Book VI, Chapter VIII
Of the metals and gold mines on this island of Hispaniola; being divided into eleven paragraphs or parts; and of the means of obtaining gold and other notable features pertinent to its history.
Translated by Olivia Gotsch ’23
I. In the previous chapter I named the primary and most powerful rivers on this island of Hispaniola and described them briefly. I now want to speak of some I also named but which are not famous for their grandeur and depth, nor for their fisheries; but they are more renowned than all those that I named for the abundance of gold extracted from their coasts and banks, rivers enriched by innumerable creeks, springs, and brooks, all rich with gold. Among these rivers, that which they call Cotuy is extremely rich; along its banks there is a small village or town of miners and people trained in this gold enterprise; they call the village and river by the same name, Cotuy. There has been eagerness and much work done in mining gold there, but as the particulars of how they mine gold will be told below, I will write first about the other metals beyond gold found on this island, since one should be brief about what is of less value while something should be said about that which is highly desired in the world, but not as much as to match men’s desires.
II. There is copper on this island; it has been found often by many who claim it is still abundant; but few pay much attention to this industry, since it would be a great error to stop searching for gold and mining it (knowing that it is there) to search instead for copper, given the great inequality of price and profit of one versus the other. And for this reason, no one wants to occupy themselves in an industry such as the mining of copper. But this suffices for the purpose and truth of this history, for there is a great deal of it.
III. Some would like to say that there is iron on this island, but I have not seen it, nor can I confirm it. I have heard it said by Lope de Bardeçi, presently a neighbor of this city, and one of its honorable landowners, who affirms that it was found on the shores of the Nizao River and that he had the vein of iron smelted in his presence, as it was done, and he believed it to be certain (unless he was tricked by whoever smelted it), which I would not doubt, because the malice of men is great. And I also do not want to linger on this point since Biscay, Spain, where there is abundant and immeasurable iron, is not many leagues away from Asturias and Galicia, and in Asturias and Galicia one hears of great mines rich with gold, as Pliny and other famous authors attest; and I do not believe this would cease to be true at present if one were to look for gold in Asturias. And therefore, it is possible that although there is much gold on this island, it is likewise not lacking in iron; since the Master who created these and other greater and natural things there, so varied from each other, is the same who has charge of those matters here and does everything as is His will.
I will mention here a sign of the wealth and abundance of gold in Asturias (at one time) that came to be revealed in Almazán in the year of 1496, when their Catholic Monarchs and the Serene Prince Don Juan, their first-born (my master), and the Serene Queen Doña Juana, our lady (mother of His Imperial Majesty), who was then an Archduchess, and all her sisters were there; a few days before the Catholic King departed from that town for the border of France (for the war against the French), and the Queen and the prince and his sisters for Laredo to escort the Archduchess, who was sailing off to Flanders, which took place that same year, it happened in Asturias de Oviedo that a shepherd guarding his flock discovered while roaming the pasture on a rough hill far from town a necklace of gold or circle almost all in one piece, made partly of squares and partly of twisted gold, the ends turned to attach one to the other, as thick as the little finger of the hand. And it was so large that it measured a palm and a half across; it weighed a bit less than five hundred castellanos or ten fine gold marks or ducats. Oviedo’s chief magistrate sent this collar to the Catholic Queen, who gave it to the prince, since it had been found in his principality of Asturias: the principality had been given by the King and Queen to the prince in the same town of Almazán a few days prior, together with the cities of Salamanca, and Toro, and Zamora, and Logroño, and other towns and fortresses, and he had been granted his own household. I had this collar in my possession, because I had the keys to the prince’s chamber; and I recall that it was discussed at that time that they should look for and exploit the mines of Asturias. And his parents exhorted the Prince to give orders for this; because beyond what is written here it appears that this collar was an incentive to exploration, since where such a collar was found or worn it would be because of the great abundance of gold in the land. The collar was crude if meant to be worn by a man, so it was thought that it was made for some animal, like those used by great men at a time.At least of Caesar, the dictator, it was written that he had collars of gold put on many deer, upon which was written, “Noli me tangere, quia Caesaris sum.” And they wandered free, for no one dared touch them. Petrarch tried to make use of this in the sonnet that begins:
Una candida cerva sopra l’herba
verde ma parve…
and continuing, says:
Nessun mi tocchi, al hel collo dintorno
Pliny says that deer belonging to Alexander the Great were found with their collars a hundred years later, and that the flesh had continued to grow over the collar, covering it.
Whether this collar, which I said I saw in the Prince’s chamber and held in my hands a few times, was for a deer or another animal, I do not know. I have read that Sertorius brought a white doe to Spain, and gave the people to understand that it would foretell what they should prepare to do and divined the future. Valerius Maximus writes that Quintus Sertorius brought from the rough mountains of Lusitania in Spain a white doe, and gave those idiotic and simple people to understand that the doe would warn them about what should be done and brought about, etc. I conclude from this that Lusitania and Asturias, the one and the other, are in Spain, and that there were many gold mines in both provinces: and likewise it could be that this collar is that of Sertorius’ doe. But leaving speculations aside, the fact is that I saw the collar, and that it was found in Asturias de Oviedo, where Pliny spoke of the great mines of Lusitania and of Asturias, as will be told much further on; and we will return to our subject.
