History of the Spanish Conquest of Yucatan and of the Itzas

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History of the Spanish Conquest of Yucatan and of the Itzas  (1917) 
by Philip Ainsworth Means




Vol. VII




Copyright, 1917,



THIS Paper is the result of work carried on by Mr. Means as a graduate student in the Division of Anthropology during the years 1915-1917. It consists mainly of translations of early Spanish books and manuscripts.

It is gratifying to note that this is the first publication by the Museum based upon the large collection of photographic reproductions of early manuscripts from Mexico and Central America brought together by Professor W. E. Gates of Point Loma, California, and presented to the Museum by Mr. Charles P. Bowditch. Among these manuscripts is Avendaño's account of his journey to Peten, the greater part of which is included in the present paper. The original of this manuscript is in the British Museum. Cano's account of a trip to Guatemala is also given here. This manuscript is in the Brinton Collection at the University of Pennsylvania. It is through the kindness of Dr. George B. Gordon, Director of that Museum, and of Miss Adela C. Breton, who copied the manuscript, that it is possible to publish it at this time. The Avendaño and the Cano manuscripts were translated by Mr. Bowditch and Señor G. Rivera.




IN the library of the Peabody Museum of Harvard University there is an invaluable collection of photographs of old manuscripts relating to Middle America. These photographs, made by Professor William E. Gates of Point Loma, California, were given to the Peabody Museum by Charles P. Bowditch, Esq., of Boston. One of the volumes contains a photographic reproduction of an original manuscript entitled Relación de las dos Entradas que hizé a Peten Ytza. The author, Fray Andrés de Avendaño y Loyola, of the Order of Saint Francis, will receive much of our attention later. Fortunately Mr. Bowditch and Sr. Guillenno Rivera have deciphered and translated the crabbed old text, so that we have at hand an account of the subjection of the Itzas of Tayasal, or Peten Itza, which is not only invaluable as being the work of an eyewitness of that subjection, but which also is filled with a rare charm. It was largely with a view to bringing this old manuscript to the attention of students that Mr. Bowditch and Dr. Tozzer asked me to work it up into a study of the Itzas of Tayasal. At the same time we must not neglect to notice here the translation, made by Mr. Bowditch and Sr. Rivera, of another inedited worlt on the same subject. I refer to the account by Fray Alonso Cano, which will be of great use to us later.

Though Avendano and Cano are, so to speak, the prime reasons for the writing of this study, they have been supplemented in no inconsiderable degree by two other early Spanish writers on the history of Yucatan and its people, Diego Cogolludo and Juan de Villagutierre y Sotomayor. A few comments on the works of these two authors will later prove useful to the reader.

Though Villagutierre’s Spanish style is far superior to that of such writers as Fernando Montesinos and Antonio de la Calancha, it is, nevertheless, atrocious. Although he wrote about 1700, Villagutierre's style is excessively archaic; his grammatical construction can hardly be called construction at all, so formless and ambiguous is it. Villagutierre never hesitates to write several long sentences without a single main verb between them, nor does he often refrain from going on and on for a page or so without using a period. In the use of capitals he is most whimsical; usually he has them when they are called for, but he has many that are out of place as well.

The style of Cogolludo, on the other hand, is very good, and that, be it noted, despite the fact that Cogolludo wrote prior to 1688. One remarks with considerable surprise that in several cases Villagutierre and Cogolludo use almost the same words. For example, in speaking of the visit which Cortes made to the island of Tayasal, Cogolludo says: "...y aun la ida de Cortes se tuvo por ossadia, y demasiada confianza..." Villagutierre, in the same connection says: "...que lo tenian a grandissima temeridad, y ossadia, y por demasiada confianza. ..." This is an interesting point, and perhaps it is significant that Cogolludo's book was published in 1688, whereas that of Villagutierre was not brought out until 1701. It is to be noted that Cogolludo, the earlier writer, uses only two epithets, and that Villagutierre, the later writer, uses the same two, plus a new one of his own. I know of two other cases where equally close and significant similarity exists between the two. It is possible, then, that Villagutierre copied (not to say plagiarized) the work of Cogolludo without giving credit for it. But the important point for us in this matter does not concern the personal integrity of Villagutierre. Rather does the importance of the matter lie in this: if Villagutierre was acquainted with the history of Yucatan by Cogolludo to such a degree that he frequently borrowed whole phrases from it, he must have had a very good reason for diverging widely now and again from the version of events given by Cogolludo. Such a reason could only be supplied by the fact that Villagutierre possessed information which he regarded as superior to and more official than that of Cogolludo. Therefore, since in several instances (as in his account of the events leading up to the visit of Cortes to Tayasal) Villagutierre occasionally departs from the footsteps of Cogolludo, we may safely assume that he was at once more critical and better informed than the latter, whom, however, he valued enough to be willing to draw from his work much of his information and even some of his phraseology.

