Chronicles of America 

Trial and Execution of Balboa

Balboa, after the interview of Arbolancha with Ferdinand, received a letter from the King, written in August, 1514, informing him that Pedrarias had been instructed to "treat him well." With this assurance Balboa had therefore resolved to make his adelantadoship a reality by exploring the coasts of the South Sea regardless of the Governor.

By secretly obtaining supplies from Cuba, Balboa nearly brought about his own downfall, but the situation was retrieved by Bishop Quevedo, who persuaded Pedrarias (very possibly Dona Isabel was here a factor) to become reconciled and give to the courtly Balboa his eldest daughter, Dona Maria, in betrothal. The arrangement, whatever may have been the motive of Pedrarias in countenancing it, in nowise changed his feeling toward Balboa — an instinctive jealousy and suspicion. To Balboa, on the contrary, the arrangement was not unpleasing. He still loved Careta's daughter; Dona Maria was at school in Spain; his marriage with her could be deferred. Pedrarias meanwhile could not well oppose the passage of the Adelantado, his prospective son-in-law, to the latter's province on the Pacific.

What Balboa needed was ships. These, to the number of four brigantines, he built from the forest on the northern side of the sierra below Adá; and thousands of impressed Indians carried them in sections over the ridge to the waters of the river Balsas (Sabana?), which flowed into the Gulf of San Miguel. But the timbers proved rotten, and the work of shipbuilding had to be done all over again. Done, however, it finally was; and Balboa stood exultant on the beach of Isla Rica gazing seaward. The nights at this season were clear, we are told, and a certain great star rode in the heavens above. Now it seems that just after Balboa's discovery of the Pacific, a Venetian traveling astrologer who was in Santa Maria had pointed out to him the star, telling him that when it attained in the heavens a definite point he was to beware, as mortal peril faced him. The crisis safely passed, he would be Fortune's child — "the greatest lord and captain in all the Indies, and withal the richest." Turning to friends who were with him, Balboa on one occasion spoke of the star and ridiculed the astrologer. "Have I not," he said, "three hundred men and four ships and the countenance, officially, of Pedrarias!"

From time to time news had reached Darien that, as Balboa had been superseded by Pedrarias, so the latter was to be superseded by Lope de Sosa, acting Governor of the Canary Islands. Such news, now that Balboa was on working terms with Pedrarias, was not welcome to him, for a change in governors might cause him delay. So the Adelantado remarked to his notary that it would be well to send to Adá to ascertain whether Lope de Sosa were yet arrived. If he were, then Balboa could not put to sea too soon. If he were not, some much needed iron and pitch might be obtained, and the preparations could be continued. Four men composed the party to go to Adá: Andrés Garabito, Luis Botello, Fernando Múñoz, and Andres de Valderrábano. They were to make their visit by night and to gather information from the servant who would be found in Balboa's house.

But the crisis foretold by the astrologer and registered by the star had come. Garabito under a dissembling exterior hated Balboa for having admonished him against attempted familiarities with Careta's daughter. He had even written to Pedrarias that Balboa cared naught for Doña Maria, to whom he was betrothed, and meant at the earliest opportunity to renounce the Governor personally as well as politically. Furthermore, the remark of Balboa about a speedy putting to sea had been overheard by a sentry, who, mistaking it for treason, had so reported it to Garabito or Botello. Finally, the period within which the Adelantado was to be ready for sea, under agreement with the Governor, had been much exceeded and Pedrarias would not extend it; and when Balboa's chief financial backer, Fernando de Arguello, wrote advising a putting to sea at once, the letter was intercepted.

Garabito and Botello on their nocturnal visit to Ada were both apprehended, and what they related to Pedrarias deeply implicated Balboa in disloyalty and intrigue. How the story roused Pedrarias, primitive Spaniard that he was, to a cold fury, distinctly appears in the counter measures which he took. To Balboa he penned a beguiling letter, inviting him to come to Adá. To Francisco Pizarro — the model subordinate, the ever-dutiful one—he at the same time gave orders to gather a force, meet Balboa, and arrest him. The Adelantado came. Warnings he received, but he disregarded them. Before he had crossed the sierra he was met by Pizarro's force. The leader himself stepped forward and made the arrest. "It is not thus," said Balboa, smiling sadly, "that you were wont to come forth to receive me, Francisco Pizarro."

Balboa's trial was conducted by the alcalde mayor or chief judge, Gaspar de Espinosa, and the Adelantado's entire record, from the days of Enciso and Nicuesa, was admitted against him. Even so he would have been allowed an appeal to the Crown, had it not been for the Governor, who would not assent to it.

At Santa Maria, in the plaza, a scaffold and block were prepared, and early in the morning of a day in January, 1519, Balboa was led forth in chains. Before him walked the town crier exclaiming: "Behold the traitor and usurper!" " 'Tis false!" retorted Balboa, "never have I been disloyal!" With this, he mounted the scaffold and received the sacrament. His head was then cut off upon a hatchment cloth and stuck upon a pole. The same day, until past nightfall, were beheaded in ghastly succession Valderrábano, Botello, Múñoz, and Arguello. Pedrarias, it is said, witnessed the executions from behind the shelter of a lattice; while as for Garabito, he reaped a not uncommon reward of treachery in the salvation of his own life.

Thus the third voyage of Columbus, the voyage for pearls, brought about, as a first great result, the occupation of that part of the mainland of America now known as the Isthmus of Panama and the discovery of the Pacific Ocean. As its second great result, it brought about, though less directly, the occupation of Mexico, a tale which remains to be told.

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