James W. (James William) Buel.

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upon their health and spirits. The disease was of the mind
as well as of the body. Melancholy, despondency, discon-
tent, sullen moping, and every other ill of the human spirit,
when once it fell under the dominion of pessimism, tor-
mented and depressed the colonists with an ever-darkening
mental cloud. As to ills of the body, there were fevers and
dysenteries and congestions, and, worst of all, the outbreak
and prevalence of those horrid diseases which, since the
epoch of the Crusades, were rapidly becoming at once the
scourge and the hell of the human race.

For all this there was but slight remedy. Medical
science, in so far as such science exists among men, has
always adapted itself in practice to a certain environment.
The physician has, out of the nature of the case, been
unable to generalize to any great extent beyond the limits
of that horizon within the boundary of which he has
familiarized himself with the natural and morbid conditions
of life. At the close of the fifteenth century medicine
was still mere empyricism in its crudest form. The Spanish
doctors who accompanied the expedition were totally ur-
acquainted with the conditions of health and disease in tho
new lands at which they had arrived. Their supply of
medicines gave out, and nature, depraved by disease, was
left to take her course.

By this time several kinds of provisions were exhausted,
and it was difficult to procure such diet and such nursing as
were required for the sick. About the beginning of April
the supplies were so diminisln-d that the rations of the well


were reduced to almost a minimum, and this circumstance
added to the discontent and gloom. At last the flour of the
colony ran out, and the work of grinding new supplies by
hand-mills was severe and irksome. To set the Spanish
soldier — who had fought in the Moorish war and stood near
the sovereigns when the Islamites came out to deliver to
them the keys of Granada — to grinding on miserable hand-
mills, in order to keep himself and his fellows from starva-
tion, was more than human nature could bear without pro-
testing ; but the Admiral would make no exception, even
with the priests. He enforced his regulations and discipline
with a strong and impartial hand, and the result was the
reappearance of sedition.

In this instance a head center of the mutinous spirit was
found in the vicar, De Buyl, who, though a member of the
council, gave countenance to the malcontents, promising to
defend them against the exactions of the governor, until
the latter, discovering the infidelity and treachery of the
priest, reduced him to the ranks and put him on short fare
as a punishment. This was an unforgivable thing, and the
vicar was henceforth the enemy of the Admiral and his
government. But this action did not arrest the fatalities.
The reader may well be reminded of the starving time at
Jamestown or the desolation of the first Puritan colonists
at Plymouth. Under such conditions the leader is blamed
for everything. But for him, says the common prejudice,
we should never have been provoked to leave our homes
and been led forth into these far lands of fever and scrof-
ula to die of starvation and despair.

It was in this emergency that Columbus devised the project
of additional exploring expeditions, rather as a means of
revival by reaction and excitement than with the expecta-
tion of great discoveries. The idea of the new enterprise
was to organize several companies of the discontented *^t


Isabella and to dispatch them on adventures into the interior
of the island. Many parts, even the greater part, of His-
paniola had not yet been visited by the Spaniards. No
intercourse had been opened with at least two of the caciques.
Besides, the hostility of Caonabo might supply an excuse for
one of the expeditions.

The Admiral found, after duly considering his resources,
that a considerable force of well men still remained for the
work in hand, and he was therefore able to organize an
expedition of cavalry, infantry, crossbowmen and arque-
busiers. For the present, a command was given to Alonzo
de Ojeda. That officer was to lead the whole as far as Fort
St. Thomas, when he was to turn over the little army to
Pedro Margarite, and become himself the commandant of
the fortress.

