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I. BEFORE THE CONQUEST The Original Inhabitants: When Cortés landed on the red sand plains of Vera Cruz four hundred years ago, he found a country whose inhabitants differed greatly among themselves in language, customs, and cultural development.

A certain degree of unity and a high order of civilization had been attained in the Valley of Mexico, where the Aztecs held sway; but to the north was a large population of uncivilized, or "wild," Indians, such as the Apaches, the Seris, and the Yaquis -tribes whose characteristics and manner of life differed in no respect from those of their kinsmen living in what is now Arizona and New Mexico. South of the Aztec center dwelt a people of another type. Oldest, probably, and in many respects most civilized, most persistent, and certainly most mysterious of all the races of Mexico, were these Mayas of the Guatemalan border and of the Peninsula of Yucatán. Their great stone temples at Palenque, Uxmal, and Chichén Itza were already centuries old when the Spaniards came, and the origin of their civilization was even then lost in the mists of antiquity.

The central part of Mexico was populated by many tribes of varying degrees of civilization. Chief of these at the time of the Spaniards were the Aztecs. But the Aztecs constituted only one branch of a much older and larger family called the Nahua, which occupied most of modern Mexico south of a line running from Tampico on the Gulf to San Blas on the Pacific. Other important branches of this Nahua family were the Toltecs and Chichimecs.

Besides these, there were innumerable other tribes whose origin and racial connection have long been matters of speculation and uncertainty. Indeed, the whole question of the origin of the peoples of Mexico is one that still perplexes archaeologists and ethnologists alike. Some authorities endeavor to trace the Maya and Aztec beginnings back to Asia, to Africa, or even to the fabled continent of Atlantis. And at least one devout, if misguided Englishman, Lord Kingsborough, spent a princely fortune seeking to identify the more highly civilized peoples of Mexico with the lost ten tribes of Israel! Yet to this very day,

! no one can say definitely from what ancient race these peoples sprang, or whence they began their long migrations to the peninsula of Yucatán and the land of Anáhuac.

It is generally agreed, however, that the various peoples who inhabited Mexico before the Spaniards, came into the country from the north in a series of great waves or migrations. Earliest of all, so far as it is possible to determine, were the Mayas who settled in Yucatán probably about the third century, A. D. Almost contemporaneous with the Mayas were the Zapotecas, a hardy, independent people of Oaxaca and Guerrero. Next came the Otomíes, from whom many of the sedentary tribes of central and southern Mexico are sprung: They occupied the region now included in the states of San Luis Potosí, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Mexico, Querétaro, and Morelos.

Not long after the Otomíes, came the first of the Nahua family -the Toltecs, a race much farther advanced than the Otomíes, whom they either subdued or drove out of their original possessions. The Toltecs built up a comparatively well organized kingdom, with its capital at the modern city of Tula, about 30 miles northwest of Mexico City. But after a period of ascendancy their power in turn was overthrown. One explanation given for this was the over-indulgence of the tribe in pulque, a drink which it is believed they discovered. About the same time a roving, warlike people, called the Chichimecs, began to dispute their supremacy. The Chichimecs, though inferior to the Toltecs in civilization, were much their superiors in military ability, and soon displaced them as the dominant factor in Central Mexico.

The Aztecs: Lastly came the Aztecs, the most important branch of the Nahua family. The origin and early history of this people is so obscure and interwoven with myth that the historian can do little better than fall back upon the interesting legend which tells of the founding of the Aztec empire. The story, according to one version, runs as follows:

“The Mexicans came also from the remote regions of the north....and arrived on the borders of Anáhuac (Valley of Mexico) toward the beginning of the fourteenth century, some time after the occupation of the land by the kindred races.

For a long time they did not establish themselves in any permanent residence, but continued shifting their quarters to different parts of the Mexican Valley. After a series of wanderings and adventures they at length halted on the southwestern border of the principal lake, in the year 1325. They there beheld, perched on the stem of a prickly pear, which shot out from the crevices of a rock that was washed by the waves, a royal eagle of extraordinary size and beauty, with a serpent in its talons, and his broad wings opened to the rising sun." This legend, it is almost superfluous to add, is still preserved on Mexican coins and the national flag.

Regarding this omen as the fulfillment of prophecy, the wandering Aztecs established a settlement in the swampy margins of the lake, sinking piles for the foundations of their reed or

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