500 Nations (1995) s01e01 Episode Script

Wounded Knee Legacy and the Ancestors

I'm Kevin Costner.
Welcome to 500 Nations.
The settling of this country has always been of interest to me.
It's fired my imagination and shaped my life both personally and professionally but my knowledge of history has been limited by what I was taught.
As far as I was concerned, the history of the continent started 500 years ago when Columbus discovered the New World.
But we know that's not true.
There were people here.
So how is it we know so little about this past the human history of North America our own story? Could it be that we don't think it worthy of mention the way history has remembered the ancient civilizations of Greece Rome, Egypt or China? The truth is, we have a story worth talking about.
We have a history worth celebrating.
Long before the first Europeans arrived here there were some 500 nations already in North America.
They blanketed the continent from coast to coast from Central America to the Arctic.
There were tens of millions of people here speaking over 300 languages.
Many of them lived in beautiful cities among the largest and most advanced in the world.
In the coming hours, 500 Nations looks back on these ancient cultures how they lived and how many survived.
We turn for guidance to hundreds of Indian people across the continent.
You'll meet many of them in our programs.
To bring the past alive, we searched archives for the oldest and most authentic images of Indian people.
We sought out rare books and manuscripts for the actual words of participants and eyewitnesses to history.
Our camera crews traveled throughout North America to film at the actual places where important events in Indian history occurred.
We filmed incredible treasures of Indian creativity from museums across North America and Europe.
Historians and archeologists worked with visual artists and advanced computer technology to allow us, for the first time to walk through virtual realities of ancient Indian worlds.
What you're about to see is what happened.
It's not all that happened, and it's not always pleasant.
We can't change that.
We can't turn back the clock.
But we can open our eyes and give the first nations of this land the recognition and respect they deserve their rightful place in the history of the world.
With that in mind, we take you first to where our story ends on the Great Plains in the late 1800s.
The rumor got about the school.
The dead are to return.
The buffalo are to return.
The Lakota people will get back their own way of life.
That part about the dead returning was what appealed to me.
To think I should see my dear mother grandmother, brothers and sisters again.
But, boylike, I soon forgot about it.
Until one night when I was rudely awakened in the dormitory.
"Get up.
Put your clothes on and slip downstairs.
We are running away.
" A boy was hissing into my ear.
Soon 50 of us little boys, about 8 to 10, started out across country over hills and valleys, running all night.
I know now that we ran almost 30 miles.
There on the Porcupine Creek, thousands of Lakota people were encamped.
By the late 1880s, a message of hope spread across the Great Plains.
It was called the "Ghost Dance" a dance to restore the past when Indian nations were free.
They danced without rest, on and on.
Occasionally, someone thoroughly exhausted and dizzy fell unconscious into the center and lay there dead.
The visions ended the same way like a chorus describing a great encampment of all the Lakotas who had ever died where there was no sorrow, but only joy where relatives thronged out with happy laughter.
The people went on and on and could not stop.
And so I suppose the authorities did think they were crazy.
But they weren't.
They were only terribly unhappy.
Driven off their lands Indian nations were confined to desolate reservations dependent on corrupt government agencies for food and supplies.
"The people were desperate from starvation.
We felt that we were mocked in our misery.
We held our dying children and felt their little bodies tremble as their souls went out and left only a dead weight in our hands.
" Red Cloud, oglala.
The Ghost Dance hurt no one, but as it spread, white settlers panicked.
The United States government outlawed the dance.
The white men were frightened and called for soldiers.
We had begged for life and the white man thought we wanted theirs.
On a mild day just after Christmas of 1890 a band of Hokwoju Sioux, under their leader Big Foot left the Cheyenne River Agency in South Dakota heading for a meeting at Pine Ridge with Oglala leader Red Cloud.
Traveling with Big Foot were 106 men and 252 women and children.
Among them was a boy, Dewey Beard who would later tell his children and grandchildren about that day.
Grandpa Dewey Beard being the last survivor I would listen to what he had to say.
In a way, it was sad, and yet it's beautiful, because it's bringing back history.
One thing that he would say is that had the soldiers Had the government left them alone, in time, they would have looked outside and seen how things were changing and the change would come about from within the bands.
Big Foot's band was intercepted by the 7th Cavalry.
The officer in charge found Big Foot wrapped in heavy blankets dying from pneumonia in the back of a wagon.
Big Foot was ordered to make camp along Wounded Knee Creek.
In the morning, his people would be stripped of their weapons and escorted to Pine Ridge.
Big Foot made assurances of his peaceful intentions and the band made camp.
He's a peaceful man.
He's always said that "Think about the elderly, think about the children and women and don't start the trouble.
" Morning broke after a sleepless night surrounded by soldiers.
Hokwoju witnesses would later recall what happened next.
"Big Foot, who was sick, came up with a flag of truce tied to a stick.
" Dewey Beard.
As soldiers trained their guns on them Big Foot and his men brought forth all their weapons placing them near the white flag of truce Big Foot had planted in front of his lodge.
