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CORTEZ resumed his voyage up the coast, with gay streamers of various colors floating from the masts of his vessels, until his squadron dropped anchor in the beautiful harbor of Uloa, where he was directly visited by a canoe bearing two important chiefs of the natives, acting as an embassy from the court of the Emperor of Mexico. The Indians were not entirely unacquainted with the Spaniards, for they had met the expedition of Grijalva some years before, and held a short intercourse with their visitors, which so impressed them that when they perceived the large squadron now lying at anchor they believed that the strangers had come with the purpose of invading and destroying their peaceful homes. The emissaries, therefore, came bearing rich presents to Cortez and to pay respectful homage, with the hope of averting the disaster which they believed was now impending. Cortez received them kindly, and gained their confidence through a long interview, conducted by the aid of Marina and the Spaniard as interpreters. Having reassured them of his peaceful intentions, Cortez obtained the information that 200 miles in the interior was the capital of the empire, where dwelt a monarch named Montezuma, who was beloved by his subjects, and whose reign extended over a vast realm. He ascertained also that the country was divided into provinces, over each of which a governor presided, and that the executive over the territory at which he had landed was named Teutile, whose residence was some twenty miles distant.

Dismissing his official visitors with some gifts, and renewed assurances of his peaceful intentions, Cortez landed his entire force upon the shore, and set immediately about constructing a fortified camp, the outer works of which was defended by his artillery, so planted as to command the immediate surrounding district. In this work the Spaniards were assisted by the natives, who brought daily an abundance of provisions, and in every way manifested their hospitality and kindness.


After a week spent in this place, during which time the Mexicans and Spaniards mingled freely on intimate terms, Governor Teutile, with a numerous retinue, made a visit to Cortez, at which demonstrations of friendship were exchanged. The cupidity of the Spaniards, however, was excited by the rich ornaments of silver and gold of the most splendid workmanship which decorated the persons of the governor and his staff, and incited them with a stronger desire to penetrate the territory where incredible wealth was now confidently believed might be had. At the request of Cortez, Teutile sent a communication to Montezuma, informing him of the arrival of the strangers and their desire to visit the Mexican capital. This communication was made by picture writing, as the Mexicans made no use of letters, which custom was peculiar to all the peoples of North America up to the time of the settlement of the country by the whites. Mexican painters were also employed to make pictures of the Spaniards and of the arms which they bore, also of the fleet and the armor, horses, and general equipment of the expedition, by which means they were enabled to convey to Montezuma a very correct idea of the arms, character and power of the Spaniards.

On the eighth day after the transmission of the communication to the Emperor, an embassy, consisting of two nobles, accompanied by a staff of a hundred men laden with magnificent gifts from Montezuma, presented themselves before Cortez with the Emperor's reply. Among the many presents which they bore were articles of silver and gold, wrought in such exquisite manner that they vastly surpassed the best workmanship of European artists; and besides these, a Spanish helmet, which had been sent
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to Montezuma, was returned filled with nuggets of pure gold. Accompanying the presents was the following reply to the communication transmitted through Governor Teutile: "Our master is happy to send these tokens of his respect to the King of Spain. He regrets that he cannot enjoy an interview with the Spaniards, but the distance of his capital is too great and the perils of the journey too serious to allow of this pleasure. The strangers are, therefore, requested to return to their own homes, with these fruits of the friendly feelings of Montezuma." This reply not only disappointed but chagrined Cortez, who, though unwilling to immediately offend the great emperor, insisted upon a renewal of his request for permission to visit the Mexican capital; but the ambassadors assured him that another application would be equally unavailing. However, they accepted of a few presents of shirts and ties, and departed again on their return to Montezuma, and conveyed this second message from the Spanish commander.


Days passed without any reply from Montezuma, and as the natives now began to feel some uneasiness, they acted with more reserve, and withheld the supplies of provisions which they had before freely given. The weather, too, was insufferably hot, and a deadly sickness was soon manifested in the camp, from which thirty of the Spaniards died. Some of the party were now anxious to return to Cuba, fearing to encounter the perils which they must endure on a trip through a country of which they knew nothing, and among people whose number exceeded the entire population of Spain. But Cortez was not to thus supinely abandon an undertaking which promised both wealth and glory, and by impassioned appeals and assurances of success he succeeded in exciting anew the ambitions of his comrades, and it was determined at length to push on, despite whatever might happen, for the Mexican capital.

