James W. (James William) Buel.

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which the first had carried, and these, making the most
abject obeisance to the white conqueror, presented their
gifts, together with a message assuring Cortez of the Em-
peror's high consideration and regard, and in the hope of
winning his friendship as well as averting the fate which he
believed was impending, he renewed his invitation to Cortez
to visit his capital and promised him an enthusiastic and
friendly welcome. But he besought him to form no alii-
ance with the Tlascakins, whom he designated as the most


fierce and unrelenting foes of his empire, and whose natures
were so treacherous that they might not be depended upon
even in the face of the strongest protestations of fidehty.
But Cortez no longer regarded the messages from Monte-
zuma, having now a sufficient force to easily make his way
against any resistance that the Emperor was able to offer.

Indeed, the Tlascalans flocked to his standard in such
numbers that Cortez declares he might easily have enlisted
100,000 volunteers. But instead of taking soldiers from
among these indiscriminately, he accepted but 6,000 select
troops, with which large re-enforcement he now set out,
with banners streaming, trumpets sounding, and his enthu-
siastic soldiers shouting, for the great Mexican capital.

The great city of Cholula, having a population of 100,000
souls, was only eighteen miles from Tlascala. But it was
situated in the Mexican Empire, and the bitterest animosi-
ties then prevailed between its inhabitants and the Tlasca-
lans. Cortez was, therefore, warned against treachery in
case he made an entrance into this city. But, regarding
these alarms merely as the fears of an excited people, he
continued on to this great metropolis, and when in sight of
its gates a delegation came out to receive him and to pay
their respectful homage. But though they welcomed him
with smoking censers, waving banners and bands of music,
the people of Cholula declined to admit their enemies
within the city walls, and to avoid giving offense before he
had been able to ascertain what were the defensive forces
of the city, Cortez ordered his Tlascalan allies to camp out-
side the walls. It was a city, not only of extraordinary
proportions, but distinguished for its handsome streets and
magnificent dwellings, while here and there the most splen
did temples rose in grandeur from the city's squares, and
there was every indication of extraordinary wealth and the
rewards of successful industry.


While viewing the grandeur of the place, Cortez had not
failed to note several suspicious movements, which his
quick comprehension taught him to believe denoted that
some treachery was in contemplation. To re-enforce this
belief, two Tlascalans, who had been acting as spies, having
entered the city in disguise, reported to him that six chil-
dren had just been sacrificed in the chief temple, as an
offering to the god of war and as an imploration for the
destruction of the Spanish invaders. This information did
not serve to considerably increase the fears of Cortez, half-
believing that it might be prompted by the sincere desire
of the Tlascalans to embroil Cortez with their inveterate
enemies. But the facts as they disclosed them were pres-
ently confirmed by testimony furnished by Marina, the
faithful native wife of Cortez. This woman had by some
means obtained the confidence of a wife of one of the
Cholulan nobles, who, to save Marina, had disclosed to her
a plot then in progress designed to accomplish the ruin of
the Spaniards. She told how deep graves had been dug in
the streets and concealed, which were intended to serve as
pitfalls for the Spanish cavalry, and that stones had been
carried to the tops of the houses and temples to be hurled
at the proper moment upon the heads of the invaders, as
they marched through the streets. To counteract this
treachery, and to bring punishment upon the inhospitable
people, Cortez conceived a horrible project : He gave orders
to quietly assemble all the Spaniards and Totonacs, at a
given moment, in the chief market place of the city, and to
come prepared for a desperate measure. At the same time
he ordered the Tlascalans to approach at a given signal,
and when he should signify, they were to rush in and fall
upon the Cholulans, whom they were to strike down and
massacre without mcrc}'. He next sent a friendly message
to the chief men of the city and nobles, requesting their


