James W. (James William) Buel.

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this attempt to open an intercourse with the islanders
failed, for not one appeared to ascertain what fate had be-
fallen the captured children. The only difference noted
between these natives and those with whom Columbus had
formerly come in contact was in the character of the vil-
lage. The houses which the Spaniards now found were
square instead of circular, and some of the better kind were
supplied with porticos. The most singular thing discovered
at this village was a sort of pan for frying and boiling, and
which the Spaniards claimed was of iron. The curiosity of
this piece of native workmanship was found in the fact that
no specimen of this metal, whether wrought or native,
had been seen in the western islands, and the Spaniards
could only, account for this utensil upon the assumption
that it had been wrought, by some art of the Indians, from
meteoric stone. But there was also discovered a section of
the mast of a ship in one of the village houses, which, if
it had been driven by the trade winds from the coast of
Europe, would supply another means for accounting for the
iron pan, since if a mast could drift so great a distance,
other portions of a wreck might do likewise, bearing articles
of European manufacture of which the natives would pos-
sess themselves.

There was yet another circumstance still better calculated


to fix the attention and at the same time excite the repug-
nance of the Spaniards. It was in this village of Guada-
loupe that they first discovered the ravages and wrecks of
cannibalism. Human bones were plentifully scattered
about the houses. In the kitchens were found skulls in use
as bowls and vases. In some of the houses the evidences
of man-eating were still more vividly and horribly present.
The Spaniards entered apartments which were veritable
human butcher-shops. Heads and limbs of men and women
were hung up on the walls or suspended from the rafters,
in some instances dripping with blood, and, as if to add, if
that were possible, to the horror of the scene, dead parrots,
geese, dogs and iguanas were hung up without discrimina-
tion or preference with the fragments of human bodies. In
a pot some pieces of a human limb were boiling, so that
with these several evidences it was manifest that canni-
balism was not an incidental fact, but a common usage, well
established and approved in the life of the islanders.

Subsequent investigation showed that Guadaloupe was
the center and stronghold of the Carib race, and of the can-
nibal practice. The contrast afforded in the persons and
characters and manners of these savages with the mild-
natured natives of the Bahamas was sufficiently striking.
The Caribbeans were large, strong, full of action, cour-
ageous, and especially vindictive. The man-eating usage
had its laws and limitations among them. They did not,
as did some of the South Pacific islanders, cat their own
people. The anthropophagous habit had a strict relation
to war. The Caribs ate their prisoners — men, women and
children, especially the men.

It was from this habit that the warlike nature of these
aboriginal desperadoes took its impulse and vehemence.
War was made by them, systematically, for the purpose of
securing droves of prisoners with which to satisfy the crav-


ings of a horrible appetite. The usage was as well founded
and as customary as was that of the North American In-
dians in the buffalo hunt or the bear hunt. With the Caribs
it was a man hunt. The men were all warriors and were
generally abroad in their capacity of man-hunters. They had
fleets of canoes, and in these the warriors took to sea, pad-
dling away to the coast of a distant island or shore, and there,
by sudden descent upon some village, seizing the inhabit-
ants and carrying them away as captives. When the pris-
oners were brought home the better class were at once
slain and eaten, but the remainder were turned loose in the
island until they should be in better condition. The Caribs
looked upon these prisoners just as a less brutal savage scans
his flocks and herds in expectation of the day for slaughter
and feasting.

It is not difficult to discover in these circumstances the
origin of the myth of the Amazonian Islands. The natives
of the Bahamas and the Greater Antilles, and as far south
as Porto Rico, on visiting the coast of the Caribbeans, saw
only women. The men were abroad, plying their vocation
of war. From this fact the belief would gain currency that
certain islands were inhabited only by women. In this
shape the tradition existed among the Guanahanians and
Cubans when Columbus arrived among them.

