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FLAMING meads and waving meadows stretched away almost as far as the eye could reach on either side of the road over which Cortez marched his troops towards the magnificent capital of the Mexicans. At brief intervals Indian villages were passed, out of which came the wondering population stricken with amazement at the military procession as it sped swiftly by. On elevated sites, commanding lovely prospects, might be seen beautiful villas of rich natives, which betrayed, the marvellous wealth and unexampled productiveness of the country. It was not until the fourth day that they reached the mountain slopes of the Cordilleras, at the foot of which they entered a large and populous town, called Naulinco, which was distinguished not only for its numerous population, but also for its many massive temples, upon whose altars sacrifices of human bodies were made many times every year. At sight of these the indignation of Cortez was again aroused, and he would have proceeded to demolish both the idols and the temples but for the restraint that lack of time put upon him. He was, therefore, content to erect in the broad plaza of the place a giant cross, as a memorial of his visit.

The route now lay up the mountain side, and it was not until the third day, over rugged paths and assailed by fierce storms of wind, that they reached a table-land seven thousand feet above the sea. But at this elevation they found the country as luxuriant with fields of maize, and as populous with towns and villages as the level lands over which they had before passed. On the westward side of this table-land was located the city of Tlatlanquitepec, the architecture of which was vastly more imposing than that of any place the Spaniards had seen. The houses were nearly all built of stone, much of which was exquisitely carved and of rocks of extraordinary size. But more wonderful than these structures were thirteen enormous temples which attested the religious fervor of the people. While the sight of these buildings excited wonder and amazement, the Spaniards were appalled by the spectacle of one hundred thousands human skulls, piled up in the form of a pyramid, and exhibited as an evidence of the devotion of the citizens to their gods.

The people of the city received Cortez with cold formality and endeavored to persuade him against visiting the Mexican capital. But he was not to be thus deterred from his purpose, and would have desecrated the temples and destroyed the idols of those debased people, as he had done before, had not a priest, a prudent father, named Olmedo, who accompanied him, showed the rashness of such a course.


After a rest of five days in Tlatlanquitepec, the march was resumed over a beautiful roadway that ran along a transparent stream of water and an unbroken line of Indian villages. Fifty miles further brought them to the city of Xalacingo, which was on the frontier of a very powerful nation, called the Tlascalans, who were not only numerous but so warlike that they had successfully resisted every attempt of the Mexican Emperor at their subjugation. Every man among them was a warrior, holding himself in readiness for service at any instant, and bloody battles were of constant occurrence between them and the Mexicans, by which they had been able to maintain their independence. Appreciating the importance of an alliance with such a valorous people, Cortez rested several days at Xalacingo, and sent an embassy of Totonacs with a courteous message to the chief of the nation, soliciting permission to pass through his country. Contrary to his expectation, the embassy was not a success, for having had information of the landing of the Spaniards, who were represented as being armed with thunder and clad with wings, and been informed of the desecration of the temples and the destruction of the gods wherever they went, the Tlascalans seized the ambassadors and were determined to sacrifice them to their gods. But by some means, which history does not explain, the four ambassadors contrived to make their escape, came back with all speed to the camp of the Spaniards, and made report of the cruel manner in which they had been received. A less bold man than Cortez would have hesitated to attempt a passage through the country with so small a force in the face of such a number of powerful warriors as the Tlascalans were able to muster. But he seems never to have been moved by any feelings of fear, but rather by a consuming ambition which did not allow him to hesitate before any obstacle. Lifting high the standard of the Holy Cross, Cortez, again appealing to his soldiers in the name of God, resumed his march towards the country which he had been forbidden to enter.


A few miles brought them in view of a solid wall of masonry, extending to the right and left, through valleys and over hills, until lost to view. It was constructed of immense blocks of stone with a base fully twelve feet in thickness, narrowing at the top to half that breadth, and strengthened at intervals with castellated parapets, in which respect it bore a striking resemblance to the great Chinese wall, and that it was built for a like purpose was evident. To the grateful surprise of the Spaniards they found the main gate undefended, nor did their approach seem to have been heralded; for no Indians were to be seen until an entrance had been secured, and the march continued towards the city. Suddenly, from behind the hills and out of the woods dashed a large force of Indians, who attacked the Spaniards with the greatest fury, and succeeded in killing two of the cavalry horses and wounding several of the invaders before Cortez really comprehended his danger. For the moment the Spaniards were thrown into dismay, so splendid had been the discipline and military tactics of the Indians. But his somewhat distracted force was directly rallied by Cortez, who quickly ordered the artillery brought into position, and opening fire, a terrible storm of grape-shot went tearing through the ranks of the Indians, dealing such dreadful carnage that they were instantly thrown into confusion and retreated, leaving six thousand of their dead upon the field. This decisive defeat of the Tlascalans resulted to the very great advantage of Cortez, for from their ranks he recruited nearly a thousand warriors, and the whole nation promptly acknowledged their fealty to the conqueror.

