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

The Triple Kingdom

[A. D. 1426.] Though the small kingdom of Tacuba formed one of the allied powers, it took very little part in the future conquests, except to lend its aid to one or the other of its powerful neighbors, and take its small portion of the spoils. Mexico, under Itzcoatl, and with her armies commanded by the brave Montezuma, extended her conquests in all directions. The monarch of Tezcoco had evidently had enough of war and bloodshed; in his years of wanderings, in the many skirmishes and fights in which he had passed his youth, he had gained the true knowledge that the victories of peace are to be preferred over those of war.

The unsettled condition in which the Acolhua kingdom had been left by twenty years of misrule rendered it necessary for its sovereign to give it all his attention. He established councils, civil and military, for the trial of persons charged with crime; he formed schools for the study of poetry, astronomy, music, painting, and history, as well as of the art of divination. These arts were in a very rude state, and little, of course, could result from their study, without the art of writing, or printing, to convey ideas. He divided the city of Tezcoco into over thirty districts; in one dwelt the goldsmiths, in the other the sculptors, in another the weavers, and so on. He built temples and great houses, and planted groves, some of which are in existence at the present day.

[A. D. 1436] Nezahualcoyotl, as we have seen, left to his cousin, the King of Mexico, the subjecting of other tribes, and seems to have felt no distrust or envy of the growing power of the Mexicans. And it is worthy of notice that, while the names of his contemporaries have hardly survived the bloody kingdom they fought so hard to aggrandize, that of the King of Tezcoco has come down to us the subject of many eulogies by the native historians. When we come to the year of his death, we shall mention more in detail the glories of his reign.

Let us turn our attention to that growing capital of the Mexicans, which seemed ambitious to reach its arms from sea to sea. The fierce followers of Itzcoatl took the leading part in every contest in which the allied armies were engaged; "they became practically masters of the whole country, and were on the point of subjugating even their allies, or of falling before a combination of their foes, when they fell before a foe from across the sea."

During the reign of Itzcoatl a difference arose between him and the Tezcocan monarch as to who was best entitled to the great title of Chichimecatl Tecuhtli; or chief of the Chichimec empire. As one who occupied the ancient Chichimec throne, Nezahualcoyotl was deemed to have the best claim to this honor, though by the aid of Mexican troops and the courtesy of their king, he had been re-established in his position. "Yet," says one writer, "although Itzcoatl and his successors by their valor and desire of conquest took a leading part in all wars, and were in a sense masters of Anahuac, there is no sufficient evidence that they ever claimed any superiority in rank over the Acolhua (Tezcocan) monarch, or that any important difficulties occurred between the two powers until the last years of the Aztec period."

Itzcoatl died in the year 1436, having commanded the armies for thirty years, and served thirteen as king. Montezuma Ilhuicamina  was naturally the choice of the electors for the crown, and once again a valiant leader of the Mexican armies was called to the throne. According to the horrid custom, which had now become fixed, Montezuma sallied forth to secure prisoners, to be sacrificed at his. coronation. There resided about Lake Chalco, which you may see in a map of the Valley of Mexico, the nation of the same name, the Chalcas, or the Chalchese. Their ancient capital yet exists on the border of the lake, though only as a modern Mexican town of no great importance. They were the people who had captured Montezuma, during the reign of Maxtla, when he, a young man then, had gone to them in the character of embassador. He had never forgotten that they had intended to put him to death, and now he entered their territory to make horrible reprisals. He marched against them in person, took many prisoners, and then went back to Mexico and gave them to the priests to be sacrificed upon the altars.

[A. D. 1440.] From the allied kings and from the tribes that paid them tribute he received a vast amount of treasure, gifts of gold, silver, and feathers, game and provisions. The coronation ceremonies lasted many days, and abounded in all the barbarous pastimes indulged in by those people. He constructed a new temple, in addition to two others his predecessor had built, and in 1441 the relics of an ancient chief, Mixcohuatl, a Toltec who had been much venerated in centuries past, were taken to Mexico, where a temple was built for them. It seems to have been during Montezuma's reign that the custom originated of taking all the gods captured in battle from their enemies and depositing them in Mexico. There they were allowed to remain, honored alike by friend and foe, but, like their former owners, subordinate to the great Huitzilopochtli.

