A Spanish Friar Indicts the Conquistadores for the Massacre of Indians, 1542

From Bishop Las Casas. An Historical and True Account of the Cruel Massacre and Slaughter of 20,000,000 of People in the West Indies by the Spaniards, [1542]. [Translated from the French edition. New York, J. B. Publishers, 1898. Originally published 1620.]

In the year 1492 the West Indies were discovered, and in the following year they were visited by the Spaniards.

The islands were inhabited by an infinite multitude of people who were without fraud, without subtlety or malice, and faithful and obedient to their Princes.

To this quiet and peace loving people, the Spaniards came like tigers, wolves, and lions, enraged with hunger.

At Hispanola, where the Spaniards first landed, they took captive their women and children to serve them as slaves; but not satisfied with this, they commenced to assault the highest and mightiest among them, and when the natives attempted to retaliate, the Spaniards started on their campaign of devilish cruelty and slaughter, sparing neither women nor children. They often laid wagers as to who was the most dexterous in cleaving a man's skull open, cutting him in the middle, or taking an arm or leg off in a single blow. The treatment accorded women, and the indignities their bodies suffered, cannot be related.

They erected gallows, Poad and low, so that the strangling creatures, hanging from them, could just touch the ground and, after starting a fire under them, they would sit and make sport of their suffering captives.

Cutting off the hands of others, they would send them into the hills to their friends, saying, "Carry our greetings to those in the Mountains."

The Lords and Nobles of the country they stretched on perches and started a slow fire under them; and I have seen as many as ten treated this way at one time. The screams of the agonized creatures annoyed their captors, so soldiers cut their tongues out.

In the year 1511, they landed in Cuba, a fertile country, filled with a comely and intelligent people. Here, too, their lust for gold and thirst for blood devastated the island, putting more than 800,000 people to the sword.

A certain Lord of great power and influence among them, who fled to Cuba, that he might avoid either death or captivity, hearing from some Indians that the Spaniards had landed in Cuba, called his subjects together, and addressed them in this wise:

"Countrymen and Friends: You are not ignorant of the rumor that the Spaniards have come among us, neither have I to tell you how they have treated the inhabitants of the fair island of Hispaniola, nor can we hope to find them more merciful.

"Countrymen, do you know the errand which brings them here? I'll tell you the cause of their coming. They worship some covetous and unsatisfied Deity, and to content the greedy worship of that Celestial Power, they require many things from us." Having said this, he took up a little chest, filled with gold, and continued: "Behold here the God of the Spaniard, and therefore, if you think fitting, let us dance and sing before this, their God. Perhaps we may appease his rage, and he will then command the Spaniards to let us alone."

With a unanimous shout, they began to dance and sing about it until they fell exhausted.

The leader addressed them again: "If we do keep this God till he be taken from us, then shall we be surely slain. Therefore, let us cast it into the river."

This did they; but it availed them nothing. The above is an example of the childish simplicity of the natives.

This same leader was taken a little later by the Spaniards and burned at the stake.

Among the many enormities committed by the Spaniards in Cuba, the following deserves notice:

A certain Nobleman or Prince presented to the Spaniards, on their arrival, 15,000 crowns. They, perceiving that he must necessarily posess vast treasure, tied him to a stake, and stretching his legs apart, built a fire under them, offering him his liberty if he would give them more. Unable to bear the torture he sent for more, but notwithstanding this, they began to torment him again, increasing the fire so that the marrow dropped from the soles of his feet and he expired.

In the year 1522 a band of Spanish adventurers went to the Island of Nicaragua, a country fertile beyond comparison, inhabited by a docile and industrious people. It was here that the natives suffered the most severely, as their island did not posess mountains into which they could flee from their conquerors.

The Spaniards seizing upon all the products of the country and driving the men from the usual sowing and harvesting, famine followed quickly, from which none could escape. So that from sheer necessity, the natives became cannibals. I saw one woman in such dire extremity that she killed and ate her suckling infant.

There is no language, no art or science, that can avail to recite the abominable and bloody actions committed by these human monsters. Neither is it possible to exaggerate their detestable deeds.

Houghton Mifflin Company