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The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (Vol. II) by Washington Irving

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themselves in number. When they traveled, instead of using the horses and
mules with which they were provided, they obliged the natives to transport
them upon their shoulders in litters, or hammocks, with others attending
to hold umbrellas of palm-leaves over their heads to keep off the sun, and
fans of feathers to cool them; and Las Casas affirms that he has seen the
backs and shoulders of the unfortunate Indians who bore these litters raw
and bleeding from the task. When these arrogant upstarts arrived at an
Indian village, they consumed and lavished away the provisions of the
inhabitants, seizing upon whatever pleased their caprice, and obliging the
cacique and his subjects to dance before them for their amusement. Their
very pleasures were attended with cruelty. They never addressed the
natives but in the most degrading terms, and on the least offence, or the
least freak of ill-humor, inflicted blows and lashes, and even death
itself. [102]

Such is but a faint picture of the evils which sprang up under the feeble
rule of Bobadilla; and are sorrowfully described by Las Casas, from actual
observation, as he visited the island just at the close of his
administration. Bobadilla had trusted to the immense amount of gold, wrung
from the miseries of the natives, to atone for all errors, and secure
favor with the sovereigns; but he had totally mistaken his course. The
abuses of his government soon reached the royal ear, and above all, the
wrongs of the natives reached the benevolent heart of Isabella. Nothing
was more calculated to arouse her indignation, and she urged the speedy
departure of Ovando, to put a stop to these enormities.

In conformity to the plan already mentioned, the government of Ovando
extended over the islands and Terra Firma, of which Hispaniola was to be
the metropolis. He was to enter upon the exercise of his powers
immediately upon his arrival, by procuration, sending home Bobadilla by
the return of the fleet. He was instructed to inquire diligently into the
late abuses, punishing the delinquents without favor or partiality, and
removing all worthless persons from the island. He was to revoke
immediately the license granted by Bobadilla for the general search after
gold, it having been given without royal authority. He was to require, for
the crown, a third of what was already collected, and one half of all that
should be collected in future. He was empowered to build towns, granting
them the privileges enjoyed by municipal corporations of Spain, and
obliging the Spaniards, and particularly the soldiers, to reside in them,
instead of scattering themselves over the island. Among many sage
provisions, there were others injurious and illiberal, characteristic of
an age when the principles of commerce were but little understood; but
which were continued by Spain long after the rest of the world had
discarded them as the errors of dark and unenlightened times. The crown
monopolized the trade of the colonies. No one could carry merchandises
there on his own account. A royal factor was appointed, through whom alone
were to be obtained supplies of European articles. The crown reserved to
itself not only exclusive property in the mines, but in precious stones,
and like objects of extraordinary value, and also in dyewoods. No
strangers, and above all, no Moors nor Jews, were permitted to establish
themselves in the island, nor to go upon voyages of discovery. Such were
some of the restrictions upon trade which Spain imposed upon her colonies,
and which were followed up by others equally illiberal. Her commercial
policy has been the scoff of modern times; but may not the present
restrictions on trade, imposed by the most intelligent nations, be equally
the wonder and the jest of future ages?

Isabella was particularly careful in providing for the kind treatment of
the Indians. Ovando was ordered to assemble the caciques, and declare to
them, that the sovereigns took them and their people under their especial
protection. They were merely to pay tribute like other subjects of the
crown, and it was to be collected with the utmost mildness and gentleness.
Great pains were to be taken in their religious instruction; for which
purpose twelve Franciscan friars were sent out, with a prelate named
Antonio de Espinal, a venerable and pious man. This was the first formal
introduction of the Franciscan order into the New World. [103]

All these precautions with respect to the natives were defeated by one
unwary provision. It was permitted that the Indians might be compelled to
work in the mines, and in other employments; but this was limited to the
royal service. They were to be engaged as hired laborers, and punctually
paid. This provision led to great abuses and oppressions, and was
ultimately as fatal to the natives as could have been the most absolute

But, with that inconsistency frequent in human conduct, while the
sovereigns were making regulations for the relief of the Indians, they
encouraged a gross invasion of the rights and welfare of another race of
human beings. Among their various decrees on this occasion, we find the
first trace of negro slavery in the New World. It was permitted to carry
to the colony negro slaves born among Christians; [104] that is to say,
slaves born in Seville and other parts of Spain, the children and
descendants of natives brought from the Atlantic coast of Africa, where
such traffic had for some time been carried on by the Spaniards and
Portuguese. There are signal events in the course of history, which
sometimes bear the appearance of temporal judgments. It is a fact worthy
of observation, that Hispaniola, the place where this flagrant sin against
nature and humanity was first introduced into the New World, has been the
first to exhibit an awful retribution.

Amidst the various concerns which claimed the attention of the sovereigns,
the interests of Columbus were not forgotten. Ovando was ordered to
examine into all his accounts, without undertaking to pay them off. He was
to ascertain the damages he had sustained by his imprisonment, the
interruption of his privileges, and the confiscation of his effects. All
the property confiscated by Bobadilla was to be restored; or if it had
been sold, to be made good. If it had been employed in the royal service,
Columbus was to be indemnified out of the treasury; if Bobadilla had
appropriated it to his own use, he was to account for it out of his
private purse. Equal care was to be taken to indemnify the brothers of the
admiral for the losses they had wrongfully suffered by their arrest.

Columbus was likewise to receive the arrears of his revenues; and the same
were to be punctually paid to him in future. He was permitted to have a
factor resident in the island, to be present at the melting and marking of
the gold, to collect his dues, and in short to attend to all his affairs.
To this office he appointed Alonzo Sanchez de Carvajal; and the sovereigns
commanded that his agent should be treated with great respect.

The fleet appointed to convey Ovando to his government was the largest
that had yet sailed to the New World. It consisted of thirty sail, five of
them from ninety to one hundred and fifty tons burden, twenty-four
caravels from thirty to ninety, and one bark of twenty-five tons. [105]
The number of souls embarked in this fleet was about twenty-five hundred;
many of them persons of rank and distinction, with their families.

That Ovando might appear with dignity in his new office, he was allowed to
use silks, brocades, precious stones, and other articles of sumptuous
attire, prohibited at that time in Spain, in consequence of the ruinous
ostentation of the nobility. He was permitted to have seventy-two
esquires, as his body-guard, ten of whom were horsemen. With this
expedition sailed Don Alonzo Maldonado, appointed as alguazil mayor, or
chief justice, in place of Roldan, who was to be sent to Spain. There were
artisans of various kinds: to these were added a physician, surgeon, and
apothecary; and seventy-three married men [106] with their families, all
of respectable character, destined to be distributed in four towns, and to
enjoy peculiar privileges, that they might form the basis of a sound and
useful population. They were to displace an equal number of the idle and
dissolute who were to be sent from the island: this excellent measure had
been especially urged and entreated by Columbus. There was also
live-stock, artillery, arms, munitions of all kinds; every thing, in
short, that was required for the supply of the island.

Such was the style in which Ovando, a favorite of Ferdinand, and a native
subject of rank, was fitted out to enter upon the government withheld from
Columbus. The fleet put to sea on the thirteenth of February, 1502. In the
early part of the voyage it was encountered by a terrible storm; one of
the ships foundered, with one hundred and twenty passengers; the others
were obliged to throw overboard every thing on deck, and were completely
scattered. The shores of Spain were strewed with articles from the fleet,
and a rumor spread that all the ships had perished. When this reached the
sovereigns, they were so overcome with grief that they shut themselves up
for eight days, and admitted no one to their presence. The rumor proved to
be incorrect: but one ship was lost. The others assembled again at the
island of Gomera in the Canaries, and, pursuing their voyage, arrived at
San Domingo on the 15th of April. [107]

Chapter IV.

Proposition of Columbus Relative to the Recovery of the Holy Sepulchre.


Columbus remained in the city of Granada upwards of nine months,
endeavoring to extricate his affairs from the confusion into which they
had been thrown by the rash conduct of Bobadilla, and soliciting the
restoration of his offices and dignities. During this time he constantly
experienced the smiles and attentions of the sovereigns, and promises were
repeatedly made him that he should ultimately be reinstated in all his
honors. He had long since, however, ascertained the great interval that
may exist between promise and performance in a court. Had he been of a
morbid and repining spirit, he had ample food for misanthropy. He beheld
the career of glory which he had opened, thronged by favored adventurers;
he witnessed preparations making to convey with unusual pomp a successor
to that government from which he had been so wrongfully and rudely
ejected; in the meanwhile his own career was interrupted, and as far as
public employ is a gauge of royal favor, he remained apparently in

His sanguine temperament was not long to be depressed; if checked in one
direction it broke forth in another. His visionary imagination was an
internal light, which, in the darkest times, repelled all outward gloom,
and filled his mind with splendid images and glorious speculations. In
this time of evil, his vow to furnish, within seven years from the time of
his discovery, fifty thousand foot-soldiers, and five thousand horse, for
the recovery of the holy sepulchre, recurred to his memory with peculiar
force. The time had elapsed, but the vow remained unfulfilled, and the
means to perform it had failed him. The New World, with all its treasures,
had as yet produced expense instead of profit; and so far from being in a
situation to set armies on foot by his own contributions, he found himself
without property, without power, and without employ.

Destitute of the means of accomplishing his pious intentions, he
considered it his duty to incite the sovereigns to the enterprise; and he
felt emboldened to do so, from having originally proposed it as the great
object to which the profits of his discoveries should be dedicated. He set
to work, therefore, with his accustomed zeal, to prepare arguments for the
purpose. During the intervals of business, he sought into the prophecies
of the holy Scriptures, the writings of the fathers, and all kinds of
sacred and speculative sources, for mystic portents and revelations which
might be construed to bear upon the discovery of the New World, the
conversion of the Gentiles, and the recovery of the holy sepulchre: three
great events which he supposed to be predestined to succeed each other.
These passages, with the assistance of a Carthusian friar, he arranged in
order, illustrated by poetry, and collected into a manuscript volume, to
be delivered to the sovereigns. He prepared, at the same time, a long
letter, written with his usual fervor of spirit and simplicity of heart.
It is one of those singular compositions which lay open the visionary part
of his character, and show the mystic and speculative reading with which
he was accustomed to nurture his solemn and soaring imagination.

In this letter he urged the sovereigns to set on foot a crusade for the
deliverance of Jerusalem from the power of the unbelievers. He entreated
them not to reject his present advice as extravagant and impracticable,
nor to heed the discredit that might be cast upon it by others; reminding
them that his great scheme of discovery had originally been treated with
similar contempt. He avowed in the fullest manner his persuasion, that,
from his earliest infancy, he had been chosen by Heaven for the
accomplishment of those two great designs, the discovery of the New World,
and the rescue of the holy sepulchre. For this purpose, in his tender
years, he had been guided by a divine impulse to embrace the profession of
the sea, a mode of life, he observes, which produces an inclination to
inquire into the mysteries of nature; and he had been gifted with a
curious spirit, to read all kinds of chronicles, geographical treatises,
and works of philosophy. In meditating upon these, his understanding had
been opened by the Deity, "as with a palpable hand," so as to discover the
navigation to the Indies, and he had been inflamed with ardor to undertake
the enterprise. "Animated as by a heavenly fire," he adds, "I came to your
highnesses: all who heard of my enterprise mocked at it; all the sciences
I had acquired profited me nothing; seven years did I pass in your royal
court, disputing the case with persons of great authority and learned in
all the arts, and in the end they decided that all was vain. In your
highnesses alone remained faith and constancy. Who will doubt that this
light was from the holy Scriptures, illumining you as well as myself with
rays of marvelous brightness?"

These ideas, so repeatedly, and solemnly, and artlessly expressed, by a
man of the fervent piety of Columbus, show how truly his discovery arose
from the working of his own mind, and not from information furnished by
others. He considered it a divine intimation, a light from Heaven, and the
fulfillment of what had been fortold by our Saviour and the prophets.
Still he regarded it but as a minor event, preparatory to the great
enterprise, the recovery of the holy sepulchre. He pronounced it a miracle
effected by Heaven, to animate himself and others to that holy
undertaking; and he assured the sovereigns that, if they had faith in his
present as in his former proposition, they would assuredly be rewarded
with equally triumphant success. He conjured them not to heed the sneers
of such as might scoff at him as one unlearned, as an ignorant mariner, a
worldly man; reminding them that the Holy Spirit works not merely in the
learned, but also in the ignorant; nay, that it reveals things to come,
not merely by rational beings, but by prodigies in animals, and by mystic
signs in the air and in the heavens.

