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ing to Gomara, Columbus, on this occasion, discovered the “River of Crocodiles, which is now called Rio de Chagres, which hath its springs near the South Sea, within four leagues of Panama.” Had the intrepid navigator sailed up that river he might justly have been accorded the distinction of having been the first explorer of a trans-Isthmian canal route. He died without realizing the true import of his great discoveries, and still believing that his momentous cruises had been in the seas and along the coasts of Asia.
In the meanwhile, Vasco de Gama, sailing under the flag of Portugal, had rounded the southern point of Africa and reached the Malabar Coast of India, returning safely toward the end of 1499. This exploit stimulated Spain to renewed efforts to discover a western passage. Amerigo Vespucci made important discoveries along the coast of South America which he, like Columbus, believed to be the continent of Asia. On the first map to show America, that of Waldseemüller, published in 1507, a narrow strait between the continents is shown in place of the existing isthmus. In the book which accompanied this map, Waldseemüller credits Vespucci with the discovery of the newly depicted region and suggests that it should be named the Land of Amerigo, or America. The claim was not a justifiable one, but there is good authority for the statement that Alonzo de Ojeda, with Vespucci as the pilot of his expedition, landed upon the mainland of South America within a year of the occasion when Columbus discovered the land near the delta of the Orinoco. Amerigo Vespucci made two more voyages during the succeeding ten years in a search for the strait. At this time many other adventurers were engaged in the same quest, or in the hunt for gold, large quantities of which were secured by the early comers without the trouble of mining for it. The natives held it in no great value and readily exchanged it for articles of European manufacture of trifling value.
The decade following the last voyage of Columbus was a period of eager exploration by navigators of various nations. The coast of the Americas, from Labrador to Brazil, was scoured in the hope of finding a waterway to the ocean beyond. With continued failure, it began to be believed that no such channel existed. This view was greatly strengthened in 1513, by the discovery of the Pacific Ocean. Vasco Nunez de Balboa was one of the early governors of the Province of Darien. He had married the daughter of one of the Indian chiefs and was on the best of terms with the natives. From them he learned of a vast sea, only a few days' march beyond the mountains, that divided the continent. He collected a force of Spaniards and Indians and sailed to a point near Caledonia Bay, whence he was informed the crossing could be most easily effected.
The route adopted is the shortest passage from ocean to ocean, although it does not pass over the divide at the lowest level. Progress through the dense jungle was difficult. It was nineteen days after starting when, on September 25, Balboa saw the Pacific Ocean from the summit of the divide. Four days later he entered the water and formally claimed the “ South Sea,' as he called it, in the name of the King of Spain.
Meanwhile, Balboa had been the subject of the usual intrigues at the Court of Spain, and, at the time of his great discovery, Pedrarias was preparing to sail for Terra Firma with authority to supersede him as governor. The news of Balboa's important exploit did not reach Ferdinand until after the new governor had sailed, but a royal warrant was immedi
ately issued confirming the former in his position and conferring upon him the additional honor of Adelantado of the lands upon the new sea that he had discovered. This order was doubtless delivered to Pedrarias and he seems to have kept it to himself, after the high-handed manner of viceroys in the American possessions of Spain at that period. The first act of Pedrarias on landing in America was to order Balboa's arrest and trial on a charge of treason. The result was an acquittal, and for a while the rivals, each with a formidable body of followers at his back, maintained an armed truce. At length Pedrarias resorted to subterfuge in order to get his enemy into his power. He was aware of Balboa's keen desire to explore the coast southward on the other side of the continent, prompted by the stories of the Indians, who declared that a country abounding in gold and other precious metals lay far away to the south. Pedrarias feigned a revulsion of feeling toward Balboa and assured him of his future friendship, at the same time giving his consent to the proposed expedition.
With the wonderful energy that characterized him, Balboa set about carrying out his cherished project, which involved nothing less than a journey to Peru. Suitable trees for the construction of vessels were to be had only on the Atlantic side, or at least that was the impression of the commander. He conceived and carried out the daring task of fashioning all his material at the starting point of his former expedition and conveying it overland to the point of departure. This stupendous undertaking was accomplished with the aid of thousands of Indians. After months of labor the timbers were put together on the Pacific shore, and the fleet was on the eve of departure, when a messenger from Pedrarias reached Balboa with an urgent request for his return. Leaving his followers with the ships, the impatient leader hurried back to Aclas. He was seized at the instant of his arrival, put through a hurried trial by a court composed of the governor's creatures, and beheaded.
Balboa was the first of a numerous line of able men who fell victims to the jealousies and differences that kept the Conquistadores constantly embroiled with one another and at odds with the Crown. If we may judge from what he accomplished in the few years that were afforded him, Balboa was one of the most able of that group of remarkable men who contrib