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Title: Las Casas - 'The Apostle of the Indies'
Author: Knight, Alice J.
Language: English
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[Illustration: BARTHOLOMÉ DE LAS CASAS _Frontispiece_]


"_The_ APOSTLE _of the_ INDIES"










FOREWORD                                     7

      I BARTOLOMÉ THE YOUTH                  9

     II A BIT OF HISTORY                    14

    III A NEW WORLD                         18

     IV A NEW LIFE                          28

      V DISAPPOINTMENTS                     36


    VII THE PEARL COAST                     48

   VIII THE CLOISTER                        59

     IX THE LAND OF WAR                     64

      X BISHOP OF CHIAPA                    72

     XI REVOLT IN CHIAPA                    83

    XII AT COURT                            95


Early American history is full of interest and romance. Great figures
move across the scene. Columbus, Ponce de Leon, Cortez, Alvarado,
Pizarro,--every schoolboy is familiar with their names and deeds. But
one man there is that stands out conspicuously among these heroes of
discovery and conquest, one not bent on fame and glory, not possessed of
that greed for gold that led to so much ruthless cruelty toward the
natives of the New World,--a man consumed with one burning desire: to
spend himself in the service of others, to protect and save the weak and
helpless. What he himself might suffer in the performance of this work
mattered not at all.

Strange that to so many even the name of this man is unknown! Yet for
more than fifty years no one either in all the New World or in Spain was
more prominently before the eyes of all than was Las Casas, the great
"Apostle of the Indies." Not only as a missionary, but as an historian,
a philanthropist, a man of business, a ruler in the Church, he towers
above even the notable men of that most remarkable time. His noble,
self-denying, heroic life, spent in untiring service to God and man, is
an inspiration and an example much needed in this materialistic,
money-getting, ease-loving age.
                                                       ALICE J. KNIGHT.
    _June, 1917._




Whenever we hear of a famous man,--whether he be artist, author,
statesman, soldier, scientist, great traveler, or missionary,--we like
to know what sort of a boy he was. We are curious about his home, his
school, his parents, his friends, and all the various influences that
helped to make him the man he was. Such knowledge gives us a better
understanding of his after life, and a fuller sympathy with his aims and

Although I have headed this chapter "Bartolomé the Youth," we know
comparatively little of Las Casas until he was about twenty-eight years
old. In later life we find him impetuous, loving, tireless in energy,
with a fiery temper that blazed out in quick wrath against all injustice
and cruelty toward the weak and helpless, possessing a brilliant mind
and great talents, never giving up striving against the wrong, and never
knowing when he was beaten. These qualities he must have possessed in
some measure as a boy, but, unfortunately, no historian has opened up
for us those early pages.

Bartolomé was born in the city of Seville, Spain, in the year 1474. We
are not told the day of the month. Of his mother we know nothing, but
his father was Pedro de Casaus. He was of French descent, but the family
had lived in Spain for over two hundred years, and because of valuable
aid given to one of the Spanish kings in the wars against the Moors,
they had been ennobled, and after a time the name lost its French
spelling and took the Spanish form, Las Casas.

Bartolomé certainly lived in very interesting times. When he was between
eighteen and nineteen years of age Columbus came to Seville on his
return from his first voyage, which resulted in the discovery of the
West India Islands. He brought with him many strange and wonderful
things,--birds of brilliant color, such as had never been seen before,
gold and pearls, and, most wonderful of all, six Indians. We can imagine
the crowds of people who must have followed that little procession as it
passed through the streets of the city, pushing and crowding one another
to get a sight of the great Admiral and the men who had sailed with him
over unknown waters, and especially of the painted red men, who were, I
am sure, quite as curious on their part, and probably badly frightened

It is difficult for us to understand now how much courage it took in
those times to put to sea in frail little caravels, which were all the
adventurer had, and go sailing over the waste of waters, not knowing
what was ahead of him, or if he would ever find land on the other side.
The rude maps of that day still showed a great Sea of Darkness. Dragons
and all sorts of frightful sea-monsters were pictured in the unexplored
parts of the ocean, and the popular idea was that if the daring mariner
should sail too far over the slope of the round globe, he might be drawn
by force of gravitation into a fiery gulf and never come back to his
friends again. So the men that thus ventured were heroes in the eyes of
the people. Never had such a voyage been heard of as the great Admiral
had made, and all, from the King and Queen to the little street boys,
were eager to hear about it.

Although he does not mention it, it is probable that Las Casas often saw
Columbus in his father's house. Pedro de Casas, Bartolomé's father, and
his uncle, Francisco de Penalosa, both went out with the Admiral on his
second voyage. Columbus had then been made Viceroy of the Indies, and
Bartolomé's father was on his staff, while his uncle commanded the
soldiers. One of the Indians that Columbus brought home from the first
expedition he gave to Pedro de Casas, but the good Queen would not allow
these Indians to be kept as slaves, and insisted that they should be
sent back at once. All six had been baptized at Barcelona, with the King
and Queen,--Ferdinand and Isabella,--as godfather and godmother; and
when, soon after this, one of them died, people said he was the first
Indian to go to Heaven.

Bartolomé's uncle remained in the Indies for three years, and returning,
shortly afterward died in battle with the Moors. His father did not come
home until 1500.

While his father and uncle were away, Bartolomé was studying at the
famous university of Salamanca, where he took his degree as doctor of
laws just previous to his father's return.

Very naturally, now that his education was finished, the young man's
thoughts turned to the Indies. He seems to have gone out, as did the
other colonists, with the idea of making money. Wealth and power
appeared very desirable things to possess. How little he dreamed of the
future that was before him! He knew not that the time was coming when he
should give up all that he had,--money, time, strength, and
talents,--for the sake of the great, deathless principles of liberty,
justice, and mercy. All unknowing, he was to enter a fight that would
last his life long and cost him all that he held dear while struggling
to protect the gentle, helpless natives of the New World from the
cruelty and oppression of the Spaniards, until he should come to be
called Las Casas "The Protector of the Indians." He had marked out one
path for himself; God was to point out to him quite a different one. It
is good to know that he "was not disobedient to the heavenly vision."



When Columbus returned to Spain after his first voyage, he left on the
island of Hispaniola, now called Haiti, a little colony of about forty

On his second voyage he sailed first to this same place, arriving in
November, late at night. A salute was fired to let the settlers know
that their friends had returned, but no answer came, and it was feared
that something was wrong. Sure enough, when the voyagers went ashore in
the morning they found eleven dead bodies and no living men. The fort
had been destroyed and the tools and provisions were gone.

This was a sad welcome; all the sadder because it need not have happened
but for the evil doings of the colonists. After the departure of
Columbus they had soon quarreled among themselves and had treated the
inoffensive natives so cruelly that, unable to endure it, they had risen
against the Spaniards and killed them all.

Columbus at once went to work to build another little town, not far from
the first, and called it Isabella. A church was erected, a number of
houses built, and the whole surrounded by a strong wall. This being
done, he placed his brother Diego in charge, and started off with three
ships to make further explorations.

On this voyage he coasted along the southern shore of Cuba, discovered
Jamaica and a number of smaller islands, and sailed all around
Hispaniola. But he was worn out with excitement and fatigue. Discovering
new countries is hard work, and it is still harder to try to govern
unruly and evil men. He became very ill, and was brought back to
Isabella quite unconscious. When at length he came to himself he found
his brother Bartholomew beside him. This was a great comfort, for the
brothers were very fond of each other, and Columbus needed all the help
he could get. He made Bartholomew governor of Hispaniola, but no
governor could do very much with such a company of lawless adventurers
as were these Spaniards. Like a great many people of to-day, they wanted
to get rich quickly and without working. They spent their time in
fighting, roaming about the country, abusing the Indians, and killing
them and one another. At length the natives, exasperated beyond
endurance, rose against them as before, and many Spaniards lost their

In the end, however, of course it was the Indians that suffered the
most. They could not stand against the white men. Their bows and arrows
would not pierce the soldiers' armor, and they ran in terror from the
sight of a horse, an animal that they had never seen before. Twenty
great bloodhounds were let loose upon them also, which tore them in
pieces; and at length, in despair, they submitted to their enslavers.

They were used as slaves by the white men, being forced to cultivate the
land for their conquerors and to work in the gold mines. The poor
creatures, whose lives had been so simple as to require no hard labor,
died by the thousands, and many were whipped to death or killed
outright, so that in a little while that beautiful island became a place
of great suffering, and the Spaniards were feared and hated by those
gentle natives, who at their coming had been ready to welcome them as

Many of the colonists grew dissatisfied because they were not getting
rich as fast as they wished, and some returned to Spain with complaints
of Columbus. Finally Francisco Bobadilla was sent out to look into
matters. He treated the great Admiral very unjustly and cruelly, sending
him back to Spain in chains; but in this action he far exceeded his
instructions. Ferdinand and Isabella, grieved for the indignity that had
been put upon the man who had given them a new country, caused him to be
released at once, and recalled Bobadilla.

Nicholas de Ovando was now appointed to rule Hispaniola, and it was
with him that Las Casas went out, as we shall see in the next chapter.



When Las Casas arrived in Hispaniola with Ovando, the new governor, they
were greeted by the news that a huge nugget of gold had been found,
weighing thirty-five pounds. It was shaped like a flat dish, and to
celebrate the discovery of such a treasure, a banquet was given and a
roast pig served up on this novel platter. The nugget was sent to Spain,
as a present to King Ferdinand, on the same ship as the infamous
Bobadilla, the deposed governor, but the ship was wrecked in a terrible
storm soon after leaving port, and both the nugget and the governor went
down into the depths of the ocean.

Las Casas and his companion also heard that there had been another
uprising of the Indians and that many had been captured and made slaves.

Queen Isabella had instructed Ovando that the Indians must be free, only
paying tribute, as all Spanish subjects did, and that they should be
recompensed for the work they did in the mines. The good Queen little
knew how far her officers were from treating them as she had commanded.

Las Casas does not seem to have felt any particular pity for the Indians
in the beginning. Like the rest of the adventurers, he had come to seek
his fortune in the New World, where there seemed such wonderful chances
to grow rich. He obtained from the governor an estate of his own, took
Indians as slaves, and sent some of them to work in the mines, though he
did not abuse nor overwork them, as others did. For eight years he not
only held Indians as slaves, but he was with Ovando during a second war
against the natives in one of the provinces of Hispaniola, and saw
terrible deeds of cruelty, yet never appears to have made a single
protest. This seems very strange when we think of what he said and did
against slavery a few years later, and how his whole after life was
spent in the service of these oppressed people. His eyes, however, were
not yet opened, and he looked at things after the fashion of his time.

Ovando was a good governor, Las Casas says, "but not for Indians." He
was a little, fair-haired man, gentle in manner, and most polite, but he
made everybody understand that he intended to be obeyed. When any
gentleman became troublesome, Ovando would invite him to dine with him,
talk so pleasantly and flatteringly to his guest that he would think the
governor must mean to do something very grand for him, and then,
suddenly pointing down the harbor, would ask in which of the ships lying
at anchor the gentleman would like to take passage for Spain. The poor
man, confused and alarmed, yet afraid to protest, would very likely say
that he had no money to pay his fare. Whereupon the very polite little
governor would at once tell him not to let that trouble him, as he,
Ovando, would provide the funds. And off the gentleman would have to go
from the dinner table to the ship.