immediate presence at a public place in the city, and when
these responded, an order for the slaughter was given.
Taken completely by surprise, the Cholulans could offer no
resistance, while the Tlascalans, finding this their oppor-
tunity for a savage vengeance upon their implacable ene-
mies, swept through the streets like devouring wolves, and
instituted a carnival of blood more terrible than that which
drenched the streets of Paris during the slaughter of the
Huguenots. They were no respecters of persons : children,
women, old age, alike fell before the merciless hand of
slaughter, and when the carnage ceased the pillage began.
For two days this riot of murder, plunder and burning
continued, until at last the city presented the sad spectacle
of nothing but smouldering ruins, while the streets were
filled with mutilated carcasses polluting the air. Six thou-
sand persons were thus massacred, the other inhabitants
fortunately escaping to the hills and avoiding pursuit. A
proclamation of amnesty was now issued to the fugitives,
who were induced to return to the ruins from which they
had fortunately escaped ; and, as some amends for the ruth-
less desecration and spoliation that he had wrought, Cortez
set about erecting other buildings and restoring order, so
as to make the place again habitable. The idols had all
been broken up and the temples defaced, so that Cortez
thought now was a suitable time to institute the Christian
religion. Accordingly, he set up in several places crosses
and images of the Virgin, and ordered public thanksgivings
to God for having purified the temples of the heathen, and
for the establishment of the holy religion in the places built
by idolaters.

Some idea of the extraordinary size of the temples which
were built in Cholula may be formed by a statement made
by the Hon. Widdy Thompson, who visited the place where
once the city of Cholula stood, in 1842. He says that not


a single vestige of that great city remains except the ruins
of the principal pyramid or temple, which still stands in
solitary and gloomy grandeur in the vast plain Avhich sur-
rounds it. Its dimensions at the base are 1,440 feet, its
present height 177 feet, while the area on the summit is
something more than 45,210 square feet, or a little more
than 212 feet square. A Catholic chapel now crowns the
summit of this enormous mound, the sides of which are
covered with grass and trees.

The terrible massacre of the inhabitants of Cholula was
a great advantage to Cortez, for the news spread rapidly to
all the other cities of Mexico, and so appalled the people
that from every point came messages of humble submission,
accompanied by rich presents and offerings, as a propitiation
to secure the favor of the Spaniards. Montezuma, when
he heard of the thunder and lightning of Cortez' artillery,
aided by cavalry horses, destroying thousands in the streets
of Cholula, and that they had even put to flight the vast
armies of Tlascalans, trembled with fright, and, retiring to
his secret chamber, spent a week in consultation with his
priests, and in petitionings to his gods for protection against
the ruthless invaders. But the gods of Montezuma had
deserted him, as they had the Totonacs, the Tlascalans
and the Cholulans, and Montezuma read his fate as plainly
as Belshazzar perceived the handwriting on the falling walls
of Babylon.

The success of Cortez had also drawn to him many dis-
affected parties from other provinces who had real or im-
agined grievances against Montezuma, and who, while
seeking to avenge their wrongs, sought to protect them-
selves by joining the standard of the invader. Thus Cortez
found his force continually increasing, until it became so
unwieldy that further accessions to his ranks were refused.
From less than $00 in the beginning his force had aug-


merited until it now numbered nearly 20,000, and it might
have easily been recruited to ten times as many without
effort on his part. The most of these, however, were hardly
available in battle, except as they might be used to draw
the fire of the enemy and act as a barrier for his own men.
With this vast army Cortez left the ruined city of Cholula
and marched towards Mexico, which lay less than seventy
miles towards the east.

The country through which he advanced was luxuriant
and immensely populous ; provisions were everywhere
abundant ; the water was clear and wholesome, and the
journey being without annoyances was pleasant in the ex-
treme. There were on every side rivers, orchards, lakes,
beautiful villages, highly cultivated fields, splendid villas,
and a tropical growth of flowers and vegetation positively
amazing. Through this Edenic country Cortez continued
his journey with short advances, being in no anxiety to
reach the end of what was proving only a delightful excur-