IV. The use of metals and gold is an ancient thing among men in this world, as the written record attests. It is said in Pliny’s Natural History that Cadino discovered gold and the means of smelting it on the mountain of Panges; others say that it was Thoas and Aecus in Panchaia; or the sun, son of Oceanus, to whom Gellius attributes the invention of medicine. All this is set forth by Pliny in the place cited. Moses was ordered by God to take the gold and silver of the children of Israel for the building of the tabernacle.And also Joseph, when he ordered the sacks of his brothers to be filled with wheat in Egypt, had money put in the opening of each sack, and in the opening of the sack of the youngest he had a silver cup placed, and the price that the brothers had paid for the wheat: before this the same Joseph had been sold by these same brothers to the Ishmaelites for thirty argentine or silver coins. So gold and silver and metals have been used by men since ancient times, and in profuse and continuous trade, giving value in the process to other things of commerce among people. King Servius was the first to coin copper, according to Timaeus (Pliny says); and early Roman coins were crude and unpolished, and the first image was a pecus, id est, a sheep; because the coin minted was called pecunia.
We will leave the stories of the past and return to the present, since the topic of gold is one for which avaricious men will pause with greater attention than any other particularity or secret addressed or referred to in this Natural and General History of the Indies.But men of wise disposition will attend to this section with no greater ambition and desire than to know and hear about the works of nature; and thus with more leisure of understanding, they will do well to listen to me (since mine is not a tale of nonsense like the books of Amadís or those upon which they rely). Rather, many virtuous and Catholic men will relish this section, not finding or adjudging a greater worth in gold higher than that of giving thanks to God, for having created so excellent and perfect a thing as this metal; and the higher its price and value, and more dazzling its praise and estimation, the greatest and wisest and most sacred its provider. Because gold that is not well-used, and is in the power of mean and miserly men, is of no greater benefit than that which is hidden beneath the earth, and which the sun has never seen. And just as this earth (our universal mother) breaks and opens in various places, and men stumble upon veins of gold in her bowels and depths, so the belly of the greedy miser begins to deteriorate and break, ending the course of his life, ensuring that the hidden coins that the wretch hoarded and never dared use should leave him. I would like to say that I have seen in these Indies great collectors of this gold, and by not spending it well they have ended in great misery and it has gone from their hands like dew drops or shadows, with their lives following their coins. As to whatever the reader’s reason for wanting to hear from me, I want them to hear and know from me throughout the world how magnificent an empire these Indies are, which God had saved for a well-favored Emperor, as ours is, and so great and liberal a distributor of earthly riches, which are so wisely and divinely distributed by his hand, and employed in such Catholic and sacred exercises and practices, such that with greater opportunity and abundance of treasures his noble thoughts and armies wage their struggle against the infidels and heretical enemies of the Christian religion. And so that foreigners see, and understand fully (as it is certain and evident) that God gave Spain many spirited, valiant, great, illustrious, and chivalrous men, and a multitude of well-born men and noblemen; and common to all men native to Spain is their God-given courage, since He gifted them with great experience in military discipline and with such determination to exert themselves in their virtuous and natural inclination, as all authentic early and modern histories attest to and can be clearly seen.And it was not without good cause that Livy said of our Spaniards: “they are fierce people, because they think no life is laudable without arms.” And without looking to the authorities of the past, the eyes of men who live today have seen this and known, being able to testify, and perceive, and confirm for themselves the unconquered past kings of our Spain, and the Catholic Monarchs Don Ferdinand and Doña Isabela (never defeated and always the victors) who won Granada, Naples, Navarra, and Bugia, and other kingdoms, and discovered this New World of these Indies, and the trophies and triumphs of His Imperial Majesty the Emperor King, Charles, our lord: who has been worthy, through divine mercy (who made him worthy of his great fortune and ours), to be lord of so valiant a nation, such as we see at present, as is seen, that the flag of Spain is celebrated as the most victorious, respected as the most glorious, feared as the most powerful, and beloved as the most worthy in the universe. And in this way we experience our times and we see it is undeniable that never under the heavens has there lived until now such a Christian prince in such power and great majesty; and thus it should be expected that that which is to be achieved and come at the height of our Caesar’s universal monarchy will be seen in a short while under his scepter; and there will be no kingdom, nor sect, nor manner of false belief that will not be humbled and brought down under his yoke and obedience. And I do not speak only of infidels; but also of those who call themselves Christians, if they fail to recognize our Emperor as superior, as they should and as God has commanded; for he has plenty of daring soldiers and people and they will not lack for riches to be distributed among them, as much in his great estates in Europe and Africa, as in this half of the world which comprises these Indies.
Could there be more clear and obvious proof of what I say of his power and riches than for his captains and people in the southern ocean of these Indies in the year 1533 (in one day alone), when King Atahualpa was imprisoned, to have given him the worth of four hundred thousand gold pesos, only a fifth of his gold and silver, leaving a million and six hundred thousand gold pesos in these two metals alone to divide among the few Spaniards who found themselves there? And see how few in number were these Christians, that knights took nine thousand gold castellanos for their share, and there were some that received fifteen, twenty, or even fifty thousand if they were captains; and the lowest infantryman received three or four thousand gold pesos as his share, without counting many very precious emeralds, as will be told more particularly in the third part of this history. How does the sack of Genoa compare? . . . What about Milan? And Rome? What about the ransom for King Francis of France? How about the ransom or great spoils from King Montezuma in New Spain? Cortés’ exploits seem to recede into oblivion in the light of the riches from the Southern sea; King Atahualpa is so very wealthy, and those people and province, from whom we expect and have already extracted so many millions in gold, make everything in the known world we had called rich seem little when compared to these people, who do not shoot with poisoned arrows, do not know anything about gunpowder or any other remedies or instruments of war to defend themselves against attack. So the people from these nations flee from horses as the devil before the cross.
