La Noche Triste or The Night of Sorrows

Spaniards and Tlaxcalans Have to Fight Their Way Out of TenochtitlanFrom Díaz del Castillo, Vol. 2, Chapter 128

... Many squadrons attacked us both by day and night, and the powder was giving out, and the same was happening with food and water, and the great Moctezuma being dead, they were unwilling to grant the peace and truce, which we had demanded of them.

In fact we were staring death in the face, and the bridges had been raised. Thus Cortés decided with all of us Captains and soldiers that we should set out during the night, when we could see that the squadrons of warriors were most off their guard. In order to put them still more off their guard, that very afternoon we told them through one of their priests whom we held prisoner and who was a man of great importance among them and through some other prisoners that they should let us go in peace within eight days and we would give them all the gold. . . .

Additionally, there was with us a soldier named Botello, apparently an honest man and a Latin scholar who had been in Rome, and it was said that he was a sorcerer; others said that he had a familiar spirit, and some called him an Astrologer. This Botello had said four days before that he found out by his casting of lots or Astrology, that if on that following night we did not leave Mexico, and if we waited there any longer, not one of us would get out alive; and he had even said on other occasions that Cortés would have to suffer many hardships and would be deprived of his position and honor, and would afterwards become a great and magnificent Lord with great property, and he said many other things. Let us leave Botello, whom I will speak about again later, and I will relate how the order was given to make a bridge of very strong beams and planks, so that we could carry it with us and place it where the bridges were broken.

Four hundred Tlaxcalan Indians and one hundred and fifty soldiers were told to carry this bridge and place it in position and guard the passage until the army and all the baggage had crossed. Two hundred Tlaxcalan Indians and fifty soldiers were told to carry the cannon, and Gonzalo de Sandoval, Diego de Ordas, Francisco de Sauzedo, Francisco de Lugo and a company of one hundred young and active soldiers were selected to go in the vanguard to do the fighting. "It was agreed that Cortés himself, Alonzo de Avila, Cristóbal de Olid, and other Captains should go in the middle and support the party that most needed help in fighting. Pedro de Alvarado and Juan Velásquez de Leon were with the rearguard, and placed in the middle between them were two Captains and the soldiers of Narváez, and three hundred Tlaxcalans, and thirty soldiers were told to take charge of the prisoners and of Doña Marina and Doña Luisa; by the time this arrangement was made, it was already night.

In order to bring out the gold and divide it up and carry it, Cortés ordered his servant named Cristóbal de Guzman and other soldiers who were his servants to bring out all the gold and jewels and silver, and he gave them many Tlaxcalan Indians for the purpose, and they placed it in the Hall. Then Cortés told the King's officers named Alonzo Dávila and Gonzalo Mejía to take charge of the gold belonging to His Majesty, and he gave them seven wounded and lame horses and one mare, and many friendly Tlaxcalans, more than eighty in number, and they loaded them with parcels of it, as much as they could carry, for it was in very large bars, as I have already said in the chapter that treats of it, and much gold still remained in the Hall piled up in heaps. Then Cortés called his secretary and the others who were King's Notaries, and said: "Bear witness for me that I can do no more with this gold. We have here in this apartment and Hall over seven hundred thousand pesos in gold, and, as you have seen, it cannot be weighed nor placed in safety. I now give it up to any of the soldiers who care to take it, otherwise it will be lost among these dogs."

When they heard this, many of the soldiers of Narváez and some of our people loaded themselves with it. I declare that I had no other desire but the desire to save my life, but I did not fail to take from some small boxes that were there, four chalchihuites, which are [green or turquoise] stones very highly prized among the Indians, and I quickly placed them in my bosom under my Armour, and, later on, the price of them served me well in healing my wounds and getting me food.

After we had learned the plans that Cortés had made about the way in which we were to escape that night and get to the bridges, as it was somewhat dark and cloudy and rainy, we began before midnight to bring the baggage along the bridge and the horses and mare began their march with the Tlaxcalans who were laden with gold. Then the bridge was quickly put in place, and Cortés and the others whom he took with him in the vanguard and many of the horsemen, crossed over it. While this was happening, the voices, trumpets, cries, and whistles of the Mexicas began to sound and they called out in their language to the people of Tlaltelolco [another island in Lake Texcocco, famous for its rowers], "Come out at once with your canoes for the Teules are leaving! Cut them off so that not one of them will be left alive!"

When I least expected it, we saw so many squadrons of warriors bearing down on us, and the lake so crowded with canoes that we could not defend ourselves. Many of our soldiers had already crossed and while we were in this position, a great multitude of Mexicas charged at us, removing the bridge and wounding and killing our men who were unable to assist each other; and as misfortune is perverse at such times, one accident followed another, and as it was raining, two of the horses slipped and fell into the lake. When I and others of Cortés' Company saw that, we got safely to the other side of the bridge, and so many warriors charged on us, that despite all our good fighting, no further use could be made of the bridge, so that the passage or water opening was soon filled up with dead horses, Indian men and women, servants, baggage and boxes.

Fearing that they would not fail to kill us, we advanced along the causeway, and we met many squadrons armed with long lances waiting for us, and they used abusive words against us, and they cried "Oh villains, are you still alive? " and with the cuts and thrusts we gave them, we got through, although they then wounded six of those who were going along.

Then if there was some sort of plan such as we had agreed upon it was an accursed one; for Cortés and the Captains and soldiers who passed first on horseback, so as to save themselves and reach dry land and make sure of their lives, spurred on along the causeway, and they did not fail to attain their object, and the horses with the gold and the Tlaxcalans also got out in safety. I assert that if we had waited at the bridges, we should all have been killed, and not one of us would have been left alive; the reason was this, that as we went along the causeway, charging the Mexica squadrons, on one side of us was water and on the other rooftops [which made it easy for the Mexicas to hurl stones and darts] and the lake was full of canoes so that we could do nothing beyond what we accomplished which was to charge with sword thrusts against those who tried to lay hands on us, and to march and advance to get off the causeway.

Had it been in the daytime, it would have been worse, and we who escaped did so only by the Grace of God. To one who saw the numbers of warriors who fell on us that night and the canoes of them coming along to carry off our soldiers, it was terrifying. So we went ahead along the causeway in order to get to the town of Tacuba, where Cortés was already stationed with all of the Captains.

Gonzalo de Sandoval, Cristóbal de Olid and others of those horsemen who had gone on ahead were crying out : "Señor Capitan, let us halt, for they say that we are fleeing and leaving them to die at the bridges; let us go back and help them, if any of them survive"; but not one of them came out or escaped.

Cortés' reply was that it was a miracle that any of us escaped. However, I promptly went back with the horsemen and the soldiers who were unwounded, but we did not march far, for Pedro de Alvarado soon met us, badly wounded, holding a spear in his hand and on foot, for they had already killed his sorrel mare, and he brought with him four soldiers as badly wounded as he was himself, and eight Tlaxcalans, all of them with blood flowing from many wounds.

While Cortés was on the causeway with the rest of his Captains, we repaired to the courtyard in Tacuba. Many [Mexica] squadrons had already arrived from Mexico [Tenochtitlan], shouting out orders to Tacuba and to the other town named Escapuzalco, and they began to hurl darts, stones, and arrows and charged with their long lances. We charged and both attacked and defended ourselves.

[Díaz del Castillo continues to explain that Cortés lost most of his soldiers that night, although some Spaniards survived and reached safety much farther away than either Tacuba or Escapuzalco, where the Mexicas attacked them.]