Chapter III SECOND RECONNOITRING EXPEDITION-THE CAPTURE OF CUERNAVACA-
BATTLES AT XOCHIMILCO-NARROW ESCAPE OF CORTES-HE ENTERS TACUBA
NOTWITHSTANDING the relief which had been afforded to the people
of Chalco, it was so ineffectual, that envoys from that city again
arrived at Tezcuco, bearing a hieroglyphical chart, on which were
depicted several strong places in their neighbourhood, garrisoned by
the Aztecs, from which they expected annoyance. Cortes determined this
time to take the affair into his own hands, and to scour the country
so effectually, as to place Chalco, if possible, in a state of
security. He did not confine himself to this object, but proposed,
before his return, to pass quite round the great lakes, and
reconnoitre the country to the south of them, in the same manner as he
had before done to the west. In the course of his march, he would
direct his arms against some of the strong places from which the
Mexicans might expect support in the siege. Two or three weeks must
elapse before the completion of the brigantines; and, if no other good
resulted from the expedition, it would give active occupation to his
troops, whose turbulent spirits might fester into discontent in the
monotonous existence of a camp.
He selected for the expedition thirty horse and three hundred
Spanish infantry, with a considerable body of Tlascalan and Tezcucan
warriors. The remaining garrison he left in charge of the trusty
Sandoval, who, with the friendly lord of the capital, would watch over
the construction of the brigantines, and protect them from the
assaults of the Aztecs.
On the fifth of April he began his march, and on the following day
arrived at Chalco, where he was met by a number of the confederate
chiefs. With the aid of his faithful interpreters, Dona Marina and
Aguilar, he explained to them the objects of his present expedition;
stated his purpose soon to enforce the blockade of Mexico, and
required their co-operation with the whole strength of their levies.
To this they readily assented; and he soon received a sufficient proof
of their friendly disposition in the forces which joined him on the
march, amounting, according to one of the army, to more than had
ever before followed his banner.
Taking a southerly direction, the troops, after leaving Chalco,
struck into the recesses of the wild sierra, which, with its bristling
peaks, serves as a formidable palisade to fence round the beautiful
valley; while, within its rugged arms, it shuts up many a green and
fruitful pasture of its own. As the Spaniards passed through its
deep gorges, they occasionally wound round the base of some huge cliff
or rocky eminence, on which the inhabitants had built their town in
the same manner as was done by the people of Europe in the feudal
ages; a position which, however favourable to the picturesque,
intimates a sense of insecurity as the cause of it, which may
reconcile us to the absence of this striking appendage of the
landscape in our own more fortunate country.
The occupants of these airy pinnacles took advantage of their
situation to shower down stones and arrows on the troops, as they
defiled through the narrow passes of the sierra. Though greatly
annoyed by their incessant hostilities, Cortes held on his way,
till, winding round the base of a castellated cliff, occupied by a
strong garrison of Indians, he was so severely pressed, that he felt
to pass on without chastising the aggressors would imply a want of
strength, which must disparage him in the eyes of his allies.
Halting in the valley, therefore, he detached a small body of light
troops to scale the heights, while he remained with the main body of
the army below, to guard against surprise from the enemy.
The lower region of the rocky eminence was so steep, that the
soldiers found it no easy matter to ascend, scrambling, as well as
they could, with hand and knee. But, as they came into the more
exposed view of the garrison, the latter rolled down huge masses of
rock, which, bounding along the declivity, and breaking into
fragments, crushed the foremost assailants, and mangled their limbs in
a frightful manner. Still they strove to work their way upward, now
taking advantage of some gulley, worn by the winter torrent, now
sheltering themselves behind a projecting cliff, or some straggling
tree, anchored among the crevices of the mountain. It was all in vain.
