CORTEZ PLUCKS THE FLOWER OF GLORY OUT OF THE BED OF DEFEAT.
A PLAGUE OF SMALL-POX.
At the death of Montezuma, his brother, Cuitlahua, succeeded to the emperorship, and being more warlike than Montezuma in disposition, it was under his energies that the Spaniards had been driven from the metropolis. Directly after the retreat of the invaders, he set about fortifying his capital and recruiting and drilling his army that had now become familiar with European weapons. He also sent an embassy to the Tlascalans, urging them to remit their former enmity and unite with him against the common foe, who, without their assistance, would be helpless. But his overtures to his old enemies were without effect, and in addition to the other woes from which he suffered, that had been introduced by the Spaniards, small-pox made its appearance in his territory, which, breaking out suddenly, swept like a besom of destruction throughout the land, until it became a pestilence so fearful that it threatened the depopulation of the entire country. Within a few weeks' time several cities were plague-stricken, and the living were insufficient to bury the dead, so rapid was its ravages. It was not long until the disease invaded the Mexican capital, and one of its first victims was the Emperor, Cuitlahua. His death intensified the panic, and but for the fact that several Spaniards also succumbed to the epidemic, the Mexicans would have no doubt abandoned their city in the belief, which for a while obtained, that this disease, of which they had never before heard, was another supernatural aid employed by the Spaniards for their destruction.
Cuitlahua was succeeded by Guatemozin, a son-in-law of the late Montezuma, who, though only twenty-four years of age, quickly proved himself more heroic, resourceful, and indomitable than his predecessors. With an admirable conception of the exigencies which threatened his crown, Guatemozin set resolutely about repairing the damage wrought by Cortez, and putting his capital in a more perfect state of defence. Outwardly manifesting a friendly spirit for the Spaniards left in the country, he craftily hid his designs, or kept them from reaching Cortez. His army, which was recruited to a force exceeding 300,000, was carefully drilled, stores of provisions laid in, barricades erected on the several causeways, and a large fleet of canoes built to co-operate with the land forces, their use having been proved in the battle of the dismal night.
A BATTLE UPON THE LAKE.
Cortez having completed his preparations for another siege of the capital, by having provided himself with an immense supply of military stores and a largely increased force, started on his return for Mexico, presenting a pageantry that attracted to his banner 200,000 Tlascalans and Totonacs, with which army he felt himself equal to any undertaking. He proceeded directly to Tepeaca, a considerable town on the northern shore of the lake, where he put together the timbers of his fleet of thirteen brigantines, each of which he manned with twenty-five Spaniards, and set on the prows a cannon, so as to command a sweep of the lake.
A few feeble efforts were made to harass the Spaniards while they were at Tepeaca, but it was not until the squadron was ready and the sails were spread for crossing the lake to enter upon a siege of the capital, that an attack of any pretension was made. Guatemozin, perceiving how these vessels might be employed to his great disadvantage, sent against them a flotilla of more than three hundred canoes, each manned by twelve natives armed with bows and arrows, thinking to overpower the Spaniards and destroy the ships by sheer force of numbers. But to his horror he saw his armada run down by the large and fleeter vessels, while a hail of grape-shot and showers of arrows from the Spanish cross-bowmen literally annihilated the fleet of canoemen, leaving the waters red with their blood and choked with their mutilated bodies. A wail of anguish went up from the Mexicans at this destruction of their hopes, but they were not long permitted to peaceably indulge their lamentations, or to make their sacrifices unmolested to their gods, for, having destroyed their fleet, Cortez now began the siege in earnest. He divided his army into three divisions, under command respectively of Sandoval, Alvarado, and Olid, who were to begin the attack upon three separate causeways, while Cortez himself assumed command of the brigantines, and co-operated with the land forces by attacking from the sides. The bridges over the causeways were obstructed, as before described, by formidable barriers, behind which the Mexicans were stationed in immense force. But by concentrating a heavy artillery fire upon them, these were gradually battered down, and every foot of the way was then hotly contested by hand-to-hand conflicts. At the moment of beginning the assault, the fleet opened fire from the side and slaughtered thousands, whose bodies interposed additional obstacles, which could only be surmounted by throwing them over again into the water.
