I. Hernan Cortés:
Excerpt from Second Letter to Charles V, (1520)
II. An Aztec Account of the Conquest of
III. Bartolome de Las Casas, Excerpt from Brief Account of the Devastation of the
I. Hernan Cortés: Excerpt from Second Letter to Charles V, (1520)
IN ORDER, most potent Sire, to convey to your Majesty a just conception of the great extent of this noble city of Temixtitlan, and of the many rare and wonderful objects it contains; of the government and dominions of Moctezuma, the sovereign: of the religious rights and customs that prevail, and the order that exists in this as well as the other cities appertaining to his realm: it would require the labor of many accomplished writers, and much time for the completion of the task. I shall not be able to relate an hundredth part of what could be told respecting these matters; but I will endeavor to describe, in the best manner in my power, what I have myself seen; and imperfectly as I may succeed in the attempt, I am fully aware that the account will appear so wonderful as to be deemed scarcely worthy of credit; since even we who have seen these things with our own eyes, are yet so amazed as to be unable to comprehend their reality. But your Majesty may be assured that if there is any fault in my relation, either in regard to the present subject, or to any other matters of which I shall give your Majesty an account, it will arise from too great brevity rather than extravagance or prolixity in the details; and it seems to me but just to my Prince and Sovereign to declare the truth in the clearest manner, without saying anything that would detract from it, or add to it.
Before I begin to describe this great city and the others already mentioned, it may be well for the better understanding of the subject to say something of the configuration of Mexico, in which they are situated, it being the principal seat of Moctezuma's power. This Province is in the form of a circle, surrounded on all sides by lofty and rugged mountains; its level surface comprises an area of about seventy leagues in circumference, including two lakes, that overspread nearly the whole valley, being navigated by boats more than fifty leagues round. One of these lakes contains fresh and the other, which is the larger of the two, salt water. On one side of the lakes, in the middle of the valley, a range of highlands divides them from one another, with the exception of a narrow strait which lies between the highlands and the lofty sierras. This strait is a bow-shot wide, and connects the two lakes; and by this means a trade is carried on between the cities and other settlements on the lakes in canoes without the necessity of traveling by land. As the salt lake rises and falls with its tides like the sea, during the time of high water it pours into the other lake with the rapidity of a powerful stream; and on the other hand, when the tide has ebbed, the water runs from the fresh into the salt lake.
This great city of
This city has many public squares, in which are situated the markets and
other places for buying and selling. There is one square twice as large as that
of the city of Salamanca, surrounded by porticoes, where are daily assembled
more than sixty thousand souls, engaged in buying and selling; and where are
found all kinds of merchandise that the world affords, embracing the necessaries
of life, as for instance articles of food, as well as jewels of gold and
silver, lead, brass, copper, tin, precious stones, bones, shells, snails, and
feathers. There are also exposed for sale wrought and unwrought stone, bricks
burnt and unburnt, timber hewn and unhewn, of different sorts. There is a street for game,
where every variety of birds in the country are sold, as fowls, partridges,
quails, wild ducks, fly-catchers, widgeons, turtledoves, pigeons, reed-birds,
parrots, sparrows, eagles, hawks, owls, and kestrels; they sell likewise the
skins of some birds of prey, with their feathers, head, beak, and claws. There
are also sold rabbits, hares, deer, and little dogs [i.e., the chihuahua], which are raised for eating. There is also an
herb street, where may be obtained all sorts of roots and medicinal herbs that
the country affords. There are apothecaries' shops, where prepared medicines,
liquids, ointments, and plasters are sold; barbers' shops, where they wash and
shave the head; and restaurateurs, that furnish food
and drink at a certain price. There is also a class of men like those called in
There are all kinds of green vegetables, especially onions, leeks, garlic, watercresses, nasturtium, borage, sorrel, artichokes, and
golden thistle; fruits also of numerous descriptions, amongst which are
cherries and plums, similar to those in Spain; honey and wax from bees, and
from the stalks of maize, which are as sweet as the sugar-cane; honey is also
extracted from the plant called maguey, which is superior to sweet or new wine;
from the same plant they extract sugar and wine, which they also sell.
