We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. — Winston Churchill

Young Folk's History of Mexico - Frederick Ober

Details of the Conquest

[A. D. 1526.] Among the adventurers who sailed with both Grijalva and Cortez was a gallant young man named Montejo—Don Francisco Montejo, a cavalier of Seville. Twice, by his last commander, Cortez, he was entrusted with a commission to Spain to the king. He was one of those who sailed in that first vessel that ever made the voyage from New to Old Spain, when that royal present was carried from Montezuma to Charles V. On his second arrival as commissioner he was rewarded for his distinguished services by a coat-of-arms, and many grants and privileges.

In the year 1526, in December, he obtained a royal grant for the pacification and conquest of Cozumel and Yucatan. In the fevered haste with which the different expeditions to New Spain had swept on towards the ill-fated capital of Montezuma's empire, Yucatan had been entirely overlooked. We know that it was the first province discovered of New Spain; that its coast was made known in 1502 to Columbus; in 1506 it was seen by Pinzon; that Cordova landed there in 1517, followed by Grijalva in 1518, and by. Cortez in 1519. But, as it was gold  the Spaniards were after, and as every indication of the precious metal pointed to the table-lands of Mexico, Yucatan remained neglected. There was no gold there, and, moreover, the inhabitants of its coasts had always given the Visiting Spaniards such warm receptions that they were always glad to leave them alone after a single trial of their prowess. Anxious as they were for the bringing of these Indians under the influence of their religion, the acquisition of wealth was a matter of vastly greater concern. So the tide of conquest flowed over all Mexico, and extended even to Guatemala and the Pacific, before it more than lapped the shores of Yucatan.

[A. D. 1527.] But its time was soon to come. In the year 1527 Montejo's fleet of four vessels, containing four hundred men, with liberal supplies, landed at Cozumel, the same island that Cortez had rendezvoused at eight years before. Here, for the first time, the Spaniards had seen, as they coasted, "villages in which they could distinguish houses of stone that appeared white and lofty at a distance. There were so many and such stately stone buildings that they were amazing; and the greatest wonder is that having no use of any metal these people were able to raise such structures, which seem to have been temples." The Spaniards took possession of the country in the name of their king, the bearer of the royal standard planting it in the ground, crying in a loud voice, "Espana! Espana! Viva Espana!"

House of the nuns, Chichen.

Their troubles commenced almost at their landing, for the people of this section of the country were as hostile to strangers, and as courageous, as any the Spaniards had a met on the western coast. Men fell sick from the heat, the country was rough and rocky, and overgrown with dense woods; though the little army offered no violence to any one, evidences accumulated on every side that the natives of Yucatan were gathering for a general resistance to the invasion.

After enduring great fatigue the army arrived at the town of Ake. On the present map of Yucatan, Ake exists no longer as a centre of population, but at this place are some of the most wonderful ruins in the peninsula. Here are great ranges of pillars, consisting of large stones piled one upon the other. They are known to the Indians as Katunes, or calendar stones, perpetuating epochs of their history. By them their wise men kept the record of the passing years, and by means of them we can trace the existence of this people back in the past many thousands of years.

In sight, perhaps, of these mute memorials of ages past, the Spaniards and Indians fought a terrible battle. The savages had lain in ambush, and pounced upon them without warning, with shouts and yells, and such a sounding of sea-shells, trumpets, and turtle-shells that the hills seemed to shake. The astonished Spaniards fought bravely; they seem to have been superior men, in point of morals, to other armies that had invaded New Spain, and more deserving of sympathy than any that had preceded them.

Great slaughter ensued, but at nightfall, when the fighting ceased, the Indians yet remained on the ground. At daybreak next morning the battle was renewed and continued fiercely till midday, when the Indians gave way. The Spaniards were so weary with watching and fighting that they could not pursue the slowly retreating enemy, and sank exhausted on the field. Many were killed and wounded, and twelve hundred of the Indians had lost their lives.

In 1528 another great battle was fought near Chichen Itza, the very ancient capital of the unfortunate Itzaes. This is said to have been one of the bloodiest engagements that ever took place in these Indian wars. A great many Indians were killed, but one-hundred and fifty Spaniards also lost their lives and nearly every survivor was wounded.

