James W. (James William) Buel.

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manifested his deep concern for the welfare of his visitors,
so that he completely dispelled all suspicions which Colum-
bus had formerly entertained.

The population of Hispaniola at this time was variously
estimated at from five hundred thousand to a million, a
number sufficiently great to more than compensate for the
poor weapons with which they had to make the attack.
They were naked as to their bodies, having no defensive
armor, while their weapons extended no further than a
hardened shaft of wood pointed with bone, which served
the purpose of a lance, and in the matter of discipline they
were barbarians. But they were very courageous, and hav-


ing great confidence in the superiority of numbers, they
made bold to attack the Spaniards even in their defenses.
In going to battle the natives advanced in a disorganized
body, every Avarrior being allowed to direct his own attack
from such covert as he might find.

Though something was to be feared from the mere pres-
sure of numbers, the Spaniards might in other respects
smile at the puny rage of these naked men of the forest as
they howled from the thickets and discharged their harm-
less darts. Caonabo was, by general consent, commandant
of the native force, and besides being at the head of the
most powerful tribe on the island, he possessed many spe-
cial qualities, chief of which were courage and sagacity, and
with effective weapons he would have been a formidable
antagonist. He had not failed to note the dissipated and
wretched bands of Margarite's army, which had been de-
stroyed or expelled by the inhabitants of the towns on his
borders, and he now naturally directed his attention to
Fort St Thomas, which he knew to be poorly defended,
and determined to assault and destroy that place, as he had
done La Natividad. At the head of ten thousand men he
advanced cautiously to the vicinity of the fort, expecting
to surprise the garrison and overwhelm them before they
were able to make preparations to receive him. But in this
he was fatally deceived. The command of the fort had
been intrusted to Ojeda, who was not likely to be caught
off his guard, for of all men among the Spaniards he was
the most alert, intrepid and active. Discovering before he
made his attack that the garrison was ready to receive him,
Caonabo changed his tactics, and instead of attempting to
carry it by assault, contented himself with surrounding the
fort with the hope of compelling it to yield through

This siege continued for a month, and brought the Span-


iards to such great distress that they were compelled to
resort to every expedient in order to obtain supplies.
Occasional sorties were made by Ojeda, by which a few
provisions were procured, but the main dependence of the
garrison was in the assistance brought to them by friendly
Indians, who managed on many occasions to smuggle in
small supplies of food. A characteristic anecdote is pre-
served of the coming in of one of the friendly Indians with
two wood-pigeons for Ojeda. When they were given to
him some of the ofificers looked wistfully at the birds as
though they would devour them alive. Thereupon Ojeda
took the pigeons to a window and tossing them forth into
the air, said, " It's a pity there isn't enough for all of us."
It is plain that such a character as this would not easily
succumb to any of the harsh conditions which the siege
might impose. This long delay also affected the hostile
Indians, who, observing how futile had been the results of
the siege, began to desert, until at the expiration of a
month Caonabo's forces were so much reduced in numbers
that he decided to retire from the country. But his ill suc-
cess in the long effort to destroy the Spaniards at Fort St.
Thomas abated none of his determination to visit a suf-
ficient punishment upon his aggressors, and accordingly
Caonabo retired into the country and for a season used all
his efforts in centralizing the power of the several chiefs,
whose consent he at length obtained to make a demonstra-
tion against the colony at Isabella. A league having thus
been formed, Caonabo made an examination of the sur-
roundings of Isabella, and found that an attack on that
place might be made with every promise of success. The
garrison was small and the fort was nothing like so strong
as that at Fort St. Thomas, besides Caonabo had every
reason to believe that the commandant possessed little of
the skill and bravery of Ojeda. But the expectations of


