Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen, 1995, Excerpts
When Columbus and his men returned to Haiti in 1493, they demanded food, gold, spun cotton – whatever the Indians had that they wanted, including sex with their women. To ensure cooperation, Columbus used punishment by example. When an Indian committed even a minor offense, the Spanish cut off his ears or nose. Disfigured, the person was sent back to his village as living evidence or the brutality the Spaniards were capable of. After a while, the Indians had had enough. At first their resistance was mostly passive. They refused to plant food for the Spanish to take. They abandoned towns near Spanish settlements. Finally, the Arawaks fought back.
The attempts at resistance gave Columbus an excuse to make war. On March 24, 1495, he set out to conquer the Arawaks. Bartolome de Las Casas described the force Columbus assembled to put down the rebellion. “Since the Admiral perceived that the people of the land were taking up arms, ridiculous weapons in reality, he hastened to proceed to the country and disperse and subdue, by force of arms, the people of the entire island. For this he chose 200 foot soldiers and 20 cavalry, with many crossbows and small cannon, lances, and swords, and a still more terrible weapon against the Indians: this was 20 hunting dogs, who were turned loose and immediately tore the Indians apart.” Naturally, the Spanish won. “The soldiers mowed down dozens with point-blank volleys, loosed the dogs to rip open limbs and bellies, chased fleeing Indians into the bush to skewer them on sword and pike, and with God’s aid soon gained a complete victory, killing many Indians and capturing others who were also killed.”
In the words of Hans Koning, “There now began a reign of terror in Hispaniola.” Spaniards hunted Indians for sport and murdered them for dog food. Columbus, upset because he could not locate the gold he was certain was on the island, set up a tribune system. Ferdinand Columbus described how it worked: “the Indians all promised to pay tribute to the Catholic Sovereigns every three months, as follows: In the Cibao, where the gold mines were, every person of 14 years of age or upward was to pay a large hawk’s bell of gold dust; all others were each to pay 25 pounds of cotton. Whenever an Indian delivered his tribute, he was to receive a brass or copper token which he must wear bout his neck as proof that he had made his payment. Any Indian found without such a token was to be punished.” With a fresh token, an Indian was safe for three months, much of which time would be devoted to collecting more gold. Columbus’s son neglected to mention how the Spanish punished those whose tokens had expired: they cut off their hands.