Vasco Nuñez de Balboa  (Part 2)

Early history of Santa Maria de la Antigua del Darien

Once the decision was made, they wasted no time, in crossing the gulf. Balboa guided the 100 men that were able to load on their two remaining ships and the row boat and cross the gulf to the Darien River. Leaving some men to guard the ships, they marched overland about 1½ leagues to the Indian village. Cemaco, the cacique, as a precaution, sent the women and children, into hiding in the jungles unsure what the intensions were of the strangers. With 500 warriors, they climbed a small hill, overlooking the advancing Spaniards. On seeing all the Indians on the hill, the Spaniards stopped to pray to Nuestra Señora de la Antigua, an image of the Virgin Mary, that was much worshipped in Sevilla. They made a promised that if they won the up coming battle, they would name the first settlement in Darien in her honor. Enciso also made every man swear that they would not turn and run, and that they would fight to the death. They were worried that the Indians may have poisoned their arrows, and approved the hill, protecting themselves with their shields. The Indians let lose a volley of arrows, which the Spaniards checked for poison, and found none. The Spaniards then yelled their battle cry "Santiago!...  y a ellos" and charged the Indian positions, and with their lances, swords, arms and dogs, quickly routing the Indians. The Indians scattered, and the Spaniards marched into their town, and burned it to the ground. But, not before taking a large quantity of food and gold ornaments, the Indians had beautifully fashioned. 

After the battle, Enciso sent the ships back to San Sebastián, to get the other 80 men that were left behind. 

In 1510, Enciso officially founded the town of Santa Maria de la Antigua del Darien, the first European settlement in Central America on the site of the Cemaco's captured Indian village. Aroung the central plaza, they erected homes for the settlers. They built a church, town hall, prison, and other public buildings.

In the new town, Enciso, who had been appointed by Ojeda, as Alcalde Mayor of the new colony, (San Sebastián) before they left Española, started acting like the governor of the area. He passing and administering new laws and regulations. He ordered that no Spaniard could trade for gold with the native, with out his prior authorization. Anybody caught, illegally trading for gold, would be put to death. The new colony flourished in this location although Enciso's enforcement of these new laws, was vigorous, and permitted no exemptions. They angered the  colonist, and they soon turned against Enciso. Balboa's knowledge of geography, came to their aid, when he informed them that Enciso had no legal powers in this new territory, because when the King divided Tierra Firme, he assigned Nueva Andalucía to Diego de Nicuesa, which included all the land on the western side of the  Gulf of Darien, which was they were at. The had come from Castilla del Oro, assigned to Ojeda, by the King. Since Enciso was assigned as Alcalde Mayor by Ojeda, his appointment was only good on the other side of the gulf.

1640 Map of Panamá showing the location of San Sebastian de Buenavista and Santa Maria de la Antigua del Darien, established across the Gulf of Darien. Also marked is the town of Acla, where Balboa was executed and the Atrato River.

The community relived Enciso of his command, and elected new leaders. Balboa and Martín Zamudio, were elected as the new Alcalde, and appointed Juan de Valdivia as one of the regidores, Bartolomé Hurtado, was elected bailiff of the new town of Belen. All the internal strife, divided the colony into 3 groups. Those for Balboa and Zamudio, those for Enciso who wanted him as their leader claiming that he just had a string of bad luck, and the third group wanted to join forces with Nicuesa, and invite him to Antigua.

Around the middle of November, 1510, two ships arrived in Antigua, that were under the command of Rodrigo Enriquez de Colmenares, a lieutenant for Diego de Nicuesa, the actual governor of Castilla del Oro. He was searching for Nicuesa and was bring supplies (food and arms) and reinforcements of another 60 men.  Nicuesa was somewhere exploring the province of Castilla del Oro, searching for Veraguas. Colmenares, gave the colonist some supplies, and departed, with an invitation to Nicuesa to visit the town of Antigua. Against the recommendations of Balboa, Diego del Corral (lawyer) and Diego Albítex went along to personally extend the invitation.

Nicuesa, had been exploring the province of Castilla del Oro, when they were hit by a storm one night that separated the ships. The ship he was on, ran into some reefs, and sank, taking with it, all of their provisions and cloths. Most of the men, made it to land, half without their clothes. They proceeded to walk west, hoping to get to Veraguas, and the Belen River. The rowboat of their ship had been saved, and four of the sailors rowed along side of the walking castaways. The head sailor of the rowboat, had been with Columbus, when he had explored this coast, and realized that they were going in the wrong direction. Nicuesa would not believe that and insisted that he was right, and to continue walking west. One night the rowboat took off, without telling Nicuesa, looking for the other boats. Nicuesa continued walking west, past Veraguas, to the Chiriqui lagoon (Almirante Bay). Meanwhile, the rowboat found the rest of the men at Belen, and sent a ship to rescue Nicuesa. The ship found Nicuesa's party, most of them had died, were wounded and staving for lack of food.  They picked them up, and returned them to Belen, where they found more of their men had been killed by the natives, their provisions were gone, and they were starving. Nicuesa then ordered the survivors to head east. They at one point, entered the harbor at Porto Bello, where some of his men were killed by the natives. Eventually, the found another harbor that they thought would make a good location for a fort, and named it Nombre de Diós. (It was said, that when they sailed into the harbor, Nicuesa said "Paremos aquí, en el nombre de Diós!").

