Alvarado Massacre Essay, Research Paper
During the year 1520 Hernando Cortes led a massive expedition that conquered the lands of Mexico. He along with many famous figures like Dona Maria, Bernal Diaz de Castillo, and Pedro de Alvarado helped Cortes gain control of the indigenous land. Even though there are many key figures, and key sources that helped Cortes colonize Indian Territory one major battle that assisted him was the Alvarado Massacre of 1520. While historian Bernal Diaz del Castillo in The Conquest of New Spain, and Franciscan Fray Bernardino Sahagun in The Conquest of New Spain, Revision speculate that Pedro de Alvarado was the cause for the carnage, but Dominican Fray Diego Duran in History of the Indies of New Spain, accuses Hernando Cortes for the bloodbath. Although there are opposing views it remains clear that Hernando Cortes was not present during the massacre but that his Captain, Pedro de Alvarado was present concluding that he was the key person responsible for the bloodbath.
From the accounts of Bernal Diaz de Castillo Pedro de Alvarado was the man responsible for the attack on the Indian village in Mexico. Upon hearing that there were ships headed toward Cortes and his followers, Cortes left to greet the men leaving Alvarado in charge of Tenochitclan. Seeing the bright colors of the flags on the ship he became excited yet he was worried. He knew that he needed reinforcements for surprise attack from the Teules but he also worried that the reinforcements were sent by Diego Valazquez to capture him and his crew. Cortes suspicions were proven as Villa Rica de Sandoval arrested Navarez three envoys when they threatened him, and had the three men escorted to see Cortes. However, the three envoys were easily flattered by the bribes Cortes promised them and returned to the Navarez camp to recruit the rest of the army. The captain of Navarez was not easily convinced and began to march through Chempola on his way to Mexico. Here Cortes decided to leave Alvarado and soldiers to guard Moctezuma while he attacked Narvaez. Hernando and his men were successful in their battle but as they marched back to Mexico Cortes obtained information regarding the massacre. The four chieftains accused Pedro and his men of attacking and killing many Indian Dignitaries and Caciques while they celebrated the honor of their Gods Huichilobos and Tezcatlipoca. According to Castillo s records Pedro de Alvarado was the villain behind the massacre against the Indians.
In the two chapters that Castillo discusses the revolt, it is evident that he lays all blame on Alvarado. First he makes it known to the reader that Pedro was left behind with unreliable soldiers. The statement made indicates that Alvarado and his crew were incompetent men who did not know how to follow orders. Castillo states Cortes then decided to attack him, leaving Pedro de Alvarado and the least reliable soldiers to guard Moctezuma, (282). Then Castillo moves on giving descriptive details on the battle against Navarez finally concluding the chapter with the encounter of the Mexican chieftains. In detail he describes the emotional state of the men forcing the reader to feel resentment and sorrow for the Indians. Castillo book reads With tears streaming from their eyes, they said that Alvarado had come out of his quarters with all the soldiers whom Cortes had left him, and for no reason at all had fallen on their Casiques and dignitaries, (283). As he moves on discussing Cortes and Pedro s conversation the reader s anger towards Alvarado intensifies. Clearly Cortes believed that Alvarado s attack on the Indians was wrong. Not only did he hold Alvarado responsible for the blood bath but he also blamed him for the destruction of the relationship the Spaniards held with the Mexicans. When discussing the events that led to revolt and its aftermath with Pedro the reader can sense Hernando s fury. Bernal Diaz de Castillo states on page 286 On hearing this Cortes exclaimed very angrily that it was a bad thing and a great mistake, and that he wished to God Montezuma had escaped and he had never had to listen to this story, (286). From the interpretations Castillo s made about the Alvarado massacre his prejudice view toward Pedro is evident.
Bernal Diaz Del Castillo old age and lack of economic prosperity after the colonization of the New World contributes to his bias view of Pedro. Bernal finished his book at the age of seventy-six. Because of his age he would glorify unimportant historical events while denouncing significant incidents. Even though some historians like J.M Cohen viewed the author s age as a problem because it resulted in the imprecise historical data the true dilemma was that Castillo remained poor after the expedition. Diaz finished his book during the year 1568 but died during the year 1581. From the middle to the end of the sixteenth century changes began to take place in Mexico. A shift in powers from the conquistadors to the religious sphere began to take shape along with the introduction of haciendas. These two new innovations diminished the conquistador s high-class status and destroyed their everyday income. Conquistadors were remembered for their colonization but things changed with time and soon the men became insignificant. Bernal Diaz Del Castillo realized his one time important role was becoming a memory and as he looked at his surroundings he saw that he was poor fifty years after Cortes expedition. As he sat down to write his book he wrote it with resentment blaming his fellow conquistadors like Pedro de Alvarado for their foolish reactions toward the Mexicans. However, Castillo was one of the many historical figures who held Pedro and his soldiers accountable for the revolt against the Indians.
Dominican fray Diego Duran finished book on the history of “Mexica” in 1581. Unlike his adversary Franciscan Fray Bernardino de Sahgun who completed his work in 1586, Duran blames Hernando Cortes for the revolt while Sahagun blames Pedro de Alvarado and his armymen for the encounter. The difference of opinions is evident when reading both of their documents on the massacre. Diego Duran states
The day for the festivities having arrived, some eight or ten thousand men of the highest order and purest lineage appeared, wearing all their finery as we have said, and formed a great circle in the temple courtyard. While they were dancing, all with contentment and pleasure, Cort s, instigated by Alvarado, ordered ten soldiers to be placed at each of the four gates of the courtyard so that no one could escape. He sent ten others to stand next to those who were beating drums where the most important lords had gathered. The soldiers were told to kill the drummers and after them all those who surrounded them (2).
