James W. (James William) Buel.

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he sought particularly. Everywhere he inquired diligently
about the land of gold. The sight of the precious metal
exerted in him an ardent desire for it and an almost loving
eagerness. Never, perhaps, did a Christian desire gold for
a like purpose. Not being able to find some as soon as he
expected, he addressed himself to God, and besought Him
to direct him to some and to its beds."

This, while intending to present Columbus as a man pos-
sessed of the holiest ambition, actually represents him as
one of the most rapacious, venal and greedy mercenaries of
which history gives us any account. How his conscience
could conceive and defend an aspiration to purchase the
Holy Sepulcher surpasses our comprehension. Such an
ambition is a reflection upon the wisdom and power of God
Himself, who for His own reasons suffered and continues
to suffer the enemies of Christianity to hold possession of
that sacred shrine, against which seas of blood have surged
in vain. And the unholiness of his ambition is emphasized
by the cruel methods which he employed in his mad efforts
to acquire riches. The burning of villages, massacres of
defenseless natives, the inauguration of every iniquity, and
lastly the enslavement of helpless men, women and children,
until his more merciful sovereign cried out against his
cruelties, whose heart would not permit her to profit by
such inhumanities — these are some of the results of his
wanton greed, his impious lust, his worldly aspirations.
While remembering the glory of his accomplishment in dis-
covering a new world, let us not forget the ignominy of
those acts by which the inoffensive, trustful, guileless and
affectionate natives of the West Indies were converted into
slaves, and oppressed into the most debased savagery. Not
even the fanaticism of the age nor the hypocrisy of his pre-


tensions can excuse him of the crime of barbarous ferocity,
of voracious, bloodthirsty avarice, in which disposition he
was in no wise different from the members of his expedi-

Before leaving the island of Isabella, Columbus was told
of a country somewhere to the southwest which the natives
called Cuba, and upon which it was declared there was such
an abundance of gold, that a warlike people from the north
frequently invaded the country and carried off immense
quantities of that valuable metal. To this exciting recital
was added a report that there were on Cuba many large
cities ruled by powerful monarchs, and that in every respect
the country was the most delightful and the richest in all
the world. Or rather, it may be better said, that Columbus
so interpreted the signs by which communication was
carried on ; but his imagination was at all times so energetic
that he painted the most commonplace things with the
colors of fancy, and this strong ideality was constantly lead-
ing him into the by-ways of sore disappointment.

Believing implicitly in the wild romance of Cuban gran-
deur and inconceivable wealth, Columbus again spread his
sails, on the 24th of October, for the shore of that gold-
embroidered country ; but at the moment of weighing
anchor one of the interpreters, obtained at Guanahani,
leaped overboard and made his escape to shore, despite
every exertion made by four sailors in a boat to overhaul
him. Contrary w^nds also rose, followed by terrible rain-
storms, so that progress was greatly impeded. On the
third day a cluster of islands, now known as the Mucaras,
was passed, and on the succeeding day the shores of Cuba,
at a point a few miles west of where the town of Nuevitas
del Principe now stands, broke into view. The most casual
view gave conclusive indication that the land was an exten-
sive one, even continental in appearance. Bold promon-


tories distinguished the shores, and a large river was ob-
served winding its way through a rich valley and emboguing
into the ocean near the point where the shore-line was first

The ships were run into an estuary, which served as an
excellent harbor, and where an abundance of crystal-like
fresh water was obtainable, and a landing made. Immedi-
ately upon going on shore Columbus took possession of
the island (which he thought might possibly be the main-
land of Zipangu, or Cathay) in the name of the Empress
Isabella, and in honor of the heir apparent. Prince Juan, he
called the country Juanna, and the port where he landed
San Salvador.

