Little Bits of History

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Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 25, 2011

Vasco Nuñez de Balboa

September 25, 1513: Vasco Nuñez de Balboa reaches the Pacific Ocean. Balboa was a Spanish explorer, governor, and conquistador. After learning about Columbus’s adventures in the New World, Balboa became interested in joining the expeditions going west. He and Juan de Los Angeles Cosa joined up with Rodrigo de Bastidas’s expedition. Bastidas had been given a license allowing him to keep 4/5 of the treasure found in the New World if he gave the other 1/5 to the royals back home, something called the Quito Real. So the adventurers set off in 1501.

With the proceeds from this first expedition, Balboa settled in Hispaniola in 1505. There he became a landed gentleman farmer growing crops and raising pigs. He was not successful in this enterprise and soon found himself in debt. In 1508, the Spanish king launched a couple more expeditions into Central America mostly in the region of what is today Panama. In order to escape his debtors, Balboa stowed away on one of the ships sailing west. Balboa and his dog hid away in a barrel and managed to make it to landfall. Although he was discovered aboard ship and threatened with abandonment, his superiors thought it might prove beneficial to have someone with his experience to help with the settlement and he was kept aboard ship.

Balboa did suggest that the first settlement be moved to where he knew the land was more fertile and the natives were less warlike. They met 500 battle ready warriors when they arrived but managed to best them in a fierce battle. Balboa was made mayor of the new town and later became governor of the region. There were rumors of a new sea off to the west supposedly rich in gold. Balboa recruited men to set out on an expedition to find this land.

Conquistadors returning to Balboa’s home base also spoke of the riches to be found by the South Sea. On September 1, Balboa and 190 Spaniards set out to find this sea. They sailed south and made landfall on September 6 near Careta’s territory. They reinforced their numbers with 1,000 of Careta’s men. They met other people along the way and had to fight their way southwest. Finally the men entered a mountain range near the Chucunaque River. A native had told them the South Sea was on the other side. As they topped the range and looked out, there on the far horizon was the fabled South Sea, or what we call the Pacific Ocean.

“One thing I supplicate your majesty: that you will give orders, under a great penalty, that no bachelors of law should be allowed to come here [the New World]; for not only are they bad themselves, but they also make and contrive a thousand inequities.” – Vasco Nuñez de Balboa

“I am actually not at all a man of science† I am by temperament nothing but a conquistador, an adventurer.” – Sigmund Freud

“Another of the great civilizations, the Aztecs, raised a breed of hairless chihuahuas especially for eating. When the Conquistadors arrived and found dog on the menu, they were of the same opinion as Mademoiselle, that this was evidence of the worst form of barbarism. They, the Spaniards, used dogs as befits civilized and Christian men – to hunt down fugitive Indians and tear them to pieces.” – Medlar Lucan

“When has it ever happened, either in ancient or modern times, that such amazing exploits have been achieved? Over so many climes, across so many seas, over such distances by land, to subdue the unseen and unknown? Whose deeds can be compared with those of Spain? Not even the ancient Greeks and Romans.” – Francisco Xeres

Also on this day:
The Supremes – In 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to sit on the US Supreme Court.
Fasssssst – In 1997, a new land speed record was set.