THE SPANIARDS FALL INTO A TRAP AND MEET WITH AWFUL DISASTER.
The obstinacy of the Mexicans, despite the frightful slaughter to which they were subjected, was so astonishing to Cortez that he feared disaster even at the time of his most effective assault, and to provide means for a retreat, in case of necessity, he carefully bridged all the breaches, and threw out a force to protect his rear. But at length the Mexicans relaxed the vigor of their defence, and by inaction lured the Spaniards into the belief that their victory was already secure, which so excited their hopes that, unmindful of possible treachery, they rushed across the remaining portions of the causeway and directly into the city. The strategy which Guatemozin had thus employed, directly became apparent, for suddenly the alarm drum sounded from the summit of the great temple, which was the signal for the collection of the full fighting force of the capital, who now, in concert, threw themselves in a fierce charge upon the surprised Spaniards. So sudden and irresistible was the onslaught that both the Spanish foot and horsemen were alike thrown into the utmost confusion and driven in great numbers back into the last chasm which they had neglected to bridge. For the moment defenceless, the Spaniards fell in great numbers, victims to the showers of arrows and javelins of their encouraged enemies. More than a score were killed outright, while twice as many more were wounded and fell into the hands of the Mexicans, besides the loss of a thousand of their allies. This awful and unexpected reverse became presently still more dreadful, when the Spaniards viewed the frightful fate that was about to overtake their captured comrades.
A HORRIFYING SACRIFICE OF SPANISH PRISONERS.
The darkness of night had now settled down, but towards the middle watches a great light suddenly appeared upon the Summit of the temple, and a spectacle speedily followed which fairly froze the blood of the Spaniards, as they plainly saw the awful rites that were now being performed. Amid a great gathering of priests and waving plumes of soldiery that had assembled in great number upon the lofty plain of the pyramid, were to be seen, by the aid of the torches, the white bodies of the Spanish victims, as they were stripped by their captors and prepared for the sacrifices which were now to be offered up.
The horrified Spaniards watched their wretched comrades and saw each prisoner stretched upon the sacrificial stone, and heard the despairing shrieks that went up as the bodies were gashed with the obsidian knife of the priest, and the quivering hearts torn out and held aloft as offerings to their gods. Diaz, the historian of the expedition, and who was an eye-witness of this frightful scene, gives us the following soul-sickening description:
STARVATION COMPELS A RESORT TO CANNIBALISM.
The elation of the Mexicans at the success of their onslaught was further manifested by cutting off the heads of the prisoners whom they had thus sacrificed, which they sent to neighboring provinces as a proof that their gods, now appeased by the offering of blood, had abandoned the Spaniards and concerted their destruction. The Pagan priests also predicted that in eight days the enemy would be entirely destroyed, and that Mexico, would rise from her tribulations to greater glory than had ever before dawned upon the people. So great was the general confidence placed in this prophecy, that the native allies of Cortez began to waver in their allegiance, and to prevent their desertion in a body he was compelled to remain inactive until the period set for the calamity should have passed. When the eight days were ended, and the gods had not fulfilled the prediction which the priests boastfully declared would terminate the conflict, Cortez seized the occasion to taunt the Mexicans with their ignorant credulity and false reliance, and to claim the favor of Almighty God, who extended His protection and conferred power upon the Spaniards. So immediate was the effect of this declaration, which seemed to be proved by the circumstances, that the Tlascalans not only renewed their adherence, but other natives of the adjacent country came flocking to his standard, and thus increased his force by the addition of nearly 50,000 more active warriors.
So great now was his army while so obstinate continued to be the resistance of the Mexicans, who, for a while, effectually prevented his progress towards the citadel, that a famine broke out among the besiegers, as well as among the besieged, and, to the horrors which had been perpetrated by shot, and arrow, and lance, and javelin, were now added terrible feasts of cannibalism, a practice easily instituted by reason of the custom which had long prevailed among the natives of devouring the bodies of their victims at the sacrificial feasts.
