Spaniards Fight Their Way Back to Tlaxcala
From Cortés, Second Letter, 164–66
[After barely escaping Tenochtitlan, Cortés and the Spaniards march back to Tlaxcala in search of Indian allies.]
We discovered that in the rear of the hill there was a large city with many inhabitants, with whom we engaged until finding the ground somewhat rough and rocky, and the enemy numerous, while our own was small, we were compelled to fall back on the town, where the army was left encamped. On this occasion I was badly wounded in the head by two stones; and after my wounds had been dressed, I gave orders to leave the place, as it did not appear to be a safe position. Resuming our route, we were still followed by Indians in considerable numbers, who attacked our troops with such vigor as to wound four or five Spaniards, and as many horses; one horse was killed, and God only knows how great a loss it was to us, and how much sorrow his death occasioned in our ranks, as next to God our greatest security was in our horses. We derived some consolation from the flesh of this animal, which we ate, not leaving even his skin, or any other part of him, so great were our necessities; for since our departure from the great city [Tenochtitlan] we had eaten nothing but maize, boiled and roasted; and even this we were not always fully supplied with, being compelled to subsist on wild plants.
Seeing that every day the enemy increased in numbers and vigor, while we were becoming enfeebled, I that night caused the wounded and infirm, whom we had so far carried on the backs and shoulders of the horses, to provide themselves with crutches and other means of assistance, so that they might be able to have support in walking, and the horses and Spanish soldiers be left free to fight the enemy. And it seemed as if the Holy Ghost had enlightened my mind to adopt this precaution, from what occurred on the following day; since having left our quarters in the morning, and advanced a league and a half on our way, we encountered so great a multitude of Indians that they completely covered the ground in front and rear, and on our flanks, not leaving a single spot unoccupied. They attacked us with such violence on all sides, that they became mingled with our own people, and it was difficult for us to distinguish them from our allies. We thought it certain that our last day was come, so great was the force of the enemy and so feeble our own, exhausted as we were by fatigue, and reduced by hunger, and nearly all of us suffering from wounds. But the Lord to show his great power and mercy towards us, so that we were enabled to humble the pride and arrogance of our enemies, great numbers of whom perished, including some of their most distinguished men and principal leaders; for the multitude of them was so great that they were in each other's way, and unable either to fight or to fly. We were engaged during the greater part of the day, until it pleased God that one should fall who must have been a leading personage amongst them, as at his death the battle ceased. After this we were somewhat relieved, although still suffering from hunger, until we reached a small house on a plain, in which and the fields we lodged that night. From this spot were descried certain mountains of the province of Tlaxcala, which produced not a little joy in our hearts; since we recognized the land and knew it was the country where we were going. We were, however, not sure of finding the inhabitants of that province secure and friendly; thinking it possible that on seeing us so reduced, they might desire to put an end to our lives, in order to recover the liberty they had before enjoyed. This idea with our suspicions gave us as much uneasiness as we should have felt in renewing our contests with the Mexicas.