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Cortes sailed forty-eight leagues in a westerly direction and founded a colony on the shore, one league distant from another native city, Cempoal, in the neighbourhood of the Rio Grijalva and half a league distant from a small fortress crowning a lofty hill called Chianistam. He named his colony Vera Cruz, since he had landed there in the month of May, on the Feast of the Cross.' Cortes next decided to learn something about the great King Muteczuma, of whose power he had heard so much, and of his capital, which was reported to him as being so important. Upon learning his plans, the people of Cempoal, the neighbours and vassals of Muteczuma but likewise his mortal enemies, resolved to seek a conference with the Spanish commander. Just as the Eduins and the Sequanis came weeping to implore Caesar to deliver them from the horrid tyranny of Ariovistus King of the Germans, so did the Cempoalans come to make complaint of Muteczuma. Their complaints were all the more serious, because, without mentioning the other heavy tributes paid by them, they were also obliged to supply slaves, or failing them their own children, to be sacrificed to the gods of the emperor. We have already remarked, and Your Beatitude is not ignorant of the fact, that in these countries human sacrifices are offered; we will later return to this subject at greater length.
The Cempoalans promised to give Cortes not only hostages as a guarantee for their loyalty, but also auxiliary warriors to march against their tyrant. Their hope was that, helped by such a powerful God, creator of heaven and earth, such as the Spaniards described theirs to be, and who had permitted them to destroy their former idols, they would deliver their town from the bloody tyranny which oppressed them; and if Cortes would only have pity on their unmerited misfortunes and protect them against the ill-treatment they suffered, they might perhaps win for the entire province freedom, the source of so much good. Nor did they doubt about victory, for they believed that Cortes and his companions were sent from heaven, since they showed themselves gracious to the conquered and formidable to those who repulsed their friendship. They had beheld a small handful of men dare to withstand the warriors of Potenchan. On that day the Spaniards had put to flight forty thousand soldiers, as Your Holiness may perceive from the reports of eyewitnesses and by the letters sent by the chief officers; and they were not more than four hundred foot-soldiers with sixteen horses and a few cannon.
1The landing took place on April 21st, which was Good Friday, hence the name Vera Cruz, referring to the ceremony of the adoration of the Cross performed throughout Christendom on that day.
It seems opportune to say a few words on the type of people whose suspicious minds treat everything their judgment finds beyond their powers, as a fable. Such people will make gestures of incredulity when they learn that thousands of foes have been scattered by a handful of soldiers. Let us cite two examples, one taken from ancient and one from modern events, which may serve to cut short their pleasantries. Have they not read that Caesar, with an inferior number of troops, conquered the Helvetians and afterwards Ariovistus, with his innumerable hordes of Germans? Do they not know that Xerxes, King of the Persians, is said to have invaded Greece with such a multitude of warriors that when his soldiers, after building their camp, prepared their food, they dried up a river from which they drank, and nevertheless that Themistocles, at the head of only twelve thousand men, so signally defeated them at Salamis that the emperor was barely able to escape with one sole boat? What most helped the Spaniards in our battles with these barbarians were two methods of fighting the latter had never seen or heard of, the mere sight of which put them to flight: in the first place the noise of the cannon, together with the flames and
sulphurous odours they belched forth. They believed that our people commanded the thunder and lightning from heaven. In the second place they were almost as much frightened by the horses, for they thought that both man and horse formed but one animal, as is fabulously recounted of the centaurs. Moreover the Spaniards were not always victorious; for they even suffered losses. The barbarians exterminated some of their bands, whom they would not receive as guests; but let us resume the course of the story we abandoned.
When the Cempoalans had pronounced their speech it was translated by Geronimo d'Aguilar, the victim of the wreck, who had for seven years been the slave of a cacique, and of whom I spoke at length in a preceding book of my Decades. Cortes then left Vera Cruz leaving there as garrison one hundred and fifty soldiers, and taking with him fifteen horsemen, three hundred foot-soldiers, and four hundred Cempoalan allies. Before starting he ordered all the ships of the expedition to be sunk, giving as a reason that they were unseaworthy. 1 He himself declares that he adopted this measure to cut his men 6ff from all hope of retreat, because he wished to found a permanent colony in that country. The majority of his soldiers do not appear to have shared these views. They feared they would meet the same fate that had overtaken many of their companions who had been massacred by the barbarians, for they were not numerous and would have to face an infinite number of warlike and well-armed enemies.