Different kinds of cotton thread of all colors in skeins are exposed for sale
in one quarter of the market, which has the appearance of the silk-market at
Every kind of merchandise is sold in a particular street or quarter assigned to it exclusively, and thus the best order is preserved. They sell everything by number or measure; at least so far we have not observed them to sell anything by weight. There is a building in the great square that is used as an audience house, where ten or twelve persons, who are magistrates, sit and decide all controversies that arise in the market, and order delinquents to be punished. In the same square there are other persons who go constantly about among the people observing what is sold, and the measures used in selling; and they have been seen to break measures that were not true.
This great city contains a large number of temples, or houses, for their idols, very handsome edifices, which are situated in the different districts and the suburbs; in the principal ones religious persons of each particular sect are constantly residing, for whose use, besides the houses containing the idols, there are other convenient habitations. All these persons dress in black, and never cut or comb their hair from the time they enter the priesthood until they leave it; and all the sons of the principal inhabitants, both nobles and respectable citizens, are placed in the temples and wear the same dress from the age of seven or eight years until they are taken out to be married; which occurs more frequently with the first-born who inherit estates than with the others. The priests are debarred from female society, nor is any woman permitted to enter the religious houses. They also abstain from eating certain kinds of food, more at some seasons of the year than others.
Among these temples there is one which far surpasses all the rest, whose
grandeur of architectural details no human tongue is able to describe; for
within its precincts, surrounded by a lofty wall, there is room enough for a
town of five hundred families. Around the interior of the enclosure there are
handsome edifices, containing large halls and corridors, in which the religious
persons attached to the temple reside. There are fully forty towers, which are
lofty and well built, the largest of which has fifty steps leading to its main
body, and is higher than the tower of the principal tower of the church at
Three halls are in this grand temple, which contain the principal idols; these are of wonderful extent and height, and admirable workmanship, adorned with figures sculptured in stone and wood; leading from the halls are chapels with very small doors, to which the light is not admitted, nor are any persons except the priests, and not all of them. In these chapels are the images of idols, although, as I have before said, many of them are also found on the outside; the principal ones, in which the people have greatest faith and confidence, I precipitated from their pedestals, and cast them down the steps of the temple, purifying the chapels in which they had stood, as they were all polluted with human blood, shed ill the sacrifices. In the place of these I put images of Our Lady and the Saints, which excited not a little feeling in Moctezuma and the inhabitants, who at first remonstrated, declaring that if my proceedings were known throughout the country, the people would rise against me; for they believed that their idols bestowed on them all temporal good, and if they permitted them to be ill-treated, they would be angry and without their gifts, and by this means the people would be deprived of the fruits of the earth and perish with famine. I answered, through the interpreters, that they were deceived in expecting any favors from idols, the work of their own hands, formed of unclean things; and that they must learn there was but one God, the universal Lord of all, who had created the heavens and earth, and all things else, and had made them and us; that He was without beginning and immortal, and they were bound to adore and believe Him, and no other creature or thing.
I said everything to them I could to divert them from their idolatries, and draw them to a knowledge of God our Lord. Moctezuma replied, the others assenting to what he said, That they had already informed me they were not the aborigines of the country, but that their ancestors had emigrated to it many years ago; and they fully believed that after so long an absence from their native land, they might have fallen into some errors; that I having more recently arrived must know better than themselves what they ought to believe; and that if I would instruct them in these matters, and make them understand the true faith, they would follow my directions, as being for the best. Afterwards, Moctezuma and many of the principal citizens remained with me until I had removed the idols, purified the chapels, and placed the images in them, manifesting apparent pleasure; and I forbade them sacrificing human beings to their idols as they had been accustomed to do; because, besides being abhorrent in the sight of God, your sacred Majesty had prohibited it by law, and commanded to put to death whoever should take the life of another. Thus, from that time, they refrained from the practice, and during the whole period of my abode in that city, they were never seen to kill or sacrifice a human being.
