FROM THE SPANISH OF DON MANUEL JOSE QUINTANA
VASCO NUÑEZ DE BALBOA
(1475 - 1519)
Twelve years had elapsed since the discovery of the Terra Firma of America by Columbus, yet hitherto Spain had not formed there any permanent establishment. That great navigator, who, in 1498, first visited and surveyed the new continent by the coasts of Paria and Cumana, intended four years later to fix a colony in Veraguà, but the imprudence of his companions, and the invincible ferocity of the Indians, deprived him of this glory, and the colonists forsook the enterprise from its very commencement, abandoning its completion to more persevering adventurers.
Previously, in 1501, Roger de Bastidas had visited the coasts of Cumana and Cartagena, without any thought of colonizing, and only intent on a peaceable traffic with the natives. Afterwards Alonso de Ojeda, a more celebrated adventurer than Bastidas, the companion of Columbus, and distinguished amongst his countrymen for his bold and determined character, likewise visited the same shores, and contracted with the Indians, though he could not accomplish his object of establishing himself in the Gulf of Urabá, which had been already discovered by Bastidas. Nevertheless, the obstacles he experienced in his two first attempts, did not damp his resolution, and he tried his fortune a third time.
He and Diego de Nicuesa were at once authorized by Ferdinand the Catholic to establish colonies and governments on the coast of America, appointing, as the limits of their respective jurisdictions, to Ojeda from Cape de la Vela to the middle of the Gulf of Urabá, and to Nicuesa from thence to the Cape of “Gracias a Dios”.
The two expeditions sailed from Spain, and afterwards from St Domingo, nearly at the same time. Ojeda took the lead, and, on landing in Cartagena, lost, in different encounters with the Indians, several of his companions, which determined him to sail for the Gulf, from whence he endeavored to discover the river Darien, celebrated already for the riches it was reported to possess; but not succeeding, Ojeda resolved on founding a town, which he called St Sebastian, on the heights to the east of the bay, the second which had been raised by the hands of Europeans on the American continent. Its fate was but too likely to resemble that of the former. The Spaniards, without provisions for any long subsistence, destitute of patience, and unaccustomed to the labors of cultivation, could only maintain themselves by incursions, a resource at once uncertain and hazardous, for the Indians of the country, naturally fierce and warlike not only defended themselves, in most with advantage, but, that rendered terrible by their poisoned arrows, they were continually assailing them, scarcely leaving them a moment's repose. Their necessaries were consumed, their numbers diminished by fatigue and hunger, and the survivors, disheartened and dejected, foresaw no termination to their miseries but death, nor any mode of shunning this fatal but flight. Ojeda's sole hope rested on the arrival of Martin Fernandez de Enciso, a lawyer associated with the expedition, whom he had left in the Island of Hispaniola, preparing a vessel to follow him. Enciso, however, did not arrive, and the Castellans, discontented and mutinous, insisted on their captain adopting some measure for their relief.
He agreed at length to go himself in search of the expected succor, leaving in command during his absence, or until the arrival of Enciso, that Francisco Pizarro, who became subsequently so glorious and terrible, by his discovery and conquest of the regions of the South.
Ojeda gave his word to return within fifteen days, and told them that if he did not return within that period, they might disperse and bestow themselves wheresoever they pleased.
On this agreement he embarked for Hispaniola, but lost his way and was driven into Cuba, and by a series of adventures, whose detail does not belong to this place, he passed at length to Santo Domingo, where, in the course of a few years, he died poor and miserable.
Meanwhile, the Spaniards of St Sebastian, seeing the fifty stipulated days elapse without the appearance of any succor, resolved to embark in two brigantines and return to Hispaniola. The two hundred who first set sail with Ojeda, now were reduced to sixty, but even this number could not be contained in the barks, and they were compelled to wait yet, till famine and wretchedness should make a still farther reduction, and this melancholy object was soon accomplished, when they immediately embarked. The sea, instantly swallowed one of these vessels.
The terrified Pizarro took refuge in Cartagena, and had scarcely entered the port, when he descried at a distance the vessel of Enciso, accompanied by a brigantine, bearing towards him - he awaited them, and Enciso, to whom by title, Alcalde Mayor, which he held of Ojeda, the command belonged, in the absence of that chief, assumed it, and resolved on steering immediately for Urabá; but those unhappy men at first refused to face, a second time, the toils and sufferings from which they had fled. Enciso, however, partly by authority, partly by dint of promises and presents, overcame their repugnance. He carried with him a hundred and fifty men, twelve mares, some horses, arms, and a good provision of necessaries, but they only arrived at Urabá, to learn, by new misfortunes, the enmity of that soil to Europeans. The vessel of Enciso ran on a shoal, and was instantly dashed in pieces, losing, with exception of the men who escaped naked, nearly the whole of its freight. They found the fortress and houses they had formerly built, reduced to ashes.
The Indians, rendered bold by their own advantages and the weakness of their enemies, awaited and attacked them with such audacity and arrogance, as left no hope either of peace or conquest; the Spaniards renewed their clamors to return to Spain. “Let us”, said they, “leave this hostile coast, from whence, sea and land, the skies and the inhabitants, unite to repulse us”. No words were heard but such as were dictated by despondency, nor any counsels, but those of pusillanimity and flight. A second time they were on the point of abandoning the establishment, and, probably, for ever, when, in that general consternation, a man stepped forth, whose language rekindled in their hearts new stunts and new hopes, and who afterwards, by his power and talents, gave consistency and lustre to the vacillating colony. “I remember”, said Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, “that some years ago, passing by this coast on a voyage of discovery with Rodrigo de Bastidas, we entered this gulf, and disembarked on its western shore, where we found a great river, and saw on its opposite bank a town, seated in a flourishing and abundant region, and inhabited by people who do not poison their arrows”. These words seemed to restore them from death to life, and to inspire them all with new courage; to the number of 100 they followed Enciso and Balboa, leaped into the brigantines, crossed the Gulf, and explored the opposite coast for the friendly land, which had been announced to them. The river, the place, and the country, appeared such as Vasco Nuñez had described to them; and the town was immediately occupied by the adventurers, as the Indians, who had placed their best effects and their families in safety, did not attempt to attack them, but took post on a rock, where they courageously awaited them.
The Indians consisted of about 500 warriors, at whose head was Cemaco, their Cacique, a resolute and intrepid man, disposed to defend his land to extremity, against that horde of invaders. The Spaniards began to doubt the result of the battle, and commending themselves to Heaven, offered, in case of victory, to dedicate the town, which they proposed building in that country, to Santa Maria de la Antigua, a greatly venerated image in Seville. Enciso also made them all swear to maintain each his post, even to death; and, having taken every precaution that circumstances admitted, gave the signal for battle. With loud shouts and terrible impetuosity they rushed upon the Indians, who received them with no less spirit, but the Spaniards combated with the force of desperation, and their superiority in point of arms prevented the fortune of the conflict from remaining long in doubt; it was terminated by the slaughter and flight of the terrified Indians.
The Spaniards, elate with their triumph, entered the town, where they found many ornaments of fine gold, abundance of provisions, and a great store of cotton vestments. They next explored the country, and discovered, amongst the reeds and canes of the river, the precious effects which the Indians had hidden, and having taken captive the few natives who had not escaped, took tranquil possession of the town. Enciso next sent for the Spaniards whom he had left on the eastern side of the Gulf, and, full of hope and excitement, his followers betook themselves to the foundation of the town, which, in fulfillment of their vow before the battled was called, Santa Maria la Antigua of Darién.
The conduct of Enciso, at the commencement, did no discredit to the command and authority he exercised; yet 12,000 pieces of gold, the amount of the spoil taken by the Spaniards, had excited in their breasts a spirit of covetousness, and an ardent expectation and desire of gain; and his imprudent prohibition, on pain of death, that any one should traffic with the Indians, most strangely interfered with the strongest passions of his band of adventurers. “He is a miser”, said they, “who covets for himself all the fruit of our efforts, and abuses, to our prejudice, an authority to which he has no just claim. Placed, as we are, beyond the limits assigned to Ojedas jurisdiction, his command as Alcalde Mayor, is become null, together with our obligation to obedience”. The individual most distinguished in these murmurs was Vasco Nuñez, for whom the opportune translation of the colony had gained credit, among the boldest and most influential of his companions. The majority, therefore, resolved to deprive Enciso of the command, to establish a municipal government, to form a chapter, create magistrates, name judges; and, proceeding to election, the scales of justice were allotted to Martin Zamudio and Balboa.
The adventurers, meanwhile, were not entirely contented with this adjustment. Enciso's party continued to urge that they should never succeed without a head, and required that he should still be their chief; their opponents argued, on the other hand, that as they were then within the jurisdiction of Diego de Nicuesa, he should be sent for, and that they should place themselves under his command; while a third, and yet more powerful party, insisted that the government which had been formed was good, and that, in case of the adoption of a single chief, they could not follow a better leader than Balboa.
They were engaged in these debates, when they were suddenly surprised by the repeated sound of guns, which echoed from the eastern side of the Gulf, and were succeeded by the appearance of gusts of smoke, such as are used for signals, and to which they replied in like manner. Shortly after this arrived Diego Enriquez de Colmenares, who, with two vessels freighted with provisions, arms, and ammunition, and with sixty men, had quitted Spain in search of Diego de Nicuesa. Driven by storms on the coast of Santa Marta, where the Indians had killed several of his companions, he, with the remainder, descended the Gulf of Urabá, in hope of gaining intelligence of Nicuesa, and as he found none of the followers of Ojeda on the spot where he expected them, he determined, by firing his guns and making signals by smoke, to endeavor to obtain an answer; the return of his signals from the Darien directed his course to Antigua, where, nobody being able to satisfy his enquiry into the fate of Nicuesa, he agreed to remain, and divide amongst the colonists the provisions and arms he had brought with him. This act of liberality gained him universal favor, and he had soon sufficient influence in the town to win over the majority to the opinion of those, who demanded Nicuesa for their leader. This was soon afterwards decreed by the council, and Colmenares himself, together with Diego de Albitez and Diego de Corral, were the deputed messengers; they immediately embarked, and directed their course to the coast of Veraguas, in pursuit of Nicuesa.
With five ships and two brigantines, and about 800 men, had this discoverer quitted St Domingo, very soon, as we have said above, after the departure of Ojeda. On arriving in Cartagena, he assisted the latter in his conflicts with the Indians, and they afterwards separated, in order to take possession of their respective governments. The various adventures, and the fatal disasters, which befell the unfortunate Nicuesa, as soon as he began to coast the regions subject to his command, form a narrative, at once most melancholy and most terrible, and which offers a dreadful warning to human advance and rashness. Those events, however, do not lull within the compass of our story, and it suffices to say, that of that powerful armament, which seemed able to give laws to the isthmus of America, and to all the neighboring countries, at the end of a few months only sixty men were left, who, lingering miserably at Nombre de Dios, six leagues from Portobello, momentarily expected death, in a state of utter despondency, all hope of relief having abandoned them. Such was their situation, when Colmenares arrived with the message he brought from Darien for Nicuesa. They now believed that Heaven, weary of persecuting them, and appeased by their sufferings, had opened a way for their relief, but misfortune or imprudence still opposed their hopes, and this unforeseen summons proved, in the end, the fatal snare by means of which their ruin was accelerated.
Those disasters which generally serve to render men prudent and circumspect, had a different effect on the noble temper, for which Nicuesa had been distinguished. The generosity, gaiety, and moderation, which had formerly characterised him, had given place to rashness, recklessness, and even cruelty. Scarcely had he accepted the authority conferred on him by the Spaniards of the Darien, when, even previous to quitting Nombre de Dios, he already threatened them with chastisement, and declared he would take from them the gold, of which without his permission they had possessed themselves. Colmenares was disgusted, and still more were Albitez and Corral offended, since the menaces of the governor more nearly concerned them as colonists of the Darien. Their arrival in the Gulf a little preceded that of Nicuesa, who added to his insane bravadoes, the error of allowing these men to anticipate his arrival, with such sinister annunciations. The Spaniards of Antigua became furious at these tidings, and the excitement of their minds was at the height, when they were joined by Juan de Caicedo, Nicuesa’s inspector, who, likewise provoked by these inconsistencies, threw fresh fuel on the flame, by taunting them with their madness in having, free and uncontrolled as they were, submitted themselves voluntarily to the domination of a stranger.