But although Ovando ruled the white men well, he was neither just nor
kind to the Indians. He gave them out in lots of fifty, or a hundred, or
five hundred, to those who wanted them, and the poor creatures were
worked to death and abused without mercy. When, in desperation, they
would rise against their tyrants, they were punished savagely, being
burned alive, torn to pieces by bloodhounds, and drowned in the ocean or
the rivers, even helpless little children often being treated in this

In 1510 four Dominican friars came over to Hispaniola and settled in San
Domingo. The Sunday after their arrival one of them preached a sermon on
the glories of heaven,--a discourse that Las Casas heard, and one that
made a great impression on him. In the afternoon the Prior asked to have
the Indians sent to the church to be taught; so they came,--men, women,
and children; and this custom the Dominicans continued every Sunday

Some time in this same year Las Casas was ordained priest. We should
like to know how he came to take this step, but he tells us nothing
about it. He threw himself into his new duties with the same energy that
he had used in his business, and began at once to teach the Indians, as
the Dominicans were doing. Whatever he did, all his life long, he did
with all his might, and very soon he became famous all over the island
for his learning and goodness.

The little settlement of four Dominicans had increased by the end of the
next year to twelve; nor had they been there many months before they
began to have their eyes opened to the wrongs the Indians were suffering
at the hands of the white men.

A Spaniard who had killed his wife in a fit of jealousy and had been
hiding for two or three years, repenting of his crime and tired of
living in concealment and fear, came to the Dominicans by night and
begged them to take him in and let him stay with them as a lay brother.
When they were convinced that the man was truly repentant they received
him. He told them of the dreadful cruelties of which he and others had
been guilty toward the natives, and the good fathers soon felt that
they must look into the matter. This they did, and were not long in
coming to the conclusion that it was a great evil to make slaves of the
Indians and that they must do something to put a stop to it. So they
fasted and prayed, and conferred together, and finally decided that one
of their number, Father Antonio Montesino, should preach a sermon on the

The week before the sermon was to be preached all the Dominicans went
throughout the town and invited every one, from the governor down to the
humblest citizen, to come to the church on the following Sunday, which
was the First Sunday in Advent, to hear the sermon, which, they said,
would be upon a new subject, interesting to all of them.

Of course every one was curious to hear what would be said, and when
Sunday came the church was crowded. There was the governor, Diego
Columbus, in his pew, with his wife,--a grand-niece of King
Ferdinand,--and there were the officers of the colony, all the prominent
citizens, in fact, everybody in the town. Father Montesino preached from
the text: I am "the voice of one crying in the wilderness."

He told the congregation that they were living in mortal sin because of
their cruelty and their tyranny over the innocent natives. He told them
plainly that by their oppression, their cruel tortures, and the forced
labor in the mines to which they subjected these helpless people, they
were killing the whole race, and he declared that they had no chance of
salvation while they continued in such sin.

You may be sure that Father Montesino's hearers were both frightened and
angry at this bold sermon. All honor to the brave man who dared to
preach it and to the little company of his brethren who stood with him!
It was the first voice raised in the new world against slavery.

That afternoon the citizens had a meeting at the governor's house and
appointed a committee to visit and rebuke the preacher. However, this
accomplished nothing, as neither Father Montesino, the Prior of the
little community, nor any of the brotherhood was at all moved by their
threats, and all they obtained from the Dominicans was an agreement that
Father Montesino should preach again the next Sunday and endeavor to
please his congregation _as far as his conscience would permit_.

The committee told everybody that the Father was going to retract, and
again the next Sunday the church was crowded to hear Montesino eat his
own words. But, instead of the humble apology that was expected, his
auditors received a more terrible rebuke than before, Montesino
threatening them with eternal torments if they continued to illtreat the
Indians, or engage in the slave trade.

Angry as the Spaniards were, they could do nothing, for the good
fathers minded their blustering and threats not at all. Las Casas was
partly in sympathy with the Dominicans, but he thought they went too
far. He believed the Indians should be treated kindly, but saw no harm
in slavery; for all that, however, he did not forget the sermon.

The next year Diego Columbus decided to conquer the island of Cuba, and
he appointed Diego Valasquez, one of the most respected colonists in San
Domingo, commander of the expedition. Valasquez was a warm friend of Las
Casas', and after a time sent for him to act as his chaplain.

This war against the helpless and innocent natives was as cruel as all
the others. They were chased and torn to pieces by bloodhounds; they
were burned alive; their hands and feet were cut off, and those that
were not killed were made slaves. Forced to work beyond their strength
in the gold mines, half starved and beaten, their lives were full of
misery, without a gleam of hope, and in despair numbers of
them,--sometimes whole villages at a time,--committed suicide. One story
is told that makes us smile, although it is so sad.

A whole village of Indians resolved to hang themselves and so escape
their sufferings. In some way their master learned of their intention
and came upon them just as they stood ready to carry it out.

"Go get me a rope, too," he said to them; "for I must hang myself with
you." He told them they were so useful to him that he must go where they
were going, so that they might still labor for him. They, believing that
they could not free themselves from him even in the future life, sadly
gave up their plan, and went to work again.

Las Casas did all he could to protect the Indians, and soon became known
as their friend, and won their entire trust. They called him "Behique,"
which was the name they gave their magicians, and regarded him with awe.
As the natives had no written language, the way in which the Spaniards
conveyed information to one another by means of mysterious marks on
paper seemed a kind of magic to them. When the expedition was
approaching a town, Las Casas would send a messenger in advance,
carrying a paper scrawled all over and hidden in a hollow reed. The
messenger would show the paper to the Indians and tell them that the
Christians were coming and the father wanted them to furnish so many
huts for them to sleep in, so much food for them to eat, and so on,
adding: "If you do not, Behique will be much displeased." So great was
their confidence in him that they would at once obey his commands, which
they believed the messenger had read from the paper, and in this way Las
Casas was able to save them from the dreadful massacres that had so
often wiped out whole villages.

But one day a terrible thing occurred. Valasquez had gone away to be
married and had appointed a Spaniard, named Pamfilo de Narvaez,
commander in his absence. The soldiers,--about three hundred in
number,--drew near a village called Caonao, and stopped to eat in the
dry bed of a river, where there were a great many stones on which they
sharpened their swords. When, at length, they entered the town some two
thousand natives were gathered together, all sitting peacefully on the
ground to look at the wonderful strangers and especially to see the
horses, at which they were never tired of gazing. About five hundred
others were busy in one of the huts, preparing food for the Spaniards,
as Las Casas had told them to do. Suddenly one of the soldiers drew his
sword,--why, nobody ever knew,--and began slashing right and left at the
defenseless Indians. Instantly the others followed his example, and
before half of the Indians had realized what was happening, the place
was piled with dead bodies. Las Casas, who was not present at the
moment, hearing what was going on, in a white heat of rage rushed out
into the square to stop the slaughter; but before he succeeded in doing
this many hundred helpless men, women, and children had been butchered.

Not long after this dreadful event Valasquez returned to Cuba, and, the
whole island being now subdued, he proceeded to found a number of towns
and to divide the land and the Indians among the Spaniards. Las Casas
and a dear friend of his, Pedro de Renteria, who had lived near him in
Hispaniola, received together a whole village of Indians, and with them
the land they had owned,--some of this land being the very best on the

Renteria was a quiet, thoughtful, unworldly man, humble and plain in his
ways, though of considerable learning. Las Casas seems to have been very
fond of him, though he tells us but little about him.

The two friends soon had a large house built, in which they lived
happily for a year, using the enslaved Indians to cultivate the
plantation and work the mines; for as yet neither of them had a thought
that it was wrong to hold slaves, and believed that they were doing
their duty to these natives by being kind to them and carefully
instructing them in the truths of Christianity.



Las Casas was the only priest on the island of Cuba, and at Pentecost
(Whitsunday) he arranged to go and preach and say mass in the new town
of Sancti Spiritus. In looking for a text, he came across some verses in
the Apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus, which made him stop and think
whether after all he was right in making the Indians work for him as
slaves. These are the verses:

     He that sacrificeth of a thing wrongfully gotten, his offering is
     ridiculous, and the gifts of unjust men are not accepted.

     The Most High is not pleased with the offerings of the wicked,
     neither is He pacified for sin by the multitude of sacrifices.

     Whoso bringeth an offering of the goods of the poor doeth as one
     that killeth the son before the father's eyes.

     The bread of the needy is their life; he that defraudeth them
     thereof is a man of blood.

     He that taketh away his neighbor's living slaveth him, and he that
     defraudeth the laborer of his hire is a bloodshedder.

As Las Casas read these verses he seemed to hear the voice of God
speaking to his heart. He remembered Montesino's sermon, he thought of
all the cruelties and injustices from which the gentle, helpless Indians
suffered. At last his eyes were opened, and he saw plainly that it was
neither right to take the lands and the property of the natives nor to
hold them as slaves.

For Bartolomé Las Casas to see the right was always to do it. He
resolved at once to give up his own Indians and to preach against
enslaving them. He knew very well that if he did this they might, and
probably would, fall into the hands of those who would not treat them so
kindly, but he realized that he could not preach to others against
slavery while he continued to possess slaves himself. Therefore he went
at once to the governor and told him what he had resolved to do. The
governor was very much astonished, and begged Las Casas to consider well
what he was doing and at least to take fifteen days to think it over.
But Las Casas refused to take even one day, saying that his mind was
made up.

Four Dominicans, who had been sent from Hispaniola to found a community,
arrived in Cuba about this time. They and Las Casas preached constantly
and earnestly on the sin of holding the natives in slavery; but although
the Spaniards were frightened, they were not turned from their evil
ways, and Las Casas resolved to go to Spain and see if he could not so
present the matter to the King that the whole system of dividing up the
Indians and their lands among the white men, to be their property,
might be done away with.

He wrote to his friend and partner Renteria, telling him that he was
about to go to Spain on a very important mission, which he was sure
would give him great joy when he heard what it was, and he asked him to
hasten home, as otherwise he might not see him, it being necessary to
leave at once.

Renteria was in Jamaica, where he had gone to buy seed, stock and so on
for their farm. While there he had stayed in a Franciscan convent during
the season of Lent, and had given much time to prayer and meditation.
For a long time he had been troubled about holding the Indians as
slaves, but he had thought that if he and his partner were to give up
the savages, they would only be worse off. Now, however, as he thought
and prayed, a plan occurred to him: He would go to Spain and get
permission to found schools, where the Indian children might be gathered
in and taught, and thus some of them might be saved; for he saw clearly
that if things kept on as they were, it would not be long before all the
Indians on the islands would be destroyed.

As soon as Renteria received Las Casas' letter he hurried home,
wondering why his friend also wanted to go to Spain, and eager to tell
him what he had in mind.

