Of the conquest and pacification of the island of Cuba or Fernandina, its governors so far, and the first discovery of Yucatan from which they proceeded to discover New Spain.
Translated by Isabella Perez ’21
Shortly before the Comendador Mayor, Don Fray Nicolás de Ovando, was removed from the governance of these parts, he sent forth two caravels and people to test if Cuba could be settled peacefully and to get a sense of how to proceed if the Indians became resistant. For this he sent as captain a gentleman named Sebastian de Ocampo, who went to that island and seized land on it. But Ocampo did little, and not long after he had been there the second Admiral of these Indies, Don Diego Columbus, came to govern these parts, and the Comendador Mayor left for Spain. Soon after, the Admiral sent Diego Velazquez, a native of Cuellar, as his lieutenant to Cuba; Velazquez was one of those who first came to these parts with the old Admiral, Don Christopher Columbus, on the second voyage to these parts in the year 1493, and he was the one who started to settle and conquer said island and initiated the founding of the city of Santiago and other villages. As he was a rich and well reputed man and had taken part in the first conquest of Hispaniola, he was given credit and remained as almost absolute ruler of Cuba and started, as I said, to found the settlements mentioned above; he pacified that island and put it under the royal command of Castile, becoming much richer. After this, Cardinal Friar Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, governor of Spain, sent the Hieronymite monks to this island and city of Santo Domingo, and sent with them as high justice the Licenciado Alonso Zuazo, as has been said in other parts; with his agreement, and due to the many complaints against Diego Velazquez, Licenciado Zuazo came and took residence in the name of the Admiral Don Diego Columbus. After Velazquez was removed, he stayed thus suspended from governance but became a very rich man; and the resident judge, Licenciado Zuazo, presided over the island, because by the time he went there he had already fulfilled the same role in Santo Domingo. But although Zuazo administered justice in Cuba, there was no lack of those willing to complain about him too, so it was agreed to send someone to personally assess the truth; so two oydores (judges of the Real Audiencia y Chancillería) from this Royal Audience residing in this City of Santo Domingo went over, who were the Licenciados Marcelo de Villalobos and Johan Ortiz de Matienzo; when they arrived and investigated the truth, they did not discover as many faults in Zuazo as were alleged. And as they did not have the authority to take away his appointment, nor had he come there provided for by this Royal Audience, Licenciado Zuazo did not stay in residence, because even if he could have, there would not have been any and he would have had to do it if commanded by His Majesty or his Royal Council of the Indies. But the Admiral took control, and through those oidores learned of other things related to the reformation of the island, and the Admiral returned command to the same Diego Velazquez, who had been suspended since Licenciado Zuazo had arrived there. Having done this, the Admiral and the oidores returned to Hispaniola.
This good deed and many others the Admiral did for Diego Velazquez were paid for in the following manner. Since he had pacified the greater part of the island, and Captain Pánfilo de Narváez, a good person and a man skilled in war, and one of the first settlers of that island (of which more will be said in its place), had finished the conquest in his name, after the island was pacified and the Indians were distributed by Velazquez’ hand, considerable gold was taken, because it is an island of very rich mines; they also brought cattle from Hispaniola and introduced there successfully all these things I have said proliferated there: trees, plants, herbs and all that was brought from Spain or has been brought to that island from this one. And in this Diego Velazquez took much credit, and as he was cunning, not only did he want appreciation for what he did, but even for what the earth, by its own fertility, produced. In the end the island became very prosperous and well populated by Christians and full of Indians, and Diego Velazquez became very rich; he had the means and many supporters close to the Catholic King (he was friends with the treasurer of the island, Miguel de Passamonte, to whom great credit was given), so that although the Admiral wanted to remove command from Diego Velazquez he could not do so. And so, he made his way into Cuba by his own hand, and stayed as maintainer with his appointment approved by the King; yet still in name and title as lieutenant of the Admiral.