They shipped out of this island large vessels full of gold that I saw with my own eyes, and many other things, nuggets of great weight and significance, like none ever heard of or described before; and many of these (and great treasures) to Spain, to Seville, and so many people saw them that it cannot be doubted, nor is what I say fable or fiction, nor what will be said on this subject further on when writing about the Mainland and the lands of the southern seas in the third part of this General History. And it is well known that at the time when the Emperor arranged to leave the city of Madrid at the beginning of March of 1535 in order to gather his fleet and armies in Barcelona to fight against the African infidels, four ships arrived in Seville carrying no other cargo except for gold and silver, worth over two million gold pesos between the two metals. As it was known, Captain Hernando Pizarro had already arrived with another ship loaded with gold and silver. In the year 1538, the Emperor’s fleet (of which Comendador Blasco Nuñez Vela was captain general) was known to have brought His Majesty and some private individuals the equivalent of another million and a half pesos or more in gold and silver, beyond the many other ships full of wealth that had traveled to Spain since the time that Atahualpa had been imprisoned in these parts.
There is only one thing that I want to note and may those who read this not forget it; and it is that just as the many writers around the world addressing such topics were short on subject matter and could not find as much to say as their abilities and narrative talents could have turned into a true history, it is the opposite with my history, which is only hampered by my speech and skill. And I am not alone in lacking the time, the pen and hands, and the eloquence for such a daunting task, as those famous poets, Orpheus, Homer, Hesiod, Pindar, would not be up to the effort. And even beyond the poets, nor even the most eloquent orators could exhaust a sea so full of stories, even if a thousand Ciceros, in proportion to the grand abundance and nearly infinite quantity of wonders and riches to be found here and it is my task to write about, were to try their hands at it. But I hope, through serving God and through His compensating for my flaws, to tell and express in the second and third parts of this history everything that should be included in them, to the satisfaction of learned men and the pleasure of others. And all matters concerning Peru, which belong to the topics and history of the Mainland, will be left for those parts; and the indications I have given of the victory of Comendador Francisco Pizarro, governor of Peru on behalf of Their Majesties, will remind the reader to look for the rest in the third part, which will address Peru and the southern sea. And what has been touched upon here is not far from my purpose, which is to bring us to the topic of the treasures of our Holy Roman Emperor, and the resources God has given him in order remove some infamous conceits from the world and replace them with the peace and justice that all faithful and Catholic Christians hope to obtain and enjoy from His hand. Because in truth the world has been in such a state that even the least among men knew whose opinion they supported between Heraclitus and Democritus. But what am I to say? Those who entertained any doubts were those more prudent or laden with years, since those, no matter how things unfolded, knew how to come to terms with them in time; but for the most part the opinion of Heraclitus prevailed, and few laughed like Democritus. This sufficed for the scholars; but because I write from the Indies, and no less for commoners or the illiterate, I say that Heraclitus the philosopher was from Ephesus, a city in Asia, and through his constant study, without a teacher, became a remarkable man; and while Democritus constantly laughed at the foolishness and madness of men, Heraclitus cried, moved to compassion by their misery, and having seen his fellow citizens’ bad habits opted to live in solitude in the mountains.
I want to say that as this gold is coveted, as long as the discord between Spain and France lasted, some corsairs came this way, following the scent of riches: some succeeded in taking money and gold to enrich themselves with the fortune of the careless, and others lost themselves in that quest here at the cost of their lives, and even there in their Brittany and Normandy they were not spared travails, until it pleased our Lord to bring a truce through the negotiations between His Imperial Majesty and the very Christian King, Francis of France, aided by the mediation and authority of our very Holy Father, Pope Paul, Third of this name, Vicar of Christ. And so it will please Our Lord to have peace preserved and expanded, since it is in peace that the welfare of all the faithful rests, because war is a disservice to God and His church and causes the republic to suffer: and to this one can reply what Sophonisba replied to Petrarch, as he says in a tercet, in these words:
Et ella: altro vogl’io che tu mi mostre
S’ Africa pianse; Italia non ne rise:
Domandatene pur l’historie vostre.
