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Cavallón, Juan de (1524–1565)

Cavallón, Juan de (1524–1565)

Juan de Cavallón (b. 1524; d. 1565), first conqueror of Costa Rica during the early 1560s. Although largely unsuccessful on his own, his invasion from Nicaragua in 1561 both set in motion the process and established the mechanisms by which subordinates such as Juan Vázquez de Coronado would conquer the province. Cavallón held a licenciate in law and came from Castillo de Garcimuñoz, Cuenca, New Castile. He married Leonor de Barahona, the daughter of one of Cortés's associates in the conquest of Mexico. He was named alcalde mayor of Nicoya in the 1550s. From this base he led 80 to 90 men, recruited in Guatemala in 1560, as an expeditionary force to claim the province of Costa Rica.

In January 1561 the force left its base and landed on the coast near the modern port of Puntarenas. They attempted to establish two settlements, Landecho as a port and Castillo de Garcimuñoz further inland, but both soon failed. Relations with the Indians deteriorated quickly as their leader, Garabito, organized resistance to Cavallón's requisitioning of corn supplies. Cavallón financed this expedition in association with the Franciscan priest Juan de Estrada Rávago, a native of Guadalajara, New Castile, long resident in the Salvadoran Indian parishes of the cacao-rich Izalco district. Cavallón claimed to have lost nine thousand pesos of his own funds in the enterprise, and Estrada may have invested six or seven thousand. Estrada also undertook an expedition along the Atlantic coast, in coordination with Cavallón's march from the Pacific side, but with even more dismal results.

Cavallón was named fiscal of the audiencia in Guatemala in 1562 and left Estrada in charge of a rapidly declining force. Estrada also left Costa Rica, returning eventually to Spain, but several members of the conquering band remained to claim positions and encomiendas after the more lasting conquest expedition of Vázquez de Coronado in 1563.

See alsoCosta Rica .


The best sources of Cavallón's exploits in Costa Rica are those of Carlos Meléndez Chaverri: Conquistadores y pobladores: Orígines histórico-sociales de los costarricenses (1982), and Juan Vázquez de Coronado, conquistador y fundador de Costa Rica, 2d ed. (1972).

                                     Lowell Gudmundson

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