As to the conduct of the expedition, Columbus prepared full
instructions for Margarite, entering into details respecting
his intercourse with the Indians and indeed all contingencies
that might arise. The captain was ordered to hold everything
in strict military subjection. Provisions should be obtained
from the natives by public purchase. The comptroller, Bernal
Diaz, was to act as the commissary officer of the expedition.
There should be no private trade with the Indians. The
latter should in all instances be treated with kindness and
justice. Theft, to which the natives were somewhat addicted
— though they themselves hardly regarded the act of taking
without leave as a criminality — was to be properly punished.
Regard must be had to the conversion of the natives. The
campaign was to be directed first of all into the country
where Caonabo had his town. That cacique, against whose
conduct Columbus had a just resentment, was to be taken
with his chieftains and delivered over for trial, on account
of the destruction of La Natividad and the killing of the
garrison. In the capture of Caonabo, duplicity and stratagem


might be used, the same being among the methods of warfare
which the Admiral had discovered in the native usages. The
instructions were amply sufficient for a well-ordered and
decent campaign of exploration, commerce and the con-
tingency of war.

Having completed these arrangements, Columbus next gave
his attention to a new enterprise of his own. This was no
less than the long-postponed voyage of discovery, which was
a part of his general plan. As for the local expedition, Ojeda
set out from Isabella on the 9th of April, and proceeded by
water as far as the estuary of Gold River, for the identity
of that stream with the river found in the Royal Vega, near
the gold fields, had now been determined, and it was the
purpose of Ojeda to ascend the stream, first by water and
afterwards by land, to his destination. This would be an
easier route than the Pass of the Hidalgos, so laboriously
followed on the former occasion.

But an incident now occurred which had in it the germs and
portent of great mischief. On arriving at Gold River three
men from Fort St. Thomas fell in with the expedition who,
according to their story, had been perfidiously robbed by the
natives; perfidiously, because they were under conduct of the
cacique of one of the villages of the Vega, who had promised
to aid them in crossing the river. Thus were they robbed
by the Indians, and the cacique, instead of punishing the
Indians, winked at the theft and took a part of the booty
for himself.

The hot-blooded Ojeda marched immediately to the
town, seized the cacique, also his son, the prince, and one of
the thieves, cutting off the ears of the latter, and sending the
prisoners, bound, to the Admiral at Isabella. This summary
punishment produced the wildest alarm among the Indians,
and the cacique of another village interceded for the captives.
But all in vain. He then followed them to Isabella and


appealed to the Admiral. The latter, deemhig the robbeiy
a serious matter, was unusually severe, and condemned the
thieves to be beheaded in the public place of the settlement.
It appears, however, that he intended to pardon the culprits
in time to save their lives.

Just at this crisis of the affair a cavalryman arrived from
Fort St. Thomas, who on the way had found five Spaniards
held as prisoners by the subjects of the captured cacique.
He had, however, charged into the village, put the whole
town to flight and rescued the prisoners. According to his
report he had chased out of the town all the four hundred
inhabitants, scattering them in every direction. The incident
was sufficiently amusing, and also sufficiently significant of
the relative ability of the natives and Spaniards in open war.
When the Indian prisoners were brought to the place where
they were to be beheaded and the friendly cacique Guarionex,
ruler of the villages of Vega Real, continued to supplicate
for their liberation, Columbus granted his petition and set
the captives free. He also sent off Guarionex with many
presents and evidences of good-will.


Reassured by the peaceful condition of affairs at Isa-
bella, before leaving that post for the mountain district of
Cibao, to pursue his quest for gold, Columbus had purposed
to extend his discoveries, with the hope of ultimately reach-
ing the borders of Cathay, there to greet the great Khan
in his resplendent capital of Quainsay. Upon returning,
therefore, he set about preparations to continue his explora-
tions, all the while believing that Cuba, three-fourths of
which coast he had seen, was a part of the mainland adjoin-
ing the Tartar territory. For this purpose he equipped
three vessels, one of which was the old Nina, to which the
name of Santa Clara had been given, the San /nan and the
Cordcra. Fort St. Thomas had been left in charge of a
lieutenant named Margarite, but during his absence on a
campaign in the interior, Ojeda was appointed temporarily
to the command.