Renteria was a very popular man, so when he landed, not only Las Casas
was there to meet him but the governor and many other friends;
therefore, it was night before the two partners had a chance to talk
quietly together. Then each listened in astonishment to the plan of the
other. Finally they decided that as the plan of Las Casas was the more
important, and as he was a priest and of a noble family and could
therefore more easily get a hearing at court, he should be the one to
go. They sold everything that Renteria had brought from Jamaica,--even
the farm itself being disposed of,--in order to raise money for the

Now, while the two friends had been occupied with these thoughts and
plans, the Dominicans had been coming to the conclusion that they could
do no good in Cuba, since they could not help the Indians and the
Spaniards would not listen to them, and they decided to send one of
their number with Las Casas to San Domingo,--from which port he was to
sail for Spain,--for the purpose of asking for instructions from their
superior, Pedro de Cordova. A young deacon went also, and all three soon
started on their journey. The Dominican, however, was taken ill and died
before the party reached San Domingo.

Pedro de Cordova sympathized heartily with Las Casas, though warning him
that he would meet with many difficulties; but the man who is afraid to
undertake a thing because of the difficulties in the way is not much of
a man, and Las Casas was only the more determined to keep on. The
Dominicans were very poor and had never been able to finish their humble
monastery building, so they sent Father Montesino, who had preached the
famous sermon against slavery the year after their coming to Hispaniola,
with Las Casas to Spain, that he might try to raise the money needed;
and in 1515 they sailed.

As soon as they arrived in Seville, Montesino introduced Las Casas to
the good bishop of Seville, who did all he could to help him, giving him
a letter to the King and to others of the court that might in all
probability be interested.

It would be too long a story to tell,--the chronicle of all that Las
Casas went through in his struggles to right the wrongs of the Indians.

Queen Isabella was now dead, and while he was in Spain King Ferdinand
died also. Charles V, grandson of Ferdinand, was the heir to the throne,
and during his minority the great Cardinal Ximenes acted as regent,
while Charles' tutor Adrian was associated with the cardinal in the
government. The man who had most to do with the affairs of the Indians
was the Bishop of Burgos, Fonseca. As he himself had hundreds of slaves
working for him in the gold mines of the islands, he was naturally not
at all in favor of freeing them, and there were many like him who were
striving as hard to prevent the liberation of the Indians as Las Casas
was striving to bring it about.

Among other attempts that were made to throw obstacles in the way of Las
Casas was one that was rather amusing. Cardinal Ximenes, as they sat in
council, ordered the old laws for the Indies to be read. The clerk who
read them, coming to one that he knew his masters were not obeying,
thought to shield them and hinder Las Casas by changing the wording;
but, unfortunately for him, Las Casas knew the laws by heart, and he
cried out:

"The law says no such thing!"

The clerk, being ordered to read it again, read it as before, when again
Las Casas broke in:

"The law says no such thing!"

A third time the clerk was made to read it; a third time he persisted in
his own way of wording, and a third time Las Casas interrupted by

"That law says no such thing!"

The Cardinal, provoked by so many interruptions, rebuked him, when he

"Your lordship may order my head to be cut off if what the clerk reads
is what the law says."

And snatching the book from the clerk, he proved that he was right. We
cannot help thinking that if the clerk had known "the clerico," as he
usually calls himself, a little better, he would not have dared to try
such a trick.

In spite of all obstacles, however, with the help of the Cardinal, new
laws were finally passed for the Indies. By these laws the Spaniards
were forbidden to divide the Indians among themselves and force them to
work without reward.

But the passing of the laws was only a part of the business. It was as
true then as now that good laws are of little use unless there be wise
and good men to enforce them; and the question now arose as to who
should go out and put a stop to the evil system that had caused so much
misery to these innocent and helpless people, and see that the new laws
were obeyed. In those days the Church had great power over both rulers
and people, and so it was not so strange as it would be in these days
that the choice should have fallen on three monks of the order of St.
Jerome. It was anything but a wise choice, however, for although these
monks were good men, they were unused to any life but that of the
convent, had had no experience in statesmanship and were, besides,
rather timid of spirit. Before they sailed, the enemies of Las Casas
filled their minds with distrust of him, and made them think that things
in the islands were not as he had represented, so that they did not seem
likely to do much good in their new office.

However, the little company set sail at last, the three monks in one
ship, Las Casas,--who had been given the official title of "Protector of
the Indians," with charge and authority to look after all that concerned
them,--in another, and Zuaco, a lawyer, appointed to help and advise
them, followed a little later.



"The best laid plans o' mice and men gang aft agley." So it was in this

When the Jeronimite fathers arrived in Hispaniola they failed to do what
was expected of them. They did _something_, it is true; for they took
from those officers of the court, who were not living in the Indies, all
their Indian slaves and tried to give them to others who would treat
them kindly; but they did not set them free, neither did they bring the
judges to trial for their evil deeds.

The clerico was of course very indignant with them, and we may be sure
that he never gave them any peace, so that they must have learned to
dread the very sight of him. He preached constantly, in the pulpit and
on the streets, wherever he went, that the Indians must be free; and
when Zuaco came, the two brought charges against the judges, causing
them to be tried; but we do not know whether or not they were punished.
Probably not.

We must not be too hard upon the monks, however. It was no easy task
they had been asked to perform. What Las Casas wanted them to do, and
what the law required also, was to take away all the Indians from the
Spaniards and set them free. This meant to ruin the owners, since all
they had came through the forced labor of the natives. The monks were
not men of the determined character necessary for such an act, nor were
they endowed with the courage to face the storm it would have brought
about their ears. Few men are like the clerico, who was afraid of

Just after Las Casas reached the Indies a man named Juan Bono, a
shipmaster, arrived there with a shipload of Indians, whom he had
kidnaped in the island of Trinidad. He himself told the clerico how it
was done.

He had gone to the island with sixty men and told the Indians that they
had come to live with them. The Indians received them kindly, brought
them food, and, as Bono said himself, treated them like brothers. Bono
told them that the white men would like a large house to live in, and
the Indians at once went to work to build it for them. When it was
nearly done, Bono invited all the natives to come and see it.

Some four hundred of them came, all unarmed and quite unsuspecting and
happy. When all were gathered in the house, the Spaniards surrounded it,
and Bono told the Indians that they must give themselves up or they
would be killed. Some of them tried to run away, some to resist, and in
a few minutes the swords of the Spaniards had filled the place with the
dead and dying. One hundred and eighty of them were put in chains and
taken to the ship. About a hundred shut themselves up in another house
and tried to defend themselves there, but the Spaniards set fire to it
and the natives were all burned alive.

This was the return Bono and his men made to the innocent, gentle
Indians, who had been so kind to them. No wonder the heart of the
clerico was on fire with indignation when he heard the story. He went at
once to the three fathers and told them the dreadful tale. They
listened, but did nothing,--as usual. Not one of the one hundred and
eighty kidnaped Indians was set free, and neither Bono nor any of the
judges who had sent him was punished.

One day a priest came to the Protector of the Indians to tell him how
the native laborers in the mines near San Domingo were abused. He said
he had seen them lying in the fields, sick from overwork, covered with
flies, and nobody cared enough to give them food or drink; but their
owners allowed them to lie there and die in this way. Las Casas took him
by the hand and led him to the fathers, to whom he repeated this story;
but they only tried to excuse the cruelty of the mine owners.

The heart of the clerico burned within him as he saw so much suffering
and misery about him and could not get the three commissioners to put a
stop to it. Something, he felt, must be done. The fathers had now been
in the islands six months and things were no better than they had been
before their coming; so he resolved to go again to Spain and seek a
remedy for this state of things. When the fathers heard what he intended
to do they were much alarmed, but as they could not stop him, they sent
one of their number to Spain also, to speak on their behalf.

For some time there had been on the island of Hispaniola a number of
Franciscans,--or "Gray Friars," as they were sometimes called because of
the color of their robes, just as the Dominicans were called "Black
Friars," because they wore black and white. Both orders were sworn to
poverty, and both did splendid missionary work in their day. The
Franciscans had not always been in sympathy with Las Casas, but seem now
to have been as anxious as he to have something done to set matters
right. Some of them were well known to the Grand Chancellor, and they
gave the clerico letters to that official, who was at once interested;
and as Las Casas came to see more of him, the two became great friends.
The Chancellor spoke to the King about the matter, and the King
commanded that he and Las Casas should consult together and find a
remedy for the evils of the Indies.

The plan that they proposed was this:

That colonists should be sent out at the expense of the King and be
cared for until they should be able to manage for themselves, when they
should begin to pay tribute to the crown. In order to supply laborers,
Las Casas suggested that each Spaniard should have permission to import
twelve negro slaves. This he did because the Indians died by hundreds
from the hard labor in the mines, while he had observed that the negroes
endured it much better. Afterward Las Casas confessed with sorrow that
he had done wrong in this, as it was no more right to hold the negroes
in slavery than to so treat the Indians.

The Bishop of Burgos, who was, you will remember, always bent on
opposing the clerico in everything he undertook, laughed at this plan.
He said he had been trying for years to get men to go out to the Indies
and could not find twenty that were willing to venture. However, Las
Casas was not stopped by this, and set to work at once to see what he
could do. A man named Berrio was appointed to go with him and assist
him; but this Berrio turned out to be anything but a help, refusing to
obey the clerico's orders, and finally leaving him, without permission.

Berrio got together about two hundred vagabonds, not at all the right
sort of people for colonists, and sent them to Seville, to be shipped
to the Indies. Las Casas was not informed of the matter, and as no one
had any instructions with regard to these colonists, they were sent out
with no supplies for their necessities. When Las Casas heard of it, he
insisted upon having provisions sent after them; but it was too late to
benefit many of them, for numbers had died of the hardships suffered,
and those who lived and stayed in the Indies proved a very bad addition
to the white population.

Meanwhile, the Grand Chancellor had died, and Bishop Fonseca was again
at the head of Indian affairs, much to the clerico's grief. Fonseca
refused to do anything at all for the colonists, and as Las Casas would
not allow them to go under such conditions of neglect, the plan fell
through. But no sooner was he defeated in one scheme than he immediately
began to devise another. There was no such thing as discouraging Las



There had been for some time both Franciscan monks and Dominican fathers
on the mainland of South America, working among the natives. Pedro de
Cordova, the head of the Dominicans in the Indies, wrote to Las Casas at
about this time, asking him to get the King to grant a certain territory
on the mainland, where no white men except the Dominicans and
Franciscans should be allowed to go; or, if he could not get it on the
mainland, to try to secure some small nearby islands, saying that if the
King would not do this it would be necessary to recall all the brethren
of the Dominican order, as it was of no use for them to preach to the
Indians when they saw all about them the Christians behaving as they
did. Now when the clerico had spoken to Fonseca about this, the reply
had been that there was no money in it for the King, so that Las Casas
saw that if he was to get the grant, he must find a way to make it
profitable to the King and his ministers.

