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DEVASTATING HISTORY:
LAS CASAS AS HISTORIAN & POLEMICIST1


Bartolome de Las Casas wrote various works, including his HISTORY OF THE INDIES, IN DEFENSE OF THE INDIANS, and THE DEVASTATION OF THE INDIES: A BRIEF ACCOUNT. His writings did much to contribute to our knowledge of the history of the European discovery of the New World in the Age of the Renaissance, but they also served as a tool by which he attempted to sway public opinion for various causes, some worthwhile and others of questionable benefit to the Native Americans. Here, largely limiting ourselves to a consideration of the latter mentioned work, THE DEVASTATION OF THE INDIES: A BRIEF ACCOUNT, we will consider to what extent Las Casas should be considered as an accurate historian and to what extent we may dismiss many of his claims as a somewhat questionable tactic to further his aims of removing the Natives from the heel of the secular conqueror and of making the Americas the private preserve of the Religious Orders.


GENERAL VIEWS OF LAS CASAS
Bill Donovan, who wrote the introduction to the John Hopkins translation by Herma Briffault, includes the following in the INTRODUCTION: "[c]ritics who made reference to him invariably cited Las Casas's position as a Bishop* and an eyewitness participant in the conquest as evidence of the text's veracity." Yet, De Las Casas did not witness many of the events, such as the Conquest of Mexico, on which he writes, resulting in the biting criticism of Bernal Diaz del Castillo noted chronicler and participant of Cortes' conquest of present-day Mexico. Bernal Diaz in THE CONQUEST OF NEW SPAIN, was quite willing to criticize the greediness and cruelty of his fellow conquistadors - and even of Hernan Cortes when he thought the latter showed qualities unbecoming in a person he held in such esteem. This on-hand chronicler refers to Bartolome de Las Casas as a complete liar regarding much of what he wrote concerning the Conquest. Nor has he been the only one to question the veracity of the friar's writings. The same criticisms have come from Ramon Menendez Pidal, among others.
We are at liberty, of course, to dismiss the contemporary critics of Las Casas as being too closely involved by events or nationality to give an unbiased opinion of the historian, so let us turn to modern students of the Spanish Conquest. J. M. Cohen, the translator of THE FOUR VOYAGES, by Christopher Columbus, et al [notably Hernan Colon] was generally critical of Columbus' intentions in the New World, but in his INTRODUCTION to the above-mentioned work, he states: "Hernando Colon and Bartolome de las Casas both had access to Columbus's papers, and both give full accounts of the Admiral's life and voyages. Las Casas' History of the Indies... suffers, however, from prolixity of style and from the too frequent introduction of Las Casas' favourite theme, the ill-treatment of the natives... His history is deeply affected by his humanitarian views. I have generally preferred however, where no first-hand document exists, to take my story from Hernando's life of his father, a work of scholarship* and style." It should be noted that the accounts of the two men agree to a large extent, except where Las Casas is inclined to focus on various barbarities [also either could have changed the scenarios, Colon, because he was Columbus' son or Las Casas, because he was attempting to further his cause in life].
Returning to Bill Donovan's Introduction to THE DEVASTATION, we find that the text was intended for the Emperor's ears rather than the public. "Although the binary character of Las Casas's logic resulted in oversimplification, it furnished an elegantly rational structure for his argument by forcing Charles V into an either / or situation: If the king accepted Las Casas's argument he would be a Christian prince who would end the terrible abuses... On the other hand, if he rejected the argument, he would be a tyrant." Regarding the numbers of people killed by the Spaniards, Donovan points out that "[w]hile Las Casas often created contradictory calculations, recent studies have produced estimates* of pre-Columbian populations and post-conquest declines that support his description of demographic catastrophe. Las Casas emerges far more as a representative of the statistical imprecision of his time than as an individual who deliberately falsified the evidence." Then the Introductory writer turns in the other direction: "Las Casas's thesis of good Indians versus avaricious Spaniards does indicate his lack of knowledge."2
Further, "[i]t is striking that Las Casas slighted the thousands of Indian allies who aided Cortes and other conquistadors... Conquering advanced civilizations such as the Aztecs, however, presented a completely different challenge, in which European weapons and tactics alone were insufficient to accomplish the task." Donovan finishes the discussion about Las Casas credibility by stating that Luis Sanchez corroborated many of the cruelties charged by Las Casas; but that " Las Casas [himself] would never have claimed to be an impartial observer... Nonetheless his one-dimensional portrayals of evil Spaniards and moral natives render any detached discussion of Spain's colonial experience difficult." Hugh Thomas, in CONQUEST: Montezuma, Cortes, and the Fall of Old Mexico, also has mixed feelings about Las Casas, as evidenced by the following: "His [Las Casas'] Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies was one of the most successful polemics in history. But by exaggerating the original number of the inhabitants, as he did, he damaged his cause... The facts are less dramatic, though they are certainly tragic: the native population did disappear..."


