Page images

ed with fortifications. Every man in the army, officers and soldiers, put their hands to the work ; Cortes himself set. ting the example. The Indians of Zempoalla and Quiabislan, lent their assistance ; and this petty station, the parent of so many great settlements, was soon in a state of defence.

While they were engaged in this necessary work, Cortes had several interviews with the caziques of Zempoalla and Quiabislan, who had such a high opinion of the Spaniards, as to consider them a superior order of beings : and, encouraged by the promises of Cortes, they ventured to insult the Mexican power; at the very name of which, they were accustomed to tremble. Some of Montezuma's offi. cers having appeared, to levy the usual tribute, and to demand a certain number of human victims, as an expiation of their guilt, in presuming to hold a correspondence with those strangers, whom the emperor had commanded to leave his dominions ; instead of obeying the order, they made those officers prisoners, treated them with great indignity, and threatened to sacrifice them to their gods. From this last danger they were delivered by Cortes, who testified the utmost abhorrence at the bare mention of such a barbarous deed.

The two cažiques, having now committed an act of open rebellion, there appeared no hope of safety for them, but by attaching themselves inviolably to the Spaniards. They soon completed their union, by acknowledging themselves subjects of the Spanish monarch. Their example was followed by the Totonaques, a fierce people who inhabited the mountainous part of the country ; and who offered to accompany Cortes with all their forces, in his march towards Mexico. ,

Cortes, before he began his march from Zempoalla, resolved upon an expedient which has no parallel in history : he had the address to persuade his soldiers, that it would be attended with important benefit to destroy the fleet ; that, by not allowing the idea of a retreat possible, and fixing their eyes and wishes on what was before them; he by this, could divert them from being inflamed by a mutinous spirit, which had, at sundry times, made its appearance, instigated by the partizans of Velasquez. With universal consent, the ships were drawn ashore ; and, after stripping them of their rigging and iron-work, they were broke in pieces. Thus, from a magnanimous effort, five

hundred men voluntarily consented to be shut up in a hostile country, inhabited by powerful and unknown inhabitants ; left without any other resource than their own va. lour and perseverance. .

Cortes began his march from Zempoalla, on the sixteenth of August, 1519, with five hundred men, fifteen horses, and six field-pieces. The rest of the troops, consisting of those who from age and infirmity, were unfit for actual service, he left as a garrison at Villa Rica, under the command of Escalante, an officer of merit, and warmly attached to his interest. The cazique of Zempoalla sup. plied him with provisions, and with two hundred of those Indians, called Tamemes, whose office it was to carry burdens, and perform all servile labour. These were a great relief to the Spanish soldiers, as they not only eased them of their baggage, but also dragged along the artillery by main force. The cazique offered a considerable body of his troops ; but Cortes was satisfied with four hundred, taking care to chuse such persons of note, as might prove hostages for the fidelity of their master...

No material occurrence happened, until they arrived on the confines of Tlascala. The inhabitants of that province were a warlike people, and although they were implacable cnemies of Montezuma, and had maintained an obstinate and successful contest against him, were not inclined to adniit these formidable strangers into their territory. Cortes had hoped that their enmity to the Mexicans, and the example of their ancient allies, the Zempoallans, might induce them to give him a friendly reception.

In order to dispose them to this, four Zempoallans, of great eminence, were sent as ambassadors, to request in Cortes' name, and in that of their cazique, that they would permit the Spaniards to pass through their country, on their way to Mexico. But, instead of a favourable answer, which was expected, the Tlascalans seized the ambassadors, and without any regard to their public character, made preparations for sacrificing them to their gods. At the same time, they assembled their troops, in order to oppose those unknown invaders, if they should attempt to make their passage good, by the force of arms. Unaccus. tomed to any intercourse with foreigners, they were ap! to consider every stranger as an enemy; and, upon the least suspicion of hostility were easily excited to arms. They concluded from Cortes' proposal of visiting Montezuma, in his capital, notwithstanding all his professions to the contrary, that he courted the friendship of that monarch, whom they hated and feared. The Spaniards, froni the smallness of their number, were objects of contempt; not having any idea of the superiority which they derived from their arms, and discipline. · Cortes after waiting some days, in vain, the return of the ambassadors, advanced into the territory of the Tlascalans. As the resolutions of a people who delight in war, are executed with no less promptitude than they are formed, he found troops ready in the field to oppose him. They attacked him with great intrepidity; and in the first en. counter wounded some of the Spaniards, and killed two horses ; a loss, in their situation, of great moment, because it was irreparable. From this specimen of the courage of his new enemies, Cortes saw the necessity of proceeding with caution. His army marched in close order ; he chose his stations where he halted with attention, and fortified his camp with great care.

