THE FIRST AND UNSUCCESSFUL ATTEMPT MADE BY
FRAY ANDRÉS DE AVENDAÑO Y LOYOLA TO REACH
THE ITZAS OF TAYASAL, 1695-1696
Avendaño’s Relacion is of very great value as a first-hand account of the conquest of the Itzas. But we must not lose sight of the fact that that same Relación is also a wonderful, though unconscious, testimony to the piety, unselfishness, and bravery of the writer. Undoubtedly the priests of the Roman Catholic Church did many unjust things during the period of Spanish domination in so called New Spain, but their good works dwarfed the infamy. Avendaño was a type of the best sort of priest in the New Spain, pushed by no other motive than sheer faith and an ardent desire to do the duty of his office, he went through the events which we will leave him to relate.
Preamble. “I, Fray Andrés de Avendaño y Loyola, … accompanied by my Padres and Preachers Fray Antonio Perez de San Roman, Apostolic notary of the first trip; Fray Joseph de Jesus Maria, Apostolic notary of the second trip, and Fray Diego de Echebarria, … made this first trip [beginning] on the 3d of June of the past year of 1695, and the second, on which we entered the nation of the Ytzaex, began on the 13th of December of the said year, and we returned to this city of Merida on the 6th of April of this year of 1696….”
Preparations for the Journey. “… Here begins the historical account, which, with the divine aid, I am attempting to tell of the casualties and events which happened in this journey for the conversion of souls, while opening a road from this Province to that of Guatemala, taking as my sure loadstar the honor and glory of God and the well-being of souls, which, at the cost of unextinguishable fervor, Señor Don Martin de Urssua y Arismendi Provisional Governor and Captain-General of these provinces for his Majesty, is attempting to bring about; with none the less support of the Señor Oidor Don Francisco de Saraza, who at the present time resides in the city of Merida de Yucatan. Today, the 2d of June of this present year 1695 … I, then, armed with so strong an armor of faith, say that God, our Lord, having moved the hearts of these two above-mentioned gentlemen, so that, besides their undertaking other enterprises of his Majesty (whom may God guard), the fervent zeal of the said Don Martin de Urssua y Arismendi found an opportunity, the Señor Oidor (as has been said) favoring it, for carrying out a journey,–two messengers these, both as acceptable to God as deserving in the service of the royal crown, since in fulfilling the duty of his office of Provisional Governor, [Ursua] did not waste at all the precious jewel of time, but put into execution, in addition to the difficult work of government, this most difficult and special work which his Majesty granted to him of opening the wild road from this province to that of Guatemala, without satisfying the eagerness of his zeal, in spite of the excessive cost of the undertaking; for he gave all the supplies necessary for one hundred and fifteen Spaniards and one hundred and fifty-six Indian musketeers, for which he, jointly with the Municipality of Campeche and other special friends, paid, joining mutually not only in the payment of wages, but also sharing the expense of provisions…. Among those who joined in this mission were the Padre Preacher, Fray Juan de San Buena Ventura, and the Padre Preacher, Fray Joseph de Jesus Maria, both living in the convent of the Santa Recolección of this city of Merida, and Brother Fray Tomás de Alcoser, lay friar, and Brother Lucas, lay Brother of the said convent. All of these composed or established one mission. And the Padre Preacher, Fray Antonio Perez de San Roman, holding the office of apostolic notary, with the lay Brother, Alonso de Vargas, and I, the most unworthy of all, who went as their delegate apostolic missionary….
“The aforesaid Provisional Governor [Ursua] was not satisfied with this enterprise alone, and, without considering the greatness of the cost, as his fidelity to His Majesty developed, he disposed of his services so that at one and the same time to drive out some Englishmen (as he did with glory enough of his own) who inhabited the lands of Zacatone, adjoining this province, and who lived there on account of their large profits in logwood. He gave the assistance needed for this duty to Captain Bernardo de Lizarraga, and he executed it with double victories; and then, not sparing the ploughing of the foaming waves, he made four captures in his first victory, in order to gain his second. As a skillful man he went with all his men into the wild woods of pathless thickets, where, though with great risk, falling upon the enemy in the rear, he made his second attack, again gaining as spoils of his second victory, other prizes, and driving out from there the said English enemies. I speak no more of this, as it does not belong in this place.”
