Imágenes de páginas

from those cannibal marauders. The command
of the armada was given to Juan Ponce de
Leon, from his knowledge of Indian warfare
and his varied and rough experience, which
had mingled in him the soldier with the sailor.
He was instructed in the first place to assail
the Caribs of those islands most contiguous and
dangerous to Porto Rico, and then make war
on those of the coast of Terra Firma, in the
neighborhood of Carthagena. He was after-
wards to take the captaincy of Porto Rico, and
to attend to the repartimientos or distributions
of the Indians, in conjunction with a person to
be appointed by Diego Columbus.
The enterprise suited the soldier-like spirit
of Juan Ponce de Leon, and the gallant old
cavalier set sail full of confidence, in January,
1515, and steered direct for the Caribbees, with
a determination to give a wholesome castigation
to the whole savage archipelago. Arriving at
the island of Guadaloupe, he cast anchor and
sent men on shore for wood and water, and
women to wash the clothing of the crews, with
a party of soldiers to mount guard.
Juan Ponce had not been as wary as usual,
for he had to deal with savages unusually adroit
in warfare. While the people were scattered
carelessly on the shore, the Caribs rushed forth

vol. v.-7

[ocr errors]

from an ambuscade, killed the greater part of the men, and carried off the women to the Inountains. This blow, at the very onset of his vaunted expedition, sank deep into the heart of Juan Ponce and put an end to all his military excitement. Humbled and mortified, he set sail for the island of Porto Rico, where he relinquished all further prosecution of the enterprise under the pretext of ill-health, and gave the command of the squadron to a captain named Zufiiga: but it is surmised that his malady was not so much of the flesh as of the spirit. He remained in Porto Rico as governor, but having grown testy and irritable through vexations and disappointments, he gave great offence and caused much contention on the island by positive and strong-handed measures in respect to the distribution of the Indians. He continued for several years in that island in a state of growling repose, until the brilliant exploits of Hernando Cortez, which threatened to eclipse the achievements of all the veteran discoverers, roused his dormant spirit. Jealous of being cast into the shade in his old days, he determined to sally forth on one more expedition. He had heard that Florida, which he had discovered and which he had hitherto considered, a mere island, was part of Terra Firma, possessing vast and unknown regions in its bosom. If so, a grand field of enterprise lay before him, wherein he might make discoveries and conquests to rival, if not surpass, the far-famed conquest of Mexico. Accordingly in the year 1521 he fitted out two ships at the island of Porto Rico and embarked almost the whole of his property in the undertaking. His voyage was toilsome and tempestuous, but at length he arrived at the wished-for land. He made a descent upon the coast with a great part of his men, but the Indians sallied forth with unusual valor to defend their shores. A bloody battle ensued ; several of the Spaniards were slain, and Juan Ponce was wounded by an arrow in the thigh. He was borne on board his ship, and finding himself disabled for further action, set sail for Cuba, where he arrived ill in body and dejected in heart. He was of an age when there is no longer prompt and healthful reaction, either mental or corporeal. The irritations of humiliated pride and disappointed hope exasperated the fever of his wound, and he died soon after his arrival at the island. “Thus fate,” says one of the quaint old Spanish writers, “delights to reverse the schemes of man. The discovery that Juan Ponce flattered himself was to lead to a means of perpetuating his life, had the ultimate effect of hastening his death.” It may be said, however, that he had at least attained the shadow of his desire, since, though disappointed in extending the natural term of his existence, his discovery had insured a lasting duration to his name. The following epitaph was inscribed upon his tomb, which does justice to the warrior qualities of the stout cavalier :

Mole sub hac fortis requiescunt ossa Leonis
Qui vicit factis nomina magna suis.

It has thus been paraphrased in Spanish by the Licentiate Juan de Castellanos :

Aqueste lugar estrecho
Es sepulchro del varon,
Que en el nombre fue Leon,
Y mucho Inas en el hecho.

’’In this sepulchre rest the bones of a man, who was a lion by name and still more by nature.''



« AnteriorContinuar »