The Good Book says that "the love of money is the root of all evil,"
and certainly Las Casas was inclined to believe this as he thought of
what wickedness it had led the Spaniards into in the New World. No
wonder the Indians thought that gold was the white man's god. The
clerico tells us of a certain Indian chief, who had fled before the
Spaniards from Hispaniola to Cuba, and who, hearing that the Christians
were coming there also, called his people together and told them that
the reason why the Spaniards treated them so cruelly was because they
had a god whom they greatly loved and adored, and it was to make them
also love and serve him that they killed and enslaved them. He had a
basket of jewels and gold near him. Holding it up, he said that _this_
was the god of the Christians and called upon his people to dance before
this god and worship him, and perhaps he would not allow the Spaniards
to harm them.

Poor old chief! Driven from one hiding place to another, he was taken at
last; and because he had tried to escape his oppressors and defend his
people, he was condemned to be burned alive. When he was tied to the
stake a Franciscan priest came up to him and told him that, although
there was but little time, yet if he would believe the Christian faith
and be baptized he would be saved. He then told him as much as he could
of God and of His Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, and, having finished,
asked him if he would believe and go to Heaven, where he would be happy
evermore, saying that if he did not he would go to Hell. The chief
thought for a moment and then asked if the Christians went to Heaven.
The priest replied that those that were good did. The chief at once
answered that in that case he did not wish to go to Heaven, where he
would have these cruel people again; he would go to Hell.

Las Casas had learned by this time that the desire for wealth must be
considered in any plan that he might make if he wanted it to succeed,
and he believed he knew of a way by which he could satisfy the King and
at the same time carry out his design of converting the Indians by
kindness. He thought he could find fifty men who would make the
conversion and civilization of the Indians their first object. These
fifty were to wear white dresses, with red crosses, so that the Indians
would know them from other Spaniards. They were to teach the natives and
protect them from all who would harm them. Each one was to contribute a
certain sum of money, which was to be used to pay the expenses of the
enterprise. For themselves, they were to have a fixed amount of the
revenue and certain privileges, and they were to be called the Knights
of the Golden Spur. The King was to have, after the first three years, a
tribute, which would be increased year by year for ten years, and the
Knights were to found three settlements in five years, were to build a
fort in each, and were to explore the country for the King. He asked
also that those Indians that had been taken away from this part of the
country should be sent back to their homes.

The Grand Chancellor thought very well of this plan, and told the
clerico to lay it before the Council of the Indies. Of course their
bishop, Fonseca, was against it. The plan was not absolutely prohibited,
however, but they delayed doing anything about it, until the clerico was
nearly driven wild with anxiety and disappointment.

It was the custom in those days to have certain of the clergy appointed
preachers to the King. There were eight such preachers at the court of
Spain. Las Casas thought perhaps these priests might do something to
help, so he went to them and interested them in the scheme. They tried
to do what they could, and even went one day before the Council of the
Indies,--much to the astonishment of its members,--and having been given
permission to speak, made a strong plea for the freedom of the Indies.
But though they were listened to with courtesy, nothing came of it.

For months Las Casas fought for this plan of his, which he felt would
save at least some of the native people. They had been killed off by
thousands on all the islands, and would soon perish on the
mainland,--indeed, wherever the Spaniards went,--unless they could be
made free. His enemies fought against his plan and against him, accusing
him of everything, even of desiring to get the grant of territory for
his own profit. Even his friends sometimes misunderstood him. One of
them, a young lawyer, when he heard of rents to be paid to the King and
of honors to be given to the Knights of the Golden Spur, said that this
"scandalized" him, for it showed a desire for temporal things, which he
had never suspected in the clerico. Las Casas, having heard of this,
went to him one day and said:

"Señor, if you were to see our Lord Jesus Christ ill-treated and
afflicted, would you not implore with all your might that those who had
Him in their power would give Him to you, that you might serve and
worship Him?"

"Yes," replied his friend.

"Then, if they would not give Him to you, but would sell Him, would you
redeem Him?"

"Without a doubt."

"Well, then, Señor, that is what I have done," replied Las Casas; "for I
have left in the Indies Jesus Christ, our Lord, suffering stripes and
afflictions and crucifixion, not once but thousands of times, at the
hands of the Spaniards, who destroy and desolate these Indian nations."

He then went on to tell his friend that, seeing that his opponents would
_sell_ him the Gospel, he had offered these inducements, buying the
right to teach the Indians to serve and love the Lord Jesus Christ.

Las Casas had now spent altogether four or five years at the court of
Spain, trying to get something done for his Indians. He had spent also
every cent of money he possessed, and endured every kind of opposition
and abuse; but at last the papers were signed. The grant was now
assured, though not so much land had been given as had been asked. A
company of laborers was ready to go out with the clerico, and money had
been loaned him for the expenses of the undertaking. Many little
articles, also, were presented to him, to be used as gifts to the
natives; and away he sailed to start the new work and to find in the
Indies, he hoped, the fifty Knights of the Golden Spur. We shall see how
he succeeded.



If you look on the map of South America, you will see up in the
northeast corner the island of Trinidad, and close by, indenting the
coast of the mainland, the Gulf of Para. Stretching west from about this
point was what was called the Pearl Coast, and it was in this region
that was situated the land that had been granted to Las Casas for his
company of the Knights of the Golden Spur. Now while he was in Spain
events had taken place in this territory that made the founding of a
colony very difficult indeed.

Both the Franciscans and the Dominicans had been trying to do missionary
work among the natives, as we know, and both orders had monasteries
there. For a time all went well, until a Spaniard named Ojeda, engaged
in the pearl fishery, had come over from the island of Cubagua, seeking

This pearl fishing was carried on by use of the Indians in a most
heartless manner. The poor creatures were kept swimming about under
water from early morning until sunset. When they came up with their
nets, in which they put the oysters,--from the shells of which the
pearls were taken,--if they stopped to rest, a man in a boat, who kept
rowing about all day for this purpose, drove them in again with blows,
sometimes seizing them by the hair and throwing them in. They were half
starved, their only food being the oysters or fish and a very little
bread. At night they were put in the stocks to prevent them from running
away. The consequence of such treatment was that they did not live long,
and it was necessary to supply the places of those that died with
others. For this reason slave raids were very frequent.

This Ojeda, then, came over to the mainland to get more slaves, and
carried off a large number of the Indians. Of course this made the
natives very angry and they resolved to kill him and the white men with

Because Ojeda had stopped at the Dominican convent the natives supposed
that the monks were his friends. And when the slave hunter came ashore
again a few days afterward the infuriated Indians killed him and his
men, and a week later they attacked the convent and killed the monks

When the news of this revolt of the natives was heard at San Domingo,
the officers of the colony resolved to send an expedition to avenge the
murder of the Dominicans, and a captain, named Ocampo, was placed in
command of it. This force started at once, and had reached Porto Rico
when Las Casas and his laborers landed. Perhaps you can imagine how the
clerico felt when he knew that Ocampo and his soldiers were going to the
very country that had been granted to him for his settlement and were to
punish the Indians there, where he had hoped to set up a sort of city of
refuge for them. He hurried to show Ocampo his papers ordering that no
one should go to that part of the country except Las Casas and the
monks, and that the natives were to be in his care and not enslaved.

But although the papers had the royal signature, Ocampo declared that he
had had his orders from the officers of the colony at San Domingo, and
that he must carry them out; that they would protect him if he was doing
anything illegal. In vain did Las Casas storm and plead. It was all of
no use. It seemed to him that there was nothing to be done but to go to
San Domingo at once and get the officers to recall Ocampo. So he
distributed his laborers by twos and threes among the citizens of Porto
Rico, and hurried away.

Nobody in San Domingo was glad to see the clerico except his friends the
Dominicans. All others were angry with him for what he had been doing at
the Spanish court to obtain the freedom of the Indians. They knew,
however, that Las Casas was in great favor with the King and his
ministers, and so they were afraid to oppose him openly or to defy the
royal authority; but they did everything they could to delay matters.
They said they would consider; and they considered so long that it soon
became useless to talk about recalling Ocampo, for it was too late to
reach him. They discovered, also, another way to prevent Las Casas from
going on. They found a ship master, engaged in the slave trade, who was
only too glad to help them by declaring the clerico's vessel
unseaworthy; and he was not allowed to use it. So there he was, helpless
and at his wits' end to know what to do.

Meanwhile, Ocampo had reached the Pearl Coast, decoyed a number of the
natives on board, and made slaves of them, hanging their chief at the
yardarm. He also captured a great many others. Finally, by means of an
Indian woman,--who had been taken from Cubagua to Hispaniola and could
speak Spanish, and whom he freed for the purpose,--he made peace with
the remaining Indians, and began to build a town.

The slaves Ocampo had captured were brought to San Domingo and sold
under the clerico's very eyes; nor could he do anything to prevent it,
although, as he tells us himself, he "went raging."

He became so angry now, however, that the authorities thought they had
better do something to make peace with him. He declared he would go to
Spain and tell the King how little attention they paid to the royal
commands, and would have them all punished. They knew he was very likely
to do just what he said and so at last they went to him with a plan
which they hoped would pacify him. They wanted to go with him as
partners. That is, they wished to form a company to go and settle the
land, all of them contributing toward the expenses and all sharing in
the profits. This was a long way from being the sort of colony Las Casas
had meant to found; for these men did not care at all for the good of
the Indians; all any of them wanted was to make money; but he had not
found any men to become Knights of the Golden Spur, and unless he went
in this way it looked as if he could not go at all, so he consented.

They fitted out two ships for him, and at last he sailed, stopping at
Porto Rico to take on his laborers. But here he had another
disappointment: not one of them could be found. They had grown tired of
waiting, had heard such stories of the riches to be gained by mining or
engaging in the slave trade that they had every one gone off either
pirating or chasing Indians or something else equally bad; and Las Casas
had to go on without them.

When at length Las Casas reached the land where he had hoped to do such
great things for the natives, the Franciscans came joyfully to meet
him, chanting _Te Deums_. Now, they felt, they had a friend and
protector. They took him into their little convent,--which was only of
wood, thatched with straw,--and into their little garden, where they had
orange trees, vines, and melons, and there they talked together of what
they should do.

Las Casas built a large storehouse for his goods, and sent word to all
the Indians in that part of the country that he had been sent out by the
new King of Spain, and that he was their friend and would protect them.
They should not be ill-treated any more. He sent presents to them to
show that he wished to be friends with them.

Ocampo and his men had had such a hard time that they were not willing
to stay there, and all sailed away, leaving Las Casas with only a few
servants and one or two helpers. It was not much like the way he had
expected to begin his famous settlement. If it had not been for the
Franciscans, he would have been lonely indeed.

All might yet have gone well if it had not been for the Spaniards on the
island of Cubagua. They had no good water on that island, and this made
an excuse for coming to the mainland very often. They brought liquor
with them, which made the Indians drunk and unmanageable, and they
taught them many evil ways. This was a great perplexity to Las Casas
and the good monks. All the good they tried to do, all their teachings
of the Christian religion, were made of little use by the evil example
of these wicked men. Las Casas thought that perhaps if he had a fort at
the mouth of the river, he could mount the guns he had brought with him
and keep the unruly people in order. So he hired a mason to build one;
but the people on Cubagua found out what was going on and bribed the man
to stop work and come away, leaving the fort unfinished.