It was not until seven days after leaving Cholula that the
Spaniards gained the heights of Ithualco, from which a
majestic and splendid view of Mexico was obtained. Under
the spell of the landscape that spread out in picturesque
panorama below him, Cortez stood in pious contemplation
of how God had protected and aided him in carrying the
banners of Spain and of the cross over such a stretch of
productive country, to be planted in the heart of the richest
heathen nation of the world. As the verdant landscape
stretched away into the distance, there were outlined
against the sky mountain peaks and the snow-covered vol-
canoes of Pococatapetl and Iztaccihuatl, rising in grandeur
and overtopping the great city of Mexico, which lay in
queenly splendor upon islands in the bosom of Lake Tez-
cuco, more than five hundred miles in circumference. On


the margin of the lake were suburbs of the capital, with
lofty temples, snow-white dwellings, from which long cause-
ways led to the main city that was surrounded by the lake.
There were everywhere the indications of a refinement
fully equal, if not superior, to that found anywhere in
Europe. The architecture would rival that of the Moors,
who introduced into Spain a style which has never since
been abandoned. There were bridges, and buildings, and
tunnels that exhibited the most splendid engineering skill ;
factories that provided the most costly fabrics ; plantations
that were most perfectly cultivated, and machinery of
various kinds that manifested the progressive spirit of the
people. Before these sights the boldness of the Spaniards
recoiled, considering how few they were in number and in
the center of a hostile country where so many hundreds of
thousands of bold warriors might be mustered upon a call
from the Emperor, and how easily destruction might be
brought upon them if their allies should be weaned from
the loyalty which they professed. But Cortez exhibited
the most striking self-assurance, reposing a perfect reliance
in the destructive power of gunpowder and the protection
which the sacred banner of the cross afforded.

Though Cortez was in sight of Mexico, he was yet some
considerable distance from the city, and it was necessary to
pass through several large towns which lay in the Mexican
valley. He accordingly marched through the cities of
Amaquemecan and Ayotzingo, which, Venetian-like, was
built in Lake Chaico, and Cuitlahuac, which was also in the
lake, where many floating gardens were constructed that
moved about like beds of roses driven by the wind ; and
thence on to Iztapalapan, which latter place was near the
city of Mexico, and was remarkable for a gigantic stone
reservoir which had been built of such ample dimensions
that it held sufflcient water to irrigate the grounds over a


district many miles in extent. It also possessed an aviary
filled with birds of the most gorgeous plumage and of
sweetest song. Here Cortez halted for a day, and was most
hospitably entertained by the people, who were in constant
dread lest he should violate their beautiful homes and put
them to the sword.

On the following day, which was the 8th of November,
1 5 19, Cortez proceeded on his journey to Mexico, and when
within two miles of the outskirts of the city, he was met
by a procession of a thousand of the principal inhabitants,
each of whom was provided with a waving plume and clad
in the most exquisitely embroidered mantle. They came
to announce the approach of their beloved Emperor, who
desired to personally welcome the strangers to his chief
city. This procession met Cortez as he approached the
principal causeway leading from the mainland to the island
city. It was nearly two miles in length, substantially built,
and wide enough to admit of a dozen horsemen riding
abreast. On either side the lake was covered with gondolas
and boats of various shapes, all laden with interested spec-
tators, while further down the long avenue w'as seen ap-
proaching the glittering train of the Emperor, that reflected
the sunlight back in dazzling splendor from the tinsel dec-
orations of his retinue. Montezuma was himself seated in
a gorgeous palanquin trimmed with gold, and borne on the
shoulders of four noblemen, while from the top spread out
six gigantic plumes of various colors. Immediately before
the palanquin three of^cers walked, each holding a golden
mace, while over his head four attendants carried a canopy
of skillful workmanship, gorgeously embelished with green
feathers, gold and precious gems, that sheltered him from
the sun. The Emperor wore upon his head a crown of
gold, which, being open at the top, permitted a beautiful
head-dress of plumes to project. Over his shoulders he


carried a mantle that was embroidered with costly orna-
ments, and was brought together in front v/ith a rosette
composed entirely of jewels. Buskins fastened with gold
lace work were worn upon his feet and legs, while the soles
of his sandals were of pure gold. His features were pecul-
iarly handsome, but he was of an effeminate appearance,
evidently unused to public appearance and seldom exposed
to the sun.

