James W. (James William) Buel.

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But he recovered despite the dangerous character of his
hurts, seemingly destined by fate to continue his career of
unexampled spoliation, cruelty and insatiable ambition.


Defeat, misfortune, suffering, tribulation of any kind,
could not repress the indomitable spirit of this extraordi-
nary man, and despite the calamities through which he had
passed, Cortez in his sorest hour resolved to seek a means
to continue the enterprise which had apparently ended so
disastrously. When able to rise from a bed of suffering, he
began recruiting his force from among the TIascalans until
he had secured the co-operation of several thousand, after
which he returned again to Vera Cruz, where he enlisted as
many more of the Totonacs. He sent a dispatch also to
the sovereign of Spain, giving specious reports of his acts
while in Mexico, and assigning as a reason for an invasion
of the territor)^ his desire to win souls to God and to
magnify the splendor of his sovereign. At the same time,
or directly after his return to Vera Cruz, two ships were
seen approaching the harbor, that had been dispatched
by the governor of Cuba with supplies for Narvaez, report
of whose conflict with Cortez had not yet been received.
No sooner had these vessels dropped their anchors than
they were visited by Cortez, whose influence seems to have
been irresistible, and by his flattering promises he induced
the crews to enter his service and surrender to him all the
stores that had been brought over. Three vessels, which
had also been dispatched by the governor of Jamaica to
conduct an independent expedition of discovery and con-
test, also cast anchor at Vera Cruz about this time, and these
likewise fell into the hands of Cortez, and the men compos-
ing the expedition enlisted under his banner. Another ship,



that had been fitted out by some merchant, arrived fiom
Spain with military stores, the cargo of which Cortez pur-
chased, and then persuaded the crew to join his army. He
had also sent agents to Hispaniola and Jamaica, whose
commissions were so successful that in a short while they
returned with 200 soldiers, 80 horses, two cannons, and a
large supply of ammunition and muskets. In this manner
he succeeded in raising his force to 818 foot soldiers, 86
cavalrymen, three heavy guns and 15 field-pieces. Besides
these recruits, he enlisted the services of 8,coo men of burden,
chiefly fron among the Tlascalans and Totonacs, and pro-
vided material for the construction of a fleet of thirteen
brigantines, which were to be carried a distance of sixty
miles over rough roads on the shoulders of men, for use
upon the lake about the city of Mexico. Thus provided
for renewal of the siege of Mexico, and with a determina-
tion to accomplish the subjugation of the territory, he re-
turned to the outskirts of the city and began his prepara-
tions to carry it by assault.

At the death of Montezuma, his brother, Cuitlahua, suc-
ceeded to the emperorship, and being more warlike than
Montezuma in disposition, it Avas under his energies that the
Spaniards had been driven from the metropolis. Directly
after the of the invaders, he set about fortifying his
capital and recruiting and drilling his army that had now
become familiar with European weapons. He also sent an
embassy to the Tlascalans, urging them to remit their for-
mer enmity and unite with him against the common foe,
who, without their assistance, would be helpless. But his
overtures to his old enemies were without effect, and in ad-
dition to the other woes from which he suffered, that had
been introduced by the Spaniards, small-pox made its ap-
pearance in his territory, which, breaking out suddenly,
swept like a besom of destruction throughout the land,


until it became a pestilence so fearful that it threatened the
depopulation of the entire country. Within a few weeks'
time several cities were plague-stricken, and the living were
insufficient to bury the dead, so rapid were its ravages. It
was not long until the disease invaded the Mexican capital,
and one of its first victims was the Emperor, Cuitlahua.
His death intensified the panic, and but for the fact that
several Spaniards also succumbed to the epidemic, the Mexi-
cans would have no doubt abandoned their city in the be-
lief, which for a while obtained, that this disease, of which
they had never before heard, was another supernatural aid
employed by the Spaniards for their destruction.

