The expedition included 11 ships, so it was quite a lot. But even before it was time to set out, Velasquez, warned by his confidants, began to suspect that perhaps Cortes had placed too great a military force at his command, and that this might encourage him to act quite independently. He seems to have decided to revoke the appointment of Cortes; but this one, having a premonition of evil, left Santiago in a more hasty way, although the equipment was still unfinished. He first sailed to the city of Trinidad, which is on the south coast, as is Santiago, and there washed another 100 men who were with Grijalva, and then went round to the north coast to Havana. Velasquez sent orders to the local authorities to arrest Cortes and forbade him to sail until he himself had reached Havana. But Cortes, having received such messages, only hastened the more, and the Havana authorities did not dare to do violence to a man who had such considerable powers at his disposal. On February 18, 1519, Cortes and his ships set out to sea from the western end of Cuba. The expedition included 400 armed men, among them 13 gunners and 32 archers, 16 horsemen, 10 large bronze cannons and 4 small field cannons, and 200 Indian warriors. Two priests were present; their charge was to baptize the Indians and put an end to idolatry and human sacrifice. The pilot, who had been with all the previous voyages, guided the fleet to the coast of Yucatan, to the island of Cozumel. The islanders first fled, but then returned and allowed the Spaniards to destroy their bloody altars and consecrate their temples to Christian worship.
Already on the previous trip, the residents on this beach had been heard imitating the word »castilla», the meaning of which, however, was not understood. Cortes on the spot guessed that Spaniards had already visited the shore before, and it was heard from a chief that there were still two Spanish prisoners on the land. They were the last survivors of the ship sent by Balboa in 1512; others were sacrificed by the Maya to their gods. Another was a monk, named Aguilar; he had learned the language of the country in captivity, and Cortes now found him a good interpreter.
They then sailed along the coast of Yucatan to the mouth of the Grijalva River, where the inhabitants received the Spaniards with hostility. A skirmish ensued, which began already in the water, but the Spaniards rolled ashore, cavalry and artillery intervened in the fight, and the Tabascos, who must have numbered about 40,000 men, lost, lost mainly from fear, because they thought the horsemen were monsters that could not be resisted. The next day the chiefs offered peace, bringing with them 20 slave girls along with other gifts. One of these, a noble woman brought as a slave from Mexico, pleased Cortes so much that he took her as his own and lived with her as a wife, although the union was not legalized by marriage. This woman, who as an interpreter and expert on the country was an invaluable help to the expedition, received the name of Doña Marina from the Spaniards.
In Tabasco, Cortes received the first information about the great kingdom in the interior, Mexico, and after hearing about its beauty and wealth, he decided to set out to conquer it. After the chiefs of Tabasco had been baptized into Christianity, in April 1519 they sailed further to the coast of Mexico.
On the beach in Mexico.
After a few days, we disembarked at the location of present-day Vera Cruz, on a dry open sandy beach. Land dwellers began to gather from all sides. They helped the Spaniards to build themselves huts to protect themselves from the scorching sun and brought in abundance all kinds of country products for trade. This beach belonged to the inland kingdom mentioned in Tabasco, and soon an Aztec governor arrived to inquire about the purpose of the visit. Cortes announced that he had been sent by a mighty prince from beyond the sea, and that he had a message to take to the ruler of Mexico, Montezuma. The governor proudly replied that he was surprised that Cortes thought he could get to the sovereign’s speeches, although he had only been in the country for a couple of days, but nevertheless promised to send a quick message about the visitors’ arrival and intentions. There was an excellent postal connection from the coast to the capital. There was a station about one and a half feet away, from which the oarsmen were sent to run further with a message. This connection was so fast that Montezuma could get fresh fish from the Gulf of Mexico in a day, even though the distance is more than 400 kilometers. The governor presented Cortes with fine cotton fabrics, expensive feather cloaks, gold ornaments, and received from him a chair embroidered with cutouts for the ruler and a whole set of glassware; these had the value of a jewel in a country where artificial glass was not yet known. One of Cortes’ men was wearing a steel helmet, which the governor thought was very similar to the headdress of the Aztec god of war. He therefore asked to be included with the other gifts, to which Cortes gladly agreed, asking for compensation only — a helmet full of gold sand. While this conversation was going on, one of the lord’s servants had been busily drawing colored pictures of all the objects he saw in the strangers’ camp. The pictures also had to be sent to Montezuma so that he would get a proper idea of these remarkable guests. Cortes was overjoyed at this, and in order to give the sovereign a still more complete idea of himself, he carried out a great show of arms. The rapid movements of the horsemen, the glint of weapons in the sunlight, the blare of horns and the silent floating of the “water houses” on the waves, all these things aroused immense wonder in the assembled people. But as the cannons boomed and the fire and smoke billowed from their glints, wonder turned to fear and horror. The lord now understood,
Envoys of Montezuma.