But gradually, almost inch by inch, the Spaniards pushed forward, breaking down, but only after the most heroic measures, such barricades as were erected in their paths, until after the expiration of nearly two months' time the broad avenues of the city were gained. But here every house was a fortress, from the top of which stones were thrown down, while windows were used by the Mexicans from which to pour their hail of arrows upon the invaders. The firebrand was therefore again applied, being the only means of dislodging the enemy, until half the town was in flames. At the same time, the brigantines kept a careful patrol of the lake, to prevent the escape by canoes of any of the inhabitants, and continued a desultory fire from the cannons upon buildings where bodies of the Mexicans had taken refuge.
CAPTURE OF THE EMPEROR.
Though Cortez was gradually and surely reaching the heart of the Mexican capital, he was touched with the frightful misery being inflicted alike upon his own army and ,the Mexicans, and time and again sent messages to Guatemozin, demanding in the name of humanity the capitulation of the city. But to, each an indignant and defiant reply was returned, and the unequal fight went on. The three divisions had accomplished a passage of the causeways, and had concentrated in the great square of the city, from which avenues radiated in all directions. Here cannons were planted, and the streets were kept clear of moving bodies, since to appear in such exposed places meant certain death. In this desperate situation, the Mexicans at length adopted an expedient for securing the safety of their beloved monarch. Soliciting a truce, upon the ground that it was necessary to remove the great piles of corpses that were polluting the streets, they utilized the time which was thus granted in preparing for a secret removal of their Emperor to the main
HORRORS WHICH FOLLOWED THE SIEGE.
The capture of the Emperor and the deplorable straits to which the Mexicans were now subjected so completely discouraged them, that they abandoned all further defence and permitted the victorious Spaniards to have full and complete possession of the destroyed city.
A period of seventy-five days had been spent in almost incessant conflict, during which time scarcely an hour passed that had not been characterized by some furious battle. During this unexampled siege, it is estimated that not less than 140,000 Mexicans perished, while nearly 400 Spaniards and not less than 25,000 of their allies met a like fate. The streets were so choked with the dead and dying that, to the miseries of famine, a plague of disease quickly followed. Singular to relate, the epidemic of small-pox seems to have suddenly abated, but greater horrors took its place, and but for prompt measures in disposing of the dead, it is probable that scarcely a Spaniard would have been left to tell the story of this unexampled siege. For three whole days, all the surviving Mexicans and the allies of Cortez were engaged conveying the dead to the hills for interment, and this gruesome employment did not stop either night or day until it was completed. The streets were then purified by the building of large bonfires and the consumption of such debris as lay scattered about, after which Cortez began a search for the large treasures which he had confidently expected to secure.
It was on the 13th of August, 1521, that the city was surrendered into his hands, on which date it may be said that the great empire of Mexico perished, and became thereafter a colony of Spain.
THE TORTURE OF GUATEMOZIN.
For a week, his search through buildings, and cellars, and channels of every description continued, but Cortez was only able to collect of all kinds of treasure a sum not exceeding in value $100,000. This small amount of spoils was such a disappointment to the Spaniards that they became clamorous for the adoption of means that would compel Guatemozin to disclose where his riches were secreted. To their enquiries, he responded that nearly the whole had been conveyed to the centre of the lake in boats, and there sunk to such depths that recovery was impossible. But, not satisfied with this answer, and believing that torture might wring from him a confession that much of the treasure was yet recoverable from some readily accessible place of the city, the more turbulent of
THE MEXICANS ARE REDUCED TO SLAVERY.