Cuitlahua was succeeded by Guatemozin, a son-in-law of
the late Montezuma, ^\•ho, though only twenty-four years
of age, quickly proved himself more heroic, resourceful and
indomitable than his predecessors. With an adnn'rablc con-
ception of the exigencies which threatened his crown, Guate-
mozin set resolutely about repairing the damage wrought
by Cortez, and putting his capital in a more perfect state cf
defense. Outwardly manifesting a friendly spirit for the
Spaniards left in the country, he craftily hid his designs, or
kept them from reaching Cortez. PI is army, which was
recruited to a force exceeding 200,000, was carefully drilled,
stores of provisions laid in, barricades erected on the several
causeways, and a large fleet of canoes built to co-operate
with the land forces, their use having been proved in the
battle of the dismal night.

Cortez, having completed his preparations for another
siege of the capital, by having provided himself with an
immense supply of military stores and a largely increased
force, started on his return for Mexico, presenting a pag-
eantry that attracted to his banner 200,000 TIascalans and
Totonacs, with which army he felt himself equal to any
undertaking. He proceeded directly to Tepeaca, a con-


sidcrable town on the northern shore of the lake, where he
put together the timbers of his fleet of thirteen brigantines,
each of which he manned with twenty-five Spaniards, and
set on the prows a cannon, so as to command a sweep of
the lake.

A few feeble efforts were made to harass the Spaniards
while they were at Tepeaca, but it was not until the squad-
ron was ready and the sails were spread for crossing the
lake to enter upon a siege of the capital, that an attack
of any pretension was made. Guatemozin, perceiving how
these vessels might be employed to his great disadvantage,
sent against them a flotilla of more than three hundred
canoes, each manned by twelve natives armed with bows
and arrows, thinking to overpower the Spaniards and destroy
the ships by sheer force of numbers. But to his horror he
saw his armada run down by the large and fleeter vessels,
while a hail of grape-shot and showers of arrows from the
Spanish cross-bowmen literally annihilated the fleet of
canoemcn, leaving the waters red with their blood and
choked with their mutilated bodies. A wail of anguish
went up from the Mexicans at this destruction of their hopes,
but they were not long permitted to peaceably indulge their
lamentations, or to make their sacrifices unmolested to their
gods, for, having destroyed their fleet, Cortez now began
the siege in earnest. He divided his army into three divi-
sions, under command respectively of Sandoval, Alvarado
and Olid, who were to begin the attack upon three separate
causeways, while Cortez himself assumed command of the
brigantines, and co-operated with the land forces by attack-
in£f from the sides. The bridges over the causewavs were
obstructed, as before described, by formidable barriers, be-
hind which the Mexicans were stationed in immense force.
But by concentrating a heavy artillery fire upon them, these
were gradually battered down, and every foot of the way


was then hotly contested by hand-to-hand conflicts. At the
moment of beginning the assault, the fleet opened fire from
the side and slaughtered thousands, whose bodies interposed
additional obstacles, which could only be surmounted by
throwing them over again into the water.

The obstinacy of the Mexicans, despite the frightful
slaughter to which they were subjected, was so astonishing
to Cortez that he feared disaster even at the time of his
most effective assault, and to provide means for a retreat,
in case of necessity, he carefully bridged all the breaches,
and threw out a force to protect his rear. But at length
the Mexicans relaxed the vigor of their defense, and by
inaction lured the Spaniards into the belief that their victory
was already secure, which so excited their hopes that,
unmindful of possible treachery, they rushed across the
remaining portions of the causeway and directly into the
city. The strategy which Guatemozin had thus employed
directly became apparent, for suddenly the alarm drum
sounded from the summit of the great temple, which was
the signal for the collection of the full fighting force of the
capital, who now, in concert, threw themselves in a fierce
charge upon the surprised Spaniards. So sudden and
irresistible was the onslaught that both the Spanish foot and
horsemen were alike thrown into the utmost confusion and
driven in great numbers back into the last chasm which
they had neglected to bridge. For the moment defense-
less, the Spaniards fell in great numbers, victims to the
showers of arrows and javelins of their encouraged enemies.
More than a score were killed outright, while twice as many
more were wounded and fell into the hands of the Mexicans,
besides the loss of a thousand of their allies. This awful
and unexpected reverse became presently still more dread-
ful, when the Spaniards viewed the frightful fate that was
about to overtake their captured comrades.