The enterprise here suggested by Columbus, however idle and extravagant it
may appear in the present day, was in unison with the temper of the times,
and of the court to which it was proposed. The vein of mystic erudition by
which it was enforced, likewise, was suited to an age when the reveries of
the cloister still controlled the operations of the cabinet and the camp.
The spirit of the crusades had not yet passed away. In the cause of the
church, and at the instigation of its dignitaries, every cavalier was
ready to draw his sword; and religion mingled a glowing and devoted
enthusiasm with the ordinary excitement of warfare. Ferdinand was a
religious bigot; and the devotion of Isabella went as near to bigotry as
her liberal mind and magnanimous spirit would permit. Both the sovereigns
were under the influence of ecclesiastical politicians, constantly guiding
their enterprises in a direction to redound to the temporal power and
glory of the church. The recent conquest of Granada had been considered a
European crusade, and had gained to the sovereigns the epithet of
Catholic. It was natural to think of extending their sacred victories
still further, and retaliating upon the infidels their domination of Spain
and their long triumphs over the cross. In fact, the Duke of Medina
Sidonia had made a recent inroad into Barbary, in the course of which he
had taken the city of Melilla, and his expedition had been pronounced a
renewal of the holy wars against the infidels in Africa. [108]

There was nothing, therefore, in the proposition of Columbus that could be
regarded as preposterous, considering the period and circumstances in
which it was made, though it strongly illustrates his own enthusiastic and
visionary character. It must be recollected that it was meditated in the
courts of the Alhambra, among the splendid remains of Moorish grandeur,
where, but a few years before, he had beheld the standard of the faith
elevated in triumph above the symbols of infidelity. It appears to have
been the offspring of one of those moods of high excitement, when, as has
been observed, his soul was elevated by the contemplation of his great and
glorious office; when he considered himself under divine inspiration,
imparting the will of Heaven, and fulfilling the high and holy purposes
for which he had been predestined. [109]

Chapter V.

Preparations of Columbus for a Fourth Voyage of Discovery.


The speculation relative to the recovery of the holy sepulchre held but a
temporary sway over the mind of Columbus. His thoughts soon returned, with
renewed ardor, to their wonted channel. He became impatient of inaction,
and soon conceived a leading object for another enterprise of discovery.
The achievement of Vasco de Gama, of the long-attempted navigation to
India by the Cape of Good Hope, was one of the signal events of the day.
Pedro Alvarez Cabral, following in his track, had made a most successful
voyage, and returned with his vessels laden with the precious commodities
of the East. The riches of Calicut were now the theme of every tongue, and
the splendid trade now opened in diamonds and precious stones from the
mines of Hindostan; in pearls, gold, silver, amber, ivory, and porcelain;
in silken stuffs, costly woods, gums, aromatics, and spices of all kinds.
The discoveries of the savage regions of the New World, as yet, brought
little revenue to Spain; but this route, suddenly opened to the luxurious
countries of the East, was pouring immediate wealth into Portugal.

Columbus was roused to emulation by these accounts. He now conceived the
idea of a voyage, in which, with his usual enthusiasm, he hoped to surpass
not merely the discovery of Vasco de Gama, but even those of his own
previous expeditions. According to his own observations in his voyage to
Paria, and the reports of other navigators, who had pursued the same route
to a greater distance, it appeared that the coast of Terra Firma stretched
far to the west. The southern coast of Cuba, which he considered a part of
the Asiatic continent, stretched onwards towards the same point. The
currents of the Caribbean sea must pass between those lands. He was
persuaded, therefore, that there must be a strait existing somewhere
thereabout, opening into the Indian sea. The situation in which he placed
his conjectural strait, was somewhere about what at present is called the
Isthmus of Darien. [110] Could he but discover such a passage, and thus
link the New world he had discovered with the opulent oriental regions of
the old, he felt that he should make a magnificent close to his labors,
and consummate this great object of his existence.

When he unfolded his plan to the sovereigns, it was listened to with great
attention. Certain of the royal council, it is said, endeavored to throw
difficulties in the way; observing that the various exigencies of the
times, and the low state of the royal treasury, rendered any new
expedition highly inexpedient. They intimated also that Columbus ought not
to be employed, until his good conduct in Hispaniola was satisfactorily
established by letters from Ovando. These narrow-minded suggestions failed
in their aim: Isabella had implicit confidence in the integrity of
Columbus. As to the expense, she felt that while furnishing so powerful a
fleet and splendid retinue to Ovando, to take possession of his
government, it would be ungenerous and ungrateful to refuse a few ships to
the discoverer of the New World, to enable him to prosecute his
illustrious enterprises. As to Ferdinand, his cupidity was roused at the
idea of being soon put in possession of a more direct and safe route to
those countries with which the crown of Portugal was opening so lucrative
a trade. The project also would occupy the admiral for a considerable
time, and, while it diverted him from claims of an inconvenient nature,
would employ his talents in a way most beneficial to the crown. However
the king might doubt his abilities as a legislator, he had the highest
opinion of his skill and judgment as a navigator. If such a strait as the
one supposed were really in existence, Columbus vas, of all men in the
world, the one to discover it. His proposition, therefore, was promptly
acceded to; he was authorized to fit out an armament immediately; and
repaired to Seville in the autumn of 1501, to make the necessary

Though this substantial enterprise diverted his attention from his
romantic expedition for the recovery of the holy sepulchre, it still
continued to haunt his mind. He left his manuscript collection of
researches among the prophecies in the hands of a devout friar of the name
of Gaspar Gorricio, who assisted to complete it. In February, also, he
wrote a letter to Pope Alexander VII, in which he apologizes, on account
of indispensable occupations, for not having repaired to Rome, according
to his original intention, to give an account of his grand discoveries.
After briefly relating them, he adds that his enterprises had been
undertaken with intent of dedicating the gains to the recovery of the holy
sepulchre. He mentions his vow to furnish, within seven years, fifty
thousand foot and five thousand horse for the purpose, and another of like
force within five succeeding years. This pious intention, he laments, had
been impeded by the arts of the devil, and he feared, without divine aid,
would be entirely frustrated, as the government which had been granted to
him in perpetuity had been taken from him. He informs his Holiness of his
being about to embark on another voyage, and promises solemnly, on his
return, to repair to Rome without delay, to relate everything by word of
mouth, as well as to present him with an account of his voyages, which he
had kept from the commencement to the present time, in the style of the
Commentaries of Caesar. [111]

It was about this time, also, that he sent his letter on the subject of
the sepulchre to the sovereigns, together with the collection of
prophecies. [112] We have no account of the manner in which the
proposition was received. Ferdinand, with all his bigotry, was a shrewd
and worldly prince. Instead of a chivalrous crusade against Jerusalem,
he preferred making a pacific arrangement with the Grand Soldan of Egypt,
who had menaced the destruction of the sacred edifice. He dispatched,
therefore, the learned Peter Martyr, so distinguished for his historical
writings, as ambassador to the Soldan, by whom all ancient grievances
between the two powers were satisfactorily adjusted, and arrangements
made for the conservation of the holy sepulchre, and the protection of
all Christian pilgrims resorting to it.

In the meantime Columbus went on with the preparations for his
contemplated voyage, though but slowly, owing, as Charlevoix intimates, to
the artifices and delays of Fonseca and his agents. He craved permission
to touch at the island of Hispaniola for supplies on his outward voyage.
This, however, the sovereigns forbade, knowing that he had many enemies in
the island, and that the place would be in great agitation from the
arrival of Ovando, and the removal of Bobadilla. They consented, however,
that he should touch there briefly on his return, by which time they hoped
the island would be restored to tranquillity. He was permitted to take
with him, in this expedition, his brother the Adelantado, and his son
Fernando, then in his fourteenth year; also two or three persons learned
in Arabic, to serve as interpreters, in case he should arrive at the
dominions of the Grand Khan, or of any other Eastern prince where that
language might be spoken, or partially known. In reply to letters relative
to the ultimate restoration of his rights, and to matters concerning his
family, the sovereigns wrote him a letter, dated March 14, 1502, from
Valencia de Torre, in which they again solemnly assured him that their
capitulations with him should be fulfilled to the letter, and the
dignities therein ceded enjoyed by him, and his children after him; and if
it should be necessary to confirm them anew, they would do so, and secure
them to his son. Beside which, they expressed their disposition to bestow
further honors and rewards upon himself, his brothers, and his children.
They entreated him, therefore, to depart in peace and confidence, and to
leave all his concerns in Spain to the management of his son Diego.

This was the last letter that Columbus received from the sovereigns, and
the assurances it contained were as ample and absolute as he could desire.
Recent circumstances, however, had apparently rendered him dubious of the
future. During the time that he passed in Seville, previous to his
departure, he took measures to secure his fame, and preserve the claims of
his family, by placing them under the guardianship of his native country.
He had copies of all the letters, grants, and privileges from the
sovereigns, appointing him admiral, viceroy, and governor of the Indies,
copied and authenticated before the alcaldes of Seville. Two sets of these
were transcribed, together with his letter to the nurse of Prince Juan,
containing a circumstantial and eloquent vindication of his rights; and
two letters to the Bank of St. George, at Genoa, assigning to it the tenth
of his revenues, to be employed in diminishing the duties on corn and
other provisions;--a truly benevolent and patriotic donation, intended for
the relief of the poor of his native city. These two sets of documents he
sent by different individuals to his friend, Doctor Nicolo Oderigo,
formerly ambassador from Genoa to the court of Spain, requesting him to
preserve them in some safe deposit, and to apprise his son Diego of the
same. His dissatisfaction at the conduct of the Spanish court may have
been the cause of this precautionary measure, that an appeal to the world,
or to posterity, might be in the power of his descendants, in case he
should perish in the course of his voyage. [114]

Book XV.

Chapter I.

Departure of Columbus on His Fourth Voyage.--Refused Admission to the
Harbor of San Domingo.--Exposed to a Violent Tempest.


Age was rapidly making its advances upon Columbus when he undertook his
fourth and last voyage of discovery. He had already numbered sixty-six
years, and they were years filled with care and trouble, in which age
outstrips the march of time. His constitution, originally vigorous in the
extreme, had been impaired by hardships and exposures in every clime, and
silently preyed upon by the sufferings of the mind. His frame, once
powerful and commanding, and retaining a semblance of strength and majesty
even in its decay, was yet crazed by infirmities and subject to paroxysms
of excruciating pain. His intellectual forces alone retained their wonted
health and energy, prompting him, at a period of life when most men seek
repose, to sally forth with youthful ardor, on the most toilsome and
adventurous of expeditions.

His squadron for the present voyage consisted of four caravels, the
smallest of fifty tons burden, the largest not exceeding seventy, and the
crews amounting in all to one hundred and fifty men. With this little
armament and these slender barks did the venerable discoverer undertake
the search after a strait, which, if found, must conduct him into the most
remote seas, and lead to a complete circumnavigation of the globe.

In this arduous voyage, however, he had a faithful counselor, and an
intrepid and vigorous coadjutor, in his brother Don Bartholomew, while his
younger son Fernando cheered him with his affectionate sympathy. He had
learnt to appreciate such comforts, from being too often an isolated
stranger, surrounded by false friends and perfidious enemies.

The squadron sailed from Cadiz on the 9th of May, and passed over to
Ercilla, on the coast of Morocco, where it anchored on the 13th.
Understanding that the Portuguese garrison was closely besieged in the
fortress by the Moors, and exposed to great peril, Columbus was ordered to
touch there, and render all the assistance in his power. Before his
arrival the siege had been raised, but the governor lay ill, having been
wounded in an assault. Columbus sent his brother, the Adelantado, his son
Fernando, and the captains of the caravels on shore, to wait upon the
governor, with expressions of friendship and civility, and offers of the
services of his squadron. Their visit and message gave high satisfaction,
and several cavaliers were sent to wait upon the admiral in return, some
of whom were relatives of his deceased wife, Dona Felippa Munoz. After
this exchange of civilities, the admiral made sail on the same day, and
continued his voyage. [115] On the 25th of May, he arrived at the Grand
Canary, and remained at that and the adjacent islands for a few days,
taking in wood and water. On the evening of the 25th, he took his
departure for the New World. The trade winds were so favorable, that the
little squadron swept gently on its course, without shifting a sail, and
arrived on the 15th of June at one of the Caribbee Islands, called by the
natives Mantinino. [116] After stopping here for three days, to take in
wood and water, and allow the seamen time to wash their clothes, the
squadron passed to the west of the island, and sailed to Dominica, about
ten leagues distant. [117] Columbus continued hence along the inside of
the Antilles, to Santa Cruz, then along the south side of Porto Rico, and
steered for San Domingo. This was contrary to the original plan of the
admiral, who had intended to steer to Jamaica, [118] and thence to take a
departure for the continent, and explore its coasts in search of the
supposed strait. It was contrary to the orders of the sovereigns also,
prohibiting him on his outward voyage to touch at Hispaniola. His excuse
was, that his principal vessel sailed extremely ill, could not carry any
canvas, and continually embarrassed and delayed the rest of the
squadron. [119] He wished, therefore, to exchange it for one of the
fleet which had recently conveyed Ovando to his government, or to
purchase some other vessel at San Domingo; and he was persuaded that he
would not be blamed for departing from his orders, in a case of such
importance to the safety and success of his expedition.

