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Biography of Pedro de Alvarado

Conqueror of the Maya


Biography of Pedro de Alvarado

Pedro de Alvarado

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Guatemala and the Maya

Cortés, with the help of Alvarado, was able to regroup and retake the city, setting himself up as governor. More Spanish arrived to help colonize, govern and rule the remnants of the Aztec Empire. Among the loot discovered were ledgers of sorts detailing tribute payments from neighboring tribes and cultures, including several considerable payments from a culture known as the K'iche far to the south. A message was sent to the effect that there had been a change in management in Mexico City but the payments should continue. Predictably, the fiercely independent K'iche ignored it. Cortés selected Pedro de Alvarado to head south and investigate, and in 1523 he gathered up 400 men, many of whom had horses, and several thousand native allies. They headed south, delirious with dreams of plunder.

The Conquest of Utatlán

Cortés had been successful because of his ability to turn Mexican ethnic groups against one another, and Alvarado had learned his lessons well. The K'iche, at home in the city of Utatlán near present-day Quetzaltenango in Guatemala, were by far the strongest of the kingdoms in the lands that had once been home to the Mayan Empire. Cortés quickly made an alliance with the Kaqchikel, traditional bitter enemies of the K'iche. All of Central America had been devastated by disease in the previous years, but the K'iche were still able to put 10,000 warriors into the field, led by K'iche warlord Tecún Umán. The Spanish routed the K'iche in February of 1524 at the battle of El Pinal, ending the greatest hope of large-scale native resistance in Central America.

Conquest of the Maya

With the mighty K'iche defeated and their capital city of Utatlán in ruins, Alvarado simply had to pick off the remaining kingdoms one by one. By 1532 all of the major kingdoms had fallen, and their people had been given by Alvarado to his men as virtual slaves. Even the Kaqchikels were rewarded with slavery. Alvarado was named governor of Guatemala and established a city there, near the site of present-day Antigua. He served as Governor for seventeen years.

Further Adventures

Alvarado was not content to sit idly in Guatemala counting his newfound wealth. He would abandon his duties as governor from time to time in search of more conquest and adventure. Hearing of the great wealth in the Andes, he set out with ships and men to conquer Quito: when he arrived, it had already been captured by Sebastian de Benalcazar on behalf of the Pizarro brothers. Alvarado considered fighting the other Spaniards for it, but in the end allowed them to buy him off. He was named the Governor of Honduras and occasionally went there to enforce his claim. He also returned to Mexico to campaign in the Mexican northwest. This would prove the end of him: in 1541 he died in present-day Michoacán when a horse rolled over on him during a battle with natives.

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