Young Folk's History of Mexico - Frederick Ober

The Reign of the Viceroys—continued

[A. D. 1551.] Don Louis de Velasco, the second viceroy, was a worthy successor of Mendoza, and one possessed, apparently, of more firmness than he, for he had the courage to carry out the laws for the liberation of the Indians. He released from slavery more than one hundred and fifty thousand Indians, who toiled for the benefit of their oppressors in the mines, in the fields, and in the mountains. By his humane conduct Velasco brought upon him the enmity of the planters and mine-owners, who were becoming rich from the labor of their Indian slaves, and who procured from the king a partial revocation of the laws in favor of the friendless race.

In 1553 was founded the royal university at the city of Mexico by an order of the emperor, Charles V., dated September, 1551. In the same year occurred a great inundation, the first since the occupation of Mexico by the Spaniards, and a great dike was constructed, in imitation of that ancient work of the Aztec kings.

In 1555 the Chichimecs, or wild Indians of the north, rebelled and committed great depredations, and Don Francisco Ibarra was dispatched to conquer and explore the territory to the north and west; this he did successfully, discovered many rich mines of gold and silver, and the city of Durango was founded in 1563.

In the year 1557 the news reached Mexico of the abdication of Charles V., and the accession to the throne of Spain of that monster of iniquity, Philip, his son. This had taken place with imposing ceremonies in Brussels in the month of October, 1555. The transfer of power was soon observed in the spies, that the suspicious Philip soon sent out to watch the movements of the viceroy and to oppress the Indians, whom, we have reason to believe, his royal father honestly wished to relieve. A new Audiencia  was established, without consulting which the viceroy could perform no important business; and a visitador, or royal spy, was sent out, who perpetrated such cruelties against the Indians that he has ever since been mentioned as "El Molestador de los Indios"—the molester of the Indians.

[A. D. 1564.] The good viceroy, who had striven to perform his duty by all his subjects, died in 1564, while engaged in fitting out an expedition for the Philippine Islands, which sailed the same year, and founded the celebrated eastern city of Manilla. Another viceroy took the reins of government two years later, and during the interval the Audiencia was the ruling power.

This viceroy was distinguished for nothing that has made his name memorable, and it will be an idle task for the reader to burden his memory with even his name.. This is also true of the majority of that long list of viceroys, over sixty in number, that ruled New Spain for a period of three hundred years. With a few rare exceptions they were merely creatures of the king, sent out to do his bidding, and removed as soon as they ventured to perform an independent act. Few of them were remarkable enough to live in the pages of history, and, with the reader's permission, we will not burden the narrative with half a hundred superfluous names. Now and then we shall find some name shining forth, either elevated into prominence through some act of its owner, or the circumstances of the times in which he lived and ruled. These shall not be neglected.

In the year 1562 the "Marquis of the Valley," son and heir of Cortez, returned to Mexico, taking up his residence in the city. His palace was the resort of the Mexican aristocracy—or of those who wished to be considered as such—who had inherited fortunes or titles from their fathers, the original adventurers. The prestige of his name was such, and he so evidently was a favorite with the people, that the Audiencia feared—or pretended to fear—that he might wish to usurp the power bestowed upon them by his majesty, the King of Spain. A plot was reported to have been formed, which had for its object the murder of the Spaniards in power and the elevation of the family of Cortez. It would have been an easy matter for one bearing that potent name to excite a popular uprising among the Indians, who would have fought as bravely in his cause—as against the cause of Spain—as did their fathers against the advances of the conqueror.

[A. D. 1566.] It was to have taken place on the 13th of August, on the anniversary of the fall of the city; Don Martin Cortez, son of the conqueror and the Indian girl, Marina, was to place himself at the head of armed bands and proclaim his half-brother, the Marques, King of Mexico. This was in the year 1566. The Marques was imprisoned, and two friends, who had given utterance to treasonable expressions, were publicly beheaded and their heads stuck upon spears.

The arrival of the new viceroy caused a stay of these proceedings, and the Marquis of the Valley escaped to Spain, where he felt himself more secure than in the country which his father had given to the Spanish crown.

The Inquisition in Mexico

[A. D. 1568.] The Visitador  Munoz, who had been sent to inquire into charges respecting the late viceroy, seized Don Martin Cortez, and put him to the torture. Although the innocence of this wretched man was fully established a few years later, he suffered much bodily pain and great losses of property during its seven years' sequestration. The satisfaction with which some of the conquered race must have viewed this putting to the torture of a son of Cortez and Marina, the two instruments of their enslavement, must have been extreme.