As the Emperor drew near, Cortez dismounted from his
horse, as Montezuma alighted from his palanquin, and they
proceeded towards each other. Montezuma was supported
by two of the highest dignitaries of his court, and other at-
tendants spread before him rich carpets, that his sacred feet
might not be profaned by contact with the ground. He
showed in his face the deep anxiety and melancholy which
had depressed him constantly since news of the arrival of
the Spaniards had reached his capital. Cortez greeted him,
and the two extended courtesies in a manner which out-
wardly professed high appreciation, but inwardly there was
a distrustful feeling felt by each. After an interchange of
civilities, Montezuma conducted Cortez to the quarters
which had been prepared for his reception in the heart of
the metropolis. In order to reach these it was necessary
for the immense cortege to pass over the causeway again,
and through streets thronged with thousands of men,
women and children, who viewed with painful anxiety the
visit of the strangers. The place assigned to the Spaniards
was a palace of immense proportions, having a correspond-
ingly large court. It stood in the center of the metropolis,
and had been erected by Montezuma's father, who, not al-
ways feeling secure of his person, had surrounded the palace
with a strong stone wall, surmounted with towers for de-
fense. The proportions of this building may be under-
stood when we know that it was ample for the accommoda'

THE Ni:\V WORLD. 461

tion of seven thousand men, who found very comfortable
lodgement in the chambers with which it was provided.
The rooms which were assigned to Cortez were tapestried
with the finest cotton cloths, elegantly embroidered, while
mats were spread upon the floor, soft and downy, which
might easily be removed for purposes of cleanliness. Cortez
immediately set about securing himself against the pos-
sibility of surprise or treachery, and besides keeping nearly
the half of his army posted by night and day, he planted
his artillery in such a manner that it would sweep ev^ery
street leading to the palace. Nor were these precautions
ill-advised, as subsequent events showed.

On the following evening after his arrival, Montezuma
paid a visit to Cortez, taking with him presents of great
value, which he distributed among the ofificers and the pri-
vates also, after which he retired to the royal audience
chamber and there held a lengthy interview with Cortez, in
which each professed a friendship for the other, not omit-
ting to expatiate upon the grandeur of their respective
countries. When these matters had been talked of to the
satisfaction of each, Cortez conveyed to Montezuma a re-
quest, which he claimed to have brought from his sovereign,
Charles V., to adopt certain laws and customs which had
obtained in Spain, and to accept the holy Catholic religion
as superior to the bloody creed which the Mexicans pro-
fessed. As Montezuma lent a willing ear to an explanation
of the tenets of Christianity, Cortez was impelled to press
his request for an abolition of the rites of human sacrifice
and the eating of the flesh of the victims, to which Monte-
zuma made no other reply than a nod of the head, which
might be construed either as an acknowledgment of the
awfulness of these rites, or a determination to continue in
their practice. After the interview had terminated, Cortez
ordered all his artillery, at the moment of the setting of the


sun, to be discharged simultaneously, in the belief that
the noise would bring Montezuma to an understanding of
the great power which he possessed. At the sound of the
booming guns, and sight of the dense smoke that rolled up
in stifling volume, the Mexicans fled in terrorized amaze-
ment, confirmed in the previously circulated opinion that
the Spaniards were favored of the gods and fought with
supernatural weapons, against which no human agency
could contend.


On the day following his spectacular entrance into the
city, which ended with noisy demonstration of roaring can-
non and rattle of musketry, Cortez proceeded, at the head
of a retinue of horsemen, on a visit to the Emperor, who
graciously met him at his palace door, and with a large
body of police accompanied him on a visit to the important
places of the capital. The chief object of interest which at-
tracted the attention of the Spaniards was a gigantic pyra-
midal temple, which rose from the center of an extended
plain to a height of nearly 1 50 feet, the summit of which
was gained by an ascent of 1 14 steps. It was upon this
pyramid that bloody human sacrifices were offered up by
the devout Mexicans of the city, and before the sacrificial
stone, which occupied a corner of this altitudinous plain,
was the hideous image of two idols, thickly incrusted with
the dried blood of thousands of victims that had been
slaughtered as a propitiation before it. On the summit was
also an enormous gong, which the priests sounded at the
time of the execution of their victims, the noise being made
to drown their shrieks and groans, and to heighten the ef-
fects of the ceremony. After viewing this horrible specta-
cle, Cortez besought Montezuma to order an abandonment
of the bloody rites, and expatiated upon the abominableness
of their religion and the ineflficacy of their gods ; which,
however, instead of producing a favorable impression, caused
Montezuma to turn away in anger, shocked at what he
regarded as the blasphemy of his visitors' declarations, and,



in fear that a swift retribution would be wrought by the
angered gods, he entreated Cortez to appease their wrath by
an adjuration of his sacrilegious sentiments.

