Pedro Velasquez.

Memoir of an eventful expedition in Central America : resulting in the discovery of the idolatrous city of Iximaya, in an unexplored region : and the possession of two remarkable Aztec children descendants and specimens of the sacerdotal caste, (now nearly extinct) of the Aztec founders of the ruine online

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Online LibraryPedro VelasquezMemoir of an eventful expedition in Central America : resulting in the discovery of the idolatrous city of Iximaya, in an unexplored region : and the possession of two remarkable Aztec children descendants and specimens of the sacerdotal caste, (now nearly extinct) of the Aztec founders of the ruine → online text (page 1 of 4)
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Transcriber's Note

Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. A list of corrections
is found at the end of the text. Inconsistencies in spelling and
hyphenation have been maintained. A list of inconsistently spelled
and hyphenated words is found at the end of the text.

Oe ligatures have been expanded.



In an unexplored region; and the possession of two


Descendants and Specimens of the Sacerdotal Caste, (now
nearly extinct,) of the Ancient Aztec Founders of the
Ruined Temples of that Country,



Translated from the Spanish of

E. F. Applegate, Printer, 111 Nassau Street.



The above three figures, sketched from engravings in "Stevens's Central
America," will be found, on personal comparison, to bear a remarkable
and convincing resemblance, both in the general features and the
position of the head, to the two living Aztec children, now exhibiting
in the United States, of the ancient sacerdotal caste of _Kaanas_, or
Pagan Mimes, of which a few individuals remain in the newly discovered
city of Iximaya. See, the following _Memoir_, page 31.


These two figures, sketched from the same work, are said, by Senor
Velasquez, in the unpublished portion of his narrative, to be
"irresistible likenesses" of the equally exclusive but somewhat more
numerous priestly caste of _Mahaboons_, still existing in that city,
and to which belonged Vaalpeor, an official guardian of those children,
as mentioned in this memoir. Velasquez states that the likeness of
Vaalpeor to the right hand figure in the frontispiece of Stevens' second
volume, which is here also the one on the right hand, was as exact, in
outline, as if the latter had been a daguerreotype miniature.

While writing his "Narrative" after his return to San Salvador, in the
spring of the present year, (1850,) Senor Velasquez was favored, by an
American gentleman of that city, with a copy of "Layard's Nineveh," and
was forcibly struck with the close characteristic resemblance of the
faces in many of its engravings to those of the inhabitants in general,
as a peculiar family of mankind, both of Iximaya and its surrounding
region. The following are sketches, (somewhat imperfect,) of two of the
male faces to which he refers:


And the following profile, from the same work, is pronounced by
Velasquez to be equally characteristic of the female faces of that
region, making due allowance for the superb head dresses of tropical
plumage, with which he describes the latter as being adorned, instead of
the male galea, or close cap, retained in the engraving.


These illustrations, slight as they are, are deemed interesting, because
the Iximayans assert their descent from a very ancient Assyrian colony
nearly co-temporary with Nineveh itself - a claim which receives strong
confirmation, not only from the hieroglyphics and monuments of Iximaya,
but from the engravings in Stevens' volumes of several remarkable
objects, (the inverted winged globe especially,) at Palenque - once a
kindred colony.

It should have been stated in the following Memoir, that Senor
Velasquez, on his return to San Salvador, caused the two Kaana children
to be baptized into the Catholic Church, by the Bishop of the Diocese,
under the names of Maximo and Bartola Velasquez.


In the second volume of his travels in Central America - than which no
work ever published in this country, has created and maintained a higher
degree of interest, both at home and abroad - Mr. Stevens speaks with
enthusiasm of the conversations he had held with an intelligent and
hospitable Padre, or Catholic priest, of Santa Cruz del Quiche, formerly
of the village of Chajul; and of the exciting information he had
received from him, concerning immense and marvellous antiquities in the
surrounding country, which, to the present hour, remain entirely unknown
to the world. The Padre told him of vast ruins, in a deserted and
desolate region, but four leagues from Vera Paz, more extensive than
Quiche itself; and of another ruined city, on the other side of the
great traversing range of the Cordilleras, of which no account has been
given. But the most stimulating story of all, was the existence of a
_living_ city, far on the other side of the great sierra, large and
populous, occupied by Indians of the same character, and in precisely
the same state, as those of the country in general, before the discovery
of the continent and the desolating conquests of its invaders.