Caonabo were yet a long ways from realization. He found
directly that even the promises of the chiefs themselves
might not be implicitly relied on, while Guacanagari was a
constant menace to the success of his plans. Columbus
was duly apprised of the intentions of the natives, and
adopted the most energetic measures to repel and break up
the Indian confederacy. His first step was to make sure
of the condition of his three forts in the Vega Real, after
which, through some influential Indians, he succeeded in
opening communications with Guarionex, who had joined
the league with some misgivings. While not succeeding
in securing his assistance, he obtained a promise that in
case of hostilities he would maintain a neutral attitude.
But Columbus was not content with the bare promise of the
chief, and in order to bind him to a performance of his
agreement Columbus sought the daughter of the cacique
and gave her in marriage to his interpreter, Diego, the
Guanahanian. He also obtained the consent of the chief
to build a fortress in his territory, to which the name of
Fort Conception was given. This gave the Spaniards an
advantage which they were not slow to appreciate.

By this time Columbus had come to believe that a great
part of the strength of the confederation lay in Caonabo
himself, and it was evident that that great chieftain fur-
nished the energy, the spirit and the warlike skill of the
whole movement. It therefore seemed essential that by
some means, fair or foul, Caonabo should be captured.
This, however, was no easy task, whether by force or by
stratagem. Yet the situation was precisely of the kind to
evoke the adventurous spirit and genius of Ojcda. That
captain, after considering the nature of the thing to be
done, volunteered to kidnap Caonabo and to bring him a
prisoner to the Admiral. From the very nature of things
such an enterprise was more easily conceived than accom-


pHshed. But Ojcda was equal to the emergency, and with
a small company of horsemen he sallied forth into the terri-
tories of Caonabo, bent upon his desperate enterprise. In
the meantime, by some means which history has not made
sufficiently plain, Ojeda had succeeded in establishing some
friendly relations with Caonabo, whose admiration might
possibly have been excited by the resolute resistance with
which that brave Spaniard had met the attack of the over-
whelming force of natives at Fort St. Thomas.

At all events, it is declared that Ojeda went into the ter-
ritory of Caonabo under the cover of friendship, and upon
his approaching in the character of an ambassador he was
readily permitted to enter the chief's village. Ojeda had
formed his plans with his usual skill in warfare, his idea
being to gain the chieftain's confidence and then to allure
him by some specious promises to Isabella, where he might
be seized and confined. He first tried the stratagem of the
bell. The Spaniards of the colony had erected a small
chapel and placed a bell in the steeple, which as good
Catholics they were constantly ringing. The music of this
resonant monitor rang out on the morning air and fell on
the astonished ears of the natives. In answer to their ex-
pressions of surprise they were told that the bell was calling
the people to prayers. So the myth was scattered abroad
that the metallic voice in the steeple was a living thing — ^^
a spirit that could cry out and summon the Spaniards to
worship. Great, therefore, was the fame of this bell, a delu-
sion which Ojeda encouraged by adding many embellish-
ments, until the interest of the natives was thoroughly
aroused. And he finally told Caonabo that if he would re-
pair to Isabella and make a treaty of friendship with the
Admiral he should have the marvelous bell as a present for
himself. His desire was so great to possess this wondrous
relic that Caonabo took the bait, though warily. He made


Ills preparations to visit the Spanish colony, but called a
large body of his best warriors to go with him. When
Ojeda protested that this was not necessary the cacique re-
plied that it would be unbecoming in him as a king to go
about the country without the company of a royal guard.

Perceiving what might be the result of an attempt to
seize Caonabo when surrounded by a large body of native
soldiery, Ojeda abandoned this first scheme and adopted
another equally bold expedient. Believing that he might
have need of such instruments, Ojeda had taken with him
into the Indian country some manacles, or handcuffs, which
the Spaniards humorously called espousas, or " wives."
This significant apparatus was made of brass and steel, pol-
ished to perfect brightness. These Ojeda displayed one
day to Caonabo, and when the cacique inquired about them
he was informed that they were a kind of ornament which,
in the country across the ocean, were worn only by kings
and queens. Such jewelry, he was told, the monarchs of
Castile always wore when they went to bathe, or to dance,
or to preside at festivals. Having thus excited both his
interest and desire, he finally told Caonabo that as a token
of honor he himself might wear them when they went to
the river for his bath ; that the cacique should play Spanish
king, and he, Ojeda, would show him how it was done. In
such a proposition Caonabo could discover no ground of
suspicion. He accordingly accepted the invitation and the
manacles were adjusted to his wrists. When the bath was
finished, Ojeda courteously assisting, the cacique was told
that the Spanish king on such occasions always mounted
behind one of his courtiers after the bath and thus rode
triumphantly back to his palace ; but it was the custom of
Spain that the courtier should direct his horse in circles,
like the flight of a bird. To all these things consenting,
the cacique was mounted behind Ojeda on the back of a