At the expiration of ten days, another message was received from Montezuma, more peremptory than the first, declaring that the Spaniards would not be permitted to approach the capital, and begging that they would depart from his shores, lest the friendship which he entertained might be turned to hostility. This reply of Montezuma inflamed Cortez with passion, which he made no effort to conceal, and turning to his soldiers he said: "This is truly a rich and powerful prince. His great treasures shall repay us well for the hardships which we must encounter. If we cannot visit his capital by invitation, we will go as soldiers of the Cross." The ambassadors retired with expressions of courtesy, but with manifest displeasure at the pertinacity of the Spaniards.

On the following morning, the huts of the Mexicans about the place where Cortez had built his fort were abandoned, and not one native reappeared to offer the Spaniards food, or to exchange the kindly civilities which had before characterized them. When provisions began to grow scarce, there was another disaffection among the members of the expedition, fully one-half of whom now seemed so determined to return to Cuba that Cortez apparently acquiesced, but secretly set those who were favorable to marching to the capital to cause a mutiny in the camp against the proposed return. According to a preconcerted arrangement, his emissaries surrounded his tent in the evening, and with great show of force declared that, having entered upon an enterprise of converting the country to Christianity, they were determined to persevere in the effort, and that if Cortez wished to return with the other cowards to Cuba, they would choose another general more valorous, who would lead them through paths of glory to the palace of the idolaters. This ruse was completely successful, for Cortez seized the occasion to make another patriotic address to his followers, which changed their former determination and set everyone to contemplating the wealth and glory which must follow their efforts to win the country to Christianity.


Cortez now established a settlement on the coast at Uloa, and assembled a council for the organization of the government. Before the council thus selected, he bowed in obsequious homage, and in order to obtain a commission from the government, surrendered the authority which he had received from Velasquez, which had indeed been long before revoked; and in exchange was tendered a commission from this body ostensibly representing Charles V. of Spain. By this means he was chosen Chief Justice of the colony and Captain General of the army, thus shaking off his dependence upon Velasquez and assuming the dignity of a governor responsible only to his sovereign.

About this time, and while preparations were being made for the invasion, five Indians of rank came soliciting an interview with the commander. They represented themselves as envoys from a chief of a province not far distant, who reigned over a nation called Totonacs, a people who had been conquered by Montezuma and annexed to the Mexican Empire; but that they suffered all manner of severities and trials under their conqueror, and now sought an alliance with the Spaniards with the hope that they with their help might regain their independence. Cortez saw that this was an opportunity that he could not afford to waste, as here lay the means for largely augmenting his force, and by stirring up civil war he might divide the empire so as to make its subjugation more easily accomplished. First changing his settlement to a more desirable location some forty miles further up the coast, Cortez set himself at the head of his army and proceeded on a journey to a city twelve miles in the interior, where the cacique resided. When he had arrived within three miles of the palace of the chief of the Totonacs, he was met by a vast concourse of men who brought presents of gold, fruit and flowers and who omitted nothing in a generous exhibition of their friendship and desire for an alliance.


The country through which the Spaniards passed was beautiful almost beyond comparison, and the inhabitants possessed elements of refinement which might well do credit to the most civilized of European nations. The town too was beautifully laid out and handsomely ornamented with shade trees, and was as clean as the most carefully swept floor. The chief gave a magnificent welcome to his visitors, and exhibited such polished manners as led Cortez to believe that he had acquired his conduct at some magnificent court. After the first greeting, the cacique addressed Cortez in these words: " Gracious stranger, I cannot sufficiently commend your benevolence, and none can stand in more need of it! You see before you a man wearied out with unmerited wrong. I and my people are crushed and trodden under foot by the most tyrannical power upon earth. We were once an independent and happy people, but the prosperity of the Totonacs is now destroyed; the power of our nobles is gone. We are robbed of the produce of our fields; our sons are torn from us for sacrifices and our daughters for slaves; and now, mighty warrior, we implore thy strength and kindness that thou wouldst enable us to resist these tyrants, and deliver us from their exactions." Promising him his assistance, Cortez rode through the streets of the capital, and through the great court of the temple which had been assigned for his accommodation. At the head of his column floated gilt-bespangled banners, followed by his cavalry of sixteen horses, animals which the Totonacs had never before seen, and behind these came the artillery, which, in the eyes of the natives, were supernatural agents, dealing lightning bolts and thunder roars at the will of the Spaniards.

