Lilian Carmichael ’20: Book XVI, Chapter XI (How the Governor Juan Ponce Agreed to Go Explore the Lands to the North)

Book XVI, Chapter XI

How the governor Juan Ponce agreed to go explore the lands to the north and went to the Mainland off the coast of the islands of Bimini; and he found the island called Bahamá; and how he was removed from the governorship and those he had sent to prison in Castile returned to govern; and of other governors on the island of San Juan.

Translated by Lilian (Lily) Carmichael ’20

And Governor Juan Ponce de Leon had almost conquered and brought peace to the island of San Juan, although there was not a lack of scares and attacks from the Carib Indians, who were resisted, and Juan Ponce had become very rich. And things having reached this stage, it followed that that the admiral’s Lord Mayor, Juan Zerón, and his senior sheriff, Miguel Diaz, whom Juan Ponce had sent as prisoners to Spain, negotiated their situation and freedom; and their main motive, other than to gain pardon for themselves, was to blame Juan Ponce, saying that in addition to having had them unjustly imprisoned, he had committed other faults and made other grand errors. And they were favored by the admiral, while Juan Ponce was aligned with the First Knight Commander, who because of his high regard had appointed him to his post and had cast out its officials from the island and sent them to prison; and the admiral, feeling upset at this and being himself admiral, governor, and viceroy, had made sure that Juan Ponce was removed, and said that the administration of justice on the island of San Juan belonged to him, as part of his privileges. And the Catholic King mandated that they return to the island of San Juan and that their staffs and offices be returned to them; and once returned, they removed Juan Ponce from his post, since the king had finally commanded that the admiral named the officers of justice he preferred. And upon learning this, Juan Ponce agreed to arm and provide two caravels to explore the northern lands and Bimini, which were to the north of the island Fernandina, and then came that fable about the fountain that rejuvenated old men: this was in the year 1512. And this was told so often and certified by the Indians of those parts, that Captain Juan Ponce and his people and ships wandered lost and facing great travails among those islands for more than six months, looking for this fountain: which was great mockery on the part of the Indians and a greater delusion for the Christians to believe it and waste time looking for it. But he gained knowledge of the Mainland and saw it and named a part of it that entered the sea, like a sleeve, for a length of one hundred leagues of longitude and a width of fifty leagues and called it Florida, the tip or promontory of which is 25 degrees from the Equator on the side of our Arctic Pole, and it extends and widens toward the Northeastern wind: and on a par with said tip there are many islets and keys, which they called the Mártires.

While Captain Juan Ponce was on his discovery, the admiral, Don Diego Columbus, following complaints from Juan Zerón and Miguel Diaz, took from him the governorship of San Juan, and named Knight Commander Rodrigo de Moscoso as his lieutenant. But he spent little time in the position, as there were also many complaints against him, although he was a good gentleman; therefore the admiral agreed to go to that island of San Juan and named as his lieutenant Cristóbal de Mendoza, a man of good blood and lineage, and a virtuous person and suitable for this position as well as for a higher one: he held the island in peace and justice, and in affairs of war and conquest against the Caribs proved himself a good captain and a brave man of great enterprise and energy, every time it was needed and the moment demanded it.

For not only should men be praised and rewarded according to their virtues and merits; but those who have written well have even taught us about brute animals, which is a just and necessary thing, and one not to be forgotten, as some have done; for other than amazing us with was worthy of admiration and seldom seen and heard, the fault is great when men of reason do not do what they should and brute animals stand out and surpass them in virtue through their actions, and even outdo some men in good deeds and feats. What more condemnation can there be for a coward than to have a beast earn wages among men, and for a dog to earn a portion and a half, like a crossbowman? This was a dog named Becerillo, brought from this island of Hispaniola to the island of San Juan; reddish in color, with black fuzz from the eyes forward, medium-sized and not prettified; but of great understanding and valor. And without a doubt, given what this dog did, the Christians thought that God had sent it to them for their assistance; because his contribution to the pacification of the island amounted to about a third of that of the few conquistadors who took part in the war, because among two hundred Indians he would catch the one who had fled from the Christians, or that they pointed out to him, and would grab it by the arm and compelled it to come with him back to the camp, or to where the Christians were: and if the Indian resisted and would not come, it would tear him to pieces, and he did very special and amazing things. And if a prisoner escaped at midnight, even if he was already a league away, if he was told: “The Indian is gone, find him,” he would track him, find him, and bring him back. And it could recognize a peaceful Indians like a man and did them no harm. And among many peaceful Indians he could pick the rebellious ones, and it seemed as if he had the judgment and understanding of a man (and not that of a fool), because like I have said, he earned a portion and a half of what was given to a crossbowman for his master in all the battles he fought. And the Christians thought that in bringing it they were doubled in number of people and had more determination, and with much reason, since the Indians feared the dog much more than the Christians; because being more skilled on foot, they thus tracked the Spaniards, but not the dog, of whom many offspring of very excellent dogs were left on the island, many of whom emulated him in the way I have told. And I saw one of his sons, named Leoncico, in the Mainland, belonging to the Adelantado Vasco Nuñez of Balboa, which likewise earned a portion, and sometimes two, as all the good men of war, and they paid the said adelantado in gold and slaves. And as an eyewitness, I know that he was worth in kind more than five hundred castellanos from his shares in the battles he fought. But he was very special and did all that is said of his father. But returning to Becerrico, at the end he was killed by the Caribs, as he accompanied Captain Sancho de Arango, who thanks to this dog once escaped from among the Indians wounded and still fighting them; and the dog began swimming after an Indian, while another Indian standing in dry land shot him with a poisoned arrow from which he died; but in the process he saved Captain Sancho de Arango and other Christians; and the Indians left with some spoils.

