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had natural talents for war, great sagacity, a proud and daring spirit to urge him on, three valiant brothers to assist him, and a numerous tribe at his command. He had been enraged at seeing the fortress of St. Thomas erected in the very centre of his dominions; and finding by his spies that the garrison was reduced to but fifty men, and the army of Margarite dismembered, he thought the time had arrived to strike a signal blow, and to repeat the horrors which he had wreaked upon La Navidad.
The wily cacique, however, had a different kind of enemy to deal with in the commander of St. Thomas. Alonzo de Ojeda deserves particular notice as a specimen of the singular characters which arose among the Spanish discoverers. He had been schooled in Moorish warfare, and of course versed in all kinds of military stratagems. Naturally of a rash and fiery spirit, his courage was heightened by superstition. Having never received a wound in his numerous quarrels and encounters, he considered himself under the special protection of the holy Virgin, and that no weapon had power to harm him. He had a small Flemish painting of the Virgin, which he carried constantly with him; in his marches he bore it in his knapsack, and would often take it out, fix it against a tree, and address his prayers to his military patroness. In a word, he swore by the Virgin; he invoked the Virgin either in brawl or battle; and under favour of the Virgin he was ready for any enterprise or adventure. Such was Alonzo de Ojeda, bigoted in devotion, reckless in life, fearless in spirit, like many of the roving Spanish cavaliers of those days.
Having reconnoitred the fortress of St. Thomas,
Caonabo assembled ten thousand warriors, armed with war clubs, bows and arrows, and lances hardened in the fire, and led them secretly through the forests, thinking to surprise Ojeda; but he found him warily drawn up within his fortress, which was built upon a hill, and nearly surrounded by a river. Caonabo then held the fortress in siege for thirty days, and reduced it to great distress. He lost many of his bravest warriors, however, by the impetuous sallies of Ojeda; others grew weary of the siege, and returned home. He at length relinquished the attempt, and retired, filled with admiration of the prowess of Ojeda.
The restless chieftain now endeavoured to form a league of the principal caciques of the island to unite their forces, surprise the settlement of Isabella, and massacre the Spaniards wherever they could be found. To explain this combination, it is necessary to state the internal distribution of the island. It was divided into five domains, each governed by a sovereign cacique of absolute and hereditary powers, having many inferior caciques tributary to him. The most important domain comprised the middle part of the royal vega, and was governed by Guarionex. The second was Marion, under the sway of Guacanagari, on whose coast Columbus had been wrecked. The third was Maguana, which included the gold mines of Cibao, and was under the sway of Caonabo. The fourth was Xaragua, at the western end of the island, the most populous and extensive of all. The sovereign was named Behechio. The fifth domain was Higuey, and occupied the whole eastern part of the island, but had not as yet been visited by the Spaniards. The name of the cacique was Cotabanama.
Three of these sovereign caciques readily entered into the league with Caonabo, for the profligate conduct of the Spaniards had inspired hostility even in remote parts of the island, which had never been visited by them. The league, however, met with unexpected opposition from the fifth cacique, Guacanagari. He not merely refused to join the conspiracy, but entertained a hundred Spaniards in his territory, supplying all their wants with his accustomed generosity. This drew upon him the odium and hostility of his fellow-caciques, who inflicted on him various injuries and indignities. Behechio killed one of his wives, and Caonabo carried another away captive. Nothing, however, could shake the devotion of Guacanagari to the Spaniards; and as his dominions lay immediately adjacent to the settlement, his refusal to join in the conspiracy prevented it from being immediately carried into effect.
Such was the critical state to which the affairs of the island had been reduced, and such the bitter hostility engendered among its kind and gentle inhabitants, during the absence of Columbus. Immediately on his return, and while he was yet confined to his bed, Guacanagari visited him, and revealed to him all the designs of the confederate caciques, offering to lead his subjects to the field, and to fight by the side of the Spaniards. Columbus had always retained a deep sense of the ancient kindness of Guacanagari, and was rejoiced to have all suspicion of his good faith thus effectually dispelled. Their former amicable intercourse was renewed, and the chieftain ever continued to evince an affectionate reverence for the admiral.
Columbus considered the confederacy of the caciques as but imperfectly formed, and trusted that,
from their want of skill and experience in warfare, their plans might easily be disconcerted. He was too ill to take the field in person, his brother Diego was not of a military character, and Bartholomew was yet a stranger among the Spaniards, and regarded with jealousy. He determined, therefore, to proceed against the Indians in detail, attacking some, conciliating others, and securing certain of the most formidable by stratagem.
A small force was accordingly sent to relieve Fort Magdalena, which was beleaguered by Guatiguana, the cacique of the Grand River, who had massacred the Spaniards quartered in his town. He was driven from before the fortress, his country laid waste, and many of his warriors slain, but the chieftain made his escape. As he was tributary to Guarionex, the sovereign of the royal vega, care was taken to explain to that powerful cacique, that this was an act of mere individual punishment, not of general hostility. Guarionex was of a quiet and placable disposition; he was easily soothed and won to friendship; and, to link him in some degree to the Spanish interest, Columbus prevailed upon him to give his daughter in marriage to the converted Lucayan, who had been baptized in Spain by the name of Diego Colon, and who was devoted to the admiral. He gained permission from him also to erect a fortress in the midst of his territories, which he named Fort Conception.
The most formidable enemy remained to be disposed of, which was Caonabo; to make war upon this fierce and subtle chieftain in the depths of his wild woodland territory, and among the fastnesses of his mountains, would have been a work
of time, peril, and uncertain issue. In the meanwhile, the settlements would never be safe from his secret combinations and daring enterprises, nor could the mines be worked with security, as they lay in his neighbourhood. While perplexed on this subject, Columbus was relieved by a proposition of Alonzo de Ojeda, who undertook to bring the Carib chieftain either a friend or captive to the settle
Choosing ten bold and hardy followers, well armed and well mounted, and invoking the protection of his patroness the Virgin, Ojeda plunged into the forest, and making his way above sixty leagues into the wild territories of Caonabo, appeared fearlessly before the cacique in one of his most populous towns, professing to come on an amicable embassy from the admiral. He was well received by Caonabo, who had tried him in battle, and had conceived a warrior's admiration of him. The free dauntless deportment, great personal strength and agility, and surprising adroitness of Ojeda in all manly and warlike exercises, were calculated to charm a savage, and soon made him a favourite with Caonabo. He used all his influence to prevail upon the cacique to repair to Isabella, and enter into a treaty with Columbus, offering him, it is said, as an inducement, the bell of the chapel at the harbour. This bell was the wonder of the island. When its melody sounded through the forests, as it rung for mass, the Indians had noticed that the Spaniards hastened from all parts to the chapel. At other times, when it gave the vesper-peal, they beheld the Spaniards pause in the midst of their labours or amusements, and, taking