For no sooner did they emerge again into open view, than the rocky
avalanche thundered on their heads with a fury against which steel
helm and cuirass were as little defence as gossamer. All the party
were more or less wounded. Eight of the number were killed on the
spot,- a loss the little band could ill afford,- and the gallant
ensign Corral, who led the advance, saw the banner in his hand torn
into shreds. Cortes, at length convinced of the impracticability of
the attempt, at least without a more severe loss than he was
disposed to incur, commanded a retreat. It was high time; for a
large body of the enemy were on full march across the valley to attack
He did not wait for their approach, but gathering his broken files
together, headed his cavalry, and spurred boldly against them. On
the level plain, the Spaniards were on their own ground. The
Indians, unable to sustain the furious onset, broke, and fell back
before it. The fight soon became a rout, and the fiery cavaliers,
dashing over them at full gallop, or running them through with their
lances, took some revenge for their late discomfiture. The pursuit
continued for some miles, till the nimble foe made their escape into
the rugged fastnesses of the sierra, where the Spaniards did not
care to follow. The weather was sultry, and, as the country was nearly
destitute of water, the men and horses suffered extremely. Before
evening they reached a spot overshadowed by a grove of wild mulberry
trees, in which some scanty springs afforded a miserable supply to the
Near the place rose another rocky summit of the sierra, garrisoned
by a stronger force than the one which they had encountered in the
former part of the day; and at no great distance stood a second
fortress at a still greater height, though considerably smaller than
its neighbour. This was also tenanted by a body of warriors, who, as
well as those of the adjoining cliff, soon made active demonstration
of their hostility by pouring down missiles on the troops below.
Cortes, anxious to retrieve the disgrace of the morning, ordered an
assault on the larger, and, as it seemed, more practicable eminence.
But, though two attempts were made with great resolution, they were
repulsed with loss to the assailants. The rocky sides of the hill
had been artificially cut and smoothed, so as greatly to increase
the natural difficulties of the ascent.- The shades of evening now
closed around; and Cortes drew off his men to the mulberry grove,
where he took up his bivouac for the night, deeply chagrined at having
been twice foiled by the enemy on the same day.
During the night, the Indian force, which occupied the adjoining
height, passed over to their brethren, to aid them in the encounter,
which they foresaw would be renewed on the following morning. No
sooner did the Spanish general, at the break of day, become aware of
this manoeuvre, than, with his usual quickness, he took advantage of
it. He detached a body of musketeers and crossbowmen to occupy the
deserted eminence, purposing, as soon as this was done, to lead the
assault in person against the other. It was not long before the
Castilian banner was seen streaming from the rocky pinnacle, when
the general instantly led up his men to the attack. And, while the
garrison were meeting them resolutely on that quarter, the
detachment on the neighbouring heights poured into the Place a
well-directed fire, which so much distressed the enemy, that, in a
very short time, they signified their willingness to capitulate.
On entering the place, the Spaniards found that a plain of some
extent ran along the crest of the sierra, and that it was tenanted,
not only by men, but by women and their families, with their
effects. No violence was offered by the victors to the property or
persons of the vanquished, and the knowledge of his lenity induced the
Indian garrison, who had made so stout a resistance on the morning
of the preceding day, to tender their submission.
After a halt of two days in this sequestered region, the army
resumed its march in a south-westerly direction on Huaxtepec, the same
city which had surrendered to Sandoval. Here they were kindly received
by the cacique, and entertained in his magnificent gardens, which
Cortes and his officers, who had not before seen them, compared with
the best in Castile. Still threading the wild mountain mazes, the army
passed through Jauhtepec and several other places, which were
abandoned at their approach. As the inhabitants, however, hung in
armed bodies on their flanks and rear, doing them occasionally some
mischief, the Spaniards took their revenge by burning the deserted
Thus holding on their fiery track, they descended the bold slope
of the Cordilleras, which, on the south, are far more precipitous than
on the Atlantic side. Indeed, a single day's journey is sufficient
to place the traveller on a level several thousand feet lower than
that occupied by him in the morning; thus conveying him in a few hours
through the climates of many degrees of latitude. On the ninth day
of their march, the troops arrived before the strong city of
Quauhnahuac, or Cuernavaca, as since called by the Spaniards. It was
the ancient capital of the Tlahuicas, and the most considerable
place for wealth and population in this part of the country. It was
tributary to the Aztecs, and a garrison of this nation was quartered
within its walls. The town was singularly situated, on a projecting
piece of land, encompassed by barrancas, or formidable ravines, except
on one side, which opened on a rich and well cultivated country.
For, though the place stood at an elevation of between five and six
thousand feet above the level of the sea, it had a southern exposure
so sheltered by the mountain barrier on the north, that its climate
was as soft and genial as that of a much lower region.