Cortez now set about restoring the capital, and in making some amends for the inexcusable ruin that he had wrought. Though beset by perplexities, through information and threatenings which had reached him that Velasquez was concerting measures to bring him to punishment for the power which he had without authority assumed, he nevertheless set his men to work, with the aid of their allies, to rebuild the fallen capital. The labor went on without interruption, and so speedily that in a few months there arose out of the ashes of Mexico new buildings, in many points equalling in grandeur those which they replaced; at the same time Cortez constructed for himself a palace, which has rarely been exceeded for splendor. But while engaging in this restoration of the capital, he reduced the natives to a condition of servitude which presently developed into the most abject slavery, from which the Tlascalans and Totonaos alone escaped. The poor natives were compelled to do their work under the lash, to labor in the mines, to till the fields, and to engage in all the arts under the hand of the most cruel and exacting taskmasters. For this audacious and cruel abuse of a sudden power Cortez has never been excused, and in the eyes of civilization never can be excused, and it will remain, along with the other dark blots upon his character, the one supreme blemish which beclouds all the glory which might otherwise brighten his name.
Occasionally, the natives in remote districts rebelled under the harsh treatment to which they were subjected, and in one instance, in the province of Paluco, the number of rebellious subjects exceeded 70,000 warriors, who arose with the intention of massacring their masters, and who had ambitious hopes even of uniting the natives of the entire territory for an expulsion of the Spaniards. So formidable did the insurrection become, that Cortez placed himself at the head of an army of 130 horsemen, 250 infantry, and 10,000 Mexicans, with which he made a forced march, and engaged the rebellious subjects in such a hot contest that the greater part of them were slaughtered, and such a signal victory secured that no subsequent efforts of any considerable character were made by the Mexicans to regain their freedom.
For more than four years Cortez devoted all his energies to a rebuilding of the Mexican capital, and to a zealous effort for the conversion of the natives to Catholicism, and so successful was this attempt that Mexico became, under his rule, more magnificent than ever before; and the natives gradually abandoned the bloody rites of their ancient worship, and under the influence of the Spanish priests became amenable to the church. Numbers of priests were brought over from Spain, and twenty-five churches erected within the city, while others were instituted in the surrounding country. These had such influence that the natives ultimately adopted Catholicism as their religion, to which they have continued to adhere to the present time.
SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF CORTEZ'S WIFE.
During the quiet life which Cortez lived during these years in Mexico, his amiable native wife, Marina, had borne him a son, whose instruction had been his constant care, in the hope that his mantle might in time descend upon him. In the midst of these pleasant anticipations, he was surprised by the sudden appearance of Donna Catalina, the Spanish lady whom he had married in Cuba, who had come over, accompanied by her brother, seeking her recreant and long-absent husband. Cortez, affecting a pious regard for the tenets of the religion which he professed, could not discard his lawful wife, and made pretensions of great joy at having been thus reunited to her. But at the expiration of three months she died suddenly, some say from a natural cause, but more suspicious minds entertain the belief that her life was cut short by the agency of poison.
Peace had spread her white wings over the fair territory of Mexico, and Cortez was permitted for a while to enjoy her benefactions. But to one of his restless spirit, designs and ambitions would not allow a long continuance of this peaceful and happy state. Charges he knew had been prepared against him by Velasquez, and industrious enemies were at work at the Spanish court to divest him of the glory and honors which he had acquired. To secure the favor of the Spanish sovereign, he therefore not only sent emissaries to the court at Madrid, but prepared elaborate reports of all the adventures, discoveries, and events that had befallen him from the time of his departure from Cuba until his subjugation of the Mexican Empire, in which he did not omit to show the great advantages which had accrued to Spain through his efforts, and the inestimable riches which he had obtained in his conquests, and which, under proper convoy, he promised would be sent as an offering to his sovereign.
THE FATAL REBELLION OF OLID.
