Charles N. (Charles Napier) Bell.

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The Bequest of

Colonel George Earl Church












^ublishtr ta the Inbiit (DfKcc




< - ■


This book was written in my old age ; but it is a record of
my youth, passed among the gentle savages of Central
America, amid the gorgeous scenery of the tropics — an ideal
life for a boy, and such as not one boy in a million has ever

I may be allowed to say for myself that it is not every boy
who could enjoy the wild and free life of the bush in the way
I did ; for it is in my experience that not every boy has such
a love of nature, such a reverent awe of the great untrodden
forests, or takes such an interest in the birds, beasts, insects
and plants, as I did at that time of my life.

If I had written this book while I was a boy, it would have
been a book for boys ; but it will be perceived by readers
that it partakes of the nature of both a boy's and a grown
man's book, which is due to the way in which it has been

While I was a boy living in Central America, I incessantly
wrote down what I saw and heard, so that when I left the
country I had a great mass of notes, memoranda, and
sketches. These lay untouched during a busy life of thirty
years devoted to my profession of a Civil Engineer. At last,
during a short period of leisure, I commenced to write out
my notes, and to arrange them in book form ; and during


the last ten years, whenever I could steal an interval, I kept
\vritin<; them out until I finished.

Now, whatever readers may think of this story of a boy's
life among the savages — whether they condemn it as too
tame and silly, or too pretentious and improbable — I can
assure them that all is true and nothing exaggerated or

I have never returned to that beautiful country, but I hear
that the lovely scenery, and the peaceful, happy life of the
Indians, is now disturbed and upturned by political and
commercial changes. The silence, the sweet holy calm of
those lovely rivers, is now outraged by the busy river-steam-
boat ; the beautiful forest along their banks is felled and
cleared to make room for plantations of bananas for the
American market ; the once happy Indians, handed over to
their old enemies, the Spaniards, are now worried to frenzy
by taxes, and Catholic priests dispensing the dubious blessings
of civilization, accompanied, as usual, by disease, demoraliza-
tion and death.


Wki.i.ington, N.Z.




The tribes — Arrival of negroes — -Mortality among the
aborigines — An abandoned dependency of Britain —
Clayton-Bulwer Treaty — Mosquito Shore a bone of con-
tention — Two hundred years' history of a brave people —
Report of Don Carlos Marenco — Recommends great war-
like preparations — Treaty misunderstood by Ministers —
Mosquito Shore a British colony — Mosquito men volun-
teer to join Nelson — -Fort Dalling abandoned — Colonists
appeal for help to Mosquito men — Disastrous evacuation
of the colony — Mosquito Indians maintain dominion —
Superintendent of Honduras crowns a Mosquito King —
British officials appointed - - - - i — 15


Inhabitants — Habits — Creole language and character —
Mixed breeds — Early recollections — ' Ma Presence ' —
' Ta Tom ' — ' Ma Presence ' a praying soul — Christmas
at Blewfields — 'Wakes' . . - . 16 — 31


Danger from tigers — Danger from alligators — Joys and sad-
ness of Blewfields — Eboes in season — Gathering shell-
fish — Manatee — Bowman caters for us — The King and I
disport ourselves — Turtle — The rainy season — Crickey-
jeen and butterflies — Thunder, rain and storms — Winged
ants and their consumers - - . - 32 — 47




' Marching army ' ants — ' Sheep's head ' fishing — Close of
rainy season — Migratory birds — Wees — Pigeons —
Other visitors — Ducks, teal and coots— Resident birds
— Fly-catchers, etc. - - - 48 — 59


Early adventures — Perilous voyage — On the island — Voyage
resumed — The Nile — Across the bar — Attack on Fort
Serapiqui — Make a ' prize ' — Filibuster Walker — Adven-
tures- .-. - - 60—73


Our voyage up the coast to the Toongla River— The Pearl
Keys — Sleeping at sea — The creek — Quamwatla — Mos-
quito Indians — Absence of men — Arrival of the absent
— Feuds and sentiments — Names and loves — Love-
songs — Death and dirge songs — Feast of the dead —
Suicides — Drinking — Native doctors - - 74 — 98