When Colmenares, found Nicuesa, at Nombre de Dios, he relayed the invitation from Antigua. Nicuesa became very angry at the intrusion into his territory, and immediately set sail to Antigua, to kick them out, take all the gold they had found and arrest the officers of Ojeda's colony. Upon hearing this, the colonist were prepared when Nicuesa arrived, imprisoned him, and sent him back to Espanola. The unseaworthy ship on which he was placed, was never heard from again, and he was lost at sea with 17 of his men, on March 1, 1511.

Balboa allowed Enciso to sail back to Spain. He also sent his co-alcalde with Enciso, so that he would have somebody there to explain to the authorities, their side of the events that lead to the removal of Enciso. At the same time, Valdivia, was sent to Española, to get more supplies and deliver a large amount of gold to the Governor, Diego Colon and to the treasurer of the Spanish king at Santo Domingo. An invitation was extended for the remaining men of Nicuesa at Nombre de Dios, to join them at Antigua, which they all accepted.

Balboa, at the age of 35, was now the commander of the colony of Antigua and governor of Castilla de Oro. He organized expeditions into countryside to conquer the hostile natives and make treaties with the friendly ones. Balboa started with Cemaco, the chief of the village where they first arrived. He defeated him, with 400 warriors, and the fled into the jungle. He then went after Careta, cacique of Cueva, or Coiba, and area about 60 miles west of Antigua. Careta, received Balboa, but refused to give his all the corn he requested. This was due to the fact that they could not harvest since they were busy at war with a neighboring chief, Ponca. Balboa, returned later and attacked the village, taking Careta and his family prisoners, back to Antigua. Baboa's presence and gift of gab, was so overpowering and convincing, that he was able to convert Careta into an allies. Careta gave his beautiful daughter, Anna Yansi, to Balboa as his concubine. Balboa would have none of this, and took her has his bride to seal the treaty. Balboa did send some of his men with Careta, so that he could defeat Ponca. Careta had his people plant and harvest corn to help feed the inhabitants of Antigua.

Balboa, next set his sights on Comagre, a cacique of an area about 120 miles west of Antigua. Comagre's village was very wealthy and ruled over 10,000 natives. He had an army of over 3,000 warriors. A meeting was arranged, and Comagre gave the Spaniards 4,000 ounces of gold.. At this village, the Indians told Balboa of a large body of water on the other side of the Isthmus of Panama. They also talked about cities of great wealth and gold to be found farther to the south. They baptized Comagre, and many of his people.

Balboa attacking the natives and the use of his dogs.

When they got back to Antigua, they found that Valdivia, had returned from Española with supplies and a commission from Diego Colon, appointing Balboa his lieutenant in Tierra Firme, and naming him governor of Antigua. At the end of the 1511, Valdiivia was again sent to Española with 15,000 peso of gold. Unfortunately, the ship was wrecked off the coast of the Yucatan. Valdivia and 19 men escaped on boats. Seven of these men died from hunger and thirst, during the week they were floundering at sea. The remainders, were wash ashore in the Yucatan, where they, including Valdivia, were sacrificed. Some of the men reached Jamaica, and only 2 survived. Balboa never heard about Valdivia's tragedy.

Balboa heard tales of a wonderful city with temples of gold in Dabaidba, which existed about 90 miles to the south of Antigua on the banks of the Atrato River. In 1512, he set out with a force of 150 men, but he never found the place. He did attack three caciques of the area, Albenameche, Abraiba and Abibeiba. These three chiefs, along with the chief of the area where the temples were suppose to be, joined into a treaty with Cemaco, cacique of Darien. The confederation had over 5,000 warriors, and planned an attack on Antigua, to kill all the settlers. One of the warriors told his sister, who was one of Balboa's mistresses, to get out of town, the night they were going to attack. She informed Balboa of the plan, and he attacked first. Hundreds were killed and the rest taken as prisoners, the caciques were all hanged, and the Darien region became subjugated.

Not hearing from Valdivia, Balboa planned to go to Spain, and present to the King the plan to explore and find the great body of water that lay to the south. From there, he wanted to find the cities of gold, that were suppose to exist in the south. Since the colonist objected to his returning to Spain, he than sent two men, Colmenares and Caicedo, with all of the new kings share of gold and request for support in the explorations, to Santo Domingo and then on to Spain. They left in October, 1512, on this important mission.

Balboa, extracting tribute from the natives, and being told of the South Sea.
From de Bry "India Occidenta"' 1594


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November 21, 2002