The History of Washington State

The History of Washington
Chapter 3


By Holice, Pam, and Deb

Extra special thanks to Holice B. Young for transcribing this series of books!




"He was the first who ever burst
Into that silent sea."

Vasco Nunez De Balboa, the discoverer of the Pacific, was no ordinary man. He was gifted with great personal magnetism, courage, and perseverance of a high order, and a nobility of spirit which preferred fame to gold. He rises far above the ordinary Spanish mercenaries who sought the New World only to satisfy their greed. Like others of his race, Balboa was a strange mixture of good and evil, passing triumphantly through many a wild and bloody scene to die at last upon the scaffold, through the indirect influence of the native mistress whom he had seemed to have loved, and for a crime of which he was certainly innocent; for when the crier who preceded him to the block proclaimed him a traitor, Balboa indignantly repudiated the charge, saying: "It is false! Never did such a crime enter into my mind. I have ever served my king with truth and loyalty, and south to augment his dominion." He perished in 1517, in the prime of his life (being but forty-one years old), a man whose name is as enduringly linked with the discovery of the Pacific as that of Columbus with the continent on which we dwell. Well was it for the treacherous governor and his adherents who condemned him that the little band, then awaiting his return on the Pacific, knew nothing of their leader's extremity, or, says, Headley, "they would have descended with their old battle-cry of 'Santiago!' and swept his enemies into the sea."

A romance almost Oriental in its detail surrounds the story of his Darien experience--his marriage (If such it may be called) with the daughter of the cacique, whom he had traitorously overcome, who, after reproaching him in moving terms with his perfidy, gave the young and beautiful captive maid, as she stood

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Trembling and dejected before him, to be his wife, with these words:

"Behold my daughter. I give her to thee as a pledge of friendship. Take her for thy wife, and be assured of the fidelity of her family and her people."

Irving tells us that Balboa felt the full force of his words, and knowing the importance of forming a strong alliance with the natives, looked upon her, and she, like Rebecca of old, found favor in his sight. He omits, however, to state whether the charms of the daughter or the influence of her father was the strongest factor in bringing about this left-handed alliance, or what the French would term mariage of convenance. We find him, then, possibly by way of wedding reception, treating his new father-in-law to a grand military display, the details of his ships, his war horses, armor, and equipment, to which he judiciously adds, in the language of the historian, "Lest he should be too much daunted by these warlike spectacles, he caused the musicians to perform a harmonious concert on their instruments, at which the cacique was lost in admiration." Having thus sufficiently impressed him with the power, and loaded him with presents, he suffered his new friend to depart. It will be observed that the mother-in-law does not appear to have played so prominent a part in those days as in our later and more degenerate times.

True to his promise to the father of this Indian beauty, Balboa makes war against the cacique's enemies and returns laden with the spoil--of their villages. It will be seen that one indirect effect of this native marriage was to direct his attention to the Pacific, of whose existence he had not yet heard. So that, after all, it was the feeble hand of an untutored Indian girl that pointed her steel-clad European lover to the goal which was to link his memory with undying reputation by making him the discoverer of the mighty sea which bounds our western shore,

Old Peter Martyr tells us that the eldest son of the cacique Comagie, one of Careta's allies, to whom the new-made Benedict made a friendly visit--a chief who commanded three thousand warriors--perceiving that the Spaniards were a "wandering kind of men, living only by shifts and spoil," sought to gain their favor by gratifying their avarice. He himself gave four

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thousand ounces of gold, with sixty slaves--captives taken in battle. Balboa ordered the gold weighed, setting aside one fifth for the crown, and dividing the remainder among is followers. In the division a violent quarrel arose among them as to the value and size of their respective shares. The high-minded savage was disgusted at this sordid brawl among those whom he had learned to reverence as superior beings. In the impulse of his disdain, says Irving, he struck the scales with his fist and scattered the glittering pieces about the porch. "Why" said he, "should you quarrel for such a trifle! If this gold is so precious to your eyes that for it you abandon your homes, invade the peaceful lands of others, and expose yourselves to such suffering and peril, I will tell you of a region where you may gratify your wishes to the utmost. Behold those lofty mountains!" continued he, pointing to the south. "Beyond them lies a mighty sea, which may be observed from their summit. It is navigated by people who have vessels almost as large as yours, and furnished, like them, with sails an oars. All the streams which flow down the southern side of these mountains into that sea abound in gold, and the kings who reign upon its borders eat and drink out of golden vessels. Gold, in fact, is as plentiful and common among these people of the south as iron is among you Spaniards."