The Padre averred that, in younger days, he had climbed to the topmost
ridge of the sierra, a height of 10 or 12,000 feet, and from its naked
summit, looking over an immense plain, extending to Yucatan and the Gulf
of Mexico, had seen, with his own eyes, in the remote distance, "a large
city, spread over a great space, with turrets white and glittering in
the sun." His account of the prevalent Indian report concerning it was,
that no white man had ever reached that city; that the inhabitants, who
speak the Maya language, are aware that a race of white strangers has
conquered the whole country around them, and have hence murdered every
white man that has since attempted to penetrate their territory. He
added that they have no coin or other circulating medium; no horses,
mules, or other domestic animals, except fowls, "and keep the cocks
under ground to prevent their crowing being heard." This report of their
slender resources for animal food, and of their perpetual apprehension
of discovery, as indicated in this inadequate and childish expedient to
prevent it, is, in most respects, contradicted by that of the
adventurous expedition about to be described, and which, having passed
the walls of their city, obtained better information of their internal
economy and condition than could have been acquired by any Indians at
all likely to hold communication with places so very remote from the
territory as Quiche or Chajul.

The effects of these extraordinary averments and recitals of the Padre,
upon the mind of Mr. Stevens, together with the deliberate conclusions
which he finally drew from them, is best expressed in his own language.

"The interest awakened in us, was the most thrilling I ever
experienced. One look at that city, was worth ten years of an every
day life. If he is right, a place is left where Indians and a city
exist, as Cortez and Alvarado found them; there are living men who
can solve the mystery that hangs over the ruined cities of America;
who can, perhaps, go to Copan and read the inscriptions on its
monuments. No subject more exciting and attractive presents itself
to any mind, and the deep impression in my mind, will never be

"Can it be true? Being now in my sober senses, I do verily believe
there is much ground to suppose that what the Padre told us is
authentic. That the region referred to does not acknowledge the
government of Guatimala, and has never been explored, and that no
white man has ever pretended to have entered it; I am satisfied.
From other sources we heard that a large _ruined_ city was visible;
and we were told of another person who had climbed to the top of
the sierra, but on account of the dense clouds raising upon it,
he had not been able to see anything. At all events, the belief at
the village of Chajul is general, and a curiosity is aroused that
burns to be satisfied. We had a craving desire to reach the
mysterious city. No man if ever so willing to peril his life, could
undertake the enterprise, with any hope of success, without
hovering for one or two years on the borders of the country
studying the language and character of the adjoining Indians, and
making acquaintance with some of the natives. Five hundred men
could probably march directly to the city, and the invasion would
be more justifiable than any made by Spaniards; but the government
is too much occupied with its own wars, and the knowledge could not
be procured except at the price of blood. Two young men of good
constitution, and who could afford to spend five years, might
succeed. If the object of search prove a phantom, in the wild
scenes of a new and unexplored country, there are other objects of
interest; but, if real, besides the glorious excitement of such a
novelty, they will have something to look back upon through life.
As to the dangers, they are always magnified, and, in general,
peril is discovered soon enough for escape. But, in all
probability, if any discovery is made, it will be made by the
Padres. As for ourselves, to attempt it alone, ignorant of the
language and with the mozos who were a constant annoyance to us,
was out of the question. The most we thought of, was to climb to
the top of the sierra, thence to look down upon the mysterious
city; but we had difficulties enough in the road before us; it
would add ten days to a journey already almost appalling in the
perspective; for days the sierra might be covered with clouds; in
attempting too much, we might lose all; Palenque was our great
point, and we determined not to be diverted from the course we had
marked out." Vol. II, p. 193-196.