Feeling secure in the arrangements which he had made
for the occupation of both Isabella and St. Thomas, Colum-
bus was able to set sail upon his proposed expedition on
the 24th of April. Proceeding, he made a short pause at
Monte Christo, but found no natives there with whom to
open communications, so he moved forward a few miles and
anchored off La Natividad, where he hoped to see Guacan-
agari, and to obtain from him, finally, the full particulars of
the massacre of the garrison under Arana. Though the
replies of the messenger whom Columbus sent out to meet
the cacique were favorable, the natives refused to expose



themselves, and the promise of the chief to visit him was
not fulfilled, and after a wait of two days Columbus sailed
away without unraveling the mystery of the cacique's con-

Leaving La Natividad, Columbus continued along the
southern coast of San Domingo until he came to the west-
ernmost extremity of that island, where he found a beauti-
ful harbor, in which he anchored to make some investiga-
tions on the shore. He found two considerable villages not
far inland, upon entering one of which a fresh-laid feast
was prepared, but the natives having been alarmed upon
the approach of the Spaniards, had left them to enjoy the
banquet, though without invitation. Subsequently, a few
of the natives were persuaded to approach the Spaniards,
)Ut beyond the giving of a few presents no intercourse was
attempted. The voyage was then continued until reaching
the harbor of St. Jago, in Cuba, where a landing for the day
was made and brief communication was had with the natives,
who repeated to Columbus the reports wliich he had before
heard concerning the rich gold fields of Babeque. The
repetition of this story was given with such embellishments
and assurances that he at length decided to test the truth
of the assertions. Accordingly, on the 3d of May, the
squadron again weighed anchor, left the Cuban coast and
drifted into the open sea. The voyage had not extended
far until the bold outlines of a large island were discovered
towards the south. On approaching near the shore the
country was found to be thickly populated, and upon reach-
ing shoal water a fleet of seventy canoes, all manned by
warriors who were painted and feathered after the manner
of North American Lidians, came out to meet the ships.
Their first manifestations were those of implacable hostility
as the warriors set up a great yelling, and, on coming within
range, shot their arrows and hurled their darts acrainst the


sides of the vessels, but with such poor effect that the attack
appeared ridiculous.

Instead of regarding the demonstration as an invitation
to battle Columbus chose rather to make signs of peace and
to tell the Indians, through his interpreter, that he came
on a friendly mission and to present gifts to the people.
This speech assuaged the anger of the natives, who per-
mitted the ships to come to anchor near the coast of the
island, which to the present day has retained its native
name of Jamaica. But as no advantage could be gained by
an intercourse with the people at this first landing Columbus
continued his way along the western shore for several miles,
until reaching an inviting harborage, he anchored with the
intention of going on shore to make some explorations.
The natives at this latter place, however, exhibited the same
hostility that their neighbors had manifested, and were so
persistent in their determination to do the Spaniards injury
that as a last resource the Admiral concluded it would be
necessary to teach them a sharp lesson. To this end a
boat-load of crossbowmen was sent to attack and disperse
the Indians ; drawing near, the Spaniards fired a volley at
the enemy, wounding several ; at the second discharge the
natives beat a hasty retreat, and on the following day sent
an embassy of six warriors to treat for peace. Columbus
accepted their overtures of amity, and the quiet which fol-
lowed was improved by him to repair his ships, one of which
was in a leaky condition. During this short stay the native
Jamaicans seemed to have become convinced that the
Spaniards were visitors from some far celestial country, and
from their first hostile feeling there succeeded an idolatrous
affection, which influenced several of the natives to beg of
Columbus permission to accompany him whither he might
choose to voyage. One of the caciques was so determined
to join the Spaniards that some force was necessary to over-


come his intention. As the fleet was about to sail a young
chieftain wrested himself from the restraining grasp of his
friends, and running with all possible speed to the shore,
sprang into a canoe and paddled off to the Admiral's ship,
which he gained and hid himself in order that he might not
be prevented from carrying out his purpose. Columbus re-
ceived him kindly, and he perhaps lived to see the shores
of Europe, with other natives of the West Indies who after-
wards joined him.

