THE ENTRADA OF PADRE FRAY DIEGO DELGADO AND
THE EVENTS THAT FOLLOWED, 1621-1624
Padre Fray Diego Delgado’s Offer to Christianize the Itzas. In spite of the unfortunate turn that events had taken while Fuensalida and Orbita were at Tayasal, another Franciscan, Fray Diego Delgado, was filled with a desire to Christianize the Itzas. He set out from Merida; Villagutierre (lib. ii, cap. 8) relates the story thus:
“… A year and a half, with a slight difference, after the return of the Padres Orbita and Fuensalida, repulsed by the Itzaex, at a time when already the year 1621 was running its course and the Provincial Chapter of the Order of Saint Francis had already been held in the City of Merida, a proposal was made by the Padre Fray Diego Delgado, of the same Order and a Son of the Province of Los Angeles, to the new Provincial of Yucatan, the proposal being dictated by the desires of his Spiritual Love.”
There follows a setting forth of Delgado’s belief that the fugitive Indians were likely to relapse into idolatry. Delgado asked leave to go and reconvert them; this was given by Arias Conde, Governor ad interim of Yucatan.
Delgado Travels to the Convent of Xecchacan. “Everything having been made ready for his journey, the Monk journeyed to that Convent of his Order which is in the Village of Xecchacan. And when his intention was known there, several Indians of the Village offered to go with him, for those of that place are well-versed in the Woodlands. And also certain other Indians who were Singers and Sacristans of the Convent, as is customary …, also promised to go with him.”
He is well Provided with Guides and Other Indians. “So that now Fray Diego Delgado found himself not only with Guides, but with those who would aid him in celebrating the Divine Services and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. And also some of the Indians of the Sierra came to him with a great inclination and desire to accompany him on that Voyage. And together with These and Those, he entered into the Woodlands to the Southward of that Land of Yucatan.
“And as soon as he began to penetrate the Woods, he kept encountering many of the Indians who were fugitives from the Villages of the Province, and who were living without Decency, Towns or Sacraments, but merely in Huts in several places of that Wilderness.”
Zaclun. “He went about, bringing them with flattering caresses and the great suavity of his holy and loving words, and bearing them to the Mountains which are called the Mountains of Pimienta (which are very near the Sierra of Alabaster)…. He formed with them a great Village on the same site as where had been before the village called Zaclun, which had been depopulated when the Guardians of the Province of San Francisco, who had gone, in former times, toward those inland Mountain Places, had been lost.
“He gave the Village the Name of San Felipe or Santiago de Zaclun. And in virtue of the Power given him by the Governor of Yucatan, to appoint Justices and Rulers in whatever Villages might be founded, he did this in the new Village of Zaclun in the Name of his Majesty and of his Governor of the Provinces of Yucatan, giving the posts to the most fit of those very Indians he had recently assembled.
“He appointed a Cacique and gave Authority to Alcaldes, Regidores, and other Officials of Government and of Public Weal, all of whom he appointed in order that those Indians might live in Justice, Christianity, and service to God and the King. And when this was done he gave an account of the whole matter to the Governor of Yucatan, begging him to confirm the Elections and Appointments that he had made for that new Village.
“The Governor of those Provinces of Yucatan at the time was Don Diego de Cárdenas, who celebrated with very great merriment the reception of such news, a delight which was participated in by all the Dwellers in the City of Merida and even in the rest of that Land and Province of Yucatan.
“Captain Francisco de Mirones, who was Juez de la Grana [agrarian officer] of the Territory of the Coast of Yucatan, and a very great Soldier, and the gallantry of whose Spirit was delighted at this new turn of affairs, conjectured that it was a fine occasion to enter by that Village of Zaclun to conquer by Arms the Itzaex; for the Religious, with all their preaching, had made no headway. Captain Mirones was persuaded that by way of Zaclun the Conquest would be easier, on account of the convenience which the nearness of that place would offer for whatever military operation he might wish to carry out.”
