Castillo Del Oro
Land which until now has been called Tierra Firme, and we now order that it shall be called Castillo Del Oro, and in it our people have made a settlement on the Gulf Of Uraba which is in the province of Darien, which is at present called Andalucia la Nuevo and the town is called Santa Maria Del Antigua Del Darien. The title to Pedrarias is the first designation of Castillo Del Oro and concluded both prior concessions of Nicuesa and Hojeda. Balboa’s temporary government had been wholly undefined as to limits. The Nicuesa concession had been to Veragua, as beginning west of the Gulf Of Uraba and of unlimited extent westward, and was given in disregard of the discovery and title of Columbus. Apparently because of the suit of the Heirs of Columbus was being pushed strongly in 1513, Veragua was excluded from the new government of Castillo Del Oro. The latter was not to have anything to do with "The Province Of Veragua the government of which belongs to the Admiral D. Diego Colon, because the admiral his father had discovered it in person." However, no delimitation was drawn, except for the order to Pedrarias that the Villa De Darien lay outside the jurisdiction of Don Diego Colon. Except for Veragua, Pedrarias would take over what Balboa had won, and he was free to move west, south or east on Tierra Firme.
The Franciscan Juan De Oviedo, who came with Pedrarias to be Bishop Of Darien, lodged vigorous and specific complaints that supported those of Balboa. Oviedo, who had come as veedor, went back to Spain after ten months to tell of the misrule. He returned to Darien in 1520 and remained in the colony for five years, during which time he assembled the materials for his histories. Pascual De Andagoya, who also arrived with Pedrarias, took part in expeditions and became a Regidor of Panama in 1521. He paid special attention to native ways, the first Ethnographer of the mainland.
After the death of Ferdinand the conduct of the affairs in Castillo Del Oro came to be of a serious concern to the Regent Cisneros and the court of Charles. It was thus that Oviedo and Las Casas met, while Peter Martyr was in attendance at court as usual. Las Casas never saw the Isthmus, but he collected the most detailed account of it’s "pacification" in the third volume of his Historia. Although he disagreed with Oviedo in Indian matters, the two made almost equally grim appraisal of the ruin of Castillo Del Oro.
Commissioned to report and reform the affairs of the Indies, the Licenciate Zuazo sent a lengthy account of Castillo Del Oro in the Xevres letter for the benefit of the young king and his tutor, who were newly arrived in Spain. The relevant parts are here translated, giving vivid, valid, and quite forgotten view of the Isthmus as it was between 1514 and 1517:
When the voyage ended and the ships had safely come into port, provision and maintenance to the crown came to an end. Therefore the men were obliged to eat what the land afforded, which were roots and a grain called mahizo. Darien, where they made port, being a very wet country, swamps and overflowed land from which dense and sickly vapors rise, men began to die there and there two thirds of them, though dressed in silks and brocade. Those who survived, ill as they were and thinking themselves lost, joined on the raids on the Indians, robbing and killing, were done in this order: The Council, in order to justify such war, instructed Pedrarias that before major hurt was done to the Indians that they should be required to become Christians and subjects of the Catholic King along with other compliance’s, warning that failing to do so they would be made slaves and subject to killing and plundering.
None of the Indians felt safe with any Christian and so they scattered through the country, abandoning their houses and Bohios. To natives thus in flight the requerimiento was displayed from a distance, demanding their obedience to the Catholic King. The good will Balboa had established was destroyed by the first party that went out from the armada.
The fleet arrived at Darien at the end of June and within a short time the new personnel began to fall ill. Zuazo heard that two thirds had and that Darien was an unhealthy site because of the vapors rising from the swamps. The sickness affected the new arrivals, apparently not the men of Balboa nor the Indians.
When the city of Panama was settled the Pacific coast was reputed to be healthier than the Caribbean, perhaps only because it had not yet acquired the contagion brought to the north shore. The evil repute of the Caribbean side of the Isthmus was earned much later, chiefly because of cholera, and malignant forms of malaria and enteric fevers.
Famine also followed the coming of fifteen hundred to two thousand men coming to Darien. This was partly due to a stupid order that the men should not be supplied from ship stores after landing. The old vecinoes at Santa Maria had been adequately supplied with food from the natives. The new arrivals took to foraging and pillaging, using up the native stores and destroying their plantings.
The name for the new government, Castillo Del Oro, advertised it as a land of large and quick riches and did so improperly, for there was no knowledge of gold other than the articles owned by the natives.
A sorry lot of men were placed in authority, either to engage of permit unlimited violence against the natives. The lieutenant governor, Ayora, was a monster as Zuazo said, and as the record proved. Gaspar De Espinosa, alcalde mayor and justice, led greater raids into undisturbed lands and was the instrument of the judicial murder of Balboa.
To the east coast was well known as far as Cartagena and Santa Marta, as was the peril there of poisoned weapons and bellicose natives. To the south, Balboa had run out the Culata and the delta of the Rio San Juan and had gone inland far up that river, henceforth to be known as the Rio Grande, Pedrarias suppressing the name, San Juan, that Balboa had given. On the coast to the northwest Balboa had used the harbor of Careta as a gateway to the interior. Beyond this port men who had been with Nicuesa knew Nombre De Dios and the mouth of the Rio Chagres. Balboa was familiar with more that a hundred miles of the interior basin and had established relations, in part cordial, with it’s caciques. He had followed the pacific coast along the northern side of the Golfo De San Miguel and thence most of the way to Panama, of which he was informed but had not seen, as was true with the Pearl Islands. Pedrarias had available the wide and competent geographic knowledge about land and people. Also he had the services of veteran settlers of Santa Maria. He might draw of dependable and adequate topographic information to found the settlements he was instructed to make.
