The Sheriff's Toothpick
by George Chevalier

In 1971 while exploring along the Camino Real near San Juan a gold artifact was found having washed out from the ruins of an ancient Inn along side of the camino. It was a personal toothpick 4.8cm in size and shaped as a sword of scimitar form. On one blade it bore the name De Robolledo and the other side of the blade stated Soy de Maria Antigua. Now began a 20 year search to learn about it's owner and we began with the Archives of the Indies in Spain. They informed me they had records citing the meritorious service of Rodrigo de Rebolledo under Isthmian Governors Pedro Arias de Avila and Pedro de Los Rios and that Rodrigo had accompanied the Licenciado La Gasca in the pacification of the Peruvian Provinces during Pizzarro's rebellion.

Information over the years has produced a fairly complete story of Rodrigo de Rebolledo, High Sheriff of Tierra Firme and Baquiano Viejo. His father was the Bachiller Martin de Enciso who in 1510 founded Santa Maria la Antigua as the first European city on the continent of the Americas. In 1523 Enciso who had been serving Pedrarias as High Sheriff resigns and appoints his son Rodrigo to the job.

In 1524 Santa Maria is completely abandoned to the jungle and it had lasted only 14 years. Pedrarias leaves the Isthmus in1526 for Nicaragua and Pedro de Los Rios arrives to be the new Governor with Rodrigo continuing to serve as High Sheriff. In 1529 Los Rios is replaced by Antonio de la Gama and Rodrigo continues as Sheriff.

The Cabildo of Panama write a letter of complaint to the King complaining that Rodrigo lacks honor and has yet to claim a city of residence. Rodrigo finally settles in Nata' and this further irritates the city fathers of Panama. His office of Alguacil Major of course is run from Nata'.

The Registry of Passengers to the Indies dated 07 Oct. 1532 granted licenses to land at Nombre de Dios for Rodrigos relatives as follows; Juan Fernandez de Rebolledo[brother],Catalina de Mendoza[sister]and Dona Juana de Rebolledo[his mother]. This confirms which brother owned the toothpick for only Rodrigo had the right to say"Soy de Maria Antigua" since his brother arrived in the new world eight years after the jungle had reclaimed Santa Maria.

Records of the period refer to Rodrigo as Baquiano Viejo and Hombre Fuerte but the leading citizens of Panama still resent his living and locating the office of the High Sheriff in the City of Nata'. Finally in 1544 having served as Sheriff for 21 years Rodrigo retires and his younger brother assumes the office of High Sheriff.

In 1547,with Pizarro ruling in rebellion in Peru,the Licenciado Pedro de la Gasca sails from Panama in what history calls the Pacification of the Peruvian Provinces. The Archives of the Indies in Seville, Spain credit Rodrigo with accompanying La Gasca in this venture. Historical sources opine that Rodrigo de Rebolledo died prior to 1550.

Little is known of the background of Rodrigos father, the Bachiller Martin Fernandez de Enciso, except that he was university educated in Spain and a celebrated author of those days for his book on the New World,"Summa de Geografia". Rodigos mother Dona Rebolledo was from a prominent and illustrious family in Aragon, Spain many of which settled in the New World. The "Great Liberator" San Martin had a grandmother from this family line.

Disposition of toothpick:

The toothpick was purchased through Christies Auction in London by an English Lord. He allowed his name to be released to me because I was still doing research on it but this is not the normal procedure for these auction houses. I had to give my word that I would not divulge his name or it's location. I don't suppose they would bring legal action against me but I gave my word on it.

This was most likely lost when the chain that held it around the owners neck was broken. Maybe snagging on passing brush as he rode along the Camino Real. I found one other gold tooth pick but it did not have any thing written on it. That is what made this one so unique and valuable. It is a very humbling thing to hold so personal an item in your hand when you know who the owner was. Who knows maybe in the here after He and I shall meet and talk about the old days in Panama.

George C.

Click here to view images of the toothpick