BECERRILLO (THE SOLDIER DOG THAT PUT THE CONQUISTADORS TO SHAME)
The story of the Spanish conquest in South America is written in blood, above all the blood of the natives.
Nations great and small fell into the hands of the Conquistadors, who routed numerically superior forces with prodigious resources they brought with them from Europe such as firearms, the cavalry and soldier dogs. These enormous, incredibly strong dogs apparently immune to physical pain and trained to fight in battle next to their masters, proved devastating against poorly armed native warriors wearing little in the way of armour. The conquistadors knowing that the natives were terrified by these bloody thirsty beasts took them with them wherever they went. When they were not needed for fighting they were useful to intimidate.
One of the most famous was called Becerrillo, that meant "bullock". While Becerillo were in the New World, his bloodthirsty reputation spread so widely that the enemy abandoned the field as soon as they saw him. "He attacked his enemies with frenzied rage and defended his friends with great courage," recounted the celebrated chronicle written by Bartolomè de Las Casas, a very short report on the destruction of the West Indies. "The Indians are more afraid of ten Spanish soldiers with Bercerrillo than a hundred by themselves."
After fighting in numerous battles, the body of the dog was covered in scars. As recognition for his service he was treated like any other soldier even receiving part of the spoils of war (even if it is difficult to imagine what a dog would want with possessions of the kind).
However, if the large war animal earned his terrible reputation in battle, it should be said that he never stooped to cowardly actions. The story goes, in fact, that after annihilating the natives at Puerto Rico, Becerrillo’s owner invented a nice little game to amuse his brothers-in-arms while they waited for the arrival of the Spanish governor, the legendary Juan Ponce de Leòn, on the island.
Salazar sent for an old native woman, he gave her a piece of paper telling her it contained a message for the governor and told her to take it to him immediately on pain of death. The terrified woman began to walk. A moment later Salazar ordered Becerrillo to attack her.
According to the tales of the time, the enormous animal threw himself at the prey bearing his teeth and the old women fell on her knees begging pity. Then something extraordinary happened. The terrifying beast that according to more than one account, had massacred dozens of people on the battlefield disobeyed his master’s orders. He sniffed the woman curiously and then turned and went away.
Its fellow soldiers were to put it mildly amazed: some were so shocked that they cried miracle, others were ashamed to see that an animal had refused to kill in cold blood when instead many of them would have done so without thinking twice.
A short time later, Ponce de Leòn arrived at the island and was told what had occurred. The warlord ordered the old woman to be released and returned to her people, then he prohibited any deed against the local population. "I will not allow the compassion and the clemency of a dog to overshadow those of a real Christian,” he is said to have commented.
Becerrillo undoubtedly killed. But, unlike his companions, was not a killer.