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ENCOUNTERS WITH CANNIBALS
 "HE [Juan Ponce de Leon] touched in at the ilande of Guacana, otherwyse cauled Guadalupe, and sent to lande
certayne of his men with the laundresses of the shyppes; whom the canibales, lying in
ambushe, assayled with their envenemed arrowes, and slaying the most parte, caryed away
Thus the translator of Martyr's great work on the New World (to whom reference is made in
the previous chapter) epitomizes the adventures of Juan Ponce in the Caribbees; but a mere
summary of them should not suffice. The details are to be found in fragmentary shape
scattered throughout various works. Having collected the same, we will now piece them
together, and, entreating the reader's forbearance, endeavor to weave a fabric—a
 which our hero's acts shall stand in proper relation to the time and place of their
First, in confirmation of the statement above made, we have, for instance, that of a
Spanish historian, one Andres Gonzales Barcia, who wrote, in 1723, a very valuable work
on, Florida, which was published under the pseudonym of "Don Gabriel de Cardenas y Carlo."
He applies the word "Florida" to the adjacent islands and the main, or "terra firma," and
says that Juan Ponce set sail in the month of May, 1515, with three ships, armed at his
own cost, for the islands in which lived the Caribs, whom he was instructed to pacify.
After a prosperous voyage, he arrived within sight of the island called by the natives
Guacana, and by the Spaniards Guadalupe, where he sought and found a harbor. As he and his
company had been many weeks at sea, they were sadly in need of clean clothes and fresh
water for drinking, so he sent a number of laundresses ashore with an armed escort to
protect them while they washed the linen in a mountain stream which rumbled noisily over
the rocks on a beach within sight of the ships. The women
 spread their ropa on the rocks, tucked up their skirts, rolled up their
sleeves, and proceeded at once to launder the linen the best they could under the
circumstances. Meanwhile their escort strolled about on the beach, picking up gay-colored
shells washed ashore by the waves, and in other ways "killing time," until one of them, in
an evil hour, proposed that they should follow a path they had found to the native village
to which it probably led. Having had no experience with the Caribs, these foolish soldiers
adopted the suggestion at once, and set off through the forest, leaving the women
Unknown to them, however, they were watched, and had they been bribed for the purpose they
could not have done anything more gratifying to the savages, who were peering from the
thickets along the trail. They were in overwhelming numbers, for the forest swarmed with
them; every rock and every giant tree had behind it a group of naked Indians, and had the
unsuspicious Spaniards been more acute, they might have seen the fierce eyes of their foes
gleaming hungrily through the leaves of palms and tree-ferns. Each red-skinned savage
 in one hand a bow of tough iron-wood, and in the other a clutch of arrows, barbed and
tipped with feathers. At his waist hung a stone-headed battle-axe, so ponderous that when
its owner walked or ran he had to balance it with the hand that held the arrows.
Every Indian had his war-paint on, his skin stained with roucou (annatto), and his face
painted in lines of white and black, making him look like a two-legged tiger or cougar.
The various colors blended so well with those of the flowers and leaves about them, that
perhaps this was the reason that none of the savages had been seen by the Spaniards, who,
still pursuing their way inland, walked directly into the trap that nature and the savages
had set for them. Nature aided the Indians, we say, because the path led at first through
the ravine, at the mouth of which the stream came out that ran over the beach sands into
the sea. This ravine grew narrower and gloomier as it receded from the bay, and after a
while the Spaniards entered a veritable tunnel, formed by the cragged rocks on either
side, overarched by dense canopies of vines closely set with leaves and spangled with
 Around and into the flowers, which hung from the canopies and trailed down the cliffs,
darted topaz-throated, gold-crested humming-birds, buzzing like bumble-bees, their wings
like films of mist about them, so rapid were their movements.
But the Spaniards had no eye for the beauty of the scene, for some of them, old soldiers
of the Moorish wars, became suddenly alive to the dangers of a situation like this, which,
except for its tropical environment, reminded them of some gloomy gorge in the mountains
of Malaga or Ronda. Their leader was a veteran of many campaigns, but one of the
loose-natured sort, whose dissoluteness had stood in the way of his advancement beyond the
grade of sergeant. He already repented of having set out on this foray, and was about to
halt his little band for consultation, when, turning about to do so, his eye was caught by
a dusky figure gliding like a snake across the ravine, between the Spaniards and the
"Alerta!" he shouted. "Be vigilant, my men, for there is an enemy behind us!