These reports placated whatever hostile feeling might have been directed towards Cortez at the Spanish Court, and reposing again in the confidence which he had inspired on every side, but still ambitious to acquire greater honors, he projected an expedition against Honduras by which he hoped to add new lands to the Spanish Crown. He accordingly sent Christoval de Olid to found a colony in that country. But this man, while he had been an effective commander in the siege of Mexico, was little qualified to undertake such an enterprise; for, flattered by the little power which had thus been placed in his hands, no sooner had he formed the nucleus of a colony than he threw off his dependence upon Cortez, as the latter had upon Velasquez, and asserted his independence of all authority save that of the Spanish Crown. Report of this assumption of authority reached Cortez, who immediately sent another expedition, under Las Casas, with five ships and a hundred Spanish soldiers, to arrest the disobedient officer. This expedition sailed away over a distance of 2000 miles to the Bay of Honduras, and arrived suddenly before the town which Olid had founded, and which, in a spirit of religious fervor, he had named Triumph of the Cross. Olid was taken unawares, and after a very short engagement sent a humble message to Las Casas, begging for a truce that would enable them to confer upon the terms of surrender. Consent to this request proved disastrous to the expedition, for on the same night a tempest arose, which wrecked all the ships, and in which thirty of the crew perished. Las Casas managed to escape with the others of his party, but, disregarding the truce, Olid, who had now gathered his forces together, seized them and gave them the alternative of death or taking an oath of allegiance to his service. Las Casas chose the latter, but, feeling justified in any perfidy as an offset to that which Olid had practised, he finally succeeded in forming a conspiracy, and seizing Olid, without even the preliminaries of a court-martial ordered him beheaded.
A MARCH CHARACTERIZED BY INCREDIBLE SUFFERINGS.
Information of the wreck of the vessels by some means reached Cortez, but he was not apprized of any of the subsequent proceedings, and so incensed was he at the conduct of Olid in violating his truce that he resolved to lead an expedition himself and bring a dreadful punishment upon the violator of his authority. At the head of 100 Spanish horsemen, fifty infantry, and 3000 Mexican soldiers, Cortez left Mexico on the 12th of October, 1524, for Honduras, which would necessitate a land march of 1500 miles. With the fear that in his absence Guatemozin and the cacique of Tacuba, whom he had so tortured, might instigate a rebellion, he decided to take those two as captives with him. Several Catholic priests also accompanied the expedition with the purpose of spreading the teachings of the church among the heathen tribes of Central America. Marina, his native wife, also bore him company, as her services were indispensable as interpreter. But Cortez, looking forward to an alliance with some noble family of Spain, to relieve himself from the embarrassment of a native wife, delivered her in marriage to a Castilian knight named Don Juan Xamarillo, and as some amends for his conduct, he assigned to the newly married couple the most valuable estate in the province of Marina, through which the route to Honduras lay. History makes no further mention of Marina, but her son, known as Don Martin Cortez, through the patronage of his father, became one of the most prominent grandees of Spain, filling many posts of opulence and honor; but he was at last suspected of treason against the Home Government, and shamefully put to the torture in the Mexican capital some time after the death of his father.
This march of 1500 miles by Cortez was one of the most terrible ever undertaken by any commander. The hardships, perils, and starvation which beset them were almost incredible, as we read them in the reports made by Diaz, who was an enforced member of the expedition. Nor was it free from the outrages which characterized the conduct of Cortez from the first moment that he landed on Mexican soil. Among his other crimes, during this march he seized a pretext for ridding himself of Guatemozin and the Tacuban cacique. Pretending that he had received authentic information of efforts being made by these two unhappy captives to incite the natives along the way to revolt, he required no further proofs than his belief in the truth of such report, and in the most hurried manner hung them upon a tree by the wayside, where they were left suspended, to become the prey of carrion birds.
TROUBLES BEGIN TO VEX CORTEZ.
Cortez was absent nearly three years upon this expedition, and when at last he contrived to reach the colony planted at the village known as Triumph of the Cross, he found only a few stragglers, and these at peace and ready to render him a faithful obedience, while nearly half of those who started with him had perished on the way. Cortez then embarked for Cuba, where he was received with great demonstrations of respect, but he remained there only a short while, returning again to the Mexican capital, where the people hailed him as one come back from the dead, and offered him the most obsequious honors, to which he was not wholly unentitled.