The Proposal of Mirones. “He went to communicate this Proposal to the Governor, adorning the plan with arguments as to its suitableness, which he well knew how to do; to the Governor it appeared a very good thing that that Entrada into the Itzaex should be executed even as Captain Mirones proposed.”
Mirones and the Governor Make an Agreement. There follows a passage relating to the agreement made between the Governor and Mirones. It is in no way unusual. The remissness of Brizeño at the time of the entrada of Orbita and Fuensalida is touched upon, and the usual protestations as to the desirability of converting the Indians to Christianity.
Mirones Raises an Army for his Entrada. “Captain Francisco de Mirones raised his Banner for the King, and having enlisted as many as Five hundred Spanish Soldiers, he set forth with them and with some Indians of War and of Service from the City of Merida to join the rest who were being recruited at the Village of Oxcutzcab in the Sierra. The journey through that region led the Guide to tell Captain Mirones that from Oxcutzcab he had surveyed the highlands of the Itzas of Yucatan, that in a direct line or through the Air it was a distance of only eighty leagues, so that more than a half of the Road had already been traversed; having believed it all to be so, Captain Mirones … set forth with his Troops, and many Indian laborers, from the Village of Oxcutzcab, opening many Roads through the Woods and Thickets and among the Lakes and Swamps and sterile Lands, lacking water in many places. So that not only for the Indians who opened the roads, but also for the Spanish Soldiers, it was very painful work.”
Mirones Arrives at Zaclun. “But at last, these difficulties being overcome, they arrived at the Village of Zaclun, where the Padre Fray Diego Delgado was established, administering to his Indians recently collected. In the Village Captain Mirones made a halt, making a Plaza de Armas so as to wait for the rest of his Troops, who were still being levied in Merida, in order that, on their arrival, he might begin with all his forces the Conquest of the Itzas.”
The Wanton and Foolish Oppression Caused by Mirones. “The Recruiting of Troops in Merida could not be concluded in the short space of time expected by Captain Mirones, and so all the remainder of that year of 1622 was spent thus in the Village of Zaclun waiting for the Levies. And at that time, failing in wisdom and lacking proper consideration of the fact that those Indians of Zaclun were people newly reduced and that it would not be fitting to treat them with the sort of oppression with which it is sometimes customary to treat others in those parts of America, that Captain gave himself up to trades and unduly profitable contracts with them, which did not please them. So they began to be exasperated and to show some asperity of temper.
“Padre Fray Diego, recognizing the harm, and perceiving that it was not a good way to maintain his hold over the Indians or to keep the Indians on the right path, asked the Captain not to persist in those trades and contracts with the Indians, for the time of Conquests was not the time for merchandizing. He pointed out to him what he already knew, that the Indians were getting very much put out, and that grave obstacles to the carrying on of what had been begun might arise, and that it was not without cause that our Kings had ordered in so many Laws and Ordinances, the good treatment of the Indians.”
Delgado Opposes Mirones. “The Padre, by these representations, was unable to procure any change in the Captain, but each day increased the latter’s profits and extortions, so that the Indians of that Village became increasingly restless.
“The quarrels which the Captain and the Padre came to have over these questions were now declared in public and even talked of to a certain extent, and both were displeased with the other, and the Indians were uneasy and half mutinous. And the disquiet of these latter was increased by the arrival at that Village of Zaclun of news that Captain Juan Bernardo de Casanova was now in the Village of Mani on his march with fifty Soldiers who had been recruited in Merida to join in the Village of Zaclun with Captain Mirones and those whom he had with him. All of which gave cause to the unfortunate events which I shall now describe.”
Villagutierre (lib. ii, cap. 9) has an account of how Fray Diego complained to his Provincial of Captain Mirones and his actions. The Provincial, urging the illegality of Mirones’ projected entrada to the Itzas, and especially that of his intention to conquer them by arms, advised Fray Diego to depend for advice as to the course he should pursue solely upon heavenly inspiration.
