Barnard Shipp.

The history of Hernando de Soto and Florida; or, Record of the events of fifty-six years, from 1512 to 1568 online

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But Bermudez, Duero, and several others who favored Cortes
remonstrated as to the policy of such a step and the benefit he
would derive from it, and said that tiiough Cortes had an additional
hundred officers such as Velasquez de Leon, he would be unable to
cope with him. It would certainlj'^ be more to his interest to
behave courteously to Leon.

Narvaez, being thus influenced by these two men, requested
Velasquez to become mediator between Cortes and himself, and try
if he could not induce the former and his troops to join his stand-
ard. Velasquez promised to make the attempt, but at the same
time stated that Cortes was very determined on that subject ; that
the best method, in his opinion, of settling tlie matter was by a

* This noble officer, who with Alvarado, commanded the rear guard in the
retreat from Mexico, perished with two hundred men, at one of the bridges.


division of the provinces between them, and that Cortes would
gladly leave the choice to him.

Velasquez made this observation merely to make Narvaez^more
tractable. During this discourse Olmedo stepped up and proposed
to Narvaez that the whole of his troops should be drawn out in
the presence of Velasquez to show the powerful army he com-
manded, that Velasquez might relate to Cortes what he had seen,
and convince him that it was better that he should submit.

Narvaez followed this counsel which Olmedo had given merelj' to
vex his cavaliers and soldiers. The alarm was accordingly sounded,
and the whole of the troops were thus obliged to turn out before
Velasquez and Olmedo; when Narvaez said to Velasquez, "Are
you not now fully convinced that it would merely cost me a day's
march to overthrow Cortes and the whole of j-ou ?" Velasquez
replied, " I will not say anything about that, but you may depend
upon it, we would sell our lives dearly."

The following day Velasquez dined with Narvaez, and met at
the table Diego Velasquez, a nephew of the governor of Cuba, who
had the command of a company. While they were dining, the
conversation turned upon Cortes's obstinacy and the letter he had
written to Narvaez, and, one word leading to another, Diego Velas-
quez asserted that Cortes and all those who sided with him were
traitors. At this expression Juan Velasquez rose up from his seat,
and, with much warmth, said: "General Narvaez, I have once
before begged you not to allow such language in ray presence. It
is really scandalous to speak ill of those who have served the
emperor so faithfully."

"And I," interrupted Diego, in an angry tone, "maintain that I
have merely spoken the truth in calling j'ou traitors. You are a
traitor, and all the rest of you, and you are unworthy the name of

Leon now laid hand on his sword, and called Diego a liar,
swearing he was a better nobleman than he or his uncle, and that
the house of Velasquez to which he belonged was a very different
one from Diego's or his uncle's. Of this he would give instant
proof, if General Narvaez would allow him. As many of Narvaez's
officers, and a few of Cortes!s, were present during this scene, they
interfered and prevented any open violence, as Leon was just about
to draw his sword against his opponent.

The other officers now advised Narvaez to order Juan Velasquez
and Olmedo to leave the camp without any further ceremony, as
their stay there would only cause worse blood. Orders to this
effect were accordingly issued, and they delayed not an instant to


hasten their departure. Leon was seated on his fine gray mare,
and clad in a coat of mail, and had his helmet on, when he once
more called upon Narvaez to take leave. Diego was standing next
to the latter at the time, and when Juan inquired of Narvaez if he
had any message to Cortes, the latter replied in great ill humor :
" I beg of you to leave this instant, and it would have been much
better if you had stayed away altogether." Young Diego Velasquez
then threw out most abusive language against Juan, who, in return,
assured him his insolence would meet with its due reward, and a
few days would show whether the bravery of his heart corresponded
with the boldness of his tongue. Five or six of Narvaez's officers
friends to Cortes, who were to escort Leon, now came up, and told
him rather hai'shly it was time to be moving, and no longer to
spend his breath in useless words. They merely assumed this tone
to get him as quickly as possible out of the way, for they afterwards
told him that Narvaez had issued orders for his arrest ; indeed, he
had every reason to make haste, for a numerous body of cavalry
was already hard upon his heels when he arrived at the river near
Cortes's camp.