While Duran accuses Cortes for the battle Sahgun writes that Cortes was not present during the attack. Sahgun document reads
How hatred and war between the Spaniards and the Mexicans broke out in the absence of Captain Don Hernando Cort s, according to the Spaniards’ Account. Seeing themselves hotly pursued by the Mexicans, the Spaniards entered the royal houses and fortified and barricaded themselves as best they could to keep the Indians out. From inside they began to defend themselves, firing off crossbows, harquebuses, and cannon, and even aiming stones from the rooftop to drive off the Indians struggling to break down the wall and force their way in, (2).
The two men offered two different perspectives but their main motivation were to accuse the Spaniards or to accuse the Indians for the revolt in order to justify their significance in the religious sphere.
In 1524 the first twelve Franciscans arrived in New Spain invited by Hernando Cortes. Since the Fryers did not have a direct connection with the crown Cortes welcomed them to New Spain, giving them land and placing them as the second most powerful men in Mexico. Their sole responsibilities were to convert the Mexicans. By the middle of the sixteenth century the mendicants had established churches, hospitals, schools, and confraternities and enforced the methods of compadrazgo, and capellania, (Cline). Angry that the Franciscans were more powerful than the Dominicans were, the secular clergy did everything possible to diminish their reputation by connecting them with Cortes presence during the Alvarado massacre. Since Cortes originally brought the Franciscans to New Spain, Friar Diego Duran composed a book holding Cortes responsible for the revolt. Even though Duran creates a new perspective his argument is extreme compared to Saharan s realistic theory of Cortes absence in Mexico during the Alvarado massacre.
Bernal Diaz Del Castillo, Franciscan Fray Bernardino de Sahagun, and Dominican Fray Diego Duran believed that Pedro de Alvarado led the revolt against the Mexicans in 1520. While Durnan argues that Cortes was present during the revolt Castillo and Sahagun disagree, theorizing that he was near Chempola fighting against Narvaez and his crew. Although each argument differs all agree that Alvarado and his men attacked first. In an earlier segment of Castillo s book Pedro Alvarado admits that he attacked the Indians first. However, in Sahagun s and Duran s document Alvarado remains the main person at fault for the bloodbath, but his participating voice in Castillo s book becomes silent in the remaining texts. For example Sahgun writes
When the great courtyard of the idol, Huitzilopochtli, god of the Mexicans, was full of nobles, priests, and soldiers, and throngs of other people, intent upon the idolatrous songs to that idol, whom they were honoring, the Spaniards suddenly poured forth ready for combat and blocked the exits of the courtyard so that no one could escape. Then they entered with their weapons and ranged themselves all along the inner walls of the courtyard. (1)
While Duran writes, Cort s, instigated by Alvarado, ordered ten soldiers to be placed at each of the four gates of the courtyard so that no one could escape, (1). Even though the authors of the three books use a variety of methods to theorize that Alvarado was the culprit in the battle they do not realize just by mentioning his name in their work holds accountable for the slayings.
Agreeing with the three historians that Alvarado was the main person who led the attack against the Indians, I have also arrived at a conclusion. Hernando Cortes led his expedition to the New World with the intention of new labor and gold. The only means possible of establishing superiority over the Indians was through force and bribery. As Hernando led his men up to Mexico he conquered many Indian villages along the way. He would offer peace through elegant hand crafted beads, if the methods were not successful he would turn to force. Once he was victorious he would tear down the statues of Indian Gods disgracing the pagan religion the Indian tribes practiced, and incorporate Catholicism. By using force and incentives Cortes was successful in establishing a God like superior image of himself and his soldiers. As the second of command Pedro de Alvarado saw Cortes absence as an opportunity to uphold this greater image. From Castillo s vivid memory it is obvious that Alvarado proved himself to be as powerful as Cortes by leading an unjust revolt against the Mexicans. In Bernal Diaz documentation of the conversation between Pedro and Cortes he states But they told me, said Cortes, that they asked your permission to hold their fiesta and dances. Alvarado agreed that this was so, and said that, to surprise and scarce them and prevent them from attacking us, he had got his attack first, (286). The fact that Alvarado gave the Mexicans permission to hold their fiesta then turns and attacks them with unjust cause proves that Alvarado wanted to uphold Cortes superior image. He saw no other alternative of doing so if not by Cortes techniques. For example compare the methods Cortes used to recruit tribes of Indians to Alvarado s technique of leading a revolt against the Mexican s. First they both sent out signals that they were peaceful creatures, Hernando offering beads while Pedro gave the Mexicans permission to hold their celebration and then without caution they attacked.
Even though each historian had different interpretations of the Alvarado massacre each author including myself believed Pedro de Alvarado was present during the battle. Although one historian argued that Cortes was present and was influenced by Alvarado to attack the Indians, the truth remains: Cortes was near Chempola fighting Navraez and his army during the revolt. Therefore Cortes had nothing to do with Pedro s mistake. Whether we want to admit it or not Pedro de Alvarado was the key influence to the attack against the Indians. His battle not only led to the colonization of the indigenous people but it led to the destruction of a truly enriched culture. For in the years to come the Indians would become slaves to the Catholic religion and die from European diseases.
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