Balboa was interested in a possible settlement on the Golfo De San Miguel and as a last act before he was superseded sent Andres Garabito with eighty men to find a direct route from Santa Maria across the Serrania. "Having gone out of Darien they followed the banks of the river they called ‘La Trepadera’ to the crest of the very high mountains, from which Garabito descended by another river that flowed into the south sea, along which there were many settlements." The start, therefore, would have been up the Rio Tanela. The crossing of the Serrania Del Darien took them by Indian trail to a western affluent of the Rio Turia, perhaps the Rio Purco, and thence down to tidewater. The name Trepadera indicated the steep climb to the pass, which limited the later utility of this short cut.
Oviedo began his account, "The captains did to ruin the Indians and rob them and destroy the land if all were told of the details of the events. However this government of Castillo Del Oro there had Been two million Indians, or that they were innumerable, it is necessary to say how so numerous a people came to their end in so short a time."
An amicable session with Balboa to inform himself about the lands and the caciques who lived in peace. They sailed ten leagues beyond the port Careta to the fishing port that supplied Comogre (which would have landed them about at the mouth of the Rio Aligandi). Here the main party crossed the mountains with horse and baggage to the seat of Comogre, suggesting an open well traveled road. At Comogre the outrage took place as described by Zuazo. Oviedo, in independent agreement, called it a monteria infernal, "hellish hunting" of Indians. Ayora continued through the territory of Pocorosa and Tubanama, seizing gold and slaves and turning friendly Indians into hostels. The stage on which to implant the fear of the white men was well chosen. Their most faithful friends were the first victims.
Ayora divided his command among three lieutenants. The first continued by ship from the port of Comogre seven leagues farther north to the fishing harbor of Pocorosa, which would be about Playon Grande, where another convenient pass led across the low mountain range. A second party was left in the "province" of Tamao, bordering Tubanama on the west of the Bayano lowland. The third lieutenant was sent down the valley to the Pacific coast. Each was to establish a Spanish town accordingly to the instructions given to Pedrarias. The first built a fort of sorts that was called Santa Cruz; the second also established a fortified camp. The third got into previously unvisited country to the east of the Bay Of Panama, sat around there for a while, accomplishing nothing.
Ayora was well informed in advance of the logistics of the terrain, of harbors available on the farther Caribbean coast, of two easy routes from coast to interior Comogre and Pocorosa, of the course of Bayano to the Pacific, and of the strategic positions of the three native states in the upper Bayano basin. Having ravaged these, he took the route from Pocorosa to Santa Cruz, returned thence by ship to Darien, and left for Spain with the profits of his raid.
The aftermath was hatred and ruin. The Spaniards at Santa Cruz set off to attack the wealthy cacique Sacativa in the Golfo De San Blas, but were driven off with losses. After Ayora left Santa Cruz, the Indians of Pocorosa and Comogre joined forces to descend on that settlement and wipe it out. The garrison left in the interior at Tubanama held on until a relief party came. The party on the Pacific coast pulled out. The western frontier of Balboa’s rule was up in arms, to remain so until beaten down.
Pedrarias sent another party south from Darien under command of Luis Carrillo, seconded by Francisco Pizarro. In Oviedo’s version these went to the province of Abraime above the delta of the Atrato and on to Turui (which I have thought to find the mouth of the Rio Sucio) to plant corn in conucos, but soon came back with slaves and good gold, practicing cruelties that Pizarro had learned by heart. Las Casas thought they went only seven leagues south from Darien to found to found the villa named Fonseca in honor of the bishop in charge of the Indies. Nothing more is heard of such a town, which, if it existed at all, was no more than a temporary camp.
The project of such a villa makes sense and suggests that Balboa’s knowledge of the Atrato and Garabito’s crossing of the Serrania were placed in proper context of map. Seven leagues south of Santa Maria, by a land route that keeps above the swamps, the Atrato is reached above it’s delta. Here the present village of Sautata is situated, in what was then Abraime. Above this village the Atrato is joined by the Rio Perancho from the west. The latter and it’s tributary, the Rio Cacarica or Cauco, are navigable by canoe to the base of the Tute saddle, which marks the boundary of Colombia and Panama at the divide between Atrato and the Turia drainage of the Golfo De San Miguel (This pass is on the projected route of the Pan-American Highway).
From this farthest point they turned back to the cacique Toto, where they had been before, and thence crossed the other (north) coast of the Golfo De San Miguel, and came to the river of the cacique Chape, where Balboa first saw the South Sea. They continued west along the north shore of the gulf and then north along the Pacific as much as Balboa had done. Becerra saw the coast almost to the site of Panama City but did not get to that place. In the southern most Isthmus Becerra had entered an unknown land, beyond a strange fearsome people were said to live. As far as they got they were among Cuevan Indians, passing from one cacique to the next finding no lack of provisions or canoes. The report of the officials at Santa Maria spoke of a number of caciques on the way to the Golfo De San Miguel, of "well disposed people." The expedition returned with a satisfactory haul of gold, pearls, slaves and information about a country stretching south along the Pacific coast.
