REWARDS FIXED FOR SERVICES AND FOR INJURIES.
All being in readiness, the expedition, comprising over 1200 picked men, set forward up the Chagres river in canoes, eager for the conquest of the richest city in America. The undertaking was no child's play. Although in a direct line Panama was not seventy-five miles away, three times this distance must be traversed by the Buccaneer army, for during most of the way the line of march must follow the Chagres, a river which, in the tortuousness of its course, forms a parallel in the New World to the Meander of the Old. No stream has so many unaccountable bends. At many points so considerable are the windings that, although a stone may be cast across the peninsula which separates one bank from the other, a whole day's rowing is barely sufficient to bring the traveller to a point where he may camp a hundred yards from his resting place on the preceding night. During the dry season, the course of the stream is interrupted by sandbars, over and around which progress is tedious in the extreme; when the tropical rains descend, with a fury unknown in other parts of the world, the river becomes a flood, carrying on its bosom masses of drift which threaten the destruction of the stoutest vessel. Infested throughout its length by caymans (alligators), the upsetting of a canoe is al most equivalent to the death warrant of all that are thrown out, since so active are these ferocious creatures and so eager in the pursuit of prey, that the quickest swimmer may resign hope when plunged into a stream in which they abound. In the ferns and mosses which cover the banks down to the water's edge poisonous insects lurk, while from the branches which overhang, the water venomous serpents lift their heads, and, on a nearer approach of the exploring canoe, drop silently into the water. The river passed, a range of mountains presented difficulties almost as formidable, for the Indians of the isthmus had never been conquered, and from their fastnesses defied hostile invasion. More than one band of prying whites had perished in an effort to explore the isthmus, and after many vain attempts the Spaniards contented themselves with holding the seacoast and protecting, with strong escorts of cavalry and fusiliers, the mule trains which, by a more direct route, traversed the isthmus far to the south of Morgan's line of march.
A JOURNEY OF EXTRAORDINARY HARDSHIPS.
The artillery pieces of the Buccaneers were loaded into six large canoes; thirty-eight more were barely sufficient to contain the men. They had cannon, ammunition, arms of every kind in abundance, but little food, for as the canoes were already loaded to the water's edge, Morgan deemed it unwise to freight them still more heavily with provisions, since he calculated on obtaining abundant daily supplies along the line of march. In this he was disappointed. The Indians had not then learned, as later they did, the distinction between Spaniards and the mortal foes of their old enemies, and conceiving that all white men must speak the language of the Iberian Peninsula, fled before the freebooters, taking with them all that could be carried away and destroying all supplies which from any cause could not be removed.
At the end of the first days' journey, therefore, and less than eighteen miles from the fleet, the Buccaneers found themselves without supplies and suffering the pangs of hunger. In despair at the obstacles of the river route, Morgan deserted it, leaving his canoes, and attempted to proceed by land, only to find that difficult as the river might be, progress on its waters was a holiday voyage compared to the land journey, for after half a day's arduous labor the expedition was less than a mile from the point where the canoes had been abandoned. At this rate they would all perish of starvation before seeing the mountains which divided them from the Pacific slope, so back to the canoes they went and resumed their tedious journey up the river.
Rowing for a time, then disembarking and dragging their boats over long stretches of sand, where the cannons mired and were with difficulty extracted; without food, the adventurers cursed the day on which they started into so ill-starred a country. For three days they were entirely without rations of any kind; they prowled along the banks searching for roots, they ate the grasses which grew beneath the trees, the ferns on the slopes, the mosses in the water. Time after time they came to plantations on the river, but the banana trees had been cut down and the fruit destroyed; time after time, rising smoke in the distance inspired hopes of the proximity of human habitations, but the smoke arose from deserted villages, set on fire by their inhabitants who had fled to the pathless jungle, leaving only ashes and desolation behind.
On the morning of the fourth day there was a sudden alarm. Shots were heard from the advance guard and word was passed down the long straggling line that the Spaniards were in the front. The famished men rushed to the attack, thinking only of capturing the Spanish camp and obtaining supplies. In the former object they were successful, in the latter they were disappointed, for although they came to the spot where the Spanish party of observation had camped, nothing was left but some smouldering timbers and the hides of a few bullocks that had been killed for food.
