Conquest of Mexico
In 1519 Hernán Cortés led a couple hundred other Spaniards inland to the impressive Empire of the Mexica ruled by the Great Montezuma. Many historians today tell how quickly and almost effortlessly these Spaniards conquered the Empire. They paint an image of ignorant, helpless Indians practically giving up their land out of fear of this group because certainly the Spaniards must be gods since they have powerful weapons and strange animals. We know neither Cortés nor any of his men were gods, of course, but what was it that allowed Cortés to prevail over the inhabitants of the land?
The First Expeditions
To begin, in 1517 Francisco Hernández de Córdova, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, and some other gentlemen embarked on a journey to explore new lands in hopes of seeking employment since they had yet to find it in their new home of Cuba. In need of additional provisions, the governor of Cuba, Diego Velásquez, loaned the group supplies and a boat with the agreement that they return with Indians to be used as slaves. At Cape Catoche of the Yucatan Peninsula, Córdova's men first encountered a group of Indians who at first appeared friendly and welcoming only to draw those who disembarked along the road to their village where they then ambushed the explorers. In that battle, fifty soldiers died and the captain and the remaining men all suffered many wounds. The explorers continued to receive this type of reception from the Indians they encountered at every stop along the coast of the peninsula. Nearly dieing of thirst for want of fresh water, Córdova and his men tried again and again to safely land and gain casks of fresh water. At Champoton they encountered fresh water. Yet again they met with hostile, warring Indians. Only one man escaped without harm, but the Indians captured him. Once the Indians retreated, Córdova and his men quickly filled the casks with fresh water and returned to their ship. In light of the fact that the voyage proved to be somewhat of a disaster and all the men were either ill or wounded, they decided to return at once to Havana. (Díaz) Once in Havana, Córdova sent a report to Governor Velásquez word of their return. In addition to reporting about the warring natives, Córdova described the discovery of heavily populated lands where the people lived in masonry houses, wore cotton garments, cultivated maize fields, andmost important of allpossessed gold. (Díaz) Governor Velásquez decided to send another fleet and named a kinsman, Juan de Grijalva, as Captain General of the four ships. Finding additional men for the journey proved uncomplicated. Word spread quickly about the attainable riches to be had in the new land; so 240 men were quickly put together for the mission. (Díaz) Using Córdova and his crew's experience in Champoton, Grijalva approached the land carefully anchoring the ships one league from shore. The Indians, puffed-up from their previous victory over the Spaniards, waited on shore for the party to land. Supplying themselves with crossbows and guns, a portion of the soldiers embarked toward shore. The Indians volleyed arrows with such constancy, more than half the men were wounded prior to landing. However, upon landing, the Spaniards were able to drive the Indians back to the swamps because of their use of good swordplay, the crossbows, and the guns. (Díaz) The Indians stayed to the swamps and Grijalva and his men advanced to the town. There they found masonry buildings used to make sacrifices to their idols. They explored the surroundings for three days but found nothing of value to take. They returned to their ships and traveled along to Rio de Tabasco. (Díaz) At Rio de Tabasco they stumbled on a strait. Being too shallow to allow the ships' passage, a party embarked on their small boats to investigate. In the woods along the strait, the men could hear the locals preparing stockades and barriers in preparation for a fight with...
Cited: Cudahy, 1956.
York: Henry Holt and Company, 1996.
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