The figures of the idols in which these people believe surpass in stature a person of more than ordinary size; some of them are composed of a mass of seeds and leguminous plants, such as are used for food, ground and mixed together, and kneaded with the blood of human hearts taken from the breasts of living persons, from which a paste is formed in a sufficient quantity to form large statues. When these are completed they make them offerings of the hearts of other victims, which they sacrifice to them, and besmear their faces with the blood. For everything they have an idol, consecrated by the use of the nations that in ancient times honored the same gods. Thus they have an idol that they petition for victory in war; another for success in their labors; and so for everything in which they seek or desire prosperity, they have their idols, which they honor and serve.
This noble city contains many fine and magnificent houses; which may be accounted for from the fact, that all the nobility of the country, who are the vassals of Moctezuma, have houses in the city, in which they reside a certain part of the year; and besides, there are numerous wealthy citizens who also possess fine houses. All these persons, in addition to the large and spacious apartments for ordinary purposes, have others, both upper and lower, that contain conservatories of flowers. Along one of these causeways that lead into the city are laid two pipes, constructed of masonry, each of which is two paces in width, and about five feet in height. An abundant supply of excellent water, forming a volume equal in bulk to the human body, is conveyed by one of these pipes, and distributed about the city, where it is used by the inhabitants for drink and other purposes. The other pipe, in the meantime, is kept empty until the former requires to be cleansed, when the water is let into it and continues to be used till the cleaning is finished. As the water is necessarily carried over bridges on account of the salt water crossing its route, reservoirs resembling canals are constructed on the bridges, through which the fresh water is conveyed. These reservoirs are of the breadth of the body of an ox, and of the same length as the bridges. The whole city is thus served with water, which they carry in canoes through all the streets for sale, taking it from the aqueduct in the following manner: the canoes pass under the bridges on which the reservoirs are placed, when men stationed above fill them with water, for which service they are paid. At all the entrances of the city, and in those parts where the canoes are discharged, that is, where the greatest quantity of provisions is brought in, huts are erected, and persons stationed as guards, who receive a certain sum of everything that enters. I know not whether the sovereign receives this duty or the city, as I have not yet been informed; but I believe that it appertains to the sovereign, as in the markets of other provinces a tax is collected for the benefit of the cacique.
In all the markets and public places of this city are seen daily many laborers waiting for some one to hire them. The inhabitants of this city pay a greater regard to style in their mode of dress and politeness of manners than those of the other provinces and cities; since, as the Cacique Moctezuma has his residence in the capital, and all the nobility, his vassals, are in constant habit of meeting there, a general courtesy of demeanor necessarily prevails. But not to be prolix in describing what relates to the affairs of this great city, although it is with difficulty I refrain from proceeding, I will say no more than that the manners of the people, as shown in their intercourse with one another, are marked by as great an attention to the proprieties of life as in Spain, and good order is equally well observed; and considering that they are barbarous people, without the knowledge of God, having no intercourse with civilized nations, these traits of character are worthy of admiration.
In regard to the domestic appointments of Moctezuma, and the wonderful grandeur and state that he maintains, there is so much to be told, that I assure your Highness I know not where to begin my relation, so as to be able to finish any part of it. For, as I have already stated, what can be more wonderful than a barbarous monarch, as he is, should have every object found in his dominions imitated in gold, silver, precious stones, and feathers; the gold and silver being wrought so naturally as not to be surpassed by any smith in the world; the stone work executed with such perfection that it is difficult to conceive what instruments could have been used; and the feather work superior to the finest productions in wax or embroidery. The extent of Moctezuma's dominions has not been ascertained, since to whatever point he despatched his messengers, even two hundred leagues from his capital, his commands were obeyed, although some of his provinces were in the midst of countries with which he was at war. But as nearly as I have been able to learn, his territories are equal in extent to Spain itself, for he sent messengers to the inhabitants of a city called Cumatan (requiring them to become subjects of your Majesty), which is sixty leagues beyond that part of Putunchan watered by the river Grijalva, and two hundred and thirty leagues distant from the great city; and I sent some of our people a distance of one hundred and fifty leagues in the same direction.