On that date six royal orders were sent, to Pedrarias, officials, vecinos-to-be and to Balboa naming Balboa Adelantado of the shores of the South Sea and governor of the provinces of Panama and Coiba.
Ferdinand was informed by Balboa of attractive lands named Panama and Coiba, beyond those seen. In appreciation Ferdinand thought to reward Balboa by giving him charge of this western frontier, subordinate to Pedrarias. The latter countered by claiming that Panama was nothing more than fisheries on the South Sea, the word Panama meaning "fishermen," and that there was no land of Coiba, Coiba meaning "far away."
Ayora had taken the first step to block Balboa from the west by sending one party into the lower Bayano valley under orders to make a settlement on the Pacific coast. He was followed promptly by Tello De Guzman, who relieved the men Ayora had left at Tubanama and continued west through the territories of the caciques Chepo and Pacora to that of Panama, all these preserved in modern place names. The renowned Panama he found to consist of huts of fisherman. Such was the discovery of Indian Panama, a name, as in the case of Darien, applied by the Spaniards to a larger region. It included the lower Bayano drainage and extended along the Bay Of Panama. The Guzman entrada ran from the fall of 1514 into the winter and reached the southern part of the Canal Zone. Oviedo thought Guzman to have been one of the very worst. Las Casas, followed by Herrera, detailed the outrages and the loot that was taken. (Tello De Guzman later took part in the pillage of Peru. His milder Lieutenant, Diego De Albitez, years afterward became governor of Honduras.) Before Balboa had notice of his assignment of Panama, Pedrarias had established his counterclaim by prior discovery and conquest.
Gonzalo De Badajoz, a survivor of the Nicuesa venture, was sent form Santa Maria in the spring of 1515 to sail to the ruins of Nombre De Dios. From there he crossed the Isthmus in a southwesterly direction across the Chagres drainage, now submerged under Madden Dam and Gatun Lake. Continuing in the same direction, he climbed the central sierra, then called Sierra De Capira, to descend into the wide and populous lowlands that were the heart of Coiba country. From cacique to cacique gold treasure was collected until a stouter one made a counter attack that routed the Spaniards and cost them most of their booty. The retreated along the west coast of the Golfo De Panama.
Where Castillo De Oro ended on the Caribbean and Veragua began had been left undecided. Gonzalo gave Pedrarias a claim to Nombre De Dios and Chagres which was not challenged.
The other western objective was to secure the Golfo De San Miguel and gain control of the Pearl Islands. The first part seems to have retraced the path Garabito and Becerra from Darien across the Serrania to tidewater on the Pacific. The narrows of the upper gulf were crossed to the land of Chape, where Balboa had made his first discovery of the South Sea. Thence the north side of the gulf was followed and the open shore of the Pacific as far as Tumaco, and so out to the Pearl Islands. The cacique of Terarequi, it’s main island, submitted readily, gave Morales a quantity of pearls and promised to provide a large annual tribute of pearls. On the return across the Isthmus, Morales found that the captured natives slowed his travel and had all of them killed. The expedition was a success, bringing the first large treasure of pearls and assuring a continuing tribute from the Pearl Islands.
Having knowledge of regions to the east, he was made lieutenant of a well-equipped armada, captained by a nephew of Pedrarias, the objective being the land of Sinu, first named at this time . This Indian land lay midway between Darien and Cartagena.
It was learned through an interpreter that Sinu was a very great town nearby "on the banks of a large river that passes near Catarpa and discharges by three arms into the bay, by which the Indians carry salt in canoes and gold which they melt there and make into large pieces, and that they collect the gold by nets in the nets in the river above Sinu and that the mines are in a place called Mocri (Altolaguirre)." The appended document placed Sinu near the mines of Tarufi (Tirufi).
The sources of the Sinu lie to the south in the western flanks of the Sierra Occidental across from Uraba at the western base.
Two expeditions were sent from Darien in the spring of 1515 to go east from the Golfo De Uraba. One, captained by Francisco De Vallejo, entered "toward the part where Hojeda had settled" (Oviedo), and at three leagues from the village of Uraba began attacks on Indian settlements. Thus they secured three thousand pesos of fine gold (Oviedo), entering a distance of twenty leagues into the sierra (Balboa). Harassed by Indians with poisoned arrows, they turned back and got to the Rio De Redes (Leon).
Caribana was the northernmost part of the eastern shore of the Golfo De Uraba. It was reported later from Indian sources that the party had gotten across to the Rio Sinu and had been wiped out. Oviedo, referring to the earlier cruel entrada of Becerra to the Golfo De San Miguel, wrote that thus "he and many others who were lost with him paid their debts."
No further attempt was made in the direction of Sinu until 1534, when Pedro De Heredia moved from the newly founded town of Cartagena to the conquest of the Sinu and the rifling of its great mortuary store of gold. The supposed gold bearing streams between Uraba and the Sinu drainage were still identified by the names Tirufi (Tarufi) and Mocri, and in time became vaguely congruent with the gold land of Dabeiba.