The reactionary effects of cannibalism were sufficiently
marked in the character and manner of the Caribs. They
were fierce to the last degree, strong as tigers, courageous in
fight, brutal and merciless. The women had the same char-
acteristics as the men. The Spaniards soon learned the
danger of a contest with the Amazons of these islands.
Even the children were as young beasts ready for the prey.
It was noted by Columbus that the natives took delight
in making themselves appear as terrible as possible. To
this end they painted their faces, putting great circles of


bright color around their eyes, thus skillfully increasing the
ferocity of the visage. Another usage was to tie cotton
bands above and below the principal muscles of the arms
and legs, by which, when the body was in action, the
muscles were made to bulge out in prodigious knots. In
short, every method known to savage ingenuity for increas-
ing the fear-inspiring features of face and body was employed
by the cannibals of these islands.

Strangely enough, the Caribs were more civilized in some
respects than the islanders of the northwestern clusters.
The former had the more extensive improvements. Their
chief town was laid out with a square in the center. The
better class of houses had porticos. Roads were surveyed
with some regularity, and were better constructed than
those of Cuba or Hispaniola. The people had some rude
notions of the confederative principle in government.
Guadaloupe was the center of a league which included at
least three of the principal islands. The natives were ex-
pert in the practice of their rude industries, particularly in
the management of their canoes. In these they did not
hesitate to commit themselves to the open sea, even to a
distance of hundreds of miles from their native coast.

Resuming the narrative, we note during the stay of Co-
lumbus in Guadaloupe the first of many distressing inci-
dents which he was now destined to encounter. Bands of
men were frequently sent ashore to make explorations, but
always under strict orders as to plan and conduct. One
company of eight men, under Diego Marquez, captain of one
of the vessels, went abroad without leave. After an absence
of a whole day the party failed to reappear, and the Ad-
miral grew uneasy. Other companies were sent out to
find tlie missing men, but returned with no intelligence of
them. Signals were made and guns fired, both from the
ships and on the shore, but there was no response. Trum-


petex'-s were sent to the neighboring cliffs to sound the re-
turn, but still there was no answer. With the following day
the search was continued, but no vestige of the men could
be found. The belief might be well entertained that they
had been caught, killed and eaten by the islanders. It was
hoped, however, that since the warriors were for the most
part absent on an expedition, the Spaniards might be able
to defend themselves against the women. The Admiral was
unwilling to sail away while the fate of his sailors, or any one
of them, was undetermined. In this emergency he bethought
himself of the daring and courageous Ojeda. That adven-
turer was accordingly given a company of volunteers and
sent into the interior of the island to scour the country in
all directions in the hope of rescuing the missing party. The
expedition of Ojeda must again remind the reader of some
of the similar exploits and services of Captain John Smith.
His excursion about the island was not only a search, but
an exploration. He noted in his progress from place to place,
through the dense native woods, over the hills and along the
verdant valleys of the interior, the unexampled luxuriance
of the vegetation, the abundance of fruits, the fertility of
the soil, the odorous balm of the woods, and in particular
the abundance of wild honey. But the stragglers could not
be found.

Several days elapsed, and the necessity for continuing
the voyage Avas imminent, when unexpectedly the missing
sailors appeared on the shore. It transpired that upon
plunging into the forest they had lost themselves. Their
senses had become confused, and they had wandered on
farther and farther through impenetrable thickets and over
ledges of rock, crossing unknown rivers, tearing their clothes
away in patches on brambles and thorns, totally unable to
regain the points of the compass or to imagine the direc-
tion of the ships. At last, when about to perish, they had


come to the coast, and following it for a short distance, had
the good fortune to spy the vessels when they were just
about to weigh anchor. The joy of all at the recovery was
great ; but the indignation of the Admiral against the captain
for his disobedience of orders was such that he had him put
under arrest , and the whole company were reduced in their
rations as an exemplary punishment for their recklessness
and insubordination.

Their stay on Guadaloupe Island lasted for six days, when
the voyage continued northward through the Leeward
cluster, several of which were named, among the number
being the little island of Nevis, on which, two hundred and
sixty-four years later, was born a great character, whose
profound and lucid genius, more than that of any other
man, contributed to the Constitution of the United States
— Alexander Hamilton.