very fine and fleet horse, and putting spurs to the animal,
they began to circle round and round, Ojeda at the same
time giving the signal to the Spaniards who had accom-
panied him to mount. He made the circles larger and
larger, for that was no doubt the way the King of Castile did
on such occasions ! At length, however, when the curve of
the comedy swung out near the edge of the woods, the
tangential force became too great for Ojeda, and putting
spurs to his horse, he struck away with his prisoner at full
gallop into the forest.

The Spanish troop continued its flight through villages,
fighting and charging, swam rivers, plunged through thick-
ets, and by this fierce riding brought back in triumph to
Isabella the astonished and humiliated Caonabo. Strange
enough, the rage of the cacique was directed not against
Ojeda whose skill in war and exploit he regarded as the
most marvelous things in history, but rather against the
Admiral, who he declared had acted in the most cowardly
manner by keeping himself within his borders while his
brave captain had gone forth and by adroitness had made
prisoner a king.

Caonabo was placed in confinement in a room of the Ad-
miral's own house, and was treated for the time with the
distinction and courtesy usually accorded to royal prisoners.
But notwithstanding this considerate treatment and the
fact that the head of the confederacy was now in confine-
ment, the duplicity by which he was taken aroused the
subjects of Caonabo to still greater hostility. During his
captivity a league of the three principal caciques was con-
solidated under a brother of the captive king who had now
become cacique in his stead. War alarms began to be
sounded in nearly all parts of the island, and in an incredi-
bly short time an army of seven thousand Indians advanced
against Fort St. Thomas. But Ojeda, learning of the move-


ment and anticipating the prospects of another siege, in-
creased his force by a detachment sent to him by Bartholo-
mew Columbus, who had received an appointment as Lieu-
tenant-Governor, and boldly marched forth to give them
battle. By forced marches he came upon the Indians when
they were least expecting his presence, and fell upon them
with such fury that the natives were quickly routed and
driven in all directions before the charge of the cavalry.

In the meantime affairs at Isabella had greatly improved
by the arrival of four caravels under the command of
Antonio de Torres, bringing a good supply of provisions,
medicines, clothing and merchandise, and also several
artisans very needful in the present condition of the colony.
As for the Admiral, he was particularly delighted by the
receipt of a package of documents from their Majesties, in
which among other things were some letters filled with ex-
pressions of regard and high compliment. His whole course
of management was heartily approved, and the pleasing
intelligence was conveyed that all serious difficulties with
the Crown of Portugal, which were pending at the time of
Columbus' last departure, had been adjusted, with a com-
promise involving a new line of division. To determine
the true place of the line the sovereigns thought it ex-
pedient that Columbus should return to Europe, bringing
his charts with him, but in case he could not conveniently
leave the colony he was instructed to send some one in his
stead. In compliance with this request of the King and
Queen, the Admiral, who could not leave the colony in its
present condition, commissioned Diego Columbus to return
to Spain and aid their Majesties in the settlement of their
business with the Portuguese Court.

Other things more important than the matters referred to
in their Majesties' communication concerned Columbus and
made it very important that he should dispatch a repre-


sentative to the Spanish Court to counteract the influence
of Margarite and Buyl, who were now making their way
across the Atlantic to falsely represent the Admiral's ad-
ministration in the Indies. Columbus knew well that as
soon as these unscrupulous but able messengers of mischief
should reach the Spanish Court they would exert them-
selves to the utmost to destroy his place in the affections
and confidence of the sovereigns. He therefore determined
to follow up the emissaries of evil with an embassy in his
own interests.

