BATTLE AND THE RUINS OF CINTLA
BY DANIEL G. BRINTON
BATTLE AND THE RUINS
DANIEL G. BRINTON, M. D., LL. D., D. Sc.
AMERICAN ARCHAEOLOGY AND LINGUISTICS IN THE UNIVERSITY
[REPRINTED FROM THE _AMERICAN ANTIQUARIAN_, SEPTEMBER, 1896]
THE BATTLE AND THE RUINS OF CINTLA.
BY DANIEL G. BRINTON, M. D.
The first battle on the American continent in which horses were used was
that of Cintla in Tabasco, March, 1519, the European troops being under
the leadership of Hernando Cortes.
This fact attaches something more than an ordinary historic interest to
the engagement, at least enough to make it desirable to ascertain its
precise locality and its proper name. Both of these are in doubt, as
well as the ethnic stock to which the native tribe belonged which
opposed the Spanish soldiery on the occasion. I propose to submit these
questions to a re-examination, and also to describe from unpublished
material the ruins which,--as I believe--, mark the spot of this first
important encounter of the two races on American soil.
The engagement itself has been described by all the historians of
Cortes' famous conquest of Mexico, as it was the first brilliant
incident of that adventure. We have at least four accounts of it from
participants. One prepared under the eye of Cortes himself, one by the
anonymous historian of his expedition, a third by Cortes'
companion-in-arms, the redoubtable Bernal Diaz del Castillo, and a
fourth by Andres de Tapia.[3-1]
The most satisfactory narrative, however, is given by the chaplain of
Cortes, Francisco de Gomara, and I shall briefly rehearse his story,
adding a few points from other contemporary writers.[3-2]
Cortes with his armada cast anchor at the mouth of the River Grijalva in
March, 1519. The current being strong and the bar shallow, he with about
eighty men proceeded in boats up the river for about two miles, when
they descried on the bank a large Indian village. It was surrounded with
a wooden palisade, having turrets and loopholes from which to hurl
stones and darts. The houses within were built of tiles laid in mortar,
or of sun-dried brick (adobes), and were roofed with straw or split
trees. The chief temple had spacious rooms, and its dependences
surrounded a court yard.
The interpreter Aguilar, a Spaniard who had lived with the Mayas in
Yucatan, could readily speak the tongue of the village, which was
therefore a Mayan dialect. The natives told him that the town was named
Potonchan, which Aguilar translated "the place that smells or stinks,"
an etymology probably correct in a general way.
The natives were distrustful, and opposed the landing of the Europeans
rather with words and gestures than with blows. Their warriors
approached Cortes in large boats, called in their tongue _tahucup_, and
refused him permission to land.
After some parleying, Cortes withdrew to an island in the river near by,
and as night drew on, he sent to the ships for reinforcements, and
despatched some of the troops to look for a ford from the island to the
mainland; which they easily found.
The next morning he landed some of his men by the boats, and attacked
the village on the water side, while another detachment crossed the ford
and making a circuit assaulted it in the rear. The Indians were
prepared, having sent their women and children away. They were in number
about four hundred, and made at first a brisk resistance, but being
surprised by the rear assault, soon fled in dismay. No Spaniard was
killed, though many were wounded.
Cortes established himself in the village and landed most of his troops
and ten out of his thirteen horses. When his men were rested and the
injured had had their wounds dressed with fat taken from dead
Indians[4-1] (!) he sent out three detachments on foot to reconnoitre.
After marching a distance which is
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