The landing of the Spaniards had attracted the surprised
attention of many natives, who watched with anxious curi-
osity from afar the strange beings and marvelous boats that
had thus visited their shores; but they in turn were ob-
served, and also a small village of circular, conical-roofed
huts that lay half concealed in the deep shade of a luxuri-
ous forest. When the ceremony of occupation was com-
pleted, and a wooden cross set up as a mark of possession,
Columbus, with several of his men, paid a visit to the vil-
lage, which, however, was deserted upon their approach.
Entering the abandoned huts he was much disappointed to
find therein the same evidences of poverty that distinguished
the islanders of Guanahani, and with no appearances of a
better social condition. He found many fishing nets, har-
poons pointed with bone, carved pieces of wood, and swing-
ing couches made of netting which the natives called //^wm^j',
a name that survives with us in the slight change to hainmock.
Proceeding farther towards the interior Columbus found a
marvelous diversity of beauteous landscape, groves of palm
trees, abundance of bananas, a sensuous atmosphere per-
fume laden, crystal waters, and great numbers of parrots


and other beautifully-feathered birds. He was fairly over-
whelmed by the natural splendors that lay spread about
him, but while believing this must be the mainland of Asia
he could not account for the primitive character of the
people, who were evidently unacquainted with any of the
forms of civilization.

After many efforts, Columbus at length persuaded a few
of the natives to approach and receive presents from his
hands, and intercourse once established, he was quickly sur-
rounded by swarms of islanders, who manifested desire for
pacific relations by bringing quantities of fruits to the
Spaniards, as offerings of homage. By them he was told
that the country was an island, and near the center were
mountains of gold, while along the watercourses precious
pearls and stones might be found in great numbers ; that
the capital city lay not far distant and was more beautiful
than any other thing on the island. This information fired
the Spaniards with new desire, and they were all exceedingly
anxious to begin the gathering of riches which they believed
were scattered about in inconceivable profusion not many
miles distant.

In this quest for the bag of gold that lies at the foot of
the rainbow, Columbus set out with his resolute followers
in a westerly direction along the coast, until another village
was sighted at the mouth of a river, before which the squad-
ron anchored, and a visit made to the town. The inhabit-
ants fled with precipitation to the hills, leaving their visitors
in quiet possession, and they could not be induced to return
and open communication. The houses composing this vil-
lage were more pretentious in size and architectural appear-
ance than those first visited, and within them Columbus
found rudely carved efifigies and wooden visors of hideous
visage, besides harpoons, fishing nets and such other para-
phernalia as indicated the poverty and low superstitions of


the natives, but there were neither gold, silver or precious

The promise of reward being again disappointing, Co-
lumbus set his sails once more and proceeded along the
north coast until he reached an extensive headland, to
which he gave the name of Cape of Palms, and which is
but little more than one hundred miles from the southern
point of Florida. Here he met with some natives who told
him that just around the promontory a large river emptied
into the sea, while a short distance beyond, no more than
four days' journey, lay Cubanacan. At the mention of this
word Columbus was much excited, because he now believed
that the resemblance in pronunciation between this word
and Kublai Khan was evidence that he was approaching the
capital of that Cathayan monarch. Unfortunately, as was
long afterwards ascertained, the expression Cubanacan^ in
the native language, signified the center or interior of the

The anchors were weighed and the voyage of discovery
was continued, but no river was to be seen, and now, believ-
ing that he had misunderstood his informants, Columbus
returned to the mouth of the Rio delos Mares and renewed
intercourse with the natives, whom he found anxious to
barter, and pacific in disposition. In the belief that gold
abounded somewhere in the vicinity, he ordered that noth-
ing but pieces of that precious metal be accepted in ex-
change for articles which the Spaniards had to trade, but
the anxiety of the natives and the vainness of this measure
soon convinced him of the extreme scarcity of gold there-
abouts. But one Cuban was seen supporting a piece of
silver from his nose, who, becoming a great object of inter-
est, told Columbus that four days' journey in the interior
was a large city in which lived a mighty emperor, who,
having learned of the white visitors, had sent messengers


to invite them to visit his capital. This news was most en-
couraging, and that he might display the courtesies of civiliza-
tion, Columbus chose an embassy of four, composed of the
polyglot Jew, Rodrigo de Jarez, a Guanahani native, and a
Cuban guide, Avho were provided with many presents, such
as hawk-bells, glass trinkets, and a variety of other gew-
gaws. Besides the offerings, they were bearers of letters
addressed to the Grand Khan, conveying profound con-
siderations of the Spanish sovereigns, and expressions of
desire to establish amicable relations with the Asiatic poten-
tate whose kingdom Columbus believed had been reached.