[A. D. 1528.] The only province in which they could learn that gold existed was that of Bakalar, to which Montejo dispatched one of his captains, Davila, with a demand for tribute. The fierce cacique sent back the haughty message that he would send them fowls on spears and Indian corn on arrow-points. They were only too glad to get back to the main body, this detachment under Captain Davila, which they only accomplished at the end of two years. By this time the remains of the army had reached Campeche, on the western coast, and here they remained for several years making ineffectual attempts to penetrate the country. The Indians of Tabasco, who had been conquered by Cortez, now revolted, and as this province belonged to the Adelantado, Montejo, he felt constrained to go over to compel them into obedience. While he was gone the garrison at Campeche became so reduced that but five soldiers remained fit for duty.

[A. D. 1535.] It was therefore resolved to abandon the post, and in the year 1535, after some years of fruitless fighting the last Spaniard departed from the shores of Yucatan. The last person to leave was Gonzales Nieto, the one who had first planted the royal banner on the eastern coast, eight years previous.

By this time the Adelantado, Don Francisco Montejo, was impoverished. The fame of Pizarro's conquests in Peru drew away his best soldiers, and no one could be found to aid him in the subjugation of a people so fierce as the Yucatecans, the capture of whom would yield no other booty than cotton garments and rude implements of warfare.

Bas-relief of Tigers, Chichen.

[A. D. 1537.] Don Francisco, having completed the pacification of the Tabascans, again turned his attention to Yucatan. In 1537 he landed a small force at Campeche, or Champotan, and, leaving them in command of his son, returned to Tabasco for supplies and reinforcements. The Spaniards were attacked almost as soon as they had landed, and some captured soldiers were carried into the interior and sacrificed to the Indian idols.

Disunited as they were, the various Indian caciques resolved to unite once more and attempt the expulsion of the hated invaders. It was at Champotan, immense numbers gathered together and fell upon the Spaniards. The latter were driven to their boats; but, stung to shame by the taunts and insults of their foes, they returned to land, wounded and bleeding, and finally drove the Indians from their camp. The latter might yet have crushed them out had they but made concerted action against them, but unfortunately they retired and dispersed to their various villages.

[A. D. 1540.] The Adelantado, having placed his sop (also named Francisco) in possession of all the rights and privileges granted him by the king, retired to the government of Chiapas, and the younger man carried out the plans for pacification.

In 1540 the city of Campeche was founded; it exists to-day, a port of some importance. It was resolved to strike direct for the Indian capital, and when, after great exertions, a small force had been finally collected, the march was commenced. This Indian capital was known as Tihoo, situated in the interior. The Indians did much to obstruct their march; concealed the wells and ponds and withheld and destroyed provisions. In addition to the perils of fighting they had hunger and thirst to contend with. Their sufferings were almost unendurable; but they finally arrived in the vicinity of the great town of Tihoo. A terrible storm was gathering, soon to break upon them.

[A. D. 1541.] In the month of June, 1541, the stone burst. More than forty thousand Indians—according to the old chroniclers—precipitated themselves upon the Spanish camp. The battle that followed was the most sanguinary and most desperately fought of any that had taken place. It lasted the greater part of the day, the Indians returning to the attack again and again; but at evening the Spaniards remained masters of the field, though so obstructed by the heaps of bodies of the slain that they could not pursue the retreating foe.

This great battle ended all combined resistance to Spanish arms. Cacique after cacique came in and submitted, until a great part of the territory came under Spanish rule.

[A. D. 1542.] On the sixth of January, 1542, Don Francisco Montejo, son of the Adelantado and conqueror of Yucatan, founded on the site of this Indian town of Tihoo the city of Merida. To-day you may view this beautiful city, with its noble buildings, its quaint architecture. After sixteen weary years of desultory fighting, after repeated rebuffs, after enduring losses that might well have discouraged a less noble spirit, Don Francisco Montejo found himself in possession of this coveted country.

Forty years had passed since Columbus heard of this country, and eleven since Cortez had humbled the proud capital of the Aztecs. Two new empires, Mexico and Peru, had been added to the Spanish crown during these years of fighting, both as rich in the gold the Spaniards so coveted as this was poor in the elements of wealth. It was a barren conquest, this of Don Francisco Montejo, not at all worthy the great expenditure in men and treasure it had cost him.

Dating from the period of its conquest, Yucatan existed as a Captain-Generalcy, a distinct government from that of Mexico or Guatemala. When we come to speak of Mexico as a whole and united republic we shall take another glance at Yucatan; for the present, we will leave it to follow the action of more stirring events in the territory wrested from the Aztecs.