The followers of Cortes were taking their midday nap when their
outposts brougiit information that three men on horseback were
approaching their camp, and thej' immediately concluded it must
be Velasquez, his servant, and Father Olmedo. Thej' were all
delighted to see them safely returned.

The effect of Leon's and Olmedo's visit to Narvaez's camp soon
showed itself. Several of the ofHcers who had got some hints of the
valuable presents which Cortes had sent to be distributed among
some of them found that a party was forming in favor of Cortes,
and advised that the utmost vigilance should be observed ; orders
were therefore issued that the troops should hold themselves ready
for action. Narvaez now formally declared open war against Cortes
and his followers.

Narvaez then encamped with the whole of liis troops and cannon
at about a mile from Sempoalla, in order the better to watch the
movements of the troops of Cortes, and not allow any of his men
to pass. But as it rained heavily just about this time, Narvaez's
officers, who were not accustomed to dampness, nor to the fatigues
of war in general, and imagined it would be an easy matter to
overcome Cortes, advised Narvaez to return with the troops to
their former quarters, and considered it sufficient if they placed
their artillery, which consisted of eighteen heavy guns, in front of
their camp. Forty of their cavalry were placed to guard the road
leading into Sempoalla, along which the enemy would be compelled


to advance ; besides which, pickets of cavalry and light-armed foot,
under Hurtado and Gonzalo Carrasco, were placed to watch the
spot where they would have to pass the river, and to giv^ notice of
their approach ; and another twenty of cavalry were always to stand
in readiness, during night-time, in the court-yard adjoining Nar-
vaez's quarters. Narvaez then returned with the rest of his troops
to his former quarters, and made known that he who brought him
Cortes or Sandoval^ dead or alive, should receive the reward of
2000 pesos. It was also ordered that a strong detachment of men
should be posted at the respective quarters of Narvaez, Salvatierra,
Gomarra, and Juan Bono. These were Narvaez's preparations, of
which Cortes was informed by a soldier named Galleguillo, who
had deserted from Narvaez during the night, or had been secretly
seiit for that purpose by Duero.

Cortes and his men had, previous to marching to Mexico, resided
several months in Sempoalla, and in tliat neighborhood had built
Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz, so they were not only acquainted with
every place in the town of Sempaolla, but also with every locality
in the neighborhood. Sempoalla was a populous town, and had
several teocallis or truncated pyramidal structures, which were
rather altars than temples, dedicated to the idols of Indian faith and
worship. These structures were in difl'erent places constructed of
different materials — stone, brick, or earth. Some had ramps, with
steps leading directly to the summit, where, in small sanctuaries,
were the idols to which they sacrificed human beings, on a stone in
front of the sanctuary, ripping out the heart of tlie living victim,
and presenting it on the altar of the idol. Others had three or four
terraces, each extending the circuit of the teocalli, excepting the space
occupied bj- the steps. The stairs to ascend from one terrace to an-
other were all at one of the angles, on the same side, and one above
tlie other, so that it was necessary to make the circuit of the teocalli
to pass from one flight of steps to the next, the terrace beginning at
the top of one flight of steps, and after making the circuit of the
teocalli, terminating at the foot of the next. These structures were
inclosed with a wall, at a suflTicient distance from the base of the
teocalli to form around it a commodious court. There were on two
sides of the inclosure, entrances to the court. There were several
of these structures in Sempoalla, and Narvaez took possession of
them with his troops.

When Cortes had learned the proceedings of Narvaez, the dis- ■
position of his forces, and his declaration of war against him and
his ^followers, he knew that there was an end to his intrigues, and
that the time for decisive action had arrived. He therefore sum-


moned his officers and men around him, and addressed them in a
speech replete with flattering expressions and fair promises, men-
tioning their career, from their departure from Cuba to their arrival
in the city of Mexico, and in closing said: "Up to this moment
we have fought to defend our lives, but now we shall have to fight
valiantly for our lives and our honoi". Our enemies have nothing
less in contemplation than to take us all prsoners,and rob usof our
property. No one can tell whether Narvaez is commissioned by the
emperor himself; all this is done merely at the instigation of our
most deadly enemy, the bishop of Burgos (Fonseca). If we are
subdued by Narvaez, which God forbid, all the services jve have
rendered to the Almighty, and our emperor, will be construed into
as many crimes, and we shall be accused of murder, rapine, and re-
bellion, though the really guilty person would be Narvaez ; and the
things which would be considered meritorious in them will be con-
strued as criminal in us. All this must be evident to you, and
we as honest cavaliers are bound to defend the honor of the emperor
as well as our own. For this I have marched out from Mexico, re-
posing my trust in God and your assistance."

