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Handsome Devil

Pedro de Alvarado (1485-1541), One of the Cruelest of Cortés’s Lieutenants

Even his enemies were impressed with him. The Indians of New Spain (Mexico and Guatemala) called him, in Nahuatl, “Toniatuh,” meaning “sun.” In Robert J. Sharer and Loa P. Traxler’s scholarly study, The Ancient Maya: Sixth Edition describes the depredations wrought by this cruelest of conquistadores:

[Fray Bartolomé] Las Casas goes on to itemize the atrocities committed by Alvarado during the conquest of what became known as Guatemala. There is no reason to reject Las Casas’s account, for Alvarado’s own letters, which provide the best history of the conquest of Guatemala, allude to the terror tactics he employed against the defenseless populace.

About his campaign in the Valley of Quetzaltenango, Alvarado writes:

We commenced to crush them and scattered them in all directions and followed them in pursuit for two leagues and a half until all of them were routed and nobody was left in front of us. Later we returned against them, and our friends [the Mexican allies] and the infantry made the greatest destruction in the world at a river. We surrounded a bare mountain where they had taken refuge, and pursued them to the top, and took all that had gone up there. That day we killed and imprisoned many people, many of whom were captains and chiefs and people of importance.

One of the victims was Tecun Uman, a K’iche commander, now considered a hero to the Maya people, and after whom a city bordering Mexico has been named.

Monument to Tecun Uman, One of Alvarado’s Victims

There was no way the Maya could withstand the force of firearms, horses (which the Maya had never before encountered), and the ruthless military intelligence of Pedro de Alvarado.

Below is a mask of Alvarado used in Highland Maya processions and ceremonies in Guatemala to commemorate the losses sustained by the Maya:

Guatemalan Dance Mask of Pedro de Alvarado Used in Maya Ceremonies

 

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