The famished bandits quickly drove away the vultures that, having devoured the offal, were inclined to dispute the skins with the new arrivals, seized the hides as a precious treasure, scraped off the hair, pounded them with stones until somewhat softened, then greedily chewed the tough skin, and fortunate was he of their number who got as much as he wanted even of this repulsive food, for half a dozen hides were no great store of provision for twelve hundred men who had fasted for four days.
On the sixth and seventh days the famine became still more serious; so, great was their necessity that many men ate the bark of trees, some filled their stomachs with the clay of the river bank, while others became too weak to walk and were placed in the canoes which were still wearily dragged on by the stronger; not a few were delirious, and scores fell fatally ill from improper nutriment and the poisonous plants which in their famishment they had devoured. The future of the expedition was intensely gloomy; from one end of the line to the other were no other words than curses, complaints and threats against the leader who had brought them to die in such a country.
A BURNING CORN-CRIB.
Late in the afternoon of the seventh day a burning village was reached, and while the Buccaneers, with famine-sharpened eyes, were prowling among the houses, they made the welcome discovery that one of the burning structures was a storehouse filled with Indian corn. A roar of delight went up at the announcement. With one accord a rush was made on the flaming building; men seized the blazing walls and roof in their bare hands and tore them away to save the corn. The fire was quickly extinguished, and no Spanish galleon laden with gold and jewels was more precious in the eyes of the starved bandits than that storehouse of half charred corn. They seized it by handfuls and crammed it, almost blazing, down their throats; they fought with each other for a portion; they stole from each other to provide a store against a recurrence of the famine.
They loaded their backs with corn only to throw it away the next day on a renewed alarm that the Spaniards were in front. Where there were Spaniards there must be something to eat better than corn, so away went the corn into the river only to be regretted when a reconnoissance disclosed the fact that their opponents were not Spaniards but Indians. Four Buccaneers were killed by the sudden attack of a hidden foe, and twenty more fell before the defile which the savages defended was taken. Capture of the Indian village disclosed nothing to eat or drink but a few jars of wine, which was all swallowed before the Buccaneers discovered it had been poisoned. A terrible fright ensued, amounting to a panic, but the quantity of the wine was so small while the drinkers were so numerous that its only effect was to make them all deathly sick. But nobody died from the poison and the next morning, hungry as ever and cursing their stupidity for throwing away so much good corn, they continued their way, only to be confronted with a new and unexpected danger.
A TERRIBLE STORM.
The storms of the tropics are sudden and severe to a degree known in no other part of the world. The dweller in Central America may look from his window on an earth bathed in warm sunshine from a cloudless sky, and, ten minutes later a cloud so dark as to seem the precursor of nightfall may come down from the mountains and rain fall as though the windows of heaven had been opened to permit the water of an ocean to pour forth. Such a storm fell on the bandit army as the famine-stricken men were making their way up the passes of the mountains. The emergency was serious, for their powder was in danger of being rendered useless by the down-pouring torrents. Fortunately for them, a few vacant huts were discovered, into which all the ammunition was hurried and the wretched men sat down in the darkness, without lights or fire, to await the coming day. All night the rain continued but the morning brought sunshine, and though wet, hungry and dejected the Buccaneers resumed their march.
IN SIGHT OF PANAMA.
But their toilsome journey was almost ended. At noon of that day a sudden shout, a blast from the trumpets and the rolling of drums from the front alarmed the whole column. Hastily looking to their weapons, the main body and rearguard hurried up, prepared to resist an attack by the enemy, when, on gaining the summit of the pass, a wonderful prospect was presented to their view, and the nine days of famine, hardship and labor were forgotten as they gazed. From their feet the same forest and jungle with which they were already so familiar stretched away for four or five miles; in the horizon was the blue sea studded with islands like emeralds, and between the two and in the midst of this charming picture rose the gray walls, the white palaces and the glittering domes and steeples of the great city of Panama.
