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Bartholomew De Las Casas Essay

Lies my Teacher told me about Christopher Columbus

By James W Loewen

"A boat could sail from the Bahamas to Haiti without a compass or chart, guiding itself solely by the Trail of the dead Indians who had been thrown from the ships."

Pg 38 Bartolome De las Casas


In Defense of the Indians: The Defense of the Most Reverened Lord, Don Fray Bartolome De Las Casas, of the order of Preachers, Late Bishops of Chiapa, Against the persecutors and Slanderers of the Peoples of the New World Discovered Across the Seas.

By Bartolome De Las Casas
Translated and edited by Stafford Poole
Published by Northern Illinois University Press

"Pagans, therefore must be treated most gently and with all charity. Nor should any trace of Evil be visible in our actions and then you will be innocent and genuine, perfect children of God among a deceitful and understood brood. Let your moderation be known to all men and in everything you do make yourself an example to them of working for good. When you are teaching, be an example; moreover Peter, the first Pontiff says, " Always behave honorably among pagans so that they can see your good works for themselves and, when the day of reckoning comes, give thanks to God for the things which now make them denounce you as criminals."

Pg 287 Bartolome De las Casas

"He has committed us to attracting those who are outside of the church."

Pg 64 Bartolome De las Casas

"Christ did not give the church power over the pagans to annoy, persecute, afflict, and arouse them to riot and sedition, and to hatred of the Christian religion, but only the power of gentleness, service, kindness, and the words of the gospel to encourage them to put on the gentle yoke of Christ."

Pg 72 Bartolome De las Casas

A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies
By Bartolome De las Casas
Edited and Translated by Nigel Griffin
With and Introduction by Anthony Pagden
Published by Penguin Classics www.penguin.com

"The Natives are also among the poorest people on the face of the Earth, they own next to nothing and have no urge to acquire material possessions. As a result they are neither ambitious nor greedy and are totally uninterested in worldly power."

Pg 10 Bartolome De las Casas

"The Spaniards 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."

Pg 15 Bartolome De las Casas

"All those who could do so took to the hills and mountains in order to escape the clutches of these merciless and inhuman butchers, these mortal enemies of human kind trained hunting dogs to track them down. Wild dogs who would savage a Native to death as soon as look at him, tearing him to shreds and devouring his flesh as though we were a pig."

Pg 16 Bartolome De las Casas

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.
pg 16 Bartolome De las Casas

Yet another member of the governor?s party galloped about cutting the legs off all the children as they law sprawling on the ground.

Pg 22 Bartolome De las Casas

Indeed they invented so many new methods of murder that it would be quite impossible to set them all down on paper.

Pg 23 Bartolome De las Casas

" Not a single Native of the Island committed a capital offense, as defined in law, against the Spanish while all this time the Natives themselves were being savaged and murdered."

Pg 23 Bartolome De las Casas

"Both women and men were given only wild grass to eat and other unnutritions foodstuffs. The mothers of young children promptly saw their milk dry up."

Pg 24 Bartolome De las Casas

"During the three or four months I was there, more than seven thousand children died of hunger, after their parents had been shipped off to the mines."

Pg 30 Bartolome De las Casas

"A Spaniard who was out hunting deer or rabbits realized that his dogs were hungry and not finding anything they could hunt, took a little boy from his mother, cut his arms and legs into chunks with his knife and distributed them among his dogs."

Pg 74 Bartolome De las Casas

"He sent fifty men on horseback who proceeded to annihilate the entire population of an area greater than the county of Roussillon, sparing not a single man or woman, old man, or child, and this they did on the flimsiest of pretexts, accusing their victims of not coming quickly enough when they were summoned, or of not having brought enough cargas of maize or of not surrendering sufficient of their kinsmen as slaves either to the governor himself or to one or another of his henchmen. These men were driven by the Devil and not a single Native managed to escape, what with the land being as flat as it was and the Spaniards having horses."

Pg 37 Bartolome De las Casas

"They cut his head from his shoulders so they would not have to break the chains that held the line of prisoners together and his head would fall to one side of the baggage train and his trunk to the other."