Voyage up Twaka River — Lower River — Sickness and
superstition — Sailing in a pitpan — Camping in the rain
— All night in a canoe in the rain — Attempted suicide —
Voyage continued — Flood in Twaka River — -Camp in
flooded bush — Hunting on the way — Cruelties of
shooting monkeys — On the journey again — Flood
subsiding — Hunting and shooting — Boy in a nightmare
— Monkeys — Wowlas — Superstitions — Boat-bill herons
— The falls on the Twaka — News on the sandbanks 99 — 121


Twaka village — Interview with a cock curassow — News of
the day — The Twakas — Industries and customs — Bath-
ing sports — I go hunting — The hunting-path — Meet two
bush nymphs — Dexterity of Indians in the bush — A view



from a hill — A drove of warree — Gathering the slain —
Hiring men for mahogany works — We prepare our pro-
visions - - - 122 — 140


Birds of the morning — Shooting the rapids — Tapir yarns —
Poultry of the spirits — Clamorous landrails — Night on
the river — Night talk — Overcome with sleep — Attacked
by wasps — Fight with mosquitoes — Insect pests — Goods
arrive — Toongla River — Alligator yarns - - 141 — 156


Charming the wind — Snioo Indians — ' Thunder's mooring-
post ' — Piakos-Maya — Story-telling — Night scene —
Sucked by bats^Jaguar adventure - - 157 — 167


Proceed up the river — Lazy voyage — Small village — Hospi-
tality — Hunting warree — Carrying the game out — Feast-
ing and stories of the hunt — Sentimental reveries — A
fishing journey - - - 168 — 179


Cupid — Drift down the river — Howling monkey killed — ■
Yowya Creek : beauties of the forest — Sleep on a tomagoff
— Wakna Creek : camping — A tapir — Morning start —
A jaguar — A pretty waterfall — Our head camp - 180 — 187


Our work — Mahogany-cutting — Pleasures of evening at

Camp — Mahogany — Truck-passes — Log-driving- 188 — 195


Dry weather — Our women — Our hunters — The puma —
Monkeys — Eagles — Hawks — Owls — Goatsuckers —
Pickwa - - - ig6 — 210



King vulture — Curassow — Quam — ' Sun-down ' partridge —
Quail — Twee — Woodpeckers — Red-rump blackbirds —
Peetooyoola — Formicivora — Wagtails — Warree-yoola
legend — Alwaney, the thunder-god — Pursued by a snake
— A snake in the canoe — Boas — Quash - - 211 — 229


Von Tempsky left alone — Up Wakna Creek — Bees — Hauling
out logs — Down creek — Left behind — Rescue and
' chaff' — Sookia doctor . . . . 230 — 241


Rainy season commences — Go out to main river — Wading
through the bush — Swimming the flooded river — Country
flooded — Fever and ague — Great green macaw — Paro-
quets — Indian dress and ornaments — Yellowtails —
Toucans — Peeakos — Ooruk — Pillis — Swallows — Wild
chocolate — Plants, flowers, and fruit — Adventure with
an ant-eater ..... 242 — 259


Industrious women — Family life — Women left alone — Egg
harvest — Alligators as playthings — Trade and commerce
— Race differences — Daily occupations - - 260 — 272


The King and I grow up — We visit his relations — Keys —
Turtle-fishing — Pleasant hours on coral keys — Duck-
warra — Oopla smalkaya — Sermon of the teacher — Its
application — Love for mothers - - - 273 — 282


Inland Duckwarra — Savannas and their occupants — Rac-
coons — Flies — Mosquitoes — Ticks — Jiggers — Heavy
weather at sea — Rescued - - - - 283 — 291



le-tax hunting — T
sister — Up the Wanx River - - - 292 — 300


Gracias a Dios — Turtle-tax hunting — The King's second


Reception by Queen- Dowager — Cattle hunting — Fording
the river — Fly - catchers — Swifts — Bathing — Jaguars —
Farewell - - - 301 — 308

Appendix A - - - - - - 309 — 311

Appendix B - - - - - - - 312

Appendix C - - - - - - ■ 313

Appendix D - - - - - - - 314

Index- ...... 316 — 318


Upper Settlement, Toongla River (p. 170)
The Author's Home at Blewfields -
Savalo Creek, Greytown River
SooKOO, Chief of Quamwatla -
TwAKA House at Accawass Maya
Toongla River from Piakos Maya
Wakna Creek . . . . .

