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Vasco Nuñez de Balboa - Ages of Exploration
Kass Reich. Eve Titus. Roger Mortimer. One Dark Night. Lisa Wheeler. A Time of Miracles. Anne-Laure Bondoux. The Princetta. The stipulated time passed, and the survivors of the wretched colony embarked in two vessels.
One of these was swallowed by the sea, and the terrified crew of the other vessel sought the harbor of Cartagena, intending to sail direct for Santo Domingo. They had endured enough, all agreed, having lost more than a hundred comrades by drowning, starvation, and the Indians' poisoned arrows. Even the indomitable Pizarro was convinced that a return to the deserted settlement was useless, for the savages had burned their fort before they left the harbor, and everything would have to be done over anew.
But Enciso, as alcalde mayor by appointment of Ojeda, was then ranking officer of the little squadron, and Pizarro was subject to his authority.
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He yielded to his superior as gracefully as might have been expected in the circumstances; but soon after it was noticed that he and Balboa having previously met in Santo Domingo, where they were at one time boon companions, in fact had their heads together, and it was surmised, not without reason, that a plot was hatching. The Bachelor Enciso was not devoid of tact, however, and to divert the malcontents led them on an expedition inland, to ravage the territory of the cacique Zenu and ravish the sepulchres of his ancestors, which were said to be filled with gold and gems.
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It was Balboa who related the story of the golden sepulchres, which he recalled as having heard when he was on that very coast with Bastidas. It is said to abound in such quantities that it may be picked up by the basketful. In the season of rains, which is now, gold, in great nuggets large as eggs, is washed down by the torrents, and all the natives do to collect it is to stretch nets across the streams. Going to them in the morning, as a fisherman would visit his nets in the sea, they find the precious metal in such abundance that they bear it away by the backload.
As he, Enciso, was a man of peace, more learned in the law than versed in the practice of arms, he allowed Balboa to take charge of the expedition, though he himself went along in an advisory capacity. The remarkable abilities of the Bachelor Enciso shone forth in a remarkable manner at the outset, for, meeting with two caciques in command of a large army of naked warriors, he insisted upon expounding to them the "why and wherefore" of the Spaniards having invaded their territory.
He had with him the old formula, drawn up by the learned doctors of Spain, which recited that, in virtue of the world having been given by God to the pope, and by the latter the unexplored regions of America to the king of Spain, hence the inhabitants thereof, which included, of course, those same Indian caciques, should submit to the Spaniards, etc. But these two caciques were strangely stubborn, for they could not perceive the connecting links in an argument which was supposed to be final as to the rights of the Spaniards to territory which they and their ancestors had held beyond the memory of any living man.
One of them, in fact, was so rude as to inform the bachelor that while he assented to the proposition that there was but one God, who lived in the heavens, they could not understand how it was He had given the world to the pope, who also must have been drunk, or crazy, to present to the king of Spain what did not belong to him. And he furthermore added that he and his friend were rulers over that golden province, and if Enciso persisted in his hostile action, they would be forced to cut off his head and stick it up on a pole.
Then he and his warriors turned about and pointed to the palisaded fort behind them, where, over the gateway, ranged in grisly rows, Enciso and his men saw several heads that had once been carried on living shoulders. This ghastly spectacle did not daunt Enciso, however, who said to Balboa and Pizarro, "Well, I have given them the law; now it only remains for you to give them what they can better understand, perhaps—that is, the sword and the lance.
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The two dauntless fighters desired nothing better than the pretty fight that was promised with the caciques, and, with shouts to their followers, led them against the foe. The battle was short, but fierce. The two caciques were forced to retreat, leaving many of their men dead on the field; but two of the Spaniards were wounded with poisoned arrows, and died in torments. The province was ravaged, but no gold was found, either as ornaments in the sepulchres or nuggets in nets stretched across the roaring torrents. T HE barren victory at Zenu did not serve to greatly strengthen the authority of Enciso, and it required all his arts as a solicitor to induce Pizarro's disgusted soldiers to return to San Sebastian—as Ojeda's settlement was called.
They reached the shore nearly naked and destitute, only to find their fortress and former dwellings in ashes, and the rapacious savages lying in wait for them in the surrounding forest. A party sent by Enciso to forage the country was waylaid by Indians, who wounded several Spaniards with their poisoned arrows, and compelled the command to retreat to the shore.
There a consultation was held, at which all present were unanimous for abandoning a region where, in their own words, "Sea and land, the skies and the inhabitants, all unite to repulse us. At this juncture, the one man of that company who had less to expect from a return to the island than from remaining away from it, stepped forth and, by his words of encouragement, kindled in the hearts of the despairing colonists new spirits and new hopes.
There we found a large river, and saw on its opposite bank an Indian town, the inhabitants of which do not poison their arrows. The country adjacent, moreover, was open and fertile, so that, doubtless, we shall find there great store of maize and cassava, as well as a good site for a settlement.
This welcome information at once placed Balboa upon a pinnacle of prominence, and he was urged to lead the starving band towards the promised land of abundance.
They landed at once and took possession, for the town was abandoned of its inhabitants, who had retreated to the forest. The place, however, was rendered untenable at the moment by its brave cacique, named Zemaco, who, with five hundred warriors, had intrenched himself on a near-by hill, where he courageously awaited the invaders, determined to give them battle.