[A. D. 1443.] The Chalcas, who were always committing some untoward (Iced,—or who were said to by the Mexicans, i? order that they might have a pretext for sacrificing them,—captured two sons of Nezahualcoyotl and killed them. The lord of that city was thought to be the same Toteotzin who had meditated the killing of Montezuma, years before. He ordered these royal princes to be killed, and then had their bodies embalmed and placed them in his banquet hall as torch-bearers,—holding in their black and shrivelled hands the pine torches that gave their light. The King of Tezcoco called upon his royal brother for aid, and the Mexicans gladly responded, for they were ever like tigers famishing for blood. They sacked and ruined the city, killed the ruler and drove the surnieors to the mountains.

Sometime about this period King Nezahualcoyotl was married to the daughter of the King of Tacuba, who rejoiced in a name almost as long as her royal lover's,—Metlalrihuatzin—said to be a beautiful and modest virgin. It was more than this old reprobate deserved, for he had already many children by various concubines, the total number at his death being one hundred. He manifested great affection for them, but at the same time arrays put to death any of them that disobeyed him with an alacrity that makes one think he considered them altogether too many.

But he made a great rejoicing at the time he was legitimately married, the entertainments lasting eighty days. And he composed a poem, comparing the shortness of life and its pleasures with the fleeting bloom of a flower. This was sung by his musicians, and proved so affecting that there was hardly a dry eye in the crowd. It commenced: Xochitl macmani in ahuehuetitlan, and went on in this pathetic strain, drawing tears from the eyes of hardened old Aztecs who had looked upon the tortures of thousands of victims upon the sacrificial block unmoved. A year later a son was born, Nezahualpilli, who succeeded in due time to the crown.

Elated at the continued success of their arms, the Mexicans ravaged province after province and sent home crowds of prisoners to be murdered on their sacrificial altars. Under Montezuma, they carried their victories to points one hundred and fifty miles distant; they enlarged their temple to their principal god, and enriched it with spoils.

[A. D. 1446]—Mexico, you will remember, was built upon an island in Lake Tezcoco. There are five great lakes in the Mexican valley, four of them are fresh and the fifth, Tezcoco, is salt. All the other lakes are at higher elevation than the salt lake, and three of them higher than the city itself, even at the present day. And so it happens, that whenever a great rain occurs, and the higher lakes are flooded, the waters rush down into Lake Tezcoco, which has no outlet, and are liable to overflow the city. The first of these inundations of which we have any mention occurred in the year 1446. Montezuma and, the Mexicans were greatly distressed by this great flood, which rose so high that all the streets were filled and the people compelled to go about in canoes. The king consulted with Nezahualcoyotl and by the advice of this sagacious monarch he commenced a great dike, to cross the lake, and render it independent of the floods from the fresh-water lakes. It was nine miles in length and consisted of a double row of piles thirty feet apart, with the space between filled with earth and stones. The lords of the valley themselves labored, to incite the vassals to activity, and this mighty work was soon finished.

[A. D. 1448.] In the years 1448 and 1449 there was a great famine, first from the inundation and then from frost, so that the corn crop, the maize upon which they almost solely depended for food, was a failure. The two following years were likewise unfavorable, and in the year 1452 many people of Mexico died of starvation. Many others wandered into the neighboring county and sold themselves into slavery for a little corn, their needs were so great, even though the royal granaries were opened. The king published a proclamation, that no woman should sell herself as a slave for less than four hundred ears of maize, and no man for less than five hundred. As in the olden time, before Mexico was founded, the Aztecs now lived upon water-fowl, small fish and insects, which they caught in and about the lake. There is a peculiar water insect called the axayacatl, which lays its eggs on the water, among the rushes of Lake Tezcoco. Their eggs, when gathered and pressed together, form a substance like cheese, and this the inhabitants of Mexico subsisted upon, even as many of their descendants do at the present time.