V. Let us return to our history, and I will tell of the way in which gold is obtained here by our Spaniards, which in truth it is not with the ease the French had planned to take it, but rather with much work and the luck God provides for all. I told in Book III of a piece of gold weighing three thousand and six hundred gold pesos that had been lost at sea after being found on this island; and this alone should be sufficient for one to believe that it would not have been the only one God created here, nor that it represented the end of his creative power or of the art of nature in creating that nugget, or that there remains a very large amount of gold on this island.But I want to reassure my readers that in these matters I can attest and be believed more than others; from the year 1514 until this past year 1532 I served the Catholic King, Don Ferdinand, and the Catholic and most serene Queen Doña Juana, his daughter, and His Imperial Majesty, our lords, in the supervision of their gold foundries in the Mainland. And His Majesty, wanting my son, Francisco González de Valdés, to serve him in the same office, was favorable in granting it to him following my resignation and petition; and ordered that I, as a man of an age to rest, rest now in my house, gathering and writing in repose as ordered by His Majesty these matters and new histories of the Indies. And for this reason I know very well and have seen many times how gold is obtained and mines are worked in these Indies; because this is done in a particular way, and I have had it mined for me with my Indians and slaves in the Spanish Main, in the province and government of Castilla del Oro; and so I have understood from those who have mined it in these and other islands where they do it in the same manner; and as the techniques are generally shared, I will describe them here in this Book VI (which I call of the repositories), in order not to repeat it later in other parts.
VI. Gold has been found on many riverbanks and parts of this island of Hispaniola, as in the mountains and rivers called Cibao (a river very famous on this island for the richness of its gold), as in the Cotuy, which I have mentioned above. And it is also taken from mines called San Cristobal, and from old mines and other parts; but they are not accustomed to taking gold from wherever it is to be found, because of the great cost of supplies and other rigging, as well as the cost of buying slaves, and tools and punts, and other things; except where there is enough equipment already to make up for the costs and there are funds in excess, and the profit is so great that those who understand this exercise can prosper. Because the difference lies in whether one finds a small or a substantial amount of gold; small amounts are discovered in many parts, and if these discoveries were to be followed through, they would likely be a greater waste of time and money than if they had not been discovered at all.
As a rule, this gold, although not as fine or as consistent in quality across all the places where it is found, whether it comes from the same river or from the same vein or mine, it is nonetheless as a rule sufficiently good as measured in carats. I do not speak here of the gold that has been collected as ransom, or in the war, or that the Indians have offered on their own accord or given unwillingly in these islands or on the Mainland; because that gold has been worked and is usually mixed with copper or silver, and they devalue it as they see fit, and so it is of different carats and values. I speak instead of virgin gold, which mortal hands have not touched or made into such mixtures, as I will tell further as I discuss this matter. And so you must understand that this virgin gold is found in fresh-water rivers and their banks, and in the forest, the ravines and savannas, as I will now tell in detail, writing about all these things particularly in their turn. And the reader should remember that I have said that gold is discovered in one of these three places: in the savannah, in the arcabuco or thick woodlands, or in river water. It could be that the river or creek or arroyo is dry and has changed course or lacks water for whatever reason; but this does not mean that there will not be gold to be found, if indeed gold was to be found there when it had water. As I have said elsewhere, the Indians call the meadows, hills, and riverbanks savannahs if there are no trees anywhere on them, whether they covered in grass or not. The arcabuco are thick woodlands, whether high on the mountains or in the plains; in short, everything covered in woodland is arcabuco. And in any of these places where gold can be found, they follow the same steps to take it out.
The miners, experts in collecting gold, have charge of a squad of Indians or slaves for the work (theirs or someone else’s, whether they work for their own enterprise and profit or for their salary). And this miner, when looking for samples to test in order to select a mine to be worked, whether he’s looking in a savannah or woodland, does as follows. With his men, he first clears everything above ground of trees or grass or stones and digs eight or ten feet (more or less) in length and about as much (or as he prefers) in width, no deeper than a palm (or two); and without digging deeper, he probes the soil dug up from the area described. And if he discovers gold in that portion of soil measuring a palm or two, he probes further; and if not, after clearing the entire pit, he makes it a palm deeper, and probes the soil in the same way as he did with what he took from the first bed or sample. And if gold is not discovered at that depth either, he digs deeper and deeper in the stages I have described, palm by palm, probing all the soil from every bed (or test and sample), until they reach the bedrock below. And if they do not come upon gold until then, they do not persevere in looking in that area but move their search elsewhere. But when they find it, they continue looking at that height or depth, not digging deeper but following the level where the gold was found; and if there is gold to be found they likewise go after it and continue their labor until they have probed the entire contents of the mine, for which certain specific dimensions are already established, as there are royal ordinances that determine the terrain and size of the mine and its expanse on the earth’s surface. And within that outer measurement, which forms a square or thereabouts, they can dig as deep as they want. The size of the mines was once set as a square eighteen steps across, and at another time as twenty steps, more or less; since this is determined by ordinances set for this purpose, they are no more constant than the will of whoever is in charge of the laws. And as it suits them, at various times they reduce or lengthen the area a mine should measure. But as soon as one discovers a mine, one is obligated to notify the royal officials of it, and especially the overseer and the primary notary of mines, so the mine can be measured and marked with stakes, and its boundaries set, so that others cannot claim a mine other than the first to have discovered it. And no one else can enter or touch the land to take gold from it without committing theft and facing penalties that are executed without reprieve. Beyond where the mine ends or where the line marking the first discoverer’s boundary ends, any first comer can drive in stakes to mark and lay claim to another mine joining the first. And here the proverb that says “he who has good neighbors, has a good future” is very apt because that first discoverer informs who he wants to help and take as a neighbor, and sets him up next to him. And it is quite common that, when the mine is rich, usually so is that of the neighbor, although perhaps not to the same degree; and it also happens that it proves to be richer than the first. It also happens often that one gathers much gold from one mine, and not a nugget is found in the one next to it. One of the things through which one can clearly ascertain how luck favors some men and how differently others fare is through this business of the mines; because it can be that there are two, or three, or six or ten or more mines on the banks of a river or the ravines bordering a creek and good gold is found in all of them: and there will always be one among them who, even if he has more or better workers, extracts no gold at all, or very little. On the other hand, often enough only one finds plenty of gold, and others nearby neither take any out, or even find any, as happened on the island of San Juan to one Fulano de Melo, a Portuguese, who in a very brief span of time took out five or six thousand gold pesos while many miners looking for gold near him found none, not even to pay the costs of their efforts. But let’s move on: since no one must be richer nor poorer than what God has ordained; and perhaps those who find less gold will be better spared, as God may reserve other better riches for those who with their will accept their lot and love him, and seek to know him.
