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 Hernán Cortés, Cartas y relaciones de Hernan Cortés al emperador Carlos V, third letter, 328–30.

We thus made our arrangements for entering the city on the following morning.

As soon as it was day, I caused our whole force to be in readiness, and the heavy guns to be brought out; and the day before I had ordered Pedro de Alvarado to wait for me in the square of the market-place, and not to attack the enemy until I arrived. Being all assembled, and the brigantines drawn up ready for action on the right of the houses situated on the water, where the enemy were stationed, I directed that when they heard the discharge of a musket the land force should enter the small part of the city that remained to be taken and drive the enemy towards the water where the brigantines lay; and I enjoined much upon them to look for Cuauhtémoc, and endeavor to take him alive, as in that case the war would cease. I then ascended a terrace, and before the combat began addressed some of the nobles whom I knew, asking them “for what reason their lord refused to come to me, when they were reduced to such extremities?” adding, “that there was no good cause why they should all perish, and that they should go and call him, and have no fears.” Two of the principal nobles then went to call their lord. After a short time there returned with them one of the most considerable of all these personages, named Ciguacoacin, a captain and governor over them all, by whose counsels the whole affairs of the war were conducted; and I received him with great kindness, that he might feel perfectly secure and free from apprehensions. At last he said, that the cacique would by no means come into my presence, preferring rather to die; and that his determination grieved him much, but that I must do whatever I desired;” and when I saw that this was his settled purpose, I told the noble messenger to return to his friends, and prepare for the renewal of the war, which I was resolved to continue until their destruction was complete. So he departed.

More than five hours had been spent in these conferences, during which time many of the inhabitants were crowded together upon piles of the dead, some were on the water, and others were seen swimming about, or drowning in the part of the lake where the canoes were lying, which was of considerable extent. Indeed, so excessive were the sufferings of the people, that no one could imagine how they were able to sustain them; and an immense multitude of men, women and children were compelled to seek refuge with us, many of whom in their eagerness to reach us threw themselves into the water, and were drowned amongst the mass of dead bodies. It appeared that the number of persons who had perished, either from drinking salt water, from famine or pestilence, amounted altogether to more than fifty thousand souls. In order to conceal their necessitous condition from our knowledge, the bodies of the dead were not thrown into the water, lest the brigantines should come in contact with them; nor were they taken away from the places where they had died, lest we should see them about the city. But in those streets where they had perished, we found heaps of dead bodies so frequent that a person passing could not avoid stepping on them; and when the people of the city flocked towards us, I caused Spaniards to be stationed through all the streets to prevent our allies from destroying the wretched persons who came out in such multitudes. I also charged the captains of our allies to forbid, by all means in their power, the slaughter of these fugitives yet all my precautions were insufficient to prevent it, and that day more than fifteen thousand lost their lives. At the same time the better classes and the warriors of the city were pent up within narrow limits, confined to a few terraces and houses, or sought refuse on the water, but no concealment prevented our seeing their miserable condition and weakness with sufficient clearness. As the evening approached, and no signs of their surrender appeared, I ordered the two pieces of ordnance to be leveled towards the enemy to try their effect in causing them to yield; but they suffered greater injury when full license was given to the allies to attack them than from the cannon, although the latter did them some mischief. As this was of little avail, I ordered the musketry to be fired when a certain angular space where they were crowded together was gained, and some of the people thrown into the water; those that remained there yielded themselves prisoners without a struggle.