All the principle chiefs of these provinces, especially those in the
vicinity of the capital, reside, as I have already stated, the greater part of
the year in that great city, and all or most of them have their oldest sons in
the service of Moctezuma. There are fortified places
in all the provinces, garrisoned with his own men, where are also stationed his
governors and collectors of the rents and tribute, rendered him by every
province; and an account is kept of what each is obliged to pay, as they have
characters and figures made on paper that are used for this purpose. Each
province renders a tribute of its own peculiar productions, so that the
sovereign receives a great variety of articles from different quarters. No
prince was ever more feared by his subjects, both in his presence and absence.
He possessed out of the city as well as within numerous villas, each of which
had its peculiar sources of amusement, and all were constructed in the best
possible manner for the use of a great prince and lord. Within the city his
palaces were so wonderful that it is hardly possible to describe their beauty
and extent; I can only say that in
There was one palace somewhat inferior to the rest, attached to which was a beautiful garden with balconies extending over it, supported by marble columns, and having a floor formed of jasper elegantly inlaid. There were apartments in this palace sufficient to lodge two princes of the highest rank with their retinues. There were likewise belonging to it ten pools of water, in which were kept the different species of water birds found in this country, of which there is a great variety, all of which are domesticated; for the sea birds there were pools of salt water, and for the river birds, of fresh water. The water is let off at certain times to keep it pure, and is replenished by means of pipes. Each specie of bird is supplied with the food natural to it, which it feeds upon when wild. Thus fish is given to the birds that usually eat it; worms, maize, and the finer seeds, to such as prefer them. And I assure your Highness, that to the birds accustomed to eat fish there is given the enormous quantity of ten arrobas every day, taken in the salt lake. The emperor has three hundred men whose sole employment is to take care of these birds; and there are others whose only business is to attend to the birds that are in bad health.
Over the polls for the birds there are corridors and galleries, to which Moctezuma resorts, and from which he can look out and amuse
himself with the sight of them. There is an apartment in the same palace in which are men, women and children, whose faces,
bodies, hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes are white from their birth. The emperor
has another very beautiful palace, with a large court-yard, paved with handsome
flags, in the style of a chess-board. There are also cages, about nine feet in
height and six paces square, each of which was half covered with a roof of
tiles, and the other half had over it a wooden grate, skillfully made. Every
cage contained a bird of prey, of all the species found in
He was served in the following manner: Every day as soon as it was light, six hundred nobles and men of rank were in attendance at the palace, who either sat, or walked about the halls and galleries, and passed their time in conversation, but without entering the apartment where his person was. The servants and attendants of these nobles remained in the court-yards, of which there were two or three of great extent, and in the adjoining street, which was also very spacious. They all remained in attendance from morning until night; and when his meals were served, the nobles were likewise served with equal profusion, and their servants and secretaries also had their allowance. Daily his larder and wine-cellar were open to all who wished to eat or drink. The meals were served by three or four hundred youths, who brought on an infinite variety of dishes; indeed, whenever he dined or supped, the table was loaded with every kind of flesh, fish, fruits, and vegetables that the country produced. As the climate is cold, they put a chafing-dish with live coals under every plate and dish, to keep them warm. The meals were served in a large hall, in which Moctezuma was accustomed to eat, and the dishes quite filled the room, which was covered with mats and kept very clean. He sat on a small cushion curiously wrought of leather. During the meals there were present, at a little distance from him, five or six elderly caciques, to whom he presented some of the food. And there was constantly in attendance one of the servants, who arranged and handed the dishes, and who received from others whatever was wanted for the supply of the table.