What a pity that the monster genius of Spanish invasion could not have been brought within the compass of a single body, and suffocated by the clasp of iron-handed justice upon its throat!

[A. D. 1571.] It was in the year 1571 that the infernal monsters engaged in burning heretics in Spain sent into Mexico the terrible Inquisition. The world immediately within control of that loathsome instrument of Satan, Philip II. of Spain, was becoming purged of its dissenters, and, with his diabolic instinct for making misery more miserable, he reached out his bloody hands towards his western possessions. Thirteen years previously Charles V., the father of Philip, had charged him upon his dying bed to show no mercy to heretics. Says a learned writer upon events of Spanish history: "The devout, prayerful (shall we say conscientious) bigot, with dying breath, urged his son Philip to extirpate heresy from his realms by all the energies of the Inquisition, without favor or mercy to any one. 'So,' says he, 'you shall have my blessing, and the Lord shall prosper all your undertakings.' Philip fulfilled these injunctions with cruelty which one would think must have flooded with tears the eyes of angels."

In the year following, in 1559, this incarnate demon publicly celebrated an auto da fe, or "act of faith," in which, in the city of Valladolid, many human beings were burned alive, simply because they differed from the Church of Rome upon some trifling matter of religious belief. Centuries before, in 1231, this "Mother of Harlots," had sanctioned the burning of the holders of heretical doctrines, and had delivered the execution of its will to the Dominicans.

Portrait of Philip of Spain.


This pestiferous sect had already established itself in Mexico, and under the shadow of its church of Santo Domingo the brethren of this iniquitous Inquisition settled themselves, like vampires, on the watch for prey.

Another sect devoted to the interests of the Pope of Rome, though not so stained with blood and imbued with ignorance as the Dominican, gained a foothold in Mexico in the year following, in 1592.

[A. D. 1573] The corner-stone of the great cathedral of Mexico was laid in this year. In 1525, upon the site of the famous Aztec teocalli, a temple had been erected. This was now demolished to make way for a more stately edifice, and the grand cathedral slowly grew to assume the proportions it preserves to the present day. It was nearly a century in progress of construction, as it was not finished until the year 1667; and the total cost of this sumptuous temple, including the works added by succeeding generations, has exceeded two millions of dollars.

Cathedral of Guadalajara.


A complete description of it would be out of place in a work like this, but we may mention, in passing, that it is one of the most magnificent churches in the New World. Its length is 425 feet, its breadth 200, and the height of its towers zoo. These towers contained forty-six bells, which rang out their deafening clamor upon the very spot where stood the altars of the Aztec war-god, upon the summit-platform of the temple-pyramid.

Its interior was adorned with every work of art available to its builders at that period. Its Virgin and the glory of its cupola are the work of celebrated artists. Its high altar was formerly the richest in the world, and even to-day, after having been successively plundered, is most magnificent, ablaze with gold and jewels. It contained chalices, candlesticks, crucifixes, of solid gold, encrusted with precious stones. Some of these golden candlesticks required two men to lift them. The statue of the Assumption (now missing) was of solid gold, and cost $1,089,000! There was a lamp of gold that cost eighty thousand dollars. Around the choir is a balustrade, of a metal so precious (a mixture of silver, gold, and bronze) that an offer to replace it with one of equal weight in silver, was refused. This weighed twenty-six tons, and was brought from China during those ancient days of Spanish dominion. All these riches (the half of which have not been described) were acquired when bishop, priest, and monk were rulers of New Spain, and owned two-thirds the entire wealth of the nation!

Towards the end of this history we shall see how these parasites were made to relax their hold upon the people's earnings, and compelled by popular indignation to disgorge their ill-gotten gains.

Three years previously the cathedral of Guadalajara was commenced, which was not completed until 1818, having consumed nearly two hundred and fifty years in building. During this same year of 1571, in which was established the Inquisition in Mexico, occurred an eruption of the great volcano of Popocatapetl, an event infrequent enough to excite general terror and apprehension.

