Early Veraguas Explorers (Part 2): Thank God we’re Here, or how Nombre de Dios Got its Name

historicalpart2After Colon’s crew came back, singing the laurels of this mysterious Costa del Oro de Colon (Veraguas), the Spanish King named Diego de Nicuesa the new governor, and in 1511, Nicuesa set out to find a great place for his new capital.

Gold Coast – Sounds Great to Me

Of course, Columbus didn’t include the Gold Coast of Veraguas on his map.  No problem. Nicuesa was traveling with a ship pilot (lieutentant), Olano who had been with Columbus on his journey.  They started out from Cartegena, and the fleet stopped in Puerto de Las Misas, where they said mass, the majority of the fleet stayed behind, while Nicuesa and Olano forged ahead, in  a small, nimble group,  trying to locate the Gold Coast of Veraguas – with two ships, 90 men, a lieutenant that had made the journey with Columbus, and some chart’s drawn by Bartholemew, Columbus’s brother.  Olano was piloting of the smaller ship, and he the captian of the larger

Now, if only there were a Map of Veraguas

Soon in the trip, Olano started saying that they had passed Veragua.  Nicuesa thought he was wrong, and forged ahead.  There was a big storm.  Olano took shelter in the lee side of an island.  Nicuesa in a river mouth.  After the storm passed, Olano, thinking the ship had sunk, and knowing they had passed Veraguas, turned back around and sailed back towards Puerto de las Misas.

The refrain of nicuesa: I’m right, I’m Right, I’m Right

Nicuesa and his men had survived, but the ship had beached and broke apart.  They were able to rescue a small boat from the craft.  Nicuesa, still insisting that Veraguas lay ahead, had the men walk parallel to the coast through swamp and forest looking for the Rio Belen.  It was hot, some people died.  Belen was long passed. The smaller boat helped them with large river crossings and parallelled the men marching, in the sea.  They came to a point after many days where they saw land in the distance, and thought it the other side of a bay.

Nicuesa had the smaller boat ferry the men over.  It was stormy.  In the morning they found the boat and its crew gone, and that they really were on a small, barren island.  Oops.  With no boat.

and in belen…

In the meantime, Olano had met with the fleet from Puerto de Las Minas.  Thinking Nicuesa dead, Olano was in charge, and ordered the fleet to Belen, where they dismantled the ships and started building the settlement.

The crew from the smaller boat from Nicuesa’s island had come to the realization that Veraguas was long passed.  The captain of the small boat, realizing that he’d never convince Nicuesa, convinced the other men of the crew to abandon the men and go for help.  They sailed back, saw the activity in Belen, stopped, and Olano sent boats to rescue Nicuesa.

In the meantime, Nicuesa and his men were thirsty and dying.  Rescue came, Nicuesa was furious at Olano for having left him.  The rescue party took him to Belen, which in itself, was not doing well.  Nicuesa had enough of the entire idea of Veraguas, said, let’s leave, and forced the people to abandon Belen, and returned eastward, looking for another place to establish a settlement.

Fed up and tired of Veraguas to Thank God we’re Here

After a failed attempt at a colony in Puerto Bello, they arrived at a small bay.  On seeing it, Nicuesa fed up with travel with half his men dead, cried, “We’ll stop here – En Nombre de Dios!”  The new colony was called Nombre de Dios.  A town today in the province of Colon still exists today.


Perhaps the history of the country would have been quite different if Nicuesa had listened to his pilot.


Early Veraguas Explorers (Part 1): Colon and the lost gold coast

NorthVeraguasIt started when I was looking at Google’s new Google Map Engine and the maps showing the world’s landscape that is not covered by roads.

North Veraguas is such a place, but oddly enough, Rio Belen, Rio Veraguas and Rio Concepcion were home to some of the earliest settlements in the New World (failed settlements, but colonies just the same). I started doing a bit more reading and got hooked.

Christopher Columbus Starts a Settlement in Veraguas

Christopher Colombus (or Colon in Spanish), sailed down with his brothers along the Central American Coast in their fifth voyage from Spain in 1502. They stopped to trade in the indigenous villages along the coast of “Veragua” and were impressed with the apparent wealth of gold that Columbus tried to establish a base at the mouth of Rio Belen, leaving his brother in charge. Their goal- to find and discover gold. Their technique – kidnap the nearest indian chief who lived on Rio Veraguas and say you’ll let him go if he gives you a lot of gold. Do you think this technique helped win friends and influence people? Nope. Turned out that the chief’s supporters didn’t really like this idea, and attacked the barracks that Colon had established. Drove the sailors out.

Please eliminate my competition for me!

A little manipulation goes both ways. A few weeks prior, the indian chief had offered to show the explorers where he got his gold from. Sailors traveled by boat to his town on Rio Veraguas, then by foot for 16 miles through the jungle to come to an area where gold could be gathered with little effort. Great, right. Rumor is that the indian chief showed the sailors -not where he mined for gold – but where a competing cacique’s mined for gold.

It’s mine, mine, all mine…if only I can find it again

After, Colon and his brother left, he remained so strongly convinces of the promise of gold in the area, that he erased Veraguas coast and Belen from his maps, to keep the location a secret.

Which evidently was an issue…more to come!