Both at the beginning and end of every meal, they furnished water for the hands; and the napkins used on these occasions were never used a second time; this was the case also with the plates and dishes, which were not brought again, but new ones in place of them; it was the same also with the chafing-dishes. He is also dressed every day in four different suits, entirely new, which he never wears a second time. None of the caciques who enter his palace have their feet covered, and when those for whom he sends enters his presence, they incline their heads and look down, bending their bodies; and when they address him, they do not look him in the face; this arises from excessive modesty and reverence. I am satisfied that it proceeds from respect, since certain caciques reproved the Spaniards for their boldness in addressing me, saying that it showed a want of becoming deference. Whenever Moctezuma appeared in public, which is seldom the case, all those who accompanied him, or whom he accidentally met in the streets, turned away without looking towards him, and others prostrated themselves until he had passed. One of the nobles always preceded him on these occasions, carrying three slender rods erect, which I suppose was to give notice of the approach of his person. And when they descended from the litters, he took one of them in his hand, and held it until he reached the place where he was going. So many and various were the ceremonies and customs observed by those in the service of Moctezuma, that more space than I can spare would be required for the details, as well as a better memory than I have to recollect them; since no sultan or other infidel lord, of whom any knowledge now exists; ever had so much ceremonial in his court.
From: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., The Library of Original Sources (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. V: 9th to 16th Centuries, pp. 317-326.
II. An Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico, excerpt from The Broken Spears (1520s)
Speeches of Motecuhzoma and Cortés
When Motecuhzoma [Montezuma] had given necklaces
to each one, Cortés asked him: "Are you Motecuhzoma? Are you the king? Is it true that you are the
And the king said: "Yes, I am Motecuhzoma."
Then he stood up to welcome Cortés; he came forward,
bowed his head low and addressed him in these words: "Our lord, you are
weary. The journey has tired you, but now you have arrived on the earth. You
have come to your city,
"The kings who have gone before, your
representatives, guarded it and preserved it for your coming. The kings Itzcoatl, Motecuhzoma the Elder, Axayacatl, Tizoc and Ahuitzol ruled for you in the City of Mexico. The people
were protected by their swords and sheltered by their shields.
"Do the kings know the destiny of those they left behind, their
posterity? If only they are watching! If only they can see what I see!
"No, it is not a dream. I am not walking in my sleep. I am not seeing
you in my dreams.... I have seen you at last! I have met you face to face! I
was in agony for five days, for ten days, with my eyes fixed on the Region of
the Mystery. And now you have come out of the clouds and mists to sit on your
"This was foretold by the kings who governed your city, and now it has
taken place. You have come back to us; you have come down from the sky. Rest
now, and take possession of your royal houses. Welcome to your land, my lords!
When Motecuhzoma had finished, La Malinche translated his address into Spanish so that the
Captain could understand it. Cortés replied in his
strange and savage tongue, speaking first to La Malinche:
"Tell Motecuhzoma that we are his friends. There
is nothing to fear. We have wanted to see him for a long time, and now we have
seen his face and heard his words. Tell him that we love him well and that our
hearts are contented."
Then he said to Motecuhzoma: "We have come to
your house in
La Malinche translated this speech and the
Spaniards grasped Motecuhzoma's hands and patted his
back to show their affection for him....
Massacre in the
During this time, the people asked Motecuhzoma how
they should celebrate their god's fiesta. He said: "Dress him in all his
finery, in all his sacred ornaments."
During this same time, The Sun commanded that Motecuhzoma
and Itzcohuatzin, the military chief of Tlatelolco, be made prisoners. The Spaniards hanged a chief
from Acolhuacan named Nezahualquentzin.
They also murdered the king of Nauhtla, Cohualpopocatzin, by wounding him with arrows and then
burning him alive.
For this reason, our warriors were on guard at the Eagle Gate. The sentries
When this had been done, the celebrants began to sing their songs. That is
how they celebrated the first day of the fiesta. On the second day they began
to sing again, but without warning they were all put to death. The dancers and
singers were completely unarmed. They brought only their embroidered cloaks,
their turquoises, their lip plugs, their necklaces, their clusters of heron
feathers, their trinkets made of deer hooves. Those who played the drums, the
old men, had brought their gourds of snuff and their timbrels.