Two more attempts were made from Darien to discover the gold of Dabeiba. Pedrarias continued to deny Balboa access to the west, but commissioned him in the summer of 1515 to go again in search of Dabeiba. The official account says that he was sent with two hundred men to seek the riches of Dabeiba and discover the mines hoped for in that part. As he was going up the Rio Grande the Indians stole some of the canoes, and farther on, in another small river, the Spaniards were sharply attacked; one of those killed was Luis Carrillo. The party returned after thirty days, reportedly having gotten as far as the Bohios of the cacique of Dabeiba. The October letter of Balboa to the King (from Pedrarias) told of the fight on the river and how they got by land to the habitations of Dabeiba only to find that the Indians had fled: "We took there certain people by whom were told about the mines inland and how Dabeiba got the gold. They say that of a certainty there are large mines as far as ten days travel thence to the interior, and all the caciques collect gold (no food in the area: locusts that had destroyed all that country).
The smaller river where they were attacked may have been the Rio Sucio - an interpretation that is supported by the remark of Balboa attributing the native hostility to damage done by an unnamed Spanish captain (Vallejo?) who got within two days travel of Dabeiba. Again no gold mining was mentioned for Dabeiba; the source of gold was now placed farther inland than at the first entry, and as being provided by caciques as far away as ten days’ travel, which would include a long stretch of country up and down the auriferous Cauca drainage.
The last venture up the Atrato to get at the wealth of Dabeiba was carried out by a rich businessman of Santa Maria, Juan De Tavira, who equipped a large party. Indians blocked their passage on the Rio Grande by war canoes. Tavira and others were drowned and again Pizarro took over to lead the return to Darien. This was the end of the interest in the south and east. Thereafter Pedrarias turned his attention to the west and mainly to the Pacific.
Beyond Santa Maria a number of Caribbean harbors had served in entradas - Careta, the port of Comogre, that of Pocorosa, El Golfo De San Blas, Y Nombre De Dios. The most familiar and advantageous one was Careta, where the natives to be friendly and in part become Christians. This and its nearness to the waters by which canoes could go into the Golfo De San Miguel were its principal attractions. Also it was close to the land of Comogre, from which canoes had passage down the Rio Bayano to the northern end of Panama Bay of from which one could journey by land through open country to Panama and beyond.
Pedrarias, who had not stirred from Santa Maria previously, decided it was time for him to lead an expedition into the west. He left at the end of November 1515, with a fleet headed for Careta carrying two hundred fifty men and twelve horses, the latter of interest as indicating the open country known to lie ahead. A detour was made east across the gulf to "the province of Caribana" to seek news of the party of Becerra, missing for eight months. The word was that all had been killed. Pedrarias played a brief role there as conquistador, naming a river after himself, raising the royal banner in solemn act of possession, and having an Indian settlement attacked and taken. He named the village Aguila because it was on top of what was described as a very high and steep hill that was difficult to climb. Its location is undetermined. The river, swamp and high cerro may be a dramatized picture of the environs of Punta Uraba and San Sebastion, the vicinity of Nicocli.
All who had gone east across the Golfo De Uraba had run into trouble. Many men had been lost, small booty secured, and no gold mines found, only reports of gold fields farther inland. The disaster of the Becerra party put an end to further activities in that direction. The South Sea offered easier and greater gain.
Pedrarias and his four ships sailed on to the port of Careta, which he remained Acla and ordered a fort and town to be built here. The Indians of that province had been stirred up and some had run off. The chief was persuaded to come to a feast of reconciliation and renewal of allegiance. At that time, Pedrarias wrote, he experienced a "return of the fevers and kidney trouble which did not permit him to continue the journey and thus he stayed in the port of Alca, which was one of the good ports in those parts and very well protected and free of broma, where it is possible to build a great city and there are two rivers of good waters." This port, he said, was twenty-two leagues from the South Sea in a direct line with the Isle of Pearls.
Sevilla? Balboa had again made friends of the Indians and built the villa, the second on Tierra Firme, which outlasted Santa Maria by some years.
The ailing Pedrarias turned the expedition over to Gaspar De Espinosa. Taking along a train of Indians, the party crossed the Serrania from Careta to Comogre, Pocorosa, and Tubanama, the several caciques of the upper Bayano basin that had been under the control of Balboa. The familiar tactic was used of attacking the Bohios of the caciques at night. Some were caught and the others ran away. Parties were sent out to hunt down the fugitives. (in each case Espinosa referred to a list of the captured Indians to be allotted repartido; the list, however, is missing.) The procedure was explained as castigation for the crime of having destroyed the Spanish garrison at Santa Cruz, for which the chiefs and people of Pocorosa were held most responsible. One party raided westward to the north of the Rio Grande (in this case the Rio Bayano), another along its south side. the natives held most culpable were executed. Little booty of gold was secured, nor was enough maize found to provide the needs. They pressed on to the region of Chepo, Pacora, and Panama and thus to the northern shores of the Bay Of Panama.
