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Fate of the Fortress of La Navidad-Transactions at the Harbour. [1493.]
On the evening of the 27th of November, Columbus anchored opposite to the harbour of La Navidad, about a league from the land. As it was too dark to distinguish objects, he ordered two signal guns to be fired. The report echoed along the shore, but there was no gun, or light, or friendly shout in reply. Several hours passed away in the most dismal suspense; about midnight, a number of Indians came off in a canoe, and inquired for the admiral, refusing to come on board until they should see him personally. Columbus showed himself at the side of his vessel, and a light being held up, his countenance and commanding person were not to be mistaken. The Indians now entered the ship without hesitation. One of them was a cousin of the cacique Guacanagari, and the bearer of a present from him. The first inquiry of Columbus was concerning the garrison. He was informed that several of the Spaniards had died of sickness, others had fallen in a quarrel among themselves, and others had removed to a different part of the island ;—that Guacanagari had been assailed by Caonabo, the fierce cacique of the golden mountains of Cibao, who had
wounded him in combat, and burnt his village, and that he remained ill of his wound in a neighbouring hamlet.
Melancholy as were these tidings, they relieved Columbus from the painful suspicion of treachery on the part of the cacique and people in whom he had confided, and gave him hopes of finding some of the scattered garrison still alive. The Indians were well entertained, and gratified with presents; on departing they promised to return in the morning with Guacanagari. The morning, however, dawned and passed away, and the day declined, without the promised visit from the chieftain. There was a silence and an air of desertion about the whole neighbourhood. Not a canoe appeared in the harbour; not an Indian hailed them from the land; nor was there any smoke to be seen rising from among the groves. Towards the evening, a boat was sent on shore to reconnoitre. The crew hastened to the place where the fortress had been erected. They found it burnt and demolished, the palisadoes beaten down, and the ground strewed with broken chests, spoiled provisions, and the fragments of European garments. Not an Indian approached them, and if they caught a sight of any lurking among the trees, they vanished on finding themselves perceived. Meeting no one from whom they could obtain information concerning this melancholy scene, they returned to the ships with dejected hearts.
Columbus himself landed on the following morning, and, repairing to the ruins of the fortress, caused diligent search to be made for the dead bodies of the garrison. Cannon and arquebuses were discharged to summon any survivors that might be in the neigh
bourhood, but none made their appearance. Columbus had ordered Arana and his fellow officers, in case of sudden danger, to bury all the treasure they might possess, or throw it in the well of the fortress. The well was therefore searched, and excavations were made among the ruins, but no gold was to be found. Not far from the fortress the bodies of eleven Europeans were discovered buried in different places, and they appeared to have been for some time in the ground. In the houses of a neighbouring hamlet were found several European articles, which could not have been procured by barter. This gave suspicions that the fortress had been plundered by the Indians in the vicinity; while, on the other hand, the village of Guacanagari was a mere heap of burnt ruins, which showed that he and his people had been involved in the same disaster with the garrison. Columbus was for some time perplexed by these contradictory documents of a disastrous story. At length a communication was effected with some of the natives; their evident apprehensions were dispelled, and by the aid of the interpreter the fate of the garrison was more minutely ascertained.
It appeared that Columbus had scarcely set sail for Spain, when all his counsels and commands faded from the minds of those who remained behind. Instead of cultivating the good will of the natives, they endeavoured, by all kinds of wrongful means, to get possession of their golden ornaments and other articles of value, and seduced from them their wives and daughters. Fierce brawls occurred between themselves, about their ill-gotten spoils, or the favours of the Indian women. In vain did
Diego de Arana interpose his authority; all order, all subordination, all unanimity, were at an end; factions broke out among them, and at length ambition arose to complete the destruction of this mimic empire. Pedro Gutierrez and Rodrigo de Escobedo, whom Columbus had left as lieutenants to succeed Arana in case of accident, now aspired to an equal share in the authority. In the quarrels which succeeded a Spaniard was killed, and Gutierrez and Escobedo, having failed in their object, withdrew from the fortress, with nine of their adherents and a number of women, and set off for the mountains of Cibao, with the idea of procuring immense wealth from its golden mines. These mountains were in the territories of the famous Caonabo, called by the Spaniards "the lord of the golden house." He was a Carib by birth, and had come an adventurer to the island, but, possessing the fierceness and enterprise of his nation, had gained such an ascendancy over these simple and unwarlike people, as to make himself their most powerful cacique. The wonderful accounts of the white men had reached him among his mountains, and he had the shrewdness to perceive that his own consequence must decline before such formidable intruders. The departure of Columbus had given him hopes that their intrusion would be but temporary; the discords of those who remained increased his confidence. No sooner, therefore, did Gutierrez and Escobedo, with their companions, appear in his dominions, than he seized them and put them to death. He then assembled his subjects, and, traversing the forests with profound secrecy, arrived in the vicinity of La Navidad without being discovered. But ten
men remained in the fortress with Arana; the rest were living in careless security in the village. In the dead of the night Caonabo and his warriors burst upon the place with frightful yells, and set fire to the fortress and village. The Spaniards were completely taken by surprise. Eight were driven to the sea side, and, rushing into the waves, were drowned; the rest were massacred. Guacanagari and his subjects fought faithfully in defence of their guests, but, not being of a warlike character, they were easily routed. The cacique was wounded in the conflict, and his village burnt to the ground.
Such is the story of the first European establishment in the new world. It presents in a diminutive compass an epitome of the gross vices which degrade civilization, and the grand political errors which sometimes subvert the mightiest empires. All law and order were relaxed by licentiousness; public good was sacrificed to private interest and passion; the community was convulsed by divers factions, until the whole body politic was shaken asunder by two aspiring demagogues, ambitious of the command of a petty fortress in a wilderness, and the supreme control of eight and thirty men!
This account of the catastrophe of the fortress satisfied Columbus of the good faith of Guacanagari; but circumstances concurred to keep alive the suspicions entertained of him by the Spaniards. Columbus paid a visit to the chieftain, whom he found in a neighbouring village, suffering apparently from a bruise which he had received in the leg from a stone. Several of his subjects, also, exhibited recent wounds, which had evidently been made by Indian weapons. The cacique was greatly agitated