Published Date

May 1, 2004

Resource Type

Primary Source

This resource was developed in 2004 as part of “The Conquest of Mexico” by Nancy Fitch.

From Bernal Díaz del Castillo, Historia Verdadera, Volume 2, Chapter 83

When we arrived, the people of Cholula had solemnly received us with good will, as I already said. Nevertheless, it now appears that Moctezuma sent orders to his ambassadors, who were still in our company, to negotiate with the Cholulans that an army of 20,000 men which Moctezuma had sent and equipped, should on entering the city, join with them in attacking us by night or by day, get us into a hopeless plight, and bring all that they could [capture] bound to Mexico. Toward this effect, he sent promises together with many presents of jewels, cloth, also a golden drum, and he also sent word to priests of the city that they were to retain twenty of us for sacrifices.

All was prepared. The warriors whom Moctezuma sent were quartered in some thickets about half a league from Cholula and some within houses in the city, and all carried arms. They had built parapets on the flat roofs and had dug holes and ditches in the streets so as to impede the horsemen, and they had already filled some houses with long poles and leather collars and cords with which they would bind us and lead us to Mexico [Tenochtitlan]. But our Lord God made something else happen, protected us, turned their plots against them at the expense of their spirit.

Let us leave this now and step back.

When, as I have said, we were in our quarters, they fed us very well for the first two days, and although we saw them so peacefully inclined, we never gave up our good custom of keeping fully prepared. The third day they neither gave us anything to eat nor did any of the Caciques or priests make their appearance, and if any Indians came to look at us, they did not approach us, but remained some distance off, laughing at us as though mocking us. Seeing this, our Captain told our interpreters Doña Marina and Aguilar to tell the Ambassadors of the Great Moctezuma, who remained with us, to order the Caciques to bring some food. But all they brought was water and firewood, and the old men who brought it said that there was no more corn.

That same day other Ambassadors arrived from Moctezuma and joined those who were already with us and they said to Cortés, very impudently, that their Prince had sent them to say that we were not to go to his city because he had nothing to give us to eat. They added that they wanted to immediately return to Mexico [Tenochtitlan] with our reply.

When Cortés saw that their speech was unfriendly, he replied calmly to the Ambassadors that he marveled how such a great Prince as Moctezuma should be so vacillating, and he begged them not to return to Mexico, for he wished to start himself on the next day, to see their Prince, and act according to his orders, and I believe that he gave the Ambassadors some strings of beads. The Ambassadors agreed to stay.

This done, our Captain assembled us and said to us: “I see that these people are behaving strangely, keep on the alert, because they may be launching an evil plot.” He also asked for the principal Cacique either to come himself or to find some other chiefs. The Cacique replied that he was ill and could not come, nor could he send anyone else.

With this, our Captain ordered us to persuade two of the numerous priests who were in the great temple near our quarters to come to him. We brought two of them, without the least dishonesty, and Cortés gave each of them a chalchihuite [precious green stone or turquoise], a kind of emerald, and addressing them with friendly words he asked them what was the reason that the Cacique and chiefs and most of the priests were frightened, for he had summoned them, and they did not want to come. It seems that one of these priests was a very important personage among them, who had charge of all the temples in the city, and was a kind of Bishop among the priests and was held in great respect. This man said that many priests had no fear of us; that if the Cacique and chiefs did not want to come, he would go to appeal to them, and that after speaking to them, he did not believe that they would refuse to come.

Cortés told him to go at once, since his companion would be kept there until he returned. So the priest left to summon the Cacique and chiefs, who, somewhat later, appeared at Cortés’ headquarters. He asked them through our interpreters, Doña Marina and Aguilar, what they were afraid of?, Why had they not given us anything to eat? That if our presence in their city was an annoyance to them, we would leave the next day for Mexico to see and speak to the Lord Moctezuma; that we need them to provide carriers for to carry the baggage and tepusques (which are the cannon) and to send us some food at once.

The Cacique was so tongue-tied he could hardly speak. He finally said that they would look for food, but their Lord Moctezuma had ordered them not to give us any, and he did not want us to advance any further.

In the middle of this conversation, three of our friends, the Cempoala Indians, came in and secretly advised Cortés, that close by where we were quartered they had found holes dug in the streets, covered with wood and earth, so that without close attention, one could not see them, that they had removed the earth from above one of the holes and found it full of sharp pointed stakes destined to kill the horses, and that the flat roofs had brick parapets covered with stones, and that this was all deliberately arranged for they also found barricades of thick wood in another street.

At this moment eight Tlaxcalans arrived from those we had left in the countryside and who had not entered the city of Cholula. These Indians told Cortés: “Be careful Malinche, there is going to be trouble here; we only know that this evening the people of the city have sacrificed seven persons, five of them children, to their Idol, which is the God of War, in order for it to give them victory over you, and we have further seen women and children with all their belongings leaving the city.”

Having heard the Tlaxcalans, he sent them to their chiefs, advising them to be prepared to march, in case we needed to call for them. Then he continued to speak to the Cacique, priests and chiefs of Cholula and told them to have no fear and show no alarm, but to take care not to break the loyalty they promised him, because he would punish them, that he had already told them that we wanted to leave tomorrow morning and that he needed two thousand warriors to accompany us, just as the Tlaxcalans had provided them for this trip, for they were necessary on the road.

They said they would give him the soldiers and men for the baggage and asked permission to leave to put things in order

They left extremely content, believing that between the warriors they would give us and the regiments sent by Moctezuma, which were hidden in rocky thickets and ravines, we could not escape death or capture, for the horses would not be able to charge. They advised the Mexicas of the garrisons to construct trenches and barricades to create cul-de-sacs to prevent us from passing, they warned [them] to get ready, that we were going to leave the next morning, that they were going to give us two thousand warriors, so with these and the others [Mexica warriors], they can trap us, they can tie us up, that they were assured of success, since after making sacrifices, their war Idols had promised them victory.

It’s easy to speak of these traitors who are so sure of what they were doing.

Returning to our Captain, who wanted to know more about the unfolding plot and everything that was happening, charged Doña Marina, who had nothing to fear, to take more chalchihuites [precious green stones or turquoise] to the two priests with whom they had already spoken; to tell them in friendly words that Malinche wanted to speak to them again, and to bring them back with her.

Doña Marina went and spoke to the priests, as she knew so well how to do, and thanks to the presents, they accompanied her. Cortés advised them to tell the truth about what they knew, that they were the priests of Idols and chiefs and should not to lie, and that he would not divulge anything, for we were leaving tomorrow. Finally, he promised them cloth. The priests responded: that what’s true is that their Lord Moctezuma knew that we were coming to their city, and that everyday he changed his mind and concluded nothing, that one time he ordered that if you come to Cholula, we should treat you well and accommodate you in the city, and at other times he made it clear, he did not want you to go to Mexico [Tenochtitlan], and most recently his [Gods] Tezcatlipoca and Huitzilipochtli, which he reveres, had advised him that we should either be killed here in Cholula or should be sent, bound, to Mexico, that in the evening he had sent out twenty thousand warriors and half of them were already within this city and the other half were stationed nearby in some gullies, and that they have already been advised about the day you depart . . . .