To this address of Cortes, several of his soldiers replied in the
name of the rest, that he might rely upon their determination to
conquer or die. Cortes was greatly rejoiced at this reply, and said
that he had not expected less ; that they should find no cause for
regret, as wealth and honor would be the reward of their devotion
and valor. He then informed the officers of the plan of attack,
and the parts they were to perform. Cortes formed his forces into
four small battalions, which were to march to the assault one after
the other. The first object was to capture the artillery drawn up
in front of Narvaez's camp. For this purpose sixty of the young-
est and most active men, of which number was Diaz', were placed
under the command of a daring young fellow named Pizarro. Pi-
zarro with his sixty men was to push boldly on until he should take
the cannon, when the artillery-men. Mesa and Amenga, were imme-
diately to turn them on Salvatierra's quarters. Sandoval, with
sixty men, was to attack the quarters of Narvaez, who was posted
on tiie summit of a very high teocalli. He was ordered to take
Narvaez prisoner, and if he would not surrender, to kill him. Juan
Velasquez de Leon, with sixty men, was ordered to seize the person
of Diego Velasquez, with whom he had had such angry words.
Olid also had sixty men, and Cortes had the rest, to render assist-
ance where it might be most required ; his principal object, how-
ever, was to get the persons of Narvaez and Salvatierra into his
power. He promised a reward of 3000 pesos to the first man who


should lay hands on Narvaez, 2000 to the second, and 1000 to the

The men were altogether in want of defensive armor. They re-
mained in their camp during the first part of the night, and spent their
time in making preparations for the arduous task that awaited them.
Pickets were sent out, and sentinels posted, of which Diaz was one.
He had not stood long when one of the outposts came up to and
asked him whether he had not heard a noise, when immediately one
of the corporals approached and said that Galleguillo, who had de-
serted from Narvaez, was nowhere to be found, and that he must
have be^n a spj' ; and as it was certain that by this time he had
betrayed their approacli, Cortes had given orders for an immediate
advance upon Sempoalla. A moment after they were all marching
forward. Galleguillo, however, was found a few moments after fast
asleep under some cloaks he had thrown over him on account of
the rain and cold.

Cortes now ordered silence, and the troops marched steadily for-
ward until they arrived at the river, where Carraseo and Hurtado
were posted with a detachment of the enemy. The river was
swollen by the rain, on account of which and the loose rocks in its
bed it was crossed with much difficulty. As such a sudden visit
under such circumstances, in the rain and darkness of the night,
was the last thing they could have thought of, Carraseo was cap-
tured, while Hurtado escaped, fled to the quarters and gave the
alarm, crying out that the enemy was approaching. The most
watchful ran to arms and led Hurtado to Narvaez, who, after some
questions, disregarded the information, holding it impossible tliat
Cortes could come with so few men to attack him in his quarte'rs,
and that his men could march during a night so dark and stormy.

It was near midnight, dark and rainy, when Cortes entered Sem-
poalla, so that he had the good fortune to penetrate into the town
even to within view of the teocalli without encountering a single
sentinel. Hurtado was still trying to convince Narvaez that he
had not only met with the scouts, but that also the whole army was
advancing rapidly. Nevertheless pretexts were formed for disbe-
lief, and they lost in arguing the probability of this report the time
which they should have employed in preventing the consequences
of it, even though it might have been false. The soldiers, restless
and watchful, increased upon the steps of the teocalli, some irreso-
lute, and others awaiting the orders of the commander, but all with
arms in their hands and ready for battle.