The Start. “Therefore in prosecution of the aforesaid trip, I started with the Padres as my companions on the second day of June of the year ’95, with a very broad mandate which the aforesaid Provisional Governor gave me, so that I could take the singers and sacristans, who of their free will wished to follow me; exempting, as a privilege, from taxes, those who followed me, and their wives and children….”
Indian Singers. “On my showing the above mandate to the magistrates of the towns through which I passed, there were at once Indians provided to accompany me besides those who went with me, who were the following:–
Marcos Canul, Master of the Chapel of the town of Calkini.
Lorenzo Yah, servant of Captain Belasco.
Nicolas Mas, singer of Mascanu.
Diego Mo, sacristan of Mascanu.
Diego Cen, collector of alms of San Christobal.
Diego Pol, singer of Telchao.
Francisco Ku, son of Max Chuz, my servant.
Nicolas Mai, singer of Bolonchen, and he died there.
Manuel Piste, singer of Bolonchen de Cauich.
Luis Ci, sacristan of Tepakam.”
Arrival at Cauich. “With them I went to the last pueblo of this province through that part called Cauich, where I found Captain Don Juan del Castillo, placed there by the Governor, in charge, not only of the soldiers, but also of their arms, ammunition, and supplies; and he showed himself singularly kind to us. On the second day, having reached the said town, we found an Indian named Juan Ake, a native of the pueblo of Hoppelchen, who made many trips in the forests to trade with the heathen Indians. From him, with some finesse and gentle persuasions, I extracted the information of three pueblos of heathen Indians, which were found fifty leagues from there, with the names and descriptions, which we verified afterwards.”
Departure from Cauich. “We started from this pueblo of Cauich well content with this good news in the afternoon of the day of Saint John the Baptist, after having celebrated his festival with all the spiritual rejoicings which the starting on such a difficult enterprise demanded, beginning from this afternoon to reap some fruits of our journey, since we took this journey in retribution of our sins. In a little while a heavy rain-storm caught us, which lasted from the evening till the dawn of the next day, with such a tempest of lightnings and thunders that the mechanism of the celestial orbs seemed to dissolve. The place where we slept this night is called Hobonmo, two long leagues distant from the said town of Cauich. Here God worked a manifest miracle with my boy, for a viper of the most poisonous kind which are found in this province, called in this idiom Kancñah, came to repose on the mat on which my boy slept, and stayed there resting by the side of his face, until he moved and gave an opportunity to the frightened boy to rise; and when we lighted a light, we saw it and the Indians killed it without it doing any harm.”
Aguada of Hobon Ox; Chunzalam, Vecanxan. “We proceeded in the morning of the next day from the said place, a distance of one league, where we found a haltun, that is, a hollowed stone, which usually contains water. It is called Hobon Ox. At the distance of two leagues from this haltun is found another place called Chunzalam, with an aguada called Kalceh. One league from this place is found another aguada on the right hand. It is called Vecanxan. A little after this we found a small plain on the left hand.”
‘Nohhalali Th[=a] Ayn, Sucte. “At the distance of three-fourths of a league is found another aguada called Nohhalal, and after this is found anotheraguada called Th[=a] Ayn, and a little further on, something like half a league, are found some columns of round stone, which the natives say have served as an altar for the chaplain of the Spaniards, whose Captain is called Mirones. At the side of the said columns is found a well, narrow and round and somewhat deep, although the mystery of what its purpose is, is never revealed. At a distance of half a league from this place is found another haltun with very good water, and a league from this is found the place called Sucte, worthy of memory on account of the things which it contains. First, this place is a plain or meadow, the largest which I have seen up to this time, and it extends on all sides out of sight. The whole covered with trees with a small fruit called Nanren, and other trees called Guazes, so that all of them make a design, by their standing in such order that they appear to have been planted for the purpose. So that this savana is very beautiful on all sides. In the middle of it is found an aguada, well provided, although in the dry season it is apt to be dried up. To the South of the said savana, at a distance of a quarter of a league, within a thicket is found another aguada with better and more water, from its being spring water. It rises and falls like the sea, although the sea is distant, from it, in its nearest parts, twenty-six leagues. It breeds in it very good fish and very large caimans.”