George Augustus Frederick, King of Mos-
quito . . . . .


To face p. 32









The tribes— Arrival of negroes — Mortality among the aborigines — An
abandoned dependency of Britain — Clayton-Bulwer Treaty — Mos-
quito Shore a bone of contention — Two hundred years' history of
a brave people — Report of Don Carlos Marenco — Recommends
great warlike preparations — Treaty misunderstood by Ministers —
Mosquito Shore a British colony — Mosquito men volunteer to join
Nelson — Fort Balling abandoned — Colonists appeal for help to
Mosquito men — Disastrous evacuation of the colony — Mosquito
Indians maintain dominion — Superintendent of Honduras crowns a
Mosquito King — British officials appointed.

The country known as the Mosquito Coast lies on the
western shores of the Caribbean Sea, between ii° and 15°
north latitude. Almost the whole of it is level alluvial
land, flat near the sea, but rising gradually, and becoming
more and more hilly inland, with ranges of mountains at the
back from 100 to 150 miles from the coast, which ranges
come down to the sea at Monkey Point, near Greytown, and
at the extreme north near Black River. The coast lies, as
sailors say, in the ' eye of the north-east trade winds ' — that
is, in the latitudes where the trades are most constant. In
the rainy season the back ranges receive the excessive rain,
which flows down in innumerable rivers to the coast.

The Mosquito country was formerly definable as the
region under the sway of the Mosquito Indians, and used



to extend from the Black River, loo miles west of Gracias a
Dios, to the river San Juan del Norte, which flows into the
Caribbean Sea at the port of Grey town, where the Nicaragua
Canal is to commence. It is well known, however, that the
sway of the Mosquito Indian Kings extended some hundred
or more miles to the south of Greytown. The Mosquito
Indians gave their names to many places south of Greytown,
even as far as Chagres, and these Mosquito names, as God
Buppan (God's Harbour), King Buppan (King's Harbour),
are in everyday use. They also made regular expeditions
every year in well-armed canoes to collect tribute from the
different Indian tribes along the southern coast, and con-
tinued to do so until 1846, when the British Consul put a
stop to all claims of sovereignty by the Mosquito King south
of Greytown.

The Mosquito Indians are a maritime race, who from
their instincts are incapable of living far from the sea, and
have never done so. They are an offshoot or ancient colony
of the formidable Caribs of the West In'dies. Except in
their copper -coloured skin and black hair, they differ
materially from the other Indian tribes of Central America.
They are tall, slim, bony, and muscular, with thin noses and
sharp features. In character they are bold, daring, adven-
turous, quarrelsome, and self-assertive, frank and outspoken
to each other or to strangers, fond of the sea and of ships,
and not particularly clever in the bush. They differ in these
particulars from all the other Indians of Central America,
who are generally short, plump, and thick-set, with broad
noses and high cheek-bones, while in character they are
reserved, silent, phlegmatic, not fond of travel or adventure,
awkward at sea, but masters of the bush, peaceable, plodding,
and industrious.

The ancient Mosquito territory was inhabited by five
tribes of Indians, besides the Mosquito men. These were
all subject to the Mosquito King, but they served no other


purpose than to pay tribute or taxes, never joining in the
wars or expeditions of their masters. These tribes all spoke
languages of their own not understood by the others.

From Blewfields Lagoon to Lake Nicaragua and Grey-
town River the country is inhabited by the Rama tribe, a
fine, stalwart, fair race of Indians, now much reduced in
numbers, except in the mountains of Costa Rica, where they
are still numerous and extremely hostile.

From Blewfields River to the Wanx, or river of Cape
Gracias a Dios, the interior is inhabited by Woolwas or
Smoos, a sturdy, thick-set, taciturn race, a cross between
whom and the Mosquitoes has produced the Toonglas, now
constituting a tribe by themselves, and living on the Toongla
River, a branch of the Prin^awala River.

The Twakas are a handsome and peculiarly fair race, hard-
working and industrious, living on the Twaka River, the
north branch of the Prinzawala River ; and another part of
the same tribe lives on the Black River, west of Cape Gracias
a Dios.

The Payas live in the interior of the Black River, and
inland from Caratasca Lagoon.

The Prinzoos formerly lived in the interior between Pearl
Key Lagoon and the Prinzawala River. (' Awala ' means
river in Mosquito.) But they have become extinct, because
they waged a constant war with the Mosquitoes, who raided,
enslaved, and finally exterminated them.