It is necessary to state the situation of the island at this moment.
Ovando had reached San Domingo on the 15th of April. He had been received
with the accustomed ceremony on the shore, by Bobadilla, accompanied by
the principal inhabitants of the town. He was escorted to the fortress,
where his commission was read in form, in presence of all the authorities.
The usual oaths were taken, and ceremonials observed; and the new governor
was hailed with great demonstrations of obedience and satisfaction. Ovando
entered upon the duties of his office with coolness and prudence; and
treated Bobadilla with a courtesy totally opposite to the rudeness with
which the latter had superseded Columbus. The emptiness of mere official
rank, when unsustained by merit, was shown in the case of Bobadilla. The
moment his authority was at an end, all his importance vanished. He found
himself a solitary and neglected man, deserted by those whom he had most
favored, and he experienced the worthlessness of the popularity gained by
courting the prejudices and passions of the multitude. Still there is no
record of any suit having been instituted against him; and Las Casas, who
was on the spot, declares that he never heard any harsh thing spoken of
him by the colonists. [120]

The conduct of Roldan and his accomplices, however, underwent a strict
investigation, and many were arrested to be sent to Spain for trial. They
appeared undismayed, trusting to the influence of their friends in Spain
to protect them, and many relying on the well-known disposition of the
Bishop of Fonseca to favor all who had been opposed to Columbus.

The fleet which had brought out Ovando was now ready for sea; and was to
take out a number of the principal delinquents, and many of the idlers and
profligates of the island. Bobadilla was to embark in the principal ship,
on board of which he put an immense amount of gold, the revenue collected
for the crown during his government, and which he confidently expected
would atone for all his faults. There was one solid mass of virgin gold on
board of this ship, which is famous in the old Spanish chronicles. It had
been found by a female Indian in a brook, on the estate of Francisco de
Garay and Miguel Diaz, and had been taken by Bobadilla to send to the
king, making the owners a suitable compensation. It was said to weigh
three thousand six hundred castellanos. [121]

Large quantities of gold were likewise shipped in the fleet, by the
followers of Roldan, and other adventurers; the wealth gained by the
sufferings of the unhappy natives. Among the various persons who were to
sail in the principal ship, was the unfortunate Guarionex, the once
powerful cacique of the Vega. He had been confined in Fort Conception,
ever since his capture after the war of Higuey, and was now to be sent a
captive in chains to Spain. In one of the ships, Alonzo Sanchez de
Carvajal, the agent of Columbus, had put four thousand pieces of gold, to
be remitted to him; being part of his property, either recently collected,
or recovered from the hands of Bobadilla. [122]

The preparations were all made, and the fleet was ready to put to sea,
when, on the 29th of June, the squadron of Columbus arrived at the mouth
of the river. He immediately sent Pedro de Terreros, captain of one of the
caravels, on shore, to wait on Ovando, and explain to him that the purpose
of his coming was to procure a vessel in exchange for one of his caravels,
which was extremely defective. He requested permission also to shelter his
squadron in the harbor; as he apprehended, from various indications, an
approaching storm. This request was refused by Ovando. Las Casas thinks it
probable that he had instructions from the sovereigns not to admit
Columbus, and that he was further swayed by prudent considerations, as San
Domingo was at that moment crowded with the most virulent enemies of the
admiral, many of them in a high state of exasperation, from recent
proceedings which had taken place against them. [123]

When the ungracious refusal of Ovando was brought to Columbus, and he
found all shelter denied him, he sought at least to avert the danger of
the fleet, which was about to sail. He sent back the officer therefore to
the governor, entreating him not to permit the fleet to put to sea for
several days; assuring him that there were indubitable signs of an
impending tempest. This second request was equally fruitless with the
first. The weather, to an inexperienced eye, was fair and tranquil; the
pilots and seamen were impatient to depart. They scoffed at the prediction
of the admiral, ridiculing him as a false prophet, and they persuaded
Ovando not to detain the fleet on so unsubstantial a pretext.

It was hard treatment of Columbus, thus to be denied the relief which the
state of his ships required, and to be excluded in time of distress from
the very harbor he had discovered. He retired from the river full of grief
and indignation. His crew murmured loudly at being shut out from a port of
their own nation, where even strangers, tinder similar circumstances,
would be admitted. They repined at having embarked with a commander liable
to such treatment; and anticipated nothing but evil from a voyage, in
which they were exposed to the dangers of the sea, and repulsed from the
protection of the land.

Being confident, from his observations of those natural phenomena in which
he was deeply skilled, that the anticipated storm could not be distant,
and expecting it from the land side, Columbus kept his feeble squadron
close to the shore, and sought for secure anchorage in some wild bay or
river of the island.

In the meantime, the fleet of Bobadilla set sail from San Domingo, and
stood out confidently to sea. Within two days, the predictions of Columbus
were verified. One of those tremendous hurricanes, which sometimes sweep
those latitudes, had gradually gathered up. The baleful appearance of the
heavens, the wild look of the ocean, the rising murmur of the winds, all
gave notice of its approach. The fleet had scarcely reached the eastern
point of Hispaniola, when the tempest burst over it with awful fury,
involving every thing in wreck and ruin. The ship on board of which were
Bobadilla, Roldan, and a number of the most inveterate enemies of
Columbus, was swallowed up with all its crew, and with the celebrated mass
of gold, and the principal part of the ill-gotten treasure, gained by the
miseries of the Indians. Many of the ships were entirely lost, some
returned to San Domingo, in shattered condition, and only one was enabled
to continue her voyage to Spain. That one, according to Fernando Columbus,
was the weakest of the fleet, and had on board the four thousand pieces of
gold, the property of the admiral.

During the early part of this storm, the little squadron of Columbus
remained tolerably well sheltered by the land. On the second day the
tempest increased in violence, and the night coming on with unusual
darkness, the ships lost sight of each other and were separated. The
admiral still kept close to the shore, and sustained no damage. The
others, fearful of the land in such a dark and boisterous night, ran out
for sea-room, and encountered the whole fury of the elements. For several
days they were driven about at the mercy of wind and wave, fearful each
moment of shipwreck, and giving up each other as lost. The Adelantado, who
commanded the ship already mentioned as being scarcely seaworthy, ran the
most imminent hazard, and nothing but his consummate seamanship enabled
him to keep her afloat. At length, after various vicissitudes, they all
arrived safe at Port Hermoso, to the west of San Domingo. The Adelantado
had lost his long boat; and all the vessels, with the exception of that of
the admiral, had sustained more or less injury.

When Columbus learnt the signal destruction that had overwhelmed his
enemies, almost before his eyes, he was deeply impressed with awe, and
considered his own preservation as little less than miraculous. Both his
son Fernando, and the venerable historian Las Casas, looked upon the event
as one of those awful judgments, which seem at times to deal forth
temporal retribution. They notice the circumstance, that while the enemies
of the admiral were swallowed up by the raging sea, the only ship of the
fleet which was enabled to pursue her voyage, and reach her port of
destination, was the frail bark freighted with the property of Columbus.
The evil, however, in this, as in most circumstances, overwhelmed the
innocent as well as the guilty. In the ship with Bobadilla and Roldan
perished the captive Guarionex, the unfortunate cacique of the Vega.

Chapter II.

Voyage along the Coast of Honduras.


For several days Columbus remained in Port Hermosa to repair his vessels,
and permit his crews to repose and refresh themselves after the late
tempest. He had scarcely left this harbor, when he was obliged to take
shelter from another storm in Jacquemel, or, as it was called by the
Spaniards, Port Brazil. Hence he sailed on the 14th of July, steering for
Terra Firma. The weather falling perfectly calm, he was borne away by the
currents until he found himself in the vicinity of some little islands
near Jamaica, [125] destitute of springs, but where the seamen obtained a
supply of water by digging holes in the sand on the beach.

The calm continuing, he was swept away to the group of small islands, or
keys, on the southern coast of Cuba, to which, in 1494, he had given the
name of The Gardens. He had scarcely touched there, however, when the wind
sprang up from a favorable quarter, and he was enabled to make sail on his
destined course. He now stood to the southwest, and after a few days
discovered, on the 30th of July, a small but elevated island, agreeable to
the eye from the variety of trees with which it was covered. Among these
was a great number of lofty pines, from which circumstance Columbus named
it Isla de Pinos. It has always, however, retained its Indian name of
Guanaja, [126] which has been extended to a number of smaller islands
surrounding it. This group is within a few leagues of the coast of
Honduras, to the east of the great bay or gulf of that name.

The Adelantado, with two launches full of people, landed on the principal
island, which was extremely verdant and fertile. The inhabitants resembled
those of other islands, excepting that their foreheads were narrower.
While the Adelantado was on shore, he beheld a great canoe arriving, as
from a distant and important voyage. He was struck with its magnitude and
contents. It was eight feet wide, and as long as a galley, though formed
of the trunk of a single tree. In the centre was a kind of awning or cabin
of palm-leaves, after the manner of those in the gondolas of Venice, and
sufficiently close to exclude both sun and rain. Under this sat a cacique
with his wives and children. Twenty-five Indians rowed the canoe, and it
was filled with all kinds of articles of the manufacture and natural
production of the adjacent countries. It is supposed that this bark had
come from the province of Yucatan, which is about forty leagues distant
from this island.

The Indians in the canoe appeared to have no fear of the Spaniards, and
readily went alongside of the admiral's caravel. Columbus was overjoyed at
thus having brought to him at once, without trouble or danger, a
collection of specimens of all the important articles of this part of the
New World. He examined, with great curiosity and interest, the contents of
the canoe. Among various utensils and weapons similar to those already
found among the natives, he perceived others of a much superior kind.
There were hatchets for cutting wood, formed not of stone but copper;
wooden swords, with channels on each side of the blade, in which sharp
flints were firmly fixed by cords made of the intestines of fishes; being
the same kind of weapon afterwards found among the Mexicans. There were
copper bells and other articles of the same metal, together with a rude
kind of crucible in which to melt it; various vessels and utensils neatly
formed of clay, of marble, and of hard wood; sheets and mantles of cotton,
worked and dyed with various colors; great quantities of cacao, a fruit as
yet unknown to the Spaniards, but which, as they soon found, the natives
held in great estimation, using it both as food and money. There was a
beverage also extracted from maize or Indian corn, resembling beer. Their
provisions consisted of bread made of maize, and roots of various kinds,
similar to those of Hispaniola. From among these articles, Columbus
collected such as were important to send as specimens to Spain, giving the
natives European trinkets in exchange, with which they were highly
satisfied. They appeared to manifest neither astonishment nor alarm when
on board of the vessels, and surrounded by people who must have been so
strange and wonderful to them. The women wore mantles, with which they
wrapped themselves, like the female Moors of Granada, and the men had
cloths of cotton round their loins. Both sexes appeared more particular
about these coverings, and to have a quicker sense of personal modesty
than any Indians Columbus had yet discovered.

These circumstances, together with the superiority of their implements and
manufactures, were held by the admiral as indications that he was
approaching more civilized nations. He endeavored to gain particular
information from these Indians about the surrounding countries; but as
they spoke a different language from that of his interpreters, he could
understand them but imperfectly. They informed him that they had just
arrived from a country, rich, cultivated, and industrious, situated to the
west. They endeavored to impress him with an idea of the wealth and
magnificence of the regions, and the people in that quarter, and urged him
to steer in that direction. Well would it have been for Columbus had he
followed their advice. Within a day or two he would have arrived at
Yucatan; the discovery of Mexico and the other opulent countries of New
Spain would have necessarily followed; the Southern Ocean would have been
disclosed to him, and a succession of splendid discoveries would have shed
fresh glory on his declining age, instead of its sinking amidst gloom,
neglect, and disappointment.