The virtues and defects of Avendaño and of Cano are less subtle; so much so, indeed, that it would be absurd to attempt a criticism of them here. The reader will have ample opportunity to see their qualities for himself in the body of the book.

A word as to the method adopted in translating is in order. In the various passages taken from Cogolludo and Villagutierre I have preserved the spelling and capitalization of proper names that appear in the text. All passages from Avendaño and Cano are from the translations made by Mr. Bowditch and Sr. Rivera.

All the other works used are so well known that comment on them is superfluous.

Finally, I wish to express my gratitude to Mr. Bowditch and to Dr. Tozzer, both of whom have spent much time and thought in going over the manuscript of this work. Among the others who have shown me kindness and courtesy during the preparation of this study are Mr. Putnam of the Library of Congress; Dr. George Byron Gordon of the University Museum, Philadelphia; Professor Holmes of the United States National Museum; Dr. Edward Luther Stevenson of the Hispanic Society of America, New York; and, lastly, my mother, Mrs. James Means. These and others have generously given me much of their time and information.


February 23, 1917


The Pre-columbian History of the Mayas
and of the Itzas, 1445
Migratory period 2
The Golden Age or Old Empire of the Maya 3
The Colonization period 5
Transitional period 6
Renaissance or League period 6
The period of the Toltec mercenaries 8
Disintegration 9
Note: Cogolludo's account of the early history of the Mayas and of some of their customs 10

The Political, Social, and Geographical Features of
the Itza State During the Period of 1445-1697
The significance of the Itzas 16
The location of Peten or Tayasal 16
Description of Peten and its surroundings 17
The lake neither rises nor falls 18
The temples of Tayasal described by Avendaño 18
The palace of Canek, Chief of the Itzas 19
The districts of Peten Itza 19
Extent of the Itza dominion under the Chief Canek 20
Quincanek 21
Further infomation about the region 21
The Itzas described 22

The First Spanish Entradas into Yucatan, 1517-1526
The first Spaniards in Yucatan 24
Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba, 1517 24
Juan de Grijalva and other, 1518 25
Cortes in Mexico, 1519 26
Villagutierre's account of the entrada of Cortes, 1524-1525 26
Cortes starts for Honduras 27
Cortes arrives at Izancanac 27
Description of a large town 28
The Spaniards suspect treachery 28
The Indians explain why their own town was deserted 29
Cortes takes leave of them in a friendly spirit 29
The deer hunt 30
The army of Cortes proceeds on its way 30
The lake 31
They capture an Indian 31
The Indian is sent to Tayasal 32
Some Indians come to Cortes from Tayasal 32
Canek himself comes and is courteously received 32
Canek hears Mass and promises to put away his idols 33
Cortes goes to Tayasal with Canek 34
The Itzas give Cortes news of Olid 34
Cortes takes leave of Canek, leaving Morzillo 35
Idols not burnt 35
Cortes arrives in Honduras 36
Comparison of Villagutierre with other authorities 36
Canek's attitude toward Cortes 38

The Entrada of Francisco De Montejo and his Son,
and the Arrival of the Franciscans, 1526-1542
Francisco de Montejo and his son 39
Montejo's preparations and sacrifices 39
He sets out 40
Montejo and his men go along the shore of Yucatan 40
Description of the campaign 41
Dávila and Vazquez search vainly for gold in the region of Chetemal 42
Foundation of Villa Real de Chetemal 43
Hardships of those who were at Chichen 43
Continual misfortunes 43
Chichen Itza and Villa Real both deserted 45
Dávila goes to Honduras 46
The Elder Montejo goes to Tabasco in 1535 46
The Franciscans enter Yucatan, 1535 47
Renewal of the subjection of Yucatan by Montejo, 1537 48
Hostility of the Indians 48
The Elder Montejo's instructions to his son 49
The Younger Montejo founds Campeche, 1540-1541 50
Tutul Xiu of Mani offers his aid 51
Foundation of Merida and of Valladolid, 1542-1543 52
Bishop Bartolomé de las Casas arrives in Yucatan 53