These savannah mines, found in the earth, should always be looked for close to some river or stream or creek, or lake or pool or spring, where the gold can be washed and cleaned of soil. I said above that the samples of earth taken from one or two palms deep must be washed; it should not be understood from this that this has to be done inside the area mined, from which the sample was taken; if it were washed where the soil was dug up, it would be more akin to making clay or mud than anything else. But they take that soil bit by bit and take it to the water or creek where it is to be washed, and there they purge or clean the soil with the water and see if there is gold in the trays (which are the instruments they use to wash the soil), and in order to wash this earth and work the mine they do it like this. They set some Indians to dig the earth inside the mine, which is called escopetar or carve (which is the same as to dig); and they fill trays of soil with the dug earth and other Indians take those trays with the soil and carry them to the water, where the Indian women and men who wash it are waiting; and they empty those trays that they brought into other bigger ones held by those who wash it, and the carriers return for more soil, while the washers wash what they brought before. The washers are for the most part Indian or black women, since the work of washing is of most importance and most thorough and of less labor than the chiseling or carrying of soil. These women or washers are positioned near the edge of the water, with their legs in the water up to the knees or almost up to the knees, depending on the disposition between the bank and the water; and they each hold in their hands a tray with two handles or grips that they have as holders, and once the tray contains the soil from the mine to wash, they move it in a balanced way, taking water in from the current with a certain skill and ease and swaying it skillfully so that they take in no more water than the washer wants, and with the same skill and art as soon as they take in some water they empty it through the other side; and as much water goes out as comes in, with the tray always containing water, soaking and dissolving the soil. The soil is released from the tray with the water bit by bit and is carried away by the water, but as the gold is heavy it always goes to the bottom of the tray; so when all the soil is removed from the tray, the clean gold is left behind and the washer puts it aside, and returns to take more soil and wash it, as has been described, etc.
And through this ongoing labor, each one of these washers secures in a day what God determines, as it pleases Him to secure the fortunes of the lord of the Indians and people engaged in that industry or exercise. It must be noted that for each pair of Indians washers there must be two people employed in bringing them soil, and another two who dig or burrow and break the earth and fill up the service trays (because that is what the trays in which the soil is brought by those who dig it to those who wash it are called, service trays). These Indians are occupied solely in the gold business, away from the other Indians and people who ordinarily attend to the agricultural plots and estates, where the Indians gather up to sleep and eat and have their rooms and homes, those who work on the fields, planting their cassava and other staples that sustain and maintain them. And in those dwellings and homes there are women who continuously prepare food and make bread and wine (which is made from corn or cassava), and other women who bring food to those who work in the fields or in the mines. So when one of them is asked how many washing trays there are in his mine and he responds that there are ten, the reader must understand that ordinarily that range of activity includes fifty working persons, in a ratio of five people with respect to each tray to be washed, despite the fact that some work their mines with fewer people; but what have explained is understood to be as many as are advisable and necessary to work the trays well.
Gold is taken from rivers or streams of lagoons by a different method; it is done in this way. If it is a lagoon, they try to drain it, if it is small and it is possible to do so; and then they work the land and wash that soil and take the gold found in it as has been told above. But if the terrain to be mined is a river or creek, they detour the water off its course, and once the riverbed is dry, after they have drained it (for which the miners use the term xamurar or exhaust), they look for gold between the stones and hollows and cracks of the rocks, and wherever it can be found on the bed of the river or creek on which the water flowed. And sometimes, when one of these riverbeds is deemed to be good, a great deal of gold is found in it; because sometimes the current pushes it into holes from which the water cannot carry it forward.
It must be held as certain (as it appears in effect) that a great deal of the gold originates in the peaks and great heights of the mountains; but it is born and grows in the bowels of the earth; and as the earth gives birth to it or pushes it out, given its abundance in the peaks, little by little the rainwater brings it down through the streams and creeks that originate in the mountain ranges; nevertheless many times it is found in the plains far from the mountains. And when this happens, all of the surrounding area is a land of gold, and a great quantity of it is found throughout. But for the most part and more reliably gold is found on the flanks of the hills and in the rivers and creeks because it has collected in them over a long time. So, gold is commonly extracted in one of these two ways throughout these Indies. However, it is sometimes found that the vein of gold does not run lengthwise so as to follow the method used for earthen mines or those not on riverbeds, but rather towards the center, straight or at an angle, going down deeper in some parts than in others, and this is not so different from what has been described since gold, even if not found on the surface, is not born there, but in the interior and secret parts of the earth. And as such the mines are made in the form of caverns and wells or caves, and they follow the gold cautiously because they are dangerous and covered under the earth, and they tend to cave in sometimes and kill those working them, as it has happened many times in the island of Hispaniola.