The admiral's whole mind, however, was at present intent upon discovering
the strait. As the countries described by the Indians lay to the west, he
supposed that he could easily visit them at some future time, by running
with the trade-winds along the coast of Cuba, which he imagined must
continue on, so as to join them. At present he was determined to seek the
main-land, the mountains of which were visible to the south, and
apparently not many leagues distant:[127] by keeping along it steadfastly
to the east, he must at length arrive to where he supposed it to be
severed from the coast of Paria by an intervening strait; and passing
through this, he should soon make his way to the Spice Islands and the
richest parts of India. [128]

He was encouraged the more to persist in his eastern course by information
from the Indians, that there were many places in that direction which
abounded with gold. Much of the information which he gathered among these
people was derived from an old man more intelligent than the rest, who
appeared to be an ancient navigator of these seas. Columbus retained him
to serve as a guide along the coast, and dismissed his companions with
many presents.

Leaving the island of Guanaja, he stood southwardly for the main-land, and
after sailing a few leagues, discovered a cape, to which he gave the name
of Caxinas, from its being covered with fruit trees, so called by the
natives. It is at present known as Cape Honduras. Here, on Sunday the 14th
of August, the Adelantado landed with the captains of the caravels and
many of the seamen, to attend mass, which was performed under the trees on
the sea-shore, according to the pious custom of the admiral, whenever
circumstances would permit. On the 17th, the Adelantado again landed at a
river about fifteen miles from the point, on the bank of which he
displayed the banners of Castile, taking possession of the country in the
name of their Catholic Majesties; from which circumstances he named this
the River of Possession. [129]

At this place they found upwards of a hundred Indians assembled, laden
with bread and maize, fish and fowl, vegetables, and fruits of various
kinds. These they laid down as presents before the Adelantado and his
party, and drew back to a distance without speaking a word. The Adelantado
distributed among them various trinkets, with which they were well
pleased, and appeared the next day in the same place, in greater numbers,
with still more abundant supplies of provisions.

The natives of this neighborhood, and for a considerable distance
eastward, had higher foreheads than those of the islands. They were of
different languages, and varied from each other in their decorations. Some
were entirely naked; and their bodies were marked by means of fire with
the figures of various animals. Some wore coverings about the loins;
others short cotton jerkins without sleeves: some wore tresses of hair in
front. The chieftains had caps of white or colored cotton. When arrayed
for any festival, they painted their faces black, or with stripes of
various colors, or with circles round the eyes. The old Indian guide
assured the admiral that many of them were cannibals. In one part of the
coast the natives had their ears bored, and hideously distended; which
caused the Spaniards to call that region _la Costa de la Oreja_, or
"the Coast of the Ear." [130]

From the River of Possession, Columbus proceeded along what is at present
called the coast of Honduras, beating against contrary winds, and
struggling with currents which swept from the east like the constant
stream of a river. He often lost in one tack what he had laboriously
gained in two, frequently making but two leagues in a day, and never more
than five. At night he anchored under the land, through fear of proceeding
along an unknown coast in the dark, but was often forced out to sea by the
violence of the currents.[131] In all this time he experienced the same
kind of weather that had prevailed on the coast of Hispaniola, and had
attended him more or less for upwards of sixty days. There was, he says,
almost an incessant tempest of the heavens, with heavy rains, and such
thunder and lightning, that it seemed as if the end of the world was at
hand. Those who know any thing of the drenching rains and rending thunder
of the tropics, will not think his description of the storms exaggerated.
His vessels were strained so that their seams opened; the sails and
rigging were rent, and the provisions were damaged by the rain and by the
leakage. The sailors were exhausted with labor, and harassed with terror.
They many times confessed their sins to each other, and prepared for
death. "I have seen many tempests," says Columbus, "but none so violent
or of such long duration." He alludes to the whole series of storms for
upwards of two months, since he had been refused shelter at San Domingo.
During a great part of this time, he had suffered extremely from the
gout, aggravated by his watchfulness and anxiety. His illness did not
prevent his attending to his duties; he had a small cabin or chamber
constructed on the stern, whence, even when confined to his bed, he
could keep a look-out and regulate the sailing of the ships. Many times
he was so ill that he thought his end approaching. His anxious mind was
distressed about his brother the Adelantado, whom he had persuaded
against his will to come on this expedition, and who was in the worst
vessel of the squadron. He lamented also having brought with him his
son Fernando, exposing him at so tender an age to such perils and
hardships, although the youth bore them with the courage and fortitude
of a veteran. Often, too, his thoughts reverted to his son Diego, and
the cares and perplexities into which his death might plunge him.[132]
At length, after struggling for upwards of forty days since leaving
the Cape of Honduras, to make a distance of about seventy leagues, they
arrived on the 14th of September at a cape where the coast making an
angle, turned directly south, so as to give them an easy wind and free
navigation. Doubling the point, they swept off with flowing sails and
hearts filled with joy; and the admiral, to commemorate this sudden
relief from toil and peril, gave to the Cape the name of _Gracias a
Dios_, or Thanks to God.[133]

Chapter III.

Voyage along the Mosquito Coast, and Transactions at Cariari.


After doubling Cape Gracias a Dios, Columbus sailed directly south, along
what is at present called the Mosquito shore. The land was of varied
character, sometimes rugged, with craggy promontories and points
stretching into the sea, at other places verdant and fertile, and watered
by abundant streams. In the rivers grew immense reeds, sometimes of the
thickness of a man's thigh: they abounded with fish and tortoises, and
alligators basked on the banks. At one place Columbus passed a cluster of
twelve small islands, on which grew a fruit resembling the lemon, on which
account he called them the Limonares. [134]

After sailing about sixty-two leagues along this coast, being greatly in
want of wood and water, the squadron anchored on the 16th of September,
near a copious river, up which the boats were sent to procure the
requisite supplies. As they were returning to their ships, a sudden
swelling of the sea, rushing in and encountering the rapid current of the
river, caused a violent commotion, in which one of the boats was swallowed
up, and all on board perished. This melancholy event had a gloomy effect
upon the crews, already dispirited and care-worn from the hardships they
had endured, and Columbus, sharing their dejection, gave the stream the
sinister name of _El rio del Desastre_, or the River of Disaster.

Leaving this unlucky neighborhood, they continued for several days along
the coast, until, finding both his ships and his people nearly disabled by
the buffetings of the tempests, Columbus, on the 25th of September, cast
anchor between a small island and the main-land, in what appeared a
commodious and delightful situation. The island was covered with groves of
palm-trees, cocoanut-trees, bananas, and a delicate and fragrant fruit,
which the admiral continually mistook for the mirabolane of the East
Indies. The fruits and flowers and odoriferous shrubs of the island sent
forth grateful perfumes, so that Columbus gave it the name of La Huerta,
or the Garden. It was called by the natives Quiribiri. Immediately
opposite, at a short league's distance, was an Indian village, named
Cariari, situated on the bank of a beautiful river. The country around was
fresh and verdant, finely diversified by noble hills and forests, with
trees of such height, that Las Casas says they appeared to reach the

When the inhabitants beheld the ships, they gathered together on the
coast, armed with bows and arrows, war-clubs, and lances, and prepared to
defend their shores. The Spaniards, however, made no attempt to land
during that or the succeeding day, but remained quietly on board repairing
the ships, airing and drying the damaged provisions, or reposing from the
fatigues of the voyage. When the savages perceived that these wonderful
beings, who had arrived in this strange manner on their coast, were
perfectly pacific, and made no movement to molest them, their hostility
ceased, and curiosity predominated. They made various pacific signals,
waving their mantles like banners, and inviting the Spaniards to land.
Growing still more bold, they swam to the ships, bringing off mantles and
tunics of cotton, and ornaments of the inferior sort of gold called
guanin, which they wore about their necks. These they offered to the
Spaniards. The admiral, however, forbade all traffic, making them
presents, but taking nothing in exchange, wishing to impress them with a
favorable idea of the liberality and disinterestedness of the white men.
The pride of the savages was touched at the refusal of their proffered
gifts, and this supposed contempt for their manufactures and productions.
They endeavored to retaliate, by pretending like indifference. On
returning to shore, they tied together all the European articles which had
been given them, without retaining the least trifle, and left them lying
on the strand, where the Spaniards found them on a subsequent day.

Finding the strangers still declined to come on shore, the natives tried
in every way to gain their confidence, and dispel the distrust which their
hostile demonstrations might have caused. A boat approaching the shore
cautiously one day, in quest of some safe place to procure water, an
ancient Indian, of venerable demeanor, issued from among the trees,
bearing a white banner on the end of a staff, and leading two girls, one
about fourteen years of age, the other about eight, having jewels of
guanin about their necks. These he brought to the boat and delivered to
the Spaniards, making signs that they were to be detained as hostages
while the strangers should be on shore. Upon this the Spaniards sallied
forth with confidence and filled their water-casks, the Indians remaining
at a distance, and observing the strictest care, neither by word nor
movement to cause any new distrust. When the boats were about to return to
the ships, the old Indian made signs that the young girls should be taken
on board, nor would he admit of any denial. On entering the ships the
girls showed no signs of grief nor alarm, though surrounded by what to
them must have been uncouth and formidable beings. Columbus was careful
that the confidence thus placed in him should not be abused. After
feasting the young females, and ordering them to be clothed and adorned
with various ornaments, he sent them on shore. The night, however, had
fallen, and the coast was deserted. They had to return to the ship, where
they remained all night under the careful protection of the admiral. The
next morning he restored them to their friends. The old Indian received
them with joy, and manifested a grateful sense of the kind treatment they
had experienced. In the evening, however, when the boats went on shore,
the young girls appeared, accompanied by a multitude of their friends, and
returned all the presents they had received, nor could they be prevailed
upon to retain any of them, although they must have been precious in their
eyes; so greatly was the pride of these savages piqued at having their
gifts refused.

On the following day, as the Adelantado approached the shore, two of the
principal inhabitants, entering the water, took him out of the boat in
their arms, and carrying him to land, seated him with great ceremony on a
grassy bank. Don Bartholomew endeavored to collect information from them
respecting the country, and ordered the notary of the squadron to write
down their replies. The latter immediately prepared pen, ink, and paper,
and proceeded to write; but no sooner did the Indians behold this strange
and mysterious process, than, mistaking it for some necromantic spell,
intended to be wrought upon them, they fled with terror. After some time
they returned, cautiously scattering a fragrant powder in the air, and
burning some of it in such a direction that the smoke should be borne
towards the Spaniards by the wind. This was apparently intended to
counteract any baleful spell, for they regarded the strangers as beings of
a mysterious and supernatural order.

The sailors looked upon these counter-charms of the Indians with equal
distrust, and apprehended something of magic; nay, Fernando Columbus, who
was present, and records the scene, appears to doubt whether these Indiana
were not versed in sorcery, and thus led to suspect it in others.

Indeed, not to conceal a foible, which was more characteristic of the
superstition of the age than of the man, Columbus himself entertained an
idea of the kind, and assures the sovereigns, in his letter from Jamaica,
that the people of Cariari and its vicinity are great enchanters, and he
intimates, that the two Indian girls who had visited his ship had magic
powder concealed about their persons. He adds, that the sailors attributed
all the delays and hardships experienced on that coast to their being
under the influence of some evil spell, worked by the witchcraft of the
natives, and that they still remained in that belief. [137]


For several days the squadron remained at this place, during which time
the ships were examined and repaired, and the crews enjoyed repose and the
recreation of the land. The Adelantado, with a band of armed men, made
excursions on shore to collect information. There was no pure gold to be
met with here, all their ornaments were of guanin; but the natives assured
the Adelantado, that, in proceeding along the coast, the ships would soon
arrive at a country where gold was in great abundance.

In examining one of the villages, the Adelantado found, in a large house,
several sepulchres. One contained a human body embalmed; in another, there
were two bodies wrapped in cotton, and so preserved as to be free from any
disagreeable odor. They were adorned with the ornaments most precious to
them when living; and the sepulchres were decorated with rude carvings and
paintings representing various animals, and, sometimes, what appeared to
be intended for portraits of the deceased. [139] Throughout most of the
savage tribes, there appears to have been great veneration for the dead,
and an anxiety to preserve their remains undisturbed.