[A. D. 1576.] A frightful pestilence visited Mexico, and during the year it is estimated that more than two million Indians died of its ravages. In 1580 the capital was again inundated, owing to abundant rains, and great local distress followed. At this time, however, New Spain was apparently enjoying a period of prosperity. Owing to the enforced labor of the Indians in her mines she was producing immense quantities of silver. Lying directly between the oriental colony in the Philippines and Spain, the mother country, her seaports—Acapulco on the Pacific, and Vera Cruz on the Gulf coast, had become rich and thriving cities. People from the extremes of the world met in her capital and transacted business; but while the golden stream of wealth and trade flowed from the west to the east no portion of it fell to the share of the poor Indian. Bowed down with misery and grief, he was compelled to toil early and late for the aggrandizement of an empire far distant over the sea.

[A. D. 1583.] Through frequent changes and the loose administration of the oidores  of the Audiencia the government officials became very corrupt. To correct this state of affairs Philip II. appointed the Archbishop of Mexico, Pedro Moya de Contreras, visitador, with power to thoroughly search into their conduct, and to bring them to justice. This man was also inquisitor, and through the combined influence of his spiritual and temporal authority he purified the local government, so far as loyalty to the king was concerned. Soon appointed to the viceroyal chair, he diverted a large current of gold and silver towards the mother country.

[A. D. 1585.] His successor, Alvarado Enrique de Zuniga, arrived in October, 1585, and carried out the wise principles of government established by the inquisitor. In 1587 he likewise sent a rich treasure fleet to Spain, which reached its port in safety. Such was not the fate of all the treasure galleons that succeeded these pioneer vessels, as the attention of other powers was becoming directed towards that source of Spain's wealth and power. The seas on both coasts of Mexico soon became infested with pirates, called by courtesy "privateers," and "buccaneers." The French and English were very annoying, especially the latter, headed by the famous Captain Drake. After capturing and sacking Spanish cities on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts he turned his attention to the rich galleons which made annual voyages between the Philippines and Mexico. Concealing himself, among the coves of the Lower California coast he lay in wait for the richly freighted vessel, plundered it of its valuable cargo, and made his escape, though vigorous search was instituted by order of the viceroy. As only one ship came in a year this loss was severely felt by the colonists, as the merchants had them almost at their mercy

[A. D. 1590.] Internal troubles added to the vexations of the viceroy, who was recalled to Spain, and his place filled by another, Count Luis Velasco, son of the second viceroy under Charles V. This sagacious ruler labored earnestly for the amelioration of the condition of the Indians, and, contrary to the wishes of the foreign traders, encouraged native manufactures of cotton and woolen stuffs. In 1591 the Chichimecs, who had always manifested a hostile disposition towards the Spaniards, were brought to adopt the ways of civilized life by the settlement among them of several hundred of the ever-faithful Tlascallans. In this manner was commenced that important town so noted in the annals of mining history, San Luis Potosi. The Spaniards were not so fortunate in their attempts to compel the wandering Otomies  to abandon a savage life, as the first savage experimented upon not only destroyed his habitation but murdered his family and then hung himself.

[A. D. 1593.] It was under this viceroy that there was laid out and planted the beautiful forest garden of Mexico, the Alameda, in existence to-day, one of the most delightful spots in that land of perpetual summer. Its walks and avenues intersect a shady grove of poplars and eucalyptus trees, beneath which are beds of flowers sprinkled by the spray of cooling fountains.

[A. D. 1594.] The oppressed Indians were still further burdened by the mercenary Philip with a tax of one dollar each, the imposition of which the viceroy strove in vain to avert, and which was the cause of much suffering. In 1595 this viceroy was promoted to Peru, his seat being taken by Don Gaspar de Zuniga, Count of Monterey, who exhibited his firmness and humanity by relieving the Indians of that odious tax. In 1596 an expedition was fitted out for the exploration of the California coast, and colonists started for New Mexico, the land of the Pueblos, from which they later returned dissatisfied with the country,

Spanish mission, Monterey.


The year 1597 is celebrated in Mexican annals as that in which perished "Saint Philip of Jesus," a native of Mexico, who was crucified in Japan, whither he had gone on missionary work.

[A. D. 1598.] Philip II. of Spain, the ferocious persecutor of his race and kindred, did the world an unwilling service by dying, and his loathsome, worm-infested body was consigned to earth. The news of this important event did not reach Mexico till 1599, which year the city of Monterey was founded.