Ships were at once prepared for a home-bound voyage,
and the Eagle was dispatched not only as the bearer of the
charts requested, but with the Admiral's representative in
the affairs which now so deeply concerned him. Columbus
took pains to send home a large contribution of gold, as
great as he could procure, and other metals were added as an
evidence of the mineral wealth of Hispaniola. The viceroy
was also able to supply many new specimens of plants and
animals, some of which were of value and all of interest.
Finally he ordered forth and sent on board the ships nearly
five hundred Indian captives, to be sold as slaves in the
markets of Spain. Doubtless he thought by this means,
even against the recent admonition of the sovereigns to
" find some other way," to add so much to the Spanish
treasury that the inhumanity of the enterprise would be
overshadowed by the profit. It may be said, in extenuation
of this act, that slavery and the slave trade were the every-
day and well-approved vices of all Christian states, and that
only a few loftier minds had in those ages of cruelty and
gloom perceived the atrocity and horror of the system.

After the departure of his fleet Columbus was left to
consider and solve the local complications of his govern-
ment. It directly appeared that the decisive defeat of the
natives by Ojeda had by no means ended their hostility.


Caonabo had several brothers, all of whom became more
active than ever in exciting the Indians and forming con-
federations. A powerful influence was also exerted by
Anacaona, the favorite wife of the captive king, who freely
circulated among the tribes, like Boadicea among the
Britons, encouraging the caciques to renew the war. So suc-
cessful were her efforts, joined with those of the cacique's
brothers, that all the native princes except Guacanagari
and Guarionex were brought into a league by which an army
estimated at a hundred thousand men was collected for a
final struggle with the Spaniards. This large force was
under the command of Manicaotex, one of the brothers of
Caonabo, a warlike and able general who had some skill in
arranging and controlling the warriors in battle. This vast
force had already gathered and set out for the southern part
of the island to attack Isabella, wdien information of the
impending avalanche was brought to Columbus by Guacan-
agari. The Admiral, though his bodily powers were not
yet fully restored, immediately prepared for the onset. He
was able to bring into the field only two hundred crossbow-
men and arquebusiers and twenty cavalrymen, but as allies
he had in his service a great number of the men of Guacan-
agari, though in such an emergency reliance could be
placed only on the mailed, heavily-armed and well-disci-
plined soldiers. Another element of strength, or rather of
ferocity and terror, was added to the equipment, in the way
of twenty bloodhounds, whose malign instincts made them
as desperate in fight as so many enraged tigers.

Columbus himself took the field, with his brother Bar-
tholomew as his chief commander. Both had skill and
courage in war, and though the enemy was a host and the
Spaniards but a handful, the commanders little doubted the
result of the conflict. Says Irving :

"The whole sound and effective force that he could


muster, however, in the present infirm state of the colony
did not exceed two hundred infantry and twenty horse.
They were armed with crossbows, swords, lances, and
espingardas, or heavy arquebuses, which in those days were
used with rests and sometimes mounted on wheels. With
these formidable weapons a handful of European warriors
cased in steel and covered with bucklers were able to cope
with thousands of naked savages. They had aid of another
kind, however, consisting of twenty bloodhounds, animals
scarcely less terrible to the Indians than the horses, and
infinitely more fatal. They were fearless and ferocious ;
nothing daunted them, nor when they had once seized upon
their prey could anything compel them to relinquish their
hold. The naked bodies of the Indians offered no defense
against their attacks. They sprang on them, dragged them
to the earth and tore them to pieces."

Advancing from Isabella, the small army made its way to
the mountain region over which lay the Pass of the Hidal-
gos. The Indian forces advanced from the southwest
across the Vega, while the Spaniards came down from the
opposite side to the plain. The battlefield was near the
present site of the town of St. Jago. Here, on the 29th of
March, 1495, the opposing armies came in sight of each
other and prepared for the conflict. Small as were his
forces, Columbus divided his army into several detachments
of thirty or forty men, so as to extend as much as he could
his lines from right to left. It was by far the most serious
situation which had yet appeared in the relations of the two
races in the New World.