When about to sail, Columbus seized seven of the people, two of whom,
apparently the most intelligent, he selected to serve as guides; the rest
he suffered to depart. His late guide he had dismissed with presents at
Cape Gracias a Dios. The inhabitants of Cariari manifested unusual
sensibility at this seizure of their countrymen. They thronged the shore,
and sent off four of their principal men with presents to the ships,
imploring the release of the prisoners.

The admiral assured them that he only took their companions as guides, for
a short distance along the coast, and would restore them soon in safety to
their homes. He ordered various presents to be given to the ambassadors;
but neither his promises nor gifts could soothe the grief and apprehension
of the natives at beholding their friends carried away by beings of whom
they had such mysterious apprehensions. [140]

Chapter IV.

Voyage along Costa Rica.--Speculations Concerning the Isthmus at Veragua.


On the 5th of October, the squadron departed from Cariari, and sailed
along what is at present called Costa Rica (or the Rich Coast), from the
gold and silver mines found in after years among its mountains. After
sailing about twenty-two leagues, the ships anchored in a great bay, about
six leagues in length and three in breadth, full of islands, with channels
opening between them, so as to present three or four entrances. It was
called by the natives Caribaro, [141] and had been pointed out by the
natives of Cariari as plentiful in gold.

The islands were beautifully verdant, covered with groves, and sent forth
the fragrance of fruits and flowers. The channels between them were so
deep and free from rocks that the ships sailed along them, as if in canals
in the streets of a city, the spars and rigging brushing the overhanging
branches of the trees. After anchoring, the boats landed on one of the
islands, where they found twenty canoes. The people were on shore among
the trees. Being encouraged by the Indians of Cariari, who accompanied the
Spaniards, they soon advanced with confidence. Here, for the first time on
this coast, the Spaniards met with specimens of pure gold; the natives
wearing large plates of it suspended round their necks by cotton cords;
they had ornaments likewise of guanin, rudely shaped like eagles. One of
them exchanged a plate of gold, equal in value to ten ducats, for three
hawks'-bells. [142]

On the following day, the boats proceeded to the mainland at the bottom of
the bay. The country around was high and rough, and the villages were
generally perched on the heights. They met with ten canoes of Indians,
their heads decorated with garlands of flowers, and coronets formed of the
claws of beasts and the quills of birds;[143] most of them had plates of
gold about their necks, but refused to part with them. The Spaniards
brought two of them to the admiral to serve as guides. One had a plate of
pure gold worth fourteen ducats, another an eagle worth twenty-two ducats.
Seeing the great value which the strangers set upon this metal, they
assured them it was to be had in abundance within the distance of two
days' journey; and mentioned various places along the coast, whence it
was procured, particularly Veragua, which was about twenty-five leagues
distant. [144]

The cupidity of the Spaniards was greatly excited, and they would gladly
have remained to barter, but the admiral discouraged all disposition of
the kind. He barely sought to collect specimens and information of the
riches of the country, and then pressed forward in quest of the great
object of his enterprise, the imaginary strait.

Sailing on the 17th of October, from this bay, or rather gulf, he began to
coast this region of reputed wealth, since called the coast of Veragua;
and after sailing about twelve leagues, arrived at a large river, which
his son Fernando calls the Guaig. Here, on the boats being sent to land,
about two hundred Indians appeared on the shore, armed with clubs, lances,
and swords of palm-wood. The forests echoed with the sound of wooden
drums, and the blasts of conch shells, their usual war signals. They
rushed into the sea up to their waists, brandishing their weapons, and
splashing the water at the Spaniards in token of defiance; but were soon
pacified by gentle signs, and the intervention of the interpreters; and
willingly bartered away their ornaments, giving seventeen plates of gold,
worth one hundred and fifty ducats, for a few toys and trifles.

When the Spaniards returned the next day to renew their traffic, they
found the Indians relapsed into hostility, sounding their drums and
shells, and rushing forward to attack the boats. An arrow from a
cross-bow, which wounded one of them in the arm, checked their fury, and
on the discharge of a cannon, they fled with terror. Four of the Spaniards
sprang on shore, pursuing and calling after them. They threw down their
weapons, and came, awe-struck, and gentle as lambs, bringing three plates
of gold, and meekly and thankfully receiving whatever was given in

Continuing along the coast, the admiral anchored in the mouth of another
river, called the Catiba. Here likewise the sound of drums and conchs from
among the forests gave notice that the warriors were assembling. A canoe
soon came off with two Indians, who, after exchanging a few words with the
interpreters, entered the admiral's ship with fearless confidence; and
being satisfied of the friendly intentions of the strangers, returned to
their cacique with a favorable report. The boats landed, and the Spaniards
were kindly received by the cacique. He was naked like his subjects, nor
distinguished in any way from them, except by the great deference with
which he was treated, and by a trifling attention paid to his personal
comfort, being protected from a shower of rain by an immense leaf of a
tree. He had a large plate of gold, which he readily gave in exchange, and
permitted his people to do the same. Nineteen plates of pure gold were
procured at this place. Here, for the first time in the New World, the
Spaniards met with signs of solid architecture; finding a great mass of
stucco, formed of stone and lime, a piece of which was retained by the
admiral as a specimen, [145] considering it an indication of his approach
to countries where the arts were in a higher state of cultivation.

He had intended to visit other rivers along this coast, but the wind
coming on to blow freshly, he ran before it, passing in sight of five
towns, where his interpreters assured him he might procure great
quantities of gold. One they pointed out as Veragua, which has since given
its name to the whole province. Here, they said, were the richest mines,
and here most of the plates of gold were fabricated. On the following day,
they arrived opposite a village called Cubiga, and here Columbus was
informed that the country of gold terminated. [146] He resolved not to
return to explore it, considering it as discovered, and its mines secured
to the crown, and being anxious to arrive at the supposed strait, which
he flattered himself could be at no great distance.

In fact, during his whole voyage along the coast, he had been under the
influence of one of his frequent delusions. From the Indians met with at
the island of Guanaja, just arrived from Yucatan, he had received accounts
of some great, and, as far as he could understand, civilized nation in the
interior. This intimation had been corroborated, as he imagined, by the
various tribes with which he had since communicated. In a subsequent
letter to the sovereigns, he informs them that all the Indians of this
coast concurred in extolling the magnificence of the country of Ciguare,
situated at ten days' journey, by land, to the west. The people of that
region wore crowns, and bracelets, and anklets of gold, and garments
embroidered with it. They used it for all their domestic purposes, even to
the ornamenting and embossing of their seats and tables. On being shown
coral, the Indians declared that the women of Ciguare wore bands of it
about their heads and necks. Pepper and other spices being shown them,
were equally said to abound there. They described it as a country of
commerce, with great fairs and sea-ports, in which ships arrived armed
with cannon. The people were warlike also, armed like the Spaniards with
swords, bucklers, cuirasses, and cross-bows, and they were mounted on
horses. Above all, Columbus understood from them that the sea continued
round to Ciguare, and that ten days beyond it was the Ganges.

These may have been vague and wandering rumors concerning the distant
kingdoms of Mexico and Peru, and many of the details may have been filled
up by the imagination of Columbus. They made, however, a strong impression
on his mind. He supposed that Ciguare must be some province belonging to
the Grand Khan, or some other Eastern potentate, and as the sea reached
it, he concluded it was on the opposite side of a peninsula: bearing the
same position with respect to Veragua that Fontarabia does with Tortosa in
Spain, or Pisa with Venice in Italy. By proceeding farther eastward,
therefore, he must soon arrive at a strait, like that of Gibraltar,
through which he could pass into another sea, and visit this country of
Ciguare, and, of course, arrive at the banks of the Ganges. He accounted
for the circumstance of his having arrived so near to that river, by the
idea which he had long entertained, that geographers were mistaken as to
the circumference of the globe; that it was smaller than was generally
imagined, and that a degree of the equinoctial line was but fifty-six
miles and two-thirds. [147]

With these ideas Columbus determined to press forward, leaving the rich
country of Veragua unexplored. Nothing could evince more clearly his
generous ambition, than hurrying in this brief manner along a coast where
wealth was to be gathered at every step, for the purpose of seeking a
strait which, however it might produce vast benefit to mankind, could
yield little else to himself than the glory of the discovery.

Chapter V.

Discovery of Puerto Bello and El Retrete.--Columbus Abandons the Search
after the Strait.


On the 2d of November, the squadron anchored in a spacious and commodious
harbor, where the vessels could approach close to the shore without
danger. It was surrounded by an elevated country; open and cultivated,
with houses within bow-shot of each other, surrounded by fruit-trees,
groves of palms, and fields producing maize, vegetables, and the delicious
pine-apple, so that the whole neighborhood had the mingled appearance of
orchard and garden. Columbus was so pleased with the excellence of the
harbor, and the sweetness of the surrounding country, that he gave it the
name of Puerto Bello. [148] It is one of the few places along this coast
which retain the appellation given by the illustrious discoverer. It is to
be regretted that they have so generally been discontinued, as they were
so often records of his feelings, and of circumstances attending the

For seven days they were detained in this port by heavy rain and stormy
weather. The natives repaired from all quarters in canoes, bringing fruits
and vegetables and balls of cotton, but there was no longer gold offered
in traffic. The cacique, and seven of his principal chieftains, had small
plates of gold hanging in their noses, but the rest of the natives appear
to have been destitute of all ornaments of the kind. They were generally
naked and painted red; the cacique alone was painted black. [149]

Sailing hence on the 9th of November, they proceeded eight leagues to the
eastward, to the point since known as Nombre de Dios; but being driven
back for some distance, they anchored in a harbor in the vicinity of three
small islands. These, with the adjacent country of the main-land, were
cultivated with fields of Indian corn, and various fruits and vegetables,
whence Columbus called the harbor Puerto de Bastimentos, or Port of
Provisions. Here they remained until the 23d, endeavoring to repair their
vessels, which leaked excessively. They were pierced in all parts by the
teredo or worm which abounds in the tropical seas. It is of the size of a
man's finger, and bores through the stoutest planks and timbers, so as
soon to destroy any vessel that is not well coppered. After leaving this
port, they touched at another called Guiga, where above three hundred of
the natives appeared on the shore, some with provisions, and some with
golden ornaments, which they offered in barter. Without making any stay,
however, the admiral urged his way forward; but rough and adverse winds
again obliged him to take shelter in a small port, with a narrow entrance,
not above twenty paces wide, beset on each side with reefs of rocks, the
sharp points of which rose above the surface. Within, there was not room
for more than five or six ships; yet the port was so deep, that they had
no good anchorage, unless they approached near enough to the land for a
man to leap on shore.

From the smallness of the harbor, Columbus gave it the name of _El
Retrete_, or The Cabinet. He had been betrayed into this inconvenient
and dangerous port by the misrepresentations of the seamen sent to examine
it, who were always eager to come to anchor, and have communication with
the shore. [150]

The adjacent country was level and verdant, covered with herbage, but with
few trees. The port was infested with alligators, which basked in the
sunshine on the beach, filling the air with a powerful and musky odor.
They were timorous, and fled on being attacked, but the Indians affirmed
that if they found a man sleeping on shore they would seize and drag him
into the water. These alligators Columbus pronounced to be the same as the
crocodiles of the Nile. For nine days the squadron was detained in this
port, by tempestuous weather. The natives of this place were tall, well
proportioned, and graceful; of gentle and friendly manners, and brought
whatever they possessed to exchange for European trinkets.