Farther on the expedition reached Santa Cruz and Santa
Ursula. At the former island a pause was made to re-
plenish the store of water, as well as to make a casual ex-
amination of the country. The company sent ashore found
a Carib town which was held by women and boys, no men
being seen. It was found that many of those in the settle-
ment were captives who were awaiting their turn to be killed
and eaten. Several of these were taken with little resist-
ance on their part ; for to them it was small matter by
whom they were to be devoured. While returning to the
shore to embark with the captives, the Spaniards perceived
a boat load of Caribs paddling around the headland not far
away. For a moment the Indians seemed paralyzed with
wonder, and the Spaniards in their boats were able to get
between them and the shore. Here upon the Caribs, taking
the alarm, seized their bows and sent a shower of arrows
among their adversaries, at least two of whom, at the first
discharge, were seriously wounded. It was noticed that


some of the women in the boat were as expert with the bow
as the men. The Spaniards held up their bucklers, and
bearing down upon the canoe, overturned it in the water ;
but the Indians continued to fight, swimming and discharg-
ing their arrows at the same time. Some found a lodgment
on rocks and reefs in the shoal water and were taken with the
greatest difificulty. At length all were captured, including
a woman and her son, who seemed to be the queen and the
prince of the tribe. The latter was thought by the Spaniards
to be the fiercest specimen of a human being they had ever
beheld. They described him as having the face of an Afri-
can lion. Though wounded, his conduct was defiant in the
last degree, and he scowled upon his captors with such a
hideous expression of hatred as to send through them a
shudder of terror. It was found, or believed by the Span-
iards, that the wounds which they received in the skirmish
were inflicted by poisoned arrows. One of the Spaniards
soon died from his injury, and his body was afterwards con-
veyed by the Admiral to San Domingo for burial.

Around Santa Ursula the Admiral discovered a rocky
archipelago, the summits rising here and there to consider-
able heights and constituting a group of islands, some of
which were luxuriant and others sterile and bare. Sailing
in this cluster was dif^cult and dangerous, and the explora-
tion of the group, to which the Admiral gave the name of
the Eleven Thousand Virgins, was made by a single light
caravel which made its way through the tortuous channels
between the fifty or more islands that were sighted, some
of which at least were inhabited by men of the Carib race.

Still farther to the west and north the squadron reached
a larger island, nearly in the form of a parallelogram, lying
under the latitude of 18° N. This was called by the na-
tives Boriquen, but was named by the Admiral San Juan
Baptista, that is, St. John the Baptist, and is known in


modern geography as Porto Rico. Here the fleet made its
way out of the Carib Islands and found a modified native
population such as belonged to Cuba and the Bahamas.
The aborigines of Boriquen were not so warlike and roving
as the true Caribs, and on account of their peaceful disposi-
tion suffered much at the hands of the cannibals. Along
the coast, where the latter were in the habit of making
their incursions, the natives of the island were more cour-
ageous, having learned from their adversaries the use of
the bow and the war club. According to common fame
they sometimes revenged themselves on the Caribs by de-
vouring such captives as fell into their hands. But the
body of the inhabitants were a peaceable folk, subsisting
on fruits of the soil and fish.

After a considerable stay at Porto Rico, Columbus, having
satisfied his curiosity respecting the Caribs, set sail direct
for Hispaniola, the western extremity of which he reached
without further incident. His return to the island was
greeted with much rejoicing by the natives who had seen
him or heard of his previous visit. Four caciques, accom-
panied by hundreds of Indians, came off in canoes to the
ships, and besought the Spaniards to make a permanent
camp on shore, promising to lead them to mines of gold,
where the precious metal might be easily gathered in the
greatest quantities. But Columbus had heard such stories
so frequently before that he was not to be deceived by
them now, so, after distributing presents among the chiefs,
he continued towards Natividad, which he was now anxious
to reach and learn how the affairs of the colon)', which he
had there planted nearly one year before, were progressing.
He accordingly sailed along the coast and entered the Bay
of Samana, where he had had his first encounter with the
natives of the New World. Anxious to renew his inter-
course with the people, the Admiral sent out one of his


Guanahanian interpreters, finely clad and laden with pres-
ents. But, strangely enough, the man did not return. Nor
was the Admiral ever able to ascertain what became of
him. The other Guanahanian, through many vicissitudes,
past and to come, remained stanch in his loyalty to Co-
lumbus, accompanying him wherever he went, proud to re-
ceive and bear the baptismal name of Diego Colon, the
Admiral's brother.