The Spaniards attacked the musicians first, slashing at their hands and
faces until they had killed all of them. The singers-and even the spectators-
were also killed. This slaughter in the Sacred Patio went on for three hours.
Then the Spaniards burst into the rooms of the temple to kill the others: those
who were carrying water, or bringing fodder for the horses, or grinding meal,
or sweeping, or standing watch over this work.
The king Motecuhzoma, who was accompanied by Itzcohuatzin and by those who had brought food for the
Spaniards, protested: "Our lords, that is enough!
What are you doing? These people are not carrying shields or macanas. Our lords, they are completely unarmed!"
The Sun had treacherously murdered our people on the twentieth day after the captain left for the coast. We allowed the Captain to return to the city in peace. But on the following day we attacked him with all our might, and that was the beginning of the war
In 1519 Hernan Cortés
From Miguel Leon-Portilla, ed., The
Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of
III. Bartolome de
Las Casas, Excerpt from Brief Account of the
Devastation of the
And of all the infinite universe of humanity, these people are the most guileless, the most devoid of wickedness and duplicity, the most obedient and faithful to their native masters and to the Spanish Christians whom they serve. They are by nature the most humble, patient, and peaceable, holding no grudges, free from embroilments, neither excitable nor quarrelsome. These people are the most devoid of rancors, hatreds, or desire for vengeance of any people in the world. And because they are so weak and complaisant, they are less able to endure heavy labor and soon die of no matter what malady. The sons of nobles among us, brought up in the enjoyments of life's refinements, are no more delicate than are these Indians, even those among them who are of the lowest rank of laborers. They are also poor people, for they not only possess little but have no desire to possess worldly goods. For this reason they are not arrogant, embittered, or greedy. Their repasts are such that the food of the holy fathers in the desert can scarcely be more parsimonious, scanty, and poor. As to their dress, they are generally naked, with only their pudenda covered somewhat. And when they cover their shoulders it is with a square cloth no more than two varas in size. They have no beds, but sleep on a kind of matting or else in a kind of suspended net called bamacas. They are very clean in their persons, with alert, intelligent minds, docile and open to doctrine, very apt to receive our holy Catholic faith, to be endowed with virtuous customs, and to behave in a godly fashion. And once they begin to hear the tidings of the Faith, they are so insistent on knowing more and on taking the sacraments of the Church and on observing the divine cult that, truly, the missionaries who are here need to be endowed by God with great patience in order to cope with such eagerness. Some of the secular Spaniards who have been here for many years say that the goodness of the Indians is undeniable and that if this gifted people could be brought to know the one true God they would be the most fortunate people in the world.
Yet into this sheepfold, into this land of meek outcasts there came some Spaniards who immediately behaved like ravening wild beasts, wolves, tigers, or lions that had been starved for many days. And Spaniards have behaved in no other way during the past forty years, down to the present time, for they are still acting like ravening beasts, killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing, and destroying the native peoples, doing all this with the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty, never seen or heard of before, and to such a degree that this Island of Hispaniola once so populous (having a population that I estimated to be more than three million), has now a population of barely two hundred persons.
More than thirty other islands in the vicinity of
As for the vast mainland, which is ten times larger than all
The common ways mainly employed by the Spaniards who call themselves Christian and who have gone there to extirpate those pitiful nations and wipe them off the earth is by unjustly waging cruel and bloody wars. Then, when they have slain all those who fought for their lives or to escape the tortures they would have to endure, that is to say, when they have slain all the native rulers and young men (since the Spaniards usually spare only the women and children, who are subjected to the hardest and bitterest servitude ever suffered by man or beast), they enslave any survivors. With these infernal methods of tyranny they debase and weaken countless numbers of those pitiful Indian nations.