It was then that the two parties of Enciso and Balboa rose and united, as might be expected, determined on the overthrow of the wretched Nicuesa. On his arrival in the Darién the inhabitants sailed forth to receive him, with loud cries and threats, prohibiting his disembarkation, and ordering him back to his government. Zamudio the Alcalde, with others of his party, led this movement, whilst Balboa, who had secretly excited them to this, in public affected temperance and moderation. Nicuesa, on finding himself so desperately situated, felt as if the heavens were falling upon his head: in vain he entreated, that even if rejected as their governor, they would admit him at least as their equal and companion, and, if even this were too much to ask, he implored them to cast him into prison and let him, live there confined among them, since that would be a milder fate than to be sent back to Nombre de Dios, to perish from hunger or arrow wounds. He reminded them of the enormous capital he had sunk in the undertaking, and the deplorable miseries he had endured. Policy, however, has no compassion, and avarice no ear; the general irritation increased every moment, and could not be appeased, and Nicuesa, contrary to the secret counsel conveyed to him by Balboa, not to disembark but in his presence, suffered himself to be misled, by some treacherous promises, into disembarking, and throwing himself into the hands of his infuriated enemies, they seized him, and forced him into a brigantine, ordering him to sail immediately, and present himself at court. He protested against the unworthy cruelty with which they treated him, insisted on his right to claim command and authority in that land, and finally threatened to summon them to an answer, before the tribunal of God. All was fruitless. Embarked in the most ruinous little vessel they possessed, badly provisioned, and accompanied by only eighteen men, who desired to share his fate, he quitted that inhuman colony, and pushed out to sea, and neither he, his companions, or his vessel, were ever seen again.
Nicuesa being thus disposed of, there remained only Enciso, who could counterpoise the authority of Balboa in the Darién. The party of that lawyer in the town, however, constituted but a feeble dependence. Vasco Nuñez had him accused of having usurped the jurisdiction with no better title than he derived, from Alonso de Ojeda, brought him to trial, confiscated his property, and at length, allowing himself to be influenced by entreaties, and by the dictates of prudence, commanded him to be set at liberty, on condition that he should sail with the first opportunity, either for St Domingo, or for Europe. It was afterwards agreed to dispatch commissioners to each of those quarters, to report the proceedings of the colony, to convey an idea of the quality of the soil, and circumstances of the natives, and implore aid both in provisions and men. They chose for this office the Alcalde Zamudio, and the Magistrate Valdivia, each of whom was the friend of Vasco Nuñez, and charged to purchase, by dint of presents, the protection and favor of Miguel de Pasamonte, treasurer of St Domingo, and, at that juncture, almost absolute arbitrator of the affairs of America, from the great credit he enjoyed with the Catholic king and his Secretary Conchillos. But either these presents miscarried, or proved insufficient to satisfy the treasurer’s avarice, since there is no doubt that the first dispatches of Pasamonte to government, on the affairs of the Darien, were all as favorable to Enciso, as they were otherwise to Vasco Nuñez; and to this unjust step we may trace the cause of the misfortunes, and final catastrophe, of that discoverer. Valdivia remained on the island, to prepare and accelerate the succors necessary for the Darien; and Zamudio and Enciso went to Spain, to disseminate, the one praises, and the other accusations, of Balboa.
But who was this man, who, without title, commission, or fortune, could thus influence his companions, and supplant persons, whose authority was legitimate, and their right to command unquestionable; all of them no less daring, covetous, and ambitious of power and rule, than himself? And why did they bend to the government and coercion of an obscure, private, necessitous man? Vasco Nuñez de Balboa was a native of Xeres de los Caballeros, of a respectable though poor family. In Spain he had been a dependant of Don Pedro Portocarrero, Lord of Moguer, and afterwards enlisted amongst the companions of Rodrigo de Bastidas, and accompanied that navigator on his mercantile voyage. He was, at the period of Ojeda's expedition, established in the town of Salvatierra, in Hispaniola, where he kept a few Indians, and cultivated a small property. Loaded with debts, like most of those colonists, and greedy of glory and fortune, he was anxious to accompany Enciso, though the edict of the admiral, prohibiting all debtors from quitting the island, presented an obstacle to his wishes. To elude it, he embarked secretly, and without the knowledge of that commander, inclosed in a cask, or, as others say, wrapped in a sail, and was not discovered till they were already out at sea. Enciso was excessively enraged, and threatened to leave him on the first desert island they should reach. However, softened at length by the interposition of others, as well as by the submission of Balboa, he consented to receive him.
Balboa was tall, robust, of a noble disposition, and a prepossessing countenance; his age did not then exceed five-and-thirty years, and his singular vigor of frame rendered him capable of any degree of fatigue; his was the firmest arm, his was the strongest lance, his was the surest arrow; nay, even the bloodhound of Balboa was the most sagacious and powerful. Nor did the endowments of his mind disgrace those of his body; ever active, vigilant, of unequalled penetration, and possessing the most invincible perseverance and constancy. The translation of the colony from St Sebastian to the Darién, in pursuance of his advice, was the circumstance which first raised him into credit with his companions; and when placed at their head, and invested with the command, he was always seen the first in toils and dangers, never losing his presence of mind. He maintained, in discipline, a severity equal to the frankness and affability he uniformly displayed in common intercourse; he divided the spoil with the most exact equity; he watched over the meanest soldier, as though he were his son or his brother; and he reconciled, in the most amiable and satisfactory manner, the duties and dignity of the governor and captain with the offices of comrade and friend. The adhesion which the colonists then swore to him, and the confidence they reposed in him, knew no bounds, and all congratulated themselves on having delegated the authority to a chief, so proper to command.Until the expulsion of Enciso, he might be considered as a bold and factious intriguer, who, aided by his popularity, aspired to the first place among his equals, and who endeavoured, artfully and audaciously, to rid himself of all those who might, with better title, have disputed it with him; but as soon as he found himself alone and unrivalled, he gave himself up solely to the preservation and improvement of the colony, which had fallen into his hands. He then began to justify his ambition by his services, to raise his mind to a level with the dignity of his office, to place himself, in the scale of public opinion, almost in comparison with Columbus himself.
The outskirts of the new establishment were inhabited by different tribes, in a great degree similar in their habits, though formerly separated by the wars which continually raged among them, as well as by the nature of the country, which was rude, rocky, and unequal. Though no less valiant and warlike than the Indians of the eastern coast, those of the Darién were infinitely less cruel and ferocious. The former used poisoned arrows, gave no quarter, and ate their prisoners; while the Darien Indians fought with clubs, wooden swords or darts, and did not poison their arrows. They spared the lives of their captors, but having marked them, either by branding the forehead, or by the loss of a tooth, retained them as slaves. They conferred nobility on any individual of their tribe who was wounded in battle; and, recompensed by an allotment of property, a wife of distinction, and a military command, he was considered as illustrious among his compatriots, and transmitted his privileges to his sons. They were governed by Caciques, who, according to ancient tradition, exercised more authority than is generally held by the chiefs of savage nations. They had physicians and priests, who were called Tequinas, impostors, whom they consulted in sickness and in their wars, in short, in almost all their undertakings. They adored a deity whom they called Tuira: and the superstition of this mild and pacific race evinced itself in offerings of bread, spices, fruit, and flowers; while the more cruel and ferocious tribes offered blood and human sacrifices on the altars of their gods.
They generally made their settlements on the seashore, or on the banks of rivers, where they might maintain themselves by fishing—the culture of the soil likewise, and the chase, varied their occupations; but their chief support was derived, from their fishing. Their houses were of wood and canes, tied together by the bark or coarse filaments of trees—the whole covered by leaves or grass, as a defence from the rains. These, when built on the solid ground, they called Bohios—and Barbacoas, when they were constructed in the air, on trees, or upon the water; and some of these might, amid the general nakedness of the land, have been considered palaces. None of their establishments were on a large scale, and they changed them frequently, according to the dictates of danger
The men were generally naked—the women wore cotton petticoats from the waist to the knee; nevertheless, in some districts neither sex used any covering whatsoever. The Caciques, or chiefs, as a badge of distinction, wore cotton mantles over their shoulders. They all painted their bodies with juice of arnotto, or coloured earths, especially in preparation for battle. They adorned their heads with panaches of feathers, their nostrils and ears with beautiful shells, and their arms and ankles with bracelets of gold. They suffered their hair to grow, and wave freely over their shoulders behind, but cut it off over the eyebrows, with sharp flints. The women were very vain of the beauty and firmness of their bosoms; and when, through age or child-bearing, they were threatened with the loss of this charm, they supported the bosom with bars of gold, fastened round the shoulders with cotton bands. Both men and women were greatly addicted to swimming; and to be continually in the water was one of their favorite pleasures.
They were of very free, or rather, if the expression may be used in speaking of savages, of very corrupt habits. Their Caciques and chiefs wedded as many women as they pleased, the remainder only one; no formal divorce was necessary, the will of both, or even of one consort only, being sufficient to procure separation, especially in case of sterility in the female, who was always abandoned, and sometimes even sold, by the husband. Prostitution was not deemed infamous; it was a maxim with the noble ladies, that it was rude and vulgar to deny any request that was made to them, and they freely surrendered themselves to their lovers, more particularly if they chanced to be men of consequence. This tendency to libertinism led to the inhuman practice of taking herbs to procure abortion, when they perceived themselves pregnant. True it is, that these sensual and dissipated women followed their husbands to the war, combated by their sides, and would die valiantly in their defence. Another unnatural crime, authorized by their Caciques, was prevalent to a great degree with these Indians, and several of their youth were devoted to this most abominable pollution. The public diversions were limited to the Areito, a kind of dance greatly resembling those of the northern provinces of Spain. An individual led the dance, singing and performing steps to the tune of the song, others followed in imitation, while others, again, employed themselves in drinking fermented liquors, distilled from the date and from maize, which they shared with, the dancers. This exercise would last whole hours, and even days, until the dancers remained senseless from drunkenness and fatigue.
In case of the death of a Cacique, the wives and servants most attached to his person put themselves to death, that they might serve him in a future life, in the same relations as they held in this; for they believed that the souls, which omitted this act of duty, either perished with their bodies, or were dispersed in air. They consigned their dead to earth, though in some provinces, as soon as a nobleman died, he was seated on a stone, and a fire being kindled around him, the corpse was kept till all moisture was dried, and nothing but skin and bones remained, and in this state it was placed in a retired apartment, dedicated to this use, or fastened to the wall, adorned with plumes, jewels, and even robes, and placed by the side of his father, or of the ancestor, who had last preceded him. Thus, with his corpse, was his memory preserved to his family, and if any of them perished in battle, the fame of his prowess was consigned to posterity, in the songs of the Areitos.