It is now known that two intrepid young men, incited probably by this
identical passage in Mr. Stevens's popular work - one a Mr. Huertis, of
Baltimore, an American of Spanish parents, from Cuba, possessing an
ample fortune, and who had travelled much in Egypt, Persia, and Syria,
for the personal inspection of ancient monuments; and the other, a Mr.
Hammond, a civil-engineer from Canada, who had been engaged for some
years on surveys in the United States, agreed to undertake the perilous
and romantic enterprise thus cautiously suggested and chivalrously

Amply equipped with every desirable appointment, including daguerreotype
apparatuses, mathematical instruments, and withal fifty repeating
rifles, lest it should become necessary to resort to an armed
expedition, these gentlemen sailed from New-Orleans and arrived at
Belize, in the fall of 1848. Here they procured horses, mules, and a
party of ten experienced Indians and Mestitzos; and after pursuing a
route, through a wild, broken, and heavily wooded region, for about 150
miles, on the Gulf of Amatique, they struck off more to the south-west,
for Coban, where they arrived on the morning of Christmas day, in time
to partake of the substantial enjoyments, as well as to observe the
peculiar religious ceremonies, of the great Catholic festival, in that
intensely interior city.

At this place, while loitering to procure information and guides for
their future journey to Santa Cruz del Quiche, they got acquainted with
Sr. Pedro Velasquez, of San Salvador, who describes himself as a man of
family and education, although a trader in indigo; and his intermediate
destination, prior to his return to the capital, happening also to be
the same city, he kindly proffered to the two Americans his superior
knowledge of the country, or any other useful service he could render
them; and he was accordingly very gladly received as their friend and
companion on the way. It is from a copy of a manuscript journal of this
gentleman, that the translator has obtained the only information as yet
brought to the United States concerning the remarkable results of the
exploring expedition which he will proceed to describe, or of the fate
of Messrs. Huertis and Hammond, its unfortunate originators and
conductors, or of those extraordinary living specimens of a _sui
generis_ race of beings, hitherto supposed to be either fabulous or
extinct, which are at once its melancholy trophies and its physiological
attesters. And it is from Senor Velasquez alone that the public can
receive any further intelligence upon this ardently interesting subject,
beyond that which his manuscript imperfectly affords.

In order, however, to avoid an anticipatory trespass upon the natural
sequence of the narrative, it may be proper to state, that prior to his
departure in their company from Coban, Senor Velasquez had received from
his fellow travellers no intimation whatever concerning the ulterior
object of their journey, and had neither seen nor heard of those volumes
describing the stupendous vestiges of ancient empire, in his native
land, which had so strongly excited the emulous passion of discovery in
their minds.

Frequently called by his mercantile speculations, which he seems to have
conducted upon an extensive scale, to perform long journeys from San
Salvador, on the Pacific side of the Cordilleras, to Comyagua in the
mid-interior, and thence to Truxillo, Omoa, and Ysabal, on the Bay and
Gulf of Honduras, he had traversed a large portion of the country, and
had often been surprised with sudden views of mouldering temples,
pyramids, and cities of vast magnitude and marvellous mythology. And
being, as it evidently appears, a man of unusual intelligence and
scholastic acquirements, he had doubtless felt, as he states, a profound
but hopeless curiosity concerning their origin and history. He had even
seen and consecutively examined the numerous and ornate monuments of
Copan; but it was not until he had proceeded to the second stage of the
journey from Coban to Quiche, that he was shown the engravings in the
first volume of Stevens's Central America, in which they are so
faithfully depicted. He recognized many of them as old acquaintances,
and still more as new ones, which had escaped his more cursory
inspection; and in all he could trace curious details which, on the
spot, he regretted the want of time to examine. He, moreover, knew the
surly Don Gregorio, by whom Mr. Stevens had been treated so
inhospitably, and several other persons in the vicinity of the ruins
whom he had named, and was delighted with the _vraisemblance_ of his
descriptions. The Senor confesses that these circumstances inspired him
with unlimited confidence in that traveller's statements upon other
subjects; and when Mr. Huertis read to him the further account of the
information given to Mr. Stevens by the jolly and merry, but intelligent
old Padre of Quiche, respecting other ruined cities beyond the Sierra
Madre, and especially of the living city of independent Candones, or
unchristianized Indians, supposed to have been seen from the lofty
summit of that mountain range, and was told by Messrs. Huertis and
Hammond that the exploration of this city was the chief object of their
perilous expedition, the Senor adds, that his enthusiasm became
enkindled to at least as high a fervor as theirs, and that, "with more
precipitancy than prudence, in a man of his maturer years and important
business pursuits, he resolved to unite in the enterprise, to aid the
heroic young men with his experience in travel and knowledge of the
wild Indians of the region referred to, and to see the end of the
adventure, result as it may."