Things grew worse and worse, and all felt that something must be done.
The head of the Franciscans kept urging Las Casas to go to San Domingo
and get the officers there to help them. The clerico knew it was of no
use at all to appeal to those men, who had already hindered him so
greatly in his plans for the good of the Indians; therefore, for a long
time he refused to go. Finally, however, not wishing to be obstinate, he
agreed to do so, against his better judgment.

He appointed one of his men, Francisco de Soto, to take charge in his
absence, instructing him particularly not to let both of their boats
leave the settlement at the same time, as, if trouble arose with the
Indians, these boats might be their only means of escape. This man,
either because of stupidity or rebellion, did the very thing he had been
told not to. As soon as the clerico's back was turned he sent one boat
off one way and the other another; and sorry enough he must have been
for it before long, for trouble came almost at once.

The pearl fishers of Cubagua had not ceased to molest the Indians, and
it was hardly two weeks after Las Casas had sailed before the
Franciscans detected signs of danger. The woman who had been used by
Ocampo to make peace with the natives was still there, and the fathers
asked her whether they were right in thinking that the Indians were
planning to attack them. The woman, by name Maria, said "No" with her
lips, because other Indians were near, but "Yes" with her eyes. The
monks and the clerico's servants were very much alarmed, and a ship
touching on that coast for some reason, they begged the captain to take
them on board; but he refused, and they were left to their fate.

In the settlement great anxiety and terror reigned. The white men tried
to find out what day had been set for the attack, and at last heard that
it was to take place the next day. They began to fortify the monastery
and the storehouse, and set up twelve or fourteen guns that they had;
but discovered that their powder was damp. We wonder how they could have
been so careless as to allow it to be in this state, when they had known
for some time that trouble was likely to occur. Now, however, they took
it out to dry it in the sun, as soon as it rose. They were too late,
however; for the Indians came upon them with a rush, and they fled for
the monastery building. A few of the clerico's servants were killed, but
the rest of them and the fathers reached the shelter of the monastery.
The Indians, however, set it on fire.

There was a door into the garden, at the rear, and a tall fence of cane
hid it from the view of the Indians. The refugees ran out of this door
into the garden and through another door out to the creek that ran
nearby, where the monks had a boat of their own, which would hold fifty
persons. All got in except one lay brother, who at the first alarm had
fled and was hidden in a thicket of cane. He now appeared, high up on
the bank, and the boatmen tried hard to reach him; but the current was
too strong; all their exertions failed to bring the boat near enough to
him. Seeing that all would be lost if they did not cease their attempt
to save him, the brother signed to them not to make further effort; and
they were obliged to leave him to his fate. Poor fellow! He was killed
almost at once.

The Indians were not long in seeing that their victims were escaping,
and hurried after them in a much lighter boat, so that they gained on
the fugitives with every stroke. The Spaniards were obliged to drive
their boat to land and hide in a thicket of cactus. Only those in fear
of death could have forced their way into such a thicket. The Indians,
with their naked bodies, could not push through the thorns, and the
fleeing men therefore escaped and made their way to their countrymen's
ships, thus getting in safety to San Domingo. De Soto, however, died
before their arrival. He had been shot with a poisoned arrow while
running to the monastery for shelter.

All this happened within two months after Las Casas' departure. He,
meanwhile, through the ignorance of the sailors, had been carried a long
way past San Domingo, and for all this time had been beating about with
contrary winds, finally landing on another part of the island, whence he
was obliged to proceed on foot.

He was traveling with a party of persons also bound for San Domingo, and
one day at noon, as they drew near the city, while they were all resting
in the shade of the trees, some people came up with them and told them
that the news had reached the city that the Indians of the Pearl Coast
had killed the clerico, Bartholomé Las Casas, and all his household.
Those who were traveling with Las Casas denied this, saying that he was
with them; and while they were disputing he awoke and heard what they

Although he thought it might not be as bad as it was represented, he
knew that something terrible must have happened to his little colony,
and went on at once in great anxiety to find how much of the news was
true. A short distance out some of his friends met him. Having heard
that he was on the road, they had come to try and comfort him and to
offer him money to start another colony. But at last the brave spirit
gave way. He could not rally at once from such a grief, and he went,
broken-hearted, to his friends the Dominicans, to hide his sorrows
within the walls of their monastery.



Day after day Bartholomé Las Casas sat in the garden of the Dominican
monastery at San Domingo, sad and dejected. As he thought of his years
of struggle and realized with bitter grief that he had nothing to show
for it all, doubts assailed him, and he accused himself of having rashly
undertaken work to which he had not been called. He might, indeed, have
gone to Spain again and received help to carry out his plans; but he had
not the courage. His heart was like water within him.

Nor was he encouraged to go on by his friends the monks. They greatly
desired to have him among their number, and urged him strongly to give
up the fight and enter the brotherhood,--which at last he did. The
Dominicans rejoiced greatly as did his enemies in the colonies, for they
thought they were surely now rid of the man who had caused them so much
trouble. And so they were,--for a time.

Seven or eight years went by, and Bartholomé Las Casas was seldom heard
of outside the convent walls. He was not even allowed to preach for five
years, but during this time of seclusion he was recovering his strength
of body and soul for the work of the future; and though he was silent,
he did not forget, for a part of the time he was at work on his "History
of the Indies," in which he related the cruelties that had been
inflicted upon the natives.

At length an event occurred that brought the Protector of the Indians
again before the public. The Franciscan monks had educated in their
convent a young Indian chief, Enrique by name. This young man had
married a beautiful Indian girl and he and the Indians under him had
been assigned to a certain Spaniard, as was the custom. This Spanish
master took from Enrique first a fine horse and then his young wife.
When the Indian complained of this ill-usage he was severely whipped. He
then appealed to the authorities, only to receive threats of worse
treatment. Seeing that no help was to be got from any one, he gathered
his Indians together in the mountains, and managed to collect a quantity
of lances and swords and to drill his people in the use of them, so that
they held their ground against the troops sent to subdue them.

One of his old teachers from the Franciscan convent went to him to try
and persuade him to lay down his arms; but without success. At length a
new bishop of San Domingo was sent out, who was also president of the
_Audiencia_, the governing body of the Indies. He had received
instructions to subdue this rebellious chief, and after trying in vain
to accomplish it, bethought himself of Las Casas, for whom he sent.

Las Casas at once agreed to go and see what he could do, and set off
alone into the mountains. When he had been gone several months, the
president and council began to feel alarm for his safety; but one day
who should appear in the streets of San Domingo but Las Casas himself,
leading the rebellious chief by the hand. Great was the wonder and
delight of all. He had promised Enrique that if he would submit to
Spanish rule and pay tribute, as did all Spanish subjects, neither he
nor his Indians should be punished, nor should they ever again be made
slaves. This promise was faithfully kept, and Enrique was ever after a
loyal subject.

During the eight years that Las Casas had spent in the convent, many
important events had taken place in the New World. Cortez had conquered
Mexico, Alvarado had conquered Guatemala, Pedrarias had overrun and laid
waste Nicaragua, and Pizarro had commenced his conquest of Peru.

About 1528 Las Casas went once more to Spain, to obtain a decree from
the King which should prevent the Indians of Peru from being enslaved.
While there he preached several times at court, with the old fiery zeal
and eloquence. He obtained the royal order and returned with it to
Hispaniola. A new prior was about to be sent to the monastery of San
Domingo, in Mexico, and with him went Las Casas, intending to go on to
Peru, with some brothers of the order, not only to make known the royal
commands with regard to the Indians but to found convents in that
country. However, this turned out to be impracticable, and after a short
stay the party returned to Nicaragua.

King Charles had desired the Bishop of Nicaragua to establish
monasteries in his diocese. The arrival of Las Casas and his two
companions presenting the opportunity of carrying out the King's wish,
the bishop begged them to stay with him, and they consented, and began
at once to learn the language of the country.

But Las Casas got into difficulties with the governor by stirring up a
formidable opposition to him and preventing him from undertaking an
expedition into the interior, which he desired to make. The clerico had
good reason for this course, for the most outrageous cruelties had been
practiced against the Indians in that province, and he tells us that it
had been known to happen that when a body of four thousand Indians had
gone with such an expedition to carry burdens, but six returned alive,
and that often when an Indian was sick or overcome with weariness and
want of food, and could not go on, in order to get the chain free (for
they went chained together), his head was cut off and his body thrown
aside, without the necessity of stopping the train.

About this time the Bishop of Nicaragua died, and the Bishop of
Guatemala urged Las Casas to come into his diocese, as he had only one
priest to help him. The feud with the governor having become more
violent than ever, it seemed wise to accept this invitation. Therefore,
abandoning the convent he had established, Las Casas with all his
brethren went into Guatemala, making their home for a time at Santiago,
in a convent that had stood vacant for six years.



The first thing these four missionaries,--Las Casas, Luis Cancer, Pedro
de Angula, and Rodrigo de Larada,--had to do was to learn the language
of the country, which was called the Quichi. It was no easy task, for
none of them were young,--Las Casas, their prior, being now sixty-one
years of age. The Bishop of Guatemala, a great scholar, was their
teacher, and day after day this little company of monks might have been
seen, sitting with the Bishop, like boys at school, learning
conjugations and declensions.

Las Casas was also busy writing a book,--which, however, was never
published,--in which he tried to show that the only way to convert men
was to convince the mind by reasoning and win the heart by gentleness.
The authorities of the province laughed at him and challenged him to try
it, by declaring that if he succeeded in subduing any tribe by these
methods, they would at once set free their slaves. Las Casas boldly took
up the challenge and selected for the trial a part of the country
called "The Land of War."[1]

Alvarado had carried on a terrible war in Guatemala. Thousands of
Indians had been killed, tortured, and made slaves. The people of the
district where Las Casas intended to try his experiment were a hardy,
warlike race, and their country was a land of steep mountains, deep
ravines, and many furious mountain torrents. They had fought desperately
for their liberty. Three times the Spaniards had attempted to conquer
them, and each time had been driven back. They were a terror to the
white men, and not a Spaniard dared to go near them. It was rightly
named The Land of War. Yet it was these turbulent, unconquerable people
whom Las Casas now declared he would Christianize and make subject to
Spanish rule. He would take no soldiers with him and would accept no aid
of any kind. All that he asked was that when his work should be
accomplished, they might be left free, only paying tribute, as all
subjects did, to the crown. To this the governor of Guatemala agreed.

By this time the fathers could both write and speak the Quichi language
well, and they went to work to compose in verse an account of the
creation, the fall of man, the birth, life, and miracles of our Lord,
and His death upon the cross. These verses they set to music, for the
Indians were fond of songs.

There were certain Christian Indians that traded with the people in the
Land of War, going to them at regular intervals. The fathers chose some
of these traders and taught them the songs. They learned very quickly,
and also played an accompaniment on their musical instruments. When they
were ready they started, with an assortment of all kinds of articles
such as the Indians particularly liked,--knives, scissors, little
looking-glasses, and so on.

As they had been instructed, the four peddlers went first to a great
native prince. His people all came flocking to buy, and when the
business of the day was over, they took pains to win his favor by making
him a present.

After supper they took out their musical instruments and began to play
and chant the verses they had learned. Hundreds of dusky warriors,
attracted by the sweet strains, sat about in the moonlight and listened.

