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Transactions and occurrences in Old and New Spain.
Expedition against the Zapotecans.


IT appeared to us, the most ancient, wise, and experienced conquerors of Mexico, that Cortes ought now to consider duly who were his friends, and stood by him through the whole of his difficulties and dangers, from the first, and to settle his accounts with Pedro, with Sancho, and with Martin, according to their deserts; which was to be done by recalling to him those who were low, and poor, and unfortunate, and by placing them in good situations, according to their deserts and his Majesty’s orders. All this Cortes was bound in duty to do, as also to procure for us and our children all the good offices, and emoluments, that were to be had in this country of New Spain. But, “that which does not grow from the skin, hangs loosely to it;” and so it appeared, for instead of doing this he procured such for no one but himself, as in the first place the government, and afterwards when he went to Castille, and got his title. But to advert to other matters. In regard to the division of the country, it was decided by many of the most experienced, brave, and sage conquerors thereof, that the proper method would be, to divide it into five parts, one whereof should go to his Majesty, another to be for the establishment and revenues of our holy church, and the other three to be given to Cortes, and the rest of us, the true original conquerors of the country; that each should have a share in perpetuity, and in proportion to his rank and deserts, and that we, for our parts, who had served his Majesty here, without putting him to the least cost, and as one may say without his knowledge, he being in Flanders, would be well satisfied therewith, and contented, and

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at our ease, not wandering about the world as is at present the case, and falling from bad to worse; for many of us at this moment are without a morsel of bread to eat, and God knows what will become of our children.

I will now relate what Cortes did, and which I call a very unfair distribution. To the Veedor Chirinos, the Factor Salazar, J. de Ribera and all those who came from Medellin, and to the dependents of great men who flattered and told him pleasing things, he refused no-thing. Not that I blame him for being generous, for there was enough for all; but I say that he ought to have first considered those who served his Majesty, and whose valour and blood made him what he was. But enough of this, and now to other matters, for it is useless detailing our misfortunes, and how he treated us like vassals, and how we were obliged to take to our old trade of expeditions and battles; for though he forgot us in his distribution of property, he never failed to call on us when he wanted our assistance. However before I take leave of the subject let me mention, that when Luis Ponce de Leon came to supercede Cortes, we went to the general, to request that he would give us some part of that property which his Majesty had at that time ordered that he should resign. He then told us, and swore it, that if he returned to his government he would provide for us all, and not do as he had done, for which he was very sorry. As if we were to be satisfied with promises and smooth words.

There had lately arrived certain officers of his Majesty from Old Castille, amongst whom were Alonzo de Estrada the treasurer, Gonzalo de Salazar the factor, Rodrigo Albornos the contador, (Juan de Alderete being dead,) Pedro Almindes Chirinos the Veedor, and many others.

One Rodrigo Rangel whom I have already mentioned, now came to Cortes, telling him that he had hitherto acquired no fame in the wars, and wished to have a command given him, wherewith to go and  

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conquer the Zapotecans who were in rebellion, and to take with him Pedro de Ircio as his private counsellor and director. Cortes knew very well this man was not fit for any service, being a poor diseased miserable object, from the effects of his sins; he therefore put him off, telling him that nation was not easily to be conquered on account of the high rugged mountains which they inhabit, and which are always covered with mills and clouds; as also that cavalry could not be brought against them, on account of the bad and narrow roads which it was necessary to climb like ladders, each soldier’s head at the heels of his file leader. However at last Cortes agreed to the proposal of this man who was a fellow of a very slanderous tongue, and one whom he would have been glad to have got rid of in this way where he was likely to lose his life. The general in consequence wrote to ten or twelve of us who were in Guacacualco, desiring that we should go with him, and I was one of the number thus selected. These Indians are a light and very active people, and when in the field have a way of whistling and shouting, which makes the hills and woods resound again. Having this man with us it was impossible to effect any thing, and as we advanced under a very heavy rain, we came to a village of scattered houses, some being upon a ridge, and others in the valley, Poor Rangel whined and complained all the way of the pain of his limbs, to our great annoyance, knowing it was entirely useless trouble and danger, and that the Indians who were so nimble would destroy us climbing the rocks in one file, if they made a stand any where. It was at last agreed, as Rangel grew worse and worse, to abandon the black expedition as we used to call it, and return to our homes. His counsellor also as he called him, Pedro de Ircio, was the first to advice him to it, and letting the example by following his own advice, went home to his town of Villa Rica. Ran-gel however preferred accompanying us to Guacacualco, which was more grief to us than going with him in his expedition. He had hopes that the hot climate of that country, as he said, would, relieve him of his pains.