As long as the admiral had control over the actions of his people, the
Indians were treated with justice and kindness, and every thing went on
amicably. The vicinity of the ships to land, however, enabled the seamen
to get on shore in the night without license. The natives received them in
their dwellings with their accustomed hospitality; but the rough
adventurers, instigated by avarice and lust, soon committed excesses that
roused their generous hosts to revenge. Every night there were brawls and
fights on shore, and blood was shed on both sides. The number of the
Indians daily augmented by arrivals from the interior. They became more
powerful and daring as they became more exasperated; and seeing that the
vessels lay close to the shore, approached in a great multitude to attack

The admiral thought at first to disperse them by discharging cannon
without ball, but they were not intimidated by the sound, regarding it as
a kind of harmless thunder. They replied to it by yells and howlings,
beating their lances and clubs against the trees and bushes in furious
menace. The situation of the ships so close to the shore exposed them to
assaults, and made the hostility of the natives unusually formidable.
Columbus ordered a shot or two, therefore, to be discharged among them.
When they saw the havoc made, they fled in terror, and offered no further
hostility. [151]

The continuance of stormy winds from the east and the northeast, in
addition to the constant opposition of the currents, disheartened the
companions of Columbus, and they began to murmur against any further
prosecution of the voyage. The seamen thought that some hostile spell was
operating, and the commanders remonstrated against attempting to force
their way in spite of the elements, with ships crazed and worm-eaten, and
continually in need of repair. Few of his companions could sympathize with
Columbus in his zeal for mere discovery. They were actuated by more
gainful motives, and looked back with regret on the rich coast they had
left behind, to go in search of an imaginary strait. It is probable that
Columbus himself began to doubt the object of his enterprise. If he knew
the details of the recent voyage of Bastides, he must have been aware that
he had arrived from an opposite quarter to about the place where that
navigator's exploring voyage from the east had terminated; consequently
that there was but little probability of the existence of the strait he
had imagined. [152]

At all events, he determined to relinquish the further prosecution of his
voyage eastward for the present, and to return to the coast of Veragua, to
search for those mines of which he had heard so much, and seen so many
indications. Should they prove equal to his hopes, he would have
wherewithal to return to Spain in triumph, and silence the reproaches of
his enemies, even though he should fail in the leading object of his

Here, then, ended the lofty anticipations which had elevated Columbus
above all mercenary interests; which had made him regardless of hardships
and perils, and given an heroic character to the early part of this
voyage. It is true, he had been in pursuit of a mere chimera, but it was
the chimera of a splendid imagination, and a penetrating judgment. If he
was disappointed in his expectation of finding a strait through the
Isthmus of Darien, it was because nature herself had been disappointed,
for she appears to have attempted to make one, but to have attempted it in

Chapter VI.

Return to Veragua.--The Adelantado Explores the Country.


On the 5th of December, Columbus sailed from El Retrete, and relinquishing
his course to the east, returned westward, in search of the gold mines of
Veragua. On the same evening he anchored in Puerto Bello, about ten
leagues distant; whence departing on the succeeding day, the wind suddenly
veered to the west, and began to blow directly adverse to the new course
he had adopted. For three months he had been longing in vain for such a
wind, and now it came merely to contradict him. Here was a temptation to
resume his route to the east, but he did not dare trust to the continuance
of the wind, which, in these parts, appeared but seldom to blow from that
quarter. He resolved, therefore, to keep on in the present direction,
trusting that the breeze would soon change again to the eastward.

In a little while the wind began to blow with dreadful violence, and to
shift about in such manner as to baffle all seamanship. Unable to reach
Veragua, the ships were obliged to put back to Puerto Bello, and when they
would have entered that harbor, a sudden veering of the gale drove them
from the land. For nine days they were blown and tossed about, at the
mercy of a furious tempest, in an unknown sea, and often exposed to the
awful perils of a lee-shore. It is wonderful that such open vessels, so
crazed and decayed, could outlive such a commotion of the elements.
Nowhere is a storm so awful as between the tropics. The sea, according to
the description of Columbus, boiled at times like a caldron; at other
times it ran in mountain waves, covered with foam. At night the raging
billows resembled great surges of flame, owing to those luminous particles
which cover the surface of the water in these seas, and throughout the
whole course of the Gulf Stream. For a day and night the heavens glowed as
a furnace with the incessant flashes of lightning; while the loud claps of
thunder were often mistaken by the affrighted mariners for signal guns of
distress from their foundering companions. During the whole time, says
Columbus, it poured down from the skies, not rain, but as it were a second
deluge. The seamen were almost drowned in their open vessels. Haggard with
toil and affright, some gave themselves over for lost; they confessed
their sins to each other according to the rites of the Catholic religion,
and prepared themselves for death; many, in their desperation, called upon
death as a welcome relief from such overwhelming horrors. In the midst of
this wild tumult of the elements, they beheld a new object of alarm. The
ocean in one place became strangely agitated. The water was whirled up
into a kind of pyramid or cone, while a livid cloud, tapering to a point,
bent down to meet it. Joining together, they formed a vast column, which
rapidly approached the ships, spinning along the surface of the deep, and
drawing up the waters with a rushing sound. The affrighted mariners, when
they beheld this water-spout advancing towards them, despaired of all
human means to avert it, and began to repeat passages from St. John the
evangelist. The water-spout passed close by the ships without injuring
them, and the trembling mariners attributed their escape to the miraculous
efficacy of their quotations from the Scriptures. [153]

In this same night, they lost sight of one of the caravels, and for three
dark and stormy days gave it up for lost. At length, to their great
relief, it rejoined the squadron, having lost its boat, and been obliged
to cut its cable, in an attempt to anchor on a boisterous coast, and
having since been driven to and fro by the storm. For one or two days,
there was an interval of calm, and the tempest-tossed mariners had time to
breathe. They looked upon this tranquillity, however, as deceitful, and,
in their gloomy mood, beheld every thing with a doubtful and foreboding
eye. Great numbers of sharks, so abundant and ravenous in these latitudes,
were seen about the ships. This was construed into an evil omen; for among
the superstitions of the seas, it is believed that these voracious fish
can smell dead bodies at a distance; that they have a kind of presentiment
of their prey; and keep about vessels which have sick persons on board, or
which are in danger of being wrecked. Several of these fish they caught,
using large hooks fastened to chains, and sometimes baited merely with a
piece of colored cloth. From the maw of one they took out a living
tortoise; from that of another the head of a shark, recently thrown from
one of the ships; such is the indiscriminate voracity of these terrors of
the ocean. Notwithstanding their superstitious fancies, the seamen were
glad to use a part of these sharks for food, being very short of
provisions. The length of the voyage had consumed the greater part of
their sea-stores; the heat and humidity of the climate, and the leakage of
the ships, had damaged the remainder, and their biscuit was so filled with
worms, that, notwithstanding their hunger, they were obliged to eat it in
the dark, lest their stomachs should revolt at its appearance. [154]

At length, on the 17th, they were enabled to enter a port resembling a
great canal, where they enjoyed three days of repose. The natives of this
vicinity built their cabins in trees, on stakes or poles laid from one
branch to another. The Spaniards supposed this to be through the fear of
wild beasts, or of surprisals from neighboring tribes; the different
nations of these coasts being extremely hostile to one another. It may
have been a precaution against inundations caused by floods from the
mountains. After leaving this port, they were driven backwards and
forwards, by the changeable and tempestuous winds, until the day after
Christmas; when they sheltered themselves in another port, where they
remained until the 3d of January, 1503, repairing one of the caravels, and
procuring wood, water, and a supply of maize or Indian corn. These
measures being completed, they again put to sea, and on the day of
Epiphany, to their great joy, anchored at the mouth of a river called by
the natives Yebra, within a league or two of the river Veragua, and in the
country said to be so rich in mines. To this river, from arriving at it on
the day of Epiphany, Columbus gave the name of Belen or Bethlehem.

For nearly a month he had endeavored to accomplish the voyage from Puerto
Bello to Veragua, a distance of about thirty leagues; and had encountered
so many troubles and adversities, from changeable winds and currents, and
boisterous tempests, that he gave this intermediate line of sea-board the
name of _La Costa de los Contrastes_, or The Coast of Contradictions.

Columbus immediately ordered the mouths of the Belen, and of its
neighboring river of Veragua, to be sounded. The latter proved too shallow
to admit his vessels, but the Belen was somewhat deeper, and it was
thought they might enter it with safety. Seeing a village on the banks of
the Belen, the admiral sent the boats on shore to procure information. On
their approach, the inhabitants issued forth with weapons in hand to
oppose their landing, but were readily pacified. They seemed unwilling to
give any intelligence about the gold mines; but, on being importuned,
declared that they lay in the vicinity of the river of Veragua. To that
river the boats were dispatched on the following day. They met with the
reception so frequent along this coast, where many of the tribes were
fierce and warlike, and are supposed to have been of Carib origin. As the
boats entered the river, the natives sallied forth in their canoes, and
others assembled in menacing style on the shores. The Spaniards, however,
had brought with them an Indian of that coast, who put an end to this show
of hostility by assuring his countrymen that the strangers came only to
traffic with them.

The various accounts of the riches of these parts appeared to be
confirmed by what the Spaniards saw and heard among these people. They
procured in exchange for the veriest trifles twenty plates of gold, with
several pipes of the same metal, and crude masses of ore. The Indians
informed them that the mines lay among distant mountains; and that when
they went in quest of it they were obliged to practice rigorous fasting
and continence. [156]

The favorable report brought by the boats determined the admiral to remain
in the neighborhood. The river Belen having the greatest depth, two of the
caravels entered it on the 9th of January, and the two others on the
following day at high tide, which on that coast does not rise above half a
fathom. [157] The natives came to them in the most friendly manner,
bringing great quantities of fish, with which that river abounded. They
brought also golden ornaments to traffic; but continued to affirm that
Veragua was the place whence the ore was procured.

The Adelantado, with his usual activity and enterprise, set off on the
third day, with the boats well armed, to ascend the Veragua about a league
and a half, to the residence of Quibian, the principal cacique. The
chieftain, hearing of his intention, met him near the entrance of the
river, attended by his subjects, in several canoes. He was tall, of
powerful frame, and warlike demeanor: the interview was extremely
amicable. The cacique presented the Adelantado with the golden ornaments
which he wore, and received as magnificent presents a few European
trinkets. They parted mutually well pleased. On the following day Quibian
visited the ships, where he was hospitably entertained by the admiral.
They could only communicate by signs, and as the chieftain was of a
taciturn and cautious character, the interview was not of long duration.
Columbus made him several presents; the followers of the cacique exchanged
many jewels of gold for the usual trifles, and Quibian returned, without
much ceremony, to his home.

On the 24th of January, there was a sudden swelling of the river. The
waters came rushing from the interior like a vast torrent; the ships were
forced from their anchors, tossed from side to side, and driven against
each other; the foremast of the admiral's vessel was carried away, and the
whole squadron was in imminent danger of shipwreck. While exposed to this
peril in the river, they were prevented from running out to sea by a
violent storm, and by the breakers which beat upon the bar. This sudden
rising of the river, Columbus attributed to some heavy fall of rain among
a range of distant mountains, to which he had given the name of the
mountains of San Christoval. The highest of these rose to a peak far above
the clouds. [158]

The weather continued extremely boisterous for several days. At length, on
the 6th of February, the sea being tolerably calm, the Adelantado,
attended by sixty-eight men well armed, proceeded in the boats to explore
the Veragua, and seek its reputed mines. When he ascended the river and
drew near to the village of Quibian, situated on the side of a hill, the
cacique came down to the bank to meet him, with a great train of his
subjects, unarmed, and making signs of peace. Quibian was naked, and
painted after the fashion of the country. One of his attendants drew a
great stone out of the river, and washed and rubbed it carefully, upon
which the chieftain seated himself as upon a throne. [159] He received the
Adelantado with great courtesy; for the lofty, vigorous, and iron form of
the latter, and his look of resolution and command, were calculated to
inspire awe and respect in an Indian warrior. The cacique, however, was
wary and politic. His jealousy was awakened by the intrusion of these
strangers into his territories; but he saw the futility of any open
attempt to resist them. He acceded to the wishes of the Adelantado,
therefore, to visit the interior of his dominions, and furnished him with
three guides to conduct him to the mines.

Leaving a number of his men to guard the boats, the Adelantado departed on
foot with the remainder. After penetrating into the interior about four
leagues and a half, they slept for the first night on the banks of a
river, which seemed to water the whole country with its windings, as they
had crossed it upwards of forty times. On the second day, they proceeded a
league and a half farther, and arrived among thick forests, where their
guides informed them the mines were situated. In fact, the whole soil
appeared to be impregnated with gold. They gathered it from among the
roots of the trees, which were of an immense height, and magnificent
foliage. In the space of two hours each man had collected a little
quantity of gold, gathered from the surface of the earth. Hence the guides
took the Adelantado to the summit of a high hill, and showing him an
extent of country as far as the eye could reach, assured him that the
whole of it, to the distance of twenty days' journey westward, abounded in
gold, naming to him several of the principal places. [160] The Adelantado
gazed with enraptured eye over a vast wilderness of continued forest, where
only here and there a bright column of smoke from amidst the trees gave
sign of some savage hamlet, or solitary wigwam, and the wild unappropriated
aspect of this golden country delighted him more than if he had beheld it
covered with towns and cities, and adorned with all the graces of
cultivation. He returned with his party, in high spirits, to the ships, and
rejoiced the admiral with the favorable report of his expedition. It was
soon discovered, however, that the politic Quibian had deceived them. His
guides, by his instructions, had taken the Spaniards to the mines of a
neighboring cacique with whom he was at war, hoping to divert them into the
territories of his enemy. The real mines of Veragua, it was said, were
nearer and much more wealthy.