Next night many more natives came, and when the song was ended, the
chief asked to have it explained. This was just the opportunity the
traders had been waiting for. They told the chief that they sang only
what they had heard, and that only the _padres_ could explain the

"Who are the _padres_?" asked the chief. In answer to this question,
they told him they were men who dressed always in white and black, wore
their hair like a garland about the head, did not eat meat, never
married, did not seek for gold, and sang the praises of God day and

The chief was much struck by this description, especially by the fact
that the _padres_ did not seek gold, his experience with Spaniards being
that they loved gold above everything else in the world, and that all
the miseries the Indians had suffered at their hands had been caused by
their insane desire to possess it.

At last, though it was a difficult matter to persuade these Indians to
allow any Spaniard to enter their country, they decided to send the
young brother of the chief out with the traders, and if he should find
these _padres_ all that had been represented, he was to invite them to
come and tell them of their religion.

Great was the joy in the little convent when they saw the prince coming
with the Indian traders. They did their best to make him welcome, and
after a few days, when he was ready to return, Father Luis Cancer was
sent with him.

What was the good father's astonishment to find crowds of people coming
to meet him, arches erected for him to pass under, and the roads swept
before his feet!

The Indians built a church for him at once,--made of the trunks of
trees, roofed with palmetto leaves,--and all came, wondering and
admiring, to see what he would do.

Faithfully he taught them, until the chief accepted Christianity, with
his own hands overthrew their idols, and was baptized and given the name
of Don Juan. His people soon followed his example.

Father Luis also visited other parts of the country, and when he
returned, after several months, to his companions there was great
rejoicing over the results of his labors.

Las Casas himself now went into The Land of War, taking with him Father
Pedro de Angula. Just as they reached Don Juan's town the young prince,
his brother, came home from the neighboring district of Coban, bringing
with him his bride, a princess of that tribe. With him were a number of
the Coban princes. There were great festivities for many days, but in
the midst of the rejoicing the Coban princes, angry that the
bridegroom's family and tribe had become Christians, secretly stirred up
some of the people to burn the church, managing carefully to conceal
their own share in the matter. Don Juan at once rebuilt the edifice,
however, and no other unpleasant incident occurred during the whole stay
of the Spaniards in the country.

While in The Land of War Las Casas went further north, and whenever he
returned was always welcomed. As the people became Christian, he
realized that in order to teach them, it would be necessary to get them
together in towns, where many could be reached by one man. After much
difficulty, this was accomplished and several such towns were built, Don
Juan's town being called Rabinal.

After a time Las Casas sent for Luis Cancer, who when he came brought
with him a contract, signed by the governor, securing the practical
independence of the Indians of The Land of War.

Word now reached Las Casas that both the Bishop of Guatemala and
Alvarado had come to Santiago, and he resolved to go down and meet them.
He wished Don Juan to accompany him, and this the chief was quite
willing to do, but wanted to take something like an army with him, and
was with difficulty persuaded to have only such a retinue as would serve
to show his rank and importance.

Father Ladrada, the only monk left at the convent, on being notified
that all these visitors were coming, built more huts, put up tents, and
laid in a store of provisions for their entertainment. Immediately upon
their arrival, the Bishop came to the monastery and had a long
conversation with the prince. So much struck was he with the Indian's
knowledge of the Christian faith, and with his dignity and intelligence,
that he asked Alvarado to come and see him also. Although this great
captain held the life of an Indian of no more worth than that of a dog,
yet he was so pleased with the prince, that wanting to make him a
present, but having nothing with him for that purpose, he took off his
own red velvet cap and placed it upon Don Juan's head.

They took their distinguished visitor about the town, having first asked
the merchants to make their shops as attractive as possible and, if the
prince expressed a fancy for any article, to let him have it and send
the bill to the Bishop. Don Juan, however, preserved his Indian
stolidity, viewing the displays with perfect gravity, and neither
showing surprise nor expressing admiration. Only once did he remark upon
anything that he saw. He asked about a picture of the Virgin Mary, which
was displayed in one of the shops, and when it was offered to him
accepted it, afterwards placing it in his chapel at Rabinal.

Las Casas and Father Ladrada went back with Don Juan, intending to go
further north into the district of Coban for the purpose of establishing
there a permanent mission among the natives.

In 1538 the Bishop of Guatemala sent for all the Dominicans, to consult
with him about securing more workers. At this council it was decided to
send Las Casas to Spain to plead for more Dominicans and Franciscans to
come out. He took with him Father Ladrada and Father Luis Cancer, whose
Indian converts were greatly grieved to part with them; but the clerico
comforted them with the promise of a speedy return.


[1] "Tierra de Guerra," The Land of War, was located in the present state
of Vera Paz, in northern Guatemala.



Charles V was in Germany when the little company arrived in Madrid, but
Las Casas found many old friends, and at once set about his business
with his usual zeal and energy. When he was not preaching, interviewing
officials, traveling, or busy in some way about matters concerning his
beloved Indians, he was writing a book, "The Destruction of the Indies,"
which, however, was not published until twelve years afterward.

The clerico's old opponent, Bishop Fonseca, was dead, and there was now
a much better spirit in the council, so that it proved easier than ever
before for him to secure the legislation he desired. The Pope had also
recently issued a Bull forbidding all good Catholic subjects to make
slaves of the Indians, and this was a great help to Las Casas. Some new
laws were passed for their benefit, among them one that forbade any lay
Spaniards to enter The Land of War for five years. This royal order was
solemnly proclaimed, at Las Casas' request, from the steps of the
cathedral of Seville.

And now, his business being finished and the Franciscan and Dominican
monks he had procured for Guatemala being ready to sail, Las Casas
prepared to start back to the New World; but at the last moment he was
detained by the president of the Council of the Indies, who needed the
clerico's advice. The Dominicans were kept back with him, as he was
their vicar-general, but the Franciscans went, and with them Father Luis
Cancer, taking with him a copy of the new laws. These laws were a great
triumph for Las Casas, and their acceptance was due to his wonderful
personal influence.

The clerico was now seventy years old. He had crossed the ocean twelve
times. Four times he had gone to Germany to see the Emperor, and we must
remember that traveling then was a much more difficult and unpleasant
experience than anything we can conceive of now. In his case poverty
made it still more of a hardship. But none of these things mattered to
this earnest "apostle" if only he could lighten the hard lot of those
for whom he labored and suffered.

One Sunday evening, while he was in Barcelona, the Emperor's secretary
called on him to tell him that it was the royal wish to make him Bishop
of Cuzco, the largest and richest of all the dioceses in the New World.
But Las Casas would accept no reward for his work, and for fear he
should be urged, he left Barcelona. Not long after, however, the
diocese of Chiapa[2] was established, and the bishop appointed to it
having died on his way out, this bishopric was offered to Las Casas. In
contrast with the bishopric of Cuzco, it was the _poorest_ in the New
World,--so poor indeed that the Emperor had to help out the salary of
the bishop with a royal grant. Such a field, however, appealed far more
to the Protector of the Indians than the former one, and he accepted the
offer and was consecrated in Seville on the 8th of March, 1544, and at
once prepared to leave, taking with him forty-four Dominicans. The
voyage proved to be a very trying and dangerous one, but at length the
holy men arrived at San Domingo. The Dominicans came to meet the Bishop
and his companions and escorted them to the monastery, and the _Te Deum_
was sung in the church, in thanksgiving for their escape from so many

Hardly any in San Domingo, except the Dominicans, were glad to see the
protector of the Indians. The new laws were regarded as the ruin of the
colonies. Indignation meetings were held, and it was determined to
boycott the monks. This was a very serious calamity to the Dominicans,
for as they, like the Franciscans, belonged to what were known as the
mendicant orders, and depended for their daily bread upon what they
could beg, they were reduced to extremity.

Prayer was offered in the church night and day, and very soon the
Franciscans began secretly to send the Dominicans food from what they
themselves received, and an old negro woman offered to make a round
every day of the houses where there were people that did not share the
evil spirit of the rest of the town, and so their necessity was

In spite of this condition of things, Las Casas went before the
_Audiencia_, and in the name of the King, summoned them to set free the
Indians. But Spanish subjects had a right to protest against any new
laws if they so desired, and when this was done, the laws were not
enforced until the protest had been either accepted or rejected.

Meanwhile, Las Casas himself wrote to the Emperor, and both he and
others of the Dominicans preached constantly against slavery and the
wrongs done the Indians. Naturally, these sermons increased the hatred
against them. In the midst of these troubles, however, the friars were
astonished and delighted to receive a visit one day from a rich widow,
said to be the richest person in the colony, who came to tell them that
their sermons had convinced her that it was a sin to hold the Indians in
bondage, and she had resolved to free hers (she had more than two
hundred); and because she now felt that her money had been made wrongly,
she was about to make over her plantation to the order. This caused a
great sensation in the town. Then, too, seeing the Dominicans holding to
their convictions, directly against their own interests, after a time
made many people rather ashamed of themselves, and little by little the
hostility died away, so that when the time came for Las Casas and his
monks to leave, some of the Spaniards even expressed regret.

They sailed early in December, and this voyage also proved a trying one.
It was very stormy, and their pilot turned out to be so ignorant that
the Bishop himself had to take the wheel; for this truly wonderful man
could sail a ship, work a plantation, write books, plead a case in
court, perform the duties of a bishop, and at the same time fight
unceasingly for the oppressed.

The returning Dominicans had a terrible trip, and it was January before
they landed at the port of Lazaro, in his own diocese. The Spaniards and
the Christian Indians came out at once to the ship to greet the Bishop.
It must have been a queer crowd: Proud, stately Spaniards, in velvets
and laces; blanketed Indians, silent and stolid; naked heathens, eager
to see the man whom they knew as their protector! But Las Casas was glad
to see them all, and leaving the ship, they all went up together to the
church, where after the service the Spaniards came to kiss the episcopal
ring, and after them the Indians.

At first the Bishop was received with politeness and apparent kindness,
but in spite of this all the Spaniards were resolved to resist the new
laws and not to acknowledge Las Casas as their Bishop nor pay him their
tithes. This was very awkward, for Las Casas found himself thus unable
to pay the captain of the ship in which he and the monks had come, but
the friars sold a part of the goods they had brought with them, the
parish priest loaned the Bishop some money, and he gave his note for the
rest. So that difficulty was settled.

Their troubles had only begun, however. It was not a great distance to
Ciudad Real, where they wished to go, but it was impossible to carry
their provisions and the equipment for the church by land, so they
loaded their baggage on an old, flat-bottomed boat, to go by sea; and
twelve of the fathers, with a number of others, went in it. Two days
later the Bishop and the rest were ready to sail on a faster boat; but
just as they were about to embark, word came that the other boat had
been wrecked and nine of the fathers and twenty-seven laymen drowned.
Those who had been saved were staying in an Indian village near the
shore, and everything they possessed had been lost.