Cortes then knew that he was discovered, and determined to at-
tack before they should be in order to resist him ; he, therefore,


gave the signal for the assault. The troops under Pizarro lowered
their lances and rushed headlong upon the artillery ; the cannoneers
had scarcely sufficient time to discharge four pieces, every ball of
which passed over the heads of the assailants, excepting one, which
killed three or four men. They had the good fortune to capture all
the cannon. Sandoval at the same time charged tlie quarters of
Narvaez, and drove his adversaries from the court to the teocalli, and
commenced advancing up the steps of the building ; but not being
able to sustain himself against a body of troops muoh larger than
his own and in an advantageous position, he was beaten back down
the steps. Just at this critical juncture Olid arrived to his assist-
ance, the tide was turned, and Sandoval again pushed forward up
the steps with renewed vigor. In the mean time Narvaez had ar-
rived. He now appeared in the midst of his men, and did every-
thing to reanimate them and to put them in order, after which he
rushed forward into the thickest of the fight, where he encountered
Pedro Sanchez and Parzan, the latter of whom gave him so violent
a blow in the face with his lance that he crushed Narvaez's eye and
hurled him senseless to the pave. The fall of Narvaez caused eon-
fusion in his troops, who were frightened at the event. Some shame-
fully abandoned their general ; otiiers, entirely beside themselves,
ceased to fight, and those who made au effort to assist him were
embarrassed by the others, and thus increased the confusion. Thus
they found themselves obliged to retire, and the conquerors took
this opportunity to drag Narvaez to the foot of the stair, and into
the midst of the rear battalion.

The fall of Narvaez was instantly known among the troops of
Cortes, whose wild shouts filled the midnight air with the cry of
" Victory ! Victory 1 Narvaez is dead I The battle, however, was
stilL continued in various points, as several of Narvaez's officers
maintained their positions on the tops of other teocallis.* Cortes,

* Cortes, when he entered the city of Mexico, quartered all his troops in
a large court of one of the palaces of Montezuma, and in the great temple or
court of the teocalli adjoining it.

When the Mexicans attacked him "they took possession of the great temple,
to the loftiest and most considerable tower of which nearly five hundred In-
dians, apparently persons of rank, ascended." This teocalli had, according to
Cortes's letter, three or four terraces, about a yard wide and about sixteen feet
one above the other. He says, " So arduous was the attempt to take this
tower, that if God had not broken their (the Indians') spirits, twenty of them
would have been sufficient to resist the ascent of a thousand men although
they fought with the greatest valor even unto death. " From this an idea may be
formed of the difficulties Cortes had to encounter in overcoming Narvaez. But
the top of the teocalli could not contain five hundred persons ; therefore the


however, sent round a herald to summon them to surrender, under
penalty of death in case of refusal. This, with the loud shouts of
victory and the belief that Narvaez was dead, had the desired effect,
and only the troops under young Diego Velasquez and Salvatierra,
which had taken up their position on the summit of a very high
teocalli, where it was difficult to get at 'them, refused to submit.
But Juan Velasquez de Leon attacked them so vigorously that at
last he forced them to surrender, and took Salvatierra and Diego
Velasquez prisoners.

Cortes happened to come up at the time when Juan Velasquez
and Ordaz brought in Salvatierra and Diego Velasquez and other
chief officers prisoners, he was still in full armor and had heated
himself to such a degree in riding up and down, the weather being
very hot, that the perspiration literally dripped from him, and he
could scarcely breathe from over-exertion. He twice said to Sando-
val, who was unable at first to catch his words, "Where is Narvaez ?
Where is Narvaez ?" " Here he is," cried out Sandoval, " here he
is and quite safe.'' " That is all right, ray son Sandoval," said
Cortes, in a voice still somewhat feeble ; "do not leave this spot
for the present, nor suffer any of your men to stir away ; and keep
a strong guard over the prisoners. I will now see how the battle
is going on at other points." With these words Cortes rode off,
and as he still found Narvaez's men offering resistance, he again
sent round a herald to summon them to surrender, and to deliver
up their arms to SandoVal.

Scarcely had they published the pardon at all the three places*
where the people of Narvaez had retired than the soldiers and offi-
cers themselves came in crowds to surrender to the conqueror.
This proclamation was well conceived, for it was very important
that it should be known before the dawn of day, which was near, .
should discover to the soldiers of Narvaez the small number of their
conquerors, and inspire them with the resolution to renew the

Narvaez, having lost an eye and being otherwise dangerously
wounded, requested Sandoval to allow his own surgeon to dress his

expression implies that the terraces, summit, and towers, and perhaps court,
of the teocalli were filled with Indian warriors.