Need it be said that Balboa eagerly asked as to the means of penetrating so opulent a region? He was told of the dangers of the way, those which did exist and some which existed only in the imagination; for their narrators spoke of fierce and evil cannibals, who were probably a myth. But the warlike cacique Tubanama, with his fierce following, was probably real enough. The territories of this redoubtable chief were, it seemed, distant but six days' journey, and reputed richest of all in gold--a fact which probably more than balanced any dread of his prowess in the minds of the soldiers of Balboa. The cacique concluded by declaring that it would require at least a thousand soldiers armed like the Spaniards to effect its conquest, yet at the same time offered, as a proof of his thoughtfulness, to accompany the expedition at the head of his warriors. Surely Balboa had a wonderful talent for making friends among these children of the wilderness!

This revelation, the first intimation he had received of the

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existence of this, to Europeans, unknown and entirely unsuspected sea, appears to have wrought a revolution in Balboa's whole character. The hitherto wandering and desperate man had a road opened to his utmost ambition which, if followed to success, would place him among the great captains and discoverers of earth. Henceforth, the discovery of the Pacific, "the sea beyond the mountains," was the sole object of his thoughts, rousing and ennobling a spirit set on higher aims. He hastened his return to Darien to make the necessary preparations for this splendid enterprise. "Before departing," say the historian, " he baptized the cacique by the name of Don Carlos, and performed the same ceremony for his sons and several of his subjects. Thus strangely did avarice and religion go hand in hand in the conduct of the Spanish discoveries."

Lacking provisions on his return to Darien, we find him sending, in his extremity, a second time to Hispaniola for supplies. He writes also to Don Diego Columbus, who governed at San Domingo, informing him of the great sea and opulent region beyond the mountains, and entreating his influence with the kind to obtain a thousand men to prosecute his quest. Strongest argument of all to win imperial favor, he sent fifteen thousand crows of gold to be remitted to the king as his royal fifth of the sums already gathered. Many of his followers likewise sent money to their creditors at home--greatly, as we must imagine, to the wonder of those to whom they were indebted.

Meanwhile a complication of difficulties had terminated in serious complaints against Balboa at the Spanish court which roused the indignation of the king and obtained a sentence against him involving costs and damages. It was, moreover, determined to recall him to Spain to answer to criminal charges. Learning this by his private advices, and in daily expectation of official action which might deprive him of his government, Balboa determines, while still master of his own actions, to obtain restoration to this sovereign's favor by a "bold achievement--the discovery of the southern sea. He dared not wait for reinforcement from Spain, but determined, with the handful of men at his command, to undertake the task, desperate as it appeared." To longer was to be lost. "Selecting one hundred and ninety picked men devoted to his person, he armed them with swords, targets, crossbows, and arquebuses; he did

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not conceal from them the danger of the enterprise into which he was about to lead them;" but there was gold for the finding and with such a stimulus he might well rely upon the bravery of his adventurers. He also took with him a number of trained bloodhounds, which had been found terrible allies in Indian warfare.

One of these hounds--Balboa's special bodyguard and constant companion, a dog named Leoncico--is thus minutely described by Oviedo:

"He was one of middle size, but immensely strong; of a dull yellow or reddish color, with a black muddle, and his body was scarred all over with wounds received in innumerable battles with the Indians. Balboa always took him with him on his expeditions, and sometimes lent him to others, receiving for his services the same share of booty allotted to an armed man. In this way he gained by him, in the course of his campaigns, upward of a thousand crowns. The Indians, it is said, had conceived such terror of this animal that the very sight of him was sufficient to put a host of them to flight."

He also, in addition to these forces, took with him a number of Darien Indians, whom he had won over by his kindness, and whose services as guides and from their general knowledge of native habits and resources made them valuable allies in the field, greatly to be counted on. "Such," says Irving, "was the motley armament that set forth from the little colony of Darien under the guidance of a daring, if not desperate, commander inquest of the great Pacific Coast."