The remaining monks were so alarmed that at first they refused to go by
sea, but Las Casas finally persuaded them that, as the skies were clear
and their boat a strong, new one, they were in no danger, and the party
set out. It was a very sad and downcast little body of men, however. All
one night and day they sat, without eating or speaking. When they
reached the place where the other boat had been wrecked, the captain
pointed out the spot, and the Bishop recited the prayers for the dead.
Then he ordered food to be prepared, called them all to come to the
table, and set the example by himself eating and talking cheerfully all
the time, until his companions' courage was restored.

A gale coming up, the party took refuge behind an island, where they lay
for a long time before they could go on; and then, because some of them
were still afraid, they divided into two bodies,--the Bishop, his
faithful friend and constant companion, Father Ladrada, and two other
monks, remaining on the boat, and the rest proceeding by land.

The town of Chiapa was the Indian town of the diocese; Ciudad Real, the
Spanish town. It was to the latter that the Bishop went first. The
people received him cordially and showed him every outward form of
respect. He found but few priests in the whole diocese, four of them in
and about Ciudad Real. Of these, one was quite young and had no
particular charge, one traveled about from one town to another,
baptizing the Indians for the money it brought him; one was a partner in
a sugar plantation and spent more time attending to this business than
to his clerical duties, and another collected from the owners of
plantations and slaves taxes and tribute paid to the crown. The Bishop
took all these into his house, to keep them in order, paying them a
small salary and giving them their meals at his own table.

Las Casas' manner of living as a bishop was no different from that which
he had practiced as a simple monk. His habit was rusty and patched and
he ate no meat, though it was provided for his guests: his forks and
spoons were of wood, and the dishes of plain earthenware. This simple
mode of life did not suit the priests, and two of them left his diocese.

All day Las Casas attended to the work of the diocese, and late into the
night he studied and wrote. At all times the Indians had free access to
him, coming to him with all their sorrows. Every day they would crowd
about him, their faces swollen with weeping and, kissing the hem of his
robe, would pour out to him the story of the cruelties from which they
suffered. The good Bishop suffered with them and often would be heard in
the night, sighing and groaning in his room.

Las Casas preached constantly against the enslaving of the Indians, and
rebuked the holders of slaves for their disregard of the new laws. He
ordered his clergy to refuse absolution and the sacraments to those who
would not obey, which order aroused the anger of the whole community
against him. His Dean disobeyed him and sided with the colonists. He was
petitioned, threatened, and abused. The children were taught couplets
against him, which they sang after him in the street. Some one even
discharged a gun into the window of his room one night, to frighten him.
All support was withdrawn from the Dominicans, and the Bishop's salary
was not paid.

Finally the Bishop arrested the Dean. In those days, when the Roman
Church was so powerful, bishops had a kind of episcopal marshal, and
usually there was also an episcopal jail, where ecclesiastical offenders
were confined. This arrest of the Dean stirred up a great commotion. A
crowd of people gathered around him, and he made a frantic effort to
escape, crying out:

"Help me! Gentlemen, help me!"

And he voiced all sorts of promises, if they would assist him. The
citizens being armed, in a few minutes the Dean was free; whereupon
sentinels were set at all the doors of the monastery, to prevent the
monks from going to the assistance of their Bishop, and a shouting mob
forced its way into his house.

One of the Dominicans and a knight of Salamanca, who chanced to be
there, met the riotous crowd and managed to quiet the tumult a little;
but the leaders burst into the Bishop's room, shouting at him, insulting
him, and even threatening to kill him.

Las Casas spoke not a word, but stood calmly looking at them until the
storm had spent itself, when quietly, with words of pity and
forgiveness, he dismissed them.

He now excommunicated the Dean. The monks were greatly alarmed for the
Bishop's life and begged him to leave and go to some place of safety,
but he said to them:

"Fathers, where would you have me go! Where shall I be safe as long as I
act in behalf of these poor creatures? Were the cause mine, I would drop
it with pleasure, but it is that of my flock, of these miserable
Indians, oppressed by unjust slavery."

While they were talking, four other Dominicans rushed in to tell the
Bishop that the man who had threatened to kill him,--the one that had
fired the shot to frighten him,--had been stabbed. At once Las Casas
rose, and sending for a surgeon and taking some of the brothers with
him, went to minister to the injured man. For hours they worked over
him, the Bishop ministering to him as to a brother; and so touched was
the man that he begged Las Casas' forgiveness with all his heart, and
was from that day one of the clerico's warmest friends.

The Bishop's salary was now refused him, all alms withdrawn from the
Dominicans, and when Indians were sent out into the province to beg for
them, the Spaniards seized whatever was brought in, and gave the bearers
a sound beating into the bargain, so that it was impossible to obtain
food in this way.

It now became absolutely impossible for the monks to live any longer in
Ciudad Real, and it was decided to go to the Indian town of Chiapa and
build a convent there; but before leaving the Bishop preached a sermon
in which the people were told plainly that it was because of the
hardness of their hearts and their sin in persisting to keep the Indians
as slaves, after the Dominicans had shown them the evil of it, that the
friars were going away.


[2] Chiapa, the diocese of Las Casas, is now the Mexican State of
Chiapas, the southernmost State of Mexico, bordering on the present
Republic of Guatemala.



The Bishop and the monks now departed from the Spanish town and took up
their residence in Chiapa. Some distance outside the town they found a
number of Indians waiting for them, gayly dressed, decorated with golden
chains and bracelets, and carrying crosses made of feathers and flowers.
As soon as Las Casas was conducted to the house made ready for him, the
Indians began to come in from all the country round, begging to be
taught the Christian religion. Joy filled the heart of the good Bishop.
Such a scene made up for all the torments and insults he had suffered at
the hands of his own countrymen.

Happy as he was, however, at this readiness on the natives' part to
accept the gospel message, the tales of suffering they poured into his
ears wrung his heart. All over the province women were stolen, property
taken away, and the helpless Indians bought and sold like
cattle,--overworked, beaten and starved, until they died and so, at
last, found peace.

The Bishop could not get the new laws enforced. No attention was paid
either to his entreaties or his threats, so at length,--in June,
1545,--he determined to go to Gracias á Dios, and present the matter to
the council governing the country, demanding that they compel obedience
to the royal mandate.

He took the road through Guatemala, in order to visit again "The Land of
War," now a land of peace. It was a wonderful encouragement to him to
find the Indians living peaceful, orderly, Christian lives, unmolested
and happy. Great numbers of them came to greet him with tears of joy,
and if he had needed any proof of the wisdom of his method of
Christianizing the Indians, he found it in the transformation that had
taken place all through the district.

To all who came, Las Casas spoke in their own language, giving to them
the royal command, signed by the Emperor, that they should never be
anything but a free people.

The Bishop of Guatemala went with Las Casas to visit The Land of War,
and had intended to go with him to Gracias á Dios, where they were both
to assist in the consecration of a new bishop of Nicaragua. Learning,
however, that the Protector of the Indians was going principally to
insist upon the enforcement of the new laws, and that a letter had been
written to Prince Philip, heir to the throne, informing him that he, the
Bishop of Guatemala, had many slaves and did not uphold these laws
either in practice or in teaching, he turned back and returned to his
own diocese, and from a warm friend he became one of the Bishop's

The journey to Gracias á Dios was a difficult and dangerous one at that
season of the year. All such journeys were of course made on foot, and
the streams that had to be crossed were swollen and turbulent from the
violent rains, which had also in some cases destroyed the roads; but we
never hear that Las Casas in all his life ever once gave up or delayed a
trip either because of ill health or dangers in the way. Now, at
seventy-one, he had all the endurance and energy of youth.

Immediately upon his arrival he went before the council, but met with
nothing but insults. One day as he came in, an officer cried out:

"Put out that fool!"

On another occasion, having been commanded to withdraw, Las Casas
refused to do so, and the president ordered him to be removed by force.
The Bishop solemnly summoned the judges, in the name of God, to relieve
the Indians from oppression and remove the stumbling blocks their
tyranny was putting in the way of Christianizing them. At this the chief
justice lost his temper and shouted:

"You are a bad man, a cheat, a bad bishop, a shameful fellow, and
deserve to be punished!"

Such language used by a Spanish official toward a bishop in those days,
when the Roman Catholic Church had so great an influence upon the
nation, startled even those most hostile to Las Casas. The chief justice
found himself regarded by the whole community as practically
excommunicated because of this rash speech, and was obliged to make a
sort of half-hearted apology for having so spoken.

Las Casas was not only a Bishop but, by training and experience at the
court of Spain, one of the foremost lawyers of his time; and now, seeing
that he could obtain nothing from the judges by peaceful means, he
instituted legal proceedings against them. This accomplished some good,
for an auditor was sent by them to Ciudad Real, to see to the
enforcement of the new laws, and the inhabitants of that place were
notified of his coming by letter.

When the notice was received, at once the tocsin was rung, and when all
the citizens were gathered together, a protest was read, stating that
the Bishop had taken possession of his see without showing the papal
bulls or the royal decree authorizing him to do so, and declaring that
he must cease his innovations and do as other bishops did, if he wanted
them to pay their tithes and receive him as their bishop.

The inhabitants stationed a body of Indians on the road by which he was
to come, to give notice of the approach of Las Casas, and determined to
prevent his entrance into the city by force.

The Bishop had sent on his baggage by Indian couriers, but, receiving
word of the hostile attitude of the citizens, he recalled them, and
stopped at the Dominican monastery in the town of Copanabasta, to
consult with the brethren there.

Meanwhile, a lay brother and a gentleman of the town, who was friendly
to the Bishop, had gone to his house and removed his books and household
goods to a place of safety. The people hearing of this, a mob attacked
them at midnight; but they took refuge in the sacristy of the church,
where they could not be reached, and at daybreak escaped and got out of
the town.

News of all this was brought to the Bishop, and the Dominicans advised
him not to go on, but he said:

"If I do not go to Ciudad Real, I banish myself from my own church, and
it will be said of me with reason, 'The wicked flee when no man

He added:

"The minds of men change from hour to hour. Is it possible that the
mercy of God will permit them to commit so horrible a crime as to murder
me? If I do not endeavor to enter my church, how can I complain to the
Emperor or the Pope that I have been thrust out of it?"

And he finished by saying:

"My good fathers, trusting in the mercy of God and your fervent prayers,
I am resolved to proceed on my journey, as no other alternative is left,
without my neglecting my duty."

Then, gathering up the folds of his habit, he set out, calm in the midst
of the tears and prayers of those about him.

It was sunset when Las Casas started and late at night when he came upon
the Indian sentinels. The report had gone out that the Bishop had given
up the attempt to enter the town, and the Indians were therefore off
their guard and had fallen asleep. Wakened suddenly by the approach of
the Bishop, they fell at his feet when he said gently to them:

"Are you ready to destroy your father?"

Distressed at their position, and overjoyed to see him again, the poor
creatures knelt before him, begging his forgiveness and pouring out with
tears their love for him.

Las Casas was afraid that the Indians would be punished for failing to
give notice of his arrival, so, with his own hands he, assisted by one
of the fathers, bound them, that it might appear that he had surprised
and captured them.

That night there was an earthquake at Ciudad Real, and the citizens said
it was because of the Bishop, and that it was only the beginning of the
destruction he would bring upon the town.