The battle-stained veterans of Xenophon never shouted more exultingly at sight of the sea than did the Buccaneer army when they beheld that picture from the mountain pass. Men fell on each other's necks and embraced like long-separated brothers, the trumpets sounded, the flags were displayed, the drums rolled as though Panama were already in their hands.
But the sharp eyes of some of the band soon detected a sight which for the moment was even more inspiring: a large pasture a mile away in which grazed a herd of cattle. There was a foot-race for the field, the cattle were instantly shot down, fires were built, and the beeves were hardly dead ere enormous pieces of their flesh were broiling in the flames. Then followed scenes which reminded the older pirates of/the early days of buccaneering. The starving men snatching roasting flesh from the embers devoured it half raw, stalking about with blood-covered clothing and beards dripping with gore. Starved no longer they camped in an auspicious spot, and having placed their pickets lay down to sleep with the steeples of Panama in sight and Spanish scouts watching them through the bushes.
THE BATTLE FOR PANAMA.
Early in the morning they were aroused by the heavy booming of cannon and the falling of round shot in their midst, for the Spaniards had moved forward a battery during the night and soon succeeded in getting the distance and compelling a speedy evacuation of the ground. The Buccaneers advanced to meet them, but perceiving that the Spanish commander had concentrated his force and artillery on each side of the highway, they abandoned the road for a difficult detour around the hills to flank the Spanish position.
Understanding the purpose of their enemies the Spaniards hurriedly changed their base, drew up their force in the open plain within a mile of the city, and when the bandits came to the edge of the forest and peered out they were dismayed by the wondrous sight which they beheld.
Drawn up in a position of great natural strength, flanked on one side by a stream and morass, on the other by an almost precipitous hill, was a uniformed and disciplined force of nearly four thousand footmen, while about five hundred well appointed cavalry were placed on the wings of this imposing array, and in front a host of Indians held in leash hundreds of savage bulls, with which the Spaniards hoped to break the ranks of the bandits. To oppose this overwhelming force, Morgan had scarcely a thousand able-bodied men, for the famine and hardships of the nine days' march across the isthmus had rendered many of his best soldiers incapable of service.
A DESPERATE SITUATION.
Morgan was stupefied. He had expected to find Panama unaware of his coming and almost undefended; but Panama had evidently heard the news and soldiers had been hurried to the capital from all the neighboring towns. They were veterans, too; the robber chief knew it by their uniforms, by their discipline and their marching. The situation was desperate; to retreat over the route by which he had come was certain death by starvation; to advance in the presence of this host of enemies seemed no less certain destruction.
In this terrible strait he appealed to his followers in an impassioned Speech, saying: "There is the road to Panama, will you take it?" "We will," was the answering shout. Morgan divided his available force into three battalions, and deployed four companies, about two hundred men, to act as skirmishers to bring on the battle.
The conflict was opened by releasing the bulls, the Spanish cavalry, with their lances, goading them across the plain in the direction of the Buccaneers. But the sharp-shooters quickly laid most of these animals low by well directed shots, and the remainder, maddened by wounds and fright, charged back towards the Spanish army stampeding the horses and throwing the infantry into confusion by breaking their ranks in every direction.
CAPTURE OF PANAMA.
Morgan did not attempt an immediate pursuit. His force was not strong enough to take the fortifications by storm and a hand-to-hand fight in the streets, so he camped on the field, while his followers busied themselves in murdering the wounded and stripping the slain. Over six hundred Spaniards fell in the battle, while the bandits lost less than a hundred in both killed and wounded.
From the moment of the victory the city was practically in the power of the Buccaneers, for although the sea fortifications of Panama were extensive, no attack had been anticipated from the land side, which, save a few redoubts hastily thrown up on the rumors of Morgan's approach, was almost undefended. The next day, therefore, the leading earthwork which defended the high road was flanked and taken and the Alcalde surrendered the city into the hands of a set of the most arrant rogues that ever escaped the gallows.
A RIOT OF MURDER AND RAPINE.