[A. D. 1600.] In the year following, 1600, the city of Vera Cruz was transferred from its ancient site, where it had been located by Cortez, to the one it at present occupies, in the vain hope that the last would prove more salubrious.

[A. D. 1602.] The coast of California, which in our time became El Dorado—the land of gold—was thoroughly explored, in 1602, by General Viscaino, by order of Philip III., the new King of Spain and the Indies. Setting sail from the port of Acapulco with four vessels he reached the port of Monterey—named in honor of the viceroy—and eventually coasted as far as Cape Mendocino, in latitude 408 north, Cabrillo, a Portuguese in the service of Spain, discovered California in the year 1542, and the buccaneer, Drake, took possession of it for Queen Elizabeth in 1578, naming it New Albion; but nearly two hundred years passed before any attempt to plant a colony here resulted in success.

The opening years of the seventeenth century saw the Spaniards in possession of a vast amount of territory north, south, east, and west of Mexico, chiefly acquired through expeditions planned and started from the central city. During these first years, it is alleged, the Indians voluntarily returned to the old system of repartimientos, by which they were assigned to the miners and planters as laborers, in reality slaves. It is claimed that their natural indolence moved them to this; but such is contrary to what is recorded by those interested in their welfare.

[A. D. 1607.] The early years of this century were also made memorable by another inundation; and in 1607, as it was found that the dikes erected at various times were insufficient to protect the city, a stupendous undertaking was set in progress, no less than the drainage of the entire valley It was under the patronage of Don Louis Belasco, who had been again returned from Peru to the viceroyalty of Mexico, and under the direction of a celebrated engineer, Enrique Martinez.

The valley of Mexico is an immense basin, situated about 7,000 feet above the level of the sea. It contains five lakes, rising in stages one above the other, the uppermost, Lake Zumpango, being over thirty feet higher than Lake Tezcoco; which is only five or six feet lower than the level of the great square of Mexico. As a consequence, when any great rains flood the upper lake its waters rush with great fury towards the lower one, which sets back towards the city in spite of the dikes built to protect it. The plan of the engineer, Martinez, was to dig a subterraneous canal through the valley brim, by which Lake Zumpango would be thoroughly drained. This tunnel was commenced on the 28th of November, 1607. Fifteen thousand Indians worked incessantly for eleven months, at the end of which time the tunnel was completed. It was six thousand six hundred meters in length, over three meters in height and four in breadth, and was continued at its northern end by an open cut eight thousand six hundred meters in length, that conducted the water of the lake into the river Tula, which finally makes its way into the Gulf of Mexico.

This tunnel having become stopped up, either by accident or design, the city was at once flooded in a single night, and for five years, from 1629 to 1634, the people traversed the flooded streets in canoes.

Mines, viceregal period.


In 1637 the Franciscan monks secured control of the work, which they held for over a hundred years, and diverted through this channel a vast amount of gold into their treasury; though the water flowed no more freely than before. In 1767 it was decided to convert this subterranean canal into an open cut, as it frequently became choked, and endangered the city. Thousands of Indians lost their lives in both undertakings; but life was cheap in those days, and labors were performed that to-day it would be impossible to execute.

At a cost of a million dollars, the cut was concluded, in the year 1789. It was then 67,537 feet in length, and in some places, at the top, over Goo feet in breadth, with a perpendicular depth of from one hundred and fifty to two hundred feet!

This was the great tajo, or cut, of Nochistongo, which had cost, at the beginning of the present century only, over $6,000,000 and a vast number of lives. It performed its work ineffectually, and the government of Mexico is yet considering,—at this day, two hundred and seventy-five years after the tunnel was dug,—how it should properly drain the great valley in the centre of which is the magnificent cap ital of Mexico. Enrique Martinez, the great Mexican engineer, is finally honored by a statue in the plaza of the city, and through the cut commenced by him so many years ago runs the track of a railroad, seeking exit from the valley.

From 1611 to 1621 two other viceroys occupied the capital, and the year 1612 was distinguished by a serious insurrection of the Indians, which was only subdued after several months' hard fighting.

[A. D. 1620.] The aqueduct of San Cosme, a magnificent monument to the viceroy, the Marques of Guadalcazar, was finished in 1620. Its nine hundred arches still stride across the fertile fields between Chapultepec and the capital, and over it still flow the sweet waters from the hills of El Desierto.