Ix Kata-Kal. “At a distance of a league from this place there is another, Ix Kata-Kal, though it does not always contain water. The said aguada is found on the Eastern side of the road. On the remainder of this road at a distance of three leagues, there are only found some haltuns or hollowed stones, which relieve the necessities of many thirsty people, but not in the dry season. As we passed by them, all the path was rough and stony, so that from the fatigue of going over it on foot, we had great trouble from the want of water until we reached a place called Nohku, to which from the aforesaid savana is four very long leagues.”
Nohku. “In this place we experienced comfort enough, since God had provided us with food and drink enough to aid us in passing the day of the glorious Apostles, Saint Peter and Saint Paul, so that in that place we said mass. And in it we found a house of idols, so that, although the Spaniards who passed first had broken many, we broke more than fifty others, putting in their place a cross, in order to give to God the reverence and worship which the idolaters of the place usurped for themselves. From this report which we heard there grew in us all a Christian curiosity to see the said place in order to exorcise the devil on account of his frauds and to glorify and praise him who is powerful everywhere. We came back from seeing the said place about the hour of vespers, which were celebrated with as much outward and inward rejoicing as was possible in that place. We arranged the altar as decently as we could, through the influence of which and our own Christian character, the Indians, without being forced to, also resolved to confess and to receive the sacraments (for the example of the chiefs is a great thing), so that, without forcing them by words, their subjects silently followed them….”
Nohvecan. “We left this place well contented, although with our feet wearied and wounded by the roughness of the road and we walked a distance of four leagues to another place called Nohvecan, which place, for a league before and a league after, consists of great overflowed stretches which in this language are called Akalchees. It can be well understood what pain we endured with our sore legs and feet passing through this two leagues of water and mud, which at the least came up over our knees, leaving us almost crippled; another great hardship being added, as soon as we came to an end of this trip, which is the abundance of mosquitoes, which did not allow us rest by day or night. There is in this place an aguada which is very large and deep and which in the rainy season becomes a river full of water. There are found in the said place some trees, the bark of which is in smell and taste the same as the cinnamon. It is called in this idiom, Ppelizkuch; also on the paths is found a vine, which, on touching it, smells of garlic. The odor reaches a distance of a quarter of a league.”
Hardships Suffered by the Padres. “This torment was followed by another very heavy storm of wind which seemed to tear up the trees by the roots, with a great fall of rain, thunder and lightning, which afflicted our hearts. So that imitating in our weakness the Apostle Saint Peter in another similar storm, which befell him on the sea, we had recourse to God with ‘Lord, save us, we perish’; though by imitating him in every thing, we deserved the reproval of our weakness, by the answer which Christ gave to his Apostles, when he calmed the storm by his power; for there he reproved them with these words, ‘Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Wherefore do you doubt?’, his most holy Majesty showing his pity at once.”
Oppol; a Bridge Built across a River. “On the next day early, warned by what had happened in that place, at the first steps which we took in the prosecution of our trip, we passed another league of swamp with the same misery as we had the preceding one, as far as a place called Oppol, which is three leagues from this place. In it to the Northwest, at a distance of a quarter of a league, is found a deep aguada, from which our company provided itself with water needed for consumption. Two leagues from this place, beyond a deserted old town, there is found a running stream (although accidental) so that, to pass over it, we made a bridge. The water is very good, though in the rainy season it will be difficult to pass, like many others which we have found dry, through our not having come in the rainy season; for when the force of the river comes through the said places, the roads would be impassable.”
Tanche. “Two leagues beyond this river is found a place called Tanche, which is found on the brow of a lofty hill-top and in sight of another very high ridge in a westerly direction from this rancho. At more than half a league off is found the aguada from which the thirsty satisfy their need. A league and a half from this rancho towards the South (we follow this direction) is found another permanent river with an artificial bridge, which cannot be passed in any other way. All the roads are very much overflowed on account of the many ridges which surround them. They call this river Yochalek.”
Deserted Village of Temchay. “From this place to an old deserted town called Temchay is three leagues. It has its aguada, but it does not contain water except in the rainy season. We suffered great thirst, because we had come with the hope that we should satisfy our needs there, and we did not find anything but hard work enough, in repeating our day’s march, and in the fact that the hills were rough with many ups and downs, and with more footprints of mountain Indians, who passed by there, although these footprints were not recent.”