Delgado Determines to Anticipate Mirones. “When Padre Fray Diego received this Reply, he determined (although with great secrecy) to leave Captain Mirones and to go himself to the Itzaex. And so he did, nor did he lack the company of most of the Indians who had come with him from Xecchacan. He undertook his journey, directing his steps toward Tipu; and although there were many trials and hardships on account of the Woods and rough country entirely without Roads, Villages and rest from fatigue, his Indians bore him thither.
“Being suspicious, and knowing the Road that the Padre had taken, Captain Mirones dispatched twelve Soldiers after him with their Leader, who was the Standard-bearer Acosta, in order that they might catch up with him and persuade him to return to the Captain’s company, and, in case the Padre did not wish so to return, they were to follow after him and escort him wherever he might go.
“The Squad came up with the Religious just before he reached Tipu. But the more they insisted that he return to Zaclun, the more impossible did it become to convince him and to make him return, so they accompanied him, forming an escort for him, as far as the Village of Tipu, which they entered with him and with the Indians who were with him.
“The Chief of the Soldiers dispatched a report from Tipu to Captain Mirones of the invincible resolution in which Padre Fray Diego persisted, because the Soldiers had orders not to desert the Padre. There is but little doubt what the feelings of the Infidel Indians would be, wherever he passed with those Soldiers, and that so long as he was accompanied by them, the Indians would not dare to maltreat him.”
Delgado’s Message to Canek. “Padre Fray Diego Delgado determined to send to the Itzaex and to their King Canek to say that he was in the Village of Tipu, and that with their Permission, he would come to see them. An offer to bear this Message was made by the good Cacique Don Christoval Na, who had gone with the Padres Orbita and Fuensalida to the Itzaex both times, as has been seen. In effect, he went to Chaltuna; crossed to the Island; delivered his Message. And when the Itzaex and their King and Lord Canek were informed of the small number of Spaniards who were with Padre Fray Diego in Tipu, Canek and his Chiefs gave Permission and Safe-conduct to the Padre so that he might come to the Island.”
Delgado Receives Permission from Canek to Come to Tayasal. “And when the Cacique Don Christoval had returned with this Reply, and when the provisions had been made ready as usual and when all the other things necessary for the Journey had been prepared [the Padre set out] taking with him the Spaniards and eighty Indians from his Village to carry the supplies and baggage of the Spaniards. All went by the accustomed Road. And so they were spied upon by the Itzaex, who were on the lookout and who sent to the landing-place some very good Canoes so that they might cross to the Island.”
The Treachery of the Itzas. “Padre Fray Diego, the Cacique of Tipu, and alt the other Spaniards and Indians embarked. On landing on the Island the Itzaex received them in Peace and without any sign whatever of contrary feelings. But all this was pretence and evil deceitfulness and perfidy, because as soon as they had them in their power, all the Troops of the Village attacked the unprepared Spanish Soldiers; the Indians from Tipu were unable to defend themselves: the Itzaex manacled them all and even the Padre Fray Diego himself.”
Delgado and Others are Put to Death. Villagutierre tells in detail how the soldiers must have been armed, because they would not be so foolish as to trust to the honor of natives; they were, however, but thirteen in number. All the soldiers were killed, and their hearts were torn from their breasts, while their heads were set up on stakes around the village. Later they took Fray Diego, cut him up into pieces, and set his head on a stake also. The fate of Cacique Na, whom, no doubt, the Itzas regarded as a traitor to his own race, was no better.