[A. D. 1454.] Even the famine, which lasted nearly six years, did not interrupt the dreadful sacrifices. The priests gave out that the gods were angry, and more blood must be shed to appease them. You will perhaps hardly credit the story, but it is related that in order to gratify the priests and to cause their gods to relent, some tribes entered into a compact to regularly fight one another, that the victors might have prisoners to sacrifice to these bloodthirsty deities. Half-starved men and women might have been obtained in every town, but the gods were not satisfied with their blood they wanted the rich life-current of brave and stalwart soldiers!

[A. D. 1455.] At last the famine ceased, and plenty once more came to the stricken land, just as a new cycle entered upon its rounds. This they attributed to their having finally appeased the outraged gods, just as the Mexicans, two centuries later, thought to stay the progress of an inundation by bringing into the city an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. These people, the Mexicans, always had blood in their eyes, and no sooner was the famine allayed than they again marched into the surrounding, country in search of victims.

[A. D. 1456.] That portion of the capital known as Tlatelolco had become the commercial metropolis of the: country. To it people resorted from the remotest parts, of Mexico, and from it went out large bands of travelling merchants. These merchants had so increased in number and strength, and always went so strongly armed, that they were very oppressive to the tribes they went amongst, and often committed murders and robberies. They also acted for the Mexicans in the capacity of spies; many a rich province had they entered, in the guise of peaceful traders, only to spy out its resources in wealth and prisoners. A band of these land pirates had been maltreated by the Miztecs, people who dwelt—as do their descendants today—in the country south of the Mexican valley. No doubt these rascally traders had deserved all they got, but they came back to their homes with such a doleful story that Montezuma resolved at once to punish the Miztecs for the outrage. He was only too glad of a pretext against them, for the supply of victims for that hideous god in the temple was running short. So he sent to the King of the Miztecs demanding an apology. But Atonaltzin, this Miztec king, treated the embassadors of Montezuma with scorn. He loaded them with gold, and said, as he dismissed them, "Bear this present to your king, that he may know from it how much my subjects give me, and how much they love me; tell him that I willingly accept of war, by which it shall be decided whether my subjects shall pay tribute to the King of Mexico or the Mexicans to me." Then the allied kings united their armies, and marched upon the King of the Miztecs; but they got terribly whipped, and for once returned to Mexico without their prisoners. This enraged the great Montezuma, so that he raised another army, and led it in person; and as in the past, so it was at this time, nothing could stand before him. The Miztecs were defeated, and he took possession of their capital.

[A. D. 1457.] In this year an expedition was undertaken by the Mexicans against a nation in the south-east, towards the Gulf of Mexico. After the army had started Montezuma, hearing the forces of the army were far in excess of his own, sent to recall them. The Mexicans would have returned, but Moquihuix, King of the Tlaltelolcans, declared that he would go on, and with his own people alone vanquish the enemy. Animated by his words and example they encountered the enemy, and carried back over six thousand prisoners, to be sacrificed at the consecration of a temple for the preservation of skulls.

Montezuma rewarded this victorious prince by giving him one of his cousins for his wife,—of which great honor he could not have been duly sensible, for he afterwards abused her heartily.

Destruction of the Chalchese

[A. D. 1458.] By this time those rebellious people of Chalco had recovered sufficiently to again defy the Mexicans. They captured a brother of Montezuma, and wanted to make him king over them, and make their city a rival to that of Mexico. This he looked upon as treason; but he finally pretended to consent, and told them to plant one of their tallest trees in the market-place and erect a scaffold upon it, in order that he might view his new subjects from this high position. When this was done he mounted to the dizzy height, with a bunch of flowers in his hand, and made a speech to the few Mexicans who had been made prisoners with him: "Ye know well," he said, "my brave Mexicans, that the Chalchese wish to make me their king; but it is not agreeable to our god that I should betray our native country. I choose rather to teach you by my example to place a higher value on fidelity to it than upon life itself." Saying this, he cast himself headlong to the ground and perished. By this act the Chalchese were so enraged that they slew all the Mexicans with darts. It is said that the dismal hooting of an owl that night threw them into superstitious terror as an omen of their destruction. Nor were they far wrong, for as soon as Montezuma heard the news, he caused the hill-tops about Chalco to blaze with signal fires; and ere they had died away he marched upon the rebels with his army. This time he left nothing of their city, nor saved man, woman or child that his enraged troops could discover in it. Again were the Chalchese driven to the mountains, there to wander for many years, living in holes and caverns.

