Son of the Tree of the Night of Sorrows

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  1. Hernan Cortes didn’t kill Montezuma–his own subjects did (they were mad at HIM.) 2) Cortes wanted to have his king, Spanish King Charles V, SEE this city, so excellently constructed was it. 3) These Aztec/Mechica were INVADING BULLIES who were kidnapping and murdering locals for their “religion.” The Spanish were welcomed by the actual natives as someone who might free them from these murderous, bullying invaders. They did.

Danielpauldavis thank-you for your comment but we will have to respectfully agree to disagree on one point. The vast majority of historians today believe that Moctezuma was killed by the conquistadors and NOT as the official Spanish narrative claims by his own people.

The chronicles of conquistadors such as Bernal Diaz del Castillo are extremely biased accounts that are not to be trusted. This is because : 1. They were written many decades after the conquest 2. They appeared in the aftermath of the controversial ecclesiastical debates of Valladoid over the morality of the conquest 3. These were undisguised attempts to curry favour and gain political / economic favours from the King of Spain. In other words , it was within their interests to portray themselves in a good and noble light , as the saying goes “History is written by the victors”.

In regards to the Aztecs being “bullies” , I don’t know if I would use that term for them. They were after all a civilization , not an individual or handful of people. But they were definitely a warlike culture who conquered other indigenous civilizations and tribes and subjugated them to imperial rule and what would now be considered atrocities , yes, agreed. The Spanish were supported by enemies of the Aztecs such as the Tlaxcalans , Tarascans , Mixteca and Zapoteca , yes, also agreed. However, it must be remembered that these peoples also later rebelled against the rule of the Viceroyalty of Spain in the decades and centuries that followed the conquest. This strongly suggests that all was not well in post-conquest Mexico and that these peoples who had initially joined the Spanish now saw their " true colours" as yet another empire not so different in its capacity for cruelty as that of the Aztecs.

Moreover, history should always be mistrusted and warrant closer scrutiny when it is portrayed as a simple narrative of good vs evil. There are no “good” parties in war and conquest , only those who profit from dehumanising , killing and enslaving another people and those who are killed or enslaved. Even in light of the Aztec empires bloodthirsty excesses the atrocities and barbarity of the Spanish conquest of the Americas which were far more extensive and prolonged (and committed in the name or guise of their own religion)cannot nor should not be glossed over


Evidently there were abuses, such as forced and poorly paid rotational labor of some indigenous people for haciendas or urban constructions, but for example two daughters of Moctezuma married Spaniards and were granted noble titles and an income that the Mexican state paid until the 1930s. This was justified because Moctezuma had asked Cortés to take care of his children. His descendants still exist with noble titles in Spain and Mexico. In addition, many of the Spanish troops in Mexico were reconverted Aztec warriors, and participated in explorations and conquests in the north and in Guatemala, where many settled. On the other hand, Mexico City was the richest city in the empire for a long period of time, and the Mexicans were surprised when they visited Madrid because of its relative smallness. I think that the history of the viceroyalty of New Spain was too complex to reduce it to a tale of good and bad, as you said, what the politicians have done for the purposes of their propaganda interests.


Thank you for your comment vbarcia06,

I agree mostly with what you’ve said and like all colonial history it is indeed complicated, but I think it is widely acknowledged that Moctezuma was murdered. I am not a scholar but I have personally never read about ex Aztec soldiers accompanying the expeditions to Guatemala. However, I do know though that the last emperor of the Mexica, Cuahtemoc, and several members of the indigenous nobility were kept as prisoners on that expedition , horrifically tortured in order to try to find any hidden gold and then executed on trumped up charges of plotting against the Spanish.


Allow me to commend you, Monsieur Mictlan, for your succinctly excellent exegesis of an inherently complex subject, the events leading to and following La Conquista. A meta-ethical approach goes a long way in considering the relative merits of ripping the beating hearts from captives to prevent the sun going dark versus the public ritual burning alive hundreds of captives as an auto de fé. Such considerations inevitably arose when the High Renaissance met the Stone Age.

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Thank you Tex Arcana for your kind words and sorry for my late reply

History is so incredibly complex and dark that sometimes I feel it is extremely hard to draw moral conclusions from it. But I think in the case of Meso-America its exceptionally hard because one brutal foreign empire replaced an existing brutal empire that happened to be indigenous.

I think there are a lot of people who sort of gloss over the Aztec civilizations atrocities because of their later destruction by the conquistadors and because of an idealized concept of “the noble savage” and Nationalistic reasons. On the other side you have those who glorify the Spanish conquest for religious and political reasons.

This was funny to read.
I think the best way to clarify the historical matter it is quoting the chroniclers in the texts.
I have read several texts on the Atlas that have serious historical flaws, especially in pre-Hispanic vestiges, but I try not to be disturbed by it (I know that because I dedicate myself to the history of Mexico)

Finally I understand that this webpage goes more for tourism than to unravel the story in depth.

My conflict with this site is …
Why put the “son of ahuehuete” and not the supposed original ahuehuete that is in Mexico City?