The darkness of night had now settled down, but towards
the middle watches a great light suddenly appeared upon
the summit of the temple, and a spectacle speedily followed
which fairly froze the blood of the Spaniards, as they
plainly saw the awful rites that were now being performed.
Amid a great gathering of priests and waving plumes of
soldiery that had assembled in great number upon the lofty
plain of the pyramid, were to be seen, by the aid of the
torches, the white bodies of the Spanish victims, as they
were stripped by their captors and prepared for the sacrifices
which were n.ow to be offered up.

The horrified Spaniards watched their wretched com-
rades and saw each prisoner stretched upon the sacrificial
stone, and heard the despairing shrieks that went up as the
bodies were gashed with the obsidian knife of the priest,
and the quivering hearts torn out and held aloft as offerings
to their gods. Diaz, the historian of the expedition, and
who was an eye-witness of this frightful scene, gives us the
following soul-sickening description :

" On a sudden our ears were struck by the horrific sound
of the great drum, the timbrels, horns and trumpets of the
temple. We all directed our eyes thither, and, shocking to
relate, saw our unfortunate countrymen driven by blows to
the place where they were to be sacrificed, which bloody
ceremony was accompanied by the dismal sound of all the
instruments of the temple. We j^erceived that when they
had brought the wretched victims to the flat summit of the
body of the temple, they put plumes upon their heads and
made them dance before their accursed idols, Wlien they
had done this, they laid them upon their backs on the stone
used for the purpose, when they cut out their hearts alive,
and having presented them yet palpitating to their gods,
they drew the bodies down the steps by the feet, where
they were taken by others of their priests."


The elation of the Mexicans at the success of their on-
shiught was further manifested by cutting off the heads of
the prisoners whom they had thus sacrificed, which they
sent to neighbor ing provinces as a proof that their gods,
now appeased by the offering of blood, had abandoned the
Spaniards and concerted their destruction. The Pagan
priests also predicted that in eight days the enemy would
be entirely destroyed, and that Mexico would rise from her
tribulations to greater glory than had ever before dawned
upon the people. So great was the general confidence
placed in this prophecy, that the native allies of Cortez began
to waver in their allegiance, and to prevent their desertion
in a body he was compelled to remain inactive until the
period set for the calamity should have passed. When the
eight days were ended, and the gods had not fulfilled the
prediction which the priests boastfully declared would
terminate the conflict, Cortez seized the occasion to taunt
the Mexicans with their ignorant credulity and false reliance,
and to claim the favor of Almighty God, who extended His
protection and conferred power upon the Spaniards. So
immediate was the effect of this declaration, which seemed
to be proved by the circumstances, that the Tlascalans not
only renewed their adherence, but other natives of the
adjacent country came flocking to his standard, and thus
increased his force by the addition of nearly 50,000 more
active warriors.

So great now was his army, while so obstinate continued
to be the resistance of the Mexicans, who, for a while,
effectually prevented his progress towards the citadel, that
a famine broke out among the besiegers, as well as amono-
the besieged, and to the horrors which had been perpetrated
by shot, and arrow, and lance, and javelin, were now added
terrible feasts of cannibalism, a practice easily instituted by
reason of the custom which had long prevailed among the


natives of devouring the bodies of their victims at the sacri-
ficial feasts.

But gradually, almost inch by inch, the Spaniards pushed
forward, breaking down, but only after the most heroic
measures, such barricades as were erected in their paths,
until after the expiration of nearly two months' time the
broad avenues of the city were gained. But here every
liouse was a fortress, from the top of which stones were
thrown down, while windows were used by the Mexicans
from which to pour their hail of arrows upon the invaders.
The firebrand was therefore again applied, being the only
means of dislodging the enemy, until half the town was in
flames. At the same time the brigantines kept a careful
patrol of the lake, to prevent the escape by canoes of any
of the inhabitants, and continued a desultory fire from the
cannons upon buildings where bodies of the Mexicans had
taken refuge.