VII. Such as I have described in the paragraph above must have been the very rich mines found in Spain a very long time ago, as Pliny writes: he says that those who looked for gold beneath the earth placed scaffolds and wood posts to support the caves; and he says that the sterile mountains of Spain, those which produce nothing, are fertile with gold. He says further that Spaniards in Asturias and Galicia and Lusitana ordinarily extracted twenty thousand pounds of gold every year, affirming that most of it came from Asturias. And Pliny, marveling at this, says that no other part of the world has been discovered where a similar abundance of gold lasted so many centuries. With so great a quantity of gold extracted, it leads me to suspect that that gold collar I said was found in Asturias was that of Sertorius’ doe, or of one of the deer belonging to Julius Caesar, who also resided for a time in Spain. So, as the author alleges, there were richer mines in our Spain than have been seen in these Indies and on our island. There was much more beyond gold, and there is in Spain today much mining of silver, which is extracted in great quantities; and beyond that, there are many rich mines of iron, and steel, and copper, and alum, and strong marble, and alabaster (of which great treasures are produced) not only for the chamber and royal estate of His Imperial Majesty, but also for many eminent gentlemen, his vassals, of whom some are the miners of whom I have spoken.
In my opinion I hold Spain as one of the wealthiest provinces of the world; and to boost these riches, God chose to give it the estates of our Indies as additional treasures. But since I am not addressing here matters related to Spain, which has been written about reliably and thoroughly by Pliny, and Strabo, and Pompeius Trogus (whose abbreviator is Justin, and Solinus in De mirabilibus mundi), and that glorious doctor Isidore in his Etymologiae, but rather matters related to these Indies, which I have seen and see, and of which all those who come here are not ignorant, we will return to our history of gold. I say that when some bank of a river or creek is mined, or the same river’s streambed (as described), those who get the gold from below (by which I mean downstream) always find it finer, so much so that the gold found by washers working half a league further downstream than others will have a carat or more in advantage and quality; because the more well-traveled the gold, the higher and more notable its quality. But those who take it from higher up-river, closer to the sources of gold, commonly take a greater quantity: from which it can be concluded that the length of its voyage downstream must last a long time, as measured in years, in order to increase its carats and refine it further. And in further demonstration of this truth, (although there is no necessity for other authorities for that which is seen here every day, and which I have seen innumerable times), the same Pliny says that as gold is beaten about in the course of the river, it is polished and smoothed. There is another important thing to note, and it is how gold that is taken without having touched fire, being in this way virgin, is more beautiful and of more excellent color and luster than after it is smelted and worked by men: from which it is clearly understood, as nature teaches us, how much more perfect are its works than those human artifacts that sway and excite. In order to understand and believe that gold is born in the heights and makes its way downwards, there is evidence to be drawn from charcoal made from firewood, and it is this. It is said that coal does not rot beneath the earth; and I believe that this is true because of its special property, or at least that if it is not true for all woods, I hold for certain that in some there is this advantage, because in some mines being worked on the slopes of some mountains (or within the mountain or other part of it), and breaking virgin earth and digging four or five estados more or less into the mine, coal is usually found at the same layer where gold is found, and sometimes before finding gold. And this is in soil that is deemed to be virgin, and thus it is there to be broken and dug; and the coal thus found was as fresh as if it had just emerged from the fire the day before: but they could not have been born or placed there, according to nature, except at the time when the surface of the earth, where there are found, was covered with coal, when they were mixed with the gold and were covered together by the soil, the water having dragged them from the heights to rest and remain there.And later, as it rained innumerable times (as is to be believed), there fell from above more and more soil, until after so many years and centuries the soil brought down by the water piled up over the coals, to the depth of the many estados being mined today, from the surface until we find these pieces of coal. To bring down those coals in the way that I have said is proven in the very same way, because being in the Mainland, while overseer of gold smelting, two miners brought before me two earrings or rings of worked gold of those usually worn by Indians in the ears, round like rings, which had been extracted and discovered close to the virgin gold below the earth two or three estados deep, which could not have entered there except in the way that coal entered, as aforementioned. From this it can be presumed that such earrings or rings (as they were worked) were lost at a time many centuries ago, and the waters with the passage of the years placed them beneath the earth, where they were discovered. And as gold does not become corroded, they were whole, and of such great luster as if they had finished being worked that very same day, and I had both rings in my possession. I said above that the longer gold has traveled from its origin to where it is found in the river the smoother and more polished it is, and of more carats and fine quality: thus I say by the contrary that the closer it is found to its vein or origin, having reached to the river, the coarser and rougher it is and of fewer carats and lower value than if it had traveled, as has been told: and the more reduced and deteriorated it is by the time it is smelted, and the rougher it is, the more fire and coal are needed and more time to smelt it because it is not as fine. And thus depending on where gold is found, it will be of different carats, and higher or lower in quality, and seldom or never is the gold from one province like that of another, in weight and value, and color, and quality.
