Columbus the Discoveror - Frederick Ober




The Rule of Don Bartholomew


1496–1498


The Indians brought to Spain by Nino, and which caused Columbus such vexation and delay, had been sent by his brother, Don Bartholomew, who, in his capacity of adelantado, had completed the subjugation of the Royal Vega. He also built a fort in the district where gold was found by Miguel Diaz, the soldier, who settled down happily with the caciquess as his wife, but who continued to serve his commander as a guide, and eventually piloted him to the mouth of the river on which the mines were situated. This river still bears its native name, Ozama, and is famed for the beauty of the scenery along its banks. Finding at its mouth a secure harbor, Don Bartholomew erected a fortress there, and this was the beginning, in 1496, of the capital city, known by the name of the Spanish portion of the island, Santo Domingo. The first fort was called San Cristobal, better known as the Golden Tower; the second received the name of Isabella, changed afterwards to Santo Domingo; and no sooner were they built and garrisoned than Don Bartholomew set out on an exploring expedition to Xaragua.

This was the province ruled by Cacique Behechio and his sister Anacaona, or the "Golden Flower." She was the wife of Caonabo, still young and beautiful, with a reputation among the Indians of being the handsomest woman of her tribe. She was gracious and charming also, and though the Spaniards had kept her husband in captivity for years, and had finally taken him away to his death, she seemed to bear no malice, but received Don Bartholomew with hospitality. As he and his army marched across the border-line of Xaragua, they were met by Behechio and a host of warriors, prepared to resist the invasion by force of arms; but when assured that this was a peaceful mission, they received them in friendship. Messengers were sent ahead to Anacaona, who soon appeared, borne in a litter on the shoulders of six Indians. She was preceded by thirty beautiful maidens, adorned with garlands of flowers, who, as they sang and danced, waved great palm leaves in the air, which they later, on bended knees, presented to Don Bartholomew. A banquet ensued, at which, for the first time, the adelantado tasted the flesh of the ill-looking but tooth-some iguana, and at night all the soldiers were presented with cotton hammocks in which they slept. The next day a sham battle was fought by the Indians for the entertainment of their guests, in which they became so excited that several of them were slain; but no affront of any kind was offered to the Spaniards.

When it was explained to the cacique and Anacaona that the object of the visit was to collect tribute and secure their homage to the Spanish sovereigns, they readily promised to furnish supplies of cotton and cassava, the products of their province, which contained little gold within its borders. It was with mutual regret that the adelantado and his hospitable hosts parted company, and all looked forward to another visit, to be made when the promised tribute should be collected. From Xaragua, which was on the south coast of the island, Don Bartholomew marched directly across to Isabella, on the north coast, at the same time establishing several forts or armed camps, as links in the military chain connecting that settlement with the newer one of Santo Domingo.

He found Isabella in a sad state, most of its residents ill with fevers, and all complaining, so he set about withdrawing them from such a sickly spot. Some he sent to dwell with the Indians of the interior, some to Santo Domingo; and in a short time this, the first settlement by white people in the West Indies, was virtually abandoned. A few years later it was entirely so, and was only visited by hunters of Indians and wild beasts. Even the soldier-settlers stood in awe of it, on account of the many cavaliers who had died within its walls. One of the stories told of it was that, nightly, bands of those unfortunate hidalgos roamed the ruined city, and could be seen by any visitor. Wrapped in sombre garments, they stalked gloomily about; but in their spirit form they preserved traditions of their breeding, for when met by strangers they always saluted them gravely; but when they bowed they removed their heads with their helmets!

While the adelantado was busily engaged at Isabella, reports were brought him of an insurrection in the Vega, where, at the instigation of some priests, two Indians had been burned at the stake for violating a chapel. With his accustomed energy and promptness, he marched against the natives in force, reduced them to subjection, and restored order for the time being, after putting one of the caciques to death and imprisoning others. In labors of this sort the year 1496 passed by, and the time came for collecting the tribute at Xaragua. At the head of his little army, with drums beating, trumpets sounding, and banners flying, Don Bartholomew marched a second time into the territory of Anacaona and Behechio, by whom he was received as before, with joy and gladness, and entertained with games, banquets, and festivities.