The Spaniards, without waiting to be attacked, sounded
their trumpets, beat their drums, discharged their murderous
arquebuses, and rushed forward to the attack. It was
imposssible that the warriors, however numerous, could
withstand the assault wherever it fell. Ojeda's troop of


cavalry galloped at full speed with drawn swords among the
thickest aggregations of the enemy, and cut them down as
a mower might lay the grass. To all this havoc was added
the terrible work of the bloodhounds, which rushed upon
the Indians and tore them to pieces. The spectacle was
appalling. For a short time along the front line there was
nothing but butchery, and there was more likelihood that
the Spaniards would be exhausted from the over-exertion of
killing than that they would receive injury from the barba-
rians. Of course such work could not long be borne. The
Indians gave way before the assault and fled in all directions.
Terror supervened, and the wretched creatures, panic-
stricken before the charging cavalry, the raging blood-
hounds and the thundering arquebuses, taking themselves
to flight, hid in the woods and thickets or climbed into
trees and rocky places of the cliffs, from which they im-
mediately began to set up piteous cries and make signs of
submission. Before nightfall the work was done. The
confederacy was utterly broken up. Nor was it likely that
any great concerted effort would any more be made to
exterminate the terrible foreigners who had got their relent-
less grip on the island. It only remained for Columbus to
dictate what terms he would to the conquered tribes and
make the most of his victory.

For a while after the battle the Admiral remained in the
field, marching from place to place through a wide range of
territory, visiting the towns and receiving the submission of
the caciques. The expedition was tn terrort^m. Ojeda with
his company of cavalry dashed hither and yon through the
provinces, and all opposition quailed before him. Guari-
onex was the first to make peace. Soon Manicaotex was
humbled and brought to submission. As for Behechio and
Anacaona, their place was in the long peninsula which
reaches out, like the left arm of a, from the south-


west shoulder of the island. The situation was the most
inaccessible of all, and this cacique and his warlike sister
were correspondingly haughty and unsubdued.

For a time a measure of independence was retained by the
natives of this part of the island ; but in all other parts the
conquest was complete and final. Guacanagari had already
accepted for himself and his people the position of vassals
under the viceroy's government. It only remained for the
latter to assess upon the conquered the damages of war ;
and this he proceeded to do in a manner that might well
give a hint of the terrible exactions and tyrannies and cruel
grindings to which the native races of Spanish America were
soon to be subjected by their conquerors.


Sordid ambition, greed, unappeasable avarice, consti-
tuted the ruling passions of the Spaniards, to which other
unholy aspirations were added as the outgrowths of oppor-
tunity. It is an easy and natural descent for the covetous
from whom are removed the restraints that keep in curb the
basest natures of man, to become the voluptuary, and under
the license which savage life affords, it is not surprising that
even the hidalgos, born in luxury, should fall into excesses
from which, under better influences, they would have re-
coiled. Columbus has not been accused of succumbing to
these evil temptations, but though he may have been at
times inspired by pious emotions, and was sincere in his de-
sire to extend Christianity among the islanders, it is a lam-
entable fact that the avarice in his nature predominated to
such an extent as to blunt his sense of justice and place him
on an equality with the greed-besotted subjects who shared
his fortunes.

The one centralizing ambition of all who had any part in
the expeditions was to acquire gold. If Columbus enter-
tained aspirations different from all others associated in his
enterprise, it was because he had not been tainted by con-
tact with the rich before conceiving his grand project. But
the most truly pious cannot remain long insensible to the
effects of aggrandizement, and the most humble nature is
not proof against the pride that rises with its own exalta-
tion. The motives of Ferdinand and Isabella became by
the most natural corollary the motives of Columbus, not only

• 265


to gratify the sovereign will, whose favors it was policy to
court, but to satisfy a longing created by his own environ-
ment. And thus it was that his own heart beat respon-
sive to the one supreme desire that craved gold, gold, gold !

Under existing circumstances it was positively necessary

Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 19 of 37)