From this sketch of the policy and customs of these natives may be inferred the little resistance they could have made to subjection or extermination, should the European colonists once acquire strength and union. They had founded their town on the bank of a river, which the Spaniards took for the Darién, though it proved, to be only one of its most considerable mouths. To the east of them was the Gulf, which separated them, by seven leagues, from the coast of the Caribs and those ferocious tribes; on the north was the sea; on the west the Isthmus; and to the south the plain, cut off and limited by the different arms of the Darién, and entirely occupied by swamps and lakes. For a people, confiding in cultivation for their means of subsistence, the valley would have been sufficient, which is formed between the Sierras of the Andes and the least lofty of the Cordilleras, that bound the coast, from the principal mouth of the river to the western point of the Gulf, and to which they gave the name of Cape -Tiburon. This valley, excellent for planting, and the resources of fishing and the chase, which the Gulf, rivers, and surrounding mountains presented, would have more than sufficed to maintain adventurers less covetous and restless than these. But the anxiety of the Spaniards was to discover countries, to acquire gold, to subdue nations; and to this end they must prepare to strive, not only with the ferocious and errant tribes, who peopled the Isthmus, but with the severities of the country, still more terrible and repulsive than its inhabitants. And if to this, we add the inroads continually made on the health and constitution of the Europeans, by the constant heat and humidity of the air, and the heavy and frequent rains, we must perceive that nothing less than the most unquenchable ardor, and the most marvelous resolution, could support and overcome so many difficulties.
During the contest which existed for the command, the Indians went and came to the Darien, brought provisions and sold them for beads, knives, and toys, from Castile; but they were led thither by other incentives than the desire of traffic, they came likewise as spies, and, anxious to free their own country from the presence of the adventurers, boasted to them of the abundance and wealth of the province of Coiba, distant thirty leagues westward of them. Vasco Nuñez sent, in the first place, to recall Francisco Pizarro, who returned after a short skirmish with a troop of Indians headed by Cemaco; he then went himself, with a hundred men, in the direction of Coiba, but in marching many leagues and encountering no Indian, either peaceable or warlike, finding the country depopulated by the terror which had been spread, he resolved on returning to Antigua, having reaped no advantage from this his second expedition.
He afterwards despatched two brigantines, for the Spaniards who had been left at Nombre de Dios, which on their return touched on the coast of Coiba, and were there met by two Castilians, who were naked, and painted with arnotta, in the Indian mode. They were mariners from the vessel of Nicuesa, who, in the foregoing year, had quitted that unfortunate commander, when he passed from Veraguas. Having been treated by the Cacique of the place with the utmost hospitality, they had remained, with him the whole time, learned the language, and made themselves acquainted with the circumstances and resources of the country. They described it to the navigators as rich, and abounding in gold and every kind of provision; and it was finally agreed that one of the two should remain yet with the Cacique, to be useful in the proper time, while the other should accompany the rest to Darien, and enrich the governor by his observations.
Well did Balboa appreciate the acquisition of such an interpreter, brought to his hands; and having diligently informed himself of all circumstances, necessary for a due knowledge of the people, whom he intended to attack, he ordered that a hundred and thirty of the most vigorous and intrepid of his men should prepare for the expedition. He provided himself with the best arms which the colony could supply, with instruments proper for smoothing his road, through the mountain-thickets and brambles, and with the merchandise useful for traffic; and thus equipped, he embarked with two brigantines for Coiba. On arriving there, he landed, and sought the mansion of Careta the Cacique; Careta had been prepared to expect his arrival, and replied mildly to his demand for provisions for the troop which followed him, and for the colony of the Darien, that "whatsoever strangers had passed by his land had been provided by him with all things necessary for them, but that, in the present season, he had nothing to give, in consequence of the war he was engaged in against doe Ponca, a neighboring Cacique; that his people now neither sowed nor reaped, and were therefore as necessitous as their visitors. By means of his interpreters, and in pursuance of their advice, Vasco Nuñez expressed himself satisfied with this reply, to which, however, he gave not the least credit. The Indian was at the head of two thousand warriors, and Balboa conceived it better to attempt his subjugation by surprise, than to risk an open attack; he pretended, therefore, to set out on his return to the quarter whence he came, but in the middle of the night marched back upon the town, overthrew and slew whoever opposed his way, took the Cacique and his family prisoners, and loading his two brigantines with all the provisions he could find, carried the whole away to the Darien. Careta, after this warning, resigned himself to his destiny, and humbled himself to his conqueror, whom he entreated to allow him his freedom, and admit him to his friendship; he offered to furnish the colony with necessaries in abundance, if the Spaniards would in return defend him against Ponca. Such conditions could not but be agreeable to the Castilian chief, who thus adjusted peace and alliance with the Indian tribe; the Cacique presenting his beautiful daughter to Balboa, as his wife, in pledge of his sincerity, a pledge willingly accepted, and greatly valued.
The two allies next resolved to march against Ponca, who, not daring to await them, took refuge in the mountains, abandoning his land to the ravage and ruin prepared for it by the Indians and Spaniards. Balboa, however, did not at present pursue his success farther; leaving to the future the conquest, or, as he termed it, pacification of the interior, he returned to the coast, where it was more for the advantage, security, and subsistence of the colony, to have his friends or his vassals stationed. Careta had for a neighbour a Cacique, called by some Comogre, by others Panquiaco, chief of about ten thousand Indians, amongst whom were three thousand warriors. Having heard of the velour and enterprise of the Castilians, this chief desired to enter into treaty and friendship with them, and a principal Indian, a dependant of Careta, having presented himself as the agent in this friendly overture, Vasco Nuñez, anxious to profit by the opportunity of securing such an ally, went with his followers to visit Comogre. No sooner was the Cacique apprized of this visit, than he sallied forth at the head of his principal vassals and his seven sons, all still youths, and the offspring of different wives, to receive the Spaniards. Great was the courtesy and kindness with which he treated his guests, who were lodged in different houses in the town, and provided with victuals in abundance, and with men and women to serve them. What chiefly attracted their attention was the habitation of Comogre, which, according to the memorials of the time, was an edifice of an hundred and fifty paces in length, and fourscore in breadth, built on thick posts, surrounded by a lofty stone wall, and on the roof an attic story, of beautiful and skillfully interwoven wood. It was divided into several compartments, and contained its markets, its shops, and its pantheon for the dead; for it was in the corpses of the Cacique’s ancestors that the Spaniards first beheld these ghastly remains, dried and arranged as above described. The honours of hospitality were confided to the eldest son of Comogre, a youth of more sagacity and intelligence than his brothers; he one day presented to Vasco Nuñez and to Colmenares, whom, from their manner and appearance, he recognized as chiefs of the party, sixty slaves and four thousand pieces of gold, of different weight. They immediately melted the gold, and having separated a fifth for the king, began to divide it among themselves; this division begat a dispute that gave occasion to threats and violence, which, being observed by the Indian, he suddenly overthrew the scales in which they were weighing the precious metal, exclaiming: “Why quarrel for such a trifle? If such is your thirst for gold, that for its sake you forsake your own country, and come to trouble those of strangers, I will show you a province, where you may gather by the handful the object of your desire; but to succeed, you ought to be more numerous than you are, as you will have to contend with powerful kings, who will vigorously defend their dominions. You will first find a Cacique who is very rich in gold, who resides at the distance of six suns from hence; soon you will behold the sea, which lies to that part, and he pointed towards the south; there you will meet with people who navigate in barks with sails and oars, not much less than your own, and who are so rich, that they eat and drink from vessels made of the metal, which you so much covet”. These celebrated words, preserved in all the records of the times, and repeated by all historians, were the first indication the Spaniards had of Peru. They were much excited on hearing them, and endeavored to extract from the youth farther information of the country he had mentioned; he insisted on the necessity of having at least a thousand men, to give them a chance of success in its subjugation, offered to serve them himself as their guide, to aid them with his father’s men, and to put his life in pledge, for the veracity of his words. Balboa was transported by the prospect of glory and fortune which opened before him; he believed himself already at the gates of the East Indies, which was the desired object of the government, and the discoverers of that period; he resolved to return in the first place to the Darien to raise the spirits of his companions with these brilliant hopes, and to make all possible preparations for realizing them. He remained nevertheless yet a few days with the Caciques, and so strict was the friendship he had contracted with them, that they and their families were baptized, Careta taking in baptism the name of Fernando, and Comogre that of Carlos. Balboa then returned to the Darien, rich in the spoils of Ponca, rich in the presents of his friends, and still richer in the golden hopes, which the future offered him.
At this time, and after an absence of six months, arrived the magistrate Valdivia, with a vessel laden with different stores; he brought likewise from the Admiral great promises of abundant aid in provisions and men, as soon as the arrival of ships from Castile should enable him to fulfill them. The succors, however, which Valdivia brought were speedily consumed; their seed destroyed in the ground by the storms and floods, promised them no resource whatever, and they returned to their usual necessitous state. Balboa then consented to their extending their incursions to more distant lands, as they had already wasted and ruined the immediate environs of Antigua, and he sent Valdivia to Spain, to apprize the Admiral of the clue he had gained to the South Sea, and the reported wealth of those regions. Valdivia took with him fifteen thousand pieces of gold, which belonged to the king as his fifth, and a charge to petition for the thousand men which were necessary to the expedition, and to prevent the adventurers being compelled, to exterminate the tribes and Caciques of the Indians, for otherwise, being so few in number, they would be driven, to avoid their own destruction, to the slaughter of all who would not submit themselves. This commission, however, together with the rich presents in gold, sent by the chiefs of the Darien to their friends, and Valdivia, with all his crew, were no doubt swallowed by the sea, as no trace of them was ever afterwards discovered.
To the departure of Valdivia succeeded immediately the expedition to the Gulf, and the examination of the lands situated at its inner extremity. There lay the dominions of Dabaibe, of whose riches prodigious reports were spread, especially of an idol and of a temple, represented to be made entirely of gold. There Cemaco, and the Indians who followed him, had taken refuge, and had never lost either the wish or the hope of driving away the invading horde, who had usurped their country. Balboa, with 160 men, well armed, embarked in two brigantines, he and Colmenares commanding, and ascending the Gulf, reached the mouths of the river. The little knowledge the Spaniards possessed respecting the intersecting lands and limits of this mighty source of waters, led them to suppose that it was different from the Darién, and they gave it the name of the Great River of St Juan, from its magnitude, and the day on which they discovered it. However, the river which bathed the coast of Antigua was the same which they now entered, and which, rising 300 leagues from thence, behind the Cordillera of Anserma, on the southern border, rushes almost directly north, overwhelming every thing before it by the impetuosity of its course. It flows, united with the Cauca, till it reaches the rough and broken sierras of Antiochia, when separated by them, the Cauca lose its name in the Magdalena, with which its watersjoin; while the Darién, enclosed by the nearest Cordilleras of the Abaibe, and enriched by their many waters and those which are accumulated from the side of Panama, follows her course into the borders of the gulf. Here the river overflows the plains, forming swamps and lakes; and dividing into several mouths, some of greater, some of less magnitude, but all navigable by boats, disembogues by them into the sea, whose waters she freshens for the space of many leagues. Her waters are crystalline—the fish abundant, and wholesome. She was at first called the Darien from the name of a chief, whom Bastidas or Ojeda encountered on first discovering it. The English and Dutch, in later times, have substituted that of the Atrato; and she is now indifferently mentioned, by historians and geographers, by the three different denominations of Darien, the Atrato, and St Juan.
Having proceeded thus far, Vasco Nuñez and Colmenares reconnoitered some of her branches, and the different people who inhabited the banks. The Indians who beheld their approach, escaped, or, offering a weak resistance, were easily overcome; yet the hope which animated the greedy Spaniard was not then satisfied, and some gold trinkets, and a little provision, were all the spoil obtained in this toilsome incursion. The most singular objects they beheld were the Barbacoas, of the tribe of Abebeiba. The earth in that quarter being completely inundated, the Indians had constructed their dwellings upon the elevated palms which grew there, and this species of edifice excited much surprise in the Castilians. There was a nest of them, which occupied fifty or sixty palm trees, and in which 200 men might shelter. They were divided into dinerent compartments, as bed-chamber, dining-room, and larder.
Their wines they kept in the earth, at the foot of the tree, that they might not be injured by shaking. They ascended by ladders suspended from the trees, to the use of which they were so accustomed, that men, women, and children went up by them, laden with the utmost weight they could carry, with as much agility and dispatch as on terrafirma. They kept the canoes, in which they sailed forth to fish in their rivers, at the tree foot; and when they had drawn up their ladders, slept in security from wild beasts (the land was infected with tigers) or other enemies.