He was confirmed in this resolution by several concurring facts of which
his companions were now told for the first time. He intimately knew and
had several times been the guest of the worthy Cura of Quiche, from whom
Mr. Stevens received assurances of the existence of the ruined city of
the ancient Aztecs, as well as the living city of the Candones, in the
unsubjugated territory beyond the mountains. And he was induced to yield
credence to the Padre's confident report of the latter, because his
account of the former had already been verified, and become a matter of
fact and of record. He, Senor Velasquez, himself, during the preceding
summer, joined a party of several foreigners and natives in exploring an
ancient ruined city, of prodigious grandeur and extent, in the province
of Vera Paz, but little more than 150 miles to the east of Guatimala,
(instead of nearly 200, as the Padre had supposed,) which far surpassed
in magnificence every other ruin, as yet discovered, either in Central
America or Mexico. It lay overgrown with huge timber in the midst of a
dense forest, far remote from any settlement, and near the crater of a
long extinct volcano, on whose perpendicular walls, 300 or 400 feet
high, were aboriginal paintings of warlike and idolatrous processions,
dances, and other ceremonies, exhibiting like the architectural
sculptures on the temples, a state of advancement in the arts
incomparably superior to all previous examples. And as the good Padre
had proved veracious and accurate on this matter, which he knew from
personal observation, the Senor would not uncharitably doubt his
veracity on a subject in which he again professed to speak from the
evidence of his own eye-sight.

The party thus re-assured, and more exhilarated than ever with the
prospect of success, proceeded on their journey with renewed vigor.
Although the Senor modestly abstains from any allusion to the subject,
in the MSS. which have reached us, it cannot be doubted that Messrs.
Huertis and Hammond considered him an invaluable accession to their
party. He was a guide on whom they could rely; he was acquainted with
the dialects of many of the Indian tribes through which they would have
to pass; was familiar with the principal stages and villages on their
route, and knew both the places and persons from whence the best
information, if any, concerning the paramount object of their journey,
could be obtained.

It appears, also, from an incidental remark in his journal, that Senor
Velasquez would have been at their right hand in a fight, in the event
of any hostile obstruction on their way. As a volunteer, he had held a
command under Morazan, during the sanguinary conflicts of the republic,
and had been a soldier through several of the most arduous campaigns, in
the fierce struggle between the general and Carrera. He was thus,
apparently, in all respects, precisely such an auxiliary as they would
have besought Providence to afford them, to accomplish the hazardous
enterprise they had so daringly projected and commenced.

Unfortunately for the public, the Senor's journal, fragmentary
throughout, is especially meagre concerning the incidents of travel
between the capital of Vera Paz and Santa Cruz del Quiche. At this
period he appears to have left the task of recording them almost
entirely to his two friends, whose memoranda, in all probability, are
forever lost. Some of those incidents appear, even from his brief
minutes of them, to have been of the most imminent and critical
importance. Thus under the date of February 2nd, 1849, he says, "on the
bank of a branch of the Salamo, attacked in the night by about thirty
Indian robbers, several of whom had fire-arms. Sr. Hammond, sitting
within the light of the fire, was severely wounded through the left
shoulder; they had followed us from the hacienda, six leagues, passed us
to the north and lay in ambush; killed four, wounded three; of the rest
saw no more; poor Juan, shot through the body, died this morning; lost
two mules."

