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Conquest Of Mexico

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Conquest of Mexico

In 1519 HernÐ"ÐŽn CortÐ"©s 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 CortÐ"©s nor any of his men were gods, of course, but what was it that allowed CortÐ"©s to prevail over the inhabitants of the land?

The First Expeditions

To begin, in 1517 Francisco HernÐ"ÐŽndez de CÐ"Ñ-rdova, Bernal DÐ"­az 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 VelÐ"ÐŽsquez, 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, CÐ"Ñ-rdova'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, CÐ"Ñ-rdova 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, CÐ"Ñ-rdova 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. (DÐ"­az)

Once in Havana, CÐ"Ñ-rdova sent a report to Governor VelÐ"ÐŽsquez word of their return. In addition to reporting about the warring natives, CÐ"Ñ-rdova described the discovery of heavily populated lands where the people lived in masonry houses, wore cotton garments, cultivated maize fields, andÐ'--most important of allÐ'--possessed gold. (DÐ"­az)

Governor VelÐ"ÐŽsquez 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. (DÐ"­az)

Using CÐ"Ñ-rdova 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. (DÐ"­az)

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. (DÐ"­az)

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 the visitors. However, upon encountering a group of about thirty Indians in their canoes, Grijalva (through interpreters) indicated they wanted only to talk. (DÐ"­az)

Through the interpreters, Grijalva expressed to the Indians that they had journeyed from distant lands and were subjects of the Emperor Don Carlos and they, too, should become servants of the same. Incredulous, the Indians replied that they already had their own chief and, since the Spaniards had only just arrived they knew nothing of them so would not bow down to this new chief. They also informed Grijalva and his men, that they had 24 thousand warriors from neighboring provinces standing at the ready should Grijalva decided to attack. The next day, peace was negotiated and gifts were exchanged. Grijalva's party gifted beads of Jadeite that were precious to the Indians. In return, they received gifts of gold and jewels. These gifts were not of great value because the gold was of poor quality, but the Indians did inform Grijalva that "further on, in the direction of the sunset, there was plenty of gold, and they said Ð''Colua, Colua, MÐ"©jico, MÐ"©jico'." (DÐ"­az pg. 22 3) After trading more of the green beads for gold, Grijalva's party returned at once to the anchored ships; preparing to set sail immediately due to a northerly gale. (DÐ"­az)

Keeping on course, the ships encountered a strange episode when they arrived at the mouth of a great river. A great number of Indians lined the shores and each carried a lance with a colorful banner attached. They waved and beckoned to the passing ships as if welcoming the convoy. Once landing, Grijalva learned that the Great Montezuma of Mexico heard of both CÐ"Ñ-rdova's and Grijalva's confrontations at Champoton and was amazed that even though greatly outnumbered, they were able to wound and kill so many Indians. Montezuma was aware of his ancestors' prophecy that one day "men with beards would come from the direction of the sunrise and would rule over them" (DÐ"­az pg. 24 2). He was also aware of Grijalva's journey along the coast, so therefore sent a governor, three chiefs, and many of their household to greet and barter with these foreigners, maybe in hopes of remaining peaceful. Grijalva's expedition remained for six days and traded beads for "more than 16 thousand dollars worth of jewelry of low grade gold, worked into various forms." (DÐ"­az pg. 25 2)

Journeying little more and

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