Unable to find any indications of gold in Jamaica, Colum-
bus departed for Cuba, and without further incident arrived
at La Cruz, having been absent from Isabella a period of
fifteen days. While lying at anchor in this latter harbor
he was visited by many natives, who manifested the same
friendly disposition as those whom he first met in Hispan-
iola, and generously supplied the expedition with fruits and
such provisions as the vicinity afTorded. While here Colum-
bus also learned from some of the natives that the country
was an island, but of very great extent, so large indeed that
none of the people with whom he had yet come in contact
knew its limits. To determine this question Columbus re-
solved to continue his explorations, but hardly had the voy-
age been renewed when fate, so long tempted, became sullen
and adverse. A great tempest swept the bay, and for some
hours the ships were in imminent peril of being wrecked on
the rocks ; and when they had gained the open sea the
squadron became entangled in the Cuban keys, out of which,
on account of the tortuous channels and numerous sand-
banks, it seemed for a while impossible to escape. The archi-
pelago into which he had thus sailed was named by the
Admiral, in honor of Isabella, the Queen's Gardens,

The storm finally abated without any serious injury having
been inflicted upon the ships, and the islands through which
they were sailing offered so many opportunities for interest-


ing investigation that Columbus landed on the shores of
several and was richly entertained by the curiosities of ani-
mal life which he discovered ; flamingoes, cranes and parrots
of richest coloring were numerous, thus lending animation
to the incomparable beauties of the landscape.

Many of the islands appeared to be without inhabitants,
while others were thickly populated by amiable Indians who
received Columbus and his men with the same kindness as
had characterized those of San Salvador and Hispaniola.
The Indians on some of the larger islands were seen to em-
ploy a fish somewhat after the manner that the medievals
used the hawk in hunting. This falcon-fish, which the In-
dians used with such singular results, had the power of at-
taching itself to objects by means of a sucker with which it
was supplied. Such was the strength of the hold which the
leech-like creature was able to take that the body might be
pulled in two without breaking its connection with the ob-
ject to which it had fixed itself. As if to favor the use to
which the fish was applied by barbaric ingenuity, it was
furnished with a long tail, to which the natives attached a
line ; this done, the creature was allowed to take its own
course in the water, where it had the instinct to attack sev-
eral kinds of fish and marine animals. The turtle was the
favorite object of the pursuit, and however great the size,
the fish would fix itself so firmly to the flat bottom of its
prey, that it could be drawn up to the boat by the fisherman,
only quitting its hold after it was lifted out of the water.
The fish thus used was the remora, which is very common
in southern waters.

Columbus again gained the shores of Cuba nearly one
hundred miles from Ta Cruz, where, upon landing, he was
visited by a subject of a cacique named Mangon. Upon
hearing the name of this chief Columbus immediately asso-
ciated it with that of the Mangi, about whom Mandeville


had written. The natives also informed him that in the
kingdom immediately adjoining them there lived a people
who clothed themselves in white to hide their tails, a report
identical with that which Mandeville had made concerning
the inhabitants of Mangi. Believing that he was now near
the country upon which he had placed his largest hopes,
Columbus stood westward along the unbroken coast, fre-
quently stopping to hold intercourse with the natives. Thus
proceeding across the broad Gulf of Xugua and into the
White Water Sea, peculiar to that region, the Spaniards were
greatly astonished and somewhat alarmed at seeing the ships
moving through what appeared to be an ocean of milk.

After making their way through another group of small
islands, the fleet anchored at Point Serafin, and Columbus
sent a company on shore to procure wood and water. While
lying here one of the Spaniards wandering some distance
into the forest was startled — such was his own story — by the
spirit of a being clad in a long white robe moving solemnly
along like a Druid priest. Two others came in his train,
also in white, followed by a considerable guard carrying
lances. The white-robed priest approached as if for a con-
ference, but the Spaniard was too much frightened to ascer-
tain his desire, and ran back to his companions. Upon hear-
ing this story Columbus was firm in his belief that he was
very near the kingdom of Cathay, and that ere long he
would find the civilized people of Asia to whom he thought
these white-robed persons must belong. Two companies of
soldiers were accordingly dispatched to investigate the mys-
tery. One of these came to a great plain covered with reeds
and marsh-grass growing to such a height as to hide a man
on horseback. The grass so impeded their progress that
they were obliged to turn back without discovering the
priests who had so startled the Spaniard, The other com-
pany reached a wooded country, where they found the tracks