Draw sword! Face about! Retreat!" The score or so of soldiers instantly comprehended
 their peril, and prepared themselves for what they knew must be a desperate encounter. For
now, realizing that they had been discovered, the savages came pouring out of the forest
like ants and hornets from their nests. They came swiftly, silently. Shrewd savages that
they were, trained warriors in many a conflict, knowing that a tumult would bring the
Spaniards from the ships out-swarming, at first they refrained from raising the war-whoop.
But when the leader of the soldiers saw their retreat cut off by naked Indians, and
numbers of them massing ahead, so that a living wall rose up before and behind, he gave
the order to open fire with the arquebuses.
There were half a dozen muskets in the party—those primitive, clumsy matchlocks
which required a large and motionless mark to be effective—and these were quickly
made ready. Matches were lighted, and the musketeers advanced to the front. The wondering
savages looked on in silence, only brandishing their bows and war-clubs; for they knew
that the strangers were their prey, and for the moment merely played with them, as a cat
with a mouse in its clutches. They did not realize the
death-  dealing powers of the arquebuses, and when at last the matches were applied to the
powder-pans, and puffs of smoke rolled out, followed by flame, with a terrible noise that
reverberated through the ravine, they were astounded. They thought the combined reports of
the muskets were thunders from the clouds, and they looked aloft, around, in vast
The thunder they called "God's voice," and were extremely afraid of it, for the lightning,
its twin brother, sometimes slew the unwary and irreverent. But here were heaps of slain,
and no sign of a storm! Here were wounded and dying, the survivors noticed, who had been
struck down without any apparent cause, except—it finally dawned upon
them—that cause could be traced to those strange things the Spaniards had pointed at
them. They closed the great gap made by the murderous muskets in their ranks and gathered
for consultation. This gave the Spaniards time to reload, and when at last the savages had
reached the decision that the muskets were responsible for the slaughter, they received
confirmation of it in another volley, which stretched several more lifeless upon the rocky
bed of the
 ravine. Then they hesitated no longer, as a body, for the survivors were undismayed by the
noise, the smoke, or the slaughter, and closed in upon the devoted band of Spaniards with
As there was no longer any necessity for silence, the reports of the muskets having given
alarm, of course, to those on shipboard, the savages let loose most horrid yells and
war-whoops as they advanced, even the wounded seeming inspired to fury and attempting to
keep up with the thronging warriors. There was no time for recharging the arquebuses, and
the Spaniards were obliged to meet the foe on nearly equal terms. Against arrows, spears,
and war-clubs they opposed their lances, swords, and clubbed arquebuses, also being
protected to some extent by their armor. Except for their steel armor, and their
expertness at cutting and thrusting with the sword, the Spaniards had but small advantage
over the savages, who threw themselves upon them like a thunderbolt. At first the
keen-edged swords made terrible havoc in the Carib ranks, for the naked savages had
nothing to protect their limbs and bodies. How they were mangled! How their blood
 flowed forth in streams that day! But they minded no wounds, however grievous, nor cared
for aught except to kill a Spaniard ere they died, and so it was that the soldiers were
overcome, one at a time, by mere weight of numbers, and finally the last one of that
little band lay prostrate, lifeless, in the bed of the stream.
It had been hideous, ghastly work, and the surviving Caribs were excited to a fury
perfectly fiendish by the time it was ended; but there remained another deed to be
mentioned, compared to which the slaughter of the soldiers might be termed an act of
mercy. The wretched laundresses, who had been left unprotected, flocked to the sea-side
when they heard the first sounds of strife, and held out imploring arms towards the ships
at anchor in the bay. Their piercing shrieks were heard by the savages ashore as well as
by the people on board ship, and there was fierce rivalry as to whom should be first at
the surf-line on the beach.