Nohpek. “Suffering from the scarcity of water, we continued our way for the space of three leagues farther, to a great haltun, or hollowed stone, which held a great deal of water and which God willed that we should find full. This place is called Nohpek. At the side of this haltun we found a milpa well sown and provided with chiles, which in the midst of our work served our hunger, so that, with a little maize which we cooked, we had that day a cheerful meal; although to the cheer there did not fail to be added a little bitterness; since in one of the ranchos where we lodged we found a tree which in that language is called Pomolche. This produced a fruit of the same form as the hazel nuts of Spain, as well in the shell as in the kernel, color, smell, and taste. Curiosity led us to see if they were really hazel nuts. We ate some of the kernels for some time, without finding any difference. Therefore as quite a time passed in which there was no effect other than what we expected, the Indians ate also, so as to imitate us in everything. Eating the said kernels caused us some thirst, giving us occasion to drink water, and we had scarcely drunk it, when we all burst out with vomitings and violent diarrhoeas. Two leagues on from this place, a part of the army of Spaniards was found, and knowing that I was on the way, there came to receive me two priests who were of those who had preceded me, with two soldiers; and one of them, having had the same thing happen to him with the said fruit, said that their remedy was a draught of wine. We took the remedy and after we had purged ourselves thoroughly, we were, of a sudden, well.”
Nohthub. “From this place it is two long leagues to an old deserted place called Nohthub; all the way is overflowed or akalchex. In the rainy season the road is very heavy. In this place we found the camp of the Captain Don Joseph de Estenos, with all his people. It is a pleasant place and has many orange and lemon trees. In it we saw a large enclosure which the Indians made to keep off the Spaniards, when the latter went to despoil them fifteen years before. It has two large aguadas, one at the entrance of the said place, which in the dry season is exhausted; with another large and round basin which God made in a living rock. Another aguada lies in an easterly direction, a distance of half a league, and the water here is permanent and deep. It breeds very good fish of large size and tame, so that, although the soldiers went in swimming, the fish did not flee away, so that they gave an opportunity to any one who had a machete in his hand to kill them. They call these fish crocodiles, because they are of the same shape and with the same scales as crocodiles, and they are very good eating, according to the statement of all who eat them.”
Bacechac. “From this Nohthub we went five good leagues to a place which they call Bacechac. In its center are three aguadas, but all were dry. There is much overflowed land or akalchex. There are very large forests with many copal and balsam trees, and many hills, on account of which the paths are impassable in the rainy season. This place has its aguada in a westerly direction, and although it too held no water, necessity made us experts, making deep holes in some parts of it, in order that the land should distil its moisture. So it happened, God giving us sufficient water from night to morning in the said wells which we opened to relieve our need.
“We left this place the next day and traveled about two leagues by some places which are very much submerged and not the less dangerous, as much on account of the hills which surround them as from the chance streams which are met there, until at last we reached a summit which forms on the top a great plain, in which is found an aguada called Celmet.”
Buete. “In this place the same thing happened to us (as far as water is concerned) as in the preceding aguada. We left this place and traveled some two leagues and a half to a place called Buete. In this place we found twelve or thirteen houses of the heathen Indians, who had just surrendered to the Indian soldiers of Sahcabchen, without any violence, as I shall explain hereafter. This place has a very large aguada with much eel-grass and very many caimans. In this town and two others near by we found ample supplies of maize, beans and the rest of the fruits on which all live in this land; and it came very opportunely, since already the army had no other recourse, after the hunger which they had endured for three days past….”
Lack of Supplies. “It happened then that the captains found themselves in want of supplies, and that they wrote several letters to Captain Don Juan del Castillo about the transportation of some supplies which some muleteers of the town of Teabo left in one of the aforementioned places called Tzucte, at a distance of eight leagues from Cauich, which supplies I saw when I passed through it, as well as the letters which were written about the despatch of provisions, and in spite of these letters or other special exertions in sending soldiers with mules from the camp for the supplies, they effected nothing….”