The Spaniards, on arriving before this city, the limit of their
southerly progress, found themselves separated from it by one of the
vast barrancas before noticed, which resembled one of those
frightful rents not unfrequent in the Mexican Andes, the result, no
doubt, of some terrible convulsion in earlier ages. The rocky sides of
the ravine sunk perpendicularly down, and so bare as scarcely to
exhibit even a vestige of the cactus or of the other hardy plants with
which Nature in these fruitful regions so gracefully covers up her
deformities. At the bottom of the ravine was seen a little stream,
which, oozing from the stony bowels of the sierra, tumbled along its
narrow channel, and contributed by its perpetual moisture to the
exuberant fertility of the valley. This rivulet, which at certain
seasons of the year was swollen to a torrent, was traversed at some
distance below the town, where the sloping sides of the barranca
afforded a more practicable passage, by two rude bridges, both of
which had been broken in anticipation of the coming of the
Spaniards. The latter had now arrived on the brink of the chasm. It
was, as has been remarked, of no great width, and the army drawn up on
its borders was directly exposed to the archery of the garrison, on
whom its own fire made little impression, protected as they were by
The general, annoyed by his position, sent a detachment to seek
a passage lower down, by which the troops might be landed on the other
side. But although the banks of the ravine became less formidable as
they descended, they found no means of crossing the river, till a path
unexpectedly presented itself, on which, probably, no one before hid
ever been daring enough to venture.
From the cliffs on the opposite sides of the barranca, two huge
trees shot up to an enormous height, and, inclining towards each
other, interlaced their boughs so as to form a sort of natural bridge.
Across this avenue, in mid air, a Tlascalan conceived it would not
be difficult to pass to the opposite bank. The bold mountaineer
succeeded in the attempt, and was soon followed by several others of
his countrymen, trained to feats of agility and strength among their
native hills. The Spaniards imitated their example. It was a
perilous effort for an armed man to make his way over this aerial
causeway, swayed to and fro by the wind, where the brain might
become giddy, and where a single false movement of hand or foot
would plunge him into the abyss below. Three of the soldiers lost
their hold and fell. The rest, consisting of some twenty or thirty
Spaniards, and a considerable number of Tlascalans, alighted in safety
on the other bank. There hastily forming, they marched with all
speed on the city. The enemy, engaged in their contest with the
Castilians on the opposite brink of the ravine, were taken by
surprise,- which, indeed, could scarcely have been exceeded if they
had seen their foe drop from the clouds on the field of battle.
They made a brave resistance, however, when fortunately the
Spaniards succeeded in repairing one of the dilapidated bridges in
such a manner as to enable both cavalry and foot to cross the river,
though with much delay. The horse under and Andres de Tapia,
instantly rode up to the succour of their countrymen. They were soon
followed by Cortes at the head of the remaining battalions; and the
enemy, driven from one point to another, were compelled to evacuate
the city, and to take refuge among the mountains. The buildings in one
quarter of the town were speedily wrapt in flames. The place was
abandoned to pillage, and, as it was one of the most opulent marts
in the country, it amply compensated the victors for the toil and
danger they had encountered. The trembling caciques, returning soon
after to the city, appeared before Cortes, and deprecating his
resentment by charging the blame, as usual, on the Mexicans, threw
themselves on his mercy. Satisfied with their submission, he allowed
no further violence to the inhabitants.
Having thus accomplished the great object of his expedition across
the mountains, the Spanish commander turned his face northwards, to
recross the formidable barrier which divided him from the valley.
The ascent, steep and laborious, was rendered still more difficult
by fragments of rock and loose stones which encumbered the passes. The
weather was sultry, and, as the stony soil was nearly destitute of
water, the troops suffered severely from thirst. Several of them,
indeed, fainted on the road, and a few of the Indian allies perished
from exhaustion. The line of march must have taken the army across the
eastern shoulder of the mountain, called the Cruz del Marques, or
Cross of the Marquess, from a huge stone cross, erected there to
indicate the boundary of the territories granted by the crown to
Cortes, as Marquess of the Valley. Much, indeed, of the route lately
traversed by the troops lay across the princely domain subsequently
assigned to the Conqueror.
The point of attack selected by the general was Xochimilco, or the
"field of flowers," as its name implies, from the floating gardens
which rode at anchor, as it were, on the neighbouring waters. It was
one of the most potent and wealthy cities in the Mexican valley, and a
staunch vassal of the Aztec crown. It stood, like the capital
itself, partly in the water, and was approached in that quarter by
causeways of no great length. The town was composed of houses like
those of most other places of like magnitude in the country, mostly of
cottages or huts made of clay and the light bamboo, mingled with
aspiring teocallis, and edifices of stone, belonging to the more
As the Spaniards advanced, they were met by skirmishing parties of
the enemy, who, after dismissing a light volley of arrows, rapidly
retreated before them. As they took the direction of Xochimilco,
Cortes inferred that they were prepared to resist him in
considerable force. It exceeded his expectations.
