THE CONQUERORS OF CENTRAL AMERICA, I

Indians burnt alive
Indians burnt alive.
From an old print.

In Cuba, the Cacique Hattuey was made prisoner and condemned to be burnt. When he was tied to the stake, a Franciscan monk tried to convert him, promising him that if he would only embrace the Christian faith, he would be at once admitted to all the joys of Paradise. "Are there any Spaniards in that land of happiness and joy of which you speak?" asked Hattuey. "Yes," replied the monk, "but only those who have been just and good in their lives." "The very best among them can have neither justice nor mercy!" said the poor cacique, "I do not wish to go to any place where I should meet a single man of that accursed race."

Does not this fact suffice to paint the degree of exasperation to which these unfortunate people had been driven? And these horrors were repeated wherever the Spaniards set foot! We will throw a veil over these atrocities practised by men who thought themselves civilized, and who pretended that they wished to convert to Christianity, the religion pre-eminently of love and mercy, a race who were in reality less savage than themselves.

In 1504 and 1505 four vessels explored the Gulf of Urabia. This was the first voyage in which Juan de la Cosa had the supreme command. This seems, too, to have been about the date of Hojeda's third voyage, when he went to the territory of Coquibacoa, a voyage that certainly was made, as Humboldt says, but of which we have no clear account.

In 1509 Juan Diaz de Solis, in concert with Vincent Yañez Pinzon, discovered a vast province, since known by the name of Yucatan.

"Though this expedition was not a very remarkable one in itself," says Robertson, "it deserves to be noticed as it led to discoveries of the utmost importance." For the same reason we must mention the voyage of Diego d'Ocampo, who being charged to sail round Cuba, was the first to ascertain the fact that it was a large island, Columbus having always regarded it as part of the continent. Two years later Juan Diaz de Solis and Vincent Pinzon sailing southwards towards the equinoctial line, advanced as far as the 40° of south latitude, and found, to their surprise, that the continent extended on their right hand even to this immense distance. They landed several times, and took formal possession of the country, but could not found any colonies there, on account of the small resources they had at their command. The principal result of this voyage was the more exact knowledge which it gave of the extent of this part of the globe.

Alonzo de Hojeda, whose adventures we have narrated above, was the first to think of founding a colony on the mainland; although he had no means of his own, his courage and enterprising spirit soon gained him associates, who furnished him with the funds needed for carrying out his plans.

With the same object Diego de Nicuessa, a rich colonist of Hispaniola, organized an expedition in 1509.

King Ferdinand, who was always lavish of encouragements which cost little, gave both Hojeda and Nicuessa honourable titles and patents of nobility, but not a single maravédis (a Spanish coin). He also divided the newly-discovered continent into two governments, of which one was to extend from Cape La Vela to the Gulf of Darien, and the other from the Gulf of Darien to Cape Gracias a Dios. The first was given to Hojeda, the second to Nicuessa. These two "conquistadores" had to deal with a population far less easy to manage than that of the Antilles. Determined to resist to the utmost the invasion of their country, they adopted means of resistance hitherto unknown to the Spaniards. Thus the strife became deadly. In a single engagement seventy of Hojeda's companions fell under the arrows of the savages, fearful weapons steeped in "curare," so fatal a poison that the slightest wound was followed by death. Nicuessa on his side, had much difficulty in defending himself, and in spite of two considerable reinforcements from Cuba, the greater number of his followers perished during the year from wounds, fatigue, privations, or sickness. The survivors founded the small colony of Santa-Maria el Antigua upon the Gulf of Darien, and placed it under the command of Balboa.