Parades Seizes Some Farms. “Seeing then such a clear and extreme need. Captain Alonso Garcia de Paredes, the head and leader of the other captains, determined to send Captain Pedro de Zubiaur, with some Spanish armed soldiers, following some confused rumors which an Indian named Juan Ake, who had guided them, had spoken of. He it is who mentioned these three ranchos in my presence in the town of Cauich. And although it is true, that there he mentioned these ranchos, here he appeared in doubt in speaking with the captains, showing himself to be totally ignorant of such towns, he being the cause that these Spaniards lost themselves in those forests. But the soldiers, availing themselves of their agility, climbed the trees and the hill-tops, from which they discovered a great smoke, and they went on in that direction; and having come up to it, they saw that there were the soldiers of the town of Zahcabchen, who, by order of Captain Alonso Garcia de Paredes, came out from another direction to the abandoned town of Tzucthok, which the said Captain with these soldiers had destroyed fifteen years since. Therefore he knowing beforehand of the said farms, gave orders that they should proceed to take possession of them before the Spaniards whom he had brought with him should come up. The Indians obeyed the orders of their Captain, and entered upon the farms with great imprudence, shooting without any cause, and killing till they had killed five Indians, without more reason than that of the avarice which led them to inspire the owners with fear, so that they should flee, as many did, in order to rob them safely of as much as they possessed; as they did. And to me it is evident that they made a very imprudent entry on to these farms.”
Fifty-one Indians of Buete Surrender. “Notwithstanding this imprudence, fifty-one Indians delivered themselves up, with their wives and children. These were from the said town of Buete, besides those who had fled from Kantemo, and from the town of Yames, now today called the town of the dead, from the five aforesaid having died there. Of these Indians who gave themselves up, two were left as guides and the rest, with their wives and children, they took as prisoners to the said abandoned town of Tzucthok. The two guides who remained I treated kindly and with special attention, as the first fruit of our love, I mean, of our labors, and this they surely recognized, for from the love they felt for me, they embraced me and asked me that I should be a petitioner for them to the Captain Alonso Garcia, so that he should tell his soldiers that they should return all the clothing and wax which they had collected; since they themselves had neither resisted nor defended themselves, but had on the other hand surrendered voluntarily, when they might have run away and did not do so; but calling out to the soldiers, they not only surrendered themselves, but acted as guides to the other towns, at the convenient hour of dawn, so that they gathered them all in without any noise;–they call all these Indians who voluntarily surrendered, the Mayas.”
Avendaño Argues with Paredes about his Plundering. “In compliance with the request which the two pagan Indians made me, and having placed It before the Captain, I gained my point by giving him advice; telling him in my remarks that he should consider that in that first public act lay the success of the rest, so that it was of great importance for him to carry into effect the justice which the two pagan Indians asked for; and I asked this for many reasons, the first;–because it was the service of God, law and reason and in conformity with the charity which we ought to show towards our neighbors and with the good example which in the present case we ought to set…. The next reason is, if we show them justice, it would follow, that, even if some of them fled, they would proclaim the good deeds of the Spaniards, and the rest of the people of the towns which we should come to in the future, would not run away; and if they did not flee, they would serve with me as messengers, so that through spreading the report of the good treatment which had been shown them, the other townspeoples would not refuse to surrender.”
The Royal Decrees are Mentioned by Avendaño. “The last thing which I placed before him was the large number of decrees which His Majesty (may God guard him) had despatched, and those which his predecessors of eternal memory had despatched, which affirm the same thing which I asked him, as in the case of the first instructions, which were given (by the mandate of our Catholic King) to the Admiral Christopher Colon….
“The same thing was urged afterwards by the same Catholic Kings, in the year 1501, upon the Commander, Nicolas de Ovando, when he went to govern the island of Santo Domingo, and this decree reads as follows:–that he should arrange with great vigilance and care that all the Indians of Española should be free from slavery, and that they should not be molested by any one, but that they should live as free vassals, governed and guarded in justice and that they should arrange so that they be instructed in the holy Catholic faith; since his intention was that they should be treated with love and kindness, without permitting that any one should do them harm; so that they should not be hindered in receiving our holy faith and so that they should not hate the Christians for their deeds, etc.’
“And many other decrees were issued thereafter for the same purpose, the same thing being repeated and urged by an infinite number of decrees and ordinances of the Emperors, Charles V, Philip II and III and up to Philip IV….”