THE DEVASTATION OF THE INDIES: A BRIEF ACCOUNT
In the DEVASTATION, Las Casas does not mention specific names of either his sources or of the persons he castigates, the latter supposedly because he thinks their names should not be remembered by posterity. This, of course, sometimes leads to the problem of determining an exact reference. For example, in his passages dealing with Spanish atrocities in Florida, he mentions three "tyrants" in the following vein:
"All three tyrants have come to a bad end; losing their lives and possessions, the houses they built in other times with the blood and the sweat of the Indians... They left the entire world scandalized and their names have become a byword of horror and infamy... And God has punished them for the evil deeds they committed, deeds I know about having seen them with my own eyes*."
The editor's notes tell us that these three persons are Panfilio de Narvaez, Juan Ponce de Leon and Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca - and, indeed, unless one considers that villainous opponent of the capable Ribaut, Melendez de Avila who was murdering Protestants, not Native Americans, who else could the third tyrant be? Certainly not Hernando de Soto, who was dealt with separately. That leaves, Cabeza de Vaca.
Las Casas places special importance on two of these but clearly includes all three in his attacks on their "infamy." The first two are obvious, but Cabeza de Vaca certainly does not fit in this mold! Cabeza de Vaca [a title of nobility meaning "Head of the Cow" and referring to the use of a cow's head by one of Alvar Nunez's ancestors in placing a cow's head on a path as a message to the King] was the treasurer on the Narvaez expedition - and was frequently at odds with the vicious, ill-tempered, somewhat cowardly, cruel and stupid Panfilio [a characterization which can also be gathered from Narvaez's actions in regard to Cortes somewhat earlier and the anger of one native ruler, who took great delight in torturing Juan Ortiz for his absent leader's cruelty!]. Abandoned by their incompetent leader Cabeza de Vaca and a very small group of survivors shipwrecked on Galveston Island. They were enslaved by the Natives, beaten daily and threatened with death! Having escaped, they traveled across the continent, acting as merchants and faith-healers for several years before reaching the Spaniards in California. Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and his small band attempted to prevent the enslavement of numerous natives who traveled with them, when they reached the Spanish and later, when Coronado and Hernando de Soto made their partially simultaneous expeditions to areas covered by the erstwhile travelers, both came across Natives who lamented the nobility and humanity of Cabeza de Vaca and decried the cruelty and avarice of these new Spaniards! Later, Cabeza de Vaca, after an expedition to South America from which he returned in chains because he refused to allow his men to enslave and rape the Natives, spent time in prison until the Emperor finally ordered his release. Clearly, by the time that Las Casas amended the text to include the fate of Hernando de Soto, he had to be aware of Cabeza de Vaca's actions, yet he did nothing to correct the misrepresentation of the man, allowing his initial attempt to demonize the Alvar Nunez to stand.3 This willful defamation provides us with the beginnings of an insight into the intentions of the friar turned historian and activist.
Now, let us turn to Las Casas' descriptions of the people and geography of the Americas. On the first page of THE DEVASTATION, Las Casas tells us that Hispaniola was the most densely populated place in the world." He subsequently informs us that more than 3 million people lived on Hispaniola prior to the coming of the Spaniards. Now, he estimates the island to be approximately 600 Spanish leagues or 2100 miles in circumference. This means that there would be 1 native per every .0007 miles!4 Granting that many of these people would live together in families, the island is mountainous - indeed, Las Casas tells us that the Natives fled into the mountains to escape the Christians! Also, like the