The last days of Cortez were naturally his most unhappy ones. He brooded over the crimes which he had perpetrated, over his indefensible subjection to slavery of the people whom he had invaded and despoiled; and, as evil is its own avenger, we are not surprised that Cortez should be overwhelmed with troubles in his last days. He had now an ample fortune, but his enemies were still active in their efforts to bring him to the justice which had long been delayed. So serious were these charges, that Cortez finally decided to go to Spain in person and answer before Charles V., which he did with such address and cunning that he not only succeeded in relieving himself from the odium that had been heaped upon him by many of the most influential members of the Spanish Court, but for a while he seems to have thoroughly ingratiated himself into the favor, of the Spanish sovereign, who not only knighted him, but made him Governor-General of Mexico for life. During his visit to Spain he also formed an alliance, through the niece of the Duke de Bejar, with one of the most distinguished families in Spain, and the marriage ceremony was honored by the presence of Charles V. and his Queen.
CORTEZ REDUCED TO POVERTY AND OBSCURITY.
With his new bride in 1530 Cortez returned to Mexico and occupied the magnificent palace which he had built some few years before. But scarcely had he departed, when his enemies, again obtaining the ear of the Spanish sovereign, at length made such representations, and presented such proofs, that they persuaded him to recall the commission issued to Cortez, and to not only appoint a new Governor-General, but bring him to the bar of public judgment and trial upon several of the old charges which had been preferred, and additional ones that had been framed after his departure. Ignorant of the proceedings which had thus been instituted against him, Cortez squandered nearly the whole of his wealth in fruitless expeditions, sent out for further discoveries and the founding of new colonies; and when the ambassadors of the court of Charles V. at last reached the Mexican capital, they found Cortez absent on one of his ambitious enterprises, and had to wait a period of nearly one year for his return. By them he was now divested of his honors, and thrown upon the world a poor and prematurely old man, with whose misfortunes very few sympathized, while many seized the occasion to wreak a vengeance which had long rankled in their bosoms; for Cortez by his vigorous, and not always humane actions, had made many enemies, not only at the Spanish Court, but in Cuba and the Mexican capital as well. Having spent his fortune in what he declared were efforts to advance the interests of his sovereign, in his poverty he was induced to return again to his native land in 1540 and make a personal appeal to Charles V. for a reimbursement of moneys which he had expended in his service. But though he was graciously received, his petition met with little consideration, though every word of promise he took as an encouragement, and with lingering hopes he remained in Spain nearly two years. He was at last a pitiable spectacle, moneyless, and friendless, with nothing but the glamour of earlier heroic days to keep him from the most complete obsecurity.
THE LAST HOURS OF CORTEZ.
Crushed in spirit, all hope at last disappeared, and Cortez resolved to return again to Mexico, where it were better for him to die in the remembrance of the people he had conquered than to perish in neglect in the land of his birth. He had proceeded as far as Seville, when he was overcome by his melancholy, which took a fatal turn, and he was unable to continue his journey any further. Realizing that death was near at hand, he made and executed his will in a manner that manifested the continued vigor of his iron will. He left nine children, five of whom were born out of wedlock, among whom he equally divided the small property which he possessed on the outskirts of Mexico. Not being content with the poor accommodations provided for him at Seville, at the entreaty of his son, who accompanied him, he was removed to the neighboring village of Castilleja. There, on the 2d day of December, 1547, he died in the sixty-third year of his age, so completely neglected that only his faithful son was present during the last hour. Immediately upon his death there was a reaction among the public in his favor, and he seemed suddenly to have been magnified in the eyes of everyone in Spain. A vast concourse of people attended his obsequies, and he was buried in great pomp in the tomb of the Duke of Madina Sidonia, at Seville. Five years later his remains were disinterred and removed to Mexico by his son Martin, who deposited them in the family vault in the monastery at Tezcuco, where they remained for sixty-seven years and until disturbed again in 1629 and deposited beneath the Church of St. Francis; here they reposed in peace until they were for the third time resurrected, in 1794, and transferred to the Hospital of Our Lady of the Conception, which Cortez had founded and endowed. The remains when last disinterred were deposited in a glass coffin, bound with bars of iron, and over them a splendid monument was reared in commemoration alike of his fidelity to the church, his extension of Christianity among the pagans of the New World, and of the unexampled military skill and spirit which he exhibited.