The Story of Mexico/Chapter 19

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XIX.

INDIANS.

The Conquest was complete. Tenochtitlan was no more, and the Aztec kings with their dynasty were blotted out. So were all the other independent states of Anahuac, for if here and there a petty chieftain were allowed still to call himself lord of his domains, it was a mere form, to keep him and his people contented, while in reality the Spaniard controlled every thing throughout the conquered land. The terrible war gods were overthrown, their temples and images thrown down and hidden under ground. Even the annals of the country, the picture-writings, which the Spaniards imagined to be impious scrolls connected with the heathen belief of the savages, were destroyed. Before long distinctive names of the separate tribes were wiped out, as details of no importance, and all the native races of the country went by the common title of Indios.

This of course is the Spanish word for Indians, with the same source. Columbus in seeking a new world believed that when found it would be India, little thinking that the earth he had rightly guessed to be round, was big enough to contain a whole continent between the western shore of Europe and the Indies, a remote land almost fabulous for its riches and precious stones.

The first natives Columbus encountered in the Western World, he therefore naturally called Indios, and this name attaches to all the indigenous tribes of America. So the first settlers farther north, on the shores of the Atlantic, called the red men who came to meet them Indians. But the Red Men of the north are a distinctive race from the Indios of Anahuac. If allied at all, they are but distant relatives. Their color, their skulls, their brains, their manners and customs are all different. As we have seen, the Nahuatl tribes that migrated from Aztlan belonged, with scarce a doubt, to a people antecedent to the Red Indians of North America.

Nevertheless, the word Indian is so fixed in the minds of most of the people of the United States, as belonging to the savage of the tomahawk and warwhoop, that it is rather common to fancy the Mexican Indios to be of the same stock. Many a reader of Prescott's "Conquest" has been surprised to find that the natives who were terrified at the approach of Cortés on his war-horse, were not first cousins to the Mohawks and Algonquins whom Parkman has described.

It is necessary to dwell on this, in order that any fair opinion should be formed of the native races of Anahuac, belonging to the different tribes of Indios, descendants of Tarascans, Otomies, Zapotecs, Mextecs, Mazahuans, Popolocs, Zotzils, Mayas, etc., which now form a large part of the population of Mexico. Whatever are or have been their virtues, they are wholly different from those of the North American Red Man. Whatever their vices, they are equally so, or if similar, similar on account of like conditions of life. Climate, inheritance, and the vicissitudes of their fortunes, would have caused them to be somewhat diferent by this time, even if they had come from a common stock, but this is absolutely not the case, and long before the time of the Conquest, the characteristics of the Nahuatl race, which still cling to their present descendants, were as strongly marked as those of the Red Man, while they were widely remote from them.

The indigenous inhabitants of Mexico, however, have as good a right to the name, wholly unappropriate in either case, of Indian, as the "North American Savage" has. This latter title would be totally misapplied in connection with the native Mexicans, because for long generations, these have been above the level of wild men. After the Conquest, for years the Spaniards were disturbed by remaining savage tribes who, resisting civilization, had retreated to the woods and mountains; but these tribes have been long exterminated. Their successor, the highway robber of roads and mountain passes, was of another breed, imported, with other products of civilization, from old Spain.

The Aztec dynasty, then, was extinct, but the Aztec nation, a large population, even after the great diminution in the wars of the Conquest, remained on the plateau to begin a new life under the influences of Christian rulers. The horrid rites of their old religion were utterly done away with, TSOM D219 Early pottery.pngEARLY POTTERY.

relinquished, it would seem, with no great regret, by the common people. To them there had been no glory, no gratification, in the wholesale slaughter of the sacrifices to Huitzilopochtli. The part of their ceremonies which appealed to their source of enjoyment was the feasting and dancing, and general rejoicing on such occasions.

The first government of the Spaniards was a military one, whose chief was Fernando Cortés. He had wisely surrounded himself by a body of advisers or approvers, in the early time of founding Vera Cruz when he established the Ayuntamiento, composed of his companions of the voyage. This organization was maintained during the time of Cortes' administration. Its duties were to found new cities, parcel out lands and farms among the colonists, establish markets, regulate sanitary conditions, and enforce the laws; thus standing between the natives and new settlers, who began to enter the country. Many of the rules and ordinances of the early Ayuntamientos are still in force.

On account of complaints which reached the court of Spain, against the rule thus established by Cortés, the king resolved to put the new country in the hands of a body of magistrates who should be obeyed by all the governors of provinces, representing the person of the monarch and enforcing his authority. The members of the first Audiencia arrived in Vera Cruz on the 6th of December, 1528. There were five of them; their president was Nuño de Guzman, a cruel and sanguinary man, whose despotism left the most bitter recollections throughout the country. With his oidores, as the other members were called, he displayed the greatest cruelty toward the Indians, in direct disobedience to his instructions, which were to treat them with the greatest gentleness; he continued the traffic in slaves, by which he and his Audiencia expected to enrich themselves. They quarrelled with the ecclesiastics and religious orders, so that they were excommunicated by the bishop, in return for which they broke up by force a religious procession in the streets of the capital. In short, they made themselves intolerable alike to natives and colonists. Nuño de Guzman, finding himself thus unpopular, went away from Mexico in 1529, and paid a visit to Michoacan, where he strove to extort quantities of gold from Calzonzi, who, as we know, had hitherto escaped the violence of the invaders, and was living happily in his palaces of Tzintzuntzan and Patzcuaro, nominal sovereign of his Tarascans,

Calzonzi could not or would not satisfy the greed of the cruel Guzman, whereupon he was burned alive, as is shown in the same picture where he embraces the cross, in the town-hall of Tzintzuntzan. Nuño went away without any treasures or precious stones, and made war upon the natives of Jalisco, founding in that country a town which he called the Holy Ghost. This afterwards became Guadalajara, now one of the finest cities in the whole of Mexico.

This career of destruction and tyranny came to an end by the arrival of the second Audiencia, sent in response to the volume of complaints which reached the court of Spain. This second body had for its task to undo all that the first had done. It published a royal decree which declared all the Indians free, and condemned to death all those who had made slaves of them. It had the care of diffusing instruction among the natives, and establishing the teaching of Latin in a college founded for the education of the natives. Its authority was used only for beneficial ends, and was of good effect in calming the agitation caused by its predecessors. The archbishops and bishops, by their religious character, also exercised a great influence over both colonists and Indians, with whom they were objects of veneration and respect.

Complaints, however, still reached the court of Spain, which, weary of so much dissension, resolved to send a viceroy as the supreme head of the colony, to represent in every thing the person of the king, subject only to the orders received from home, and controlling all affairs, civil and military, connected with the government. Difficulties often arose from quarrels between the viceroy and the Audiencia, and in extreme cases the will of the latter prevailed, while advices from the parent government were on their way from Spain; but in general the functions of the Audiencias were from this time limited to the simple administration of justice.

The country of New Spain, at the time of the the arrival of the first viceroy, had a wide extent; large tracts at that time unknown, were afterwards explored and included in its territory, through colonization by settlers. These lands extended over the immense prairies of the north, and included Texas, Alta California, Louisiana, and New Mexico, which now belong to the United States.