When the Castilians discovered the barbacoa of Abebeiba, he was within it, and the ladders raised. They cried out to him to descend without fear; but he refused, saying, that he had in nothing offended them, and desired to be left in peace. They threatened to cut down with axes the tree of his house, or to set fire to it; and aiding the threat by the action, began attempting to strike splinters from the trunks of the palms. The Cacique then, with his wife and two sons descended, leaving the rest of his family above. They asked him if he possessed any gold; he replied: “No, I have no occasion for it"; and finding himself still importuned, told them he would go and explore some of the Sierras they saw at a distance, and seek for them what they required. He went, leaving as hostages his wife and sons, but did not return. Balboa, after reconnoitering many other populations, all abandoned by their masters, went in search of Colmenares, whom he had left behind, and in conjunction with him made sail for the Darien, leaving a garrison of thirty soldiers in the tribe of Abenomaguez, one of the conquered Caciques, to guard the district, and prevent the Indians from reassembling.
This undoubtedly was a very inadequate means of containing them, because the five chiefs, whose territories had been overrun and sacked, formed a confederacy, and prepared to fall with all their forces on the colony, when the Spaniards should be least on their guard. The conspiracy was carried on with the utmost secrecy, and the party from Antigua must have perished to a man, had not the danger been discovered by one of those incidents which seem to belong rather to the novelist than the historian, but which certainly have frequently happened in narratives concerning the New World. Balboa had an Indian, whose beauty and disposition attracted his affection, more than those of his other concubines. Her brother, disguised under the habit of those pacific Indians who brought provisions to our people, came to see her, and to attempt obtaining her liberty, and considering the destruction of the Europeans as certain, told her one day to act cautiously, and take care of herself; that the princes of the country could, no longer suffer the insolence of the invaders, and were resolved to fall, upon them by sea and land. A hundred canoes, 500 warriors, and abundance of provisions collected in the town of Tichiri, were preparations sufficient for the blow they meditated; and in this security they had already, in idea, divided the spoil, and singled out their captives. He told her on what day the assault would take place; and went away, advising her to retire to a secure place, that she might escape being confounded in the general slaughter.
So sooner did the girl find herself alone, than, impelled either by love or fear, she discovered all she had heard to Balboa. He commanded her to call back her brother, on pretence of wishing to go away with him. He came, was taken, and put to the torture, till he declared all he knew. The unhappy youth repeated what he had told his sister, adding, that some time ago Cemaco had plotted the death of Vasco Nuñez, and had, for this purpose, posted warriors in disguise among the laborers at work in the fields; but that, intimidated by the horse which the governor rode, and the lance which he carried, they had not found courage to fulfill their commission. Which failure had determined Cemaco to seek a surer means of vengeance, in his conspiracy with the other offended Caciques.
All being thus revealed, Balboa marched by land with sixty men, and Colmenares went by water with as many more, to take the enemy by surprise. The former did not find Cemaco as he expected, and turned to the Darien with only one of that chiefs relations, and a few other Indians. Colmenares was more fortunate, for he surprised the savages in Tichiri, collected there under the chief who was to head the enterprise, with other principal Indians, and a multitude of inferior people. The latter were pardoned, but Colmenares commanded the general to be shot with arrows in his presence, and sentenced the lords to be hung. And so terrified were the Indians by this example, that they never durst in future elevate their thoughts to independence.
It was now deliberated to send new deputies to Spain, to acquaint the King with the state of the colony, and on the road to touch at Hispaniola, to entreat for necessary aid, in case Valdivia might have perished on the voyage, which event had no doubt taken place. It is said that Balboa required this commission for himself, either ambitious of gaming favor at court, or apprehensive that the colony at Darien might inflict upon him the punishment due to usurpation; but his companions would not consent to his quitting them, alleging that, in losing him, they should feel deserted, and without a guide or governor; he only was respected, and followed willingly by the soldiers; and he only was feared by the Indians. They suspected that if they permitted his departure, he would never return to share those labors and troubles, which were from time to time accumulating upon them, as had already happened with others. They elected Juan de Caicedo, the inspector, who had belonged to the armament of Nicuesa, and Rodrigo Enriquez de Colmenares, both men of weight, and expert in negotiation, and held in general esteem. They believed that these would exe cute their charge satisfactorily, and that both would return, because Caicedo would leave his wife behind him; and Colmenares had realized much property, and a farm in the Darien, pledges of confidence in, and adhesion to, the country. It being thus impossible for Balboa to proceed to Spain, in protection of his own interests, he maneuvered for gaining at least the good graces of the treasurer, Pasamonte; and probably it was on this occasion that he sent him the rich present of slaves, pieces of gold, and other valuable articles, of which the Licentiate Zuazo speaks in his letter to the Señor de Chiéves. At the same time, the new procurators took with them the hith which belonged to the King, together with a donative made him by the colony; and, happier than their predecessors, they left the Darien in the end of October, and reached Spain the end of May, in the year following.
Soon after this departure, a slight disturbance happened, which, though at first it threatened to destroy the authority of Vasco Nuñez, served in fact to strengthen it. Under pretence that Bartolome Hurtado abused the particular favour of the governor, Alonzo Perez de la Rua, and other unquiet spirits, raised a seditious tumult; their object was to seize ten thousand pieces which yet remained entire, and divide them at their pleasure. After some contests, in which there were many arrests and a great display of animosity, the malecontents plotted to surprise Vasco Nuñez, and throw him into prison. He knew it, and quitted the town as if going to the chase, foreseeing that, when these turbulent men had obtained possession of the authority and the gold, they would so abuse the one and the other, that all the rational part of the community would be in haste to recall him; and thus it was; masters of the treasure, Rua and his friends showed so little decency in the partition, that the principal colonists, ashamed and disgusted, perceiving the immense distance that existed between Vasco Nuñez and these people, seized the heads of the sedition, secured them, and called back Balboa, whose authority and government they were anxious again to recognize.
In the interim, two vessels, laden with provisions, and carrying two hundred men, one hundred and fifty of whom were soldiers commanded by Cristoval Serrano, arrived from St Domingo. They were all sent by the Admiral, and Balboa received from the treasurer Pasamonte the title of governor of that land; that functionary conceiving himself authorized to confer such a power, and having become as favorable, as he had formerly been the reverse. Exulting in his title and his opportune success, and secure of the obedience of his people, Vasco Nuñez liberated his prisoners, and resolved to sally forth into the environs, and to occupy his men in expeditions and discoveries; but, while engaged in making his preparations, he received, to embitter his satisfaction, a letter from his mend Zamudio, informing him of the indignation which the charges of Enciso, and the first informations of the treasurer, had kindled against him at court. Instead of his services being appreciated he was accused as a usurper and intruder; he was made responsible for the injuries and prejudices, of which his accuser loudly complained; and the founder and pacificator of the Darien, was to be prosecuted for the criminal charges brought against him.
This alloy, however, instead of subduing his spirit, animated him to new daring, and impelled him to higher enterprises. Should he permit another to profit by his toils, to discover the South Sea, and to ravish from him the wealth and glory, which were almost within his grasp? He did, indeed, still want the thousand men who were necessary to the projected expedition, but his enterprise, his experience, and his constancy, impelled him to undertake it even without them. He would, by so signal a service, blot out the crime of his primary usurpation, and if death should overtake him in the midst of his exertions, he should die, laboring for the prosperity and glory of his country, and free from the persecution which threatened him. Full of these thoughts, and resolved on following them, he discoursed with, and animated his companions, selected a hundred and ninety of the best armed and disposed, and, with a thousand Indians of labor, a few bloodhounds and sufficient provisions, he set sail in a brigantine with ten canoes.
He ascended first to the port and territory of Careta, where he was received, with demonstrations of regard and welcome, suitable to his relations with that Cacique, and leaving his squadron there, took his way to the Sierras towards the dominion of Ponca. That chief had fled, as at the first time, but Vasco Nuñez, who had adopted the policy most convenient to him, desired to bring him to an amicable agreement, and, to that end, dispatched after him some Indians of peace, who advised him to return to his capital, and to fear nothing from the Spaniards. He was persuaded, and met with a kind reception; he presented some gold, and received in return some glass beads and other toys and tunes.
The Spanish Captain then solicited guides and men of labor for his journey over the Sierras, which the Cacique bestowed willingly, adding provisions in great abundance, and they parted friends.
His passage into the domain of Quarequa was less pacific; whose chief, Torecha, jealous of this invasion and terrified by the events which had occurred to his neighbors, was disposed and prepared to receive the Castilians with a warlike aspect. A swarm of ferocious Indians, armed in their usual manner, rushed into the road and began a wordy attack upon the strangers, asking them what brought them there, what they sought for, and threatening them with perdition if they advanced. The Spaniards, reckless of their bravadoes, proceeded nevertheless, and then the chief placed himself in front of his tribe, dressed in a cotton mantle, and followed by the principal lords, and with more intrepidity than fortune, gave the signal for combat. The Indians commenced the assault with loud cries and great impetuosity, but soon terrified by the explosions of the cross-bows and muskets, they were easily destroyed or put to flight by the men and bloodhounds, who rushed upon them. The Regulus and six hundred men were left dead on the spot, and the Spaniards, having smoothed away that obstacle, entered the town, which they spoiled of all the gold and valuables it possessed. There also they found a brother of the Cacique and other Indians, who were dedicated to the abominations before glanced at; fifty of these wretches were torn to pieces by the dogs, and not without the consent and approbation of the Indians. The district was, by these examples, rendered so pacific and submissive, that Balboa left all his sick there, dismissed the guides given him by Ponca, and taking fresh ones, pursued his road over the heights.
The tongue of land which divides the two Americas, is not, at its utmost width, above eighteen leagues, and, in some parts, becomes narrowed to little more than seven. And, although, from the Port of Careta to the point towards which the course of the Spaniards was directed, was only altogether six days journey, yet they consumed upon it twenty; nor is this extraordinary. The great Cordillera of Sierras, which from north to south crosses the new Continent—a bulwark against the impetuous assaults of the Pacific Ocean—crosses also the Isthmus of Darien, or, as may be more properly said, composes it wholly, from the wrecks of the rocky summits which have been detached from the adjacent lands; and the discoverers, therefore, were obliged to open their way through difficulties and dangers, which men of iron alone could have fronted and overcome. Sometimes they had to penetrate through thick entangled woods, sometimes to cross lakes, where men and burdens perished miserably; then a rugged hill presented itself before them; and next, perhaps, a deep and yawning precipice to descend; while, at every step, they were opposed by deep and rapid rivers, passable only by means of frail barks, or slight and trembling bridges: from time to time they had to make their way through opposing Indians, who, though always conquered, were always to be dreaded; and, above all, came the failure of provisions, which formed an aggregate, with toil, anxiety, and danger, such as was sufficient to break down bodily strength and depress the mind.
At length the Quarequanos, who served as guides, showed them, at a distance, the height, from whose summit the desired sea might be discovered. Balboa immediately commanded his squadron to halt, and proceeded alone to the top of the mountain; on reaching it he cast an anxious glance southward, and the Austral Ocean broke upon his sight. Overcome with joy and wonder, he fell on his knees, extending his arms towards the sea, and with tears of delight offered thanks to Heaven for having destined him to this mighty discovery. He immediately made a sign to his companions to ascend, and pointing to the magnificent spectacle extended before them, again prostrated himself in fervent thanksgiving to God. The rest followed his example, while the astonished Indians were extremely puzzled to understand so sudden and general an effusion of wonder and gladness. Hannibal on the summit of the Alps, pointing out to his soldiers the delicious plains of Italy, did not appear, according to the ingenious comparison of a contemporary writer, either more transported or more arrogant than the Spanish chief, when, risen from the ground, he recovered the speech of which sudden joy had deprived him, and thus addressed his Castilians:— You behold before you, friends, the object of all our desires, and the reward of all our labors. Before you roll the waves of the sea which has been announced to you, and which no doubt encloses the immense riches we have heard of. You are the first who have reached these shores, and these waves; yours are their treasures, yours alone the glory of reducing these immense and unknown regions to the dominion of our King, and to the light of the true religion. Follow me, then, faithful as hitherto, and I promise you that the world shall not hold your equals, in wealth and glory."
