Young Folk's History of Mexico - Frederick Ober

The Reign of the Viceroys

The first Audiencia  was created in 1528, with the cruel and sanguinary Nuno de Guzman as president, who, among other oppressive acts, tortured by fire the once-powerful King of Michoacan. It governed the country badly, making its tyranny felt in every part; putting to death or expelling from the country all who opposed it. The condition of the Indians was terrible; the system of oppression put in force at this time has left its traces visible even to the present day.

In 1524 Padre Valencia founded convents in Tezcoco, Tlascala, Huexotzinco and Mexico, and the Padre Gante the parochial church of Santa Maria. In 1529 the same Padre Gante established the College of San Juan de Letran.

In 1530, in April, was commenced the city of Puebla, eighty thousand Tlascallans laboring so industriously that it soon contained above 3,000 houses. To-day it is a city of 70,000 inhabitants.

[A. D. 1532.] Cortez, on his return from Spain in 1530, had established himself with his lovely wife in the vale of Cuernavaca, where he built a palatial residence and devoted himself to the cultivation of sugar-cane. To him is due the first impulse towards the development of this industry, which has now assumed such vast proportions.

He soon tired of this employment, however, and in 1532 availed himself of the powers vested in him by the king for discovery and conquest, and fitted out two ships to explore the Pacific. This expedition proving a failure, he fitted out two more vessels, which accomplished nothing more than the discovery of Lower California. Still undaunted, he launched three more ships, at Tehuantepec, in 1537, and attempted a colony in Lower California; but nearly all the colonists perished, and he at last gave up his attempts at fresh discoveries after having expended over 300,000 crowns. In 1540, a disappointed and sorrowful man, he returned to Spain to seek restitution for his losses; but, after years of vain endeavor, he at last died, in the state of misery he merited, in the year 1547.

[Illustration] from History of Mexico by Frederick Ober


We will not stop to inquire if his conscience was ever oppressed by feelings of remorse for the unparalleled calamities he had entailed upon the innocent Mexicans, but will turn from him with the same sense of relief we would feel at the death of a venomous serpent that had drawn its loathsome trail over this fair earth.

In 1530 the misgovernment in Mexico called for a change; a new Audiencia was appointed, followed by the establishment of a viceroyalty. The viceroy, the person who was to be invested with all the authority of the king himself, and who was to govern the new vice-kingdom, was to be one whose high position placed him beyond suspicion, and whose fidelity to the crown was unquestionable. Such a man was found in Don Antonio de Mendoza, one of the royal chamberlains.

He arrived in Mexico in 1535, where he was received as one who represented in his person the king, who was to carry out the policy of Charles, believed to be favorably disposed towards his Indian subjects. For several years his reign was uneventful, except that the vice-kingdom steadily progressed, the mines continued to he worked, and the Indians still labored for the benefit of Spanish task-masters.

[A. D. 1536.] Most celebrated in the annals of the vice-royalty should be this year, 1536, for in it was published the first book  printed in Mexico, the first ever printed in the New World! It was issued from the press of Juan Pables, and entitled La Escala de San Juan Climaca.

In the same year the first money was coined in Mexico, for the viceroy had orders from the king when the left Spain to establish a mint. Two hundred thousand dollars in copper were coined, but it proved so offensive to the Indians that they could only with difficulty be made to receive it, and in 1541 cast the entire coinage into the lake. These descendants of the nobility of Mexico had been accustomed to handling of gold and silver, and scorned to soil their hands by contact with baser metal.

In 1537 Guzman, the assassin of the King of Michoacan, was cast into prison; in 1540 Cortez sailed for Spain accompanied by his son; and in 1541 died Pedro de Alvarado, formerly captain in Cortez's army, and later Governor of Guatemala.

[A. D. 1542.] The Indians of Jalisco rising in rebellion the viceroy marched upon and subdued them, treating them with great humanity. In this movement he was accompanied by an army of fifty thousand friendly Indians, and four hundred and fifty Spanish soldiers.

Discovery of the Pueblos

At this time came reports from a country far to the north, brought by a wandering monk, of a native kingdom called Quivara, containing the seven cities of Cibola.