No sooner had we arrived at this place then he took in his head to  

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go upon an expedition against the Indians of Cimaton and Tatupatan, who were rebellious, for they thought themselves secure amongst their great rivers and trembling marshes. They were also formidable warriors, using very large and strong bows. Rangel however produced his commission from Cortes, and we dare not but to obey and march with him, to the number of one hundred horse and foot. We accordingly set out, and arrived at a pals between the marshes and lakes, where the whole force of the Indians was drawn up to receive us, having made circular barricades of very gross timber, with spike holes to shoot through, and pallisadoes. Here they gave u a hearty welcome with a flight of arrows and darts, killing seven horses and wounding Rangel and eight soldiers. We had often told him what stout warriors these Indians were, and as he was a prating fellow he now exclaimed, by heaven, if he had believed us, he would not have been in that jeopardy now, and that in future we the old conquerors of the country should be his captains and not he ours. As loon as our wounded men and horses were dressed, he begged I would go forward to reconoitre. I took with me a very fierce greyhound which belonged to him, and selecting two other soldiers for my comrades, desired the infantry to follow us close, and for Rangel and the cavalry, that they should keep a good distance in the rear. Pursuing our route towards Cimaton, we fell in with another post fortified like the preceding one, and defended as strongly, from whence we received a volley, which killed the dog, and wounded me and each of my comrades. I received an arrow in my leg, and seven more remained in my cotton armour. I called immediately to some of our Indian allies who were a little in rear of us, to go and bring up all the infantry, but to order the cavalry not to advance, as all their horses would surely be killed. When the infantry came up we attacked the barricades, and forced the Indians from them, driving them to their marshes where it was impossible to follow them a step, without danger of sinking and being smothered. We then advanced, and halted at a village. On the next day we proceeded, and were encountered by a large body of Indians, posted in a marsh. This was an instance of the address of the natives, in chusing to meet us in the plain, hoping that they could draw our  

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cavalry to charge them, in expectation that galloping full speed they should run into the marsh, and so it happened; for in spite of all we could say to Rangel of their art and stratagem, and how necessary it was to be wary, he ran his cavalry full at them, and tumbled in himself the first, head foremost into the marsh, where the Indians began to close upon him, in order to seize him alive for sacrifice.

By great exertions, we got him, badly wounded, out of their hands, half drowned, and his poor sore head exposed and broken. As this country is very populous, we found a village hard by, whither we went to take repose and dress the wounded. It was abandoned on our approach, but we had hardly been there a quarter of an hour when we were attacked with such violence, that in the first onset they killed one of our soldiers and two horses, and we had much to do to drive them off. All this time Rangel was complaining of his wounds and bruises, and the musquitos got about him in clouds. The vermin also with which that country is infested, bit him to such a degree that his life was insupportable, for he could get no rest day or night, and the rain fell incessantly. He, and some of Garay’s soldiers whom he had brought with him, seeing that nothing had been got but three very hard sought battles, and that eleven horses and two soldiers had been killed and many more wounded, began to grow very lick of the business, and to wish to be quickly at home. But Rangel did not wish to have it appear that this retreat was a choice of his, and therefore summoned a council of such as he knew were of his own opinion.