other islands of the Greater Antilles, Hispaniola was fairly well forested. The coastal areas around the river were also somewhat swampy, as described by Dr. Chanca's letter. In THE FOUR VOYAGES, and excerpt of Hernan Colon's Life of the Admiral, taken from Columbus' logs, that the villages were separated by woods is made clear and the one village, considered large, was mentioned as having about 1000 houses (or bohios, huts, not multi-level dwellings, cliff dwellings or pueblos - not exactly the villages one would expect for such a densely populated island! One town is given the following description in the aforementioned letter of Dr. Chance, in THE FOUR VOYAGES: "On the other side it is bounded by a forest so thick that a rabbit could hardly get through. The forest is so green that it would be impossible to burn it at any time of year." Added to this, there were no large animals on the islands and the inhabitants had to rely on sea and river animals, iguanas and birds as the major sources of meat. Conuco mounds were used to grow yuca, and yams (the major crops) as well as small amounts of corn, and other crops - including tobacco.
However, these mounds became increasingly less fertile over time and were used up within 10 to 15 years, meaning that there had to be sufficient areas of land to which these crops could be moved. The majority of these crops were the aforementioned yuca (used to make cassava bread) and yams, both of which could not provide much of the nutrition required to survive!5 Most of Las Casas' contemporaries gave the population as being 1 million, but as Bernard deVoto [THE COURSE OF EMPIRE] informs us, many people (even 200 years later!) among the Europeans could not count very high - and while some groups had pictographs or quipoas most natives did not have the means to accurately count great numbers. Also, no village-by-village census was apparently made when the Europeans first arrived.
We now turn to Las Casas' statements on Nicaragua. Here, we are told, came Pedro Arias d'Avila6, governor of the mainland, after numerous atrocities elsewhere. This province, extremely well populated, as usual, was the site of d'Avila's greatest evil. "He once sent 50 horsemen with pikes to destroy an entire province. Not a single human being survived that disaster, neither women nor children..." Why, "because some Indians had not responded to a summons promptly enough when the tyrant had commanded that they bring him a load of maize" or "had asked for more Indians to be assigned to serve him or his comrades." We are told that the 4,000 survivors were then taken on a death march to become slaves during which all but six expired! We are then told something which, in light of this previous occurrence must be considered amazing to the point of incredibility! D'Avila decided to make a new repartimiento and thus required the natives to work for the Spaniards during the time when they should be sowing grain. The result is that "as a result, the Christians lacked grain, whereupon they seized the stores of grain the Indians kept for themselves... more than thirty thousand Indians perished... and there were cases when a mother would kill and eat her own child, in desperation." And why did d'Avila do this? We are told that it was "either a caprice of his or, as was rumored, to rid himself of some Indians he disliked and pass them on to someone else[!]" Las Casas appears willing to believe this reason - and, as he states, this was rumored to be the reason, yet, we must wonder why Las Casas, not to mention the Spanish populace would think that D'Avila, who supposedly would and did slaughters thousand for spurious reasons, would feel the need to go through this process to get rid of a few natives rather than simply kill them? Unless, for some reason we are to believe that D'Avila had no qualms about the deaths of thousands but suddenly felt himself unable to directly cause the death of a few natives when it would have served his purpose? After all, as the erstwhile friar tells us: "There must now be in Nicaragua four or five thousand Spaniards who kill, each day, through acts of violence, oppression and servitude, numerous Indians..."