On the following morning, Cortez returned to the point selected for the settlement, and was met by another cacique, who tendered him the service of 400 men to assist him in removing his baggage, or to perform any other labors which he might desire. The country was densely populated, and Cortez was offered such aid that in a short while a sufficient number of huts were erected to house all his people, and a flourishing town was brought quickly into existence, the first established by whites on the continent of the New World.


Every movement of the Spaniards had been reported to Montezuma, who, now perceiving the intention of the strangers, saw the necessity of doing something to prevent their more thorough establishment in the country. Accordingly he sent five messengers, large and imposing men, each of whom carried a bouquet of flowers, followed by obsequious attendants. These ambassadors visited the settlement with authority from the Emperor to take such action against his rebellious subjects as the exigencies of the occasion seemed to justify. They commanded that the Totonac chiefs appear immediately before them, which, like terrified children, they promptly obeyed. At the conclusion of the interview, the Totonacs in great fear appealed to Cortez, informing him of the indignation of the Emperor at their conduct in supporting the Spaniards, and of his demand that, as a penalty for their actions, they immediately surrender to the five ambassadors twenty young men and as many young women of the Totonacs, to be offered in sacrifice to their gods. The terror inspired by this demand may well be excused, when it is known how these sacrifices were
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obtained and accomplished: At the time of Cortez' visit, and long anterior thereto, it was a practice among the Aztecs (which word may be used to designate all the peoples occupying that territory lying between the isthmus of Darien and the Rio Grande river) to make sacrifices of human beings to their Sun god. These victims were generally obtained from the flower of the people, as those thus offered up were supposed to be without blemish; otherwise, they would not be acceptable to the deity. The place of sacrifice was in the temple court, upon a pyramid specially constructed for the purpose. Here the victims were laid upon a sacrificial stone, with arms extended and bound with iron wristlets and collar. Six priests officiated upon these occasions, one of whom plunged the copper knife into the breast of the offering, and tearing out the heart, held that fresh, palpitating, and bleeding organ towards the sun, at the same time reciting his orisons and devotions. The religion of these people was essentially a bloody one, calling so frequently for human sacrifices that it has been estimated that no less than fifty thousand victims were required every year to placate the Aztec gods. But in addition to these pious offerings, the Aztecs invariably tortured their prisoners and celebrated their victories, by the bloodiest rites, and not infrequently the bodies were served up and eaten at sacrificial banquets with accompaniment of great rejoicing.


When the determination of the ambassadors despatched by Montezuma was described to Cortez, he assumed an air of bitter indignation, and set earnestly about promoting an open rupture between the Totonacs and the Mexicans. Not only did he declare that God had commissioned him to abolish the abominable practices of these heathens, but he commanded the Totonac chiefs to arrest the ambassadors and convey them immediately to prison. Having been accustomed to look upon Montezuma as the greatest monarch of the earth, whose power none might successfully resist, the Totonac chiefs were horrified at the order given them by Cortez. But reflecting again upon the surrender of their young men and women to be sacrificed for their own rebellious acts, and feeling themselves now between two fires, they accepted the last alternative and, with many misgivings, they hurried the ambassadors away to prison. This was an act of open rebellion, which they realized was unpardonable, and henceforth they were to be the slaves of Cortez, to whose strong arm they could alone look for protection. With a perfidy which the most depraved of human wretches would scarcely manifest, on the following night Cortez secretly released two of the ambassadors, and with specious words of friendship sent them back to Montezuma, with a promise to set the others at liberty at the earliest possible moment. The next morning, the other three were also set free and were given some presents to convey to Montezuma, and bidden specially to report the outrage (as he characterized it) which had been committed upon them by the Totonacs. Thus, while pretending to be the friend of each, Cortez succeeded in his design of setting one part of the empire against the other, and fomenting a rebellion of which he was to be the chief beneficiary.


The settlement which Cortez had thus established he named Villi Rica de la Vera Cruz, which interpreted means The Rich City of the True Cross. Its location was a few miles above where the present city of Vera Cruz stands. Here he remained for some time, and until he received another message from the court of Montezuma, which was couched in very different language from that which had previously been transmitted. The Mexican Emperor, being deceived by the specious pretensions of Cortez, and alarmed as well by the appalling power which he manifested and which the Emperor believed must be supernatural, adopted a conciliatory policy, and even invited Cortez and his soldiers, now to visit his capital. The peaceful relations which had thus been suddenly established between Cortez and Montezuma were kept secret from the Totonacs as far as possible, and, appreciating their position towards the Emperor, they omitted no opportunity to show their faith and reliance in the strangers with whom they had thus formed an alliance, and to strengthen this bond the cacique made an offering to Cortez of eight of the most beautiful maidens, that he was able to find in the country, and in urging the acceptance of this singular gift begged that they be joined in marriage to his officers. This proposition Cortez turned to his advantage by a show of gracious condescension and a promise to receive them upon the condition that these maidens would renounce their idolatry and be baptized into the holy Catholic Church, which the Totonacs agreed to, and thus were the first converts to Christianity made among the people of Mexico.