Though Cortez was gradually and surely reaching the
heart of the Mexican capital, he was touched with the
frightful misery being inflicted alike upon his own army
and the Mexicans, and time and again sent messages to
Guatemozin, demanding in the name of humanity the capit-
ulation of the city. l>ut to each an indignant and defiant
reply was returned, and the unequal fight went on. The
three divisions had accomplished a passage of the causeways,
and had concentrated in the great square of the city, from
which avenues radiated in all directions. Here cannons
were planted, and the streets were kept clear of moving
bodies, since to appear in such exposed places meant certain
death. In this cicsperate situation the Mexicans at length
adopted an expedient for securing the safety of their be-
loved monarch. Soliciting a truce, upon the ground that
it was necessary to remove the great piles of corpses that
were polluting the streets, they utilized the time which was


thus granted in preparing for a secret removal of their
Emperor to tlie main shores. Accordingly, he embarked
in a beautiful canoe, with several of the nobles of the capital,
and was rowed swiftly across the lake. But, anticipating a
ruse of this character, Cortez sent one of his brigantines in
pursuit, which intercepted the canoe before it had gone a
mile upon its way. Cross-bowmen crowded the prow of the
vessel ready to discharge a volley of arrows at the occupants
of the canoe, when, seeing the peril in which their Emperor
was now placed, the nobles arose and anxiously besought
them not to fire, confessing that the Emperor was in the
boat with them who desired to surrender. The canoe Vv'as
brought alongside, and Guatemozin, at the command of
Cortez, was taken on board the brigantine and conveyed
to the shore, with the hope that in an interview he might
be persuaded to surrender the city and prevent further car-
nage. Imagine the surprise of the Spanish commander
when the Emperor, instead of humbling himself, as he might
have been supposed to do, wore a proud and imperious air,
and grasping the dagger which Cortez wore by his side, in
the most tragic manner presented it again, and besought
him to plunge it into his bosom and thus end a miserable life.
Cortez endeavored to console liim by assurances that he
should not be treated as a captive, but rather as a depend-
ent upon the clemency of the greatest monarch of Europe,
who would soon restore him not only to liberty but place
him again upon the throne which he had so valiantly de-
fended. But the Mexicans had been too often deceived by the
specious words of the Spaniards to place any confidence in
present assurances, and understanding the perfidy and treach-
ery which had marked every act thus far of the invaders,
Guatemozin asked no clemency for himself, but begged that
Cortez would be merciful to his suffering people and treat
with proper respect the noble ladies who were with him,


The capture of the Emperor and the deplorable straits to
Avhich the Mexicans were now subjected so completely dis-
couraged them, that they abandoned all further defense and
permitted the victorious Spaniards to have full and complete
possession of the destroyed city.

A period of seventy-five days had been spent in almost
incessant conflict, during which time scarcely an hourpassed
thnt had not been characterized by some furious battle.
During this unexampled siege it is estimated that not less
than 140,000 Mexicans perished, while nearly 400 Spaniards
and not less than 25,000 of their allies met alike fate. The
streets were so choked with the dead and dying that, to the
miseries of famine, a plague of disease quickly followed.
Singular to relate, the epidemic of small-pox seems to have
suddenly abated, but greater horrors took its place, and but
for prompt measures in disposing of the dead, it is probable
that scarcely a Spaniard would have been left to tell the
story of this unexampled siege. For three whole days all
the surviving Mexicans and the allies of Cortez were en-
gaged conveying the dead to the hills for interment, and
this gruesome employment did not stop either night or day
until it was completed. The streets were then purified by
the building of large bonfires and the consumption of such
debris as lay scattered about, after which Cortez began a
search for the large treasures which he had confidently ex-
pected to secure.

It was on the 13th of August, 1521, that the city was
surrendered into his hands, on which date it may be said
that the great empire of Mexico perished, and became
thereafter a colony of Spain.

