From discovery to seventeenth century, from Quivira to Tierra del Fuego, this revisionist telling of the Spanish conquest of the Americas features dogs. They are met as food tasters, as food, as guards and sentinels, as scenters and hunters, and as attackers and devoured. Emphasized is their role as attackers and devourers of Indians. Some dogs, like Becerillo, Leoncico, Bruto, and Amadís, emerge out of anonymity.
The canine contribution, however, is repeatedly exaggerated: for example, one dog killing 100 natives in one hour (p. 8) and one dog worth 300 soldiers in battle (p. 156). Lacking the balance that would include horses, firearms, swords, lances, and more, the authors offer an over-kill assessment of the dogs of the conquest. How strange it is that such major conquests as those led by Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro scarcely mention dogs!
The Varners exhibit admirable craftsmanship in their restatement of the conquest, spatially, chronologically, and in sources employed. All thirty-two pages of illustrations depict dogs. Many of the twenty-one pages of maps are of dubious value in relation to the text. Desirous of dogging many landscapes, the authors often couch presumed presence in “probably,” “undoubtedly,” “most likely,” “safe to assume,” “easy to believe,” and other verbal fuzziness.
Out of a combination of historical fact, legendary trivia, and unbalanced presentation, chalk up one for the Black Legend.