THE CONQUEST AND CORTES

The Conquest of Mexico is a well-known event in history. Hernan[do] Cortes [later to become the Marquis de Valle] and a small group of Spaniards arrived in Mexico, fooled the natives into thinking they were Gods, then slaughtered the hapless natives and killed their ruler, Moctezuma (or Montezuma). Las Casas would lead us to believe that pre-Conquest Mexico was "more felicitous than Spain."
Las Casas informs us that soon after the Spaniards were invited to visit Cholula, after a grand pageant by the townspeople, "the Spaniards agreed to carry out a massacre... in order to sow terror and apprehension, and to make a display of their power in every corner of that land." Thus, the Spaniards "sent a summons to all the caciques and nobles... and as they arrived to speak with the Spanish captain they were taken prisoner." He then vividly describes that the massacre was carried out as follows: "[t]he Spaniards had asked for five or six thousand Indians to carry their cargo. When all the chiefs had come, they and the burden-bearers were herded into the patios of the houses... When they were all placed close together they were bound and tied... Then, at a command, all the Spaniards drew their swords or pikes and... all those tame sheep were butchered, cut to pieces[!]" He then tells us that the Spaniards waited two or three days for the survivors to creep out from the corpses and slaughtered the hapless victims as they wept for mercy! "Then the Spaniards had the chiefs, a total of more than a hundred, who were already shackled, burned at the stakes that had been driven into the ground."
J. Bayard Morris, translator of FIVE LETTERS OF CORTES TO THE EMPEROR tells us the following, regarding the Las Casas' rendition: "It is plain that Las Casas is a far from trustworthy witness here. He says nothing of the supposed plot, gives no extenuating circumstances, fails to mention that there were several thousand Tlascalan allies who could not be stayed from butchering freely in the city, or finally that (as Cortes says) 'two days later all the city was as full of people, including both women and children, all going about in safety, as if nothing had occurred.' " Perhaps, then, the comments of Bernal Diaz, a concise chronicler of Spanish activities, good and bad, regarding a lack of veracity on the part of Las Casas may be better understood and appreciated.

It might, then, be worthwhile to compare Cortes version of those events: "some if not all of the chief men of the aforesaid city [Cholula] came to me saying that the reason for their not coming before was that the Tlascalans were their enemies and they dared not enter their land. They were persuaded, moreover, that I had heard evil things spoken of them which I was not to believe since it was from the lips of their enemies that I had heard it, and that if I would come to their city I should recognise the falseness of what I had been told and the truth of what they now declared... I determined to go with them, both to avoid any show of weakness and because I thought from that place to carry on negotiations with Muteczuma..."
His allies, the Tlascalans, "were grieved at my decision and warned me repeatedly that I was making a mistake, but seeing that they had become vassals of your Majesty... they were willing to accompany me... and there after a great deal of persuasion on my part they left me, except for some five or six thousand..." The following morning the Cholulans brought Cortes and his entourage into Cholula and "[o]n the way we came across many signs of that which the Tlascalans had warned us against; for we found the royal road closed and another made, a few pits though not many, some of the streets blocked and a large quantities of stone on all the flat roofs of the houses. This put us more on our guard and determined us to act with greater caution."
According to Cortes, he remained in the city for three days, being largely ignored by all. He became uncertain as to why the Cholulans had invited him into their city if their chiefs did not wish to meet with him, so "being somewhat perplexed by this I learnt through the agency of my interpreter, a native Indian girl... that a girl of the city had told her that a large force of Muteczuma's men had assembled nearby, and that the citizens themselves having removed their wives, children and clothes, intended to attack us suddenly and leave not one of us alive... I took one of the natives of the city secretly aside without anyone perceiving it and interrogated him; whereupon he confirmed all that the native girl and the Tlascalans had told me." He then determined to turn the tables on his hosts and "sending for some nobles of the city I told them that I wished to speak with them and assembled them all in a certain room; meantime I ordered that our men should be on the alert and that at the sound of a musket shot they should fall upon a large number of Indians who were either close to or actually inside our quarters* He left the chieftains and nobles prisoners inside the complex, gave the signal and "within two hours three thousand" natives "lay dead." Cortes felt confirmed in his actions because before he had left his quarters to give the signal "the Indians had all the streets posted and their men ready armed, although as we took them by surprise it was no difficult matter to rout them..." He set fire to several fortifications from which they were being attacked and returned to confront the chieftains and was informed that the Cholulans were not to blame for their plot because "the vassals of Muteczuma had urged them to it, and Muteczuma himself had fifty thousand men ready armed at a place which as it afterwards appeared was not above a league and a half away to accomplish the project." Cortes subsequently arranged a treaty of sorts between the Cholulans and the Tlascalans.
A similar comparison can be made of the circumstances surrounding the massacre in Tenochtitlan (Mexico City). According to Las Casas, the Spaniards deliberately, with malice afore-thought began executing unarmed natives simply because Cortes had planned this out. Needless to say, both Cortes' and Diaz's accounts differ dramatically on this point! According to both men, Cortes only imprisoned Montezuma after he thought the leader had betrayed him [Cortes]. Bernal Diaz, in particular notes that Montezuma appeared to be unsure how to deal with the Spaniards and would oscillate between treating them as friends and attempting to destroy them. For instance, on learning that Panfilio de Narvaez (still alive since his incompetence had not yet resulted in the loss of his eye, much less his life) had come to arrest Cortes, Montezuma (or at least many of his commanders) allied himself with Narvaez and attacked Cortes' forces.
Montezuma learned the same lesson that Cabeza de Vaca learned when Narvaez set him adrift, shouting every man for himself (and dying shortly thereafter!) - Narvaez was not a man to be counted on! Narvaez ended up in custody and his men joined Cortes, who was now wrought with the Aztec Emperor. In the interim, the pappas or Aztec priests who had been playing political games which added to Montezuma's attempts to appease Cortes had taken ill the demand, by Cortes, that human sacrifices be ended and Mary be put up in place of the war god. Tensions between the Spaniards Cortes left in Mexico City and the Aztecs began to sour. The Aztecs began to engage in new sacrifices and threats were made against the Spaniards, who, it was stated, would be the next sacrifices. The food the Mexica had been providing the Spaniards still in Tenochtitlan ceased coming and one of their native servants was found hanged. Cortes' lieutenant, Alvarado, who was in charge of the Spanish still in the City, grabbed several captives the Aztecs were going to sacrifice and tortured them in order to illicit information on whether or not Montezuma was going to attack them. They responded positively and Alvarado decided that he was going to be attacked during the festival, and his men frantically began killing nearby natives - an action which Cortes, on discovering the cause became infuriated.
Montezuma was, subsequently, killed by a stone thrown by a native at the Spaniards.7