Paredes Promises to Return the Plunder. “All these reasons which I gave to the said Captain, Alonso Garcia de Paredes, struck him favorably and he gave me his word to coöperate in my request, causing their clothes and the rest of the things which had been taken from them to be returned to the Indian prisoners, promising at the same time to punish the transgressors, as soon as he reached the said abandoned Tzucthok.”
Paredes Fails to Keep his Word. “And when he reached there, I reminded him of the said promise, but as avarice drew him more than charity, he answered me with scorn, saying, ‘God be with you. Padre, how can you expect me to know now who was the man who robbed the prisoners?’ At this time there came one of the offending soldiers to speak to him. He was wearing loose breeches made of the clothing which they had stolen from the aforesaid Indians; and I, answering his rough suggestion, said to him:–‘See, Señor Captain, that there is standing near you one who knows of or is the doer of the theft, since the breeches of this soldier of yours show it.’ He replied:–Padre, those are his perquisites, which I cannot take away.’ And at the same time, turning his back to me, he said to him:–‘Take notice, man, that I hold you responsible for paying for all the wax which you and the rest of you hold.’ So that the special result of this trip can well be understood to be quite contrary to the service of God and of the King, and very useful only to the special ends of the avarice of the soldiers.
“I, seeing this coldness, in the beginning, never supposed that the results would be happy, so that I felt sad enough; since it would have been better not to have started out on such an enterprise, if I was to see such inhumanities….”
Tzucthok, once before Reduced, had Rebelled. “By our lengthened stay in this aforesaid abandoned town of Tzucthok, we had an opportunity of gaining a better understanding of its ruins. This is a town,–one of those which our Padre, Fray Christoval Sanchez, brought into obedience, though afterwards the people became rebellious. Today the forked poles which his holiness placed in the church he built are still standing. It is a very pleasant place, although unhealthful on account of the lightness of the winds. The water is pure, but also of a hardness which makes it excessively harmful. There are many cocoa-nut palm trees, many fruit trees, particularly lemons. Before reaching this place there is a large spring or river beneath the ground, so that for the distance of a league, the path goes following its banks and the bed of the said river. It is to be understood that in the rainy season it is full of water. There is good hunting in the woods, especially peacocks and pheasants. The most common animal in these woods is a leopard or false lion, with a red skin and with spots of various colors. The natives call it Chacekel. Among the birds are some which are very different from those of the Province. I heard a little bird warble, which I knew at once was a linnet like those of Spain; it imitated it much in its song as in its size, though not in its plumage. There is another bird with a body of a hen of Castile, called Pan. Its beak is very long and thick; up to the middle it is yellow and the other half green; its feathers correspond, being very yellow from below the beak to its belly. The rest of the body is black, except under the tail, which has a red plumage; the legs are green and in spite of so much beauty, it utters only shrieks….”
The Padres Endeavor to Instruct the Indians. “In these affairs, besides educating those who had been lately gathered together, although they might never be freed from slavery, we passed our time till the 24th of July, when we heard news that the road openers would shortly come to a certain town of the nation of the Cehaches; and in order not to fail as in the previous case, we priests planned to speak plainly with the captains and to find out what their plan was to be on entering it; for if it was not more decent and Christian than in the past, we had determined to avoid the occasion of disturbance, by returning to the Province, rather than see cruel deeds performed….”
The Captains Promise to Give Warning before Fighting. “The captains … promised their assent to the advice which we might give them hereafter, adding that, when an opportunity offered to enter any town, a proclamation should be issued, with a penalty of death on any one who should dare to go against it….”