On traversing the principal causeway, he found it occupied, at the
further extremity, by a numerous body of warriors, who, stationed on
the opposite sides of a bridge, which had been broken, were prepared
to dispute his passage. They had constructed a temporary barrier of
palisades, which screened them from the fire of the musketry. But
the water in its neighbourhood was very shallow. and the cavaliers and
infantry, plunging into it, soon made their way, swimming or wading,
as they could, in face of a storm of missiles, to the landing, near
the town. Here they closed with the enemy, and, hand to hand, after
a sharp struggle, drove them back on the city; a few, however,
taking the direction of the open country, were followed up by the
cavalry. The great mass hotly pursued by the infantry, were driven
through street and lane, without much further resistance. Cortes, with
a few followers, disengaging himself from the tumult, remained near
the entrance of the city. He had not been there long, when he was
assailed by a fresh body of Indians, who suddenly poured into the
place from a neighbouring dike. The general, with his usual
fearlessness, threw himself into the midst, in hopes to check their
advance. But his own followers were too few to support him, and he was
overwhelmed by the crowd of combatants. His horse lost his footing and
fell; and Cortes, who received a severe blow on the head before he
could rise, was seized and dragged off in triumph by the Indians. At
this critical moment, a Tlascalan, who perceived the general's
extremity, sprang, like one of the wild ocelots of his own forests,
into the midst of the assailants, and endeavoured to tear him from
their grasp. Two of the general's servants also speedily came to the
rescue, and Cortes, with their aid and that of the brave Tlascalan,
succeeded in regaining his feet and shaking off his enemies. To
vault into the saddle and brandish his good lance was but the work
of a moment. Others of his men quickly came up, and the clash of
arms reaching the ears of the Spaniards who had gone in pursuit,
they returned, and, after a desperate conflict, forced the enemy
from the city. Their retreat, however, was intercepted by the
cavalry returning from the country, and, thus hemmed in between the
opposite columns, they were cut to pieces, or saved themselves only by
plunging into the lake. This was the greatest personal danger which
Cortes had yet encountered. His life was in the power of the
barbarians, and, had it not been for their eagerness to take him
prisoner, he must undoubtedly have lost it. To the same cause may be
frequently attributed the preservation of the Spaniards in these
It was not yet dusk when Cortes and his followers re-entered the
city; and the general's first act was to ascend a neighbouring
teocalli and reconnoitre the surrounding country. He there beheld a
sight which might have troubled a bolder spirit than his. The
surface of the salt lake was darkened with canoes, and the causeway,
for many a mile, with Indian squadrons, apparently on their march
towards the Christian camp. In fact, no sooner had Guatemozin been
apprised of the arrival of the white men at Xochimilco, than he
mustered his levies in great force to relieve the city. They were
now on their march, and, as the capital was but four leagues
distant, would arrive soon after nightfall.
Cortes made active preparations for the defence of his quarters.
He stationed a corps of pikemen along the landing where the Aztecs
would be likely to disembark. He doubled the sentinels, and, with
his principal officers, made the rounds repeatedly in the course of
the night. In addition to other causes for watchfulness, the bolts
of the crossbowmen were nearly exhausted, and the archers were
busily employed in preparing and adjusting shafts to the copper heads,
of which great store bad been provided for the army. There was
little sleep in the camp that night.
It passed away, however, without molestation from the enemy.
Though not stormy, it was exceedingly dark. But, although the
Spaniards on duty could see nothing, they distinctly heard the sound
of many oars in the water, at no great distance from the shore. Yet
those on board the canoes made no attempt to land, distrusting, or
advised, it may be, of the preparations made for their reception. With
early dawn, they were under arms, and, without waiting for movement of
the Spaniards, poured into the city and attacked them in their own
The Spaniards, who were gathered in the area round one of the
teocallis, were taken at disadvantage in the town, where the narrow
lanes and streets, many of them covered with a smooth and slippery
cement, offered obvious impediments to the manoeuvres of cavalry.
But Cortes hastily formed his muskeeters and crossbowmen, and poured
such a lively, well directed fire into the enemy's ranks, as threw him
into disorder, and compelled him to recoil. The infantry, with their
long pikes, followed up the blow; and the horse, charging at full
speed, as the retreating Aztecs emerged from the city, drove them
several miles along the main land.