The soldiers then searched their tents and wagons for arms even confiscating cooking and sewing tools.
As Big Foot's people gathered around the flag of truce outside his tent four powerful Hotchkiss rapid-repeating guns were mounted above the camp.
I noticed that they were erecting cannons up here also hauling up quite a lot of ammunition for it.
They encircled us like a band of sheep.
I could see that there was commotion amongst the soldiers and I saw, on looking back, they had their guns in position, ready to fire.
Thomas Tibbles, a white reporter who followed the troops to Wounded Knee recorded what happened next.
Suddenly, I heard a single shot from the direction of the troops.
Then three or four A few more.
And immediately, a volley.
At once came a general rattle of rifle firing then the Hotchkiss guns.
An awful noise was heard and I was paralyzed for a time.
Then my head cleared and I saw nearly all the people on the ground bleeding.
My father my mother my grandmother my older brother and my younger brother were all killed.
And he saw his mother walking toward him.
She was walking along, and she was shot.
"Dewey," she said.
"Keep walking, my son.
" She said, "Keep going.
" She said, "I'm going to die.
" And that was the last time he saw his mother.
"The women, as they were fleeing with their babies, were killed together shot right through.
And after most of them had been killed a cry was made that all those not killed or wounded should come forth, and they would be safe.
Little boys came out of their places of refuge.
And as soon as they came in sight a number of soldiers surrounded them and butchered them there.
" American Horse, oglala.
The firing continued for an hour or two wherever a soldier saw a sign of life.
With the sunset the weather turned intensely cold.
About 7:00 that night, the 7th Cavalry brought in the long train of dead and wounded soldiers and Indians from Wounded Knee.
Forty-nine wounded Sioux women and children had been piled into a few old wagons.
The wounded Indian women and children were eventually carried into an agency church where they lay in silence on the floor beneath a pulpit decorated with a Christmas banner reading, "Peace on earth, goodwill to men.
" "Nothing I have seen in my whole life ever affected or depressed or haunted me like the scenes I saw that night in that church.
One unwounded old woman held a baby on her lap.
I handed a cup of water to the old woman, telling her, 'Give it to the child' who grabbed it as if parched with thirst.
And as she swallowed it hurriedly, I saw it gush right out again a bloodstained stream through a hole in her neck.
Heartsick, I went to find the surgeon.
For a moment, he stood there near the door looking over the mass of suffering and dying women and children.
The silence The silence they kept was so complete, it was oppressive.
And then to my amazement, I saw that the surgeon, who I knew had served in the Civil War attending the wounded from Wilderness to Appomattox he began to grow pale.
'This is the first time I've seen a lot of women and children shot to pieces,' he said.
'And I can't stand it.
"' Thomas Tibbles, reporter.
For three days, the frozen bodies of the dead including Big Foot, lay where they fell at Wounded Knee.
Finally, the Army dug a large trench at the massacre site.
Then, as they collected the bodies a blanket was seen moving.
Beneath it, snuggled against her dead mother was a baby girl.
The official military histories called Wounded Knee the last battle in the Indian Wars.
But the tenacious struggle for Indian survival as symbolized by a child clinging to life for three days on a frozen field continues to this day.
500 Nations will follow a path that covers thousands of years and will bring us full circle to 1890.
In this hour, we will travel back in time to three stunning civilizations that flourished long before the arrival of Europeans.
To the Anasazi of the Southwest the Mound Builders of the Mississippi and the great pyramid builders of the Maya.
But when we return, we'll go back even farther.
To creation, as seen through the eyes of Indian people.
"When Earth was still young and giants still roamed the earth a great sickness came upon them.
All of them died except for a small boy.
One day while he was playing, a snake bit him.
The boy cried and cried.
The blood came out, and finally he died.
With his tears, our lakes became.
With his blood, the red clay became.
With his body, our mountains became.
And that was how Earth became.
" Taos Pueblo.
"Pleasant it looked, this newly created world.
Along the entire length and breadth of the earth our grandmother extended the green reflection of her covering and the escaping odors were pleasant to inhale.
" Winnebago.
"God created the Indian country and that was the time this river started to run.
Then God created fish in this river and put deer in the mountains.
Then the Creator gave Indians life.
We walked and as soon as we saw the game and fish we knew they were made for us.
My strength, my blood is from the fish from the roots and berries and game.
I did not come here.
I was put here by the Creator.
" Meninick, Yakima.
In the Old Testament Adam and Eve were forced from the garden of creation and expelled to a cruel world.
For most North American Indian nations, it was, and is, very different.
They stayed in the garden, the place of their creation the single place on earth most perfect for them.
"The Crow Country is a good country.
The Creator has put it exactly in the right place.
While you are in it, you fare well.
Whenever you go out of it, whichever way you travel you fare worse.
The Crow Country is exactly in the right place.
" Arapooish, Crow.
"There is a song in everything.
" Medi-aks, Tsimshian.
"Make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunsets.
Make me wise so that I may know the things you have taught my people the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.
Make me ever ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eye so that when life fades as the fading sunset my spirit may come to you without shame.