The indefatigable Adelantado set forth again on the 16th of February, with
an armed band of fifty-nine men, marching along the coast westward, a boat
with fourteen men keeping pace with him. In this excursion he explored an
extensive tract of country, and visited the dominions of various caciques,
by whom he was hospitably entertained. He met continually with proofs of
abundance of gold; the natives generally wearing great plates of it
suspended round their necks by cotton cords. There were tracts of land,
also, cultivated with Indian corn,--one of which continued for the extent
of six leagues; and the country abounded with excellent fruits. He again
heard of a nation in the interior, advanced in arts and arms, wearing
clothing, and being armed like the Spaniards. Either these were vague and
exaggerated rumors concerning the great empire of Peru, or the Adelantado
had misunderstood the signs of his informants. He returned, after an
absence of several days, with a great quantity of gold, and with animating
accounts of the country. He had found no port, however, equal to the river
of Belen, and was convinced that gold was nowhere to be met with in such
abundance as in the district of Veragua [161].

Chapter VII.

Commencement of a Settlement on the River Belen.--Conspiracy of the
Natives.--Expedition of the Adelantado to Surprise Quiban.


The reports brought to Columbus, from every side, of the wealth of the
neighborhood; the golden tract of twenty days' journey in extent, shown to
his brother from the mountain; the rumors of a rich and civilized country
at no great distance, all convinced him that he had reached one of the
most favored parts of the Asiatic continent. Again his ardent mind kindled
up with glowing anticipations. He fancied himself arrived at a
fountain-head of riches, at one of the sources of the unbounded wealth of
King Solomon. Josephus, in his work on the antiquities of the Jews, had
expressed an opinion, that the gold for the building of the temple of
Jerusalem had been procured from the mines of the Aurea Chersonesus.
Columbus supposed the mines of Veragua to be the same. They lay, as he
observed, "within the same distance from the pole and from the line;" and
if the information which he fancied he had received from the Indians was
to be depended on, they were situated about the same distance from the
Ganges [162].

Here, then, it appeared to him, was a place at which to found a colony,
and establish a mart that should become the emporium of a vast tract of
mines. Within the two first days after his arrival in the country, as he
wrote to the sovereigns, he had seen more signs of gold than in Hispaniola
during four years. That island, so long the object of his pride and hopes,
had been taken from him, and was a scene of confusion; the pearl coast of
Paria was ravaged by mere adventurers; all his plans concerning both had
been defeated; but here was a far more wealthy region than either, and one
calculated to console him for all his wrongs and deprivations.

On consulting with his brother, therefore, he resolved immediately to
commence an establishment here, for the purpose of securing the possession
of the country, and exploring and working the mines. The Adelantado agreed
to remain with the greater part of the people, while the admiral should
return to Spain for reinforcements and supplies. The greatest dispatch was
employed in carrying this plan into immediate operation. Eighty men were
selected to remain. They were separated into parties of about ten each,
and commenced building houses on a small eminence, situated on the bank of
a creek, about a bow-shot within the mouth of the river Belen. The houses
were of wood, thatched with the leaves of palm-trees. One larger than the
rest was to serve as a magazine, to receive their ammunition, artillery,
and a part of their provisions. The principal part was stored, for greater
security, on board of one of the caravels, which was to be left for the
use of the colony. It was true they had but a scanty supply of European
stores remaining, consisting chiefly of biscuit, cheese, pulse, wine, oil,
and vinegar; but the country produced bananas, plantains, pine-apples,
cocoanuts, and other fruit. There was also maize in abundance, together
with various roots, such as were found in Hispaniola. The rivers and
sea-coast abounded with fish. The natives, too, made beverages of various
kinds. One from the juice of the pine-apple, having a vinous flavor;
another from maize, resembling beer; and another from the fruit of a
species of palm-tree. [163] There appeared to be no danger, therefore,
of suffering from famine. Columbus took pains to conciliate the good-will
of the Indians, that they might supply the wants of the colony during his
absence, and he made many presents to Quibian, by way of reconciling him
to this intrusion into his territories. [164]

The necessary arrangements being made for the colony, and a number of the
houses being roofed, and sufficiently finished for occupation, the admiral
prepared for his departure, when an unlooked-for obstacle presented
itself. The heavy rains which had so long distressed him during this
expedition had recently ceased. The torrents from the mountains were over;
and the river which had once put him to such peril by its sudden swelling,
had now become so shallow that there was not above half a fathom water on
the bar. Though his vessels were small, it was impossible to draw them
over the sands, which choked the mouth of the river, for there was a swell
rolling and tumbling upon them, enough to dash his worm-eaten barks to
pieces. He was obliged, therefore, to wait with patience, and pray for the
return of those rains which he had lately deplored.

In the meantime, Quibian beheld, with secret jealousy and indignation,
these strangers erecting habitations, and manifesting an intention of
establishing themselves in his territories. He was of a bold and warlike
spirit, and had a great force of warriors at his command; and being
ignorant of the vast superiority of the Europeans in the art of war,
thought it easy, by a well-concerted artifice, to overwhelm and destroy
them. He sent messengers round, and ordered all his fighting-men to
assemble at his residence on the river Veragua, under pretext of making
war upon a neighboring province. Numbers of the warriors, in repairing to
his headquarters, passed by the harbor. No suspicions of their real design
were entertained by Columbus or his officers; but their movements
attracted the attention of the chief notary, Diego Mendez, a man of a
shrewd and prying character, and zealously devoted to the admiral.
Doubting some treachery, he communicated his surmises to Columbus, and
offered to coast along in an armed boat to the river Veragua, and
reconnoitre the Indian camp. His offer was accepted, and he sallied from
the river accordingly, but had scarcely advanced a league, when he
descried a large force of Indians on the shore. Landing alone, and
ordering that the boat should be kept afloat, he entered among them. There
were about a thousand armed and supplied with provisions, as if for an
expedition. He offered to accompany them with his armed boat; his offer
was declined with evident signs of impatience. Returning to his boat, he
kept watch upon them all night, until, seeing they were vigilantly
observed, they returned to Veragua.

Mendez hastened back to the admiral, and gave it as his opinion that the
Indians had been on their way to surprise the Spaniards. The admiral was
loth to believe in such treachery, and was desirous of obtaining clearer
information, before he took any step that might interrupt the apparently
good understanding that existed with the natives. Mendez now undertook,
with a single companion, to penetrate by land to the headquarters of
Quibian, and endeavor to ascertain his intentions. Accompanied by one
Rodrigo de Escobar, he proceeded on foot along the seaboard, to avoid the
tangled forests, and arriving at the mouth of the Veragua, found two
canoes with Indians, whom he prevailed on, by presents, to convey him and
his companion to the village of the cacique. It was on the bank of the
river; the houses were detached and interspersed among trees. There was a
bustle of warlike preparation in the place, and the arrival of the two
Spaniards evidently excited surprise and uneasiness. The residence of the
cacique was larger than the others, and situated on a hill which rose from
the water's edge. Quibian was confined to the house by indisposition,
having been wounded in the leg by an arrow. Mendez gave himself out as a
surgeon come to cure the wound: with great difficulty and by force of
presents he obtained permission to proceed. On the crest of the hill and
in front of the cacique's dwelling, was a broad, level, open place, round
which, on posts, were the heads of three hundred enemies slain in battle.
Undismayed by this dismal array, Mendez and his companion crossed the
place towards the den of this grim warrior. A number of women and children
about the door fled into the house with piercing cries. A young and
powerful Indian, son of the cacique, sallied forth in a violent rage, and
struck Mendez a blow which made him recoil several paces. The latter
pacified him by presents and assurances that he came to cure his father's
wound, in proof of which he produced a box of ointment. It was impossible,
however, to gain access to the cacique, and Mendez returned with all haste
to the harbor to report to the admiral what he had seen and learnt. It was
evident there was a dangerous plot impending over the Spaniards, and as
far as Mendez could learn from the Indians who had taken him up the river
in their canoe, the body of a thousand warriors which he had seen on his
previous reconnoitring expedition, had actually been on a hostile
enterprise against the harbor, but had given it up on finding themselves

This information was confirmed by an Indian of the neighborhood, who had
become attached to the Spaniards and acted as interpreter. He revealed to
the admiral the designs of his countrymen, which he had overheard. Quibian
intended to surprise the harbor at night with a great force, burn the
ships and houses, and make a general massacre. Thus forewarned, Columbus
immediately set a double watch upon the harbor. The military spirit of the
Adelantado suggested a bolder expedient. The hostile plan of Quibian was
doubtless delayed by his wound, and in the meantime he would maintain the
semblance of friendship. The Adelantado determined to march at once to his
residence, capture him, his family, and principal warriors, send them
prisoners to Spain, and take possession of his village.

With the Adelantado, to conceive a plan was to carry it into immediate
execution, and, in fact, the impending danger admitted of no delay. Taking
with him seventy-four men, well armed, among whom was Diego Mendez, and
being accompanied by the Indian interpreter who had revealed the plot, he
set off on the 30th of March, in boats, to the mouth of the Veragua,
ascended it rapidly, and before the Indians could have notice of his
movements, landed at the foot of the hill on which the house of Quibian
was situated.

Lest the cacique should take alarm and fly at the sight of a large force,
he ascended the hill, accompanied by only five men, among whom was Diego
Mendez; ordering the rest to come on, with great caution and secrecy, two
at a time, and at a distance from each other. On the discharge of an
arquebuse, they were to surround the dwelling and suffer no one to escape.

As the Adelantado drew near to the house, Quibian came forth, and seating
himself in the portal, desired the Adelantado to approach singly. Don
Bartholomew now ordered Diego Mendez and his four companions to remain at
a little distance, and when they should see him take the cacique by the
arm, to rush immediately to his assistance. He then advanced with his
Indian interpreter, through whom a short conversation took place, relative
to the surrounding country. The Adelantado then adverted to the wound of
the cacique, and pretending to examine it, took him by the arm. At the
concerted signal four of the Spaniards rushed forward, the fifth
discharged the arquebuse. The cacique attempted to get loose, but was
firmly held in the iron grasp of the Adelantado. Being both men of great
muscular power, a violent struggle ensued. Don Bartholomew, however,
maintained the mastery, and Diego Mendez and his companions coming to his
assistance, Quibian was bound hand and foot. At the report of the
arquebuse, the main body of the Spaniards surrounded the house, and seized
most of those who were within, consisting of fifty persons, old and young.
Among these were the wives and children of Quibian, and several of his
principal subjects. No one was wounded, for there was no resistance, and
the Adelantado never permitted wanton bloodshed. When the poor savages saw
their prince a captive, they filled the air with lamentations; imploring
his release, and offering for his ransom a great treasure, which they said
lay concealed in a neighboring forest.

The Adelantado was deaf to their supplications and their offers. Quibian
was too dangerous a foe to be set at liberty; as a prisoner, he would be a
hostage for the security of the settlement. Anxious to secure his prize,
he determined to send the cacique and the other prisoners on board of the
boats, while he remained on shore with a part of his men to pursue the
Indians who had escaped. Juan Sanchez, the principal pilot of the
squadron, a powerful and spirited man, volunteered to take charge of the
captives. On committing the chieftain to his care, the Adelantado warned
him to be on his guard against any attempt at rescue or escape. The sturdy
pilot replied that if the cacique got out of his hands, he would give them
leave to pluck out his beard, hair by hair; with this vaunt he departed,
bearing off Quibian bound hand and foot. On arriving at the boat, he
secured him by a strong cord to one of the benches. It was a dark night.
As the boat proceeded down the river, the cacique complained piteously of
the painfulness of his bonds. The rough heart of the pilot was touched
with compassion, and he loosened the cord by which Quibian was tied to the
bench, keeping the end of it in his hand. The wily Indian watched his
opportunity, and when Sanchez was looking another way, plunged into the
water and disappeared. So sudden and violent was his plunge, that the
pilot had to let go the cord, lest he should be drawn in after him. The
darkness of the night, and the bustle which took place, in preventing the
escape of the other prisoners, rendered it impossible to pursue the
cacique, or even to ascertain his fate. Juan Sanchez hastened to the ships
with the residue of the captives, deeply mortified at being thus outwitted
by a savage.