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With such men as Pizarro and Balboa in his command, and the latter already aspiring to leadership, it was not possible for Enciso to restrain the ardor of his men, who would not heed his desire to parley with the Indians, but immediately attacked them in their chosen stronghold. The Indians fought for their homes, but the Spaniards for their very lives, and with such desperation they battled that the issue was not long in doubt.
The cacique and his warriors were driven from the hill with slaughter, and the victorious though famishing Spaniards, unable to pursue and overtake them in their flight, remained in possession of the town, with its ample stores of provisions and its treasures. They found in the huts, thrust beneath thatched roofs of palm leaves, many quaint ornaments of gold, such as anklets and bracelets, nose and ear rings, altogether to the value of ten thousand crowns.
In the reeds and canes along the river, also, were discovered many precious articles concealed there by the Indians in their flight, and the cacique, having been captured and put to the torture, revealed the hiding-place of many more. Thus suddenly raised from poverty to affluence, with more than twelve thousand pieces of gold in their possession, the Spaniards entertained hopes of acquiring yet greater wealth, in a short time, by marauding expeditions.
But their ardent expectations were suddenly dashed by Enciso, who not only claimed the right to hold in his keeping all the gold, in conformity to royal command, but imprudently prohibited all traffic with the Indians on individual account, under penalty of death. As the greater part of his command was composed of men like Balboa, who had left their country in the hope of bettering their fortunes by barter with the natives of this golden region, dissatisfaction was wide-spread and the murmurings loud as well as deep.
It was instantly perceived that the bachelor would prove a captious, miserly master, and the bolder spirits of the company resolved upon resisting his authority. All had agreed, meanwhile, that the Indian village was well situated for a permanent settlement, and, after sending for the remainder of his company at San Sebastian, Enciso commenced to lay the foundations of a town which, in fulfilment of a vow he had made, he called Antigua del Darien.
He was the founder of the town of Antigua, but was not to remain long in control of it, for, having without sufficient force to back him attempted to restrain the passions of his followers and deprive them of their liberties, he was soon to be swept away when those pent-up passions burst their bounds. The Spaniards of those days had a deep reverence for royal authority and fear of their king; but when it was casually discovered that Enciso had unwittingly settled upon territory which had been granted to Nicuesa, and over which neither Ojeda nor himself had any jurisdiction, he was promptly deposed by the soldiers, who refused him further allegiance.
He was beaten by his own weapons—those of the law—which were turned against him by his chief opponent, Balboa, who had never forgotten Enciso's threat to throw him into the sea, or land him on a desert island, when he had first made his appearance on shipboard. As Antigua had been founded on the western shore, it undoubtedly lay within the limits of Nicuesa's grant, and hence the unfortunate Enciso was without a legal leg to stand on.
Placed as we are, beyond the limits assigned to Ojeda's jurisdiction, his command as alcalde mayor is become null, together with our obligation to obedience. Though the majority of the company had chosen these two as their chiefs, there were still some discontented ones, and finally the altercations became so violent as to threaten the disruption of the little colony. In the midst of it, one day, as the disputants were hotly engaged in the market-place, they heard the sound of cannon and saw signal-smokes arising from the hills across the gulf from Antigua.
They replied in like manner, with cannon and smoke-signals, and soon two ships were seen sailing from the eastward, which, on arrival in the river, proved to be in command of one Diego de Colmenares, who had come from Spain in search of Nicuesa, the long absence of whom without tidings had excited alarm.
Learning that opinion in the colony was divided as to the authority that should rule there, Colmenares agreed to remain and share his arms and supplies with the colonists, provided they would receive Nicuesa as their leader. This proposition having been acceded to for the liberality of Colmenares had gained him universal favor , he and two others were deputed to go in search of the lost leader, who, with seven vessels and five hundred men, had disappeared, months before, and left no sign by which others could follow him.
Since then nothing whatever had been heard from Nicuesa, but the search of Colmenares disclosed the details of a terrible narrative of suffering and fatal disasters, almost without a parallel in the annals of exploration. In short, at the time Colmenares set out from Antigua, only sixty men survived of the five hundred who had sailed from Spain with Nicuesa, and but one brigantine was left of his fleet.
The unfortunate explorer was finally found at a port on the north coast of the isthmus named Nombre de Dios, where he and the remnant of his band were existing in a state of utter despondency, unable to get away, and despairing of assistance from any quarter. This port had been discovered and named by Nicuesa himself, who, on reaching it when worn by fatigue and exhausted by hunger, had exclaimed: "En nombre de Dios—in the name of God—let us rest here! From this situation they were rescued by the coming of Colmenares, who snatched them from the very jaws of death.
This Nicuesa had been a man of some distinction in Spain, where he had held the office of royal carver, and had amassed quite a fortune. He was just such a vivacious and testy cavalier as Ojeda himself, with whom, by-the-way, he came near fighting a duel over their respective boundaries. His reckless and generous disposition was made manifest by the bountiful dinner he ordered prepared from the stores brought by his rescuer, at which he proudly exhibited his skill as a carver, by slicing and disjointing a fowl while held in the air on a fork. His imprudence was shown by repeated boasts that he would promptly chastise those who had ventured to question his authority over Antigua, and would take from them all the gold of which, without his permission, they had possessed themselves.