From Chepo they took the same route that is now followed by the Pan-American Highway. From Panama it was seven leagues to the cacique Perequete, whose place was captured as usual at night. A river of that name is at that distance west of Panama. Seven leagues farther on the Indian town Chame was reached and again taken at night. Their guides lost the way to the next place, Chiru, so it was well after daylight when they got there to find that the cacique had decamped. From here it was four leagues to Nata, again taken at night, its cacique escaping from his bohio by an unnoticed door. Here many Indians were killed, especially by the horsemen, and about a hundred were captured. Gold was found in some quantity and there was plenty of food.
Meanwhile Espinosa was trying to find out what had become of the golden treasure that Badajoz had abandoned the year before. Badajoz had come into these fertile and populous lowlands by a more northerly route, across the continental divide. He had an easy time until he crossed a large river (now Rio Santa Maria), where he was ambushed and soundly trounced, and had to abandon most of his booty. This experience, new to Spaniards on the Isthmus, made Espinosa cautious in approaching the river.
The crossing was made in force at Escoria, described as six leagues beyond Nata and at the same distance from the sea, which places it near the present town of Santa Maria. The Indians beyond this river were held to be of different ways and bellicose. A cacique Escoria and his household were taken by night attack and taken along for the assault on Paris, who considered the cacique to be most feared and, together with Escoria, to have caused the rout of Badajoz. The seat of Paris, six leagues farther on, was found to be as empty as though no one had lived there for years, for which reason it was called Asiento Viejo. The name Paris is preserved in the river and town of Parita, the Asiento Viejo being in that vicinity. An engagement took place which was indecisive until the horsemen came up to drive the Indians into retreat. The key to the state of Paris extended along the coast beyond the Rio Escoria and included the rich lands along the Rio Del Asiento Viejo (Rio Parita) and the Rio De Mahizales (Rio La Villa). Somewhere in the interior rim of the lowland basin were Usagana and Quema, up slope from Paris and Escoria.
Azuero Peninsula? A canoe party was sent on west to explore and map, turned the southwest point of the peninsula and went into the Golfo De Montijo (then unnamed). At the island of Cebaco, lying across the entry to the gulf, there was a brief fight followed by an alliance; its cacique and his fleet of canoes continued with them to another island, which was called Isla De Varones because of its stronger defense. This is probably Isla Gobernadora. The joint flotilla crossed a gulf of seven or eight leagues wide and landed on the island of Cabo (now Coiba). There the Bohios of the cacique were attacked and captives and gold taken. The Espinosa account mentions two islands, one as Cabo, the other as Coyba, perhaps mistaking the wide bay in the middle of the large island for separation. "This island of Cabo is an attractive island, and the last the Christians discovered is the island of Coyba, which, though taking some Indians who came out from it by canoe, they saw but did not land on. From the island of Cabo they sight of a long part of the coast of Tierra Firme, all very level land and according to what the Indians said very well peopled, cleared and without thickets, a very beautiful country." The party went north from the island "to the coast of Tierra Firme and because it was very populous and its captains great and powerful, although they landed they did not dare to stop there or to make war on its caciques." They were told about a route north across to the northern sea and Veragua that could be traveled in three days. The canoe party having been absent overlong, Espinosa sent a land party west from his camp in the Santa Maria plain to find out whether all was well with the canoes. It reached Montijo Bay, passing by way of the broad saddle at Santiago.
Much had been learned about new country during the six months spent beyond the Rio Santa Maria. Espinosa started back from the Asiento Viejo at the beginning of January, 1517, via Escoria and Nata to Chiru where the canoe party caught up with the main party.
Balboa was instructed to build a fleet to operate in the Golfo De San Miguel and serve the Pearl Islands. This would give substance to his title of Adelanto of the South Sea and return to the scene of his discovery. He was ordered to go from Acla to the Rio Ponca (the upper Rio Chucunaque) with shipwrights and equipment to construct the ships. The enterprise was too fantastic to have come from the cool-headed Balboa, but whatever he thought of it, he undertook the commission.
The task was begun in August, 1517. In all there were about two hundred Spaniards, including Pascual De Andagoya and Hernan De Soto, thirty Negro slaves, and many Indians, especially from Careta. The gear was delivered to Alca and the timbers were cut in that vicinity. Why the shipwrights cut and fashioned the timbers on the Caribbean coast is not explained. The heavy materials were carried on the backs of the Indians a distance of about thirty miles to navigable water on the Rio Balas (Chucunaque). Andagoya wrote: "on this river we made two ships and thereby used up the Indians of that province, who were numerous by taking them to Acla to carry the materials for the ships and also by having them provide the food they had in order to feed the carpenters and people who were building the ships." Las Casas was informed by the Bishop of Darien in 1519 that stated that five hundred Indians died while serving as porters; another source stated that the cost was two thousand lives.
The effort was mostly wasted, for the lumber was useless when it was assembled in the brigantines, and a fresh supply had to be cut on the river. Balboa sent out raiding parties to forage fresh food and to capture more Indians. When the ships were ready it was found that there was no channel open to the sea. Again Andagoya: "We took these ships down to the sea with great labor, for there many shoals through which we dug channels for them to pass. Having gotten down to the Golfo De San Miguel they began to flounder, for the carpenters did not know the quality of the lumber, which has become rotted and all the planks were honeycombed. Thus with great effort we were obliged to cross in them to the Pearl Island. Here they sank and we built still others, larger and better and of good wood." Balboa then returned "to the Golfo De San Miguel and set up camp in a well-peopled province called Pepqueo where he remained for two months taking and seizing Indians whom he sent to Acla to bring more rigging and pitch that was needed for the ships."