The Adelantado remained all night on shore. The following morning, when he
beheld the wild, broken, and mountainous nature of the country, and the
scattered situation of the habitations, perched on different heights, he
gave up the search after the Indians, and returned to the ships with the
spoils of the cacique's mansion. These consisted of bracelets, anklets,
and massive plates of gold, such as were worn round the neck, together
with two golden coronets. The whole amounted to the value of three hundred
ducats. [165] One fifth of the booty was set apart for the
crown. The residue was shared among those concerned in the enterprise. To
the Adelantado one of the coronets was assigned, as a trophy of his
exploit. [166]

Chapter VIII.

Disasters of the Settlement.


It was hoped by Columbus that the vigorous measure of the Adelantado would
strike terror into the Indians of the neighborhood, and prevent any
further designs upon the settlement. Quibian had probably perished. If he
survived, he must be disheartened by the captivity of his family, and
several of his principal subjects, and fearful of their being made
responsible for any act of violence on his part. The heavy rains,
therefore, which fall so frequently among the mountains of this isthmus,
having again swelled the river, Columbus made his final arrangements for
the management of the colony, and having given much wholesome counsel to
the Spaniards who were to remain, and taken an affectionate leave of his
brother, got under weigh with three of the caravels, leaving the fourth
for the use of the settlement. As the water was still shallow at the bar,
the ships were lightened of a great part of their cargoes, and towed out
by the boats in calm weather, grounding repeatedly. When fairly released
from the river, and their cargoes re-shipped, they anchored within a
league of the shore, to await a favorable wind. It was the intention of
the admiral to touch at Hispaniola, on his way to Spain, and send thence
supplies and reinforcements. The wind continuing adverse, he sent a boat
on shore on the 6th of April, under the command of Diego Tristan, captain
of one of the caravels, to procure wood and water, and make some
communications to the Adelantado. The expedition of this boat proved fatal
to its crew, but was providential to the settlement.

The cacique Quibian had not perished as some had supposed. Though both
hands and feet were bound, yet in the water he was as in his natural
element. Plunging to the bottom, he swam below the surface until
sufficiently distant to be out of view in the darkness of the night, and
then emerging made his way to shore. The desolation of his home, and the
capture of his wives and children, filled him with anguish; but when he
saw the vessels in which they were confined leaving the river, and bearing
them off, he was transported with fury and despair. Determined on a signal
vengeance, he assembled a great number of his warriors, and came secretly
upon the settlement. The thick woods by which it was surrounded enabled
the Indians to approach unseen within ten paces. The Spaniards, thinking
the enemy completely discomfited and dispersed, were perfectly off their
guard. Some had strayed to the sea-shore, to take a farewell look at the
ships; some were on board of the caravel in the river; others were
scattered about the houses: on a sudden, the Indians rushed from their
concealment with yells and howlings, launched their javelins through the
roofs of palm-leaves, hurled them in at the windows, or thrust them
through the crevices of the logs which composed the walls. As the houses
were small, several of the inhabitants were wounded. On the first alarm,
the Adelantado seized a lance, and sallied forth with seven or eight of
his men. He was joined by Diego Mendez and several of his companions, and
they drove the enemy into the forest, killing and wounding several of
them. The Indians kept up a brisk fire of darts and arrows from among the
trees, and made furious sallies with their war-clubs; but there was no
withstanding the keen edge of the Spanish weapons, and a fierce blood-hound
being let loose upon them, completed their terror. They fled howling
through the forest, leaving a number dead on the field, having killed one
Spaniard, and wounded eight. Among the latter was the Adelantado, who
received a slight thrust of a javelin in the breast.

Diego Tristan arrived in his boat during the contest, but feared to
approach the land, lest the Spaniards should rush on board in such numbers
as to sink him. When the Indians had been put to flight, he proceeded up
the river in quest of fresh water, disregarding the warnings of those on
shore, that he might be cut off by the enemy in their canoes.

The river was deep and narrow, shut in by high banks, and overhanging
trees. The forests on each side were thick and impenetrable; so that there
was no landing-place, excepting here and there where a footpath wound down
to some fishing-ground, or some place where the natives kept their canoes.

The boat had ascended about a league above the village, to a part of the
river where it was completely overshadowed by lofty banks and spreading
trees. Suddenly, yells and war-whoops and blasts of conch shells rose on
every side. Light canoes darted forth in every direction from dark
hollows, and overhanging thickets, each dextrously managed by a single
savage, while others stood up brandishing and hurling their lances.
Missiles were launched also from the banks of the river, and the branches
of the trees. There were eight sailors in the boat, and three soldiers.
Galled and wounded by darts and arrows, confounded by the yells and blasts
of conchs, and the assaults which thickened from every side, they lost all
presence of mind, neglected to use either oars or fire-arms, and only
sought to shelter themselves with their bucklers. Diego Tristan had
received several wounds; but still displayed great intrepidity, and was
endeavoring to animate his men, when a javelin pierced his right eye; and
struck him dead. The canoes now closed upon the boat, and a general
massacre ensued. But one Spaniard escaped, Juan de Noya, a cooper of
Seville. Having fallen overboard in the midst of the action, he dived to
the bottom, swam under water, gained the bank of the river unperceived,
and made his way down to the settlement, bringing tidings of the massacre
of his captain and comrades.

The Spaniards were completely dismayed, were few in number, several of
them were wounded, and they were in the midst of tribes of exasperated
savages, far more fierce and warlike than those to whom they had been
accustomed. The admiral, being ignorant of their misfortunes, would sail
away without yielding them assistance, and they would be left to sink
beneath the overwhelming force of barbarous foes, or to perish with hunger
on this inhospitable coast. In their despair they determined to take the
caravel which had been left with them, and abandon the place altogether.
The Adelantado remonstrated with them in vain; nothing would content them
but to put to sea immediately. Here a new alarm awaited them. The torrents
having subsided, the river was again shallow, and it was impossible for
the caravel to pass over the bar. They now took the boat of the caravel,
to bear tidings of their danger to the admiral, and implore him not to
abandon them; but the wind was boisterous, a high sea was rolling, and a
heavy surf, tumbling and breaking at the mouth of the river, prevented the
boat from getting out. Horrors increased upon them. The mangled bodies of
Diego Tristan and his men came floating down the stream, and drifting
about the harbor, with flights of crows, and other carrion birds, feeding
on them, and hovering, and screaming, and fighting about their prey. The
forlorn Spaniards contemplated this scene with shuddering; it appeared
ominous of their own fate.

In the meantime the Indians, elated by their triumph over the crew of the
boat, renewed their hostilities. Whoops and yells answered each other from
various parts of the neighborhood. The dismal sound of conchs and
war-drums in the deep bosom of the woods showed that the number of the
enemy was continually augmenting. They would rush forth occasionally upon
straggling parties of Spaniards, and make partial attacks upon the houses.
It was considered no longer safe to remain in the settlement, the close
forest which surrounded it being a covert for the approaches of the enemy.
The Adelantado chose, therefore, an open place on the shore at some
distance from the wood. Here he caused a kind of bulwark to be made of the
boat of the caravel, and of chests, casks, and similar articles. Two
places were left open as embrasures, in which were placed a couple of
falconets, or small pieces of artillery, in such a manner as to command
the neighborhood. In this little fortress the Spaniards shut themselves
up; its walls were sufficient to screen them from the darts and arrows of
the Indians, but mostly they depended upon their firearms, the sound of
which struck dismay into the savages, especially when they saw the effect
of the balls, splintering and rending the trees around them, and carrying
havoc to such a distance. The Indians were thus kept in check for the
present, and deterred from venturing from the forest; but the Spaniards,
exhausted by constant watching and incessant alarms, anticipated all kinds
of evil when their ammunition should be exhausted, or they should be
driven forth by hunger to seek for food. [167]

Chapter IX.

Distress of the Admiral on Board of His Ship.--Ultimate Relief of the


While the Adelantado and his men were exposed to such imminent peril on
shore, great anxiety prevailed on board of the ships. Day after day
elapsed without the return of Diego Tristan and his party, and it was
feared some disaster had befallen them. Columbus would have sent on shore
to make inquiries; but there was only one boat remaining for the service
of the squadron, and he dared not risk it in the rough sea and heavy surf.
A dismal circumstance occurred to increase the gloom and uneasiness of the
crews. On hoard of one of the caravels were confined the family and
household of the cacique Quibian. It was the intention of Columbus to
carry them to Spain, trusting that as long as they remained in the power
of the Spaniards, their tribe would be deterred from further hostilities.
They were shut up at night in the forecastle of the caravel, the hatchway
of which was secured by a strong chain and padlock. As several of the crew
slept upon the hatch, and it was so high as to be considered out of reach
of the prisoners, they neglected to fasten the chain. The Indians
discovered their negligence. Collecting a quantity of stones from the
ballast of the vessel, they made a great heap directly under the hatchway.
Several of the most powerful warriors mounted upon the top, and, bending
their backs, by a sudden and simultaneous effort forced up the hatch,
flinging the seamen who slept upon it to the opposite side of the ship. In
an instant the greater part of the Indians sprang forth, plunged into the
sea, and swam for shore. Several, however, were prevented from sallying
forth; others were seized on the deck, and forced back into the
forecastle; the hatchway was carefully chained down, and a guard was set
for the rest of the night. In the morning, when the Spaniards went to
examine the captives, they were all found dead. Some had hanged themselves
with the ends of ropes, their knees touching the floor; others had
strangled themselves by straining the cords tight with their feet. Such
was the fierce, unconquerable spirit of these people, and their horror of
the white men. [168]

The escape of the prisoners occasioned great anxiety to the admiral,
fearing they would stimulate their countrymen to some violent act of
vengeance; and he trembled for the safety of his brother. Still this
painful mystery reigned over the land. The boat of Diego Tristan did not
return, and the raging surf prevented all communication. At length, one
Pedro Ledesma, a pilot of Seville, a man of about forty-five years of age,
and of great strength of body and mind, offered, if the boat would take
him to the edge of the surf, to swim to shore, and bring off news. He had
been piqued by the achievement of the Indian captives, in swimming to land
at a league's distance, in defiance of sea and surf. "Surely," he said,
"if they dare venture so much to procure their individual liberties, I
ought to brave at least a part of the danger, to save the lives of so many
companions." His offer was gladly accepted by the admiral, and was boldly
accomplished. The boat approached with him as near to the surf as safety
would permit, where it was to await his return. Here, stripping himself,
he plunged into the sea, and after buffeting for some time with the
breakers, sometimes rising upon their surges, sometimes buried beneath
them and dashed upon the sand, he succeeded in reaching the shore.

He found his countrymen shut up in their forlorn fortress, beleaguered by
savage foes, and learnt the tragical fate of Diego Tristan and his
companions. Many of the Spaniards, in their horror and despair, had thrown
off all subordination, refused to assist in any measure that had in view a
continuance in this place, and thought of nothing but escape. When they
beheld Ledesma, a messenger from the ships, they surrounded him with
frantic eagerness, urging him to implore the admiral to take them on
board, and not abandon them on a coast where their destruction was
inevitable. They were preparing canoes to take them to the ships, when the
weather should moderate, the boat of the caravel being too small; and
swore that, if the admiral refused to take them on board, they would
embark in the caravel, as soon as it could be extricated from the river,
and abandon themselves to the mercy of the seas, rather than remain upon
that fatal coast.

Having heard all that his forlorn countrymen had to say, and communicated
with the Adelantado and his officers, Ledesma set out on his perilous
return. He again braved the surf and the breakers, reached the boat which
was waiting for him, and was conveyed back to the ships. The disastrous
tidings from the land filled the heart of the admiral with grief and
alarm. To leave his brother on shore would be to expose him to the mutiny
of his own men, and the ferocity of the savages. He could spare no
reinforcement from his ships, the crews being so much weakened by the loss
of Tristan and his companions. Rather than the settlement should be broken
up, he would gladly have joined the Adelantado with all his people; but in
such case how could intelligence be conveyed to the sovereigns of this
important discovery, and how could supplies be obtained from Spain? There
appeared no alternative, therefore, but to embark all the people, abandon
the settlement for the present, and return at some future day, with a
force competent to take secure possession of the country. [169] The state

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