Entering Ciudad Real about daybreak, Las Casas went immediately to the
church and summoned the council to meet him there. They came, followed
by all the rest of the citizens, and seated themselves. When the Bishop
came in to speak to them, no one rose or showed him any of the usual
marks of respect. The notary at once stood up and read the paper the
citizens had prepared at the town meeting. The Bishop answered this
quietly and courteously, saying that he had no intention of interfering
with their property except to prevent sin against God and their
neighbor. His gentleness was beginning to make some impression, when one
of the council, neither rising nor removing his cap, commenced a violent
speech, declaring that the Bishop was but a private individual, and if
he wished to speak to them, should have gone to them and not have
presumed to summon them to come to him.

Las Casas replied with great dignity:

"Look you, sir; when I wish to ask anything from your estates, I will go
to your house and speak to you, but when I have to speak to you
concerning God's service and the good of your souls, it is for me to
send and call you to come wherever I may be, and if you are Christians
you have to come trooping in haste, lest evil fall upon you."

Nobody dared answer this, and the Bishop, rising, immediately withdrew
into the sacristy.

There the notary of the council came to him and respectfully presented a
petition from the townspeople, asking that they have confessors
appointed. The Bishop assented and named two; but these not being
acceptable, he chose two others, whose views were not very well known to
the people, but whom he knew to be in sympathy with himself. The brother
who was with him, not understanding the character of the men he had last
appointed and thinking he was yielding to pressure, took hold of his
vestments and cried:

"Let your lordship rather die than do this!"

At that a tumult broke out in the church, and the people would have
assaulted the speaker, if at that moment two monks of the Order of Mercy
had not entered the building and succeeded in getting the Bishop and the
offending father out in safety,--taking them to their convent.

Las Casas had walked all night, and the fatigue of the journey and the
excitement of this meeting had left him much exhausted, but he was not
yet to have rest.

He was seated in his cell, and the monks were giving him some
refreshment, when a fearful uproar was heard outside, and the convent
was found to be surrounded by armed men. Some of them forced their way
into the Bishop's presence. At first there was such a noise that it was
impossible to hear what it was all about, but at last it appeared that
it was because the Indian sentinels had been bound and treated as

Las Casas at once said that he alone was to blame for this, and
explained that it was done for fear they should be suspected of favoring

Then a storm of abuse broke out against the Bishop, no feeling of
respect for his office nor of consideration for his age restraining

Meanwhile, while this was going on within, a scene of violence was
taking place in the courtyard. The mob attacked the negro who attended
the Bishop in all his travels. This negro was of great stature and the
Bishop in jest called him Juanillo (Little John). He had traveled three
times across the continent with the Bishop, and always carried him in
his arms when fording the swollen streams. Juanillo was wounded with a
pike thrust and stretched on the ground. The monks rushed out to help
him and two of them,--very strong young men,--succeeded in clearing the

All this took place before nine o'clock in the morning. By noon there
was a revulsion of feeling,--the minds of the citizens had entirely
changed. The members of the council came humbly to the convent, asked
the Bishop's pardon on their knees, and kissed his hands. They then
carried him in festive procession to the house of one of the principal
citizens, and sent him costly presents. Finally, they arranged a grand
tournament in his honor.

It is doubtful if this sudden change in their treatment of him was
especially gratifying to the Bishop, as it indicated fickleness and lack
of depth in the people he had come to rule. Indeed neither he nor the
monks had been in any way misled by this demonstration as to what was
likely to happen in the future. While the peace lasted his adherents
made haste to send plenty of provisions to the Bishop's house, lest he
be starved out when it was over.

Las Casas was now about to go to Mexico, to attend a meeting of all the
bishops in the New World, who were to confer concerning all questions
concerning the Indians. While he was making his preparations, Juan
Rogel,--the auditor appointed by the council at Gracias á Dios to see to
the enforcement of the new laws,--arrived. He listened respectfully to
all the Bishop had to say, and then advised him to hasten his departure.

"For," said he, "one of the reasons that has made these laws hateful in
the Indies, is the fact that you have had a hand in them."

And Rogel went on to explain that he would be able to act with much more
freedom in his absence.

Las Casas recognized the truth of this, and made all haste to get away.
He left his diocese just a year after he had entered it.

Although the news had not yet reached him, the Emperor had been obliged
practically to revoke the new laws, because of the tumults and
rebellions they had caused in his American possessions. We can imagine
the Bishop's grief and dismay when he heard of this.

On arriving at the city of Mexico, where the episcopal council was to be
held, there was such a tumult that one would have thought a hostile army
was about to take possession of the place instead of one poor missionary
bishop and four humble monks approaching the walls on foot. The
authorities were obliged to write and ask Las Casas to delay his
entrance a little, until they could quiet popular excitement.

The Bishop at length came into the city about ten o'clock one morning,
and went at once to the Dominican monastery.

The synod or council that Las Casas had come to attend was composed of
five or six bishops and the chief theologians and learned men of the
colony. Las Casas soon became its leading spirit. Some very bold
declarations were made in favor of the Indians, but the question of
slavery was very unwillingly touched upon. However, the Viceroy, who was
president of the meeting, finally appointed a special council to meet
and discuss this matter. The result of the deliberations of both bodies
on the subject was that all Indian slaves, except a few renegade
rebels, had been enslaved unjustly, and that all personal service
imposed upon those that were not slaves was unlawful.

Of course these conclusions could not be forced upon the country; but
copies of them were distributed all over the province, in the hope that
they might have an effect upon the minds of men.

Las Casas had now fully decided that he could do more for the Indians in
Spain than in his diocese, especially as he could be kept constantly
informed by the Dominicans as to what was going on. He therefore
appointed a Vicar-General to take his place, and sailed from Vera Cruz
in 1547, leaving the shores of America for the last time.



Father Luis Cancer and Father Ladrada were both with Las Casas in Spain.
One of the first things Las Casas did, with the approval of the Prince,
was to organize a missionary expedition to Florida, with Father Luis
Cancer at the head of it. There this faithful friend and devoted
missionary soon after met his death at the hands of the Indians.

While in Chiapa the Bishop had written a little book of instructions to
his clergy. Formal objection to its teachings was laid before the
Council of the Indies, and its author was summoned to come before that
body and explain himself. This he did to their entire satisfaction,
though not to that of his enemies, who engaged the most famous
theologian and lawyer in Spain, Juan Ginés Sepulveda, to dispute the
position of Las Casas and answer his arguments. Sepulveda had written a
treatise upholding the conquest of the New World by war. The Council of
the Indies would not allow this book to be published, but Las Casas had
asked them to allow it to be submitted to the universities of Salamanca
and Alcalá for their opinion. This opinion proved to be against it.

Las Casas now undertook to answer Sepulveda's arguments and defend the
freedom of his Indians. The war of words waxed fast and furious, and the
controversy attracted so much attention that the Emperor ordered the
India Council to assemble at Valladolid, to decide whether a war of
conquest might justly be carried on against the Indians. The Emperor
himself presided, and Las Casas and Sepulveda argued the question before
them all. It appears to have been a drawn battle; but at length the
Council decided in favor of Sepulveda. The Emperor and the officials of
the government, however, must have been of another opinion, for
Sepulveda's book was suppressed. At the time of this controversy Las
Casas was seventy-six years old.

Soon after this Las Casas resigned his bishopric and the Emperor granted
him a pension. He made his home in the Dominican college of St. Gregory,
at Valladolid, where his old friend Father Ladrada was with him.

And now, after having labored for the Indians for so many years,
crossing and recrossing the ocean, traveling over hundreds of miles of
wild country on foot, like St. Paul, "in perils of waters, in perils of
robbers, in perils by his own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in
perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea,"
he might be seen, day after day and night after night, sitting at his
desk, writing letters, memorials, and pamphlets in defense of his
beloved Indians. He kept up a constant correspondence with all parts of
the New World, and when he heard of any new outrage on the part of the
Spaniards against the natives, he at once brought it to the attention of
Prince Philip, now regent of the kingdom.

At the end of the year 1551 a number of Dominicans and Franciscans
having been induced through his appeals to go out to the Indies, Las
Casas went to Seville to see them off. For some reason they were delayed
there for ten months, and during that time he was kept busy editing a
number of his works, keeping two printing-presses going all the time.

Las Casas must have had a wonderful constitution. His hard life in a
tropical country had neither weakened his body nor impaired his mind.
All his time from the day of his return to Spain to the time of his
death was spent in defense of the Indians; and through his untiring
efforts their condition was much improved in Mexico and elsewhere.

Laws had already been passed which allowed the _encomiendas_, as the
grants of land and Indians in Spanish America were called, to be held in
a family only during two lifetimes. They then reverted to the crown.
Thus the Indians were being gradually emancipated. There were also
officers appointed to protect the interests of the crown in the
reversion, so that it was no longer possible to repeat the horrors of

When Las Casas heard that the proposal had been made to allow the
holders of _encomiendas_ to get possession of them in perpetuity, he
went at once to the King and succeeded in preventing it. As Fiske says:

     "It is worth remembering that pretty much the only praiseworthy
     thing Philip ever did was done under Las Casas' influence."

The activity of Las Casas was marvelous. His longest work was his
"History of the Indies." At the age of ninety he wrote a "Memorial on
Peru," said to be one of his best, and two years later, in 1566, he went
to Madrid to speak in person for the Indians of Guatemala. He had heard
through the Dominicans that that province had been deprived of its
governing body, so that the Indians had no chance of justice, having to
go to Mexico if they wished to make any appeal. He was successful in
this mission, and the _Audiencia_ was restored to Guatemala.

This was the last work of Las Casas. In July of that year, while still
in Madrid, he was taken ill and died after a short illness, at the age
of ninety-two.

As he lay dying, his brethren, the Dominicans, kneeling about the bed
and reciting the prayers for the dying, he begged them to persevere in
their defense of the Indians, and asked them to join him in prayer that
he might be forgiven any remissness on his part in the fulfillment of
his mission. He was beginning to tell them how he came to enter upon
this work when his spirit departed.

Thousands of people attended the funeral of Las Casas. He was buried in
Madrid, in the convent chapel of "Our Lady of Atocha."

In early American history there is no one who stands on a level with
this remarkable man. Many bitter enemies he had, it is true; such a
man,--fearless, outspoken, able, never to be silenced when he was
convinced of the righteousness of his cause,--was bound to have. Never
during the many years of his long life, did the Indians lack a friend to
plead in their behalf. Amid the cupidity, cruelty, and injustice of the
Spaniards in the New World his character shines like a star in the
darkness of night. We can't do better in closing than to quote the words
in which Fiske speaks of him:

     "In contemplating such a life as that of Las Casas, all words of
     eulogy seem weak and frivolous. The historian can only bow in
     reverent awe before a figure which is, in some respects, the most
     beautiful and sublime in the annals of Christianity since the
     Apostolic age. When now and then in the course of the centuries
     God's providence brings such a life into the world, the memory of
     it must be cherished by mankind as one of its most precious and
     sacred possessions. For the thoughts, the words, the deeds, of such
     a man there is no death. The sphere of their influence goes on
     widening forever. They bud, they blossom, they bear fruit, from age
     to age."

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