Before marching into the place Morgan strictly commanded his men to drink no wine, declaring that it all had been poisoned, a statement which, remembering their recent experience, the bandits could readily credit. But vice is ingenious in its methods. The soldiers, finding wine in abundance, gave it in large quantities to the prisoners, and after waiting a suitable time and seeing no evil result other than intoxication, began to drink deeply and before morning Panama was held by an army of men infuriated with drink. Then ensued scenes of lust and blood such as are witnessed only when unlimited license is backed by absolute power. Women were dishonored then brutally murdered; men were coolly hacked to pieces in sport, children were carried about the streets on the points of pikes and lances and other equally revolting atrocities characterized the Buccaneers' mad revel.
The universal drunkenness of the Buccaneers lost them much booty, for when the condition of the city was seen to be hopeless, many persons embarked with all their portable property in vessels which had not left the bay when Morgan marched through the gates. By prompt action many of these might have been taken, but the leader could not at first find sober men enough to man a boat and many of the fugitives thus fortunately escaped. The most valuable prize which thus slipped from the greedy clutches of the freebooters was a great galleon loaded with the plate and wealth of the cathedral, and having as passengers the bishop, the leading priests and a large number of nuns, and women of the best families, for whose ransom an immense sum would have been demanded and paid. This vessel leaving the harbor on the day of the capture arrived in Spain six months later, but the Buccaneers, learning of her escape, made amends for their remissness by arming vessels and scouring the bay in every direction and few of the fugitives who concealed themselves in the island remained undetected.
INHUMAN CRUELTIES TO PRISONERS.
Every day the scouting parties thus sent out brought in hapless prisoners; and boatloads of fugitives were landed at the quay from the neighboring islands and the tortures of Maracaibo and Gibraltar were repeated on a far larger scale at Panama. An immense plunder was secured. Although for weeks before the arrival of the bandits, notice of their coming had preceded them and timid persons had begun to remove their valuables, and notwithstanding in the two days that elapsed between the appearance of the Buccaneers and the surrender of the city a hundred ships had left the harbor, loaded with valuables, the gold, silver and gems taken were valued at $8,000,000, while costly goods, fine stuffs and valuable merchandise of every description were estimated at as much more.
In a week the busy plunderers exhausted the city and surrounding country and clamored to start on their return, fearing that the government of Panama might collect an overwhelming force and fall upon them, but with one excuse and then another Morgan delayed. For some days the men did not know what it meant but a roar of laughter went through the ranks when-the truth at last came out, the Buccaneer leader was in love.
No coat of mail is impervious to Cupid's arrows and the little archer had, during the sacking of the city, launched a shaft which penetrated to the very centre of the Buccaneer's heart. Among the captives there was a beautiful Spanish lady who had been captured by the falling of her horse during the hasty retreat of the Spaniards from the city. Her husband was a merchant of Taboga, but at the time of the city's capitulation to the brigands was absent on business in Peru.
MORGAN'S INFATUATION FOR A SPANISH LADY.
That strange infatuation which is sometimes observed seized Morgan at first sight of the lady, but there was something about her that compelled the respect even of a pirate leader; he could not talk to her so freely as to other women; in her presence the lewd word and profane jest were hushed and the leader in vice stood abashed before the commanding figure of a virtuous lady. To the proposals of Morgan the beautiful Spaniard returned answer in terms so mild, so full of the spirit of genuine piety, that the arch-pirate was for a while in doubt how to urge his suit. Not satisfied, however, to relinquish his designs, but reluctant to use force, he
The rough men were touched with the pitiable plight of the unhappy woman and allusions to the incident, in no way complimentary to the bandit chief, were made even in his hearing. After two weeks of this discipline, the men meantime becoming daily more clamorous to march, Morgan determined to leave Panama and take the lady along. An unexpected discovery hastened the departure: One of the firmest friends of the chief brought him the intelligence that a party of mutinous Buccaneers had formed a design to seize a large vessel then in the harbor and sail away on an expedition of their own. Fearing lest some scheme of this kind might succeed and leave him with a force too small to withstand the Spaniards, who were collecting troops at no great distance from the city, he ordered all the ships in the harbor to be sunk and then gave directions for the retreat.
THE BURNING OF PANAMA.
Mules and pack animals, to the number of over 700, were laden with plunder, and with a train of 600 prisoners the Buccaneer band moved out of the city, in mere wantonness setting it on fire as they went. In a few hours the beautiful "Queen of the South Seas" was in ashes, the fire consuming the cathedral, four or five other churches, eight monasteries and convents, a great number of warehouses and stores, and more than 6000 private residences.