The Entrada of Padres Fuensalida and Orbita, 1618
The name Canek 54
Increased power of the Itzas 55
The mock embassy from Tayasal 55
The mock embassy considered to be a rebellion 56
A new period in the history of the Itzas 58
Fuensalida and Orbita 59
Preliminaries to the departure of the Padres 59
Briceño's opposition 59
The Padres set out 60
Their route 61
The journey up the river from Tipu 62
Arrival at Tipu 63
Events at the village of Tipu 63
The friendliness of Carrillo and the Indians 64
Don Christoval Na, Cacique of the Indians of Tipu 64
Francisco Cumux goes with an embassy to Canek 65
Cumux returns from Canek with two chiefs of Tayasal 66
The two chiefs are cordially received 66
The Padres prepare to travel to Tayasal 67
Delays; the Padres' anger 67
The return to Tipu 68
All precautions taken, they set out once more 68
Lake Yaxha is crossed; arrival at Lake Zacpeten 69
The Padres camp beside Lake Peten 69
The Padres arrive at Tayasal and are well received 70
Mass is said 71
Fuensalida preaches; Orbita destroys an idol 71
The Padres urge the Itza to be Christians 72
They refuse because the appointed time has not come 72
After a few days the Padres leave Tayasal 73

The Entrada of Padre Fray Diego Delgado and the
Events that Followed, 1621-1624
Padre Fray Diego Delgado's offer to christianize the Itzas 75
Delgado travels to the convent of Xecchacan 75
He is well provided with guides and other Indians 75
Zaclun 76
The proposal of Mirones 77
Mirones and the Governor make an agreement 77
Mirones raises an army for his entrada 77
Mirones arrives at Zaclun 78
The wanton and foolish oppression caused by Mirones 78
Delgado opposes Mirones 78
Delgado determines to anticipate Mirones 79
Delgado's message to Canek 80
Delgado receives permission from Canek to come to Tayasal 80
The treachery of the Itzas 80
Delgado and others are put to death 81
Mirones sends Ek after Delgado 81
Revolt of the Indians 82
An epidemic of apostasy; the third phase of the conquest of the Itzas begins 82

the Early History of Guatemala and the Entrada
from that Country, 1694-1695
The Indian tribes of Guatemala 84
Account of the Cakchiquel and of the Quiché 84
The government and the cities of the Cakchiquel and of the Quiché 84
Spanish conquest 85
Gallegos and Delgado 85
The Indians are friendly to them 86
The route taken by the two Padres 86
Several villages founded 87
The Dominicans and the Franciscans 87
Struggles between the Dominicans and the Indians 87
The inception of the plan to subdue the ltzas, 1689 88
Soberanis ordered to coōperate 89
Ursua to succeed Soberanis in office 89
A letter from Ursua y Arizmendi to the King of the Spains 89
The King grants all that Ursua asks 90
President Barrios aids in the undertaking 90
Arrangements for the entrada; supplies, etc. 91
The voluntary contributions 92
Quarrels between Soberanis and the Bishop of Yucatan 92
President Barrios decides to join the entrada in person 93
The expedition sets out from Guatemala City 95
Events at Huehuetenango 95
Ursua’s activities 96
An army sets out from Yucatan for the Montaña 96
Padres Cano and Avendaño y Loyola 96
Cano’s account of the entrada from Guatemala 96
The route followed by Cano 97
The Chols and the Mopanes 98
From Mopan to the lake 99
Cano advises return 100
Explanations of their withdrawal sent to Guatemala 100
The decree of the General Assembly 101
Quarrels among the soldiers and the officials 101
The writers of the decree punished 101

The First and Unsuccessful Attempt Made by Fray Andrés
de Avendaño y Loyola to Reach the Itzas
of Tayasal, 1695-1699
Preamble 103
Preparations for the journey 103
The start 105
Indian singers 105
Arrival at Cauich 106
Departure from Cauich 106
Aguada of Hobon Ox; Chunzalam, Vecanxan 106
Nohhalal, Tha Ayn, Sucte 107
Ix Kata-Kal 107
Nohku 108
Nohvecan 108
Hardships suffered by the Padres 109
Oppol; a bridge built across a river 109
Tanche 109
Deserted village of Temchay 110
Nohpek 110
Nohthub 111
Bacechac 111
Buete 112
Lack of supplies 112
Paredes seizes some farms 112
Fifty-one Indians of Buete surrender 113
Avendaño argues with Paredes about his plundering 113
The royal decrees are mentioned by Avendaño 114
Paredes promises to return the plunder 115
Paredes fails to keep his word 115
Tzucthok, once before reduced, had rebelled 115
The Padres endeavor to instruct the Indians 116
The captains promise to give warning before fighting 117
A skirmish 117
The avarice of Paredes 118
Chunpich is reached 118
Zuviaur goes to the Itzas; the Padres return 119
Further troubles 120
The Padres determine to get to the Itzas some other way 121
Letter to the captains 121
Governor Ursua vexed by the captains' letter 121
Return to Merida 122