The whole enterprise fails to make sense, especially for Balboa, who never bungled anything he undertook. Only imported gear needed to be transported. Canoes could have floated men, rigging, and stores down to the gulf. Balboa knew the topography of the interior and both coasts. If he was restricted to operating from the Golfo De San Miguel, an easier approach would have been by way of the Atrato and Tuira. The available crossings of the Isthmus were well known by 1517, and also the harbors on both coasts that might serve as terminals by that time the Golfo De San Miguel was no longer being considered for a Spanish town on the Pacific.
The new governor (Lope De Sosa) wanted to make a settlement at Chepabar, which is six leagues from Panama toward Acla (the north end of the Bay Of Panama). This would give Balboa access to the territory that had been assigned to him and which Pedrarias had denied him. He had selected a proper site in Chepabar, near the mouth of the Rio Bayano, directly south of the Golfo De San Blas, at the shortest crossing of the Isthmus by one of the lowest passes of the continental divide. In these respects it was superior to the later Panama or any other location (Balboa was executed for treason shortly before Lope De Sosa’s arrival).
When Nicuesa was given his limited concession in 1508 to occupy Veragua, it was identified only as "where the Admiral Columbus was at the last." In 1510 Ferdinand declared both shores of the Golfo De Uraba to belong to the concession of Uraba given to Hojeda, without indicating where the western shore of the gulf ended. This in effect legitimized the occupation of Darien by Enciso and Balboa, being suppressers to Hojeda. The new colony took the name of Darien, and Balboa was appointed to govern without naming limits. Uraba was dropped as a political term, and so was Veragua for the time being. However, limiting Panama and Coiba by the mountain watershed, the Caribbean versant of the Isthmus belonged to Veragua at least as far east as Nombre De Dios.
Pedrarias sent parties along the Caribbean coast to the ports of Comogre and Pocorosa, where the ephemeral place of Santa Cruz had been founded, next to the Golfo De San Blas, and then to Nombre De Dios and the Chagres basin, thus gaining a sort of title by taking possession as far as the Canal Zone. Diego took no steps to occupy Veragua, and the Crown took none to set a Caribbean boundary; Pedrarias was thus left free to extend his domination to the Chagres basin, but made no intrusion farther west. At this time, the Columbus heirs were asserting rights to all the Indies by virtue of the discovery of their father. Accepting an obscure strip of coast might compromise their claims. Twenty years later they did settle for the dukedom of Veragua in partial satisfaction of their suit.
The land of Zenu has much gold (made from a base of silver, not copper). The Rio Zenu flows from places called Mocri, Cubra, etc., and the land where these places are is of a reddish color and the gold is collected in arroyos and valleys. When it rains they spread nets across the arroyos and as the water rises it carries down gold nuggets the size of eggs which are caught in the nets. The place called Zenu (somewhere near Darien, maybe above Sinu) is on a river ten leagues from the sea.
On the upper Rio Atrato the entrada got as far as a bad and warlike people, according to Balboa. This is now the territory of the Choco Indians, but none of the description fits. The Choco live widely dispersed, preferably on ridges, in houses built on posts or piles having wooden floors, hardly to be called Chozas. The information does not indicate that the Choco were in the upper Atrato basin then.
Today the Choco are the only Indians in the Atrato basin, in the San Juan basin to the south, and in the drainage of the Sinu, thus the only Indians remaining in northwest Colombia.
Coiba was the western part of the Isthmus, on the Pacific side of the water shed. That is the way Ferdinand designated it, as Balboa had requested. Pedrarias objected that there was no such province, which was correct in the sense of province as a political unit. Neither was Cueva a province in that sense. As geographical and cultural terms, however, both are proper.
Coiba was a useful name for the southwestern part of the Isthmus, as was Veragua for the Caribbean side of the watershed. The central cordillera here rises four to six thousand feet, feeding many streams that discharge south across the peninsula of Azuero holds a detached highland that fronts steeply on the Pacific. Mainly the land has good natural drainage and is fertile. In contrast to the eastern Isthmus, interior communication is by land rather than by the rivers; the main aboriginal east-west route is now marked by the Pan-American Highway. Rainfall is notably less and the dry season is longer. Coiba of Spanish usage was a good natural region. Its undefined western limit included the large island now called Isla De Coiba. Andagoya gave these limits; "From the province of Perequete as far as Adechame, which is a distance of about forty leagues continuing to the west, is called the Provincia De Coiba." Perequete was the first native state west of Panama; Adechame beyond the Golfo De Montijo. They Entered Coiba La Rica, finding gold mixed with sand wherever they dug. South down to the coast to the cacique Chiru who had excellent salt works and a country rich in gold. Coiba differed from parts previously known.
Beyond the Rio Escotia (Rio Santa Maria) the natives were more warlike. The cacique Paris was held to be very brave and his people very strong. With these remarks of Espinosa, Andayoga was in agreement, acknowledging that the lord of Paris, "a valiant man," gave them a hard day-long battle, had subjected four provinces to the south, and was engaged in fighting with the chief of Escoria.