VIII. Sometimes large pieces of great weight are discovered above the earth, and sometimes below it, and the largest of these seen by Christians in these Indies was the one I have said was lost at sea at the time Comendador Bobadilla drowned with other gentlemen and many other people when the fleet was lost sailing from this island to Spain, as was told in Book III, Chapter VII: that which weighed three thousand and six hundred pesos. If Pliny had known of this, and of many nuggets I have seen which have been discovered in the same way, he would have said of these Indies what he said in praise of Dalmatia, in these words: “It is a rare fortune to discover gold on the surface of the earth, as in the survey of Dalmatia at the beginning of Nero’s reign, where every day fifty pounds were smelted, etc.”
Returning to our history, I say that I saw in that city of Santo Domingo, in the year 1515, in the possession of the treasurer, Miguel de Pasamonte, two pieces of gold, one of which weighed seven pounds, which is seven hundred castellanos, and the other five, which is five hundred gold castellanos, of twenty two and a half carats; and in the Mainland I have seen many other pieces of a hundred, two hundred, and three hundred castellanos, give or take, discovered in the same way above the earth. But very often I have seen miners and masters of the mines delighted with more trivial gold than with choice nuggets; because the mines where gold is found in smaller forms are more durable and yield more than those where gold is found in larger nuggets. And it is sometimes so trivial and fleeting that it is necessary to blend it together with mercury. And since foreigners will not know, reading this, what the weight we call a peso in the Indies means in castellanos, I will say that a peso and a castellano are the same amount, both weigh eight tomines, and one ducat weighs six; such that as the peso is a quarter part more in weight than the ducat.
IX. One very notable thing before me, as I have been often told by men very expert in extracting gold, is that it has happened that in following the vein or seam of gold by the route it travels within the earth or rock, as thin as a thread, or a pin, where it comes across a cavity it stops, and fills up all of that hole, or concavity, and there it forms a nugget, and then continues forward through the pores of the earth or rock where nature guides it; and there have been times whena miner happens to catch a vein of gold on its path (or on whatever course gold follows below the earth), and to discover it as tender as soft wax, and twist it as lovingly and easily between his fingers, almost like liquid wax, and watch it harden at the point it comes into contact with the air.
X. As until now this has dealt with gold mines, and it seems to me that all that needed to be said concerning gold has been said, before this history moves forward to other subjects (as this is the appropriate place for this), I want to tell how well the Indians know how to gild the pieces and items they work in copper and very poor gold. And they show in this so much skill and excellence, and what they gild has such luster that it appears as if made from very good gold, as if it were made from twenty-three carat gold, given the color it obtains at their hands. This they accomplish with certain herbs, and it is so great a secret that any European silversmith, or any such artisan from any other place among whom the secret could be known and used, would consider himself a very wealthy man, and so he would shortly be through this method of gilding. This notable skill does not belong to this island nor to any neighboring ones, since it is not practiced except on the Mainland, where a great quantity of poor gold is seen gilded in the way that I have described; but as it is related to our discussion, I wanted to mention this particularity here (in this book of repositories). I have seen the herb, and the Indians have shown it to me, but neither through flattery nor through any other means was I ever able to get the secret from them, and they denied that it was their work but that it was done in other lands very far away, pointing to the South or to a southern direction.
XI. What happened to three farmers, natives of Garrovillas, who came to this island of Hispaniola, wanting to test their fortune, cannot be left unspoken: they left Spain together in a ship and arrived at this city of Santo Domingo at the time when the High Knight Commander Alcántara governed this island. And having arrived here, as soon as they disembarked, they requested the document given by the king’s officials allowing them to go and mine gold (because without this license no one could go to look for it), and with this they went to the new mines seven leagues from the city. And after they were there eight or fifteen days, digging and looking for gold like men of little experience without having found any, feeling one day very sorry for having come, while sitting under a tree to eat and catch their breadths and a bit of rest before returning to their labors, they began to speak of their arrival in this land, pitying themselves and sharing their troubles, as befitted poor men of little luck and mean spirits who do not know to comport themselves and keep their faults and misery to themselves. The first said that he had sold the oxen from his fields, his helpers in his labors to maintain himself in poverty in Castilla, where he lived as well as any other farmer working the land. The other retorted with similar passion, saying that he had sold his wife’s dowry and all he had, which had sustained a poor (but quiet) life for him and his wife and children, and had exiled himself from this life and them, with little hope of returning to where he had left them in such poverty, due to his absence. The third felt no less sorrow than the other two and complained like the others, bemoaning having been born and other similar ravings; and after laying more charges against himself than his companions for having come to this land, he started to blaspheme and curse Danaus, the first Egyptian to sail ships to Greece, because people first navigated with beams or timber tied together, which was an invention of the Eritrean King in the Red Sea; and not praising Jason, who they say was the first to use a longboat, and spatting against Damocles, the inventor of the trireme galleys; he vilified the Carthaginians, inventors of the quinquereme galleys; he insulted the Phonecians, for having taught navigation by observing the course of the stars, and all the others who learned that art; and above all he spoke badly for ages of Columbus, who showed the way to these Indies. And finally tiring of speaking nonsense, his spirits rose, seeing that his lamentations were pointless, and began to console himself and his companions, saying that “Zamora was not won in a day” and that God is great, and that which they had not found He would give to them to enjoy, in order that they could return to their lands and rest and console their wives and children, and make their relatives and friends happy. And speaking in this vein, and he and the others often sighing with moist eyes and some tears, one of them saw a nugget of gold sparkling in the sun at more than twenty paces from where they were, and stood up saying: “It could be that there is no reason for this resentment.” And he followed where the ray of sunlight glimmered on the gold and discovered a piece of fifteen or twenty gold pesos, and began to leap about, kissing it and giving thanks to God. And his companions came to share the joy and looking about discovered many other larger and smaller nuggets. And to shorten the tale, I say that between the surface and digging, as men less skilled than fortunate, they took off their boots and shoes, and filled them with pieces of gold in what was almost three thousand castellanos or gold pesos and came to this city, not ceasing to pray to God for Columbus’ soul, and giving thanks for the art of the sailors and those of whom they had first complained. And they gave news of this to the High Knight Commander, who was governor as I have said, but it could not be concealed that those mines were already reserved for the king.