If we could but follow the threads of history we should see how closely interwoven with the conquest of Mexico are the leading events in the discovery of other American possessions. Pamphilo de Narvaez, who had fought Cortez on Mexican soil in 1520, some years later, in 1528, landed a large force in Florida. Owing to the failure of his fleet to meet him at a certain point his army was reduced to starvation. Embarking in frail boats nearly all the survivors were drowned. A few were cast ashore on what is now known as Texas, and three of them finally succeeded in reaching their brother Spaniards in Mexico after ten years' wanderings. They brought them this news of the existence, far to the northward of Spanish dominion, of seven wonderful cities, inhabited by people far superior to the average Indian. With imaginations all aflame from these stories, the Spaniards were eager to at once undertake the capture of those wonderful cities in the far north.

In the year 1540 the viceroy sent an army of three hundred soldiers, under command of Vasquez de Coronado, for the subjugation of the seven cities, with everything necessary for colonization as well as conquest. They found "The Seven Cities of Cibola," as report had named them; but found no silver, as in Mexico; no gold, as in Peru.

Sadly disappointed, Captain Coronado abandoned the country at the end of two years, and returned southward to his home.

The people living here offered but little resistance and were consequently humanely treated. They were found to be a peace-loving and agricultural race, living in great houses of adobe, hundreds of families in a single residence. Their descendants occupy the same dwellings to-day and retain the names given them at that time by the Spaniards. They were called Pueblos—from the Spanish pueblo, or village—and the Pueblos to-day constitute the most civilized and intelligent of our Indians. They have many traditions that connect them with the Aztecs or the Toltecs, but they have no system of written characters or hieroglyphs. Their legends have been passed down by word of mouth alone, and are hence valueless as affording even material for history. Great pains have been taken to obtain their secret traditions as preserved by the old men of the nation of the Zunis, and extravagant efforts have been used to draw public attention to them of late; but without any beneficial result to the student of history. Towards the close of the sixteenth century another Spanish captain reconquered that region, and the people were eventually enslaved and compelled to labor in the mines. Nearly a hundred years later, in 1680, they rebelled and after much brave fighting drove the Spaniards from the country. Thirteen years afterward they were again enslaved, and remained victims of Spanish oppression for one hundred and thirty years, until Mexico gained her independence, in 1821.

Mexican Pueblo.


These Indians had a tradition that a new race of men would come from the East to deliver them from the bondage of the Spaniards and Mexicans, and this was happily verified in 1846, when their territory, New Mexico, fell into the hands of United States soldiers.

Returning to the capital of Mexico, we shall find that everything continued to prosper; lands were distributed to poor and meritorious Spaniards, and mines long known to the ancient Mexicans were opened and successfully worked. In the years 1541 and 1542 were founded the cities of Guadalajara and Valladolid.

[A. D. 1545.] In this year occurred an eruption of the volcano of Orizaba; in the following year the rich mines of Zacatecas were discovered, and a terrible pestilence broke out among the Indians, in which eighty thousand of them perished.

In 1548 the first Bishop of Mexico, Zumarraga, died, the same man who caused such a great loss to the world by the destruction of Indian paintings. Desiring to remove from the sight of the Indians every vestige of their former arts, and especially of their idolatry, this infamous bigot ransacked the library vaults of Tezcoco and Mexico, and piling the hieroglyphic paintings in a great heap destroyed the whole by fire. No one can estimate the loss such a destruction of historic paintings has occasioned. Learned men have not ceased to regret it to the present day; and if any man ever deserved the curses of the Mexican nation, it is this same first Bishop of Mexico, Don Juan de Zumarraga.

[A. D. 1550.] Of the large number of viceroys sent out by the Kings of Spain to govern their new kingdom across the sea none was better fitted for the position than the first one, Mendoza. His many estimable qualities won upon people of all classes, and he paved the way for the future government of his successors by uniting the many apparently incongruous and inharmonious elements of society.

Recognizing his peculiar fitness for the task of organizing the disordered elements of a new colony, the king promoted this able man to the viceroyalty of Peru, the subjugation of which country had been accomplished by Pizarro. He left Mexico in the year 1550, and his successor arrived the same year.

Before following any farther the chronology of events in the capital it would be well for us to turn back a leaf or two in our history, and recall a province which we have well-nigh forgotten, and which, during these years just recorded, had come into prominence again—the province of Yucatan.