During the absence of the embassy, which Columbus
knew must occupy several days, he employed the time
making careful examination of the adjacent country and its
productions. Finding the river, near which the ships were
anchored, navigable for considerable crafts, he ascended it
several miles and was rewarded by finding many valuable
woods, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, rhubarb, and, what was
more gratifying still, a tuber which the natives baked in
the fire and ate with great relish, and which the Spaniards
found delightfully palatable. This proved to be the potato
(derived from the native name batata), little valued at the
time, but, as Mr. Irving observes, " a more precious ac-
quisition to man than all the spices and pearls of the east."

The farther he proceeded, however, the more marvelous
grew the talcs of native wealth, until even the incompar-
able credulity of the Spaniards became heavily taxed. The
Indians told, with deceptive gravity, of places in the country
where people wore bracelets of gold and necklaces of fine
pearls ; but some of these marvelously rich natives, they
declared, were noted equally for their astounding aspect.
One race, living in the district of Bohio, had only a single
eye placed in the center of the forehead, and were extremely
fierce. Another people, whose principal capital was called


Kaniba, had the heads of dogs. They were not only brutal
in appearance, but even more so in disposition, for they
were cannibals and took special pleasure in drinking the
blood of their enemies. There was also an island named
Mantinino, in the midst of a large lake, inhabited by women
only, who frequently fought with men on the main shore,
and who tortured their prisoners with fiendish cruelty.

We are impressed by the similarity between these tradi-
tions and those of several Central African tribes, which are so
nearly identical that the coincidence seems to point unmis-
takably to the same origin. Can this fact be taken as an
evidence of the ancient existence of a land connection be-
tween the West Indies, South America and Africa? Is it
a link in the chain of proof that this stretch of waters was
at one time bridged by the Continent of Atlantis, as Pliny
declares ?

At the end of six days the embassy returned with a most
interesting but extremely disappointing report. They had
found the capital city, not more than thirty-six miles from
the coast, but instead of a place abounding with riches, they
discovered it to be a village composed of some fifty huts
occupied by nearly one thousand naked or half-clad people.
Instead of meeting a mighty monarch, called Kublai Khan,
by Marco Polo, they were introduced to a tall Indian chief,
whose throne was a block of wood very rudely carved, and
who could provide no better feast than cassava bread, bana-
nas, cocoanuts and water. The Jew turned his tongue to
all his vocabularies, but without success. The guide, how-
ever, was able to make himself understood and succeeded
in explaining to the chief that the Spaniards were children
descended from the sun, who were anxious to establish a
friendship with his people. By this introduction the
Cubans were made worshipers of their visitors, and after
exchanging some parrots, cotton yarn, cassava and fruits


for trinkets, several desired to accompany the embassy on
their return to the ships, but only one man and his son
were permitted this privilege.

During the interview with the native chief the ambas-
sadors observed what they regarded as a curious ceremony,
in somewise connected with religious worship : — Numbers
of the natives, young and old, carried about dried leaves
which they rolled up in the form of a tubule, and applying
fire to one end, inserted the other in the mouth, and after
sucking it they expelled great quantities of smoke. These
rolls the natives called tobago, whence is derived the word
tobacco, which the leaves thus rolled together, forming a
cigar, proved to be. Another yet more important discovery
was made in the finding of Indian corn, from which the
natives made a fairly good bread, but on account of their
inability to separate the kernel from the shell, they preferred
cassava. A transplantation of this most useful grain to
Europe quickly followed, however, and has given such
beneficent results as are only equaled by the cultivation of
the potato.

