Burns His Boats
messengers returned to the emperor with the terrifying reports
of their encounter with the Spainards: their guns, horses, dogs
and their lust for gold. Montezuma was paralyzed by their tales,
and by the possibility that Cortés was the returning Quetzalcoatl,
"the feathered serpent," an exiled deity who vowed
to return one day to claim his kingdom
Cortés, meanwhile, weighed his options. He had not yet seen
the magical city of Tenochtitlán, but he knew it was there,
200 miles away. He faced imprisonment or death for defying the
governor if he returned to Cuba. His only alternative was to
conquer and settle part of the land. To do this, he prompted
his supporters to install a municipal and resigned from the
post conferred on him by Velásquez. The legally-constituted
"town council of Villa Rica" then offered him the post of captain-general.
He accepted the post and severed his connection with Velásquez.
Those of his men still loyal to the Governor of Cuba conspired
to seize a ship and escape to Cuba, but Cortés moved swiftly to quash their plans. To make sure such a mutiny did not happen
again, he decided to sink his ships, on the pretext that they
were not seaworthy.
His ships sunk, Cortés marched into the interior, to the territory
of the Tlaxcalans. They were resolute enemies of Mexico and Cortés thought
they might join him in a military alliance against the Aztecs. After a
long debate, the Tlaxcalans decided to fight Cortés instead,
and they suffered terrible losses. Eventually they sued for
peace and agreed to go with Cortés to Mexico. Cortés marched
on with the Tlaxcalan warriors to Cholula, 20 miles from Tlaxcala.
A story spread from the Tlaxcalans to Malinche that the Cholulans
were planning to trap Cortés inside the city and massacre his
army. When the Cholulan leadership and many of their warriors
gathered, unarmed, in a great enclosure by the pyramid temple
of Quetzalcoatl, the Spanish and the Tlaxcalans killed them. The massacre had a chilling effect, provoking other kingdoms
and cities in Montezuma's empire to submit to Cortés' demands.
Montezuma and the Mexicans weep on hearing of the power of the Spaniards.
The rulers of Tlaxcalla went to meet the Spaniards with food offerings of turkey, eggs, fine white tortillas.
Montezuma sent a company of noblemen, with magicians, wizards,
sorcerors, soothsayers and priests to meet Cortés.
Credit: "General History of the Things
of New Spain" (Florentine Codex), Books I-IX and XII, translated
by Arthur J. O. Anderson and Charles E. Dibble. Santa Fe,
New Mexico and Salt Lake City: The School of American Research
and the University of Utah Press. Used courtesy of the University
of Utah Press.