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American Beginnings: 1492-1690
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Toolbox Overview: American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Resource Menu: Contact
Text 1. First Impressions
Text 2. Europe's Literary Response
Text 3. Illustrating the New World (Pt. I)
Text 4. Atlantic Coast
Text 5. Pacific Coast
Text 6. Indians' Accounts
Text 7. Spanish Conquest

Reading Guide
Illus., Duran, La Historia Antigua
Mexica (Aztec)
Indians' Accounts
- Mexica & Tlaxcala: Accounts of the Spanish arrival in Mexico, 1500s (PDF)
- Maya: Account of the Spanish arrival in the Yucatan, 1520s (PDF)
- Ho-Chunk: Account of the French arrival near Lake Michigan, 1634 (PDF)
- Micmac: Statement to a French missionary in Canada, ca. 1680

What did the native inhabitants think of these sudden arrivals? How did they respond to the Europeans and their culture? And how did they later describe the experience? The written accounts available to us are primarily from two sources—Indians' oral histories as recorded by non-Indians for publication, and statements to Europeans who recorded them later. The selections here represent both modes of transmission:
  • MEXICA (Aztec) & TLAXCALA: first-hand accounts compiled by Spanish missionaries in the 1500s
    [Selections from the Codex Florentino, ca. 1555; Cronica Mexicana, ca. 1578; and Historia de Tlaxcala, 1585]

  • MAYA: oral narrative in the Chilam Balam, sacred texts translated in the 19th and 20th centuries
    [Chilam Balam of (the town of) Chumayel]

  • HO-CHUNK (Winnebago): traditional family account as told to a 20th-century American anthropologist
    [Account of Paul Radin published in Thirty-Seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1915-1916, 1923]

  • MICMAC: statement to a French missionary in 1680 as published in his account a decade later
    [Chrestian LeClerq, Nouvelle Relation de la Gaspésie (New Relation of Gaspesia), 1691]
These accounts can be grouped for various perspectives: (1) the "first encounter" narratives of the Mexica and the Ho-Chunk; (2) the conquest histories of the Mexica, Tlaxcala, and Maya; (3) the response to French "superiority" of the Ho-Chunk and the Micmac; (4) the resistance to the "oppressors" of the Maya and the Micmac. In addition, you can compare the accounts by their source, from eyewitness accounts to oral traditions transcribed centuries later, and by their recorder, from a 16th-century Spanish priest to a 20th-century American anthropologist. These readings merit a dominant place in your seminar. (16 pages.)

Discussion questions
  1. How did the Indians interpret their first encounters with Europeans?
  2. How did their impressions influence future relationships with Europeans?
  3. How do the accounts differ by source? by recorder? by nationality of the Europeans encountered?
  4. How accurately can we know what happened?
  5. How do the various modes of transmitting the accounts affect your interpretation?
  6. How does your ethnic heritage influence your response to these accounts? What questions would you ask the narrators? the recorders?

Topic Framing Questions
  •  How did Europeans interpret the "newe fonde londe" upon their first contacts?
  •  How did Indians respond to the Europeans?
  •  How did these initial encounters frame future Indian-European relationships?
  •  What did the "New World" signify to Europe in 1500? in 1550?

Mexica & Tlaxcala: 10*
Maya:  2
Ho-Chunk:  2
Micmac:  2
16 pages

*same text as in #7:SPANISH CONQUEST
Supplemental Sites
The Conquest of Mexico, primary documents and resources for teachers and students from Nancy Fitch, Dept. of History, California State University-Fullerton

Visión de los Vencidos (Vision of the Vanquished, 1959), full text in Spanish of the conquest narratives compiled by Miguel León-Portilla (published in English as The Broken Spears)

Miguel León-Portilla, overview from

Spanish conquest of Yucatan (Maya), overview from Athena Review

Ho-Chunk, encounter with Jean Nicolet, background note in American Journeys

Micmac and LeClerq, overview from New Advent, the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia Online

Canada's First Nations: European Contact, from the University of Calgary (from this page go to the regional sections via the map and list at the page bottom)

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

Micmac: History Matters, from George Mason University and the City University of New York (CUNY)
Others: National Humanities Center

Image: Illustration of Mexica [Aztec] Indians confronting Spanish soldiers, in Fr. Diego Durán, La Historia de la Nueva España, ca. 1585, detail. Courtesy Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Peter Force Collection.

Toolbox: American Beginnings: 1492-1690
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