Unwilling as yet to proceed to violence to accomplish his
designs, Cortez hoped to counteract the influence of the
Mexican priests by the institution of the Christian worship,
to which end he converted one of the halls of the residence
that had been set apart for him into a Christian chapel,
where the rites of the Church were solemnly performed by
Father Olmedo, and prayers were offered up for the speedy
conversion of the heathens.

Several days were spent inactively, until at length the
question arose what should be their next proceedings.
Cortez was not unmindful of the dangers which beset him,
for, in addition to being in the center of a city whose popula-
tion was not less than 500,000 souls, the adjacent district
was numerously populated, and every advantage was upon
the side of the Mexicans for an annihilation of the Spaniards,
had they chosen to make an exhibition of their power.

The Tlascalans, to whose inveterate enmity for the Mexi-
cans was added the fear of punishment for their rebellion
against the Emperor, became importunate for some action
upon the part of Cortez that would inaugurate immediate
hostilities, thinking that by so doing they would be enabled
to wreak a vengeance upon their enemies similar to that
which they had satisfied upon the Cholulans. They ac-
cordingly sought every opportunity to impress Cortez with
the peril of his situation, and daily advised him that the
Mexicans were planning a strategy by which to overcome
them. They called to his mind the fact that the causeways
were bridged at certain intervals, which might be easily cut
so as to prevent an escape from the Mexicans if hostilities
were begun, and they directed his attention to many sus-
picious actions which seemed to confirm their worst fears.


It was not long until these peisuasions induced Cortcz
to adopt an expedient to prevent the fate which had been
predicted unless averted by prompt and heroic measures.
He therefore caused Montczunia to be seized and held as
a hostage for the safety and peace of his soldiers, an act
which he excused by the hostile measures adopted by some
of the officers of Montezuma, who had laid a tribute upon
the Totonacs, several of whom had been killed for their
refusal to make payment of the taxes thus levied. Monte-
zuma at first refused to submit to such indignity to his per-
son, but yielded at length, upon the assurance that his pre-
rogative as emperor would be in no wise interfered with,
and that in the Spanish quarters he would be permitted to
execute his edicts in the same manner as before.

The holding of Montezuma as a hostage, however, proved
to be only the beginning of greater indignities, which Cor-
tez had foreseen could not be continued without involving
the Spaniards and Mexicans in open hostility. His next
act was the seizure of the chief who had levied tribute upon
the Totonacs, and in revenge for the execution of those
who had refused payments, he submitted the chief to a tor-
ture which wrung from him a confession that he had acted
upon his sovereign's orders. Having obtained this admis-
sion, Cortez, not content with merely torturing the chief
and his aids, caused them to be bound to stakes in the
market-places of the capital, where they were burned to
death before the gaze of the terrified inhabitants. A raid
was then made upon the magazine of the city, from which
was forcibly taken all the arms, consisting of javelins,
spears, arrows and clubs, Avhich were thrown into a pile
and consumed, thus greatly reducing the power of resist-
ance to his cruel conduct. Continuing his harsh measures,
Cortez pitilessly ordered his soldiers to bind the hands and
feet of the Emperor in iron manacles, and set him out be-


fore his palace in the character of a common felon until
sunset, when the shackles were with a show of magnanimity
stricken from him. But the insult which had thus been
offered, in addition to the inexcusable crimes which Cortez
liad perpetrated, while humbling the Emperor, aroused the
indignant ire of the populace, who began to concert meas-
ures for the annihilation of the Spaniards. But their at-
tempt at resistance, for the time being, only resulted in the
levying of a tribute of gold upon the whole of the Mexican
territory, by which Avas exacted for the benefit of the con-

Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 34 of 37)