From Cabo (Isla Coiba) Espinosa sent a party inland from Escoria toward the mountains to two caciques who had "forts made with two or three enclosures of timber and large trees and a very great moat around .... these could well pass for good forts in Italy." Another was on the isle of Varones in the Golfo De Montijo.
The Pacific side of the Isthmus to the west of Panama City, for which Coiba was and is a useful name, had a population of different breeds and customs from the rest of the Isthmus, the more so farther west the Spaniards got. In the farthest parts toward Burica, Andagoya found them "almost all of one kind in dress and customs."
Land routes were to open in number to Spanish entries across the Isthmus and along it. The sizable party of Gonzalo De Badajoz crossed from the Chagres basin over the sierra to Chiru by a route that is now not passable. Espinosa led the largest party , with horses, baggage, and cannon across Cueva country that Balboa had pacified, into Panama and thence across Coiba, mostly along the present route of the Pan-American Highway. The only mention of a road was at Huera in the Azuero peninsula. The island of Coiba and the islands of the Golfo De Monjito were peopled by natives skilled with the use of canoes.
The gold collected in Coiba there is even less information than for Cueva and Veragua. That there was little placer gold in indicated by the fact that no locality was named as a mining district. The profits of Coiba however were derived from looting golden treasure and there were greater that elsewhere in Castillo De Oro. It was the abandoned booty of Gonzalo that directed the course of Espinosa, who recorded from cacique to cacique what he secured. In his expedition of 1519 Espinosa found the burial of the great chief Paris. The body was encased I three shrouds, the finest were closest to the body, and was decked with gold ornaments from the helmeted head to gold bands about the legs. Espinosa reported the value of the gold on the corpse as ten thousand castellanos. Since this declaration was subject to paying the royal fifth, it is not likely to have been exaggerated.
Santa Maria De Darien was best situated as the first Spanish base on Tierra Firme. No other since then would have served so well to find out what lay behind the southwestern shores of the Caribbean sea. The direct fast sailing route from Spain followed the trade winds through the Dominica Passage to the harbor of Cartagena and continued thence with a slight change of direction of Darien under light and variable winds. These were used on the return to get back to Cartagena, and so to Santo Domingo and whatever route was taken north into the Atlantic. By sea the coast of Sinu to the northeast and that of Acla, San Blas, and Nombre De Dios to the northwest were equally convenient to Darien.
At first Darien also was in the best location for getting into the interior. The town lay on the western edge of the Arato delta, safe from floods and having the option of several channels to go up the great river or entering the Culata to ascend the Rio Leon. There was the direct land route south to Sautata above the head of the delta. To the west the Indian trail of Trepadera led directly across the continental divide.
For the support of the Spanish settlement, offered numerous and tractable Indian populations, ample planting and fishing grounds, and gold placers in the Serrania adjacent.
The initial advantage of Darien was soon lost, however. The ventures eastward into Uraba and Sinu ended in disaster. The search to the south for the gold of Dabeiba was disappointing. Profitable returns were found only to the west, first in the gold treasures of Cuevan principalities of the Isthmus and, after the discovery of the Pacific, in the Pearl Islands. The founding of a second town at Acla was the first expression of westward shift of interest. Acla served two purposes. The first was to descend the Rio Balsas (Chucunaque) to the Golfo De San Miguel and to get to the Pearl Islands. This line of communication was difficult, hence no town was built of the Golfo De San Miguel, as had been anticipated. The more use of Acla was as the Caribbean terminus of the easy land route west to the north shore to the Golfo De Panama. This followed through open and well settled country which was richly rewarding in golden loot and slaves. Darien came to lie farther and farther to the rear of the active front of exploration.
The natives of the Caribbean coast whom Balboa preserved were soon destroyed by Pedrarias. They were replaced by gangs of slaves who were brought from the interior, each in turn to be followed by others as the former lot was used up. Food production failed and imports were required by ship. The former Indian provinces of Darien and Careta were ruined. The brutally predatory economy practiced by Pedrarias depended on despoiling Indian areas farther and farther from Santa Maria and Acla, which were thereby becoming untenable.
Oviedo owned a good home in Santa Maria, liked the place, was one of the last to leave there, and thought the abandonment of the town was due to the hatred Pedrarias had for Balboa who built it, overlooking thereby the westward shift of location advantage. Oviedo held Pedrarias was motivated by spite in making an end to Santa Maria, "which city he dishonored and written that it was unhealthy, which it was not, but he destroyed it for the hatred he held for it ... since it was built by Vasco Nunez and he wished also to destroy me," Oviedo being the last official there. Oviedo said that after the modorra epidemic of 1514 Santa Maria again became a healthy place. In this he may have been right. The evil repute of the Caribbean side of the Isthmus came later, and health in fact had nothing to do with the abandonment of Santa Maria or Acla. As in Espanola, men were said to return to Spain from Castillo Del Oro yellow as gold, perhaps indicating jaundice. At a later time the Caribbean ports of Nombre De Dios and Porto Belo became notorious for yellow fever, malaria, and enteric fevers. The records of Castillo Del Oro are so explicit that serious morbidity should have had notice as did the sickness of modorra in 1514. Either the Spaniards were remarkably indifferent to the ailments or the rainy tropics had not yet become centers of contagion.