It was not long before the couriers had reached the capital, and from there the delegation of Montezuma, the ruler of the Aztecs, had arrived, bringing expensive gifts to the strangers. The envoys were taken to Cortes’ tent. They caused fine cloths to be spread on the ground, and the slaves placed upon them the gifts sent by the sovereign, shields, helmets, and armor of pure gold, necklaces and bracelets of the same metal, sandals, fans, plumes, elaborately made gold birds, curtains, and cotton cloths as soft and shining as silk, and two large shields made of gold and silver, representing the sun and the moon. They were the size of a wagon wheel and worth at least 20,000 gold pesos. But at the same time, Montezuma urged the strangers to leave the country as quickly as possible.
The Aztec ruler had found himself in a difficult position due to the arrival of the Spaniards, as Cortes found out a little later. In the old days, the Mexicans worshiped the gentle folk god, Quetzalcoatl, in addition to their cruel, blood-sacrificing gods. According to legend, this god used to live among them, but after doing what was best for the people of his time, he left the country and promised to return only sometime in the future. In Montezuma’s vast kingdom, which was tired of being oppressed by a warlike conqueror nation, at the time of Cortes’ arrival, the general belief prevailed that the awaited good god would soon return and save the nation from the tyranny of the Aztecs. It was natural, therefore, that these white men, who controlled the thunder and lightning, easily gave rise to the belief that they were indeed sent by Quetzalcoatl. That’s why Montezuma especially frightened the newcomers, even though the clergy, who had a lot of power in the kingdom, tried to calm him down. How could the newcomers be men of the expected god, they fought against the country’s religion, not for it! However, Montezuma did not dare to resort to violence to expel them, but tried to persuade them to leave with gifts. But that very circumstance made Cortes perceive the weakness of his position, while the wealth of gifts roused in him and among his people an unbridled lust for booty. So Cortes replied to the ambassadors that he had to go to the capital, for he had received an express order from the mighty king. After some time the ambassadors returned, bringing still more abundant gifts, about 3,000 ounces of gold in all, and with the gifts another prohibition.
However, the position of the Spaniards gradually became very difficult, because the fevers had started to wreak havoc and the inhabitants of the country had stopped bringing food. Then they unexpectedly gained allies. One day there arrived in the camp some natives who differed from all they had seen up to that point, both in their dress and in their language. As a costume, they wore cloaks and belts with jeweled letters, their hair was tied in a knot and decorated with fragrant flowers, gold ornaments and jewels hung from their ears and noses, and there was a gold leaf on their lower lip. They were from a town somewhat further north, called Cempoa, and by nationality the Totonacs, a mighty people, who, however, had lately come under the yoke of the Aztecs, and earnestly desired to be freed from their oppression. The Totonakis now regarded these strange strangers as their liberators, and invited Cortes to visit their capital. He accepted their gifts, gave counter-gifts and promised to come.
Before leaving, however, he decided to equip a station on the coast and planned a city that was named »Villa Rica de Vera Cruz», i.e. »the rich city of the true cross». The new city was declared under the direct rule of the Spanish crown. When the officers had been appointed in the king’s name, Cortes, for the sake of form, resigned the chiefship, in order to recover it from the officers he had appointed in the king’s name. Even the nominal supremacy of Velasquez was thus revoked. Cortes had become independent through this trick, until perhaps new orders came directly from home. After sending his fleet to a safer place, he then set out with his troops on his Cempoa.
The magnificent nature through which the road passed aroused the wonder of the Spaniards. On the left, high snow-capped mountains rose in the distance, the gallant Orizaba towering above the rest. The land became richer, the vegetation more impressive, Kuta more was removed from the sandy coast. Lush expanses and lush forests varied. Vines swirled between the mighty trees, covering their trunks, hanging from their branches, among the fragrant flowers and grasses, butterflies fluttered like clouds, variegated parrots flew, and colorful songbirds sang in the air. The Spanish soldiers thought they had entered an earthly paradise. The closer we got to Cempoalla, the more lovely were the gardens and orchards on both sides of the road. When we were almost there, we met men and women dressed in fine clothes, who carried bouquets of flowers, gold ornaments and jewels. The white temples of Cempoalla began to be seen and the Spaniards marched through the narrow streets into a city that must have had about 30,000 inhabitants.