After this and continuing Velazquez’ governance, in the year 1517 some of the oldest conquistadores of that island assembled for conquest and discovery with his license—these were Francisco Hernandez de Córdoba, Chripstóbal Morante, Lope Ochoa de Cayçedo, and one Bernardino Iñiguez was named as veedor (overseer). These men, along with 110 men, taking as first pilot one Anton de Alaminos, with three ships that they armed with their own supplies, set sail from the cape of San Antonio, which is the westernmost tip of the island, and they sailed the route from the southwest, which is the wind that blows between south and west. And after six days at sea they saw land, and they had sailed up to sixty-six or seventy leagues; that land they first saw was the province of Yucatan, on the coast of which there were some not very tall rock towers. These are the mosques and oratories of those idolatrous people—these buildings were situated over certain steps, whose towers were covered in straw, and on top of some of them there was greenery of small fruit trees, like guava and other groves. They saw people dressed in cotton with thin, white cloaks and with earrings in their ears and large medallions and other jewels of gold at the neck, and also with colorful shirts, likewise of cotton; the women covered their heads and chests, and with their wraps and some thin cloak-like shawls in place of towels or mantles. Crosses were found among these people, according to what I heard from the pilot I mentioned, Anton de Alaminos; but I take it as fable, and if they were in fact there, I do not think they made them thinking of what they do, since in truth they are idolaters, and, as experience has shown, they have no memory or passion for Christ, and although some crosses may be among them, they would not know for what purpose they make them; and if at some time they knew (as one must believe), they have already forgotten.
Returning to the history, just as these Christians heard the tongue of these people, and saw that the coast of that land was so wide, they agreed to turn around to bring news of what they had seen. Because, as they saw such a large and populated land, they did not dare stay there being so few people to stay on it; but they sailed until arriving at a province called Campecho, where they saw a place with up to 3,000 houses with innumerable people who went out to the coast awestruck from seeing such big ships as ours (even though they were small caravels), and they were much afraid in seeing the shape of the sails, as of the rigging and everything else; and many more were astonished to hear some shots from lombards and to see the smoke and smell of sulfur—all that gave them the fancy that it was the same as the thunder and lightning that falls from the clouds. Even with all that, some Christians went on land, and they threw them a celebration, showing pleasure at seeing them, and brought them many very good birds to eat that are not smaller than turkeys nor of worse flavor, and other birds as well as quails, turtledoves, ducks, geese, deer, hares, and other animals. But because when this Mainland is discussed more particularly I will relate all the types of animals and birds, we move on to the rest. This place or settlement of which I have spoken was named by Captain Francisco Hernandez, and he named it Cacique de Lázaro (because the Christians arrived the day of Saint Lazarus to this land), to denote that just as Christ our Savior resuscitated Lazarus, so too would the Christians with their sacred faith awaken and resuscitate these people from death to life, from lost to saved, and inculcate them with the Christian religion. From there they traveled onward fifteen leagues and arrived at another province that the Indians call Aguanil, its principal village was called Moscobo, and the king or cacique of that region was named Chiapoton. And they thought that, as had happened with the Indians of which I have spoken, they would not be harmed and the Indians would rejoice at their arrival as had the others; but these Indians were not of the same opinion—rather they had not wanted the Christians to set foot on land, and behaved fiercely to show their resistance with their bows and arrows, and they had their faces and foreheads painted in diverse colors. The Indians thought of a scheme for killing the Christians, and it was this: they told them to come in for water (which our people had asked them for) but said it was far, apart from the coast and inland, and they showed them the way through certain narrow and suspicious paths. Then, as they saw that the Christians refused to go forward for water, and they sensed that they were exposed, they began shooting arrows, and the Spaniards defended themselves vigorously and killed and injured some of the foes; but as the enemies were many, they were forced to retreat and set sail and not without sacrifices, because they killed twenty Christians and injured more than thirty others. Among those injured was Captain Francisco Hernandez, and if they had gone further no Christian would have left with their life. And this way, as best they could, they regathered at the boats, and even with much labor and with the loss that is stated. This done, these first discoverers left that land for Fernandina, from whence they had embarked; and this was the beginning of the discovery of New Spain.
Turning to the governance of Diego Velazquez and other things of Cuba—there is little to say of the discoveries and armadas of Governor Diego Velazquez, and it seems to me he lost time and the estate he had accumulated, only to enrich and bring prosperity to the Marquessate of the Valley of Oaxaca, Don Hernán Cortés, as will be seen ahead in the account of that history. Moreover, so that we do not have reason to return to the other particular things of this island and its fertility, they will be briefly related in the following chapter, since the majority of these are understood by what has been said and written of Hispaniola and San Juan.