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Every school child knows how the Aztecs, under King Montezuma, were brutally conquered by Hernando Cortez and his handful of Spanish soldiers, in 1521. What is not always realized is that initially the Indians of Mexico welcomed the white, bearded strangers and it is thought by some that the Europeans were considered to be gods, returning as prophesied in some of their ancient legends. At any rate, Cortez landed his ships in the Vera Cruz area, where there were both Huastecs, who spoke a dialect of Maya and the Totonacs, who were vassals of the Aztecs. The former were famous for unusual stone sculptures and may have invented Quetzalcoatl, who became a primary god of the entire region. When Cortez decided to attack the Aztecs after 5 months of reconnoitering, the rebellious Totanacs joined him. (Ref. 236 , 45 , 273 ) The numerous Christian friars and priests, who had accompanied Cortez, learning of the Aztec human sacrifices, were adamant in the necessity to chastise and then baptize the heathen Indians. With his Indian mercenaries, picked up along the way, Cortez marched inland toward the capital city. A relief expedition from Hispaniola in 1520 brought small-pox which spread ahead of the Spaniards through the Indian population. It was thus that the disease was raging in Tenochtitlan when Montezuma was killed by his own rivals, who did not want to surrender to the Spaniards. The new leader and many of his followers died within hours of the small-pox, which spread even to Guatemala in the same year. (Ref. 140). Mc Neill (Ref. 139) con firms that smallpox and measles, brought by Europeans, killed millions of native Americans and had more to do with the collapse of the Aztec power than merely military operations. The population of Mexico dropped from a probable 25,000,000 to 30,000,000 to 3 million by 1568. (Ref. 140 )

Of course the Aztecs and the immediately adjacent tribes were not the only native inhabitants of Mexico. In the far south Chol-speaking Maya Indians hunted the Chiapas jungle with bows and arrows and incidentally probably encountered many of the old abandoned stone cities of their classic ancestors. The Spanish practically annihilated those people, however, leaving the Chiapas rain-forest essentially vacant. (Ref. 283 )

Within two decades of their first landing in Mexico, the relatively few Spaniards had explored the New World from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from Kansas to Argentina. Is there any reason to think that previous sailors landing on the Gulf end of the Canary current could not have done the same? (See Chapter 5). The old Mayan Culture had long gone, but some of the remains were found in Yucatan as early as 1517 by Hernando de Cordova, whose landing party at Cape Cotoche was ambushed by Indians. He was attacked again in Champoton where 62 men were killed and many wounded, so that one ship had to be abandoned because of shortage of crew. In 1526 Don Francisco de Montego was given license to conquer and people the "islands" of Yucatan and Cozumel and to take or buy Indians as slaves. In one battle in this hot, dry land, 1,200 Indians were slaughtered and at Chichen Itza a second great battle resulted in the loss of 150 Spaniards and the wounding of almost all the rest. By 1535, not a single Spaniard remained in Yucatan. When some returned in 1537, many were sacrificed and eaten, but eventually in 1540 the Spanish town of San Francisco de Campeche was founded. (Ref. 204 ) Perhaps some of these Indians were descendants of the ancient Maya, Yucatec-speaking families, using bows and arrows, were living in the rain forests of Guatemala at that time. (Ref. 283 )

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, A comprehensive outline of world history (organized by region). OpenStax CNX. Nov 23, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10597/1.2
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