At some distance, however, they were met by a strong reinforcement
of their countrymen, and rallying, the tide of battle turned, and
the cavaliers, swept along by it, gave the rein to their steeds, and
rode back at full gallop towards the town. They had not proceeded very
far, when they came upon the main body of the army, advancing
rapidly to their support. Thus strengthened, they once more returned
to the charge, and the rival hosts met together in full career, with
the shock of an earthquake. For a time, victory seemed to hang in
the balance, as the mighty press reeled to and fro under the
opposite impulse, and a confused shout rose up towards heaven, in
which the war-whoop of the savage was mingled with the battle-cry of
the Christian,- a still stranger sound on these sequestered shores.
But, in the end, Castilian valour, or rather Castilian arms and
discipline, proved triumphant. The enemy faltered, gave way, and
recoiling step by step, the retreat soon terminated in a rout, and the
Spaniards, following up the flying foe, drove them from the field with
such dreadful slaughter, that they made no further attempt to renew
The victors were now undisputed masters of the city. It was a
wealthy place, well stored with Indian fabrics, cotton, gold,
feather-work, and other articles of luxury and use, affording a rich
booty to the soldiers. While engaged in the work of plunder, a party
of the enemy, landing from their canoes, fell on some of the
stragglers laden with merchandise, and made four of them prisoners. It
created a greater sensation among the troops than if ten times that
number had fallen on the field. Indeed, it was rare that a Spaniard
allowed himself to be taken alive. In the present instance the
unfortunate men were taken by surprise. They were hurried to the
capital, and soon after sacrificed; when their arms and legs were
cut off, by the command of the ferocious young chief of the Aztecs,
and sent round to the different cities, with the assurance, that
this should be the fate of the enemies of Mexico!
From the prisoners taken in the late engagement, Cortes learned
that the forces already sent by Guatemozin formed but a small part
of his levies; that his policy was to send detachment after
detachment, until the Spaniards, however victorious they might come
off from the contest with each individually, would, in the end,
succumb from mere exhaustion, and thus be vanquished, as it were, by
their own victories.
The soldiers having now sacked the city, Cortes did not care to
await further assaults from the enemy in his present quarters. On
the fourth morning after his arrival, he mustered his forces on a
neighbouring plain. They came many of them reeling under the weight of
their plunder. The general saw this with uneasiness. They were to
march, he said, through a populous country, all in arms to dispute
their passage. To secure their safety, they should move as light and
unencumbered as possible. The sight of so much spoil would sharpen the
appetite of their enemies, and draw them on, like a flock of
famished eagles after their prey. But his eloquence was lost on his
men; who plainly told him they had a right to the fruit of their
victories, and that what they had won with their swords, they knew
well enough how to defend with them.
Seeing them thus bent on their purpose, the general did not care
to baulk their inclinations. He ordered the baggage to the centre, and
placed a few of the cavalry over it; dividing the remainder between
the front and rear, in which latter post, as that most exposed to
attack, he also stationed his arquebusiers and crossbowmen. Thus
prepared, he resumed his march; but first set fire to the
combustible buildings of Xochimilco, in retaliation for the resistance
he had met there. The light of the burning city streamed high into the
air, sending its ominous glare far and wide across the waters, and
telling the inhabitants on their margin, that the fatal strangers so
long predicted by their oracles had descended like a consuming flame
upon their borders.
Small bodies of the enemy were seen occasionally at a distance,
but they did not venture to attack the army on its march, which before
noon brought them to Cojohuacan, a large town about two leagues
distant from Xochimilco. One could scarcely travel that distance in
this populous quarter of the valley without meeting with a place of
considerable size, oftentimes the capital of what had formerly been an
independent state. The inhabitants, members of different tribes, and
speaking dialects somewhat different, belonged to the same great
family of nations who had come from the real or imaginary region of
Aztlan, in the far north-west. Gathered round the shores of their
Alpine sea, these petty communities continued, after their
incorporation with the Aztec monarchy, to maintain a spirit of rivalry
in their intercourse with one another, which- as with the cities on
the Mediterranean, in the feudal ages- quickened their mental
energies, and raised the Mexican Valley higher in the scale of
civilisation than most other quarters of Anahuac.