PIZARRO AND PERU

Pizarro and the Conquest of Peru provides us with one of the most interesting criticisms of Las Casas. For here, the two best known chronicles of this conflict are that of Las Casas and that of Pedro de Cieza de Leon, who was a noted admirer of the Bishop Las Casas and, in fact, had requested, on his death, that his manuscripts be sent to the Bishop as a gift. Yet, Pedro de Cieza, frequently referred to as a Lascasasista for his rather positive portrayals of Natives and long considered one of the great chroniclers of Peruvian history, disagrees with Las Casas on key points!8
Las Casas begins by a furious attack on Pizarro which is quite different from the measured regard de Cieza had for the explorer-conqueror. Las Casas then tells us that Pizarro "destroyed towns, killed and robbed the people..." Further, on the island the Bishop refers to as Pugna but the editor tells us is Puna, "the Spaniards were welcomed... as if they were angels from Heaven. Then... when they had consumed all the food" they demanded the grainaries and supplies the natives had stocked to supply their families. We are told that after the natives, lamenting at seeing their supplies wasted, provided the food, "[t]he people were repaid by being slain... or captured and sold as slaves." This act of cruelty, we are told, depopulated the island. The Spaniards then travelled to the province of Tumbala and "destroyed all they could." According to de Cieza, Tumbala was the leader of the Punas and Tumbez was the nearby province.
According to Pedro de Cieza de Leon, Pizarro's men came close to starving - or did starve - several times. They were also affected by killing diseases which killed them on a daily basis. Some natives treated them well on their first visit and others initially fled, then engaged in conflict. On his return to the region, Pizarro was straight-forward about his goals with the natives and some, such as the natives of Coaque detested him and considered him a robber, whereas others, such as the natives of Posado maintained good relations with the Governor-Alcalde. From there they traveled to the island of Puna, the massacre at which Las Casas decried, above. Pedro de Cieza informs us that the natives, discovering the Spaniards were interested in their island, decided to deceive the Spaniards, encourage their visit and attack them when they were vulnerable. Two native interpreters learned - and advised Pizarro - of the deception and Pizarro, being asked why he did not visit the island, revealed his findings. They were denied and Pizarro's men cautiously visited the island. The plan was again found out and Pizarro gathered the chief caciques and turned them over to the natives of Tumbez with whom he had some interaction. The Tumbez "killed them with great cruelty, although they had committed no other crime than wanting to defend their homeland." The Puna peoples then attacked the Spaniards and Tumbez natives outright. "Tumbez robbed indiscriminately... destroying and wrecking." Pizarro also ordered the release of four hundred Tumbez natives who had been previously made captives.
Pizarro then decided to leave Puna (not having depopulated it as claimed by Las Casas!) because the natives their were so set on destroying the Spaniards. He moved to Tumbez, which he figured would be friendly because they had been on the same side in the conflict with Puna. The Tumbezinos carried away 600 Puna captives. The Spaniards were then attacked by the Tumbezinos, apparently with the same ferocity they had used on the Punas, gouging out the eyes of the first two Spaniards to come ashore and boiling them alive. After some initial conflict, in which a few Tumbezinos were killed, the two sides returned to an uneasy peace.


