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Juan Ponce de Leon, and his rival candidate Christoval de Sotomayor, bore their disappointment with a good grace. Though the command was denied them, they still hoped to improve their fortunes on the island, and accordingly joined the crowd of adventurers that accompanied the newly appointed governor.
New changes soon took place in consequence of the jealousies and misunderstandings between King Ferdinand and the Admiral as to points of privilege. The former still seemed disposed to maintain the rights of making appointments without consulting Don Diego, and exerted it in the present instance ; for when Ovando, on his return to Spain, made favorable representation of the merits of Juan Ponce de Leon, and set forth his services in exploring Porto Rico, the King appointed him governor of that island and signified specifically that Don I)iego Columbus should not presume to displace him.
JUAN posco Roi. Es witH A STRoNG HAND–ExAsPERATION OF THE INI).I.A.N.S.–THEIR EXPERIMENT TO PROVE WHETHER THE SPANIARDS WERE MORTAL.
JUAN PONck or LEON assumed the command of the island of Boriquen in the year 1509. Being a fiery, high-handed old soldier, his first step was to quarrel with Juan Ceron and Miguel Diaz, the ex-governor and his lieutenant, and to send them prisoners to Spain.” He was far more favorable to his late competitor, Christoval de Sotomayor. Finding him to be a cavalier of noble blood and high connections, yet void of pretension, and of most accommodating temper, he offered to make him his lieutenant, and to give him the post of alcalde mayor, an offer which was very thankfully accepted. The pride of rank however, which follows a man even into the wilderness, soon interfered with the quiet of Sotomayor; he was ridiculed for descending so much below his birth and dignity, as to accept a subaltern situation to a simple gentleman in the island which he had originally aspired to govern. He could not withstand these sneers, but resigned his appointment, and remained on the island as a private individual; establishing himself in the village where he had a large repartimiento, or allotment of Indians, assigned to him by a grant from the King. Juan Ponce fixed his seat of government in a town called Caparra, which he founded on the northern side of the island, about a league from the sea, in a neighborhood supposed to
abound in gold. It was in front of the port called Rico, which subsequently gave its name to the island. The road to the town was up a mountain, through a dense forest, and so rugged and miry that it was the bane of man and beast. It cost more to convey provisions and merchandise up this league of mountain, than it did to bring them from Spain. Juan Ponce, being firmly seated in his government, began to carve and portion out the island, to found towns, and to distribute the natives into repartimientos, for the purpose of exacting their labor. The poor Indians soon found the difference between the Spaniards as guests and the Spaniards as masters. They were driven to despair by the heavy tasks imposed upon them ; for to their free spirits and indolent habits, restraint and labor were worse than death. Many of the most hardy and daring proposed a general insurrection, and a massacre of their oppressors: the great mass however were deterred by the belief that the Spaniards were supernatural beings, and could not be killed. A shrewd and sceptical cacique, named Brayoan, determined to put their immortality to the test. Hearing that a young Spaniard, named Salzedo, was passing through his lands, he sent a party of his subjects to escort him, giving them secret instructions how they were to act. On coming to a river, they took Salzedo on their shoulders to carry him across, but when in the midst of the stream, they let him fall, and throwing themselves upon him, pressed him under water until he was drowned. Then dragging his body to the shore, and still doubting his being dead, they wept and howled over him, making a thousand apologies for having fallen upon him, and kept him so long beneath the surface. The cacique Brayoan came to examine the body, and pronounced it lifeless; but the Indians, still fearing it might possess lurking immortality and ultimately revive, kept watch over it for three days, until it showed incontestable signs of putrefaction. Being now convinced that the strangers were mortal men, like themselves, they readily entered into a general conspiracy to destroy them.*
consPIRAcy of THE cacIQUEs—FATE of
THE prime mover of the conspiracy among the natives was Agueybana, brother and successor to the hospitable cacique of the same name, who had first welcomed the Spaniards * Herrera, decad. i., lib. viii., cap. 13.
to the island, and who had fortunately closed his eyes in peace before his native groves were made the scenes of violence and oppression. The present cacique had fallen within the repartimiento of Don Christoval de Sotomayor, and, though treated by that cavalier with kindness, could never reconcile his proud spirit to the yoke of vassalage. Agueybaná held secret councils with his confederate caciques, in which they concerted a plan of operations. As the Spaniards were scattered about in different places, it was agreed that at a certain time each cacique should despatch those within his province. In arranging the massacre of those within his own domains, Agueybanā assigned to one of his inferior caciques the task of surprising the village of Sotomayor, giving him three thousand warriors for the purpose. He was to assail the village in the dead of night, to set fire to the houses, and to slaughter all the inhabitants. He proudly however reserved to himself the honor of killing Don Christoval with his own hand. I)on Christoval had an unsuspected friend in the very midst of his enemies. Being a cavalier of gallant appearance and amiable and courteous manners, he had won the affections of an Indian princess, the sister of the cacique