The discovery of the Pacific made it obvious that a Spanish settlement would be needed on the new coast and that it should have the benefit of a convenient crossing of the Isthmus. Hearing the discovery from Balboa, the King thought that "by the shortest and least difficult terrain" several posts should be built between Santa Maria and the Golfo De San Miguel, where a settlement was to be made (1514). The crossing, however was neither short nor easy, and interest shifted farther west along the Isthmus. One proposal of 1515 considered the Golfo De San Blas for the Caribbean port, to connect with an appropriate location on the South Sea, whence the proponent Albitez hoped to sail east to the Cabo San Agustin in Brazil! The Albitez "offer received royal approval in March 1518, to found two pueblos, one on the north side at the Golfo De San Blas or Nombre De Dios and the other on the side of the south at [the seat of] the Cacique Chepo." From the Golfo De San Blas to tidewater on the Rio Chepo the air-line distance is about twenty-five miles, then mostly open country; the continental divide was passable at less that one thousand feet above sea level. This would have been the best route for the Isthmian crossing and agreed with the one Balboa had in mind while awaiting the recall of Pedrarias on the Golfo De San Miguel. Then, Andagoya said, "we should go and make a settlement at Chepabar, six leagues from Panama toward Acla." Chepabar lay immediately to the west of the lower Rio Chepo. The authorization of Albitez and the intent of Balboa were the best solution for paired ports of the two seas. The distance was shortest and the land route was easiest. There was no lack of suitable ports on the Caribbean side. Shoal water, mangrove swamps, and high tidal range on the Pacific side, however, afforded few good anchorage’s about the Bay Of Panama. Here the estuary of the Rio Chepo (Bayano), with the island of Chepillo before it, would have been the most eligible. Nothing came of these proposals.
In four an a half years as governor, Pedrarias himself had gone no farther than Acla. After the execution of Balboa in the beginning of 1519, he was suddenly in a great hurry to get to the Pacific. Proceeding to the Rio Balsas, down to the Golfo De San Miguel over the route of Balboa’s discovery, and thence to the Pearl Islands, he took over the ships Balboa had built there. The details of this sudden burst of energy and the ceremonies of possession by which he repeated the acts of Balboa of fourteen years earlier may be passed over. In mid August 1519 he founded the town of Panama.
The selection of Panama is unexplained. The Indian fishing village and its vicinity lacked resources, people, and even a fair harbor. The name had gained currency as a vague designation of the farther part of the Cuevan territory which was a small undistinguished part. Pedrarias made no search for suitable town sites along the bay, but went directly to this location and declared it to be his future seat. The selection of Panama eliminated the Golfo De San Blas from consideration as Caribbean port. The choice fell upon Nombre De Dios which Nicuesa had founded and left, a scarcely recognizable ruin. The route between Panama and Nombre De Dios was half again as long as the San Blas-Chepo connection would have been, and crossed more difficult terrain. Nombre De Dios, however, continued to serve for most of the century as the Caribbean gateway to the Pacific.
By 1519 it was evident that the future of Castillo Del Oro depended upon the exploitation of the Pacific side of the Isthmus, mainly to the west of the Golfo De Panama. Santa Maria was ordered abandoned. A few Spaniards chose to continue at Acla. A handful sufficed at Nombre De Dios to service an occasional ship and work a few placers in the hills. Most of the Spaniards were transferred to the new seat of government and received repartimientos in its vicinity. Andagoya wrote that having founded Panama Pedrarias "made a division of the land among the 400 vecinos there were at that time in Panama, leaving a certain part of the province of Cueva for the vecinos of Acla. And since the entradas of so many captains had made through that country as they went to and came from Darien, taking great quantities of Indians, and because the land between one sea and the other was of small extent, there were few Indians at the time it was allotted, he who received most by repartimiento got 90, others 50 or 40."
The removal of Pedrarias to Panama was also in the nature of a tactical retreat to a favorable position from which to await developments in Spain. Pedrarias knew that he was in trouble; his replacement by a new governor meant that his conduct of office would be subject to a searching residencia. The accounting of royal revenues from Castillo Del Oro had been highly irregular. Many and specific charges had been logged against him during and after the regency of Cardinal Cisneros, including those by Quevedo, a Franciscan Bishop of Castillo Del Oro, and by Oviedo. The veteran governor of the Canaries, Lope De Sosa, had been offered the government of Castillo Del Oro, and after long deliberation had accepted; the announcement was made by the King in March 1519. Pedrarias was not ready to concede the game was lost. He had control of the only ships in the Pacific waters, which Balboa had built. He had liquidated Balboa and the men most attached to Balboa. He was attaching the other Spaniards to himself by repartimientos in the west. Official orders were notoriously slow in being put into effect. Sosa was an old man. Fonseca, who had sponsored Pedrarias, had been dismissed by Cisneros, but was again regaining his power. Time might run his favor.
Luck was with Pedrarias. The departure of Sosa was delayed for a year and the new governor died on arriving in Darien in June 1520. The subsequent residencia of Pedrarias was a farce and a fraud. The King had his hands full with the Communero revolt in Spain. Under the circumstances Pedrarias was remained in office free to continue as he pleased. Darien was dismantled and Panama took its place, to engage in harrying lands along the Pacific.