We find our adventurers embarking "on the first of September with his followers, ina brigantine and nine large canoes or pirogues, followed by the cheers and good wishes of those who remained in the settlement." Standing northwest, he arrives safely at Coyba, the dominion of his cacique father-in-law. The Indian beauty, we are told, had acquired a great influence over her lord, and his friendship with her people appears to have been sincere. Here he was received with open arms and furnished both with guides and warriors. He laves half his men here to guard the canoes, and departs to penetrate the wilderness. Before setting out, however--being doubtless, deeply impressed both with the solemnity and danger of his mission--he causes high mass to be performed, and offers up prayers to

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God for the success of his perilous enterprise. It was on the sixth day of September that he struck for the mountains. "Their march," says the author from whom we so often quote, "was difficult ad dangerous. The Spaniards encumbered with the weight of their armor and weapons, and oppressed by the heat of the tropical climate, were obliged to climb rocky precipices and to struggle through close and tangled forests. Their Indian allies aided them by carrying their ammunition and provisions, and by guiding them to the most practicable paths." September 8th find them at the village of Ponca, the ancient enemy of Careta. Allis lifeless, the people having fled. Here they remain for several days to recruit. Guides are needed, and the retreat of Ponca being at length discovered, he is prevailed on, though reluctantly, to come to his enemy, Balboa, by whom he is kindly received and speedily won over. (This Spaniard seems to have been endowed with some special power of fascination, or these natives were easily persuaded). This Ponca becomes his friend, assures him of the existence of the sea, gives him ornaments of gold, and even points out the mountains from whose summit the ocean is visible.

Fired with new zeal, Balboa procures fresh guides and prepares to ascend the mountain. He returns his sick to Coyba, taking with him only the vigorous. On September 20th we see him again, setting forth through a broken, rocky country, covered with matted forests and intersected by deep and turbulent streams, many of which he is obliged to raft. So difficult is their path that in four days they make only ten leagues of progress, and, withal, suffer from hunger. Then follows a battle with the natives, in which the firearms of the Spaniards are, of course, victorious. After this bloody conflict, they take the village of Quaraqua, where they find good booty of gold. They reach, in the conquest of this village, the foot of the last mountain to be climbed. Here some of the Spaniards, disabled by wounds, or exhausted by hunger and fatigue, are reluctantly compelled o return. But sixty-seven of his own men remain to accompany their leader in his final effort. These he orders to retire early to repose, that they might be able to march with the freshness of the dawn so as to reach the wished-for summit before the noontide heat.

The day has scarcely dawned--a day so momentous that its.

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light reaches even to our own history s it opens the second door to northwest discovery--when Balboa sets forth from the Indian village with his followers to climb the final height. The way is hard and rugged; but, sustained by the nearness of their goal, their hearts beat high with hope and expectancy. At ten o'clock they emerge from the forest and reach an air height. The summit alone remains to be ascended, from whence his guides declare the ocean may be seen. Balboa halts his men with the command, "Let no man leave his place!" who shall measure the emotions of this wonderful man as he nears the spot! The gambler stands inwardly trembling as he watches the turn of the card or the falling of the dice on which he has staked his fortune; the captive waits the sentence of death or liberty; the lover, the crisis of disease which shall give or take away all that is dearest upon earth. How, then, must it have been with this bold gamester for honor and fame; this captive to a secret fear of enemies at home; this lover, sitting by the bedside of a hope now to be proved real or fallacious? He goes alone beneath the sun of that tropic morning. He will have no witnesses but God and nature to the exultation of his triumph or the bitterness of his defeat. For a moment he hesitates; the last eminence is at hand--a step will bring him there. Well may the heart that never quailed in battle grow faint and sick with anxiety. But disappointment itself is less terrible than suspense; he nerves himself for the trial, and gains the eyrie from which his eagle eye is to behold what through the ages no European has gazed upon before. The Pacific, with its myriad billows sparkling in the sunshine, its fleecy clouds resting on its far-off horizon, is before him--the mighty sea which is to become the conserver of his fame, even as the continent will tell the story of Columbus--the sea that still bears the name, wherever its billows break, or on whatever shores, however distant, with which he so appropriately baptized it--the Pacific. Behind him lay the mountains, the wilderness crossed with such loss and toil; before him the wild chaos of rock and forest, silver threads of wandering streams, savannas clothed in the rich verdure of the tropic wild, and beyond all the sparking of the sea.