All embraced him joyfully, and all promised to follow whithersoever he should lead. They quickly cut down a great tree, and stripping it of its branches, formed a cross from it, which they fixed in a heap of stones, found on the spot from whence they first descried the sea. The names of the monarchs of Castile were engraved on the trunks of the trees, and with shouts and acclamations, they descended the and entered the plain.
They arrived at some bohios, which formed the population of a chief called Chiapes, who had prepared to defend the pass with arms. The noise of the muskets, and the ferocity of the war-dogs, dispersed them in a moment, and they fled, leaving many captives; by these, and by their Quarequano guides, the Spaniards sent to offer Chiapes secure peace and friendship, if he would come to them, or otherwise, the ruin and extermination of his town and his fields. Persuaded by them, the Cacique came and placed himself in the hands of Balboa, who treated him with much kindness. He brought, and distributed gold, and received in exchange beads and toys, with which he was so diverted, that he no longer thought of any thing but contenting and conciliating the strangers. There Vasco Nunez sent away the Quarequanos, and ordered that the sick, who had been left in their land, should come and join him. In the meanwiile, he sent Francisco Pizarro, Juan de Ezcarag, and Alonso Martin, to reconnoitre the environs, and to discover the shortest roads by which the sea might be reached. It was the last of these who arrived first at the coast, and entering a canoe, which chanced to lie there, and pushing it into the waves, let it float a little while; and after pleasing himself with having been the first Spaniard who entered the South Sea, returned to seek Balboa. Balboa, with twenty-six men, descended to the sea, and arrived at the coast early in the evening1 of the 29th of that month; they all seated themselves on the shore, and awaited the tide, which was at the time on the ebb. At length it returned in its violence to cover the spot where they were; then Balboa, in complete armour, lifting his sword in one hand, and in the other a banner, on which was painted an image of the Virgin Mary, with the arms of Castile at her feet, raised it, and began to march into the midst of the waves, which reached above his knees, saying in a loud voice: “Long live the high and mighty Sovereigns of Castile! Thus, in their names do I take possession of these seas and regions; and if any other Prince, whether Christian or infidel, pretends any right to them, I am ready and resolved to oppose him, and to assert the just claims of my Sovereigns”.
The whole band replied with acclamations to the vow of their captain, and expressed themselves determined to defend, even to death, their acquisition, against all the potentates in the world; they caused this act to be confirmed in writing, by the notary of the expedition, Andres de Valderrabano; the anchorage in which it was solemnized was called the Gulf of St Miguel, the event happening on that day. Tasting the water of the sea, cutting down and barking trees, and engraving on others the sign of the cross, they felt satisfied that they had effectually made themselves masters of those regions by these acts of possession, and retraced their way to the town of Chiapes.
Balboa next turned his attention to an examination of the neighboring countries, and to commencing an intercourse with the Caciques who governed them; he crossed a great river in canoes, and bent his course to the lands of an Indian called Cuquera; he made show of resistance, but disheartened by the injury he received in the first encounter, though he fled quickly, he submitted to come and implore friendship and peace of the Spanish captain, persuaded to that step by some Chiapeans whom Balboa had purposely sent to him. He brought with him some gold; but the attention of the Spaniards was still more attracted by some pearls, of which, at the same time, he made them a present. T hey asked where he had found them; he replied, in one of the islands which they saw dispersed through the Gulf and pointed it out with his hand. Vasco Nuñez resolved on examining it without delay, and sent to prepare canoes for the voyage. But the Indians, who better understood the nature of those seas, endeavoured to dissuade him from his purpose, advising him to await a more benign season; they had reached the end of October, and nature, at that period, in those regions, always wore a fierce and alarming aspect. Deafening was the tumult of the infuriated winds and tempests, which strewed the earth with the frail materials of the huts of the Indians; the rivers, swollen by the rams, overflowed their banks, tearing away in their violent course rocks and trees; and the tempestuous sea roaring horribly amongst the rocky islets and reefs, with which that dun is filled, broke its waves against them, menacing with inevitable shipwreck and destruction, those audacious mortals, who should endeavor to navigate it.
Nevertheless, the intrepid spirit of Balboa mocked these dangers, and his impatience permitted no delay. With sixty Castilians, as ardent as himself, he launched into the sea in some canoes, as did likewise Chiapes, who would not desert him; but scarcely had they entered the Gulf, than the wrathful element made them repent the rash impulse which they had obeyed. They assembled on an islet, where, by advice of the Indians, they tied their canoes together; the sea rose till it covered the isle, and they spent the night to the waist in water. In the morning, they found their barks, some of them dashed to pieces, some torn open, some full of water and sand, but entirely destitute of the provisions and necessaries, which they had left in them; they caulked their broken canoes, as well as they could, with grass and the bark of trees, and returned hungry and naked to the land.
The corner of the Gulf, into which they had ascended, was governed by Tumaco, a Cacique, who attempted resistance like the others, but met the same fate. He fled, and in his night was overtaken by the Chiapeans, sent by Balboa, to persuade him to return in peace, and to explain to him how terrible the Spaniard was to his enemies, and how faithful and powerful a friend, to his friends. Tumaco refused, at first to confide his person to the promises of these emissaries, and sent one of his sons, whom Vasco Nuñez, having flattered and soothed him by presents, as a shirt from Castile and other trifles, restored to his father. Then he became persuaded and repaired to the Spaniards, when, either moved, by the good treatment he received, or by the counsel of Chiapes, he dispatched one of his servants to his hut, to bring from thence, as a gift to the Spaniards, six hundred pieces of gold in different forms, and two hundred and forty large pearls, with a great number of smaller ones. The avaricious adventurers were struck dumb at the sight of such a treasure, and believed they had already reached the fulfillment of the hopes, which the son of Comogre had given them; they only regretted that the color of the pearls had been somewhat injured by fire; however, this admitted of remedy, and the Cacique was so caressed for his generosity, that he sent his Indians to fish for more, who in a few days returned with twelve marcos of them.
It was there that the Spaniards saw the heads of the oars of the canoes ornamented with pearls enchased in the wood, which greatly excited their wonder, and, at the desire of Balboa, a record was made of the circumstance; for the sake, no doubt of establishing the credit of hat he should himself write to government, no less needy and covetous than the discoverers themselves, concerning the opulence of the new country. But all this, according to Tumaco and Chiapes, was nothing in comparison with the abundance and size of the pearls, which grew in an island, that might he descried, some five leagues from them, in the Gulf. The Indians gave it the name of Tre, or Terarequi, and the Castilians called it the rich Island. Balboa anxiously desired to reconnoitre and subdue it, but the fear of such a storm, as he had recently experienced, induced him to defer the enterprise, till a more auspicious season. Meanwhile, he dismissed Tumaco, who, pointing towards the east, told him that all that coast extended without limit, that the land was very rich, and that the natives used certain beasts to carry their burdens. That they might better comprehend him, he endeavored to trace on the earth a rude figure of those animals. Some of the Spaniards supposed them to be the tapir, others took them for stags, but what the Indians attempted to describe was the llama, so common in Peru.
Here, they repeated all the same acts of possession as on the other coast, and called the territory of Tumaco, the province of San Lucas, from the day on which they entered it. Balboa resolved to return to the Darien, and took leave of the two Caciques; it is said that the Chiapes shed tears on the separation, and Vasco Nuñez, to prove his confidence in him, left in his care all the sick Castilians of his band, earnestly charging him to be careful of them, till they should recover, and be able to follow them. With the remainder, and many baggage Indians, he set out by a different route from that which he had formerly held, for the sake of farther discovery. The first population he discovered was that of Techoan, whom Oviedo calls Theoaca, who caressed them much, and gave them a great quantity of gold and pearls, provisions in abundance, Indians necessary for burdens, and even his son to govern those people, and to act as guide. He led them to the territory of one of his enemies named Poncra, a powerful lord, and, according to the new allies, an insufferable tyrant to the whole neighborhood. Poncra fled with his people to the mountains, but the discovery of three thousand pieces of gold in his town, so inflamed the avarice of his pursuers, that they resorted to every means for entrapping him into their hands, and forcing him to declare from whence he drew his wealth. Overcome at last by threats and terror, he put himself, in evil hour, into the hands of his enemies, who lost not a moment in completing his ruin. They enquired from whence he had his gold; he answered that his ancestors had left it to him, and that he knew no more. They put him to the torture; he maintained his silence, and he was then thrown to the blood-hounds, with three principal Indians who chose to share his fate. It is said that his limbs were deformed, his countenance frightful, his actions sanguinary, and his habits depraved. The guilt of his death rests more with the Indians than the Castilians, yet they were not the judges of Poncra.
Meanwhile, the Spaniards who had remained with Chiapes, recovered from their fatigues, rejoined their captain. They passed through the country of the Cacique Bonouvama, who, not content with regaling, and detaining them to rest two days in his town, accompanied them to seek Vasco Nuñez, and, on arriving in his presence, he said: “Receive, valiant man, thy companions safe and uninjured, as when they entered my house. May he who gives us the fruits of the earth, and who makes the lightning and the thunder, preserve thee and them!”. He uttered these words, and others which were not distinctly understood, though their import was unquestionably amicable, with his eyes fixed upon the heavens. Balboa received him very favorably, and arranged with him perpetual friendship and alliance, and having rested himself and his troops thirty days, he resumed his route.
Their way proved at every step more painful and difficult; they had to force their road through a rugged and sterile country, or to wade to the knees through marshes. The country was almost entirely depopulated, and if they occasionally met with a tribe, their poverty prevented them from affording the smallest succor to the adventurers. So great, in short, was their fatigue and their necessity, that some of the Tcochanese Indians died miserably on the road. As they marched on, thus harassed and disheartened, they one day perceived some Indians on a rock, who made them signs to halt, which they did accordingly; the Indians then came to Balboa, and told him, that their lord, Chiorisa, sent them to salute him m his name, and to express the desire he felt to testisfy his affection for such valiant men; they invited him to visit the town of their Cacique, and assist him in punishing a powerful enemy, who was the possessor of much gold, which the Spaniards might appropriate; and to oblige him the more, they presented him on the part of Chiorisa, with gold to the amount of fourteen hundred pesos. The message was most welcome to Balboa, who gave the Indians beads, toys, and shirts, and promised that he would on another occasion come and visit Chiorisa. They departed content with their present, while the Spaniards, laden with gold, and wanting nourishment, pursued their melancholy way, cursing the riches which burdened, but could not feed them.
They soon entered the dominions of the Cacique Pocorosa, with whom they contracted alliance, and next visited Tubanama, a powerful chief, feared throughout the whole district, and the enemy of the tribe of Comogre. This Indian was warlike, and his subjugation was essential; but the people of Balboa, wasted and fatigued by the journey, were ill fitted to abide the conflict of a battle, and preferred surprise to open attack. He selected therefore sixty of his ablest men, made two journeys in one day, and fell, during the night, on Tubanama, whom he surprised with all his family, amongst whom were about eighty women. On the report of his imprisonment, many of the neighboring chiefs flocked to accuse him, and to demand his punishment, as had been done in the case of Poncra. He replied that these were falsehoods, and that his accusers envied his power and fortune; and, on being threatened to be thrown to the dogs, or tied hand and foot and cast into the river, which ran near, he began to weep bitterly. He approached Balboa, and pointing to his sword: “Who” said he, “that had not lost his senses, would think of prevailing against that instrument, which can cleave a man at a stroke? Who would not rather caress than oppose such men? Kill me not, I implore you, and I will bring you all the gold I possess, and as much more as I can procure!” These, and other motives, urged in a tone so supplicatory, induced Balboa, who did not think it politic to deprive him of life, to set him at liberty. Tubanama, in return, gave him about six thousand pesos of gold, and being asked where he obtained it, replied he did not know. He was suspected of speaking thus to induce the strangers to quit the country ; therefore Balboa commanded that examination should be made, in every spot where there was the least appearance of that metal, which being done, he quitted the district of Tubanama, taking with him the wives of that chief, and also his son, that he might learn the Spanish language, and serve in time as his interpreter.