Their reason for killing and destroying such an infinite number of souls is
that the Christians have an ultimate aim, which is to acquire gold, and to
swell themselves with riches in a very brief time and thus rise to a high
estate disproportionate to their merits. It should be kept in mind that their
insatiable greed and ambition, the greatest ever seen in the world, is the
cause of their villainies. And also, those lands are so rich and felicitous,
the native peoples so meek and patient, so easy to subject, that our Spaniards
have no more consideration for them than beasts. And I say this from my own
knowledge of the acts I witnessed. But I should not say "than beasts"
for, thanks be to God, they have treated beasts with some respect; I should say
instead like excrement on the public squares. And thus they have deprived the
Indians of their lives and souls, for the millions I mentioned have died
without the Faith and without the benefit of the sacraments. This is a well known
and proven fact which even the tyrant Governors, themselves killers, know and
admit. And never have the Indians in all the
On the Island Hispaniola was where the Spaniards first landed, as I have
said. Here those Christians perpetrated their first ravages and oppressions
against the native peoples. This was the first land in the
And the Christians attacked them with buffets and beatings, until finally they laid hands on the nobles of the villages. Then they behaved with such temerity and shamelessness that the most powerful ruler of the islands had to see his own wife raped by a Christian officer.
From that time onward the Indians began to seek ways to throw the Christians out of their lands. They took up arms, but their weapons were very weak and of little service in offense and still less in defense. (Because of this, the wars of the Indians against each other are little more than games played by children.) And the Christians, with their horses and swords and pikes began to carry out massacres and strange cruelties against them. They attacked the towns and spared neither the children nor the aged nor pregnant women nor women in childbed, not only stabbing them and dismembering them but cutting them to pieces as if dealing with sheep in the slaughter house. They laid bets as to who, with one stroke of the sword, could split a man in two or could cut off his head or spill out his entrails with a single stroke of the pike. They took infants from their mothers' breasts, snatching them by the legs and pitching them headfirst against the crags or snatched them by the arms and threw them into the rivers, roaring with laughter and saying as the babies fell into the water, "Boil there, you offspring of the devil!" Other infants they put to the sword along with their mothers and anyone else who happened to be nearby. They made some low wide gallows on which the hanged victim's feet almost touched the ground, stringing up their victims in lots of thirteen, in memory of Our Redeemer and His twelve Apostles, then set burning wood at their feet and thus burned them alive. To others they attached straw or wrapped their whole bodies in straw and set them afire. With still others, all those they wanted to capture alive, they cut off their hands and hung them round the victim's neck, saying, "Go now, carry the message," meaning, Take the news to the Indians who have fled to the mountains. They usually dealt with the chieftains and nobles in the following way: they made a grid of rods which they placed on forked sticks, then lashed the victims to the grid and lighted a smoldering fire underneath, so that little by little, as those captives screamed in despair and torment, their souls would leave them....
After the wars and the killings had ended, when usually there survived only
some boys, some women, and children, these survivors were distributed among the
Christians to be slaves. The repartimiento or
distribution was made according to the rank and importance of the Christian to
whom the Indians were allocated, one of them being given thirty, another forty,
still another, one or two hundred, and besides the rank of the Christian there
was also to be considered in what favor he stood with the tyrant they called
Governor. The pretext was that these allocated Indians were to be instructed in
the articles of the Christian Faith. As if those Christians who were as a rule
foolish and cruel and greedy and vicious could be caretakers of souls! And the
care they took was to send the men to the mines to dig for gold, which is
intolerable labor, and to send the women into the fields of the big ranches to
hoe and till the land, work suitable for strong men. Nor to either the men or
the women did they give any food except herbs and legumes, things of little
substance. The milk in the breasts of the women with infants dried up and thus
in a short while the infants perished. And since men and women were separated,
there could be no marital relations. And the men died in the mines and the
women died on the ranches from the same causes, exhaustion and hunger. And thus
was depopulated that island which had been densely populated.
Source: Bartolome de Las Casas, Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies. (1542)