James W. (James William) Buel.

Library of American history (Volume 1) online

. (page 37 of 37)
Online LibraryJames W. (James William) BuelLibrary of American history (Volume 1) → online text (page 37 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

discard his lawful wife, and made pretensions of great joy
at having been thus reunited to her. But at the expiration
of three months she died suddenly, some say from a natural
cause, but more suspicious minds entertain the belief that
her life was cut short by the agency of poison.

Peace had spread her white wings over the fair territory
of Mexico, and Cortez was permitted for a while to enjoy
her benefactions. But to one of his restless spirit, designs
and ambitions would not allow a long continuance of this
peaceful and happy state. Charges he knew had been pre-
pared against him by Velasquez, and industrious enemies


v/ere at work at the Spanish Court to divest him of the gloiy
and honors which he had acquired. To secure the favor of
the Spanish sovereign, he therefore not only sent emissaries
to the court at Madrid, but prepared elaborate reports of
all the adventures, discoveries and events that had befallen
him from the time of his departure from Cuba until his
subjugation of the Mexican Empire, in which he did not
omit to show the great advantages which had accrued to
Spain through his efforts, and the inestimable riches which
he had obtained in his conquests, and which, under proper
convoy, he promised would be sent as an offering to his

These reports placated whatever hostile feeling might
have been directed towards Cortez at the Spanish Court,
and reposing again in the confidence which he had inspired
on every side, but still ambitious to acquire greater honors,
he projected an expedition against Honduras by which he
hoped to add new lands to the Spanish crown. He accord-
ingly sent Christoval de Olid to found a colony in that
country. But this man, while he had been an effective
commander in the siege of Mexico, was little qualified to
undertake such an enterprise ; for, flattered by the little
power which had thus been placed in his hands, no sooner
had he formed the nucleus of a colony than he threw off his
dependence upon Cortez, as the latter had upon Velasquez,
and asserted his independence of all authority save that of
the Spanish crown. Report of this assumption of authority
reached Cortez, who immediately sent another expedition,
under Las Casas, with five ships and a hundred Spanish
soldiers, to arrest the disobedient officer. This expedition
sailed away over a distance of 2,000 miles to the Bay of
Honduras, and arrived suddenly before the town which
Olid had founded, and which, in a spirit of religious fervor,
he had named Triumph of the Cross. Olid was taken


unawares, and after a very short engagement sent a humble
message to Las Casas, begging for a truce that would enable
them to confer upon the terms of surrender. Consent to
this request proved disastrous to the expedition, for on the
same night a tempest arose, which wrecked all the ships,
and in which thirty of the crew perished. Las Casas man-
aged to escape with the others of his party, but, disregard-
ing the truce, Olid, who had now gathered his forces
together, seized them and gave them the alternative of
death or taking an oath of allegiance to his service. Las
Casas chose the latter, but, feeling justified in any perfidy
as an offset to that which Olid had practiced, he finally
succeeded in forming a conspiracy, and seizing Olid, with-
out even the preliminaries of a court-martial, ordered him

Information of the wreck of the vessels by some means
reached Cortez, but he was not apprised of any of the sub-
sequent proceedings, and so incensed was he at the conduct
of Olid in violating his truce that he resolved to lead an
expedition himself and bring a dreadful punishment upon
the violator of his authority. At the head of 100 Spanish
horsemen, fifty infantry and 3,000 Mexican soldiers, Cortez
left Mexico on the 12th of October, 1524, for Honduras,
which would necessitate a land march of 1,500 miles. With
the fear that in his absence Guatemozin and the cacique of
Tacuba, whom he had so tortured, might instigate a rebel-
lion, he decided to take those two as captives with him.
Several Catholic priests also accompanied the expedition
with the purpose of spreading the teachings of the Church
among the heathen tribes of Central America. Marina, his
native wife, also bore him company, as her services were
indispensable as interpreter. But Cortez, looking forward
to an alliance with some noble family of Spain, to relieve
himself from the embarrassment of a native wife, delivered


her in marriage to a Castilian knight named Don Juan
Xamarillo, and, as some amends for his conduct, he assigned
to the newl}^ married couple the most vahiable estate in the
province of Marina, through which the route to Honduras
lay. History makes no further mention of Marina, but her
son, known as Don Martin Cortez, through the patronage
of his father, became one of the most prominent grandees
of Spain, filling many posts of opulence and honor ; but he
was at last suspected of treason against the home govern-
ment, and shamefully put to the torture in the Mexican
capital some time after the death of his father.

This march of 1,500 miles by Cortez was one of the most
terrible ever undertaken by any commander. The hard-
ships, perils and starvation which beset them were almost
incredible, as we read them in the reports made by Diaz,
who was an enforced member of the expedition. Nor was
it free from the outrages which characterized the conduct
of Cortez from the first moment that he landed on Mexi-
can soil. Among his other crimes, during this march he
seized a pretext for ridding himself of Guatemozin and the
Tacuban cacique. Pretending that he had received authen-
tic information of efforts being made by these two unhappy
captives to incite the natives along the way to revolt, he
required no further proofs than his belief in the truth of
such report, and in the most hurried manner hung them
upon a tree by the wayside, where they were left suspended,
to become the prey of carrion birds.