The town at which the army had now arrived was deserted by its
inhabitants; and Cortes halted two days there to restore his troops,
and give the needful attention to the wounded. He made use of the time
to reconnoitre the neighbouring ground, and taking with him a strong
detachment, descended on the causeway which led from Cojohuacan to the
great avenue Iztapalapan. At the point of intersection, called
Xoloc, he found a strong barrier or fortification, behind which a
Mexican force was intrenched. Their archery did some mischief to the
Spaniards, as they came within bow-shot. But the latter, marching
intrepidly forward in face of the arrowy shower, stormed the works,
and, after an obstinate struggle, drove the enemy from their position.
Cortes then advanced some way on the great causeway of Iztapalapan;
but he beheld the further extremity darkened by a numerous array of
warriors, and as he did not care to engage in unnecessary hostilities,
especially as his ammunition was nearly exhausted, he fell back and
retreated to his own quarters.
The following day, the army continued its march, taking the road
to Tacuba, but a few miles distant. On the way it experienced much
annoyance from straggling parties of the enemy, who, furious at the
sight of the booty which the invaders were bearing away, made repeated
attacks on their flanks and rear. Cortes retaliated, as on the
former expedition, by one of their own stratagems, but with less
success than before; for, pursuing the retreating enemy too hotly,
he fell with his cavalry into an ambuscade, which they had prepared
for him in their turn. He was not yet a match for their wily
tactics. The Spanish cavaliers were enveloped in a moment by their
subtle foe, and separated from the rest of the army. But, spurring
on their good steeds, and charging in a solid column together, they
succeeded in breaking through the Indian array, and in making their
escape, except two individuals, who fell into the enemy's hands.
They were the general's own servants, who had followed him
faithfully through the whole campaign, and he was deeply affected by
their loss; rendered the more distressing by the consideration of
the dismal fate that awaited them. When the little band rejoined the
army, which had halted in some anxiety at their absence, under the
walls of Tacuba, the soldiers were astonished at the dejected mien
of their commander, which too visibly betrayed his emotion.
The sun was still high in the heavens, when they entered the
ancient capital of the Tepanecs. The first care of Cortes was to
ascend the principal teocalli, and survey the surrounding country.
It was an admirable point of view, commanding the capital, which lay
but little more than a league distant, and its immediate environs.
Cortes was accompanied by Alderete, the treasurer, and some other
cavaliers, who had lately joined his banner. The spectacle was still
new to them; and, as they gazed on the stately city, with its broad
lake covered with boats and barges hurrying to and fro, some laden
with merchandise, or fruits and vegetables, for the markets of
Tenochtitlan, others crowded with warriors, they could not withhold
their admiration at the life and activity of the scene, declaring that
nothing but the hand of Providence could have led their countrymen
safe through the heart of this powerful empire.
Tacuba was the point which Cortes had reached on his former
expedition round the northern side of the valley. He had now,
therefore, made the entire circuit of the great lake; had reconnoitred
the several approaches to the capital, and inspected with his own eyes
the dispositions made on the opposite quarters for its defence. He had
no occasion to prolong his stay in Tacuba, the vicinity of which to
Mexico must soon bring on him its whole warlike population.
Early on the following morning, he resumed his march, taking the
route pursued in the former expedition, north of the small lakes. He
met with less annoyance from the enemy than on the preceding days; a
circumstance owing in some degree, perhaps, to the state of the
weather, which was exceedingly tempestuous. The soldiers, with their
garments heavy with moisture, ploughed their way with difficulty
through the miry roads flooded by the torrents. On one occasion, as
their military chronicler informs us, the officers neglected to go the
rounds of the camp at night, and the sentinels to mount guard,
trusting to the violence of the storm for their protection. Yet the
fate of Narvaez might have taught them not to put their faith in the
At Acolman, in the Acolhuan territory, they were met by
Sandoval, with the friendly cacique of Tezcuco, and several cavaliers,
among whom were some recently arrived from the islands. They cordially
greeted their countrymen, and communicated the tidings that the
canal was completed, and that the brigantines, rigged and equipped,
were ready to be launched on the bosom of the lake. There seemed to be
no reason, therefore, for longer postponing operations against
Mexico.- With this welcome intelligence, Cortes and his victorious
legions made their entry for the last time into the Acolhuan
capital, having consumed just three weeks in completing the circuit of
1. "Viniéron tantos, que en todas las entradas que yo auia ido, despues que en la Nueua España entré, nunca ví tanta gente de guerra de nuestros amigos, como aora fuéron en nuestra compañía." Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 144.
2. "Todos descalabrados, y corriendo sangre, y las vanderas rotas, y ocho, muertos." Ibid., ubi supra.