And as these men came from the High Knight Commander’s homeland, he wanted to help them and not treat them severely, since they had rejoiced in their God-given fortune: so the good governor, who rejoiced with the entire city at the news and impact of the discovery of such rich mines, favored them; they had not seen so much gold before, found so easily and quickly. But it could not end with these men amassing more gold, nor with their remaining in the land; and as they were peasants, and people of little forethought, and it seemed to them that with what they had they were already very rich and no longer in need, and that it was much more than their persons deserved, they returned to Spain in the same ship they had come.
Later Licenciado Becerra, a doctor resident in this city, extracted five or six thousand gold pesos from these mines, which were afterwards taken for the king; and as they were rich gold deposits many thousands of gold pesos were taken for the Catholic Monarchs. In a short time (because of what those from Garrovillas exhorted in Spain) the news gave cause for many farmers and other more-skilled men to come to this island and test their good fortune. And many of them died in the enterprise while others with better luck became very rich; because, after all, not all have the same fortune in seeking gold: it seems that gold falls into the hands of some while fleeing from others, as tends to happen in every enterprise men engage in. And with this I feel I have fulfilled my pledge to write about the metals of this island of Hispaniola, after I have said what is known and of note about silver, of which I was silent in the first printing of this treatise, not being certain that there was any on this island. Now I can say that silver has been found in the mines of Cotuy and some small quantity of silver pieces and cups or glasses have been made; but in effect there is silver, and it has been found, and it is very good, and at present some neighbors are engaged with their people and slaves in extracting it and in some quantity.
As I have been as long-winded in this chapter as the subject required and as was necessary, I want to remind those listening to me, as prudent readers, to conclude from this chapter and what it contains that great treasures have gone to Spain from this island and from others populated by Christians and from the Mainland (after those lands were discovered) in pure and virgin gold, without having entered any nation other than Spain. And not only for the Spanish monarchs (whose empire and prosperous domain this is), but much more for their vassals and subjects, (because the king does not claim but a fifth as right, and in some provinces to favor his subjects he claims only a tithe or less); in addition to the many quintals of silver taken from Peru and New Spain, the innumerable marks of jewels and pearls, and the considerable and important gains from other enterprises in these lands, which have been of great benefit to the world. Indeed that statue called Holosphiraton, and the other of Leonidas, the first man to place a statue of solid gold in the temple of Delphi ( in the seventieth Olympiad), would be more fitting for Don Christopher Columbus, the first discoverer and inventor of these Indies, and first admiral of them in our times; since unlike Leonidas, who, displaying oratory skill, earned the gold of his statue, Columbus, as spirited and wise navigator and valiant captain, showed us this New World, so abundant with the gold taken already and still being taken to Spain, from which thousands of such statues could be made. But he is even more deserving of fame and glory for having brought the Catholic faith where we are, and to all these Indians through whom by the grace of God, our Lord, the Christian religion grows every day. See how much merit and immortality is due to the name and soul of someone whose industry marked the start of so much goo
 Lám. 2, fig. 3.
 Francisco Philadelpho, commentator of Petrarch’s work. [GFO or AR]
 Francesco Petrarch, Sonnet CLVII. [GFO]
 Pliny, Book VIII, Chapter 32. [GFO]
 Pliny, ut supra. [GFO]
 Valerius, Book IV, Chapter 2. [GFO]
 Pliny, Book XXXIII, Chapter 4. [GFO]
 Pliny, Book VII, Chapter 56. [GFO]
 Exodus, Chapter 25. [GFO]
 Pliny, Book XXXIII, Chapter 3.
 Titus Livius, First Decade, Book IV, Chapter XV. [GFO]
 Diogenes Laërtius, Book IX [GFO]
 Triumph of Love, Chapter II. [She said: (Said she) if Africa mourned, /Italy needs not rejoice; search your records]
 Lámina 2, figure 4. [GFO]
 Pliny, Book XXXIII, Chapter 4. [GFO]
 Pliny, Book XXXIII, Chapter 4.
 Strabo, Book III.
 Justin, Book XXXXIV.
 Solinus, Chapter 34.
 Isidore, Book XIV, Chapter 4
 Pliny, Book XXXIII, Chapter 4.
 An estado was a measure of length taken from a man’s average height, usually calculated as seven feet.
 Pliny, Book XXXIII, Chapter 4.
 Pliny, Book VII, Chapter LVI.
 Pliny, Book XXIII, Chapter 4.
Image retrieved from John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.