The farther the Spaniards went, the greater was their astonishment. Here they met a civilization that surpassed anything they had seen in the New World up to that point. Kasikki came to the front of his castle to receive the guests. He was so fat that he could only walk with the support of two men. The Spaniards received gifts and the best camp sites, but Cortes, on pain of death, forbade anyone to leave the camp, as they had to be on guard against surprises. But Cempoalla had no treachery in mind. Kasikki made an alliance and promised Cortes 50,000 men against Mexico. Cortes was soon able to show the power of his alliance. After a few days, envoys arrived from Mexico to demand from Cempoalla twenty youths and as many imps to sacrifice to the gods. Cortés, who, when the envoys arrived, was on the coast looking for a new, safer port, immediately received word of this demand. With anger and disgust, he ordered that such a tax be categorically refused and, moreover, that Montezuma’s tax collectors be imprisoned. Of course, such violent work predicted war. In order to be ready, Cortes with all his might continued to build the city and castle he had founded; they were supposed to be a place of refuge in case of losses and a place of reception for aid shipments. The villagers gladly helped in this work. They could not then foresee what an oppressor it would become; on the contrary, they thought that the good Quetzalcoatl had sent his men to free them from oppression. With anger and disgust, he ordered that such a tax be categorically refused and, moreover, that Montezuma’s tax collectors be imprisoned. Of course, such violent work predicted war. In order to be ready, Cortes with all his might continued to build the city and castle he had founded; they were supposed to be a place of refuge in case of losses and a place of reception for aid shipments. The villagers gladly helped in this work. They could not then foresee what an oppressor it would become; on the contrary, they thought that the good Quetzalcoatl had sent his men to free them from oppression. With anger and disgust, he ordered that such a tax be categorically refused and, moreover, that Montezuma’s tax collectors be imprisoned. Of course, such violent work predicted war. In order to be ready, Cortes with all his might continued to build the city and castle he had founded; they were supposed to be a place of refuge in case of losses and a place of reception for aid shipments. The villagers gladly helped in this work. They could not then foresee what an oppressor it would become; on the contrary, they thought that the good Quetzalcoatl had sent his men to free them from oppression. The villagers gladly helped in this work. They could not then foresee what an oppressor it would become; on the contrary, they thought that the good Quetzalcoatl had sent his men to free them from oppression. The villagers gladly helped in this work. They could not then foresee what an oppressor it would become; on the contrary, they thought that the good Quetzalcoatl had sent his men to free them from oppression.
But there was no war. On the contrary, new envoys arrived, among them Montezuma’s own relatives, who brought new princely gifts. But Cortes, in spite of all entreaties, said that he would remain firm in his intention, and would come to greet Montezuma. The Totonakis were amazed to find how their feared oppressor feared the whites. Cortes gained their confidence even more by helping them in war against hostile neighbors and by maintaining strict male discipline. One of his soldiers, who had stolen, he without hesitation condemned to be hanged, but Alvarado cut the rope at his own risk, for in his opinion he could not afford to lose a single man. As a token of his gratitude, the nobleman sent a gift of eight beautiful imps, but Cortes said, that they had to be converted to Christianity before his soldiers could marry them. At the same time, Cortes demanded that the Totonacs had to destroy their idols. But the old man didn’t agree to that. The Spaniards then forcibly entered the temples and began the work of destruction. Horrible human sacrifices were made in the temples, the Totonakis resisted and in that place the new allies were in a skirmish. Cortes hastily imprisoned the cacique and some of the priests, and then offered peace; the cassock agreed and guessed that the gods themselves would take revenge on their behalf. Fifty Spaniards at the same time attacked the temple, they knocked the large wooden images of God from their pedestals and rushed them down the high steps of the temple. The ugly wooden gods were burned when the residents complained. The temple was cleansed from the blood and an altar was built on it, on which a tall cross wreathed with flowers was erected. The party, in which the Totonaki priests also took part, now dressed in white clothes, attached the image of the Virgin Mary to the cross. The Totonakis accepted Christianity when they saw that their Gods could not keep sides. Cortes then returned with his men to Vera Cruz, where the ship had arrived, bringing an auxiliary force of a few dozen men and the news that Velasquez had received permission from Spain to establish a colony on the discovered land. This fact worried Cortes. He decided to win over the Spanish government to his side by presenting his own merits, telling what he had already accomplished, and adding to the story a great gift, which all the soldiers contributed to. At the same time, he suppressed an attempted rebellion, which Velasquez’s friends prepared in his own company; two culprits had to pay with their lives for their treachery. In order to render all future attempts at rebellion hopeless, Cortes then had all his ships driven ashore and destroyed, having first repaired what could be used. Through that, the men stopped dreaming of escape and the army could be pretty much strengthened at the same time, by adding sailors to it, who willingly joined the war expedition in the hope of fame and gold. After this, there was no choice but to win or die. Through that, the men stopped dreaming of escape and the army could be pretty much strengthened at the same time, by adding sailors to it, who willingly joined the war expedition in the hope of fame and gold. After this, there was no choice but to win or die. Through that, the men stopped dreaming of escape and the army could be pretty much strengthened at the same time, by adding sailors to it, who willingly joined the war expedition in the hope of fame and gold. After this, there was no choice but to win or die.