In 1502, Bartoloméde Las Casas, then 18 years old, arrived in the "New World".
He wrote about what he witnessed in his book A Short Account Of The Destruction Of the Indies:
They forced their way into native settlements, slaughtering everyone they found there, including small children, old men, pregnant women, and even women who had just given birth. They hacked them to pieces, slicing open their bellies with their swords as though they were so many sheep herded into a pen. They even laid wagers on whether they could manage to slice a man in two at a stroke, or cut an individual's head from his body, or disembowel him with a single blow of their axes. They grabbed suckling infants by the feet and, ripping them from their mothers' breasts, dashed them headlong against the rocks. Others, laughing and joking all the while, threw them over their shoulders into a river, shouting: 'Wriggle, you little perisher.' They spared no one, erecting especially wide gibbets on which they could string their victims up with their feet just off the ground and then burn them alive thirteen at a time, in honor of our Savior and the twelve Apostles, or tie dry straw to their bodies and set fire to it. Some they chose to keep alive and simply cut their wrists, leaving their hands dangling, saying to them: 'Take this letter' -- meaning that their sorry condition would serve as a warning to those hiding in the hills. The way they normally dealt with the native leaders and nobles was to tie them to a kind of griddle consisting of sticks resting on pitchforks driven into the ground and then grill them over a slow fire, with the result that they howled in agony and despair as they died a lingering death.
It once happened that I myself witnessed their grilling of four or five local leaders in this fashion (and I believe they had set up two or three other pairs of grills alongside so that they might process other victims at the same time) when the poor creatures 'howls came between the Spanish commander and his sleep. He gave orders that the prisoners were to be throttled, but the man in charge of execution detail, who was more bloodthirsty than the average common hangman (I know his identity and even met some relatives of his in Seville), was loath to cut short his private entertainment by throttling them and so he personally went round ramming wooden buns into their mouths to stop them making such a racket and deliberately stoked the fire that they would take just as long to die as he himself chose. I saw these things for myself and many others besides.
...these mortal enemies of humankind trained hunting dogs to track them down -- wild dogs who would savage a native to death as soon as look at him, tearing him into shreds and devouring his flesh as though he were a pig.
And when, as happened on the odd occasion, the locals did kill a European, as, given the enormity of the crimes committed against them, they were in all justice fully entitled to, the Spanish came to an unofficial agreement among themselves that for every European killed one hundred natives would be executed.
Eventually, life for the Taino became so unbearable that, as Pedro de Cordoba
wrote to King Ferdinand in 1517:
"As a result of the sufferings and hard labor they endured, the Indians choose
and have chosen suicide. Occasionally a hundred have committed mass suicide. The
women, exhausted by labor, have shunned conception and childbirth. Many, when
pregnant, have taken something to abort and have aborted. Others after delivery
have killed their children with their own hands, so as not to leave them in such
By 1542 there was a total Taino population of 200... and shortly after that there were none.
After enslaving and virtually depopulating the islands, attention was turned towards
the mainland: Mexico and Central America.
Columbus had first seen what we today call Nicaragua in 1502.
By 1542 half a million people from that area had been exported as slaves.
Slaves were branded in the face with the initials of their "owners".
With frequent trading, many slaves had more than one set of initials burned into
Meanwhile, Cortez was busily destroying the culture and people of the magnificent
Aztec empire. In 1519 He told their leader, Montezuma, that he came as an
"ambassador of peace", and he was welcomed in friendship.
During a public festival, while music was playing and dances were being performed --
which Cortes and his men were allowed to watch -- Cortes gave the order for the
slaughter to begin.
The first Spaniards to start fighting suddenly attacked those who were playing
the music for the singers and dancers. They chopped off their hands and their
heads so that they fell down dead. Then all the other Spaniards began to cut off
heads, arms, legs, and to disembowel the Indians.
Bernardino de Sahagun, Conquest of New Spain (1595 Edition)
At one point in his rampage, Cortes wrote:
I resolved to enter the next morning shortly before dawn and do all the harm we
could... and we fell upon a huge number of people. As these were some of the
most wretched people and had come in search of food, they were nearly all
unarmed, and women and children in the main. We did them so much harm though
all the streets in the city that we could reach, that the dead and the prisoners
numbered more than eight hundred.
Cortes, Letters From Mexico, p. 252-253
A lovely park in San Diego, California is named after Balboa: Vasco Nunez de Balboa.
He is best remembered for his favorite dog Leoncico ("little lion") whom
Balboa had trained to disembowel the indigenous people. In one incident, the dog
reputedly tore a man's head off, while:
The Spanish cut off the arm of one, the leg or hip of another; and from some their
heads at one stroke, like butchers cutting up beef and mutton for market. Six
hundred... were thus slain like brute beasts. Vasco ordered forty of them to be
torn to pieces by dogs.
Conquest of America, p. 141
By other massacres and murders besides the above, they have destroyed and
devastated a kingdom... [and] have killed more than four or five million people
in fifteen or sixteen years; from the year 1525 until 1540, and they continue to
kill and destroy those who are still left, and so they will kill the remainder.
Pedro de Alvarado, An Account of the Conquest of Guatemala in 1524
Is it any wonder that the Mayans described these "white lords" as:
Marauders by day, offenders by night, murderers of the world.
In 1539, Pascual de Andagoya wrote:
The Indians are being totally destroyed and lost... They beg with a cross to
be given food for the love of God... The soldiers are killing all the llamas
they want for no other need than to make tallow candles... the Indians cannot
fail to die of hunger.
Hemming, Conquest of the Incas, p. 351
Cieza de Leon, himself a conquistador, summed it up best when he wrote:
If one were ordered to enumerate the great evils, injuries, robberies, oppression,
and ill treatment inflicted on the natives during these operations... there
would be no end of it... for they thought no more of killing Indians than if they
were useless beasts.
Pedro de Cieza de Leon, The Incas, p. lviii-lix