For a week his search through buildings, and cellars, and
channels of every description continued, but Cortez was
only able to collect of all kinds of treasure a sum not ex-
ceeding in value §100,000. This small amount of spoils


was such a disappointment to the Sp;iniards that they be-
came clamorous for the adoption of means that would com-
pel Guatemozin to disclose where his riches were secreted.
To their inquiries he responded that nearly the whole had
been conveyed to the center of the lake in boats, and there
sunk to such depths that recovery was impossible. But,
not satisfied with this answer, and believing that torture
might wring from him a confession that much of the treas
ure was yet recoverable from some readily accessible place
of the city, the more turbulent of the Spaniards became
importunate in their demands that such disclosure be forced
from him. To this proposition Cortez at first opposed a
vigorous refusal, but as tlie disaffection of his troops and
their clamor became greater, he was at length reluctantly
compelled to accede to their horrible demands. Accord-
ingly, the unhappy monarch, and the cacique of Tacuba,
who was the highest officer of the Emperor, were brought
to the market-place, and their feet being first drenched with
oil, were exposed to the burning coals of a hot fire until the
soles were entirely roasted. The Emperor bore his suffer-
ings with such fortitude as to add luster to a name which
had already been ennobled by his heroism in conducting
the defense of his capital. Not once did he give voice to
the excruciating agony which he must have suffered, which
conduct so affected Cortez that with his own hands he
rescued the imperial sufferer, and declared that, whatever
might be the sacrifice to himself, the horror should not be
continued in his presence.

Cortez now set about restoring the capital, and in making
some amends for the inexcusable ruin that he had wrought.
Though beset b)'- perplexities, through information and
threatenings which had reached him that Velasquez was
concerting measures to bring him to punishment for the
power which he had without authority assumed, he never-



theless set his men to work, with the aid of their allies, to
rebuild the fallen capital. The labor went on without inter-
ruption, and so speedily that in a few months there arose
out of the ashes of Mexico new buildings, in many points
equaling in grandeur those which they replaced ; at the
same time Cortez constructed for himself a palace which
lias rarely been exceeded for splendor. But while engaging
in this restoration of the capital, he reduced the natives to
a condition of servitude which presently developed into the
most abject slavery, from which the Tlascalans and Totonacs
alone escaped. The poor natives were compelled to do their
work under the lash, to labor in the mines, to till the fields,
and to engage in all the arts under the hand of the most
cruel and exacting taskmasters. For this audacious and
cruel abuse of a sudden power Cortez has never been ex-
cused, and in the eyes of civilization never can be excused,
and it will remain, along with the other dark blots upon his
character, the one supreme blemish which beclouds all the
glory which might otherwise brighten his name.

Occasionally the natives in remote districts rebelled
under the harsh treatment to which they were subjected,
and in one instance, in the province of Paluco, the number
of rebellious subjects exceeded 70,000 warriors, who arose
with the intention of massacring their masters, and who had
ambitious hopes even of uniting the natives of the entire
territory for an expulsion of the Spaniards. So formidable
did the insurrection become, that Cortez placed himself at
the head of an army of 130 horsemen, 250 infantry and
10,000 Mexicans, with which he made a forced march, and
engaged the rebellious subjects in such a hot contest that
the greater part of them were slaughtered, and such a signal
victory secured that no subsequent efforts of any consider-
able character were made by the Mexicans to regain their


For more than four years Cortez devoted all his energies
to a rebuilding of the Mexican capital, and to a zealous
effort for the conversion of the natives to Catholicism, and
so successful was this attempt that Mexico became, under
his rule, more magnificent than ever before ; and the natives
gradually abandoned the bloody rites of their ancient wor-
ship, and under the influence of the Spanish priests became
amenable to the Church. Numbers of priests were brought
over from Spain, and twenty-five churches erected within
the city, while others were instituted in the surrounding
country. These had such influence that the natives ulti-
mately adopted Catholicism as their religion, to which they
have continued to adhere to the present time.

During the quiet life which Cortez lived during these
years in Mexico, his amiable native wife, Marina, had borne
him a son, whose instruction had been his constant care, in
the hope that his mantle might in time descend upon him.
In the midst of these pleasant anticipations, he was sur-
prised by the sudden appearance of Donna Catalina, the
Spanish lady whom he had married in Cuba, who had come
over, accompanied by her brother, seeking her recreant and
long-absent husband. Cortez, affecting a pious regard for
the tenets of the religion which he professed, could not

Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 36 of 37)