In the beginning of the eighteenth century a large Dutch
ship full of slaves was wrecked on the Mosquito Coast, near
Duckwarra. As a result of this, the inhabitants from Cape
Gracias a Dios to Awastara and Duckwarra are now what
are called Sambos — that is, a mixture of African and Indian
blood ; but in my day this race had not spread any farther.

Towards the end of the eighteenth centur}^ the British
Government deported all the Caribs of the island of St.
Vincent to the northern part of the Mosquito territory,



where they are now settled on the stretch of coast from
Caratasca Lagoon to near the confines of British Honduras.
These are Caribs in name only, as they are nearly pure
African in blood, speak an African dialect, and their every
motion and expression is African.

The Indians call themselves Tangweeras (Straight-hair), to
distinguish them from the half-breed Sambos, who speak the
same language.

The Mosquito Indians were once very numerous, but they
are greatly fallen off in numbers. The reason of this decline
is very difficult to account for. Generally, savages die off in
presence of civilized races because of change of life and
habits induced or imposed on them by the superior race ;
but it is not evidently so in this case, because the jNIosquito
Indians have never changed their habits. This decline in
numbers affects all the Indian tribes of the country.

The life of a savage people is peculiarly tender. Though
strong, robust, and sound in constitution, they are especially
liable to be infested by the germs of diseases generated by
large communities. Thus, small-pox, measles, whooping-
cough, cholera, common catarrhs, are very destructive to
them. But even periodical visits of these diseases cannot
account for a steady decline in numbers extending over more
than a century. If the people were fecund they would soon
make good the losses. The root of the trouble is the great
infant mortality and a small birth-rate. All the American
Indians, from Canada to Cape Horn, have suffered from this
blight, with the exception of the Mexican, Peruvian, and
Central American Indians of the Pacific shores. These had
attained an indigenous form of civilization, and though not
proof against our diseases, their fertility secured them from

The causes of the dying out of savages in presence of a
civilized people have been totally misunderstood and wrongly
diagnosed by Europeans. When the American Indians, the


South Sea Islanders, the Fijians, and Maoris were constantly
at war and devouring each other as cannibals, they were
happy, prosperous, and most numerous ; but as soon as they
abandoned tribal wars and attempted to live the life pre-
scribed to them by civilized people, they were stricken by
the hand of death. They are told by a race whom they
respect for its superior arts and knowledge that if they
leave off fighting, have only one wife, till the soil, and live
an industrious life, all will be well with them. They try it,
and invariably find that the whites are blind guides leading
the blind, and that if they change their old way of living
there is only one option left to them, and that is the grave.
This has been the invariable result of 400 years' messing and
meddling by Europeans with the habits and lives of savage

Before venturing to submit to my readers an account of
my pleasant and interesting adventures on the Mosquito
Shore, it will be as well to give a short account of the
history, so far as this can be gathered from data in my pos-
session, of the Mosquito Indians, who for 200 years lived
under the protection of Great Britain, but who through the
shifts and turns of politics were cast off just when the long
' Pax Britannica ' had totally unfitted them for taking the
stand they formerly took on their unconquered soil, and
handed over to their hereditary foes, the Spaniards of

This was in 1856, when a treaty was made between Great
Britain and the United States, whereby the former agreed
to relinquish the protectorate of the Mosquito Shore. The
territory was handed over to the republics of Honduras and
Nicaragua, with the exception of a part, which was to be a
reserve for the Indians, and in which they were to be left to
themselves, while the Spaniards of the two republics were
to respect their personal and territorial rights, and not to
interfere with or molest them. About 1862 an amendment


was made to this treaty, by which the Mosquito reserve was
virtually handed over to Nicaragua, with certain stipulations,
soon to be disregarded, that the republic was not to inter-
fere with the Indians in any way.

By the treaty of 1856, called the Clayton-Buhver Treaty,
the territory to be reserved for the Indians, under the
name of the Mosquito Reserve, extends from Monkey Point,
30 miles north of Greytown, to Cape Gracios a Dios, a dis-
tance of about 210 miles, and inland to the range of moun-
tains about 100 miles from the coast. It was in 1856 that
the Mosquito territory, after remaining for the last three or
four generations almost unknown, except to the small traders
who plied their trade along the coast, suddenly blazed up
into notoriety, and threatened to become a bone of contention
between Great Britain and the United States.