* Diaz expressly mentions two teooallis in the attack, and, when the idols of
Sempoalla were destroyed some time previously, he says, '' We tore down the
idols from their pediments. Some were shaped like furious dragons, and were
about the size of young calves ; others with half the human form ; some again
were shaped like large dogs. Cortes says there were three or four towers


wounds and those of the other officers. This Sandoval unhesi-
tatingly complied with, and while the surgeon was dressing Nar-
vaez's wounds, Cortes stepped up, as he imagined unknown, to see
what was going on. However, the respect of the soldiers dis-
covered the general ; and Narvaez, turning to him, said : " Indeed,
general, yon have reason to be proud of this victory and of my
being taken prisoner." " I am," replied Cortes, " every way thank-
ful to God and my brave companions for it, but I can assure you
that this victory is the least brilliant we have yet gained in New

With this Cortes broke off the conversation, and turning to
Sandoval cautioned him to guard the prisoners well. They had
merely put fetters about Narvaez's legs, but they now secured him
better, and put a strong guard over him. Diaz was of the latter,
and received secret orders not to allow any of his (Narvaez's) men
to see him until next morning, when Cortes would make further
arrangements respecting his person.

Cortes did not yet feel quite safe ; he remembered that Narvaez
had sent out forty of his cavalry to guard the road leading to Sem-
poalla. This body was still hovering about, and he feared the}'
might fall upon him unawares, and release both Narvaez and the
other officers. He therefore kept a strict guard, and dispatched
Olid and Ordaz to persuade them, by enticing promises, to sur-
render quietlj'. For this purpose these officers were obliged to
take a couple of horses of Narvaez's troops, as all of Cortes's
officers had left theirs at the back of a rising ground, near Sem-

Wlien Olid and Ordaz came up with them, they easilj'^ induced
thcQi to surrender, by assuring them that they would be received
in the army of Cortes with the same advantages that had been
accorded to their companions, whose example sufficed for the
cavalry to come and offer their services, with their arms and horses,
to Cortes.

Daj'light in the mean time broke forth, when Olid and Ordaz,
witli this detachment, again reached the camp, accompanied by
Duero, Bermudez, and several other fi-iend* of Cortes. All these
now came in a body to pay their respects to Cortes, who had taken
off his armor and was seated in an arm-chair, dressed iu a wide
orange-colored surtout. Serenity and joy were visible in his coun-
tenance as he welcomed each; and, indeed, he had every reason to
be proud of the power and greatness he liad so suddenly acquired.

The soldiers and officers came in crowds to surrender to the con-
queror. They surrendered their arms on arriving, and Cortes, with-


out failing in the duties of civility, received them with joy. Never-
theless he caused to be disarmed even the most distinguished offi-
cers, those who were in correspondence with him, in order that they
might not be recognized, or that they might give an example to the
others. Their numbers, in a short time, increased so much that it
was necessary to separate them, and to secure them with a sufficient
guard until morning.

During this time Sandoval took care to dress the wounds of Nar-
vaez ; and young Diego "Velasquez remained a prisoner of Juan
Velasquez de Leon, whom he had so offended on his visit to Nar-
vaez, yet Juan, with his nobleness of soul, treated him with the
greatest magnanimity. This action was remarkable in that there
was not an incident in which there were not manifest the correctness
of the measures that Cortes had taken, and the blunders of Narvaez.

The losses in this battle were on the side of Narvaez, his stand-
ard-bearer, named Fuentes, of a noble family of Seville, and three
of Narvaez's chief officers, one of whom was named Rojas, a native
of old Castile; Carretero, one of the three soldiers who had deserted
to Narvaez when he arrived at San Juan de TJlua, was also killed,
and the number of the wounded was very great. On the side of
Cortes there were four killed and several wounded. Cervantes and
Escalona, who had deserted to Narvaez with Carretero, derived very
little benefit from their treachery; the latter had been dangerously
wounded, and the other Cortes ordered to be well whipped.

Online LibraryBarnard ShippThe history of Hernando de Soto and Florida; or, Record of the events of fifty-six years, from 1512 to 1568 → online text (page 5 of 75)