How Spaniards Were Found To Be Mortal

: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

The first Spaniards to reach the American islands were everywhere

greeted as heavenly visitors, and the natives would not have been

astonished had the caravels spread their sails--their wings, as they

first were called--and flown into the clouds, carrying Columbus and his

wrangling, jealous, sensual, gold-greedy company with him. Afterward

they would have been more astonished than sorry. When the white men

discovered t
is simple faith among the savages they encouraged it,

for it induced the Indians to give up their wives, daughters, houses,

weapons, and, above all else, their gold, to the strangers. The little

bells and beads they gave in return were treasured because of their

celestial origin and adored as fervently as the bones of saints are

adored in some of the European churches. Everywhere and always the

demand was for gold, and in the belief that the supply was going to

last forever, Spain began to ruin herself with more industry than

she had ever shown in peaceful callings. Her wars, her splendors,

her vanities, her neglect of education and morality, bore their fruit

when she pulled her flag down from the staff on Havana's Moro, and

gave up her claims to the last foot of land in the Western world.

Ponce de Leon permitted the fiction that the Spaniards were

angels--save the mark!--for it smoothed his progress in stripping

the Porto Ricans of their poor little possessions, taking their lands

for settlement, foraging over the island, forcing his religion upon

them, and compelling them to serve him as miners, carriers, farmers,

fishermen, and laborers. Many died because it was thought to be cheaper

to work them to death and get fresh ones than to feed them. After a

time the Indians began to have doubts, and when the friars enlarged

on the glories of heaven, and described it as the abode of Spaniards,

more of them than Hatuey were anxious to be allowed to go to the

other place. They did not at first dare to attack the intruders,

for what could men avail against gods, and of what use were spears

and clubs against their thunderous arms and smashing missiles?

As the aggressions increased and became less and less endurable,

Chief Agueynaba resolved, out of the soreness of his heart, to test

this reputed immortality of his guests. A messenger, one Salzedo, was

to be sent away from San Juan on some official errand, with a little

company of natives as freighters and servants. This was Agueynaba's

chance. He ordered his men to slip Salzedo into a river and hold him

under water for a time. If he was an immortal this would not hurt

him, and if he died, why--they would try very hard to bear up under

the loss. While crossing the river--the spot is still shown--the

men who bore Salzedo on their shoulders pitched him off and detained

him beneath the surface for a couple of hours; then, fearing that he

might be still alive and vicious, they put him on a bank and howled

apologies to his remains for three days. By that time there was no

longer a doubt about his deadness. Reports of this discovery traversed

the island with the speed of a South American mail service, so that

within a week people even forty miles away had heard about it. Thus

encouraged to resistance by the discovery that white men were mortal,

the populace fell upon their persecutors and troubled them, although

after one defeat the Spaniards rallied and drove the Indians back to

the mines.