The Americans, just as ignorant as the English regarding
the country and its history, could not be made to believe
that the connection they all at once discovered between it
and Great Britain was not a pretence contrived on the spur
of the moment to obstruct the American Transit Company's
newly-opened route through Greytown and Lake Nicaragua
to the Pacific. In point of fact, the association of England
with the Mosquito territory was quite respectably remote.
For though little had been written, or even known, about
the Mosquito country since its discovery in 1502, except from
the vague accounts of buccaneers, yet a legitimate connec-
tion with the country commenced in the reign of Charles I.,
when the Earl of Warwick, by letters of reprisal against
Spain, made himself master of the island of Old Providence,
lying off the Mosquito Coast. The island was granted by
Charles I. to the Earl and his family, and was formally ceded
by Spain to Great Britain b}' the treaty of 1670.

The Earl proceeded to open trade and communication
with the adjacent Mosquito Coast; gained the confidence of
the Mosquito King and his people ; left his relative, Colonel


IMorris, as a hostage, and took the King's son with him to
England as a commencement of friendly intercourse. The
Prince remained three years' in England, and he and the
Indians of the coast were so favourably impressed with the
conduct of the Earl and his trading agents that, upon the
Prince succeeding his father, the Mosquito Indians petitioned
to be taken under the protection of the British Crown.

This is the first official connection between England and
the Mosquito men ; but the annals of the buccaneers show
that the}^ were always on cordial terms with the Indians,
who often joined in their expeditions and always extended
to them hospitality and protection from pursuit. Captain
Blewfields was a buccaneer of the early part of the seven-
teenth century, who established his headquarters in the
Blewfields Lagoon, which afforded good shelter, and plenty
of places where he could conceal his ships. Captain Wallace
was another famous buccaneer who established himself at
Belize, or Ballis, as they called it after him. He built a
castle or stronghold near Belize from which he supplied the
Mosquito Indians with arms and ammunition, and with
them he made many desperate attacks on the Spanish towns
to the north of Belize. It was the stout defence made by
the buccaneers and Indians together that led to the founding
of the colony of British Honduras. The English would have
been compelled to abandon their logwood-cutting and been
driven away from the country had it not been for the war-
like Mosquito men, who dearly loved to be led to battle by
the English, and constantly solicited the whites to come on
and have another go at the Spaniards.

It does not appear that Charles I. took any action upon
the request of the Mosquito King and people to be taken
under British protection. But in the reign of Charles II.
the King and chiefs of Mosquito again tendered allegiance to
the British Crown through the Governor of Jamaica, who
accepted it in the name of his Sovereign, and promised them


protection. The same formalities occurred in the reign of
James II., when the Mosquito King repaired to Jamaica
with a large retinue of chiefs, renewed the tender of fealty
through the Duke of Albemarle, and received assurances of
protection. Of this occurrence a record was made by Sir
Hans Sloane, who was present. This renewal of allegiance
was made by the Kings and chiefs of the Mosquito Coast to
every succeeding Governor of Jamaica, and by him accepted.
Nor was this an empty ceremony. The Mosquito men
for about 150 years fought sword in hand side by side
with the English. Dampier testified that the Mosquito
Indian was an expert swordsman and dangerous to en-
counter. By the * American Treaty,' signed at Madrid,
June, 1670, the sovereignty of Mosquito was assigned to
' Great Britain for ever,' as included in the possessions she
then held in America.

As British subjects began to form settlements on the
Mosquito Shore, the Governors of Jamaica appointed justices
of the peace to reside there for the maintenance of order
among them. In 1720 the inhabitants of Jamaica had great
difficulty in suppressing the revolt of the negroes. So the
Governor, on June 25, made a convention with Jeremy,
King of Mosquito, for the transmission of a body of Indians
to aid in the Maroon War, which by their aid was soon

On February t, 1731, Don Carlos Marenco, Mayor of
Porto Bello, makes a report to General Don Lopez Pintado,
on the subject of the Mosquito Indians, their territory, and
the best means of conquering it.*

Online LibraryCharles N. (Charles Napier) BellTangweera; life and adventures among gentle savages → online text (page 1 of 25)