A Skirmish. “At this time the Indian road openers went on with their work, bringing as their guard the Indian musketeers from Sahcabchen, who never did anything well, owing to the said Captain Alonso, who, on account of his interest in their spoils, sends them out by themselves, without any Spanish people of intelligence to oversee that their duties are performed in a proper way. While engaged in this, they discovered a town of the Cehaches, Chunpich, already abandoned, as they had heard the rumor of the Spaniards, on account of which they found in one house only twenty-five loads of maize. Seeing many traces of people, they entered in fear, and notifying the said captain of their having discovered the said town, they all asked him for reinforcements, since they feared a hard fight. He gave them the reinforcements they asked for, together with their arms, though they did not arrive in time, since before they arrived there came as many as twenty-five Indians with their baskets for that maize which they had left. The soldiers, well prepared, carried their arms for whatever might turn up, since going prepared with arms was always the cause of many victories as opposed to many defeats. On the other hand they do less harm, the better provided they are. So it happened to these men; since having posted six Indian musketeers as sentinels in the direction they supposed the ruined town lay, so as to defend themselves and the workmen on the road, until their reinforcements arrived, it happened that the sentinels, seeing the said twenty-five Indians coming, they seemed to them to be thousands, and with the fear which never accomplished a good thing and with their evil disposition, which always has done much harm, without letting them enter so as to direct their fire well, our men broke ranks, which not only gave our opponents a better chance to get ready for a battle, but also frightening more the rest of our men who became aware of the retreat, made them hastily and heedlessly attribute the victory to our enemies. At that time, the reinforcement of our men coming up, the timid sentinels, deserting their posts, came back to make part of the reinforcement which was coming to them. When all were together they rushed to battle, which our opponents, like brave men, won finely, wounding three of our men without any of them being wounded. The remainder of our men fled and our opponents, laughing, left them and took their way with cries to those forests by the path on which they all lived. Our men returned to follow that path about four leagues; in that district they found two towns without inhabitants, though they were well provided with farms with all their products. These they ate and carried off as a token of their valor, giving as an excuse of their unfortunate fight, that their opponents were not men but demons, not endowed with reason, but brutes, since, without fear of death, they flung themselves savagely on the guns.”
The Avarice of Paredes. “All this happened to the Captain [Paredes] through avarice, for, on account of avarice, he did not wish to send respectable and honorable Spaniards, who might obtain with good judgment victories in these engagements, but only his Indians from Cahcabchen, so that by frightening the other Indians, they should enter safely into the houses in order to steal as much as the poor Indians have in their houses, as happened in the preceding case that I refer to above. We all inferred that all this was with the permission of the said Captain, since, seeing the feelings, which we showed at his not having kept his promise to us, given at the conference which we had had, not only did he not punish the transgressors, but neither did he make amends for the casualties which might necessarily have happened, it being the fact that we suggested the remedy in both cases, and he appeased us with kind words….”
Chunpich is Reached. “After this unfortunate engagement the whole camp went along to the said town of Chunpich, distant eight long leagues from this town of Tzucthok, and the Captains, addressing me, asked me to stay with my companions to look after those Indians and children, besides some sick Indians, educating them and instructing them as I ought; and if by chance they should find a town, they would notify me, so that I could come to catechize them. I accepted this proposal for the future, carrying out his orders at the present time, and having known that the said captains had passed forwards from the said village of Chunpich, I got ready to go alone with four Indian singers to the said town, and by inspecting or cutting down all their thickets, to see if I could meet with the Cehaches Indians who made war on the Spaniards, in order to draw them to the bosom of our Holy Mother Church. I went through the said forests to a great distance, and in all directions and I did not meet any one. At this time I received information (although it was confused) that, after the said town of Chunpich was passed, on the road to the South which we were following in a Southeast direction, an indistinct foot path had been discovered. As I knew that on the said route lay the nation of the Ytzaes, for meeting whom I have been preparing for some years, by having learned their language, it was necessary to set about following the path which the Spaniards were taking, in order to verify my suspicions; but it verified nothing but constant misfortunes; since on the path I met four Indian musketeers of the town of Sahcabchen, whom their captain was sending as slaves to the quiet of his house. They brought me a letter from the Captain, Don Joseph de Estenos, in which he told me that he had found three other towns without inhabitants, though with some little rotten corn; and that the third leader, Don Pedro de Suviaur by name, had gone with his men to another town which they supposed belonged to the Ytzaes. This letter reached me a league and a half from Chunpich, at a very large aguada which there is there, and at three long leagues from there is another large abandoned town called Ixbam.”