The Second Entrada of Padre Avendaño
Orders of the Governor 123
Departure of Avendaño 124
The same route followed as before; Batcab in reached 124
Chuntucí 124
The hardships of the journey 126
Approaching the ltzas 127
Tan Xuluc Mul; temples on a great height 128
Chakan Itza 128
The Chakan Itzas 129
Treatment of the natives 129
The Padres please other Indians by means of little gifts 130
The Padres renew their march 131
Nich 131
Indians arrive from Tayasal 132
Bravery of Avendaño 133
The landing at Tayasal; the idol 135
At the temple 136
The Padres read the letters 136
The curiosity of the Itzas 137
A baptism performed 138
Other Caciques arrive 139
The Caciques in war paint 140
Avendaño makes inquiries as to their manner of reckoning time 141
Avendaño explains the prophecies 143
Objection of Covoh 144
Discussion with Canek and others 145
Friendliness of Canek 146
Demonstrations against Canek 146
Leniency promised by the Padres 147
Avendaño takes steps to protect the Itzas from further molestation 148
The letter of counsel 148
Before leaving Tayasal, Avendaño shames Covoh 149
The hatred of the Chakan Itzas for the Padres increases 150
Canek helps the Padres to escape 151
Paredes’ stupidity; the plot of the Chakan Itzas 152
The Chakan Itzas are foiled by God 153
The departure of the Padres from Tayasal 153
Avendaño goes eastward to Yalain 154
Trouble with soldiers 155
The Padres suffer hardships and lose their way 157
Hard travel in the wilderness for fifteen days 158
Miracle of the bent branch 159
An uncomfortable night 160
Great want of food 161
The situation grows still worse 161
They find some miraculous honey 163
Two Padres go ahead 164
A desperate situation 165
They find some edible thistles 165
Some hills are reached 166
Deserted buildings 167
False hopes; further hardships 167
They face starvation 168
A sign from our Lady of the Apparition 168
They climb some high hills 169
Avendaño left alone 170
The miracle of the sapote 171
Rescued 171
What had happened to the Indians whom Avendaño sent off 172
The messenger from Tayasal 174
Reasons for Avendaño's distrust 174

The Consummation of the Conquest of Tayasal
by the Spaniards, 1695-1696
The expedition from Guatemala reaches Cahabon 175
Preliminary movements and plans 175
The fate of Diaz de Velasco; Amezquita follows him 175
Conclusion of the subjection of the Itzas begun 175
Paredes is ordered to march to Los Dolores 176
Canek's ambassador, Can, arrives at Merida 177
Zuviaur goes to the lake 179
Ursua determines to take vigorous measures 179
Lawsuits between Soberanis and Ursua 180
Captain Parades at Tzucthok 180
Captain Hariza at Tipu 180
The Cacique Cintanek's villages 181
Can's report 181
The commands of King Charles II 181
Soberanis and Ursua in agreement at last 182
The part to be taken by Indian villages 182
The road completed as far as the lake 183
Quincanek feigns friendliness 183
The hostilities begin 184
The captains urge Ursua to fight; the battle 184
Tayasal becomes a Spanish possession 185
Later history of Tayasal 185

I The Question of Orthography 187
II The Dialect of Peten. (From an unpublished manuscript by Dr.
Berendt in the Brinton Collection in the University Museum, Philadelphia)
III The Maps of Yucatan, 1501-1800 192
IV Itinerary of Avendaño, together with geographical information 200
Bibliography 202

Ia Avendaño's Map of Lake Peten, circa 1697.
Ib Avendaño's Map with English translation.
II Peten Itza in the Middle of the Eighteenth Century.
III Lake Peten and Flores.
IV Sketch (with English translation) of a Map of Yucatan, circa
1566, found with the Landa MS.
V Sketch (with English translation) of another Map of Yucatan,
circa 1566, found with the Landa MS.
VI Map showing Entradas to Lake Peten.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.