Pg 38 Bartolome De las Casas

"After a day or two had gone by, several victims surfaced, soaked from head to foot in the blood of their fellows beneath whose bodies they had sheltered and, with tears in their eyes, pleaded for their lives, but the Spaniards showed them no mercy nor any compassion, and no sooner did they crawl out from under the pile of corpses than they were butchered. The Spanish commander gave orders that the leading citizens, who numbered over a hundred and were roped together, were to be tied to stakes set in the ground and burned alive. "

Pg 46 Bartolome De las Casas

"During these eleven years, more than two million souls have perished and, in an area of more than a hundred leagues by a hundred leagues, only two thousand survivors are to be seen, and even this number is shrinking day by day as the survivors succumb to the rigours of a life of slavery."
Pg 56 Bartolome De las Casas

"Once the Natives saw that their deep humility, generosity and submissiveness did nothing to soften the hearts of these ravening beasts, and that the Spaniards were prepared to hack them to pieces for absolutely no reason whatever, they decided that although they stood no chance of defeating ferocious enemies who were on horseback and were armed to the teeth, they might as well die as men in defense of their homes, avenging themselves on their wicked and hellish enemies, even though they were well aware that, weak as they were, on foot and unarmed, they were doomed to die whatever they did."

Pg 58 Bartolome De las Casas

"The Spanish captain, meanwhile requested the local dignitaries to bring him large quantities of gold, this being the main object of the expedition."
Pg 60 Bartolome De las Casas

"One of his officers was responsible for the indiscriminate slaughter of many locals, hanging some, burning others alive, and throwing yet others to wild dogs, sometimes sawing off their hands and feet, sometimes pulling out their tongues or hacking off their heads. Even though the locals never raised a finger against the Spaniards, the distinguished commander knowingly allowed this spate of atrocities to continue unchecked, directed as it was to terrorizing the local people into doing his bidding and into brining him gifts of Gold or other precious objects."

Pg 60 Bartolome De las Casas

"A man would be invited to choose from among the fifty or a hundred young girls the one he most fancied and she would then be handed over in exchange for wine or oil or vinegar, or for a side of salt pork."

Pg 70 Bartolome De las Casas

"One woman, who was indisposed at the time and so not able to make good her escape, determined that the dogs should not tear her to pieces as they has done her neighbors and, taking a rope, and trying her one-year-old child to her leg, hanged herself from a beam. Yet she was not in time to prevent the dogs from ripping the infant to pieces."

Pg 73 Bartolome De las Casas

"I testify that I saw with my own eyes Spaniards cutting off the hands, noses, and ears of local people, both men and women, simply for the fun of it, and that this happened time and again in various places through the region. On several occasions I also saw them set dogs on the people, many being torn to pieces in this fashion, and they also burned down houses and even whole settlements, too numerous to count."

Pg 112 Bartolome De las Casas

"They tortured him with the strappado, put burning tallow on his belly, pinned both his legs to poles with iron hoops and his neck with another and then, with two men holding his hands, proceeded to burn the soles of his feet. From time to time, the commander would look in and repeat that they would torture him to death slowly unless he produced more Gold."

Pg 117 Bartolome De las Casas

" I Bartolome de las casas, or casaus, a brother in the Dominican order was by the Grace of God, persuaded by a number of people here at the Spanish court, out of their concern for the Christian faith and their compassion towards the afflictions and calamities that be fall their fellow men, to write the work you have before you in order to help ensure that the teeming millions in the New World, for those sins Christ gave his life, do not continue to die in ignorance, but rather are brought to knowledge of God and thereby saved."

Pg 127 Bartolome De las Casas


In Defense of the Indians: The Defense of the Most Reverened Lord, Don Fray Bartolome De Las Casas, of the order of Preachers, Late Bishops of Chiapa, Against the persecutors and Slanderers of the Peoples of the New World Discovered Across the Seas.
By Bartolome De Las Casas
Translated and edited by Stafford Poole
Published by Northern Illinois University Press

"Such in humanities and Barbarisms were committed in my sight as no age can parallel. My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature that I now tremble as I write."

Bartolome De Las Casas


Lies my teacher told me:
Everything your American History Text book got wrong.
By James W Loewen.

What we committed in the Indies stands out among the most unpardonable offenses ever committed against God and mankind, and this trade as one of the most unjust Evil and cruel among them.

Pg 31 Bartolome De las Casas.

Bartolomé de las Casas was a Spanish historian and a social reformer who was writing in the 16th century, during the time of the Spanish occupation of the Indies. In A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, Casas provides a scathing commentary on the cruelty exercised by the Spanish colonizers on the natives of Hispaniola—as well as explain the aims that motivated this behavior. The account acts as not only an observation on the practices of the colonizers, but is also a reflection of the imperial policies of the Spanish Empire. Through writing A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, Casas aims at bringing the Spanish Crown’s attention to the atrocities committed by the citizens of the empire on the natives. In keeping with that aim, he utilizes a rhetoric that seeks to arouse the sympathy of his readers towards the natives and a sense of horror over how they are being treated. Right from the beginning of the account, in the preface, he paints an image of the natives as being simple, and harmless. He describes them as, “the simplest people in the world…they are without malice or guilt…never quarrelsome or belligerent or boisterous, they harbour no grudges…indeed the notions of revenge, rancour and hatred are quite foreign to them”.