Zuviaur Goes to the Itzas; the Padres Return. “I returned unhappy when I thought of the little result which had come in the said town of Chunpich, and I took pleasure in its suburbs to divert my sorrow, since this place is very pleasant. A lake lies towards the West, so large that it stretches out of sight. The water is very good, the two other towns of which I spoke above being around the said lake. The Spaniards found these at the time of the fight, all very full of fruits and abundant corn-fields, which the captain wished to have trampled down and destroyed so that their owners might come and give themselves up. But we did not consent to this; I was taking great pleasure in looking at the said lake, when an Indian came whom I had sent to camp, with letters from the Governor, and besides confirming the news which the said Captain, Don Joseph, had written me, he stated to me that he had known how the third leader Don Pedro de Zuviaur had gone to one of the towns of the Ytzaes. I regretted this last more than the rest, since I was holding the said towns reserved for the purpose of going to them without their hearing any rumors of soldiers…. I returned more sad than I had been at first. I went to the town of Tzucthok, where my companion Padres were, looking after the management of those Indians who had been allotted to me…. As I considered our work useless, since they had depopulated eight towns of the Cehaches, without any results, to see also that they had reached the Ytzaes, whom also they were going to spoil was the cause of the greatest sorrow.”
Further Troubles. “I discussed with my companion Padres the troubles which followed,–now on account of the Indians, who were fleeing every day, now of the need which they had of supplies, now of the continual rains which caused these places to be overflowed, by which speedy ruin was threatened, now of the injustice which the said captains showed us….
“Without giving me anything to do, nor allotting me Indians to catechize and manage in the future, the said captain took away from me those of whom I had charge, and whom I not only catechized but also baptized and married, without paying attention to the despatch of his Majesty, which prohibits the changing of the residence of the Indians who had recently been converted, on account of the risk of their lives which would follow; as Solorzano cites them and quotes them,–one of which says ‘that too hard work should not be given them and they should not be taken to distant places, and that above all their health and preservation should be looked after, without taking them to a sky, climate or temperature which are different or contrary to those to which they are accustomed.’ …”
The Padres Determine to Get to the Itzas Some Other Way. “We then, seeing all these troubles and injustices, in order to avoid the contest and disturbances which could not be remedied, together with all the inconveniences, risks and dangers which in the time of so great rains, each day brought to us, determined to return to the Province, with the intention to send word about everything to our Very Reverend Padre Provincial from the first town of the Province and to take from there the road in a different direction, which I knew of, so as to go without any noise of arms to the nation of the heathen Ytzaes, passing through the nation of the Indians of Tipu. This is a direction opposite to that which the Spaniards took; so that we could obtain in this way something of our objects and end, which we always had before us, of going alone without soldiers or armed men, for the conversion of the said heathen, to which from the beginning we had dedicated ourselves….”
Letter to the Captains. “Agreeing then with my companions, the Padres, in this good suggestion, I wrote a letter to the captains, taking leave of them, without giving the reason why I returned, but stating that it was on account of a slight accident that had happened to me; they, whom their consciences must have accused, supposing that I should set forth there in this Province before the Governor, who had sent me, their improper methods of acting, determined maliciously, for their greater satisfaction, to justify themselves by forestalling, me, with charges against me, as if I should pay any attention to them….”
Governor Ursua Vexed by the Captains’ Letter. “The Governor was vexed with this letter which the Captain Alonso Garcia wrote to him, seeing that he had chosen me to carry out his purpose, and then seeing that I gave him a slap in the face by returning without any reason, as they wrote him; for which reason he suspended judgment till he had news of my coming to the Province, to inform himself of the truth. At this time we arrived on our return, with hard work enough on account of so many wild thickets, as I spoke of in the beginning, and of all the overflowed lands, deep in water, since our return was made in the season of heaviest rains, at the first town of the Province called Hopelchen, whence I wrote to my Prelate of the resolution which we had taken of returning to the Ytzaes by another route, since on the one we had started on, our work was stopped. I received a reply from my Prelate by which he said he expected me in the City, without informing us that we should go back by the way we suggested.”
Return to Merida. “We came to his presence and entered the City on Saturday the 16th of September of the said year 1695….”
Source: Indian Notes and Monographs, edited by F. W. Hodge, Vol. IX No. 3, A Series of Publications Relating to the American Aborigines. Reports on the Maya Indians of Yucatan. New York, Museum of American Indian Heye Foundation (1921)
As Fray Bernardino de Sahagún observed: the Mexicans “are held to be barbarians and of very little worth; in truth, however, in matters of culture and refinement, they are a step ahead of other nations." We explore the history and legacy of the Nahua and Maya civilizations, both of which challenge our preconceptions.