooking the ancient city of Rome. Simon Bolivar suddenly stood up, stretched out his arms, and said in a solemn voice, “On my life and honor I promise most faithfully not to rest until I have freed America of her tyrants.”

Simon gave up his carefree ways and returned to Venezuela.

The beautiful Bolivar estate outside of Caracas had been taken over by the government, and Simon was left without money or friends. But he had a magnetic personality and soon was able to persuade others to join him in the cause of freedom.

He gathered around him men of various nationalities, soldiers who had only ragged uniforms and odd bits and pieces of civilian clothing to wear. Their powder and bullet pouches were roughly made out of cattle hide, and their muskets and bayonets were almost worn out. Most of the men were bareheaded; on their feet they wore clumsy leather sandals. The discomfort of the humid heat of the jungles through which they traveled was equaled only by the shivering cold of the high Andes Mountains, where the half-frozen and hungry men gasped with exhaustion as they labored across the volcanic peaks and the mighty glaciers.

They met defeats that would have seemed complete disaster to most armies, but Simon Bolivar would somehow manage to hold his men together, to attract others to join them, and to almost miraculously secure funds. Because of his brilliance and his dedication, he was able to lead the army to startling and unbelievable victories. These men knew that they had to defeat the Spanish forces or die, and they did not want to die—nor to let their country remain in bondage.

Because of personal sacrifices and in spite of unbelievable odds, Bolivar’s army won independence for Venezuela and Colombia. On October 3, 1821, Simon became president of Colombia.

By the time he was forty-three many of his dreams had become glorious realities when he was also named president of Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru. Soon afterward he learned that certain provinces in Peru wanted to break away from the rest of the country, so arrangements were made for them to do so, and Simon Bolivar became president of these united provinces too. They were named Bolivia in his honor.

Although there were many problems, heavy responsibilities, and much heartache, Simon never deviated from the vow he made to his old teacher on the hills above Rome. Twenty years later Rodriguez received a letter of appreciation:

“You may have followed with curiosity my steps in the path you traced out for me. You opened my heart to freedom and justice. You would hardly believe how deeply your teachings are graven on my heart.”

Illustrated by Bill Whitaker