[A. D. 1460.] Tenochtitlan, or Mexico, and Tlaltelolco, into which the capital had been originally divided, had now so extended themselves on every side that only a single canal now separated them. This was widened and deepened, and made into a navigable water-way, through which passed the boats laden with vegetables from the Chinampas.

Aztec armor, shields, and sword.

[A. D. 1474.] After having seen the Mexican dominion widely extended, north, east, south, and west,—after having erected a great temple to the god of war, and having shed the blood of thousands upon its altars, the great and glorious Montezuma died. He had been one of the wisest and bravest of the Mexican leaders, had made many civil and religious laws, had increased the splendor of his court, and had added largely to that dread band of fanatics, the priests, who were engaged in hurrying this empire to its ruin.

The fifth King of Mexico, successor to Montezuma, was Axajacatl, a valiant general of the army. Having received news of his election he matched into the south upon the terrible mission of securing prisoners to grace by their sacrifice his coronation. In this expedition his troops penetrated as far south as Tehuantepec, many miles from the capital. Tehuantepec is the narrowest portion of Mexican territory, only about a hundred miles here intervening between the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and those of the Pacific. To-day, in our time, it is about to be opened by a railroad, and it has often been examined with reference to the cutting there of a ship canal, which may form a great highway between the seas of the two hemispheres.

The Mexican general defeated the inhabitants of Tehuantepec, after hard-fought battles, and dragged the wretched prisoners over all the long distance to Mexico, to mingle their blood with that of the thousands who had preceded them.

[A. D. 1466]. It is told that in this year, the famous causeway and aqueduct to Chapultepec was completed. It had been planned by Nezahualcoyotl and commenced by ltzcoatl. It supplied the Mexican capital with water, as that surrounding the city was salt and unfit to drink.

All the time, the people were working hard at the building of new temples, and many teocallis, or holy pyramids were built in the three allied capitals. The most noted one outside of Mexico was that constructed by Nezahualcoyotl, highly ornamented with gold and precious stones, and dedicated to the "invisible god of the universe"—not to an idol of stone.

[A. D. 1469]. The slumbering jealousy between the rival portions of the city—Tenochtitlan and Tlaltelolco—was finally carried into an open quarrel by the erection, by each faction, of a new temple. It was on the occasion of their return from a victory over another tribe. Each erected a temple for the reception of the gods of the vanquished nation which they had brought with them. That of the Tlaltelolcans, called Coaxolotl, was finer than that of the Mexicans, called Coatlan, and this made much ill-feeling. Three or four years later, Moquihiuix, the fiery king of the Tlaltelolcos, could endure no longer the constant increase in power of his near neighbor, Tenochtitlan, and planned a rebellion. His wife, sister to the now reigning king, Axajacatl; fled to her brother, complaining of her ill-treatment and betraying the plans of her husband. Moquihuix secretly assembled his soldiers, and, in order to infuse into them the highest degree of courage, made them drink of the blood of their enemies, washed from the filthy surface of the sacrificial stone. Then he and his officers made a solemn sacrifice on a mountain near the city, to gain the favor of their gods. It was all in vain, however, for the Mexicans prevailed over their neighbors and brethren, in the bloody battle that ensued, and Moquihuix was cast down from the tower of the temple, from which he was directing his troops, and slain.

[A. D. 1473]. In this manner, the Mexicans finally became possessors of the entire city, in about the year 1473. The Tlaltelolcans were driven into the marshes, and only restored to their privileges after having been made to croak like frogs, in token of submission.