Such a quantity of cotton and cassava had been gathered by them and their thirty-two tributary chiefs that the adelantado was obliged to send for a caravel to carry it away. As this was the first vessel with sails that either Anacaona or her brother had ever seen, they were struck dumb with astonishment. When they went aboard the craft, and a salute from the lombards was fired in their honor, the "Golden Flower" fell into Don Bartholomew's arms, so filled with fear was she, while some of her subjects leaped into the sea. Their admiration of all they saw and heard was unbounded. They regarded the Spaniards as the most wonderful of beings, and the grave, benignant Don Bartholomew as the grandest of all. They gladly paid him tribute, everything they had was at his disposal, and he was so affected by their frank and joyous generosity that he would not have harmed them for a kingdom. He was capable of appreciating real worth and innocence; he loved these simple children of nature, and if their fate had been left in his hands, it might have been less lamentable.

But, at that very time, a conspiracy was being formed against him and his brothers, which not only undermined their authority and banished them from the island, but eventually wrought the destruction of these innocent people. It is known as the conspiracy of Roldan, an uneducated man who had been raised from obscurity by the Admiral, until he filled the office of alcalde, or justice of the peace. Envious of the Columbus brothers, who filled the chief offices in the government, Roldan instigated an insurrection, and, forming a band of malcontents, marched from Isabella to the Vega, where he laid siege to Fort Conception, which was in charge of a stout soldier and devoted servant of the adelantado. He sent for his commander, who promptly came to his aid, but found, after he had thrown himself, with a reinforcement, into the fort, that he, too, was a prisoner within the walls. Roldan had gathered so many of the discontented around him, whom he had armed and equipped from the royal stores, that his force was stronger than any Don Bartholomew could raise. After worrying the adelantado awhile in the Vega, the rebels suddenly departed for Xaragua, many leagues distant, where, amid the delights of that chaluiing region, they held high revel, forcing the natives to comply with their demands, and soon had demoralized the entire province. The subjects of Anacaona and Behechio were reduced to slavery, their properties seized, and their lives and honor held at the caprice of libertines and ruffians unworthy the name of men. This was the beginning of the end, for the peaceful people of Xaragua, involved in the strife between the Spaniards themselves, miserably perished.

While rebel Roldan was sowing seeds of death and disease among Anacaona's people, the adelantado was reaping a harvest from his previous planting in the Vega, where Cacique Guarionex again broke out and took the field. Instigated by the archtraitor, Roldan, the old chief formed a conspiracy among his tributary caciques, to rise and massacre all the Spaniards in and around Fort Conception. Don Bartholomew had recently departed for the south coast, having received reinforcements and supplies from Spain; but on receipt of the startling news he at once returned to the Vega. But for the miscalculation of one of the tributary caciques, who took up arms too soon, the attack having been arranged to take place on the night of the full moon, it might have been successful. As it was, the Spaniards easily repulsed the small detachment that fell upon the fort, and Guarionex, being apprised of the return of Don Bartholomew, first put the unlucky cacique to death, then fled with his family to the mountains. He made his retreat in the cordillera of Ciguey, with Cacique Mayobanex, who (as the reader may recall) was chieftain of the tribe with which Columbus had his skirmish in the Bay of Arrows. His province was rough and mountainous, bordered on the sea-coast, and was filled with the hardiest warriors in Hispaniola. Now that Caonabo had been removed, he was the most to be feared of any cacique commanding a native army. He received Guarionex with promise of protection, and faithfully kept his pledge, for, when the adelantado demanded the refugee, he refused to give him up, and assembled an army to protect him. Don Bartholomew was not a cruel man, judged by the Spanish standard, nor was he revengeful; but he realized the necessity for getting Guarionex in his power, and resolved to do so at all hazards. Leaving the beautiful Vega with a small but intrepid force, he led his men straight into the mountain wilds which had never before been penetrated by Europeans.