Easter was already passed, the people were all weary and in infirm, and their chief himself was afflicted by a fever; he resolved, therefore, on hastening their return, and, borne in a litter on the shoulders of the Indians, reached the land of Comogre, where he found that the old chief was dead, and his eldest son governed in his place. There the Spaniards were received with the former manifestations of friendship and welcome, they gave and received presents, and, after having reposed there some days, Balboa set out for the Darién, by the way of Ponca, where he met four Castilians, who came to inform him that two vessels, well laden with provisions, from St Domingo, had come into port. This happy news made him accelerate his journey, and with twenty soldiers he advanced to the port of Careta; there he embarked and sailed to the Darién, which he readied on the 19th of January, 1514, four months and a half after he quitted it.
The whole population sallied out to meet him. Applauses, acclamations, and the most lively demonstrations of admiration and gratitude followed him from the port to his house—and all appeared too little to do him honor. Conqueror of the Mountains, Pacificator of the Isthmus, and Discoverer of the Austral sea, and bringing with him more than forty thousand oz. of gold, innumerable cotton robes, and eight hundred Indians of service; possessor, in short, of all the secrets of the land, and full of auspicious hopes for the future, he was considered by the colonists of the Darien as a being privileged by Heaven and fortune; and congratulating themselves on belonging to such a chief, they conceived themselves invincible and happy, under his guidance and government. They compared the constant prosperity the colony had enjoyed, the splendid prospect before them, the certainty and success of his expeditions, with the unfortunate enterprises of Ojeda, of Nicuesa, and even of Columbus, who could never gain a firm footing on the American continent; and this glory was still enhanced, when the virtues and talents of him who had obtained it, were taken into consideration. One would boast the intrepid spirit of his chief, another his constancy, another his promptitude and diligence; some "would magnify that invincible ardor of soul, which nothing could allay or depress; next, they would praise the ability and dexterity, with which he conciliated the savages, tempering severity with gentleness; and some would exalt his penetration and prudence, in extracting the secrets of the country, and preparing to open new sources of wealth and prosperity for his colony, and for the metropolis. Amongst all these eulogiums, none were so hearty as those which were given to his care and affection for his companions; affecting no military discipline, but behaving more like their equal than their chief, he visited the sick and wounded individually, and condoled with them as a brother; when any one sank on the road from fatigue, he was himself, instead of deserting him, the first to raise and encourage him. He would often go out with his crossbow in search of game, to appease the hunger of those, who were unable to seek food for themselves; he himself would carry it to them, and press it upon them, and by this care and kindness he so gained their hearts, that they would follow him willingly and confidently whithersoever he chose. The remembrance of these excellent qualities survived for many years; and the historian, Oviedo, who cannot be charged with lavishing his praises on the conquerors of Terra Firma, writes, in 1548, that in conciliating the love of the soldier, no captain of the Indies had hitherto done any had ever done as well, as Vasco Nuñez. Having assembled in the colony the companions of his expedition, he divided the spoil they had taken, having previously set apart the fifth, which belonged to the King. The most exact division was made between those who shared the enterprise, and those who remained in the town. Afterwards, Balboa resolved to send to Spain Pedro de Arbolancha, his great friend and his companion in the late expedition, to give an account of it, and to convey to the King a present of the finest and largest pearls they had taken, in his own name, and that of the colonists. When Arbolancha was departed, Vasco Nuñez applied himself to the preservation and prosperity of the establishment, fomenting the grain to prevent a recurrence of famine, and to avoid the necessity for harrowing the earth. Already they not only gathered in abundance the maize, and other productions of the soil, but had likewise grain from Europe, brought by adventurers, attracted from all parts by the fame of the wealth of the Darién. Balboa sent Andres Garabito to discover new roads to the South Sea, and Diego Hurtado to repress the incursions of two Caciques who had risen. Each happily fulfilled his commission, and returned to Antigua, having given the necessary check to the provinces. All, in short, at this period proceeded happily in the Isthmus. The neighborhood was pacific and tranquil, the colony improving, and the minds of men, rendered eager by the acquisition of fortune and property, turned ambitiously and impatiently towards the riches which they expected to find on the coasts of the newly discovered sea.
But these aspiring hopes were soon doomed to vanish. Enciso hail filled the court of Castile with complaints of Balboa; and so much compassion was excited by the miserable fate of Nicuesa, that the Catholic King refused to listen to the exculpations of Zamudio, whose arrest he commanded, but who evaded it by night or concealment. He condemned Vasco Nuñez for the evils and injuries inflicted on Enciso, and ordered that his prosecution might be made out, and that he should answer criminally for the things alleged against him, that his crimes might not escape without due punishment. In order to put an end at once to the disturbances of the Darien, it was determined by government to send thither a chief, who should exercise his authority with a degree of solemnity and dignity, as yet unknown in the newly discovered regions; and Pedrarias Davila was named to the office; he was a knight of Segovia, who, for his grace and address in the chivalric games of the times, was called in his youth the gallant, and the jouster. About the period of this election, arrived Caicedo and Colmenares as deputies from the colony, who brought with them specimens of the wealth of the country, and an account of the great hopes excited by the notices which had been given by the Indians of Comogre. “Caicedo soon died with”, says Oviedo, “his body swollen, and as yellow as the gold he sought." Nevertheless, the relation made by him and his companion of the utility of the establishment, was such, that it increased the king’s estimation of the enterprise; and he now resolved on sending out a much larger armament, than he had meditated in the first instance. And, as the adventurers who went to America dreamed of nothing but gold,—as gold alone was the object of their pursuit,—as it was gold which they took forcibly from the Indians,—and gold by which the latter purchased their friendship,—gold which resounded in their letters and dispatches to court,—and gold which at court was become the sole subject of conversation and desire,—the Darién, which appeared so rich in this coveted metal, lost its first name of New Andalusia, and was commonly called, and even named in the dispatches, the Golden Castile.
This was the juncture at which King Ferdinand disbanded the army, which had been raised to follow the Great Captain into Italy, to repair the disaster of Ravenna. Many of the nobles, who, stimulated by the fame of that celebrated chief, had pledged their property, that they might gather laurels under his banner in Italy, flew to enlist in the expedition with Pedrarias, believing they might thus find amends for their disappointment, and acquire, in his company, not only glory, but wealth. The vulgar idea, that in Darien gold was garnered by nets, had excited such an excess of as annihilated all common sense, and calm judgment. The number of those who were to follow the new governor was fixed at 1.200 men; yet, although many candidates were rejected, from the impossibility of conveying; them, those who embarked amounted to 2000, chiefly youths of good family, brave, and well disposed, and all desirous of becoming rich in a short time, and of returning to their country, increased in wealth and honors.
Ferdinand expended on that armada above 54,000 ducats, an enormous sum for that period, sufficiently manifesting the interest and importance which he attached to the undertaking. It consisted of five ships, well provided with arms, ammunition, and victuals. The Licentiate, Gaspar de Espinosa, a youth, who had just passed the schools of Salamanca, went out as the alcalde mayor; as treasurer, Alonzo de la Fuente; as inspector, Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo, the historian; as principal alguacil, the bachelor Enciso. To these were added officers for the government of the establishment, and for the better administration of the royal interests. The title of City was given to the town of Santa Maria la Antigua, with other favors and prerogatives, demonstrative of the consideration, in which the monarch held the colonists; finally, for the regulation and service of divine worship, brother Juan de Quevedo, of the Franciscan order, and preacher to his majesty, was consecrated Bishop of the Darien, and went out, accompanied by priests, and such others as were deemed requisite for the service 01 the church. Pedrarias received express and particular instructions as to his government, and was commanded to undertake nothing, without the advice of the bishop and of the royal officers; to treat the Indians kindly, and to abstain from making war upon them, unless provoked, and finally, recommending to him strongly the famous requisition, originating in the expedition of Alonzo de Ojeda, of which more will be said in the Life of Fra Bartolome de Las Casas, being its more appropriate place.
They sailed from San Lucas on the 11th of April, 1514, touched at Dominica, and landed at Santa Martha; here Pedrarias had some encounters with those ferocious Indians, and sacked some of their villages; and without making any establishment, as had been agreed on, he descended at length into the Gulf of Urabá, and anchored before Darién on the 29th of June, in the same year. He immediately sent a messenger to apprize Balboa of his arrival. This emissary expected to find the governor of the Golden Castile seated on a splendid throne, giving laws to a crowd of slaves. What then must have been his astonishment, in finding him directing some Indians who were thatching his house with straw; his dress, a cotton shirt over one of linen, a pair of coarse drawers, and rough hempen sandala on his feet; yet thus attired he received the message of Pedrarias with dignity, and replied that he rejoiced to hear of his arrival, and that he and all the inhabitants of Darien were ready to receive, and to serve, him. The news quickly ran through the whole population; and in proportion to the hopes and fears of each, was the event treated in their conversation. They debated the mode in which they should receive their new governor; some proposed that, as warriors, they should meet him armed; but Vasco Nuñez preferred the mode which was least likely to excite suspicion, and he and his colonists sallied forth as a body of council, and unarmed.
In spite of this, Pedrarias, doubting his intention, immediately on landing ordered his people to make all cautious preparation; he led by the hand his wife, Doña Isabel de Bobadilla, eldest sister to the Marchioness de Moya, who had been the favorite of the Catholic Queen, and was followed by 2000 men, completely armed. Shortly after he disembarked, he met Balboa and the colonists, who received him with great respect and reverence, and paid him due obedience. The strangers were lodged in the houses of the colonists, who provided them with bread, vegetables, and the fruit and water of the country; whilst the new comers, in their turn, distributed the provisions and other necessaries which they had brought from Spain. But this external harmony was of short duration; discords, misfortunes, and misunderstanding succeeded each other, and accumulated with the rapidity which might be expected from the jarring elements, of which the establishment was composed.
On the day following his arrival, Pedrarias summoned Vasco Nuñez, and told him of the high appreciation in which his good services were held at court, and the charge he had received from the king, to treat him according to his merit, with all honor and favor. He next demanded from him an exact statement of the condition of the country, and the disposition of the Indians. Balboa replied, with thanks for the favor shown, and promised with all possible sincerity to furnish the governor with the amount of his knowledge. In the course of two days he presented his information in writing, comprehending a statement of what he had himself done during his government; a list of the rivers, ravines, and mountains, where he had discovered gold; the Caciques, with whom, in the course of these three years, he had made peace, (and they were upwards of twenty,) his journey from sea to sea, his discovery of the Austral Ocean, and of the rich Isle of Pearls; he published likewise a farther account of his government, which was laid before the alcalde Espinosa; but Pedrarias, having no confidence in that judge, owing to his youth, began on his part, by close interrogations, to obtain secret information against Vasco Nuñez. Thus was Espinosa offended, and still more the late governor, who saw in this perfidious and rancorous proceeding, the persecution which Pedrarias prepared for him. He had therefore to look to himself and he resolved to oppose to the authority of a governor, who was adverse to him, another and equal authority, which might favor and protect him.