of some monstrous creature. Their imagination at once
conceived the prodigious outlines of an impossible beast
(which in fact was probably an alligator), in whose great jaws
they would all soon perish should they seek a further explora-
tion of the interior. Without continuing their investigations
further, therefore, they returned to the coast, bringing back
no other trophy of their expedition than a large cluster of
wild grapes. The conclusion was accordingly reached by
Columbus that the so-called spectral figures which had so
alarmed the lone Spaniard were nothing more in reality than
some very tall white cranes moving on the edge of a

Once again the voyage was resumed until the coast was
reached some fifty miles further west, where communcation
was sought to be established with the people, who came off
in canoes to the ship, and whose speech was unlike that of
any of the natives with whom the Spaniards had come in
contact. In the broken communication held through the
interpreter additional hints seemed to be obtained of the
proximity of the Tartar empire. Columbus understood that
in the high-lands far to the west a great king resided. This
king was clad in white from head to foot, and was such a
holy man that he would hold no communication with those
of his kind, but gave his orders by means of signs. What
should the Admiral think but that now, indeed, he was
coming to the coast of Tartary, over whose multitudes the
magnificent Prester John sat in state, surrounded with splen-
dor and dispensing treasures to his friends? Sure enough,
in their imaginations, the Spaniards perceived the blue out-
lines of the delectable mountains rising from the western
horizon. One of the natives who had told his pleasing story
was taken along to point the way to the court of the great
Khan, and the ships proceeded to solve the mystery of the
Eastern Empire.


As the voyage continued, the mountains seemed to dis-
solve in a mist of smoke, and for many leagues the shore
was a broad sunken marsh where landing was impossible.
Beyond, the coast assumed its wonted aspect, and blue smoke
was observed curling up hither and yon in the distance, and
the shore-line of Asia was again believed to be near at hand.
Indeed, so strong were the hopes and so vivid the imagina-
tion of Columbus at this time that he seemed to see the
whole of the East stretched before him in a grand panorama,
revealing the golden Chersonese, the Ganges, the Straits of
Bab-el-mandeb, and even the Holy Land. He even con-
templated a visit to Jerusalem, and a return to Spain through
the Red and Mediterranean Seas ; but in these golden visions
the sailors had no participation ; seeing the westward trend
of the coast, they began to offer objections to a further voy-
age in that direction, since they were well spent with con-
stant exertion in keeping the ships from the reefs, which
were so numerous as to be almost impossible to wholly avoid.
Besides this, the vessels were already in a precarious con-
dition, from having been run several times on bars in making
a passage of the Queen's Gardens. Being in a leaky condi-
tion, their sails were also torn and the cables were so strained
as to be no longer trusted. Thus, notwithstanding his be-
lief that the kingdom of the great Khan was very near at
hand, Columbus was persuaded by the complaints of his
men to abandon, for the present, his undertaking to reach
that country.

As one of the chief objects, however, had been to solve
the question of the relations of Cuba to the mainland, he
decided to prepare a statement and affidavit that the country
which he had now coasted was peninsular in its character,
jutting out from the east rim of Asia. In pursuance of this
desire, Fernando Perez de Luna, notary of the expedition,
drew up such a deposition, which Avas signed not only by


Columbus but also by all the fifty officers and men compos-
ing the expedition. Though there was thus obtained a per
feet unanimity of opinion, Columbus provided that severe
penalties should be inflicted upon any one of the expedition
who should thereafter make any denial of this statement.
The punishments ranged from a fine of ten thousand mara-
vedis, in case the offender was an officer, down to a whipping
of a hundred lashes in case of a cabin boy. The place where
this statement was drawn up and compared was in the Bay
of Cortez, and, strange to say, a point from which less than
a two days' sail to the west would have brought him to the
extremity, and thus proved to his satisfaction the insular
character of Cuba ; this done, he could hardly have failed by
an easy voyage through a placid sea to. reach the true shore

Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 17 of 37)