By the 25th of November the fleet reached Monte
Christo and anchored there, \vhilc the coast was surveyed at
the mouth of Gold River in search of a site for a fortress.
Here it was that the first indications were discovered of those
dire disasters which now began to rise and darken the path-
way of Columbus during all the remainder of his life.
While the exploring party were traversing the shore, they
found a human carcass tied by the wrists and ankles with a
Spanish cord to a stake /;/ the form of a cross. Also near
by was the body of a boy. Both cadavers were in such a
state of decay that it could not certainly be known whether
they were Spaniards or Indians. But the significant cross
pointed to the suspicion that they were Europeans, and if
so, certainly men of the colony of Natividad. The sign
of crime was therefore sufficiently portentous.

This horrible discovery proved to be indeed only the
precursor of worse things to come. On a further examination
of the coast, two other bodies were found, and though these
also were reduced to little more than grinning skeletons,
one of them was discovered to wear a beard. This told the
story. The victim had certainly been a Spaniard. The
indications of violence and death were well calculated to
awaken the most serious apprehensions in the mind of Colum-
bus respecting the state of affairs in the island. He was,
however, much cheered by the conduct of the natives, who
acted in a manner so frank, so little indicative of treachery,


that he could but hope everything might still be well with
the men whom he had left under De Arana in the fort.

Within two days from leaving Monte Christo, the fleet
arrived at the anchorage of La Natividad. The hour was
late in the evening, and a landing was impracticable until
the morrow. It was hoped, however, that notification
might be given to the colony by the firing of a cannon.
But the reverberations died away, and no response came
from the fortress. About midnight, however, an Indian
canoe came near the squadron and the natives shouted for
Columbus. They were directed to the Maria Galantc, but
would not go on deck until the Admiral himself was seen
by the lamps at the railing. Then their caution was dis-
missed, and they were taken up, and found to be an em-
bassy from Guacanagari, the leader being a cousin of the
cacique. As usual hi such matters, they brought presents,
the principal one being two masks eyed and tongued with

But the Admiral was far more concerned about other
matters than of the things of which they chose to speak,
and he eagerly inquired of the Indians what had become of
his garrison — why they did not answer to his signals. At
this the natives were somewhat embarrassed ; but they
managed, by means of the interpreter, to tell a tolerably
consistent story. They said the Spaniards under De Arana
had a quarrel and fight among themselves, in which several
lives were lost, and that sickness had carried off quite a
number. Others still had married native wives and settled
in distant parts of the island. But worse than this, they
gave an account of an invasion of the province of Guacana-
gari by the warlike Caonabo, cacique of the gold regions
in the mountains of Cibao. He with a strong band had
burst into the village of their chieftain, had slain many,
wounded many more, and burnt the houses. Among the


wounded was Guacanagari himself,vvho, but for his injuries,
would have come at once to the Admiral. The reason for
this onset was that the friendly cacique had sought to protect
the Spaniards from the rage of Caonabo, who had gone
to war with them on account of their conduct towards him
and his people. Whether any of the Spaniards remained
alive the messenger did not say.