To this end, he had recourse to the Bishop Quevedo, with whom Pedrarias, according to the instructions he had received, was bound to consult on all affairs of importance; he showed him the utmost respect, and was most diligent and obsequious in offering him his services; he gave him a share of his plunder, his labors, and of his slaves; and the prelate, influenced by the love of gain, which was the predominant passion of all the Spaniards who came to India, and knowing besides, that nobody in Darien equaled Vasco Nuñez in capacity and intelligence, he expected to become rich by his industry, and placed all his speculations under his management. He did more, which was to interest Dona Isabel de Bobadilla in favor of Balboa; and the discoverer never ceased to mingle the costly presents which he lavished on that lady, with all the politeness and attentions of the most refined courtier.
Thus, the bishop was unwearied in his endeavors to exalt his character, and to magnify his services, saying publicly that the state was greatly his debtor. These praises were very disagreeable to Pedrarias, who probably was provoked that such consideration should have been merited by a new man, one sprung from the dust, and who, in Castile, would scarcely have dared to aspire to a place among his servants The examination, meanwhile, proceeded; the alcalde mayor, offended at the mistrust of the governor looked with an equitable or indulgent eye upon the criminal charges alleged, against Balboa, and declared him absolved from them; though he condemned him to satisfy the claims of individuals, who considered themselves wronged or prejudiced by him; and so rigorously were these satisfactions levied, that, possessing on the arrival of Pedrarias more than 10.000 ounces of gold, he now found himself in a state bordering on mendicity. But the governor, not content with this severity, proposed sending him to Spain loaded with chains, that the king might punish him according to justice, for the fate of Nicuesa and other crimes, which, in the course of his secret examination, had been laid solely to his charge.The royal officers, who, in the Darien, as in the other parts of America, were always the enemies of the captains and discoverers, were of the same opinion; but the bishop, who was persuaded that his own hopes of wealth would disappear with Balboa, assured Pedrarias that in thus sending him to Castille, he was sending him to certain reward and triumph; that the recital of the services and actions performed by himself, and inspired by his presence, would infallibly attract the favor of the court; that he would return more than ever honored and applauded, and with the government of whatever part of the Terra Firma he might prefer, which, with the practice and knowledge he possessed of the country, would no doubt be the richest and most abundant; that the most suitable plan for Pedrarias was, to keep him necessitous, and involved in pleas and legal contests, amusing him with words and external demonstrations, whilst he took time to determine how he should finally dispose of him. The bishop was right: but the bitterest enemy of Balboa could not have imagined a more artful mode of accomplishing his ruin, than was contrived by his interested protector, for keeping him in Darien. Pedrarias was convinced: he restored to Vasco Nuñez the goods he had seized, and began to allow him, through the medium of the bishop, some part in the business of government. It was even conjectured that the principal authority might again devolve upon him, since Pedrarias, having fallen seriously ill soon after his arrival, had quitted the town to breathe a better air, and delegated his power, for the interval, to the bishop and the officers. He however quickly recovered, and his first act was to send out different captains to explore the land, giving a particular commission to Juan de Ayora, his second in command, to proceed with 400 men towards the South Sea, and to leave colonies in such spots as might seem to him eligible. This was supposed to be done with the intention of opposing whatever favors the court might meditate conferring on Vasco Nuñez, as a reward for his discovery, under pretence that the land was first colonized by Pedrarias, and that Balboa had done nothing more than merely look upon it, and maltreat the Indians whom he found there. But, independently of such a motive, the necessity for relieving the colony imperiously prescribed to step. The provisions supplied by the fleet were already becoming scarce; a large hut, which had been erected near the sea as a storehouse, had been burned down, by which a great part of them was lost, much had been used, and there was but a small remainder. The rations were diminished; and want of food, difference of climate, and anxiety of mind, began to exercise their combined influence on the new colonists. They enquired when they should reach the place, where the gold was gathered in nets; and the men of Darien replied, that the nets for taking gold were labors, endurances and dangers; that thus they had gained what they possessed; and that, by like means, others must procure what they coveted. Disease now began to assail them, the kin’s ration was consumed, calamity increased upon them, and those who had left in Castile their property and their luxuries, in pursuit of Indian opulence, wandered about the streets of Darien, begging a miserable alms, and finding none to relieve them. They sold their rich ornaments and vestments for a piece of maize bread, or a Castile biscuit. Some became wood-cutters, and sold the result of their labors for a bit of bread, to sustain existence, while others fed, like the beasts, on the grass of the fields. A knight rushed into the street, crying aloud that he was dying of hunger, and, in sight of the whole population, fell, and rendered up his soul. So many perished daily, that it was impossible to preserve any order or ceremony in the funerals, and carts were used for carrying away the dead, as in time of pestilence.
The first colonists were not reduced to such extreme need, but the obduracy they showed towards the afflicted betrayed the adverse feelings which the latter had excited. In the course of a month 700 persons had perished; and flying from the scourge, many of the principal individuals, with permission from the governor, forsook the land, and returned to Castile, or took refuge in the islands.
The captains of Pedrarias departed to reconnoitre xthe country and to colonize;—Luis Carrillo to the River de los Anades, Juan de Ayora to the South Sea, Enciso to Zenu; others, in short, at different periods to different points. It is no part of my plan to furnish an account of their expeditions, to relate, in succession, the violences and vexations which they committed, or to detail how they robbed and destroyed, and captured men and women, making no distinction between friendly and hostile tribes. The Indians, who had been pacified and tranquillized by the good policy and management of Balboa, were now, by repeated injuries, provoked to revenge, and almost universally rose in their own defense; they attacked and put the Spaniards to flight, who were forced to return to the Darien, where, though the excesses they had committed were known, no attempt was made to punish them. Even Vasco Nuñez, who, in company with Luis Carrillo, had sallied forth on an expedition to the mouths of the river, and attacked the barbacoas of the Indians, participating in the inauspicious star which then reigned, was surprised by those savages in the water, and was placed in much jeopardy in the skirmish, so that he and Carrillo returned badly wounded to the Darién, and the latter died shortly after. The terror and dismay which these continued disasters excited, was such, that they had shut up in Darien the house used as a foundery, a strong symptom of the general anxiety. The trees of the Sierras, the high grass of the fields, the billows of the sea, were mistaken for Indians, who came to destroy the colony.
The precautions of Pedrarias, all disconcerted, instead of giving confidence, served only to augment the terror and confusion; while Balboa, mocking them, recalled the days when the colony, under his command, was tranquil within, and respected without, when she reigned Queen of the Isthmus, and gave laws to twenty nations.
Pedrarias, discontented with his situation, wrote to Castile, laying much to the charge of Vasco Nuñez, because he had not found in the country those riches and advantages, so boasted in the arrogant relations of that discoverer. The friends of Balboa, on the other hand, wrote that everything was ruined by the ill government of Pedrarias, and the insolence of his captains; that the royal orders were unfullfilled; that no crime was punished; that at the period of the arrival of Predrarias, the town was well ordered, more than 200 huts had been erected, the people were cheerful and happy, amusing themselves on their feast-days by jousting with canes; the soil was cultivated, and all the Caciques so pacific, that a single Castilian might cross from sea to sea, fearless of violence or insult, whereas, at present, several Spaniards were dead, the rest dismayed and broken-spirited, the country destroyed, and the Indians in insurrection. All this, it was added, has been caused by the process entered on against Balboa. Had he been allowed to proceed in his discoveries, the truth respecting the promised treasures of Dabaybe would ere this have been brought to the test; the Indians would have still been peaceable, the soil yielding its abundance, and the Castilians content. Vasco Nuñez wrote in the same terms to the king, bitterly and boldly accusing the governor and his officers of all the evil which had befallen the colony. Perhaps he acted with the more confidence, as the knowledge had reached him of the signal favor with which the court had distinguished the results of the voyage of Pedro de Arbolancha. Until the arrival of Caiceda and Colmenares, the Castilians had held Balboa in very indifferent estimation. The Decades of Angleria show the dislike and contempt with which he was regarded. Assassin, mutineer, and even rebel, adventurer, and bandit, are the terms in which that writer invariably mentions him. But after the arrival of those deputies, even though Colmenares was not his friend, nor inclined to favor him in his relations, yet doubtless the picture they drew of the establishment, and of the chief who directed it, began to incline the public mind in his favor, and gave him consideration and value. They now called him a spirited and able chief; an intelligent leader, to whose prudence and valor Europe was indebted for the consolidation of her first colony on the Indian continent, a species of merit unattamed by all anterior discoverers, and reserved for him alone. “He knows the secrets of the land! Who knows the advantage which a man of his zeal, experience, and fortune, may produce to his country?” To this change of opinion, the now favorable reports of the already gained Pasamonte, no doubt efficaciously contributed; he wrote of Vasco Nuñez, as the best servant the king had on the Terra Firma, and the man who had labored most diligently for the profit of his master. This was not, indeed, sufficient to reverse the orders for the expedition, already far advanced, nor to annul the command conferred on Pedrarias. Yet, subsequently, when Arbolancha arrived, bringing with him abundant treasures, and announcing the brilliant hopes which the coasts of the Austral Sea had awakened; when it was known that, with 190 men, things had been accomplished for which it was believed that 1000 were necessary, and that each of these had been effected with not more than sixty or seventy at a time; that in so many encounters not one soldier had been lost; that he had rendered friendly so many Caciques, acquired so many secrets; when they heard of his religion and moderation, and considered the docility and reverence with which he failed not to pay to God and the king, the due tribute of acknowledgment and submission throughout all his prosperities; he became the object of boundless gratitude and admiration. Even Angleria said that Goliath was converted into an Elisha, and the sacrilegious robber, Antaeus, into a Hercules, the slayer of monsters and conqueror of tyrants. Even the old king, charmed with the tidings brought by Arbolancha, and with the pearls he held in his hands, quitted his constitutional indifference, and formally charged his ministers to reward Balboa, since he had served him so well. So that, had Arbolancha arrived before Pedrarias had sailed, Balboa might then have preserved his authority in the Darien, and results would have been very different; but the evil star of Balboa already portended his ruin, and the rewards of the monarch arrived in the Darien too late to avail either the state or Vasco Nuñez; they only served to embitter the jealousies and envies of the old and rancorous governor.
On Balboa was conferred the title of Governor of the South Sea, and the government and captaincy-general of the provinces of Coiba and Panama; he was, it is true, commanded to receive his orders from Pedrarias, who, on his part, was charged so to favor and advance the pretensions and enterprises of that chief, as might prove to him the esteem, in which the king held his person. The court intended thus to reconcile the respect due to the character and authority of the governor, with the gratitude and rewards earned by Balboa; however, that which was easy at court, was impossible in the Darien, where so many passions were in collision. The year 1515 was considerably advanced, when the dispatches reached Pedraria, and he, jealous and mistrustful, was accustomed to detain the letters which came from Europe, even for private individuals, and he now detained the dispatches of Balboa, in the resolution never to fulfill their directions. Nor was this step extraordinary. The provinces named in them, were the most promising, as well from their intrinsic riches, as from the talent of the chief to whom they were consigned, while those which remained subject to the authority of Pedrarias, were merely those contiguous to the Gulf, and the inhabitants of those to the east were fierce and intractable, while those to the west were already impoverished and exhausted.
The perfidy of the governor was not so well concealed, but that it reached the knowledge of Vasco Nuñez and the bishop. They immediately raised an outcry, and began loudly to exclaim at such tyranny, especially the prelate, who threatened Pedrarias even from the pulpit, and declared he would give an account to the king of a transaction so contrary to his will anti to his service. Pedrarias was alarmed, and called the royal officers and likewise the bishop into council, to determine what should be done in this case; when, it was the unanimous opinion, that the orders in the despatches should not be executed, till the king, being made acquainted with the examination of Balboa, and the votes of his council, should manliest his will. Nevertheless, the arguments with which the bishop opposed this determination, were so strong and so severe, he charged them with so heavy a load of responsibility, if, for the sake of indulging their own miserable passions, they should suspend the effect of favors, bestowed in reward of eminent and notorious services performed in the two worlds, that he struck terror into them all, and especially the governor, who resolved to let the despatches have their course. They summoned Vasco Nuñez, and gave him his titles, previously exacting his word, that he would neither use his authority, nor exercise his government, but with the permission of Pedrarias, to which he acceded, unconscious that he thereby pronounced sentence against himself; and he was now publicly denominated governor of the South Sea.