After this, there is nothing written until the 16th, when they had
arrived at a place called San Jose, where he says, "Good beef and fowls;
Sr. Huertis much better; Sr. Hammond very low in intermittent fever;
fresh mules and good ones." Next on the 5th of March, at the Indian
village of Axitzel, is written, "Detained here five days; Hammond,
strong and headstrong. Agree with Huertis that, to be safe, we must wait
with patience the return of the good Cura." Slight and tantalizing
memoranda of this kind occur, irregularly, until April 3rd, when we find
the party safely arrived at Quiche, and comfortably accommodated in a
convent. The jovial Padre, already often mentioned, who maybe regarded
as the unconscious father of the expedition, had become helplessly, if
not hopelessly, dropsical, and lost much of his wanted jocosity. He
declared, however, that Senor Velasquez's description of the ruins
explored the previous summer, recalling as it did his own profoundly
impressed recollection of them, when he walked through their desolate
avenues and deserted palaces; and corroborating as it did, in every
particular, his own reiterated account of them, which he had often
bestowed upon incredulous and unworthy ears, would "act like _cannabis_
upon his bladder," as it already had upon his eyes; and if he could but
live to see the description in print, so as to silence all gainsayers,
he had no doubt it would completely cure him, and add many years to his
life. He persisted in his story of the unknown city in the Candone
wilderness, as seen by himself, nearly forty years ago, from the summit
of the sierra; and promised the travellers a letter to his friend, the
Cura of Gueguetenango, requesting him to procure them a guide to the
very spot from whence they could behold it for themselves.

This promise, in the course of a few days, the Senor says, he faithfully
performed, describing from recollection, by the hand of an amanuensis to
whom he dictated, not only the more striking but even minute and
peculiar landmarks for the guidance of the guide. On the 10th of April,
the party, fully recruited in health and energy, set out for
Totonicapan; and thence we trace them by the journal through a
succession of small places to Quezaltenango, where they remained but two
days; and thence through the places called Aguas Calientes, and San
Sebastiano, to Gueguetenango; this portion of their route being
described as one of unprecedented toil, danger, and exhaustion, from its
mountainous character, accidents to men and mules, terrific weather and
loss of provisions. Arrived, however, at length, at the town last named,
which they justly regarded as an eminently critical stage of their
destiny, they found the Cura, and presented him with the letter of
introduction from his friend, the Padre of Quiche. They were somewhat
discouraged on perceiving that the Cura indicated but little confidence
in the accuracy of his old friend's memory, and asked them rather
abruptly, if they thought him really serious in his belief in his
distant vision of an unknown city from the sierra, because, for his own
part, he had always regarded the story as one of Padre's broadest jokes,
and especially since he had never heard of any other person possessing
equal visual powers. "The mountain was high, it is true, but not much
more than half as high as the hyperbolous memory of his reverend friend
had made it, and he much feared that the Padre, in the course of forty
years, had so frequently repeated a picture of his early imagination as
to have, at length, cherished it as a reality." This was said in smooth
and elegant Spanish, but says the Senor, "with an air of dignified
sarcasm upon our credulity, which was far from being agreeable to men
broken down and dispirited, by almost incredible toil, in pursuit of an
object thus loftily pronounced a ridiculous phantom of the brain." This
part of Senor Velasquez's journal being interesting and carefully
written, we give the following translation without abridgement: -

"The Cura, nevertheless, on finding that his supercilious
scepticism had not proved so infectious among us as he expected and
that we were rather vexed than vacillating, offered to procure us
guides in the course of a day or two, who were familiar with many
parts of the sierra, and who, for good pay, he doubted not, would
flatter our expectations to the utmost extent we could desire. He
advised us, however, in the same style of caustic dissuasion, to
take with us both a barometer and a telescope, if we were provided
with those instruments, because the latter, especially, might be
found useful in discovering the unknown city, and the former would
not only inform us of the height of the mountain, but of the
weather in prospect most favorable to a distant view. Senor Huertis

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Online LibraryPedro VelasquezMemoir of an eventful expedition in Central America : resulting in the discovery of the idolatrous city of Iximaya, in an unexplored region : and the possession of two remarkable Aztec children descendants and specimens of the sacerdotal caste, (now nearly extinct) of the Aztec founders of the ruine → online text (page 1 of 4)