Mirones Sends Ek after Delgado. Meanwhile Mirones had received no word from the men he had sent as an escort to Padre Diego Delgado. He sent two Spaniards from Zaclun with an Indian servant of his who was very cunning and who was to act as an interpreter and guide. His name was Bernardino Ek. These three were to go to Tipu and learn all that they could of the whereabouts of the Padre and the soldiers. On their arrival at that village they were told that Delgado and the rest had gone to the Itzas. The three determined to follow; they did so, and directly they had reached the lake, canoes came in response to a smoke signal and bore them to the island, where they were all shut up in a corral and kept under guard. They made an attempt to escape, Ek leading the way. He succeeded in getting out on the lake in a very bad canoe which he found on the beach, but the two Spaniards found themselves greatly hampered by their bonds and were recaptured. Ek hid in the woods from those who were pursuing him and eventually made his way to Salamanca, where he told all that had happened. A report was sent to Governor Don Diego de Cárdenas in Merida, and Ek himself was sent to Captain Mirones at Zaclun. The latter straightway entered a complaint against Fray Diego for having done anything so foolhardy as to go to the Itzas. The upshot of the report made by Mirones’ agent, Juan de Eguiluz, was that the Provincial of the Order of San Francisco in Yucatan sent to Zaclun one Padre Fray Juan de Berrio, a native of Castile. Villagutierre continues (lib. ii, cap. 10): “He, having been there [at Zaclun] a matter of fifteen days, because he did not well agree with the affairs and actions of the Captain and the Soldiers, returned to Merida without saying anything to them, and he went to the presence of his Provincial, who, being informed of all that was going on, considered his retreat to that City [Merida] a deed well done.
“A second time Captain Mirones made complaint through Contador Eguiluz, and he asked, as he did the first time, for another Friar. The Provincial refused to give him one because of what had occurred with the other two whom he had sent before….” As a result of these wranglings two Creole monks were finally sent to Zaclun.
Revolt of the Indians. After they had been ordered to go to Zaclun, they proffered various excuses, and the matter was ended at last by one Padre Fray Juan Enriquez, who offered to go thither himself. He was well received by Mirones; at about that time Bernardino Ek arrived with the news of the death of Delgado and his companions. Mirones would not believe him. He soon had ample cause to do so. On the Day of Purification, 1624, when all the Spaniards of Zaclun were at Mass, the Indians rose in revolt and put most of them to death.
Some time later Padre Fray Juan Fernandez and Captain Juan Bernardo came to Zaclun by way of Mani. The latter joined him at Mani, and as both were made suspicious by some Indians leading a mule of which they could not give a satisfactory account, Fernandez and Bernardo determined to go to Zaclun. When they reached that place they found the bodies of their compatriots, who had died “by the very arms with which they had thought to go against the Itzaex, in opposition to the orders and will of the King.” A Christian burial was given to the dead, after which Fernandez and Bernardo returned to Merida to report on what they had found. Eventually an Indian captain named Don Fernando Camal captured many of the aggressors, the chief of whom, Ahkimpol, with several others, was beheaded in Merida.
An Epidemic of Apostasy; the Third Phase of the Conquest of the Itzas Begins. A direct result of this insurrection was a general epidemic of apostasy which especially affected such villages as Tipu. There, a few years later, a general exodus of the Indians into the mountains and woods took place, and a widespread relapse into idolatry occurred.
By a cedula of March 29, 1639, the King (Philip III) reiterated his desire that henceforth all efforts to reduce provinces should be carried on by means of spiritual methods only. These were not enough. A series of misfortunes and mutinies occurred at Bolonchen, Zahcabchen, Petenecte, and elsewhere.
We have now, with the year 1624, reached the close of the second phase of the Spanish conquest of the Maya-Itza stock. The first phase, an exploratory one, began with Cortes in 1524 and ended with Montejo in 1545 or thereabouts. The second phase, a proselytizing one, began with the year 1614, when the feigned submission of the Itzas took place, giving rise to the entrada of Fuensalida and Orbita. It came to a dose about 1624 as a result of the mournful events following upon the entrada of Delgado and the mercenary meddling of Mirones. The third and last phase, a commercial and military one … had its inception about 1692.
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.