But though the Grand Khan of Columbus' imagination
turned out to be only a naked chief, and the palatial city of
the conjectured Ouainsay a miserable village of loud-smell-
ing huts, the reports of gold-abounding districts continued
to lure the avaricious sailors. The natives now declared
that somewhere towards the east was a river with banks
of golden sand, to which people came every night with
torches to gather stores of the precious deposit, which, how-
ever, was so plentiful that the gold was only valuable be-
cause of the vessels into which it might be easily wrought.
The country where this wealth of auriferous sands was to
be found the natives called Babcquc, and thither the ex-
pedition started with a covetous distraction, like that of a
boy chasing a will-o'-the-wisp over a misty bog, and with


the same disappointments. All the beauties of the island,
all its wonderful productions of forest, grove and field, all
its opportunities for colonization and the spread of Chris-
tianity, alike failed to impress these adventurers, whose lust
for gold subordinated every other ambition, and destroyed
every commendable impulse.

From the 28th of October until the 19th of November
this heartless quest for gold continued, Columbus all the
while dreaming, awake and asleep, of mountains of the pre-
cious metal which he would presently find and therefrom
load his vessels for an offering to the Spanish sovereigns.
But when disappointment after disappointment finally began
to corrode his hopes and dispel the illusions of his imagina-
tion, he grew morose, and this sullenness of disposition
also seized upon Alonzo Pinzon, who separated his vessel,
the Pinta, from her companions, in order to make an
independent search for the valleys, streams and moun-
tains of gold which they had been unable to find while
sailing together. But he was no more successful, and
in rejoining the expedition, excused his act of desertion by
declaring that he had been separated from the Saiita Maria
and Nifia by storms that had violently driven the vessels
after their departure from the anchorage before the river Rio
de Mares.

In his chagrin at the failures which attended his many
efforts to find the gold which the islanders declared so often
lay just a little way beyond, Columbus decided to seize
several natives, choosing the most comely maidens and
young men, and carry them back to Spain as specimens of
the race occupying the new world of his discovery. In
order to do this he had to violate all natural rights, but
this gave small concern to Spanish conscience, and from
this initial step the enslavement of these powerless, hospi-
table and kindly natives directly followed.


Columbus continued for several days along the coast of
Cuba, naming the capes and bays that he passed, until the
19th of November, when the Pinta deserted him during a
serious storm, and he put into the estuary of St. Catharine
for safety. Here he seems to have been recalled from his
avaricious contemplation to a consideration of the beauties
which were spread around him in a boundless prodigality
of efflorescence — flower, fruit and forest ; a marvelous
versatility of nature — rippling streams, leaping cascades,
warbling birds of iris-wing, emerald lands, skies of azure,
clouds barred with gold, soothingly sensuous air, and all
the delights that a blessed clime can afTord. In making re-
port of the country about this harbor to Ferdinand and
Isabella, Columbus says : " I often say to m.y people that,
much as I endeavor to give a complete account of it to
your Majesties, my tongue cannot express the whole truth,
nor my pen describe it ; and I have been so overwhelmed
at the sight of so much beauty that I have not known how
to relate it." So proceeding, he dwells upon the trans-
parency of the waters, how the most exquisite shells could
be seen at five fathoms depth, lying like jewels of Neptune
on the pearly sands that formed the ocean's floor, and then
tells of gigantic forest trees, the trunk of one being formed
into a canoe capable of carrying one hundred and fifty per-

After thus spending three days in a delightful examination
of the coast about his anchorage, which he named Puerto
Santo (Holy Port), Columbus again sailed eastward to the
extreme limit of Cuba, and named the point Alpha-and-
Omega. Instead of continuing around the island and direct-
ing his course southwesterly, which would have brought
him, in a sail of one hundred and thirty miles, to the shores
of Yucatan and thus the continent, he doubled the eastern
extremity of Cuba, but turned directly eastward again until


another island burst upon his vision, which in his enraptured
state he beHeved must be Babeque, or Bohio, the land of
gold. But the natives whom he had seized exhibited the
gravest alarms, for here they declared was the land of can-
nibals, of dog-headed men, of cyclops and other monstrosi-
ties and terrors, which would devour any one that had the
temerity to land upon their shores. No alarms, however,
were great enough to repress the enthusiasm of Columbus
and his followers, whose thirst for gold rendered them in-
sensible to all dangers, but on account of adverse winds a
landing was not effected until two days after the coast was
first sighted.

