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, 294–97.

I answered them [the alguazil mayor and Pedro de Alvarado], that they must by no means go forward without leaving the bridges well filled up, so that if it became necessary to beat a retreat, the water might present no obstacle or impediment, for in this consisted all the danger. They sent me a message in reply, the amount of which was that the whole they had gained was left in good condition, and that I might go and see if it were not so. But suspecting that they had disregarded the orders, and left the bridges imperfectly filled up, I went to the place and found they had passed a breach in the road ten or twelve paces wide; and the water that flowed through it was ten or twelve feet deep. At the time the troops had passed this ditch, thus formed, they had thrown into it wood and reed-canes, and as they had crossed few at a time and with great circumspection, the wood and canes had not sunk beneath their weight; and they were so intoxicated with the pleasure of victory that they imagined it to be sufficiently firm. At the moment I reached this bridge of troubles, I discovered some Spaniards and many of our allies flying back in great haste, and the enemy like dogs in pursuit of them; and when I saw such a route I began to cry out, “Hold, hold!” and on approaching the water, I beheld it full of Spaniards and Indians, in so dense a mass that it seemed; as if there was not room for a straw to float. The enemy charged on the fugitives so hotly, that in the melée they threw themselves into the water after them; and soon the enemy’s canoes came up by means of the canal and took the Spaniard alive.

As this affair was so sudden and I saw them killing our men, I resolved to remain there, and perish in the fight. The way in which l and those who were with me could do the most good, was to give our hands to some unfortunate Spaniards who were drowning and draw them out of the water; some came out wounded, others half-drowned, and others without arms, whom I sent forward. Already such multitudes of the enemy pressed upon us, that they had completely surrounded me and the twelve or fifteen men who were with me; and being deeply interested in endeavoring to save those that were sinking, I did not observe nor regard, the danger to which I was exposed. Several Indians of the enemy already advanced to seize me, and would have borne me off had it not been for a captain [Antonio de Quiñones] of fifty men whom I always had with me and a youth of his company, to whom God I owed my life; and in saving mine like a valiant man, he lost his own. In the mean time the Spaniards who had fled before the enemy, pursued their course along the causeway, and as it was small and narrow, and on the same level as the water, which had been effected by those dogs on purpose to annoy us; and as the road was crowded also with our allies who had been routed, much delay was thereby occasioned, enabling the enemy to come out on both sides by water, and to take and destroy as many as they pleased. The captain who was with me, Antonio de Quiñones, said to me, “Let us leave, this place and save your life, since you know that without you none of us can escape;” but he could not induce me to go. When he saw this he seized me in his arms, that he might, force me away; and although I would have bean better satisfied to die than live, yet by the importunity of this captain and of my other companions, we began to retreat, making our way with our swords and bucklers [shields] against the enemy, who pressed hard upon us. At this moment there came up a servant of mine on horseback, and made a little room; but presently he received a blow in his throat from a lance thrown from a low terrace that brought him to the ground. While I was in the midst of this conflict, sustaining the attacks of the enemy, and waiting for the crowd on the narrow causeway to reach a place of safety, one of my servants brought me a horse to ride upon. But the mud on the causeway, occasioned by the coming and going of persons by water, was so deep that no one could stand, especially with the jostlings of the people against one another in their efforts to escape.

I mounted the horse, but not to fight, as this was impossible on horseback; but if it had been practicable, I should have found on the little island opposite the narrow causeway, the eight horsemen I had left there, who were unable to do more than to effect their return; which, indeed, was so dangerous that two mares on which two of my servants rode fell on the causeway into the water; one of them was killed by the Indians, but the other was saved by some of the infantry. Another servant of mine, Cristobal de Guzman, rode a horse they gave him at the little island to bring to me, on which I might make my escape; but the enemy killed both him and the horse before he reached me; his death spread sorrow through the whole camp, and even to this day his loss is still mourned by those who knew him. But after all our troubles, by the blessing of God, those of us who survived reached the street of Tacuba, which was very wide; and collecting the people, I took my post with nine horsemen in the rearguard. The enemy pressed forward with all the pride of victory, as if resolved that none should escape with life; but falling back in the best manner I could, I sent word to the treasurer and auditor to retreat to the public square in good order. I also sent similar orders to the two other captains [the alguazil mayor and Pedro de Alvarado] who had entered the city by the street that led to the market-place, both of whom had fought gallantly, and carried many entrenchments and bridges, which they had caused to be well filled up, on account of which they were able to retire without loss. Before the retreat of the treasurer and auditor some of the enemy threw in their way two or three heads of Christian men from the upper part of an entrenchment where they were fighting, but it was not know whether they were persons belonging to the camp of Pedro de Alvarado or our own.