Pizarro's forces eventually reached the core of the Incan Empire. Here, Las Casas ignores the events surrounding the civil war occurring at that time. He simply tells us that Atahualpa (or Atuabilba) came to meet the Spaniards and demanded recompense for the damages they caused. The Spanish then fell upon the Peruvians and had the Inca burned out of malice! The events with which we are now concerned appear quite different when explained by the lascasasita, Pedro de Cieza and Father Bernabe Cobos. Huascar was the elder son of Guayna Capac, 11th Inca. On his father's death, he became the ruling Inca. Huascar remained at the seat of the Incan empire in Cuzco while his brother, Atahualpa, was made a subordinate ruler. Subsequently, Atahualpa revolted.9 Returning to de Cieza's historical account, the Spaniards arrived during this civil war and Huascar's forces, concentrating on the internal conflict, ignored the Spaniards. Atahualpa, now at Cajamarca, also decided not to march against the Spanish lest many of the natives faithful to Huascar decided to revolt once many of his forces had departed. In the conflict between Huascar and Atahualpa, Huascar was defeated and Atahualpa's men treated the defeated ruler "so inhumanely that it is pitiful to tell about it." Atahualpa then turned his attention to the Spaniards "to take them as slaves," but was defeated by the Spaniards instead. His men, defeated, fled and returned to Quito "looting much of the treasure from the temples and royal palaces... They were usurping. Therefore, with the power or support that they had, many became lords of what was not theirs, killing the natives." In the interim, Atahualpa, while in Spanish captivity, orders his functionaries to kill Huascar, who is still held by forces loyal to Atahualpa, to prevent him from allying himself with the Spanish. Before he was killed, Huascar was made to watch as every one of his offspring was put to death.10

Pedro de Cieza de Leon then informs us that certain natives who had gained power and status by the Spanish conquest told the Spaniards that native forces had gathered to kill the Spaniards and set Atahualpa free. This was instigated and exacerbated by the statements of Fellipo, a native interpreter who apparently desired one of Atahualpa's concubines. Hernando de Soto was sent out to check on this supposed attack, but during his absence, a strong campaign was made against Atahualpa by the friendly natives as to the dangers of Atahualpa and a decision was made to kill him in an attempt to defeat the purpose of the attack which was believed to be impending. According to both Cobos and de Cieza, Atahualpa was then strangled, not burned as Las Casas stated.

CONCLUSIONS

Las Casas clearly brought to light the fact that many atrocities were being committed in the "New World," but much of his "historical" comments do not agree with historical evidence by the participants themselves or with other chroniclers, regardless of whether or not they agreed with Las Casas' view that atrocities against the natives were evil. Apart from the points examined above, Las Casas' continued attempts to portray the natives as being basically peaceful and weak, thus being completely innocent, but easy, targets of the Spaniards does not agree with the historical record. For instance, Bernard deVoto points out that the Spanish arquebuses were neither as accurate nor as useful for repeated firing as the bows and arrows of the natives. Further, while the horses provided a serious advantage, the natives were able to dig pits and use ayallos to bring down the horses. Thus the Spanish were only able to win because both Cortes and Pizarro found strong native allies among those whom the leaders of the two respective native empires had conquered and treated badly. Natives who remained loyal for some time after the Spanish created new kingdoms out of these old ones. Time and again, Las Casas' facts are contradicted by the other primary sources (aside from a few religious persons who, like Las Casas, wanted to put the continent completely under the control of the Church and wanted al secular Spaniards removed) and we are left to with the problem of either dismissing him as a valid historical source or denying the validity of almost all the other chroniclers.