As they were crossing a river hemmed in between high cliffs, a troop of painted savages burst upon them, with yells of rage which made the forest ring. A flight of arrows filled the air, and many of the Spaniards were wounded, but the adelantado bravely forced a passage across the stream, then pursued the enemy into the tangled thickets. There he was frequently ambuscaded, and many of his men were wounded; but on he pressed, until at last the desperate Ciguayans took refuge on a wooded promontory of the coast. It abounded in cavernous cliffs, in the dens of which the two caciques concealed themselves for nearly three months, while the incensed adelantado raged through the forests, determined never to give over the pursuit so long as those two mountain lions, Guarionex and Mayobanex, remained alive in their lairs.

His soldiers were nearly worn out from hunger and fatigue; some of them deserted, some fell ill, until only thirty were left to continue the pursuit. The two chiefs were in direr straits than the Spaniards, for they could only steal out by night in search of food, and were nearly starved. Still the noble Mayobanex held his promise as sacred, and to a demand that he deliver up his guest, replied, "He is my friend; he has fled to me for refuge; I have promised to protect him, and I shall keep my word."

These noble sentiments were uttered by a "savage," whom the Spaniards were hunting as though he were a beast of the forest. The war-cries died away, for the warriors had been killed or dispersed; but the pursuit was not relaxed, and fighting now and then occurred. One day the adelantado found two of his scouts dead in his path, transfixed by Indians arrows, slain by orders of the cacique, whose hiding-place was soon after betrayed. A half-starved Indian was captured while foraging for food, and, compelled to reveal his master's retreat, led twelve Spaniards thither, disguised as Indians, with their swords wrapped in palm leaves. They came upon Mayobanex in his cave, surrounded by his family, and soon after Guarionex was taken in a similar manner. Both were placed in irons and confined in the fort, where they hourly expected death; but Don Bartholomew was not vindictive, and spared their lives, on condition that their subjects should supply the Spaniards with food. He forgot the fatigue and dangers he had been exposed to on their account; he overlooked their transgressions; and, being humane as well as just, when unfettered by higher authority, he made no slaves, except of such as had been guilty of great crimes. In fact, one of the charges against him by the rebels was on account of his lenity towards the Indians, whom he judged by the same standard that he applied to the Spaniards. The man who had committed an offence against the wife of Guarionex, and thus given that chieftain an excuse for rebellion, the adelantado tried in court and condemned to death, meting out impartial justice. This did not suit the Spaniards; but the incident throws a ray of light upon Don Bartholomew's character, and, considered in connection with what we have seen of his doings, shows him to have been high-minded, noble, and sympathetic. Between him and his elder brother there was a strong bond of sympathy, and they had many traits in common; but of the two the adelantado was better qualified to rule than the Admiral.

In justice to the Admiral, we should not fail to note that, while he pointed out the way to the New World, and opened the routes for others to follow, in his capacity of ruler or governor, he failed most wofully. In the role of discoverer he was supreme, and had he but been allowed to pursue his chosen career, leaving to the adelantado, with his vast executive ability, the organization of government, the ending of both might have been more glorious. Meanwhile, Don Bartholomew was reducing order out of chaos in Hispaniola, his elder brother was impatiently awaiting the slow movement of the court in the direction of another voyage of discovery. Six ships were finally granted him, but, in order to obtain their crews, Columbus was obliged to resort to an expedient which brought him bitter retribution in the future. At his suggestion, as no volunteers offered for the voyage, the ships were manned with criminals, whose terms of imprisonment were commuted to banishment to the colony for a certain number of years. The assembling of this band of malefactors was a sore trial to his high and noble nature, and, in addition to this insult thrust upon him, he was continually exposed to the taunts and revilings of those in the employ of his inveterate enemy, Fonseca, in whose charge was the fitting out of his squadron. The most annoying and despicable of these hirelings of his enemy was one Breviesca, Fonseca's trusted accountant, who followed the Admiral to his ship, at the time he was about to embark, and hurled at him most insulting epithets. The minion felt secure from assault, reckoning upon the dignity with which Columbus was clothed; but the Admiral had now reached the limits of his patience, and in a transport of passion turned upon the scoundrel, struck him to the ground, and repeatedly kicked him; to the great relief of his feelings, doubtless, but to the positive detriment of his subsequent fortunes.