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Yucatan Before and After the Conquest, by Diego de Landa, tr. William Gates, [1937], at

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It is said that the first Spaniards to come to Yucatan were Gerónimo de Aguilar, a native of Ecija, and his companions. These, in 1511, upon the break-up at Darien resulting from the dissensions between Diego de Nicueza and Vasco Núñez de Balboa, followed Valdivia on his voyage in a caravel to San Domingo, to give account to the admiral and the governor, and to bring 20,000 ducats of the king's. On the way to Jamaica the caravel grounded on the shoals known as the Viboras, where it was lost with all but twenty men. These went with Valdivia in a boat without sails, and only some poor oars and no provisions, and were at sea for thirteen days. After nearly half of them had died of hunger, the rest reached the coast of Yucatan at a province called that of the Maya, whence the language of Yucatan is known as Mayat’an, meaning the 'Maya speech.'

These poor fellows fell into the hands of a bad cacique, who sacrificed Valdivia and four others to their idols, and served them in a feast to the people. Aguilar and Guerrero and five or six others lie saved to fatten. These broke their prison and came to another chief who was an enemy of the first, and more merciful; he made them his slaves, and his successor treated them with much kindness. However, all died of grief, save only Gerónimo de Aguilar and Gonzalo Guerrero. Of these Aguilar was a good Christian and had a breviary, by which he kept count of the feast days and finally escaped on the arrival of the Marquis Hernando Cortés, in 1519.

Guerrero learned the language and went to Chectemal (Chetumal), which is Salamanca de Yucatan. Here he was received by a chief named Nachan Can, who placed in his charge his military affairs; in these he did well and conquered his master's enemies many times. He taught the Indians to fight, showing them how to make barricades and bastions. In this way, and by living as an Indian, he gained a great reputation and married a woman of high quality, by whom he had children, and he made no attempt to escape with Aguilar. He decorated his body, let his hair grow, pierced his ears to wear rings like the Indians, and is believed to have become an idolater like them.

During Lent of 1517 Francisco Hernández de Córdoba sailed from Cuba with three ships to procure slaves for the mines, as the population of Cuba

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was diminishing. * Others say he sailed to discover new lands. Taking Alaminos as a pilot he landed on Isla do las Mugeres, to which he gave this name because of the idols he found there, of the goddesses of the country, Aixchel, Ixchebeliax, Ixhunié, Ixhunieta, vestured from the girdle down, and having the breasts covered after the manner of the Indians. The building was of stone, such as to astonish them; and they found certain objects of gold, which they took. Arriving at Cape Cotoch they directed their course to the Bay of Campeche, where they disembarked on Lazarus Sunday, whence they called the place Lazaro. They were well received by the chief and the Indians marveled at seeing the Spaniards, touching their beards and persons.

At Campeche they found a building in the sea near to the land, all square and in steps, on the top of which was an idol with two fierce animals devouring his flanks; also a great thick serpent swallowing a lion; the animals were covered with the blood of sacrifices. At Campeche they learned of a large town nearby, which was Champotón; landing there they found a chief named Moch-Covoh, a warlike man who called his people together against the Spaniards. Francisco Hernández was much disturbed seeing in this what must happen; but not to show a less spirit he put his men in order and had the artillery fired from the ships. The Indians however, notwithstanding the strange sound, smoke and fire of the guns, attacked with great cries; the Spaniards resisted, inflicting severe wounds and killing many. Nevertheless the chief so inspired his people that they forced the Spaniards to retire, killing twenty, wounding fifty, and taking alive two whom they afterwards sacrificed. Francisco Hernández came off with thirty-three wounds, and thus returned downcast to Cuba, where he reported that the land was good and rich, because of the gold he found on the Isla de las Mugeres.

These stories moved Diego Velásquez, governor of Cuba, as well as many others, so that he sent his nephew Juan de Grijalva with four ships and 200 men. With him went Francisco de Montejo, to whom one ship belonged, the expedition sailing on the 1st of May, 1518.

They took with them the sane Alaminos as pilot, and landed on the island of Cozumel, from which the pilot descried the coast of Yucatan which with Francisco Hernández he had previously coasted along, on the right hand going south. Desiring to see whether it was an island, they turned left and followed by the bay they called Ascension, because of entering it on that day. Then turning back they followed the whole coast until they reached Champotón for the second time; landing here for water, one man was killed and fifty wounded, among them Grijalva, who received two arrows and lost a tooth and a half. In this manner they departed and named the harbor the Puerto de Mala Pelea. On this voyage they discovered New Spain, Pánuco and Tabasco, where they stayed for five months, and also tried to make a landing

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at Champotón. This the Indians resisted with such spirit as to come out close to the ships in their canoes, in order to shoot their arrows. So they made sail and departed.

When Grijalva returned from his voyage of discovery and trade in Tabasco and Ulúa, the great captain Hernando Cortés was in Cuba; and he on the news of such a country and such riches, conceived the desire of seeing it, and even of acquiring it for God, for his king, for himself, and for his friends.


5:* p. 26 The ghastly chapter of the fate of the peaceful population of Cuba has been elsewhere told, and we have here one of its early evidences. But the Cubans were fortunate—it was as least quick total extermination. The Mayas were to live through 400 years of seizures for sale abroad, resettlements and forced removals from their towns, to receive their conquerors’ religion, or to add to his wealth and ease.

Next: IV. Expedition of Cortés to Cozumel. Letter to Aguilar and His Friends