Young Folk's History of Mexico - Frederick Ober

The Chichimecs

[A. D. 1100.] Nearly an age, or cycle (fifty-two years), passed after the scattering of the Toltecs before their territory was invaded by another tribe. Then came the Chichimecs into Anahuac. They were said by some historians to be the oldest nation in Mexico; but this is not so, though they had long existed there. Chichimec was a term also applied to all the unknown savage tribes, hence the confusion. At one time they were a barbarous people, and wandered about half-naked in the mountains, living in miserable huts. They took possession of all territory which they discovered unoccupied, became more civilized in the course of time, and established a monarchy which counted fourteen kings, and which lasted from 1120 to the coming of the Spaniards in 1520—four hundred years. Let us see how this powerful monarchy commenced. It was not long after those disasters that had overtaken the Toltecs, before the Chichimecs, living around the borders of that empire, found out that something had happened, They no longer saw the Toltecs on expeditions, nor met them in battles and skirmishes. Then they sent scouts into their territory, who returned with the astonishing tidings of the destruction of the nation and the abandonment of Tula. A little later they prepared to invade the land of their once powerful foes, who had ranked so high above them in the arts of civilization. They advanced cautiously, but wherever they settled they had come to stay, and so they progressed until they reached the great valley of Anahuac. It belonged to them. They did not even have to conquer it, only to march in and possess themselves of it. The few Toltec families and bands of Toltecs they encountered they strove to incorporate into their society, and thus gained their good-will and the great advantage of their superior knowledge.

[12th Century.] Finally they established themselves on the eastern shore of Lake Tezcoco, the largest in the valley, and here commenced their capital city, under their leader, Xolotl (Holotl), whom they recognized as their king. They intermarried with the Toltecs, and thus gradually became more and more refined, learning from these unfortunate people the advantages to be derived from agriculture and mining, and the art of casting and working metals, spinning, weaving, and many other things, by which they improved their means of living, their clothing, their habitations and their manners.

Not many years had elapsed before another powerful tribe came into the valley, from a region not far distant from the original home of the Chichimecs. They were princes of the Acolhua nation, with a great army. Though their coming created much disturbance at first, King Xolotl received them kindly, and assigned them land on the western side of the lake. He also married two of the princes to his two daughters, and gave to the third a lady born of noble parents. So it came about, in the end, that the more refined of the Chichimecs dropped their old name, and came to he known as Acolhuas, and their kingdom as Acolhuacan. Those only were called Chichimecs who still pursued a savage life, and preferred the wandering life of a hunter to that of the peaceful agriculturist. They gradually strayed away, joining the barbarous Otomies, and formed those wild bands that worried the Spaniards for many years after they had conquered the others.

[13th Century.] After reigning about forty years, Xolotl died, and his son, Nopaltzin, occupied the throne; and he, after a period of disturbance, was succeeded by his son Holtzin. The most conspicuous of these Chichimec monarchs of that age was the next, the fourth, King Quinantzin. Until his time the court had not been held at Tezcoco entirely, but divided between that city and Tenayuca, on the other side of the lake. Now it was transferred to Tezcoco, and the king was borne on the shoulders of four of the principal lords of his kingdom, in a litter. He was the first to introduce such style and ceremony, and was much hated for it in consequence. He had a stormy reign, but at the last his kingdom was united and powerful.

When King Quinantzin died his body was embalmed, clothed in royal raiment, and placed in a chair, with bow and arrow in his hand, an image of an eagle at his feet and a tiger at his back, to signify his bravery, and exposed in this state to the people for forty days, after which he was burnt, and his ashes deposited in a cave in the mountains back of Tezcoco.

This Chichimec, or Tezcocan, dynasty really lasted for over four hundred years, and only ended in 1520, when the Spaniards invaded Mexico. Eleven chosen kings and two usurpers occupied the throne, including among them at least three so famous in the annals of Mexico as to deserve especial mention. These will be named in their proper place, Meanwhile, we must interrupt the chronological sequence, as relates to the kingdom of Tezcoco, to notice the arrival in the valley of Anahuac of other tribes destined to play important parts in the working out of the destiny of the Mexicans as a nation.

The Acolhuas (of whom mention has been made, and who were incorporated into the Chichimec confederacy) were followed by several other tribes, or nations, who were assigned by the king at Tezcoco various places of residence about the great lake.

Of the Otomies, Xicalancas, and Tepanecs, we have already spoken. If we should go beyond the limits of the great Mexican valley, we should find that there were yet other peoples. There was the powerful nation of Michoacan, which, though the period of its foundation is not exactly known, is thought to have been contemporary with that of Anahuac. The people of this kingdom were the Tarascos, who were in no way less refined than the Acolhuans. Away down in Southern Mexico dwelt several other civilized nations: the Zapotecs, the Miztecs, the Chiapans, and the Mayas of Yucatan, whose history will be dwelt upon at length as we reach them in the course of events. If we confine ourselves to mentioning only the most powerful, and those which figured prominently in the subsequent wars with the Spaniards, it will be sufficient, without confusing the memory with a multitude of long Indian names of comparatively insignificant peoples.

At various times during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, different tribes came straggling into the valley of Anahuac. The most powerful of these belonged (it is thought) to one great nation, and spoke the same language. They were called Nahuatlacas, and came from the land of Aztlan. There were seven tribes: the Sochimilcas, the Chalchese, Tepanecas, Colhuas, Tlahuicas, Tlascallans, and Mexicans.