Hernando Cortez

All being now ready, Cortez, leaving a considerable force as a garrison to the new settlement of Villa Rica, under the command of Juan de Escalante, set out from the territory of the Totonacs, on his march inland, on the 16th of August 1519. His army consisted of four hundred Spaniards on foot, and fifteen horse, accompanied by thirteen hundred Cempoallan warriors, and a thousand tamanes, or Indian body slaves, furnished by the cacique of Cempoalla, who were to carry the heavy burdens, and perform other laborious offices. Advancing through the tierra caliente, they began to ascend the mountains which separate it from the vast table-land of Anahuac. A few days' march across the tierra templada and the tierra fria, brought the Spaniards to a small mountain province of Tlascala, situated about half-way between the sea-coast and the Mexican valley. The Tlascalans were a brave and high-spirited people, of the same race as the Aztecs. They had refused, however, to submit to the empire of Montezuma, and were the only people in Anahuac who bade defiance to his power, preferring poverty and hardship in their mountain home to the loss of independence. The government of Tlascala was a kind of feudalism, Four lords or caciques held their courts in different quarters of the same city, independently of each other, and yet mutually allied; and under these four chieftans the Tlascalan population, nobles and commons, was ranged as subjects. On the approach of the Spaniards, a consultation was held among the Tlascalan lords and their counselors as to how the strangers should be received; some being inclined to welcome them, in hopes of being able, by their assistance, to cope with Montezuma; others maintaining that the Spaniards were enemies, who ought to be repulsed by all means. The latter opinion prevailed, and three desperate battles were fought be tween the Tlascalans under the command of Xicotencatl, a brave and able young chief, the son of one of the four caciques, and the Spanish invaders. These engagements were far more serious than the battles which the Spaniards had fought with the Tabascans; and it required the utmost exertion of Castilian valor, directed by all the ability of Cortez, to gain the victory. But Indian courage against the flower of European chivalry the maquahuitl, or war-club, dreadful instrument as it was, with its sharp flinty blades, against muskets and artillery coatings of war-paint, or doublets of featherwork, against Spanish mail - were a very unequal contest; and, as usual, the losses of the Spaniards were as nothing compared with the apparent fierceness of the struggle. But how could the little army hope to advance through a country where such battles had to be fought at every step? If such were their reception by the Tlascalans, what might they not expect from the richer and more powerful Mexicans? Such were the reflections of the Spanish soldiery. The idea of their ever reaching Mexico, says Bernal Diaz, was treated as a jest by the whole army. Fortunately, when these murmurs were reaching their height, the Tlascalans submitted, and sent ambassadors to beg the friendship of the Spaniards; and on the 23d of September 1519 the Spaniards entered the city of Tlascala, a large and populous town, which Cortez compared to Grenada in Spain. Here they were cordially received by the four caciques, and especially by the elder Xicotencatl; and in a short time an intimacy sprung up between the Tlascalans and the invaders, and a treaty was concluded, by which the Tlascalans bound themselves to assist the Spaniards throughout the rest of their expedition. Here, as elsewhere, Cortez showed his zeal for the Catholic faith by endeavoring to convert the natives; and it is probable that the same scenes of violence would have taken place at Tlascalans as at Cempoalla, had not the judicious father Olmedo interfered to temper the more headlong fanaticism of the general.