In contrast to that, he describes the Spaniards as “ravening wolves” who fell upon the natives like “tigers or savage lions who had not eaten meat for days .“ Casas sets up a comparison between the helplessness of the natives and the savagery of the Spaniards, and this comparison holds throughout the document. Examples of this comparison are in the frequent accounts he gives of the before and after native population levels once the Spanish occupy an area—“when the Spanish first journeyed here, the indigenous population of the island of Hispaniola stood at some three million; today only two hundred survive” or “not a living soul remains today on any of the islands of the Bahamas.” Casas uses concrete numbers in describing the decline in the population level, in the number deaths—he does this as a means of stressing the official nature of the document, to lend it a sense authority. These numbers also help in giving his readers a very clear idea of the terrifying extent of the Spanish cruelty. He enumerates the different ways through which the locals are being exterminated, which gives a fair idea of the general colonial practices in the Indies— through “forcible expatriation”, “unjust…tyrannical war,” working the natives to the point of death—Casas gives an example of a man who worked the natives under him so hard that within a month, out of three hundred, only thirty survived.

More importantly, Casas reveals the motives behind the widespread cruelty as being simple, materialistic greed. He explains that the greed for the gold that the natives have is the driving force behind the actions of the Spanish. The one instance that effectively reflects this fanatical greed is of the local lord who makes an offering of nine thousand castilians to the Spanish and is still seized and tortured for more gold—“tying him in a sitting position to a stake set in the ground, lit a fire under his outstretched feet to induce him to hand over yet more gold…when he produced no further gold, they carried on until all the marrow ran out through the soles of his feet.” What is worth noting is that Casas when first talking about this greed, refers to the Spanish as Christians—“the reason the Christians have murdered on such a vast scale and killed anyone and everyone in their way is purely and simply greed.” Casas obviously uses the term “Christian” ironically to draw attention to the un-Christian behavior that the Spanish are displaying in the colonies. Casas was the Bishop of Chiapas.

He was a clerical man, and so his primary concern was the un-Christian activities that were taking place in the colonies. He exclaims that the colonizers have “little concern over their [natives] souls as for their bodies, all the millions that have perished, having gone to their deaths with no knowledge of God.” This clearly defines exactly what A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies as a text is—it is not a text that is arguing for equal rights, it is instead a text that shows the priorities and concerns of a man living under the Spanish Empire at the time. Casas views the natives not as people equal to the Spaniards, but as potential Christians. He describes them as being, “innocent and pure in mind and have a lively intelligence, all of which makes them particularly receptive to learning and understanding the truths of our Catholic faith and to being instructed in virtue.” Casas is outraged because the Spanish policy of “conversion and saving of souls as first priority” was not being followed. Instead, it was being used as an excuse—“The gulf that yawns between theory and practice has meant that, in fact, the’ local people have been presented with an ultimatum: either they adopt the Christian religion and swear allegiance to the Crown of Castile, or they will find themselves faced with military action.”

He describes how the Spanish would unnecessarily pillage an area, but would essentially be within their legal rights as they would make sure that they presented the natives with the royal ultimatum. Casas’ account is a good reflection of the general imperial policy of expansion of the Spanish Empire. The Spanish Empire used religion as a tool to further its aims—the Spanish Inquisition, for example, was established in 1478 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella as a way of increasing their political authority via religion and to suppress any tension that may arise from social and cultural differences. While the activities of the colonizers wasn’t the same as the inquisition, as Casas points out, the Spanish in the colonies were using religion in a similar way.

Therefore, Casas’A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies gives important insight into the practices of the Spanish Empire. It also presents an interesting perspective from someone who is a part and within the empire—who is aware and recognizes the malpractices of the Crown and more importantly, is attempting to do something to put a stop to it. It’s also important that the way he goes about this, is through literature—it shows us the importance of the written word in the process of trying to affect a change. Though Casas’ sentiment in the account might not be a common one at the time, it does signal a rising awareness of the moral blindness displayed in the activities of the empires/colonies.

Works Cited

Bartolomé de las Casas, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, trans. Nigel Griffin (London: Penguin Classics, 2004), 9-37. Bartolomé de las Casas, “Bartolomé de las Casas,” in Norton Anthology of American Literature, ed. Nina Bayme and Robert S. Levine. (New York: WW Norton & Co, 2012), 38.

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