3. For the assault on the rocks,--the topography of which it is impossible to verify from the narratives of the Conquerors,--see Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 144,--Rel. Terc. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, pp. 218-221,--Gomara, Crónica, cap. 127,--Ixtlilxochitl, Venida de los Esp., pp. 16, 17,--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 21.
4. Cortés, according to Bernal Diaz, ordered the troops, who took possession of the second fortress, "not to meddle with a grain of maize belonging to the besieged." Diaz, giving this a very liberal interpretation, proceeded forthwith to load his Indian tamanes with everything but maize, as fair booty. He was interrupted in his labors, however, by the captain of the detachment, who gave a more narrow construction to his general's orders, much to the dissatisfaction of the latter, if we may trust the doughty chronicler. Ibid., ubi supra.
5. "Adonde estaua la huerta que he dicho, que es la mejor que auia visto en toda mi vida, y ansí lo torno á dezir, que Cortés, y el Tesorero Alderete, desque entonces le viéron, y passeáron algo de ella, se admiráron, y dixéron, que mejor cosa de huerta no auian visto en Castilla." Ibid., loc. cit.
6. This barbarous Indian name is tortured into all possible variations by the old chroniclers. The town soon received from the Spaniards the name which it now bears, of Cuernavaca, and by which it is indicated on modern maps. "Prevalse poi quello di Cuernabaca, col quale é presentemente conosciuta dagli Spagnuoli" Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. III. p. 185, nota.
7. The stout-hearted Diaz was one of those who performed this dangerous feat, though his head swam so, as he tells us, that he scarcely knew how he got on. "Porque de mí digo, que verdaderamete quando passaua, q lo ví mui peligroso, é malo de passar, y se me desvanecia la cabeça, y todavía passé yo, y otros veinte, ó treinta soldados, y muchos Tlascatecas." Ibid., ubi supra.
8. For the preceding account of the capture of Cuernavaca, see Bernal Diaz, ubi supra,--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 21,--Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 93,--Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 3, lib. 1, cap. 8,--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 87,--Rel. Terc. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, pp. 223, 224.
9. "Una Tierra de Pinales, despoblada, y sin ninguna agua, la qual y un Puerto pasámos con grandíssimo trabajo, y sin beber: tanto, que muchos de los Indios que iban con nosotros pereciéron de sed." Rel. Terc. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 224.
10. The city of Cuernavaca was comprehended in the patrimony of the dukes of Monteleone, descendants and heirs of the Conquistador.--The Spaniards, in their line of march towards the north, did not deviate far, probably, from the great road which now leads from Mexico to Acapulco, still exhibiting in this upper portion of it the same characteristic features as at the period of the Conquest.
11. Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. III. p. 187, nota.
12. Rel. Terc. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 226.--Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 3, lib. 1, cap. 8.--Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 33, cap. 21.
This is the general's own account of the matter. Diaz, however, says, that he was indebted for his rescue to a Castilian, named Olea, supported by some Tlascalans, and that his preserver received three severe wounds himself, on the occasion. (Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 145.) This was an affair, however, in which Cortés ought to be better informed than any one else, and one, moreover, not likely to slip his memory. The old soldier has probably confounded it with another and similar adventure of his commander.
13. "Otra Dia buscó Cortés al Indio, que le socorrió, i muerto, ni vivo no pareició; i Cortés, por la devocion de San Pedro, juzgê que él le avia aiudado." Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 3, lib. 1, cap. 8.
14. "Por el Agua á una muy grande flota de Canoas, que creo, que pasaban de dos mil; y en ellas venian mas de doce mil Hombres de Guerra; é por la Tierra llegó tanta multitud de Gente, que todos los Campos cubrian." Rel. Terc. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 227.
15. "Y acordóse que huviesse mui buena vela en todo nuestro Real, repartida á los puertos, é azequias por donde auian de venir á desembarcar, y los de acauallo mui á punto toda la noche ensillados y enfrenados, aguardando en la calçada, y tierra firme, y todos los Capitanes, y Cortés con ellos, haziendo vela y ronda toda la noche." Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 145.
16. Diaz, who had an easy faith, states, as a fact, that the limbs of the unfortunate men were cut off before their sacrifice. "Manda cortar pies y braços á los tristes nuestros compañeros, y las embia por muchos pueblos nuestros amigos de los q nes auian venido de paz, y les embia á dezir, que antes que bolvamos á Tezcuco, piensa no quedará ninguno de nosotros á vida, y con los coraçones y sangre hizo sacrificio á sus ídolos." (Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 145.) This is not very probable. The Aztecs did not, like our North American Indians, torture their enemies from mere cruelty, but in conformity to the prescribed regulations of their ritual. The captive was a religious victim.
