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by a series of flagrant outrages, the gentle and pacific nature of this people was roused to resentment, and from confiding and hospitable hosts, they were converted into vindictive enemies. All the precautions enjoined by Columbus having been neglected, the evils he had apprehended came to pass. Though the Indians, naturally timid, dared not contend with the Spaniards while they kept up any combined and disciplined force, yet they took sanguinary vengeance on them whenever they met with small parties or scattered individuals, roving about in quest of food. Encouraged by these petty triumphs, and the impunity which seemed to attend them, their hostilities grew more and more alarming. Guatiguana, cacique of a large town on the banks of the Grand River, in the dominions of Guarionex, sovereign of the Vega, put to death ten Spaniards, who had quartered themselves in his town, and outraged the inhabitants by their licentiousness. He followed up this massacre by setting fire to a house in which forty-six Spaniards were lodged.* Flushed by this success he threatened to attack a small fortress called Magdalena, which had recently been built in his neighborhood in the Vega ; so that the commander, Luis de Arriaga, having but a feeble
Herrera, Hist. Ind., decad. i., lib. ii., cap. 16.
garrison, was obliged to remain shut up within its walls until relief should arrive from Isabella.
The most formidable enemy of the Spaniards however was Caonabo, the Carib cacique of Maguana. With natural talents for war, and intelligence superior to the ordinary range of savage intellect, he had a proud and daring spirit to urge him on, three valiant brothers to assist him, and a numerous tribe at his command. * He had always felt jealous of the intrusion of the white men into the island; but particularly exasperated by the establishment of the fortress of St. Thomas, erected in the very centre of his dominions. As long as the army lay within call in the Vega he was deterred from any attack ; but when, on the departure of Margarite, it became dismembered and dispersed, the time for striking a signal blow seemed arrived. The fortress remained isolated, with a garrison of only fifty men. By a sudden and secret movement he might overwhelm it with his forces, and 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. Alonso de Ojeda had been schooled in Moorish warfare. He was versed in all kinds of feints, stratagems, lurking am
* Herrera, Hist. Ind., decad. i., lib. ii., cap. 16.
buscades, and wild assaults. No man was more fitted therefore to cope with Indian warriors. He had a headlong courage, arising partly from the natural heat and violence of his disposition, and, in a great measure, from religious superstition. He had been engaged in wars with Moors and Indians, in public battle and private combats, in fights, feuds, and encounters of all kinds, to which he had been prompted by a rash and fiery spirit, and a love of adventure ; yet he had never been wounded, nor lost a drop of blood. He began to doubt whether any weapon had power to harm him, and to consider himself under the special protection of the Holy Virgin. As a kind of religious talisman, he had a small Flemish painting of the Virgin, given him by his patron, Fonseca, Bishop of Badajoz. This he constantly carried with him, in city, camp or field, making it the object of his frequent orisons and invocations. In garrison or encampment, it was suspended in his chamber or his tent; in his rough expeditions in the wilderness he carried it in his knapsack, and whenever leisure permitted, would take it out, fix it against a tree, and address his prayers to this military patroness.* In a word, he
* Herrera, Hist. Ind., decad. i., lib. viii., cap. 4. Pizarro Varonese Illustres, cap. 8.
swore by the Virgin, he invoked the Virgin whether in brawl or battle, and under the favor of the Virgin he was ready for any enterprise or adventure. Such was Alonso de Ojeda; bigoted in his devotion, reckless in his life, fearless in his spirit, like many of the roving Spanish cavaliers of those days. Though small in size, he was a prodigy of strength and prowess; and the chroniclers of the early discoveries relate marvels of his valor and exploits.
Having reconnoitred the fortress Caonabo assembled ten thousand warriors, armed with war clubs, bows and arrows, and lances hardened in the fire ; and making his way secretly through the forests, came suddenly in the neighborhood, expecting to surprise the garrison in a state of careless security. He found Ojeda's forces however drawn up warily within his tower, which, being built upon an almost insulated height, with a river nearly surrounding it, and the remaining space traversed by a deep ditch, set at defiance an attack by naked warriors.
Foiled in his attempt Caonabo now hoped to reduce it by famine. For this purpose he distributed his warriors through the adjacent forests; and waylaid every pass, so as to intercept any supplies brought by the natives, and
to cut off any foraging party from the fortress. This siege, or investment, lasted for thirty days,* and reduced the garrison to great distress. There is a traditional anecdote, which Oviedo relates of Pedro Margarite, the former commander of this fortress, but which may with more probability be ascribed to Alonso de Ojeda, as having occurred during this siege. At a time when the garrison was sore pressed by famine, an Indian gained access to the fort, bringing a couple of wood-pigeons for the table of the commander. The latter was in an apartment of the tower surrounded by several of his officers. Seeing them regard the birds with the wistful eyes of fainishing men, “It is a pity,” said he, “that there is not enough to give us all a meal ; I cannot consent to feast while the rest of you are starving”; so saying, he turned loose the pigeons from a window of the tower.
During the siege, Ojeda displayed the greatest activity of spirit and fertility of resource. He baffled all the arts of the Carib chieftain, concerting stratagems of various kinds to relieve the garrison and annoy the foe. He sallied forth whenever the enemy appeared in any force, leading the van with the headlong valor for which he was noted ; making great
* P. Martyr, decad. i., lib. iv.