This new and acknowledged dignity did not protect him from an insult which he suffered shortly after. Seeing himself poor and persecuted in the Darien, and accustomed as he had ever been to command, he anxiously sought some means to deliver himself from the pupilage and dependence in which he was at present held; and even prior to this period, he had sent to Cuba to his friend and comrade Andres Garabito, to supply him with some men, with whom, by the way of Nombre de Dios, he projected going to colonize in the South Sea. Garabito returned accordingly, with sixty men, and a provision of arms and other effects necessary to the expedition, soon after the royal despatches had been made public, and Balboa had received his titles. Garabito anchored at six leagues from Darien, and sent secret advices to his friend; not so secret, however, as to elude the vigilance of Pedrarias. Furious with vexation, and treating the transaction as criminal rebellion, he had Balboa arrested, and threatened to imprison him in a wooden cage, but that indignity was not put in execution. The governor yielded the liberty of Balboa to the representations of the bishop, and they became once more, in appearance, friends.
Nor did the indefatigable protector stop here. Pedrarias was, as we have already said, old, and much broken in constitution; he had, in Castile, two marriageable daughters, and the bishop now undertook to form between him and Balboa a tie, which might prove indissoluble; he told him, that by keeping the finest capacity in the land in idleness and obscurity, he injured none more than himself; thus losing the fruit, which the friendship of Balboa would produce to him. That there was no doubt Balboa would, in some way or other, make known to the king the oppression and contumely in which he was held, to the defiance of the royal command, and the injury of his majesty's interests. He had better make him his own at once, marry him to one of his daughters, and aid him to pursue the brilliant career, to which in appearance he was destined. In the prime of life, of a good family, and already bearing the rank of governor, he would be a suitable match for his daughter, and he might thus enjoy repose in his old age, leaving to the robust hands of such a son-in-law, the cares and convulsions of war. By this means, the services performed by Balboa would belong, in a manner, to Pedrarias; those restless passions and lamentable contentions which divided the Darien into factions, and paralyzed the progress of their conquests and discovery, would thus at once be put an end to. To all this Donna Isabel de Bobadilla agreed, for, being more favorably affected to the discoverer, she allowed herself to be more easily persuaded, and at length inclined the governor to listen to the suggestion. The parties consulted on the preliminary arrangements, and Balboa became the son-in-law of Pedrarias, and the husband of his eldest daughter, Donna Maria.
By this time the bishop had returned to Castile, satisfied in being the author of a measure, which must secure the fortune and dignity of his friend. Pedrarias called him his son, and outwardly treated him as such, writing of him with every appearance of approbation and satisfaction to the king and his ministers. In order to furnish him with employment, he sent him to the Port of Careta, where he remained for a season, engaged in founding the city of Acla; anxious to accomplish that establishment, that he might there make suitable preparations for discoveries in the opposite sea. Having secured this first step, and settled the affairs of Acla, Balboa began to exert his utmost-energy in the construction of brigantines, for this eagerly desired expedition. He cut down the necessary wood, which, as well as the anchors, rigging, &c. were all carried from sea to sea on men’s shoulders, crossing the twenty-two leagues of wild and rugged Sierras, which form that part of the Isthmus. Indians, Negroes, and Spaniards labored alike, and even Balboa frequently lent the assistance of his own Herculean arms. In virtue of such zeal and diligence, they soon saw the four necessary brigantines completed and armed; but the wood being so recently cut, was immediately eaten by worms, and rendered utterly unprofitable. The work was begun and completed anew, and again destroyed by an inundation. Balboa, with fresh auxiliaries, brought from Acla and Darien, recommenced his labors, and as soon as the brigantines were fit for service, he embarked with them on the Gult, directed his course to the greater Pearl Island, where he laid in a large quantity of provisions, and navigated some leagues to the eastward, in search of the rich regions, winch the Indians had announced to them; he did not, however, pass the Port of Pines; and, partly from a mistrust of those unknown seas, partly from a wish more effectually to complete his preparations, he returned to the Isle, and gave himself up to the completion of the barks, which were still wanting.
Balboa had now attained the most flattering and brilliant period of his life; he had four ships and three hundred men under his command; the sea was his, and the road to the treasures of Peru lay open before him. Among his people was a Venetian called Micer Codro, a kind of philosopher, attracted to the New World by a wish to explore the natural secrets of the land, and probably, likewise, hoping to make his fortune, in following the track of the discoverer. Presuming on the character of an astrologer and diviner, he had told Balboa, that when a certain star should appear in such a part of the heavens, he was destined to run a great personal risk, but that if he escaped it, he would become the richest lord and most celebrated captain, that had ever visited the Indies. It happened that Vasco Nuñez descried this fatal star, and contemptuously observed to the astrologer, that “the man was womanish who gave credit to diviners, and above all to Micer Codro”. If this anecdote be true, it only serves as an additional proof of the fact, that wherever there is power, or fortune, either in possession or probability, there will imposture be busy in making its advantage of human vanity and ignorance.
Affairs were thus situated, when an order suddenly arrived from Pedrarias, that Balboa should come to Acla, to confer on some matters of importance, essential to his expedition. He obeyed instantly, unsuspicious of what was to follow, nor could he be deterred from proceeding by the advices he received on his road. Near Acla he met with Pizarro, who advanced, followed by armed men, to arrest him. “How is this, Francis Pizarro?” he exclaimed; “this is not the mode in which you have been accustomed to receive me”. Pizarro made no reply; many of the inhabitants of Acla assembled to witness this unexpected scene; and the governor, commanding that Balboa should be kept under guard in a private house, ordered the alcalde Espinosa to prepare a process against him, with the utmost rigor of justice.
It will be asked, what motive could have operated tins unlooked for reverse. All that we can discover from the various relations which have reached us, with regard to this miserable affair, is, that the enemies of Balboa had once more revived the ill-mothered suspicions and rancours of Pedrarias, making him believe that his son-in-law, in so zealously preparing his expedition, meditated to separate himself, by its means, forever from his obedience. A portion of the incidents which then occurred gave color to this accusation; and it is said that Andres Garabito, the great friend of Balboa, had had some dispute with the latter, on account of the Indian girl, the daughter of Careta so much beloved by Vasco Nuñez; and that offended by what had passed between them, and eager for revenge, he had, when Balboa sailed the last time for Acla, told Pedrarias, that his son-in-law had departed, in the intention to revolt, and of never more yielding him obedience. Yet it is certain, that of those who were compromised in this affair, Garabito alone was absolved. A letter written by Hernando de Arguelles, from the Darien, to the governor of the South Sea, was intercepted, apprising him of the ill-will that was harboured against him, and advising him to commence his voyage as soon as possible, without caring what might be said or done by those who commanded in Antigua. Finally, it was already known that the government of the Terra Firma was given to Lopez de Sosa; and Vasco Nuñez, fearing from him the same persecution he had endured from Pedrarias, had sent secretly to ascertain if he was arrived in the Darien, that he might, in such case, hoist sail, unperceived by the soldiers, and abandon himself to the tide of his fortune, and the prosecution of his discoveries. The emissaries sent for this purpose, and the plan projected by Balboa, reached the knowledge of his suspicious father-in-law, so colored as to induce turn to believe that an escape from his authority was the end proposed. The whole bitterness of his hatred was revived, being eagerly fomented by Balboa’s enemies, the public officers; so that now, giving the reins to his vengeance, he prepared to surprise his victim and sacrifice him to his own safety. He went, it is true, to see him in his prison, addressing him still as his son, and consoled him, praying him not to suffer his imprisonment to afflict him, since it was merely yielded to for the purpose of satisfying Alonzo de la Fuente, and would only serve to render his fidelity more clear and conspicuous. But the moment he ascertained that the ground of the process was sufficiently strong, to flatter him with a hope of its terminating in the bloody catastrophe he meditated, he returned to visit the prisoner, and said with a hard and threatening countenance: “I have treated you as my son, because I gave you credit for fidelity to the king, and to me in his name. Since, however, I was mistaken, you have no longer to expect from me the conduct of a father, but of a judge and an enemy”. “If what is imputed to me were true”, replied the unhappy prisoner, “holding at my command four ships, and three hundred men, by whom I was much beloved, I should have gone straight to sea without permitting any thing to impede my purpose. Safe in my innocence, I returned at your command, and little could I dream of being treated so rigorously, and with such enormous injustice”. Pedrarias heard no more, but sent an order that the weight of his fetters should be increased. His accusers in the process were Alonzo de la Fuente and the other fiscal officers of the Darien; his judge was Espinosa, who coveted the command of the armada, which the ruin of Balboa would leave without a chief. The cause terminated, and terminated in the sentence of death. In accumulation of the present charges, were brought forward the expulsion of Nicuesa, and the imprisonment and injuries of Enciso. Still, Espinosa, conscious of the enormity of such a proceeding towards such a man as Balboa, pleaded with Pedrarias, that, in consideration of his many services, the sentence of death should be remitted. “No”, said the obdurate old man; “if he is guilty, let him pay for it”.
He was then sentenced to die, without being allowed the appeal he demanded to the Emperor and the Council of the Indies. He was brought from his prison, the crier announcing before him, that he was doomed to this punishment as a traitor, and a usurper of the lands of the crown. On hearing himself proclaimed traitor, he raised ins eyes to heaven, and protested that he had never harbored any other thought, than that of augmenting the kingdoms and possessions of his king. Nor, indeed, was such a protestation deemed necessary by the spectators, who, full of horror and compassion, beheld the sentence executed, and the bleeding head afterwards stuck ignominiously upon a pole. With him, were likewise beheaded, Luis Botello, Andrés de Valderrábano, Hernán Muñoz, and Fernando de Arguelles, all of whom had shared his voyages, his labors, and his destiny. Pedrarias witnessed the execution from behind some canes, which formed a palisade near his house, ten or twelve paces from the place of punishment. Night had fallen, and Arguelles remained still to be executed, and the whole multitude of the people entreated, with tears, that his life might be spared, since God had not given daylight for the execution of his sentence. “Rather would I die myself”, said Pedrarias, “than permit one of them to escape unpunished”. The unhappy victim was accordingly sacrificed like the others, followed by the compassion of all who witnessed the act, and by the indignation which such inhuman injustice was calculated to inspire.
Balboa, at the period of his death, was 42 years of age. His property was confiscated, and, with all his papers, taken possession of as a deposit, by the historian Oviedo, in virtue of a commission which he held to that effect from the Emperor. Some portion was subsequently restored to his brother Gonzalo Nuñez de Balboa, who, as well as Juan and Alvar Nuñez, likewise brothers of the discoverer, were favored and recommended by the Spanish government, “in consideration”, says the clause in the royal orders, “of the services of Vasco Nuñez, in discovering and colonizing that land”. No explanation has been given with regard to Pedrarias, either in the public despatches, or in private relations. In all of them, he is described as hard, avaricious, and cruel; in all, we see him totally incapable of anything great; in all, he is depicted as the depopulator and destroyer of the country, whither he was sent to be the preserver and bulwark; so that neither indulgence or doubt, however they may be warped for his justification and exculpation, can ever wash his abhorred name from the stain and opprobrium which has obscured it forever. For Balboa, on the contrary, no sooner were the mean and miserable passions, excited by his merit and his talents to pursue him to his ruin, silenced, than the records of office, private memoirs, and the voice of posterity, unanimously proclaim him one of the greatest Spaniards that ever explored the regions of America.