17. "Y al cabo dejándola toda quemada y asolada nos partímos; y cierto era mucho par ver, porque tenia muchas Casas, y Torres de sus Ídolos de cal y canto." Rel. Terc. de Cortés, ap. Lorenzana, p. 228.
18. For other particulars of the actions at Xochimilco, see Oviedo, Hist. de las Ind., MS., lib. 23, cap. 21,--Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 3, lib. 1, cap. 8, 11,--Ixtlilxochitl, Venida de los Esp., p. 18,--Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 4, cap. 87, 88,--Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 145.
The Conqueror's own account of these engagements has not his usual perspicuity, perhaps from its brevity. A more than ordinary confusion, indeed, prevails in the different reports of them, even those proceeding from contemporaries, making it extremely difficult to collect a probable narrative from authorities, not only contradicting one another, but themselves. It is rare, at any time, that two accounts of a battle coincide in all respects; the range of observation for each individual is necessarily so limited and different, and it is so difficult to make a cool observation at all, in the hurry and heat of conflict. Any one, who has conversed with the survivors, will readily comprehend this, and be apt to conclude, that, wherever he may look for truth, it will hardly be on the battle-ground.
19. This place, recommended by the exceeding beauty of its situation, became, after the Conquest, a favorite residence of Cortés, who founded a nunnery in it, and commanded in his will, that his bones should be removed thither, from any part of the world in which he might die. "Que mis huesos--los lleven á la mi Villa de Coyoacan, y allí les den tierra en el Monesterio de Monjas, que mando hacer y edificar en la dicha mi Villa." Testamento de Hernan Cortés, MS.
20. This, says archbishop Lorenzana, was the modern calzada de la Piedad. (Rel. Terc. de Cortés, p. 229, nota.) But it is not easy to reconcile this with the elaborate chart which M. de Humboldt has given of the Valley. A short arm, which reached from this city in the days of the Aztecs, touched obliquely the great southern avenue, by which the Spaniards first entered the capital. As the waters, which once entirely surrounded Mexico, have shrunk into their narrow basin, the face of the country has undergone a great change, and, though the foundations of the principal causeways are still maintained, it is not always easy to discern vestiges of the ancient avenues.
21. "Y llegámos á una Albarrada, que tenian hecha en la Calzada, y los Peones comenzáronla á combatir; y aunque fué muy re cia, y hubo mucha resistencia, y hiriéron diez Españoles, al fin se la ganáron, y matáron muchos de los Enemigos, aunque los Ballesteros, y Escopeteros quedáron sin Pólvora, y sin Saetas." Ibid., ubi supra.
22. "Y estando en esto viene Cortés, con el qual nos alegrámos, puesto que él venia muy triste y como lloroso." Bernal Diaz, Hist. de la Conquista, cap. 145.
23. "Pues quando viéron la gran ciudad de México, y la laguna, y tanta multitud de canoas, que vnas ivan cargadas con bastimentos, y otras ivan á pescar, y otras valdías, mucho mas se espantáron, porque no las auian visto, hasta en aquella saçon: y dixéron, que nuestra venida en esta Nueua España, que no eran cosas de hombres humanos, sino que la gran misericordia de Dios era quie nos sostenia." Ibid., ubi supra.
24. "En este instante suspiró Cortés co vna muy gra tristeza, mui mayor q la q de antes traja." Ibid., loc. cit.
25. "Y Cortés le dixo, que ya veia quantas vezes auia embiado á México á rogalles con la paz, y que la tristeza no la tenia por sola vna cosa, sino en pensar en los grandes trabajos en que nos auiamos de ver, hasta tornar á señorear; y que con la ayuda de Dios presto lo porniamos por la obra." Ibid., ubi supra.
26. Diaz gives the opening redondillas of the romance, which I have not been able to find in any of the printed collections.
"En Tacuba está Cortés,
co su esquadron esforçado,
triste estaua, y muy penoso,
triste, y con gran cuidado,
la vna mano en la mexilla,
y la otra en el costado," &c.
It may be thus done into pretty literal doggerel:
In Tacuba stood Cortés,
With many a care opprest,
Thoughts of the past came o'er him,
And he bowed his haughty crest.
One hand upon his cheek he laid,
The other on his breast,
While his valiant squadrons round him, &c.
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