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Origin of the name, "Indian.” The first interview between the Europeans and the Indians. The first hostilities. Spaniards licentious. Savages resist oppression. tle. Effects. Indians taxed. Their plan to destroy the Spaniards. Cruelties in Mexico and Peru. Improvements of the natives.
THE name of Indian was given the original natives of America on account of the general expectation entertained by the first discoverers of the new world, that San Salvador, one of the Bahama islands, at which they first arrived, was connected with others in succession, affording a passage to India, with which country the Europeans had been long acquainted.
It was not the idea of discovering a new continent so much as the hope of finding a passage to the riches of the East-Indies, much nearer and less hazardous than by doubling the cape of Good Hope, which induced those adventurers, allured by the prospects of gain more than actuated by the spirit of enterprise, to explore the untraversed regions of the west. When they had reached a country of a similar latitude, appearance, temperature and soil, supposing they had gained the object so long sought and of such vast commercial importance, they called the country, "the West Indies," and the inhabitants, "Indians." The subsequent detection of the error of that opinion has led to no change of the name, in which posterity felt as little concern as they did interest.
The first interview, on the 12th of October, 1492, between the Europeans and the natives was peculiarly interesting to both. Columbus was destined to be the first man from the eastern continent, who should set his foot upon the western. The rich dress in which he landed, the glittering sword he held drawn in his hand, the crucifix the Spaniards erected, the rapturous emotions with which they chanted, "Te Deum," the whiteness of the European complexions, the novelty of their arms, the vast machines in which they seemed to fly across the boundless ocean, joined with the thunders of the cannon, the lightnings of the flashes, and the smoke which set the whole sky into wild commotions, all was calculated to confirm in the minds of the astonished natives the impressions they first entertained, that the Europeans were a higher order of beings, "the children of the .sun. Attracted by a scene so novel, the natives assembled in the crowds to behold it. They were as unable to comprehend what their senses perceived, as to foresee the consequences of the approach of the strangers, which was soon to become fatal to them.
The first acts of intercourse were just and friendly. The natives, living beneath a sun nearly vertical, appeared in the simple innocence of nature, entirely naked. Although they were persons of regular shapes and of great activity, still the redness of their complexions, the singularity of their features with their faces and bodies painted in a fantastical manner, made them appear a race of men very different from all the nations and tribes of the east. They were at first timid, but mild treatment soon dissipated every degree of suspicion, leaving them friendly and familiar. With the emotions of transport, they readily exchanged provisions, cotton yarn, fruits and whatever they had to barter, for the glass beads, nails and trinkets which were offered them by the Spaniards. There is every probability, that the continuance of the same kindness, humanity and justice might easily have preserve and perpetuated the advantageous interchange of the same friendly offices.
This spirit of amity and moderation was of very short duration. The haughty Spaniards, conscious of their own superiority, soon forgot the rights of justice, which were due to the weak and defenceless. No sooner had Columbus set sail for Spain, 4th January, 1493, than the garrison, consisting of 36 persons, instead of trading on terms of equity and concili
ating the good will of the natives as they had been directed, offered them every insult and outrage. They roamed as freebooters through the whole country. The gold, the women and the provisions of the natives became the prey of these licentious oppressors. There is a point of forbearance, beyond which human nature will not proceed. The increase of injuries already intolerable was enough to rouse even the timid and despairing to resistance, and to arm the hands of the weak with power. The event shewed how dangerous it is for tyranny, however powerful, to sport with the sufferings of the people. On the return of Columbus, not a single man of them remained.
In no respect instructed by this disaster, the best efforts of Columbus after his return were not sufficient to curb the licentiousness of his rapacious countrymen. While the last prospect of their ever leaving the island remained, the natives suffered in silence. But this hope being banished, when they saw that their oppressions were about to become as durable as they were already intolerable, a spirit of rage was manifested by them, of which their gentle natures had not before seemed susceptible.
United by the sufferings they felt as well as by those they feared, they waited only a favorable opportunity, in order to take the most ample revenge. At all hazards, they were resolved to rid themselves of invaders, who were as cruel as they were lawless, whose thirst for gold no mines could satisfy, whose lust refrained from no object of desire, and whose want of justice left no rights sacred.