Furthermore, the greater part of them were friends and adherents of Diego Velasquez, vice-governor of the island of Pernandina or Cuba, and they wished at the conclusion of their expedition to resume service under their former master. Several of them tried to capture a brigantine and rejoin Velasquez. This happened just as Cortes was sending a ship to Spain loaded with gifts for the Emperor. These men wished to warn Velasquez of the secret departure of this ship, so that he might keep watch and seize it. Cortes had four of them arrested and sentenced for treason. The four were Juan Escudero, Iago Zermegno, Gonzales Umbria, and Alfonzo Penates, the first three being sailors. Having cut off all possibility of return by the destruction of the fleet and this quadruple execution,1 Cortes left on the sixteenth of August, 1519, for the great city built in a lake and called Temistitan, which is situated about a hundred leagues west of Vera Cruz. Three of the principal chiefs of Cempoal, called Truchios, Manexos, and Tamaius accompanied them.' The town of Cempoal and a neighbouring town called Zacacami supplied him with thirteen hundred men who carried the baggage. It is the custom of the country for men to act as beasts of burden. I must now report what happened to Cortes during the journey, for these interesting particulars must not be omitted.
1 Several versions of the destruction of the ships exist. That of Cortes will be found in the second of his letters to Charles V. Bernal Diaz in his Historic, Verdadera gives a somewhat different account. Both Las Casas and Gomara wrote from hearsay, as did Peter Martyr himself. Consult Orozco y Berra, Conquista de Mexico, tom, iv., cap. viii.; Alaman, Disertacione ii.; Prescott's, Conquest of Mexico, tom, i., cap. viii.; MacNutt's Fernando Cortes, cap. iv.
Just as he was about to set out, Cortes was informed that a squadron under an unknown commander was sailing along the coast. He understood that it was under the command of Francisco de Garay, viceroy of the island of Jamaica, who had set out to found a new colony. Cortes sent him messengers, offering him the hospitality of his colony of Vera Cruz and, any assistance he might require. One of these days we may learn whether, in proceeding thus, he was sincere. Garay rejected his proposals and even protested through the intermediary of a royal notary and witnesses. He demanded that the limits of his jurisdiction should be defined. Cortes refused. He likewise stripped the notary and the witnesses sent by Garay, taking from them their old uniforms and giving them new ones. Garay did not push the matter farther, but departed, intending to discover other countries along the same coast. The preceding year, with three caravels, he had left the island of Jamaica of which he was governor, and had explored the coasts of the country Juan Ponce had taken for an island and named Florida; I have spoken of this in my preceding Decades.
'Two of the men, Escudero and Zermegno were hanged, Umbria's feet were cut off, and Pegnates got two hundred lashes; the chaplain, Juan Diaz was protected from punishment by his clerical character.
1 The names of these chieftains were Teuch, Mamexi, and Tamalli.
Garay had not been fortunate in his explorations, for he had twice been defeated by the natives, and a number of his companions had been killed. Juan Ponce, the first discoverer of Florida, had shared the same fate; repeatedly defeated by the natives, he suffered from so many wounds that he had hardly returned to Cuba to care for himself and his men, when he died.
After the death of Juan Ponce, Garay explored the same countries. He declared that Florida was not an island but was joined by a continuous coast line to the land of Temistitan. During his voyage he came to a river emptying into the ocean by an immense estuary, and he beheld from his ships numerous farms covered with cabins. Both banks of that river belonged to a cacique called Panuco, from whom the region likewise takes its name. It is said that he is a vassal of the great King Muteczuma, to whom he pays tribute. Garay failed to obtain authorisation to establish trading relations.
We know this from a painted map he brought back. This map represents a bow; starting from Temistitan the line is traced towards the north as far as the bend of the arch; then inclining slightly towards the south in such wise that if it were prolonged to the extreme point of the land north of the island of Fcrnandina, first explored