Who does not know, infidel though he be, that man, in his dire extremity, ever turn to God! It is even so in moments of great success and exultation. Columbus thanks his Creator,

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and gives the name of his Saviour to the land he had found; so Vasco B Nunez de Balboa, his heart filled with gratitude, stern and cruel warrior though he be, sink upon his knees and pours forth his thanks to the almighty for being the first European to whom it was given to make this great discovery. He then calls to his people to ascend, and thus addresses them:

"Behold, my friends, that glorious sight which we have so much desired! Let us give thanks to God that He has granted us this great honor and advantage. Let us pray to Him to guide and aid us to conquer the sea and the land which we have discovered, and which Christian has never entered to preach the holy doctrine of the evangelists. As to yourselves, be as you have hitherto been, faithful and true to me, and, by the favor of Christ, you will become the richest Spaniards who have ever come to the Indies; you will render the greatest services to your king that ever vassal rendered to his lord, and you will have the eternal glory and advantage of all that is here discovered, conquered and concerted to our holy Catholic faith."

They answered this by embracing their leader and vowing to follow him to the death. Andres de Vara, a priest of their number, lifted his voice and chanted a "Te Deum Laudamus," the usual anthem of the Spanish discoverer. "The rest," says Irving, "knelling down, joined in the strain with pious enthusiasm and tears of joy; and never did a more sincere oblation rise to the Deity from a sanctified altar from that mountains summit."

And even so in after years did the Pilgrims, flying from religious oppression, mingle their prayers and hymns of deliverance with the moan of the winter winds that rocked the pines on the wild New England shore. How strange the contract, yet both flowing from the same overwrought emotion, striving to vent itself in prayer and praise!

Balboa, with all his pious enthusiasm, seems to have been a very practical sort of man. The first burst of exultation having subsided, he calls upon all present to witness that he takes possession of that sea, its islands and boundaries (a rather large geographical present, by the way), in the name of the sovereigns of Castile; and the notary of the expedition proceeds then and there to make a testimonial of the same, to which all present, to the number of sixty-seven men, signed their names. He then,

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we are told, "caused a fair and tall tree to be cut down and wrought into a cross, which was elevated on the spot whence he had first beheld the sea. A mound of stones was likewise piled up, to serve as a monument, and the names of the Castilian sovereigns were carved on the neighboring trees." Irving adds, "The Indians beheld all these ceremonials and rejoicings with silent wonder, and while they aided to erect the cross and pile up the mound of stones, marveled exceedingly at the meaning of these monuments, little thinking that they marked the subjugation of their land."

"This memorable event took place on the 26th of September, 1513; so that the Spaniards had spent twenty days in performing the journey from the province of Careta to the summit of the mountains," a distance, when Irving wrote, requiring but six days to compass. Indeed, the Isthmus in that vicinity was not more than eighteen leagues at the widest, and in some places but seven in breadth, but very wild, rugged, and mountainous.

In the mean while, one of his exploring parties had gained the beach and found two empty canoes lying high and dry, with no water in sight. While wondering at this, the tide, which rises to a great height on this coast, came rushing in and set the canoes afloat, whereupon Alonzo Martin steps into one and calls his companions to bear witness that he was the first European to embark upon that sea, his example being followed by one Blas de Etienza.