Columbus, hitherto humane and equitable, now saw with regret the crisis approaching. It was too late to rectify the wrongs which were past, or to calm the storm which was already raised. The necessity of self-defence left for him no choice. Both sides flew to arms. The vast multitudes of the natives seemed to compensate for their want of arms, and fury would minister force. They brought 100,000 men into the field of battle. Instead of drawing their enemy into woods and mountains, without any policy or stratagem, they sought counsel from valor, taking their station in the most open plain in all the country.
The Spaniards were reduced to 200 men. Besides these however, they had 20 cavalry. The natives, having never before seen horses, at first sight, it is said, considered them as rational creatures and the horse and rider as one animal.
A number of the fiercest dogs brought over from Europe, though not usually reckoned among military forces, were still calculated to carry terror and consternation and disorder among such a timid and naked people, who would be prone to join imaginary with real fears by not knowing as yet with what they had to contend.
The unequal conflict was not long doubtful; and the arts of civilization gained a complete triumph over physical strength. The noise of battle, the havoc of fire arms, the swiftness of the horses, the fury of the dogs, and the novelty as well as the terror of the scene could not fail to fill the Indians with dismay. Their native courage being found useless, their arms well nigh fell out of their hands, and they perceived that all was lost,
Multitudes were slain, more taken prisoners and reduced to slavery, which to a savage is worse than either torture or death. Despair succeeded. To the most entire liberty they had always been accustomed; and from labor they were peculiarly averse. Upon such as were above the age of fourteen years a severe tax was imposed. In districts where gold abounded, they were compelled to pay quarterly as much of gold dust as would fill a hawk's bill; in others, 25 pounds of cotton were required. These exactions only paved the way to others more oppressive.
The intrigues carried on in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella against Columbus were supposed to have been among the motives which induced him to depart so widely from his mild system of managing the natives. He expected by sending home immense riches to satisfy his personal enemies in Spain, who seemed busy to destroy his power and discredit his administrations, as having a direct tendency among various other evils to drain men and wealth from the mother country, without any equivalent in return, or one equal to their avarice.
In such an unequal conflict the natives perceiving their power to be weakness, had resort to an expedient, which, altho' it involved themselves in the greatest sufferings, they hoped, would prove fatal to the invaders. This was no other than to suspend all agricultural labor, to plant no maize, to pull up the manioc, to retire to inaccessible mountains and to leave nothing to their enemies but uncultivated plains.
The Spaniards, although reduced to want, yet in addition to some very seasonable supplies from Europe, found other
resources in their own ingenuity and industry. To the Indians this ill concerted policy proved much more pernicious. Shut up among barren mountains, with minds in dispair and bodies wasted by famine, contagious diseases did the rest of the work of destruction. In a few months, more than one third part of those many hundreds of thousands of people perished. Wherever the Europeans went, destruction spread before them, and the Indians on those islands are now known by little more than the name.
In other parts of America, the Europeans had less regard to the laws of humanity and the acknowledged rules of right. At their approach, every thing withered up and perished, as before a pestilence. Slaughter and rapine marked the road they took. A paradise with its thousand blooming sweets, which no mischievous spirit till now had entered, was changed into a barren desert, and in it too was placed the flaming sword, but no cherubim of mercy were there.
The innocent natives, like lambs for the slaughter, could only stamp defiance. They stood up indeed in their own defence with hearts of valor, but with hands ill armed. They could effect little with men who employed all the means derived from the skill and arts of civilized life.
The most horrid scenes of injustice, cruelty and crimes of every grade, "enough to make the angels weep," were exhibited in Mexico and Peru under the conduct of Cortez and Pizzarro, the conquerors of those two renowned kingdoms. These nations had approached the state of civilization. The eyes of the Spanish adventurers beheld their golden vessels and their great wealth, and their defenceless owners were soon removed out of the way of unsatiable avarice. Millions were miserably destroyed in all the various frightful forms, in which death ever comes to wretched mortals. Volumes would be incompetent to describe fully the dreadful effects of the avarice, the injustice and the cruelty of the Spaniards, nor be able to represent the losses, the sufferings and the ruin of the natives. The latter exhibited more of the virtues of christians, while the former merited the name as they imitated the barbarous conduct of the worst of savages.
The character of Indians is as different as the varieties of climate. In the more southern regions, where the Europeans first landed, and where the conquests were first made, the natives were mild and friendly. Nothing could change their gentle tempers but a series of abuses. In Mexico and