It is worth clarifying that the ahuehuete of “the sad night” is an invention of the twentieth century, because the original tree where Cortes remained after the escape from Tenochtitlan, was never preserved or talked about in 300 years …

I don’t agree with you regarding the chronicles Mario_Yair-TS , because as I have already explained in posts above “history is written by the victors” and the victors, in this case the Spanish, invariably lie through their teeth about large parts of the conquest in order to justify it to ecclesiastic critics (mostly of the Jesuit order) in Catholic Europe.

So I think it’s erroneous to put to much trust in what they say and its best to take it with a pinch of salt and strike a balance by also quoting the scant indigenous accounts which exist regarding the matter. For that purpose there are a few good books that I have like “Broken spears” by Miguel Leon Portillo and of course the writings of Bartomole de las casas (which are also biased but in a different way).

I chose to write about the son of the ahuehuete because it is still alive and having seen it for myself I can say that I found it to be a really impressive tree which I believe would be of interest to visitors to the city.

Atlas Obscura is a website that ultimately attempts to strike a balance between promoting tourism to these sites (and afterall what is wrong with that?) and chronicling/ unraveling their history. But as I’m sure you can understand , it isn’t possible to give in depth scholarly accounts of places without also alienating readers who are not scholars. However, that does not mean that the history is being trivialised or made into something low brow or for lowest common denominator audiences , if you feel that way , then there maybe is something wrong with your optics.

I haven’t written about the original ahuehuete because I haven’t visited it (although I always intended to when I lived in Mexico , but somehow never got round to ) if you feel that it’s inclusion in the atlas would be a good idea then why dont you document it by writing an entry on it yourself ?

I assume you are suggesting that some of “the serious historical flaws” in Atlas Obscura articles regarding the Prehispanics were written by me , in which case , why don’t you just edit them and add any relevant information that you feel is missing to the articles ?

Finally , yes , the tree legend itself might be a product of 19th century romanticism and an attempt to create a national narrative regarding the conquest but it is an important one that ultimately itself is now a piece of folklore that is part of Mexican history.

You raise many interesting points to discuss. I will try to be brief.

Regarding the historical debate:

  • The story is not written by the victors, it is written by those who interpret it

Even the chronicles of “the defeated” have a skewed view of the enemy. Portilla himself analyzes it in his book. For his book, he cited chronicles created after the conquest of both Spaniards, mestizos and natives; That is why his book is a jewel of historical criticism.
Let’s make one thing clear: Moctezuma’s death has never been clarified. Historians and archaeologists prefer to mention both versions (that he was murdered by his people and that he was murdered by the Spaniards, and that the cause of death were complications from a wound) leaving people to create his version, rather than concretizing a sharp one without being able to prove it.
I think it was the severe way in which you attributed his murder to the Spaniards that started the controversy in this post.
It is not possible to guarantee any version. It’s a legend. Same as Cortez’s tears (which you handled as such). That was great.

Leaving aside the historical issue, I want to clarify something.

1 - I never said that the page had something wrong leaning towards tourism. In fact, I love it to be brief, precise and have many images. You are putting words that I never said or hinted at.
2 - Do not feel alluded to something that I did not say about your contributions.
3 - In fact I am on that, rereading some texts of Mexico to clarify some points and suggesting editions. But you already said it, the purpose is not a deep text but interesting and accessible.

True , it has never been clarified and I am not arguing that it is a concrete fact that Moctezuma was murdered but am suggesting there is ample evidence to suggest that they probably murdered him.

Look at both the preceeding decades and those that came after the conquest of Mexico and there is plenty of examples of the capture , degradation and eventual execution of indigenous caciques being a frequent strategy utilized successfully by the conquistadors. It was successful because to the indigenous peoples of the Americas their rulers were often conceived as being divine or esteemed intermediataries of the gods and so by taking them hostage they were effecting a form of psychological warfare that disorientated , shocked and battered the morale of the adversary.

  1. You take the living God emperor and personally hold them in confinement for an unlimited period of time while the population are driven into a state of disarray , disorganization and hysteria 2. You make strategic attacks on the distressed nobility and enemy army weakened by a lack of a head of state 3. You either publically or privately execute the God emperor and by doing so have destroyed the figurehead and heart of the enemy , you have shaken and toppled the existential foundations of their religious belief systems and laid waste to it.

They did this in the Caribbean on islands like Hispaniola and Cuba with indigenous Taino and Arawak caciques decades before the conquest of Mexico and they did it in the 1530’s in Peru when they captured and executed Emperor Atahualpa of the Incas. What would stop them from doing the same thing in the case of Moctezuma ?

As I mentioned in one of the previous posts , the majority of the accounts of the conquest of Mexico were written decades after the conquest by Spaniards who had served as conquistadors in the campaign. In the case of the most lauded and cited account written by Bernal Diaz Del Castillo, “The conquest of New Spain” , the manuscript was written almost half a century after the event.

In that particular text , which mentions Moctezuma being “killed by his own people” , it is clear from the very opening pages of the book that Diaz is :

  1. Is expressively seeking political and economic favours from the King of Spain from his writings.


  1. Is very clearly politically aware of what has been going on in the 1550’s Valladoid debates in Spain and is tailoring his narrative to fit the counterargument against Bartolomé de las Casas raised by Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda who proposed that the conquest of the Mexica was a just , ethical , and moral crusade.
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