About twenty of us had at this time gone to see if we could make any prisoners among some gardens and plantations hard by; we took five, and on my return Rangel called me aside and told me that the council had determined to retreat, desiring me to bring over the rest to it. Having known the man before, I had a kindness for him. How sir, said I to him can you now think of returning? What will Cortes and the world say of you, when they hear of your retreat without effecting any thing in these two expeditions? You surely cannot think of  

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returning till you have reached the head town of these Indians! I will go forward on foot and reconoitre with the infantry, give my horse to another soldier, and do you follow in the rear with the cavalry. By heavens cries out Rangel, for he was a very loud talker, Bernal Diaz gives good advice; the lot is cast and we will march on. This was accordingly done, contrary to the inclination of several, and we advanced in good order to Cimaton, the principal town, where we were saluted as usual with a flight of arrows, and then, on entry, found it abandoned. We burned it in part, and took several Indians whom we dismissed, desiring them to invite their neighbours to peace and amity; but those we sent never returned to us. This enraged Rangel against me, and he swore I should procure him Indians in the place of those who had been liberated. To pacify him I was fain to go with thirty soldiers, and we picked up some among the marshes, whom I brought to him and he dismissed, in hopes of inducing the rest to come in, but without effect. Thus ended the famous expedition against the Zapotecans, and such was all the fame Rangel acquired in the wars. In two years afterwards we effected the conquest of these countries, the natives whereof were converted to our holy saith, through the grace of God, and the exertions of the reverend father Bartholome de Olmedo, who poor man was at that time grown weak and infirm. Pity it was, for he was an excellent minister of the gospel.

Cortes had now collected eighty thousand crowns in gold, and a golden culverin, which he named the Phoenix, and had caused to be made as a present for the Emperor, was finished. It was a superb piece of workmanship. The following motto was engraved on it.

Esta Ave nacio sin par; Yo en servir os sin segundo;

 Y vos sin igual en el Mundo.

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 The immortal Phoenix peerless sweeps the air;

 To Charles is given boundless rule to bear;

 Zealous to conquer, at my King’s command,

 I in my services unrivalled stand.”

This present was sent to Europe under the care of Diego de Soto. I am not certain if J. de Ribera, formerly secretary to Cortes, went with it. I always thought him a bad kind of man, from what I observed in him at play, either with cards or dice: besides this he had many ill qualities.

He however was sent to Castille, and took a sum of money with him for the general’s father; which money he appropriated to his own use, and then, unmindful of the obligations he had received, said much ill of Cortes; and being very flippant and fluent of speech, and having been his secretary, he obtained credit for what he said, and combining with the Bishop of Burgos and others, did him much harm; and would have done more had it not been for the interference of the Duke of Bejar, who protected Cortes on account of a treaty of marriage which was then on foot, between our general and a niece of that Duke, named Donna Juana de Zuniga. This, combined with the seasonable arrival of the present, gave a favourable turn to the affairs of Cortes.

In regard to the golden Phoenix, I must observe, that the motto gave great offence to many, as they thought it presumption in Cortes to say he had no equal in his services. But his friends justly defended him; for who had extended so far the fame and power of his Majesty, or brought so many thousands of souls to the dominion of our holy church? They also did not forget us his associates, but declared that we also were intitled to honours and emoluments, having earned them, as the Castillian nobility did those enjoyed by their descendants.

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As to the culverin, it went no farther than the city of Seville; his Majesty was pleased to make a present of it to Don Francisco de los Cobos, commendador major of Leon, who melted it down. Its value amounted to twenty thousand ducats.

A suit was commenced by Martin Cortes against Ribera, on ac-count of the money of which the latter had defrauded him. While it was yet pending, and as Ribera was on a journey, he stopped to dine at the town of Cadahalsa, where, eating some broiled meat, he fell down dead suddenly, and without confession. God pardon his sins! Amen.

Cortes continued to rebuild and embellish the city of Mexico. It was now as well peopled by the natives as it had ever been before. He gave them privileges, exempting them from all tribute to his Majesty until their houses were completed, as also the causeways, bridges, public edifices, and aqueducts. In the Spanish quarter churches and hospitals were erected, under the care of the good father Bartholome de Olmedo, as vicar and superior. This reverend father had also established an hospital for the natives, to whom he paid the utmost attention.