When Cristóbal de Mendoza, who governed the island for the admiral, learned of this he left the village of San Germán with up to fifty men of that vicinity, although the majority of them were youths, and some relicts from the last war, as well as the field leaders that were written about above, and some chosen and experienced men. And they embarked on a caravel with two ships and caught up with the Indians and a memorable event ensued; because near an islet east of the island of San Juan called Bieque (Vieques) they fought against them almost all night, and they killed the cacique captain of the Indians whose name was Yahureybo, brother of another cacique named Cacimar whom the Christians had killed in an earlier battle, a few days before, on the island of San Juan, where he had gone to plunder. Battling against a gentleman named Pero López Angulo in a tight embrace as they tried to kill each other, one Francisco de Quindos almost killed them both when he pierced the Indian through with a lance, missing Pero López by very little. This Cacimar was a very brave man and a very esteemed captain among the Indians, and to avenge his death his brother had come to plunder the island of San Juan and had wounded Captain Sancho de Arango and other Christians who escaped because of the dog Becerrillo, which they killed; which was no small loss, because although many Christians died, those who remained did not feel their loss as much as they did that of the dog. So, the captain or governor going, as I have said, after the criminals, reached and killed the cacique and many other Indians, and he apprehended some and took the Carib canoes and returned victorious to the village of San Germán and distributed fairly and willingly all the spoils. And he sent one of the canoes that he took to this city of Santo Domingo to the Admiral Don Diego Columbus, being a very large and very beautiful boat for its craftsmanship. But because if I were to write what truthfully can be told about the dog it would make for a very long narration, I will tell only one more thing that should not be left out, since I learned it from eyewitnesses who were present, people worthy of credit, and it was this. The night that I wrote about before the guazábara or battle against the Cacique Mabodomoca, the morning before Governor Juan Ponce arrived, Captain Diego de Salazar agreed to throw to the dog and old Indian woman who was among the prisoners they had taken there; and the captain handed the old woman a letter, and he told her: “Go on, go, bring this letter to the governor who is in Aymaco,” which was a short league from there; and he told her this so that as the old woman set off and walked away from people, they would set the dog out to chase her. And as she had gone a little further than a stone’s throw, they released the dog, and she was going very happily on her errand, thinking that by bringing the letter to him they would free her; the freed dog caught up to her very quickly and as the woman saw him come so determined toward her she settled on the ground and in her language began to speak, and she said to him: “Dog, master dog, I am going to bring this letter to the governor,” and she showed him the letter or paper, and said to him: “do not do me harm, master dog.” And in fact, the dog stopped himself as he heard her speak, and very meekly came to her and raised a leg and peed on her, as dogs usually do in a corner or when they want to urinate, without doing her any harm. Which the Christians took as a thing of mystery, as the dog was fierce and determined; and so the captain, having seen the clemency that the dog had shown, had him tied up, and they called the poor Indian, and she turned to the Christians in dismay, thinking that they had sent the dog to bring her back, and trembling from fear sat down; a little bit later Governor Juan Ponce arrived, and learning of the situation did not want to be less merciful with the Indian woman than the dog had been, and he commanded that she be allowed to leave freely and to go wherever she wanted, and that she did.

Image retrieved from John Carter Brown Library at Brown University