On September 29th Balboa, having received the repairs of his scouts, sets out for the coast, taking with him twenty-six well-armed Spaniards, and accompanied by the cacique and a number of his warriors. He arrived on the borders of one of its vest bays, to which, it being that saint's day, he gave the name of Saint Michael. The ride being out and still half a league distant, he seated himself by the muddy beach, in the shade of a forest tree, and waited for it to rise. The water rushing in, soon reached the spot where the Spaniards were reposing. Upon this "Balboa rose ands took a banner on which was paint the Virgin and Child, and under them the arms of Castile and Leon, then drawing his sword and throwing his buckler on his shoulder, he marched into the sea until the water reached above his knees, and waving his banner, exclaimed ina loud voice: "Long live the high and mighty monarchs Don Ferdinand and Donna

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Juana, sovereigns of Castile, of Leon, and of Aragon, in whose name and for the royal crown of Castile I take real, and corporal, and actual possession of these seas, and land, and coasts, and island of the south, and all there unto annexed, and of the kingdoms and provinces which do or may appertain to them, in whatever manner, or by whatever right or title, ancient or modern, in times past, present, or to come, without any contradiction; and if other prince or captain, Christian or infidel, or of any law, sect, or condition whatsoever, shall pretend any right of these lands and seas, I an ready and prepared to maintain and defend them in the name of the Castilian sovereigns, present and future, whose is the empire and dominion over these India seas and terra firma, northern and southern with all their seas, equinoctial line, whether within or without the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, both now and in all times, as long as the world endures, and till the final day of judgment of all mankind."

The reader will, we think, agree with us that the foregoing is a pretty comprehensive and far-reaching declaration, leaving nothing to be desired either in arrogance or assumption, and which, if literally carried our, would have give to Castile and Aragon nearly the whole world. But as Spain with all her bravado, ere long discovered, it was one thing to claim and quite another to take and retain possession. For the time being, however, as none of the princes or captains referred to were present to dispute his assertions, Balboa called upon his companions to bear witness that he had duly taken possession. They most loyally endorse his action, and, as before, declares themselves ready to defend him to the death. Meanwhile the notary gets to work again--a character who strongly reminds us of Mr. Commissioner Pordage, in Dicken's "Island of Silver Store"--and draws out more "documentary evidence," to which as before, all present and it seems astonishing that so many knew how to write them--subscribed their names.

"This time," says Oviedo, in his "History of the Indies" "they advance to the margin of the sea, and, stooping down, taste its water. Finding that it was salt, they, though sundered from the Atlantic by such mighty mountains, were assured that they had indeed discovered an ocean, and again gave thanks to God." Balboa then draws a dagger from his girdle and cuts a

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cross into a tree which grew within the water, and two other crosses on two adjacent trees, in honor of the Three Persons of the Trinity, and in token of possession. His followers likewise cut crosses on many of the trees of the adjacent forest and lop off branches with their swords to bear away as trophies."

"So ends," says Irving," this singular medley of chivalrous and religious ceremonial with which these Spanish adventurers took possession of the vest Pacific Ocean and all its lands--a scene strongly characteristic of the nation and the age."

Our next chapter must be devoted to the opening of that third door to Western discovery and settlement, the Strait of Magellan. The present may be fitly concluded by the following lines:

"Alone, ere noontide's burning heats arise,
Balboa stands beneath the tropic skies
Upon that height where native knowledge told
His eyes might range o'er billows bright and bold
And lands where princes drank from cups of gold;
O'er boundless seas--coasts by no people trod
Who knew the cross or knelt to Christian God,
Can it be True? He scarce dare lift his eyes--
A moment pauses, then with glad surprise
Sees great savannas, and beyond them all
Where the far foam wreaths of the coast line fall,
That broad blue sea, so deep and yet so still,
It keeps its title of Pacific still,
Swift to his knees he sinks upon the sod,
And pours his soul in gratitude to God;
Then to the strand he makes his toilsome way;
His soldiers follow, eager to obey.
There, in full armor, knee-deep in its tide,
Balboa stands that wished-for wave beside,
Lifts his bright sword above the sounding sea,
Whose anthem greets its sponsors soon to be,
Plants on its shore the banner of old Spain,
And takes possession of that spreading main,
Its isles, its coasts, where'er its water foam,
Alas! Balboa, little dost thou know
What waves of sorrow soon o'er thee shall flow,
Improve thy transient hour, thy span of pride,
Thy dream of conquest by Pacific's side,
The star that rose they destiny to sway
Already sinks and downward takes its way,
Fate waits at Darien with thy reward,
Go meet thy doom--the headsman's bloody sword."




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