In compliance with our petition to his Majesty, as formerly related, Don Francisco de los Angeles, general of the Franciscans, sent twelve of his order under the vicarage of father Martin de Valencia. Amongst them came father Toribio de Motolinea; this sirname, the meaning of which is, the poor brother, was given him by the Mexicans, because all that he got in charity he distributed in the same manner, and was frequently without a morsel to eat. He also always went barefooted, and wore a tattered habit, and constantly preaching to the natives, was very popular among them. As soon as Cortes was informed of their arrival at Villa Rica, he gave directions for the road to Mexico to be put in good order, houses to be built at proper nations for them to refresh in, and the inhabitants of all the towns to go out to receive them  

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with reverence, ringing the bells, bearing crucifixes and lighted wax candles, and the Spaniards to kneel down and kiss their hands. When they approached Mexico, he went out to meet them and as loon as they appeared, Cortes threw himself from his horse to kiss the hands of the reverend vicar. When the natives taw the general on his knees to those reverend fathers, with bare feet and in tattered habits, they were astonished, and considering them as gods, they all followed his example, and have continued to do so ever since.

Cortes at this time thought it necessary to inform his Majesty of his proceedings in the conversion of the natives, the rebuilding of the city, and the expedition which he had lent against the province of Honduras under the command of De Oli, who had deserted, and embraced the party of Velasquez, on which account he had determined to send a force against him. He also complained of the proceedings of Velasquez, and of the injury his Majesty’s service had sustained thereby, as also by the partiality of the Bishop of Burgos. He remitted at the same time thirty thousand crowns in gold to his Majesty’s treasury, and lamented the unfortunate effects of those abuses, as having prevented him from making an ampler contribution of gold. He at the same time complained of one Rodrigo de Albornos, contador in Mexico, who aspersed him from private motives, because he had refused to give him in marriage the daughter of the Indian lord of Tescuco, adding that he understood that this Albornos was attached to the interest of the Bishop of Burgos, and was accustomed to write to him in cyphers.

At this time the news of the bishop’s removal had not reached Mexico. Albornos, before mentioned, sent by the same vessel his accusations against Cortes, charging him with levying excessive contributions of gold for his own use. That he was fortifying castles, and marrying the daughters of great lords to his private soldiers, insinuating that Cortes was endeavouring to let himself up as an independent king, and strongly representing the necessity of sending an officer with a great force, to supercede him. These letters came to the hands of the Bishop

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of Burgos who laid them before the whole junto of the enemies of Cortes, and this new matter was immediately brought before his Majesty. They complained of the partiality which they alledged was shewn towards him on former occasions, and his Majesty, deceived by these misrepresentations, which were enforced by the bold and lofty tone of Narvaez, now issued an order for the admiral of St. Domingo to go with six hundred soldiers to arrest Cortes, and make him answer if he found him culpable, with his head. Also to punish all those of us who had been concerned in the attack upon Narvaez. As an encouragement, this officer was promised the admiralty of New Spain, the right of which was now under litigation in the courts.

The admiral, either from want of money, or being apprehensive of serious consequences from committing himself against so able and so successful a leader as Cortes, delayed setting out upon his expedition so long, that it gave time to the friends and agents of Cortes to make a full explanation of the circumstances, and also of the conduit of Albornos, to the Duke of Bejar, who immediately went to wait upon the Emperor , to represent the true state of the case, and to offer his life as a security for the loyalty and good conduct of Cortes.

His Majesty being upon due consideration convinced of the justice of our cause, determined to send a person of high quality and sound judgment, and one who feared the Lord, to hold a supreme court of justice in New Spain. Such a person he found in the licentiate Luis Ponce de Leon, cousin to the count Don Martin de Cordova. To him his Majesty intrusted the business of enquiry into the conduct of Cortes, with full power to inflict the greatest punishment, in case he should find him guilty. It was however two years and an half before this gentleman arrived in New Spain.

I have now gone beyond the date of my narrative two years in advance, to inform the reader of this circumstance; and I may now also mention, that during the viceroyalty of Don Anthonio de Mendoza,  

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that most illustrious nobleman, worthy of eternal memory and heavenly glory, for his wise and just government, this same Albornos wrote slanderous and malignant letters of him, as he had done before of Cortes. The letters which related to Don Anthonio were all returned from Castille, into the hands of that nobleman, and when he had read them, with all the personal abuse of himself that they contained, he sent for Albornos, and shewing them to him, said in his mild and slow manner of speaking, “whenever you choose to make me the subject of your letters to his Majesty, mind that in future you tell the truth; and now go about your business, for a knave as you are.” Thus he left the contador, overwhelmed with confusion.