Even the hard hearted historian of the Buccaneers, himself one of their number, says, "it was pitiful to hear the lamentations of those whose houses we burned and to listen to the screams of the women we were carrying away, so that for a time I did wish myself away with the advance-guard."
The prisoners were such persons as had not been ransomed, their friends and relatives having been killed by the bandits, or those whose ransom had not arrived, but in either case they regarded themselves as going into hopeless captivity and viewed with horror their approaching fate. Some of the women threw themselves on the ground and refused to walk. Of these a few were killed as an example, but this violent measure proving ineffectual the remainder were forcibly placed on the backs of mules and tied there, thus being carried forward in spite of tears and remonstrance. The Taboga lady was set upon a horse and guarded on each side by two bandits, but just at the time the march began a messenger arrived from her husband, asking what ransom was demanded for her. Carelessly saying he did not care to part with her, Morgan evaded the question, but on being pressed for a reply, named $30,000, as the lowest sum he would consent to receive. The messenger replied that it should be paid and Morgan directed it to be sent to the river Chagres, where he intended to halt on his return.
THE SPANISH LADY RANSOMED.
When the river was reached a stop of several days was made for the purpose of waiting for the promised ransoms. Some came, others did not, and when the day arrived for the advance, among the unransomed was the lady of Taboga. In despair at the prospect of being carried into a hopeless captivity, she revealed to Morgan what, till then, she had kept concealed, that her ransom had been brought into camp the day before by a priest who had used it to release some of his clerical brethren.
Furious at the deception, Morgan sent a strong party post-haste after the priests, who left the camp some hours before. The brigands overtook them a few miles away and compelled them, much against their will, to return. On their arrival, the chief cross-examined them with great severity, and finding that the-lady had told the truth, commanded the whole party to be shot, then performed one of the few creditable acts of his life, by ordering the lady to be at once released without further ransom, and thus ended the first and last love- scrape of the great Buccaneer.
On the arrival of the force in Chagres a few days later, Morgan excited a storm of excitement among the men by commanding every one in the expedition to be searched, beginning with himself, in order that no one might conceal any part of the plunder. Such a thing had never been done before among the Buccaneer bands, and there was at first a loudly expressed determination to resist by force;
TREACHERY OF THE COMMANDER.
Fierce were the threats and denunciations that were bandied about at this meagre result of so much hardship and fighting. "Was it for $200 each they had famished on the Chagres?" "Was it for this, they had defeated a Spanish army six times their own strength?" "There was treachery in the camp and Morgan and the hundred men who were always at his heels and who seemed devoted to his interests, were at the bottom of it." "But they should not escape." The outraged Buccaneers would see to that, and preparations were instantly made among the angry and defrauded pirates to assert their claim by force of arms. But Morgan and his confederates, having been sharp enough to defraud the Buccaneer army of its plunder, were also sharp enough to keep their stealings, for on the next morning, when the malcontents/roused themselves and went to headquarters to demand satisfaction or to shed blood, Morgan was no where to be found, and when search was made three of the best ships were gone too, and the remainder were in a sinking condition. The leader had departed and with him went not only the hundred men who were his confederates in the robbery, but even a large share of the plunder that by his own admission was to be divided among the men, so that those of their number who had failed at once to draw the $300 which fell to their share found themselves with nothing.
The swindled pirates could not follow; they had no ships, for Morgan had taken pains to ruin all he did not carry off. Left penniless, almost without provisions, on a hostile shore, they realized to the full the truth expressed in a proverb quoted to them by one of their number, "Old Nick pays poor wages on a small contract." A few at a time, as they were taken off by passing vessels or in the crazy hulks left by their leader, they made their way back to Jamaica and Tortuga as poor as when they left, only to find that Morgan had tricked his confederates and after managing to get all the plunder into one vessel under pretense that the others were unseaworthy, had sailed off to England carrying with him over $8,000,000 in money and goods, and leaving the hundred who had helped him to defraud the army no richer than those they had abandoned on the Darien coast.