Cortez was absent nearly three years upon this expedi-
tion, and when at last he contrived to reach the colony
planted at the village known as Triumph of the Cross, he
found only a few stragglers, and these at peace and ready
to render him a faithful obedience, while nearly half of those
who started with him had perished on the way. Cortez
then embarked for Cuba, where he was received with great


demonstrations of respect, but he remained there only a
short while, returning again to the Mexican capital, where
the people hailed him as one come back from the dead, and
offered him the most obsequious honors, to which he was
not wholly unentitled.

The last days of Cortcz were naturally his most unhappy
ones. He brooded over the crimes which he had perpe-
trated, over his indefensible subjection to slavery of the peo-
ple whom he had invaded and despoiled ; and, as evil is its
own avenger, we are not surprised that Cortez should be
overwhelmed with troubles in his last days. He had now
an ample fortune, but his enemies were still active in their
efforts to bring him to the justice which had long been de-
layed. So serious were these charges, that Cortez finally
decided to go to Spain in person and answer before Charles
v., which he did with such address and cunning that he not
only succeeded in relieving himself from the odium that had
been heaped upon him by many of the most influential
members of the Spanish Court, but for a while he seems to
have thoroughly ingratiated himself into the favor of the
vSpanish sovereign, who not only knighted him, but made
him Governor-General of Mexico for life. During his visit
to Spain he also formed an alliance, through the niece of the
Duke de Bcjar, with one of the most distinguished families
in Spain, and the marriage ceremony was honored by the
presence of Charles V. and his Queen.

With his new bride in 1530 Cortez returned to Mexico
and occupied the magnificent palace which he had built
some few years before. But scarcely had he departed, when
his enemies, again obtaining the ear of the Spanish sover-
eign, at length made such representations, and presented
such proofs, that they persuaded him to recall the commis-
sion issued to Cortez, and to not only appoint a new Gov-
ernor-General, but bring him to the bar of public judgment


and trial upon several of the old charges which had been
preferred, and additional ones that had been framed after
his departure. Ignorant of the proceedings which had thus
been instituted against him, Cortez squandered nearly the
whole of his wealth in fruitless expeditions, sent out for
further discoveries and the founding of new colonics; and
when the ambassadors of the court of Charles V. at last
reached the Mexican capital, they found Cortez absent on
one of his ambitious enterprises, and had to wait a period of
nearly one year for his return. By them he was now
divested of his honors, and thrown upon the world a poor
and prematurely old man, with whose misfortunes very few
sympathized, while many seized the occasion to wreak a
vengeance which had long rankled in their bosoms ; for
Cortez by his vigorous, and not always humane, actions had
made many enemies, not only at the Spanish Court, but in
Cuba and the Mexican capital as well. Having spent his
fortune in what he declared were efforts to advance the in-
terests of his sovereign, in his poverty he w^as induced to
return again to his native land in 1540 and make a personal
appeal to Charles V. for a reimbursement of moneys which
he had expended in his service. But though he was gra-
ciously received, his petition met wath little consideration,
though every word of promise he took as an encouragement,
and with lingering hopes he remained in Spain nearly two
years. Me was at last a pitiable spectacle, moneyless and
friendless, with nothing but the glamour of earlier heroic days
to keep him from the most complete obscurity.

Crushed in spirit, all hope at last disappeared, and Cor-
tez resolved to return again to Mexico, where it were better
for him to die in the remembrance of the people he had
conquered than to perish in neglect in the land of his birth.
He had proceeded as far as Seville, when he was overcome
by his melancholy, which took a fatal turn, and he was un-


able to continue his journey any further. Reah'zing tliat
death was near at hand, he made and executed his will in a
manner that manifested the continued vigor of his iron
will. He left nine children, five of whom were born out of
wedlock, among whom he equally divided the small prop-
erty which he possessed on the outskirts of Mexico. Not
being content with the poor accommodations provided for
him at Seville, at the entreaty of his son, who accompanied
him, he was removed to the neighboring village of Cas-
tilleja. There, on the 2d day of December, 1547, he died in
the sixty-third year of his age, so completely neglected that
only his faithful son was present during the last hour. Im-
mediately upon his death there was a reaction among the
public in his favor, and he seemed suddenly to have been
magnified in the eyes of every one in Spain. A vast con-
course of people attended his obsequies, and he was buried
in great pomp in the tomb of the Duke of Madina Sidonia,
at Seville. Five years later his remains were disinterred
and removed to Mexico by his son Martin, who deposited
them in the family vault in the monastery at Tezcuco,
where they remained for sixty-seven years and until dis-
turbed again in 1629 and deposited beneath the Church of
St. Francis ; here they reposed in peace until they were for
the third time resurrected, in 1794, and transferred to the
Hospital of Our Lady of the Conception, which Cortez had
founded and endowed. The remains when last disinterred
were deposited in a glass cofifin, bound with bars of iron,
and over them a splendid monument was reared in com-
memoration alike of his fidelity to the Church, his extension
of Christianity among the pagans of the New World, and
of the unexampled military skill and spirit which he ex-






This book is undfer no circuin<itance«i to b<!
takea from the Building






> fr -^-> :r ..^??-^r'" • w.^^ "^v^







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