Having thus succeeded in his first efforts to convert a few of the people by peaceful means, he urged upon the Totonac chiefs an abandonment of their heathenism and a general adoption of the Catholic faith. But this proposition they respectfully declined, reminding Cortez of the power of their gods, whom they had from time immemorial faithfully worshipped, and declaring that their abandonment now would result in the destruction of the entire nation. This loyalty to their religion severely provoked Cortez, who, unable to appreciate the nobility of these sentiments, attributed their inclination to an obstinacy which he was determined to
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overcome by force, if persuasion were unavailing. Accordingly, on the following day, in a solid column, the soldiers marched directly to one of the most magnificent temples of the district, and amid the panic created by the pageantry that he presented, he ascended with fifty of his men up the winding stairway of the pyramid within the temple's court, and with violent hands hurled down the massive wooden idols, which broke in fragments as they struck the streets. Gathering up the remains, he placed them in a pile and applied the torch, by which they were speedily consumed. Appalled by this violence, and realizing their own helplessness the Totonac chiefs docilely acquiesced in all the demands made upon them by the invaders. Cortez then ordered that the Totonac be dressed in the sacerdotal robes of the Catholic priesthood; and placing lighted candles in their hands, he forced them to participate in the rites of the Papal church. Upon the apex of the pyramid, where human sacrifices had been offered upon more than a hundred occasions, Cortez erected an altar, before which mass was solemnly performed. And there, on that bloody spot, the psalmody of the Catholic priests ascended in the air, the first offering made to the true God from a country in which, aside from its religion, there was a splendid civilization. This incident so affected the minds of the natives that many wept, and the whole nation directly accepted the Christian religion, perceiving its superiority to the brutalities of their own.

Thus far there had been no serious obstacles to the progress of the purpose of Cortez. But about this time, for some unexplained cause, there was another disaffection among his soldiers, a party of whom had secretly seized one of the brigantines with the intention of escaping back to Cuba. At the last moment, however, one of the conspirators disclosed the intention of his comrades, and Cortez, at all times fearful of the results of his assumption of the gubernatorial position, as already described, determined to make an example of the conspirators. He accordingly ordered all the mutineers to be brought upon shore, where, after a brief trial, the two ringleaders were condemned to be beheaded. The pilot was committed to the more brutal penalty of having his feet cut off, while two others of the foremost sailors received 200 lashes, from the effects of which they did not recover for several months. But note entirely satisfied with the results of his harsh measures, to prevent the destruction of his disaffected followers, Cortez adopted a desperate expedient: He was now upon an unknown shore, in the midst of millions of people, the most of whom were loyally attached to their emperor, and who by combination might easily accomplish his destruction. But dismissing all danger, in his blind ambition Cortez ordered all the vessels of his fleet dismantled, and after every movable thing had been placed on shore, the ships were scuttled and sunk. At this bold act the soldiers were struck with consternation, for they perceived how hopeless was their expectation of ever again returning to their friends unless Providence protected them in all the perilous marches which lay before them, and which the majority of the company contemplated with feelings of despair. But their destiny lay entirely in the hands of their leader whom it were no avail now to oppose, and their feelings of insubordination gave place to a blind obedience, which was directly aroused to enthusiasm and devotion by a thrilling speech which Cortez delivered to pacify his men.

On the 15th of August, 1519, Cortez had so far completed his preparation for the great march to the interior that he brought up his little army in review, and after putting them through many military evolutions, addressing them again in the most impassioned manner, appealing alike to their cupidity and religious zeal, he marched out of the town where he had formed a flourishing settlement, and set his face towards the capital of Mexico. His force consisted of 400 Spaniards, armed as already described, fifteen cavalrymen, and seven pieces of artillery. The rest of his party he left at the garrison at Vera Cruz, many of whom were sick or disabled, and the others were required for the defence of the place. But the cacique of the Totonacs furnished him with 2300 men, a majority of whom, however, went as porters to the expedition, to carry burdens and to draw the artillery. At the head of this considerable force, Cortez set out upon a career of cruelty and bloodshed positively unparalleled in American history, as we shall see.