The incident over a slice of watermelon

On April 15, 1856, an man named Jack Olivier, visibly intoxicated, along with three or four other fellow Americans, decided to buy a slice of watermelon from José Manuel Luna. Olivier proveeded to eat it, but then refused to pay its cost of a real (5 U.S. cents). This caused a big argument, which ended when Olivier pulled out a gun, shot a local man, and then fled the scene.

At that moment, the Illinois train pulled into the station from the city of Colón, carrying Americans who also became involved in the dispute.

This provoked a massive fight between the Panamanians and the Americans, who seeing that they were outnumbered, retreated and took refuge in the nearby railroad station. The villagers came after them, setting fire to the station where they were sheltered. The New Granada guard arrived at the scene and the Americans began shooting. This caused a small group of Americans in a garrison in the area to repress the Panamanians.

News of this incident spread to neighboring cities, and even so far as the city of Colón, located some 80 km from where the events began, and a wave of rioting broke out there as well. The riots lasted for three days, and afterwards both cities suffered serious damages from fire, destruction, and looting. Only the walled neighborhood of San Felipe was safe, home to foreigners of the ruling class.

The death toll was 16 Americans, with 15 wounded, and 2 Panamanians, with 13 wounded. This was the first Panamanian insurrection against the Americans, and the only one that they won, at least at the citizen level.

Reports from the governments of the United States and New Granada were contradictory, as both held the other responsible. Nevertheless, it is important to note the attitude of the United States in rejecting the official testimonies of Panamanian consuls in the UK, France, and Ecuador, who all supported New Granada's position and accused the Americans of being aggressors. These consuls claimed that the local police were innocent of the U.S. government's charges that they had taken the side of the Panamanians.

According to the official report on July 18, 1856 by Amos B. Corwine, special commissioner appointed by the U.S. government, the police and the mob had planned an attack on the railway station and the black population took the dispute as a pretext to assault the Americans and plunder their property. The report reached the conclusion that the government of New Granada was incapable of maintaining order and providing adequate protection during the transition. Unless New Granada could prove their competence and willingness to provide adequate protection and complete and swift compensation, the report recommended the immediate occupation of the isthmus.