NOTES:
1Bill Donovan provides us with the following biography of Las Casas: Born in Seville in 1484, his father and 3 brothers were with Columbus during the latter's second voyage to the Americas. Las Casas first arrived in the Americas in 1502 and served under Nicolas de Ovando. He also participated in the conquest of Cuba! In 1512, he became the first priest to be ordained in the Western Hemisphere and, two years later, he freed his own native slaves and began preaching against the actions of the Spanish conquerors. In 1552, he published the work on which this essay focuses. He also wrote various other manuscripts against the Spanish conquest and participated in a debate against Sepulveda (although not face-to-face) on the right to conquer and enslave the Native Americans - the original version of his Apologetica Historie or IN DEFENSE OF THE INDIANS.

2A curious comment which is clarified by Donovan's point that Las Casas overlooked the result of various biological diseases that spread before the Europeans and devastated much of the native population. Yet, could Las Casas have failed to notice the numerous illnesses when the Jesuits of the northern hemisphere clearly saw the spread of such disease? Of note, also, is Donovan's next comment. Of course, if Hugh Thomas is correct about the actual size of the Caribbean Population and the causes of the natives' destruction then this failure to consider disease would not provide such a conundrum - although, it would throw even greater doubt on Las Casas' veracity concerning population size.

3Cabeza de Vaca was not without fault. After all, he had come across 3 malachite arrowheads, which he thought to be emeralds. He also revealed the stories about advanced civilizations the natives mentioned - referring to the Pueblos as the Coronado expedition later found to its chagrin. This he revealed in his report to the Viceroy and, combined with his refusal to otherwise mention the details of much of his journey along with his desire to head another expedition to the same region, he inadvertently led many people to think that El Dorado was, indeed, nearly found. Had Alvar Nunez not refused a secondary position to either the cruel Hernando de Soto or the rather less vicious Coronado, the history of the conquest might have suffered less from misunderstanding and inhumanity, unfortunately, remembering his previous commander, Narvaez, Cabeza de Vaca refused to become second-in-command to any other conquerors [see adventures in the unknown interior of america by Cabeza de Vaca (edited and translated by Cyclone Covey). Also see the THE JOURNEY OF CORONADO by Pedro de Castaneda, et al., and THE FLORIDA OF THE INCA by Garcilaso de La Vega].

4The actual size of the island is 29,530 square miles.

5SeeA BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CARIBBEAN: From the Arawak and Carib to the Present, by Jan Rogozinski. Rogozinski states: "Assessments of the number of Indians throughout the Caribbean thus range from a low of 225,000 to as high as 6 million." Hugh Thomas,for example, places the number at the extreme lower end whereas Alvin Josephy, Jr. [THE NATIVE HERITAGE OF AMERICA] places it at the extreme upper end. Rogozinski completes his argument by stating that "[a]ll are simply educated guesses based on conflicting assumptions about how many people the Indian system of conuco agriculture could support. As he also states, "the extinction of the Arawak was a crime. And, as Brother Antonio de Montesinos told Diego Colon in 1511, it also was a sin. Indeed, according to the teachings of Christianity espoused by the Spanish, their sin was equally damning whether they killed 225,000 or 6 million."

6D'Avila was NOT a man noted for his compassion or humanity!

7Hugh Thomas states that since Cortes and Diaz wrote their works at different times, it is unlikely that they were collaborating to falsify the actuality of the events. Also, Thomas points out that Cortes disaffected many of his men - men who would have been only to willing to denounce Cortes on this point. Yet, except for Las Casas' un-named sources this did not happen.

8Pedro de Cieza de Leon wrote a three-part work on Peru which included its history prior to contact with Europeans, the story of the conquest, and the narrative of his own life while living there. The part of the work dealing with the conquest has recently been republished under the title of THE DISCOVERY AND CONQUEST OF PERU: Chronicles of the New World Encounter.

9See HISTORY OF THE INCA EMPIRE: An account of the Indians' customs and their origin together with a treatise on Inca legends, history and social institutions by Father Bernabe Cobos.

10According to de Cieza, Atahaulpa was known for his cruelty. And as for the overthrow of the Incas, he cites a native woman who stated the following in his presence: "'you must know that God became tired of tolerating the great sins of the Indians of this land, and He sent the Incas to punish them; they did not last very long either, and by their fault God also tired of tolerating them, and you came and took their land in which you are; and God will also tire of tolerating you...'"