Hernando Cortes


It was in March 1519, that Cortés set sail again, aiming for more impressive lands than Cozumel could offer. They rounded the horn of the Yucatán peninsula and came upon the outlet of the River Tabasco (which the Spanish had originally intended to call the Rio Grijalba, after the once-missing Captain Grijalba) and landed. Cortés, hoping to add legitimacy to his excursion onto the mainland, read a royal proclamation taking official possession of the land for the Spanish Crown. The Tabascans, unimpressed by Cortés' proclamation (Spanish made no sense to them, in any event) answered his dramatic reading with a flurry of stones and arrows. The ever-ready Spanish, however, answered with gunfire and a cavalry charge that shocked the Tabascans. Thus, the city of Tabasco (called by some "Potonchon") was taken by the Spanish.

On March 25, 1519, the two sides clashed again in a decisive battle known as the Battle of Cintla. The Spanish, hampered by their heavy steel armor and helmets, slowly plodded after the attacking natives, who wore little more than quilted cotton armor and were therefore much more nimble and agile. A more aggressive cavalry charge by Cortés and his mounted soldiers scattered the terrified Tabascans. Many Spanish soldiers were injured or killed, but in the end, the Spanish defeated the Tabascans and kept their valuable foothold on the Mexican mainland. They also learned to appreciate the quilted armor of the natives, and a number of soldiers preferred it to their heavy, European-made plates and mail.

The bested Tabascans pledged their obedience to Cortés and his Spanish army, and promised to be faithful citizens of King Charles of Spain (Cortés was always certain to mention Charles' name when dealing with Native Americans; Velázquez was never spoken of). The victorious Spaniards were rewarded with golden trinkets, the best food Tabasco could provide, and 20 native women. From them, Cortés selected as his mistress a young noblewoman named Malinaltzin; this was corrupted by the Spanish to Malinche. Cortés had Malinche baptized and renamed Doña Marina ("Lady Marina"), although her own people often continued to call her Malinaltzin (or something less kind).