Morning came, bringing with it the greatest anxiety.
On looking out towards shore the Spaniards could perceive
no signs of life. Instead of the native multitudes, only
the waving trees were seen along the coast, and only the
light murmur of the surf was heard as it fell and broke
among the rocks. Pvleanwhile Columbus had entertained
the Indian embassy, and before the coming of dawn had sent
them ashore laden with presents. They had gone promis-
ing to return during the day and bring Guacanagari with

The only circumstance calculated to relieve the despond-
ency and fears of the Admiral was the fact that the natives
seemed to be friendly and unconscious of wrong-doing.
During the forenoon a boat-load of Spaniards was sent
ashore to ascertain definitely the situation. Fort Natividad
was in ruins. It appeared that the place had been carried
by assault, broken down, and the remnant burnt. Fragments
of the contents of the fort were scattered about, and these
relics included shreds of Spanish garments, presenting a
scene of death and desolation. With these grueful relics
before them, they could no longer doubt that the worst of
calamities had befallen Arana and his men. As for the
natives, they carefully kept aloof. Though a few were seen
hiding in the woods at a distance, not one came near to
explain further the destruction of the fort and its occu-

When these tidings were borne back to the Admiral he


was in the greatest distress, and went directly on shore to
examine the ruins of the fort himself. Unable to gain any
clew as to its destruction and the disappearance of his men
at the first examination, he deemed it expedient to make a
more systematic search. Possibly some of tlie Spaniards
might still live, and it was not inconceivable that a band of
them, driven from the fort, had kept together and defended
themselves until Caonabo and his warriors had retired to
their own place. Several companies were accordingly dis-
patched into the neighboring districts to search for any
possible survivors of the disaster. The men went abroad
firing their guns, shouting and blowing trumpets; but the
only sounds that came back were the echoes from the woods
and rocks, and wave-beats of the sea.

As for Guacanagari, he did not come, nor was any mes-
sage sent by him to explain his absence. The Admiral at
length concluded to seek him out, and accordingly advanced
to the cacique's village, which, to his grief, he found burnt to
ashes, and the same marks of violence about its ruins as had
been found at Natividad. The conclusion seemed necessary
that the town of the cacique, as well as the Spanish fort,
had been taken and destroyed by the warriors of Caonabo.
This circumstance, while it tended to dispel all hope of
finding Arana and his men, seemed to establish the belief
that the tribe of Guacanagari had remained loyal to the

The Admiral was so much concerned to know the truth
that, returning to the coast, he renewed his investigations
about the ruined fortress. He had given directions to
Arana in case he and the garrison should be imperiled, to
bury in the earth treasures which they had accumulated.
In the hope of finding some trace of the property, the well
of the fort was examined, and the whole region round
about, but there was no sign that these instructions had


been obeyed, and the search was therefore continued along
the coast.

On the coming of the Spaniards to a native village not
far away the inhabitant fled, leaving their houses to be ex-
amined by the invaders. Here were found several articles
which had belonged to the garrison, among which were an old
anchor of the Santa Maria and a Moorish cloak which was
remembered as the property of De Arana. There were also
several articles of clothing and bits of merchandise, pointing
unmistakably to the spoliation of the fortress. In the
meantime another company of explorers, nearer to Nativi-
dad, had found a kind of burial-place, from which they
recovered the remains of eleven of their companions, thus
strengthening the belief with overwhelming proof that all
had perished by violence.

It was with the greatest difificulty that Columbus could
induce the natives to a renewal of intercourse. Nor could
their conduct in this particular be well understood. If the
subjects of Guacanagari were innocent, why should they
keep aloof and exhibit such want of confidence ? On the
other hand, if they had not been loyal, how account for the
destruction of the village of the cacique and his own wounds ?
The problem became an enigma, and there was great diver-
sity of opinion among the Spaniards. De Buyl, the apos-
tolic vicar, led the belief that all the Indians alike had been
treacherous, and that the Admiral should proceed to pun-
ish them for their crime. He framed a theory that the
cacique had burned his own village to conceal his perfidy —
that the conduct of the natives could be explained only on
the ground that they were crafty barbarians who well knew
the awfulness of the crime that they had committed and
dreaded retributive justice.

Columbus, however, was entirely unwilling to accept
this disheartening and pessimistic view of the situation. He


chose to believe that the work had been done by Caonabo
and his people, and this conviction was accompanied by
the well-grounded fear that the Spaniards had, by their own

Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 14 of 37)