Saturday, September 17, 2016

How the Spanish Conquered the Lamanites – Part I

In the closing days of Lehi’s life, he gathered his family about him and blessed them as well as to prophesying about their future. At “I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever. But behold, when the time cometh that they shall dwindle in unbelief, after they have received so great blessings from the hand of the Lord—having a knowledge of the creation of the earth, and all men, knowing the great and marvelous works of the Lord from the creation of the world; having power given them to do all things by faith; having all the commandments from the beginning, and having been brought by his infinite goodness into this precious land of promise—behold, I say, if the day shall come that they will reject the Holy One of Israel, the true Messiah, their Redeemer and their God, behold, the judgments of him that is just shall rest upon them. Yea, he will bring other nations unto them, and he will give unto them power, and he will take away from them the lands of their possessions, and he will cause them to be scattered and smitten” (2 Nephi 1:9-11).
The latter part of this prophecy was realized in 1492, when not only the Nephites had been wiped off the face of the earth, but also when the Lamanites had reached the end of their rope with the Lord.
    Christopher Columbus, who was led by the Spirit to discover these previously unknown lands (1 Nephi 13:12), and within twenty years the conquest of these new lands was proceeding quickly. The Spanish who came to settle the New World were generally not farmers and craftsmen but soldiers, adventurers and mercenaries looking for a quick fortune. Native communities were attacked and enslaved and any treasures they may have had such as gold, silver or pearls were taken.
    Teams of Spanish conquistadors devastated native communities on the Caribbean islands such as Cuba and Hispaniola between 1494 and 1515 or so before moving on to the mainland.
The most famous conquests were those of the mighty Aztec and Inca Empires, in Central America and the Andes mountains respectively. The conquistadors who took these mighty Empires down were Hernan Cortes (left) in Mexico and Francisco Pizarro in the Andes of Ecuador and Peru with relatively small forces: Cortes had around 600 men and Pizarro initially only had about 160. Amazingly, these small forces were able to defeat much larger ones, such as at the Battle of Teocajas, Sebastian de Benalcazar had 200 Spanish and some 3,000 Cañari allies: together they fought Inca General Rumiñahui and a force of some 50,000 warriors to a draw.
How were the Spanish conquistadors able to do it? The Spanish armor and weapons had much to do with their success. First of all there were two types of Spanish conquistadors: horsemen or cavalry and foot soldiers or infantry. It was the cavalry that would usually carry the day in the battles of the conquest.
    Cavalrymen received a much higher share of the treasure than foot soldiers when the spoils were divided. Some Spanish soldiers would save up and purchase a horse as a sort of investment which would pay off on future conquests.
    The Spanish horsemen generally had two sorts of weapons: lances and swords.
Their lances were long wooden spears with iron or steel points on the ends, used with devastating effect on masses of lightly-clothed native foot soldiers. In closer combat, a rider would use his sword. Steel Spanish swords of the conquest were about three feet long and relatively narrow, sharp on both sides. The Spanish city of Toledo was known as one of the best places in the world for making arms and armor and a fine Toledo sword was a valuable weapon indeed: the finely made weapons did not pass inspection until they could bend in a half-circle and survive a full-force impact with a metal helmet. The fine Spanish steel sword was such an advantage that for some time after the conquest, it was illegal for natives to have one.
Spanish foot soldiers could use a variety of weapons. Many people incorrectly think that it was firearms that doomed the New World natives, but that's not the case. Some Spanish soldiers used a arquebus (harquebus), a sort of early musket. The arquebus was undeniably effective against any one opponent, but they are slow to load, heavy, and firing one is a complicated process involving the use of a wick which must be kept lit. The harquebuses were mostly effective for terrorizing native soldiers, who thought the Spanish could create thunder.
Top: Crossbow; Middle: Arquebus  (firearm); Bottom: Toledo Sword

Like the harquebus, the crossbow was a European weapon designed to defeat armored knights and too bulky and cumbersome to be of much use in the conquest against the lightly armored, quick-moving natives. Some soldiers used crossbows, but they're very slow to load, break or malfunction easily and their use was not terribly common, at least not after the initial phases of the conquest.
    Like the cavalry, Spanish foot soldiers made good use of swords. It was reported that a heavily armored Spanish foot soldier could cut down dozens of native enemies in minutes with a fine Toledo blade.
Spanish armor, mostly made in Toledo, was among the finest in the world. Encased from head to foot in a steel shell, Spanish conquistadors were all but invulnerable when facing native opponents. In Europe, the armored knight had dominated the battlefield for centuries and weapons such as the harquebus and crossbow were specifically designed to pierce armor and defeat them. The American natives had no such weapons and therefore killed very few armored Spanish in battle. 
    In 1518 it was Cortés’ turn. With 600 men, he began one of the most audacious feats in history: the conquest of the Aztec Empire, which at that time had hundreds of thousands of warriors. After landing with his men, he made his way to Tenochtitlán, capital of the Empire. Along the way, he defeated Aztec vassal states, adding their strength to his. He reached Tenochtitlán in 1519 and was able to occupy it without a fight. When Governor Velázquez of Cuba sent an expedition under Pánfilo de to rein in Cortés, Cortes had to leave the city to fight. He defeated Narváez and added his men to his own. When Cortés returned to Tenochtitlán with his reinforcements, but found it in a state of uproar, as one of his lieutenants, Pedro de Alvarado, had ordered a massacre of Aztec nobility in his absence. Aztec Emperor Montezuma was killed by his own people while trying to placate the crowd and an angry mob chased the Spanish from the city in what became known as the Noche Triste, or “Night of Sorrows.” Cortés was able to regroup, re-take the city and by 1521 he was in charge of Tenochtitlán for good.
    Corrtés never could have pulled off the defeat of the Aztec Empire without a great deal of good luck. First of all, he had found Gerónimo de Aguilar, a Spanish priest who had been shipwrecked on the mainland several years before and who could speak the Maya language. Between Aguilar and a woman slave named Malinche who could speak Maya and Nahuatl, Cortés was able to communicate effectively during his conquest.
Cortés also had amazing luck in terms of the Aztec vassal states. They nominally owed allegiance to the Aztec, but in reality hated them and Cortés was able to exploit this hatred. With thousands of native warriors as allies, he was able to meet the Aztecs on strong terms and bring about their downfall.
    He also benefited from the fact that Montezuma was a weak leader, who looked for divine signs before making any decisions. Cortés believed that Moctezuma thought that the Spanish were emissaries from the God Quetzalcoatl, which may have caused him to wait before crushing them.
    Cortés’ final stroke of luck was the timely arrival of reinforcements under the inept Pánfilo de Narváez. Governor Velázquez intended to weaken Cortés and bring him back to Cuba, but after Narváez was defeated he wound up providing Cortés with men and supplies that he desperately needed.
    There can be no doubt that the Spanish were divinely guided, for it had become time that the Lamanites met with their end through the Lord's long promises.
(See the next post,” How the Spanish Conquered the Lamanites – Part II for more about how the small banks of Spanish conquistadors were able to defeat empires of tens to hundreds of thousands of people and a fighting forge numbering in the millions)


  1. The Lord was surely using the Spanish to bring about changes, but the Spanish were still very evil of themselves. Right? The wicked were destroying the wicked.

  2. Right. What the Spanish did, especially in the Andes to the Inca, was about as evil as one gets in the modern world.

    1. The interesting thing about this however is the Spanish still worshiped the God of this land which is Jesus Christ. Not so now - we are bringing in thousands into the US that do not worship the God of this land but other gods. So although the Lamanites were conquered. They were conquered by Christians.

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