But, though Cortez subjugated the people about Xalacingo, he was yet to encounter other bodies of these people, who were to offer him an obstinate resistance. The recruits which he obtained were therefore carefully drilled, and the Totonac allies were also made effective by a discipline which readily made them available as soldiers. Cortez recognized the necessity of having every man under him, whether porter or servant, sailor or soldier, ready for service in case necessity called. Occasion soon arose to justify and commend this wise precaution. A five days' march after his battle with the Tlascalans brought him to a lovely valley, where to his astonished gaze he saw the enemy drawn up in battle array, and in such numbers that their boundary on either side could not be perceived.


It was not until late in the afternoon that Cortez stretched his tent and posted sentinels to watch the foe, feeling certain that on the following morning he would be required to give battle to an enemy whose strength he was unable to estimate. Two of the chiefs whom he had captured at the first battle informed Cortez that the foe before him consisted of five divisions of ten thousand men, and that each division was under the command of a chief, and designated by a distinct uniform and banner. With the hope of averting a dreadful calamity, Cortez sent his captive chiefs with a conciliatory message to the enemy, asking permission to pass unmolested through their country and declaring that he had no designs against the Tlascalans. But to this a fierce reply was returned, to the effect that they would not only resist his passage through the country, but that if he attempted it they would offer the hearts of the Spaniards as a sacrifice to their gods and then devour the bodies, according to the custom with which they treated all their prisoners. It was a supreme moment for the Spaniards, and fear of the result caused a solemn feeling to brood over the camp, and in the night, during the still watches, the voice of prayer arose from every tent, for God alone seemed able to deliver them from their desperate situation. Cortez nevertheless at no time exhibited any alarm, but went about among his troops encouraging them by every means he was able to put forth, and prophesying the certain defeat of the Indians whose power, he declared, would be speedily dissipated by the arm of the Almighty.

At an early hour, on the 5th of September, the blare of bugles aroused the sleepless camp, and the order was given to prepare for action. Even the wounded men that were barely able to stand in rank with assistance were compelled to do such duty as they were capable of performing, while the recruits from the two Indian nations were stationed in the centre, supported on either wing by the Spaniards, and the cavalry was sent forward to bring on the battle. As the sun rose over the Cordilleras a magnificent view was presented: stretching away across the valley from hill to hill, and covering a plain fully six miles square, was the vast army of the Tlascalans, sturdily awaiting the moment for the conflict. The native warriors were gorgeously decorated with feathers and paint and other appliances of barbaric pomp, and as they were separated in divisions, Cortez was now able to form a "correct estimate of their number, which he declares was fully one hundred thousand. Their weapons were slings, arrows, javelins, clubs, and wooden swords, while flints were imbedded in their wooden weapons, which made them extremely effective in close combat. Scarcely had Cortez put his troops in motion towards the valley when a vast field of natives began to move with celerity, but military precision, towards their advancing foe, and in a few moments the attack was begun by such a discharge of arrows and darts from the Tlascalans as to fairly becloud the sky. The armor worn by the Spaniards was scarcely a sufficient protection against such a hail of weapons, and many fell sorely wounded. But employing tactics which had served him so efficaciously in his first battle, Cortez brought up his pieces of artillery and opened a fire of ball and grape-shot upon the astonished natives, which slaughtered them in astonishing numbers at each discharge. But so desperate was their courage that the Tlascalans, while betraying amazement, rushed in and filled up the gaps made by the cannons, and regardless of the rain of death that was now mowing down thousands every moment, they continued valorously the unequal fight. On every side the dead lay piled up in ghastly confusion, while of the Spaniards every horse was wounded and seventy of the men were severely injured, and nearly every one had been struck by some of the flying missiles. The chief of the Tlascalans, at last seeing how futile it was to contend any longer with an enemy which he now believed was fighting by the aid of supernatural weapons, sounded the retreat. But in retiring, the same discipline that had distinguished their advance characterized the present movements of the natives, who left the Spaniards with little more glory than the mere satisfaction of having routed their enemies, for exhausted with the long and severe fighting, and maimed, wounded, and discouraged, the victors sought repose upon the grass, too nearly depleted of physical strength and ambition to erect tents for their protection. During the day a storm arose, and the temperature fell so low that the sufferings from cold were even greater than from the wounds that the soldiers had received. The previous night they had slept little or none through fear of the results of the following day, and the weather was now so inclement that they were unable to obtain the rest and refreshment which they so sorely needed. To discouragement a mutinous feeling succeeded, and the expedition was again upon the point of disbandment through the open threats of more than half the number to abandon a course which seemed so hopeless, and which must, if persisted in, bring irreparable calamity upon the whole.

