Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 17 >> Lemurs to Lied Von Der Glocke >> Leon


time, spaniards, mexico, city, aztecs and famous

LEON, Juan Vasquez de, Spanish con quistador and companion of Cortes during his first venture in the land of the Aztecs. He was one of the half a dozen or more com panions of the conqueror who were of noble blood; and Leon, who was a near relative of the governor of Cuba, Velasquez, was probably the most highly connected of all the party, having a legal right to use the title "hidalgo?' He aided Amador de Lares (q.v.) in enabling Cones to make his preparations to leave Cuba; and he was among the small band of cavalry with which Cones invaded the uplands of Me2G ico. He was somewhat proud, valiant, re sourceful and an excellent leader, and for this reason was trusted by Cortes who gave him high command in his forces and invariably de pended upon him when something dangerous and difficult had to be done. When Cortes marched from the City of Mexico in 1519 to Vera Cruz, Leon, who did not approve of his action, tried to raise trouble; and he and his companions were promptly arrested by Cortes and confined aboard ship. Leon soon repented of his action and was admitted once more into the confidence of his leader. From that time on he was ever among the most faithful fol lowers of Cortes, who considered him the most level-headed of his officers. He was fre quently found a protest against bigotry in an age when practically every Spaniard was a bigot; and he strongly objected to the useless massacres of the natives of Mexico. He was one of the guard of five men selected by Cortes to effect the arrest of Montezuma II, emperor of the Aztecs, and it was by his pre cipitate action that the arrest was made good at that time. He was also the commander of the body of troops that maintained the guard of the royalprisoner from the vantage point of the ante-chamber of his old palace where he was under arrest. He was a good com panion and had the courtly manner of the Spanish court, and for this reason Montezuma took a great liking to him. Le6n seems to have had more respect for the Aztec emperor than had any of his companions, and he did his best to entertain him during his captivity. Le6n was

sent by Cortes to plant a colony on the Coatza colcos River on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, but the latter was forced to recall him before he had time to finish his commission, owing to trouble in his own affairs; and Leon, obey ing the call, joined him at Cholula and was with Cortes in his famous capture, at Vera Cruz, of the forces of Narvaez, who had been sent from Cuba by Velisquez, the governor, to replace him. At this eventful time Leon was sent by Cortes, with an armed force, to secure the province of Panne°. On his return to Mex ico City he modified the anger of Cortes against the imprisoned Aztec emperor Montezuma, who was not able to force his people to supply the Spaniards with provisions. Shortly after this the Spaniards were forced to leave the capital of the Aztecs, and they attempted to do it secretly at the dead of a moonless night. But they were discovered, and a desperate battle ensued which resulted disastrously for the Spaniards, the greater part of whom were killed or severely wounded in this retreat, which is known in Spanish history as the °Dismal Night." Leon, with the famous Pedro de Al varado, was given command of the rearguard, the most dangerous position in the retreat. The Spaniards carried along with them a bridge which had been previously made to span the openings in the causeways which served as roads for the city of the Aztecs. At the first opening this bridge stuck fast and could not be removed in the hurry of the retreat to be used at the following openings. The place where Alvarado is said to have made a famous leap, some say on his horse, others affirm with his long lance as a vaulting pole, is still pointed out to the visitor to Mexico City. At any rate the latter came out of battle safe and sound and lived to be one of the important figures in the colony of New Spain as Mexico was called, while Lean lost his life on the ((Dismal Night.' It is said that Cortes wept when he heard of his death.