During fourteen days he was exposed to almost uninterrupted assaults ; the Tlascalans advancing with numerous armies, and renewing the attack in various forms, with that valour and perseverance, to which the Spaniards had seen nothing parallel in the New World. But the account of battles must appear uninteresting when there is no equality of danger; and when the narrative closes with an account of thousands slain on one side, and that not a single person falls on the other.

The Spanish historians relate these combats with great pomp, and intermix incredible events; but they cease to command attention, when there was so great a disproportion between the parties. There were some circumstances, however, that merit notice, as they display the character of the natives, and of their conquerors. Though the Tlascalans brought into the field such vast armies as ap. peared sufficient to have overwhelmed the Spaniards, yet they were never able to make any impression upon their small battalion. This is easily explained : though inured to war, like all the other inhabitants of the New World, they were unacquainted with military order and discipline, and lost the advantage which they might have gained from their numbers, and the impetuosity of their attack, by their constant solicitude to carry off their dead and wounded : this was a point of honour with them, founded


[ocr errors]

on a sentiment of tenderness natural to the human mind, strengthened by an anxiety to preserve the bodies of their countrymen from being devoured by their enemies.

Attention to this pious office occupied them during the heat of the combat, broke their union, and lessened the force of the impression which they might have made by a joint effort. The imperfection of their offensive weapons rendered their valour of little avail. After three battles and many skirmishes and assaults, not one Spaniard was slain. Arrows and spears headed with flint, .or the bones of fishes, and wooden swords, though destructive weapons among naked Indians, were easily turned aside by the Spanish bucklers, and could hardly penetrate the quilted jackets worn by the soldiers,

Though the Tlascalans attacked the Spaniards with fury, yet they seemed to be actuated by a barbarous gene: rosity. They gave the Spaniards notice of their hostile intentions ; and as they knew they wanted provisions, and imagined, like other Americans, that they had left their own country because it did not afford them subsistence ; they sent to their camp a large supply of poultry and maize, desiring them to eat plentifully, because they scorn. ed to attack an enemy enfeebled by hunger ; as it would also be an affront to their gods to offer them famished vic: tims, as well as disagreeable to themselves to feed upon such emaciated prey.

After the first onget, finding they could not put this threat into execution, and that notwithstanding the utmost efforts of their valour, that not one Spaniard was slain; they began to alter their opinion, and concluded they were a superior order of beings, against whom all human pow: er could not prevail. In this extremity they consulted their priests, who after many sacrifices and incantations, delivered this answer. “That as these strangers were " the offspring of the sun, they were invincible only when s cherished by his beams; but that at night when his “ warming influence was withdrawn, they became like s other men, and were easily subdued.” Opinions less plausible, have gained credit with more enlightened nations.

In consequence of this, the Tlascalans acted in contra. diction to one of their established maxims in war, and ventured to attack the enemy in the night, in hopes of destroy: ing them, when weak and off their guard. But Cortes had pore discernment than to be surprized or deceived by the

Kide stratagems of an Indian army. The centinels at the out-posts, observing an uncommon movement in the Indian army, gave the alarm. In a moment the troops were under arms, and sallying out, dispersed them with great slaughter, without allowing them to approach the camp. - Convinced by sad experience their priests had deceived them, and satisfied that it was in vain to attempt to deceive, or vanquish such powerful enemies, their fierceness began to abate, and they were seriously inclined to peace. They were, however, at a loss in what manner they should address the strangers ; what idea to form of their character, and whether to consider them as beings of a gentle or malevolent nature. There were circumstances in their conduct that seemed to favour each opinion. The Spaniards had constantly dismissed their prisoners with presents of European toys.

This appeared extraordinary to men who were used to carry on an exterminating war, and who sacrificed and devoured without mercy, their captives taken in battle. On the other hand, Cortes had cut off the hands of fifty of the natives who came to the camp with provisions, and whom he took to be spies. This contrariety of conduct occasionod that doubt and uncertainty which appeared in their address : “If,” said they, “you are divinities of a cruel and « savage nature, we present to you five slaves, that you "may drink their blood, and eat their flesh. If you are “mild deities, accept an offering of incense and variegated 6 plumes. If you are men, here is bread and fruit to nou"rish you." The peace was soon concluded ; the Tlascalans yielded themselves as vassals to the crown of Castile, and engaged to assist Cortes in all his future operations. He took the republic under his protection, and promised to protect their persons and property from injury and violence.

The profound veneration of the Tlascalans, encouraged Cortes to insist upon their abandoning their own superstitions, and that they should embrace the catholic faith. They were willing to acknowledge the truth and excellence of what he taught, but contended that their gods were divinities no less deserving of adoration, than the gods of the Spaniards : and earnestly requested him not to urge them any further upon a subject, with which they could not in any manner yield a compliance.

« PreviousContinue »