Our surprise is exceedingly great when reading the reports furnished by Cortez, and a comrade named Diaz, who seems to have been historiographer of the expedition, to learn that in this bloody contest, in which it is said thirty thousand of the enemy were slain, only one Spaniard was killed upon the field of battle, and that all their sufferings arose from wounds which in every case healed, so there was no substantial loss in the fighting force which Cortez had marshalled.


Again the influence of Cortez was exerted to quiet the fears and mutinous spirit of his followers, and his success in this effort was as signal as it had been on many previous occasions; for when he was unable to arouse them by assurances of the glory that they would obtain, as well as the wealth which awaited the expedition at its conclusion, he had the unfailing resource of appealing to their religious zeal, which in every instance brought such immediate change that from depression the most mutinous rallied again to his, standard with assurances of their renewed devotion. On the day succeeding the battle, Cortez armed some of his soldiers sufficiently to make a foray among the neighboring villages, which he despoiled and burned, taking also 400 prisoners, about one half of whom were women. He then pitched his tents and gave his soldiers an opportunity for the rest which they had not had since leaving Xalacingo. But on the second day he was surprised by an army very much larger than that with which he had contended in the unfortunate valley, and which, he declares, exceeded 150,000 in numbers. This enormous force had been collected through the extraordinary exertions of neighboring caciques, who brought their legions from every direction, and appeared in front of Cortez without any intimation having preceded them of their intention. Almost as quickly as they came in sight this immense army made a fierce charge, and descended upon the Spaniards in such awful might that Cortez was completely overwhelmed. Everything for a while was in inextricable confusion, the natives and the Spaniards grappling in a deadly contest which would have meant annihilation to the Spaniards had not the artillery been brought promptly into action, and its thunders inspired the natives with a new terror. For four hours this desperate battle continued, at the end of which time, to the surprise of Cortez himself, so many thousands of the natives had been slain that the rest drew off in hopeless discouragement, feeling that their gods had abandoned them and were fighting upon the side of their enemies. When night came on, Cortez made another foray among the villages several miles in the surrounding country, and after pillaging them of their contents, burned three thousand houses and took many of the inhabitants prisoners. Contrary to his previous treatment, he kindly cared for his captives, and so amazed the natives by his humanity, that, disheartened, the Tlascalans were ready to sue for peace. Accordingly, they sent a delegation of fifty of their principal men, bearing a great quantity of valuable presents to Cortez, and conveyed through a respectful message their desire to form an alliance with him. But misinterpreting the purpose of their visit, and suspecting some treachery intended, which seems to have been thoroughly justified by the second attack that had been made upon them, but with inexcusable cruelty he ordered the ambassadors to be seized and their hands cut off, and thus mutilated he sent the unfortunate victims back to the Tlascalan camp with a defiant reply.


Subdued by terror and cruelty, and the supposed supernatural power of the Spaniards, the chief of the Tlascalans made no further resistance, and with a numerous retinue entered the Spanish camp, with abject proffers of submission, promising also to prove as faithful in peace as he had been bold in war. Thus yielding themselves as vassals to the Spaniards, they completed an alliance with Cortez, and the two armies thus amalgamated proceeded together to the great city of Tlascala, and there concerted measures against their common enemy, the Mexicans. Tlascala is represented by Cortez to have been one of the most imposing cities that his eyes ever rested upon, more nearly resembling Grenada, the great Moorish capital, than any other place that he had seen. Upon their entrance to the city, they were met by an enthusiastic multitude, who came out to greet them with barbaric music, preceding native warriors gayly decorated with variegated plumes, and clothed in the splendors of half civilization. Among the other surprises which awaited Cortez was the splendid police regulation of the city and the many luxuries which the people enjoyed; for here he found barbershops, and baths with hot and cold water, broad plazas in which native bands of musicians discoursed every evening, flowing fountains, and seemingly all the accessories of a highly refined people. On the way, however, fifty-five of the Spaniards had died of wounds received in the latter engagement, while the most of his army was so fatigued that palanquins had to be provided to convey them. Those that were wounded had also received small attention, as the injuries could only be dressed with the fat cut from the dead bodies of the natives, the result of which treatment Cortez unfortunately neglects to record. But upon reaching Tlascala every comfort was immediately provided, not only for the care of the sick but for the perfect rest of the fatigued, while provisions were in such abundance that the army forgot their troubles in the luxurious entertainment which they now received. It is estimated by Cortez that at least thirty thousand people appeared daily in the market place of the city, and that the population of the province which he had invaded numbered not less than 500,000.