And what were the feelings of Juan Ponce de Leon, who, as commander of the fleet, had
ordered these helpless females on shore without adequate protection? He was reclining in a
hammock, on the after-castle of
 the flag-ship, when the tumult in the ravine began. His heart thumped suddenly against his
ribs, then seemed to leap into his throat, as he remembered that he had been guilty of
gross neglect in landing a party in an enemy's country without guarding against treachery
and surprise. He leaped to the deck forthwith, and instantly trumpeted orders for the
launching of boats and the arming and despatching of a rescue-party to the shore. But the
movements of the sailors were slow and clumsy compared with those of the naked,
fleet-footed Indians, who, immediately they heard the shrieks of the women, diverted a
number of their warriors from the forest to the shore. They darted out of the woods and
down the beach. Silently they ran and swiftly, swooping upon the terrified females like
hawks or sea-eagles, and bearing them off upon their shoulders.
Several boats were then near the beach, each boat well laden with soldiers; but before
their passengers were landed the savages had nearly reached the forest. Clad in their
heavy armor, which weighted them down like lead, the soldiers feared to leap into the
water, and thus much time was lost while the boats were being drawn
 up the strand. Meanwhile the hapless females were struggling in the arms of their horrid
captors, realizing that the fate in store for them was far worse than immediate death; but
in vain were their attempts to free themselves, their piteous pleadings, their tears, and
anguished cries for help. A few of the cross-bowmen in the foremost boat knelt on the
sands as soon as they struck shore, and, taking careful aim, let fly their arrows. Three
of the savages were struck between the shoulders by the speeding bolts, one of them with
such force that the woman he held in front of him was wounded, the arrow having gone clean
through his body. But what was the horror and surprise of the on-gazing Spaniards to see
these relentless cannibals, as they fell, seize their victims by the throat with their
teeth, and strangle them, while in the agonies of death!
Never before had the Spaniards witnessed such animosity, such undying hate, and they
crossed themselves fervently, exclaiming the while, "Santa Maria defend us from such
savages as these!"
The day was then well advanced, but after the search-party had landed came Ponce de
 Leon, determined to ascertain the fate of his soldiers, even were the shades of night to
fall before he found them. After stripping the fallen Spaniards of their weapons,
despatching the wounded, and gathering up their own dead and injured warriors, the Caribs
had retreated into the forest, where those who had kidnapped the women met the main body.
Together, then, the exulting Indians departed for their stronghold in the mountain, where
their wives and children were gathered, and whence they could not be dislodged were an
army of ten thousand to attack them.
The shadow of the Soufriere, the great and gloomy "sulphur mountain," Guadalupe's
quiescent volcano, lengthened portentously along the surface of the sea, proclaiming the
near approach of night; yet would not Juan Ponce desist from his search of the ravine.
Finding the trail as it led into the gorge, he followed it until, at dusk, the scene of
conflict was revealed. There lay his gallant men, as they had fallen in the heat of
battle, all their armor on, save that their helmets and easily detachable portions, like
the greaves and gorgets, had been snatched away. The place where
 they had fallen afforded no spot for sepulture, and as it was impossible, in the gathering
darkness, to carry those mail-clad corpses back to shore, and fearing an attack if he
remained there, Juan Ponce ordered a retreat. The yells of the retreating Indians could be
heard afar off in the forest; but this fact was no guarantee that there were not hundreds
still remaining, and the commander acted with commendable prudence in deferring the burial
of his slain until the succeeding day.
"But we shall not find them here to-morrow, commander," said a veteran of his company, who
had fought the savages of Terra Firma, under Ojeda and Balboa.
"And why not?" demanded Juan Ponce. "Faith, the stream they have fallen in is not strong
enough to bear them away, and if it were we should find them at the river's mouth." He was
raging inwardly, his heart sore with vexation over the loss of his men and the terrible
fate of the women; but he strove to be calm, and was patient with the soldier.
"Why? Because," rejoined the veteran, "the cannibal pagans will return to get them. While
they have the poisoned arrow
 in these islands, these savages have not used it here, and that is proof that they intend
to sacrifice and eat our comrades. They will take and roast them in their armor, as we
were wont to roast the armadillos on Terra Firma coast!"
"Impossible!" exclaimed Juan Ponce, horrified, and undecided what his course should be.
But whatever was in store for the dead, he knew it was impossible then to rescue them. He
and his men made their way back to the beach and the ships; but in the morning, when he
returned to the ravine for the purpose of paying the last honors to his braves, there was
no vestige of them there!