The new land which rose before the Spaniards was the
beautiful island now known as Hayti, or San Domingo,
w^hich they, on closer observation, perceived to be marvel-
ously picturesque. The mountains in the central part rose
to such a height as to be plainly visible from the sea, and
from these fell away verdant foot-hills, which in turn faded
into lovely valleys clothed with a luxuriant vegetation.
Here and there Columbus detected columns of slowly rising
smoke, indicative of an industrial community thriving off
the abundant harvest yields of a highly-favored country.

The two ships were put into a capacious harbor, large
enough to accommodate a fleet of many hundred sail, to
which he gave the name St. Nicholas, and by which des-
ignation it is still known, and which in 1893 was acquired
by the United States from the government of Hayti for a
coaling station.

Upon going on shore Columbus found the island well
peopled, and several towns, some of considerable size, were
visited, but the inhabitants took flight on the approach of
the Spaniards. The country was well cultivated, and the
roads connecting villages were in good condition, so that
with orchards, gardens, fields of grain, houses of a fair con-


struction, there were abundant evidences attesting the
great superiority of these natives over their Cuban neighbors.
But they were surprisingly timid, notwithstanding their
reputation for fierceness, and being unable for this reason to
open intercourse with them, Columbus sent a company to
pursue and bring to him some of the people, who had
abandoned their villages and taken refuge among the
mountains. Diligent search for these refugees at length
resulted in the capture of one woman, who was entirely
naked, but wore a gold pendant in her nose. The Admiral
received his prisoner with signs of regard, and after provid-
ing her with clothes, gave her presents of hawk's bells and
other gewgaws, which soon won her thankful admiration
and made her condition such a pleasant one that she pro-
fessed no desire to return to her people. But Columbus
placed her in charge of nine Spaniards and one Cuban in-
terpreter, who conducted her to the village where she lived,
which was some fifteen miles in the interior, with the view
of using her to open negotiations with the natives. The
town contained about one thousand huts and probably six
or seven thousand people, but even this large population
was terrified by the sight of white men, and all decamped
with precipitation towards the hills. After great patience
and many efforts, the woman and the interpreter induced
some of the boldest to return, who, being conducted to the
presence of the Spaniards, exhibited every sign of worship-
ful awe. The woman's husband was among the first to ap-
proach, through her persuasions, and it was amusing to see
his demonstrations of amazement at the clothes and orna-
ments with which his proud wife was invested.

The confidence of the Indians was at length obtained,
and they conducted their visitors in great state to the best
houses of the town, where a splendid banquet, of cassava
bread, fish, bananas and other native products was provided.


After this introductory ceremony the freest intercourse
prevailed. Columbus observes that the islanders now dis-
missed their fears and began to exhibit their generous in-
stincts by presenting the Spaniards with everything they
thought might be desired by their visitors. They appeared
to have no knowledge of values, for their gifts were made
as if the act of giving afforded great pleasure. Their man-
ner of life was innocent in the highest degree, as during the
whole time the Spaniards spent among the natives, not a
single act of violence or treachery was observed. It was
also evident that there was a confraternity of interest
among them, since each was willing to share with his neigh-
bor whatever he had, exacting no equivalent, and in all
respects exhibiting, by word and deed, a common brother-
hood not found to exist among so-called Christian people.
Among them, also, the sacredness of the marriage relation
was observed, and monogamy prevailed, except that chiefs
were permitted to take a plurality of wives, the limit being
twenty. There being no division of property, or separation
of interests, the harmony of their relations was never broken,
and no disturbances of any character afiflicted these inno-
cent and peace-loving natives, save occasional invasions
of other islanders, which was followed by temporary dis-

But while Columbus found Hayti, or Hispaniola, to be a
most fertile island, and inhabited by a prosperous and con-
tented people with whom he had inaugurated a pleasant

Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 37)