" Tom Whitecloud, ojibway.
To the outsider the sun-beaten deserts of the American Southwest are a harsh and unforgiving land reluctant to support life.
To the ancient people who lived there it was a place where the Creator provided everything.
There is nothing there that you can see even to this day.
Very little vegetation.
You'll see a lot of rocks, and you'll see a lot of sand.
The Hopis have always maintained that that's a chosen place for them.
It was chosen for them by the Creator, the great spirit, for the Hopis.
The ancient people of the desert were the ancestors of all the modern Pueblo nations.
To their Hopi descendants, they are known as the Hisatsinom.
But to most of the world they are known by the Navajo name: Anasazi.
Around 900 A.
, the Anasazi flourished in a wide circle covering parts of modern-day Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.
The Anasazi found balance with their world.
They learned where to find water and how to harness it.
Villages joined together to build dams, reservoirs and irrigation canals turning deserts into gardens of corn and squash.
They were a people intimately connected to their land.
In a very real sense, they emerged from it.
Generations before the time of Christ the Anasazi lived in subterranean pit houses sunken homes with stonework walls and broad, strong roofs.
Formidable protection against the searing sun and bitter cold of the desert.
With time, they adapted their aboveground storage houses into living spaces.
But the underground pit houses were not abandoned.
They were retained as spiritual places of teaching the place of origin the kiva.
One hundred years before the first Gothic cathedrals were built in Europe the master architects and stonemasons of the Anasazi were building great kivas that could hold 500 people.
Around 900 A.
, the Anasazi leadership embarked upon a bold and visionary plan: Create a mecca for pilgrimages and a focal point for trade at the very center of their land.
They chose the barren, treeless Chaco Canyon 100 miles northwest of present-day Albuquerque, New Mexico.
It was a monumental undertaking.
They built 400 miles of distinctive, graded roads and broad avenues all leading to the canyon.
At distant points, signal stations were constructed where fires blazed to communicate across the vastness of the desert and to guide travelers at night.
Over 50,000 trees were cut down in the surrounding mountains to build the towns of Chaco Canyon.
Along with traders and pilgrims the roads carried resources to maintain dozens of communities.
None compared with the largest single complex the Anasazi ever built: Pueblo Bonito, the wonder of the canyon.
At its peak, Pueblo Bonito's 800 rooms may have housed over a thousand residents.
Some sections overlooking the main plaza loomed five stories above the canyon floor.
The plaza pulsated with life.
Women gathered the colored corn blanketing the rooftops and knelt in rows to grind it.
Children played.
Men returning from the fields gathered to talk.
Thirty-seven sacred kivas scattered throughout the complex speak to Pueblo Bonito's rich ceremonial life.
During ceremonies, the feet of dancers pounded the ground smooth as spectators huddled against buildings and thronged the roofs to watch.
But Chaco Canyon was more than a spiritual mecca.
It was also a center of trade and commerce.
And trade in one stone, more valuable to Chaco's Mexican trading partners than gold or jade, was the engine of the canyon's economic growth: Turquoise.
Here, raw stone arrived from distant mines for the craftsmen of Pueblo Bonito to cut and shape into small tiles and beads which were then traded south to merchant centers in the heart of Mexico.
There, they were transformed into extraordinary creations.
For 150 years, trade fueled the Chaco economy but the wealth and power of the canyon was fleeting.
Chaco's major turquoise consumer, Tollan in Central Mexico fell to civil strife.
Extended drought or hostilities also may have contributed to the downfall of Chaco Canyon.
By 1150, it was in decline the great turquoise road over the Mexican High Sierra abandoned.
But the Anasazi world still flourished.
The people of Chaco Canyon simply moved to other locations.
Many went north to Mesa Verde, which at that time was reaching its cultural and architectural height.
There, under the shelter of the pine-studded mesas of southern Colorado the architects of Chaco Canyon would help create some of the most stunning buildings of all time.
The largest of these is known as Cliff Palace though it is a palace in name only.
These beautiful stone buildings of the Anasazi were home to common families.
It was a society based on equality.
Men rotated service on public works.
Women plastered houses.
The man who farmed also carved.
Spiritual leaders tilled the fields.
Each time, when I see and visit any ancient dwelling I feel close because these are my ancestors my forefathers for centuries.
With a little meditation, looking at their dwellings within a few minutes, half-hour, I get refreshed.
The people of Mesa Verde and many other Anasazi towns relocated around 1300.
The period of the ancestors came to an end and the modern-day Pueblo world took shape.
Traditions that live today in the American Southwest the way of life, the architecture, the religion are the resonance of a heritage reaching back thousands of years.
The kocha wanted to send a prayer to the sun so he called on his friend the bear and the bear came and he said, "oh, I'm very honored to be asked to do this, but I can only take it to the top of the highest tree.
But I know someone who can.
So let's call eagle.
" And so eagle was called, and eagle said, "Yes, I can try.
" And so eagle flew and flew and flew, up, up, up and got to the sun and delivered the prayer.
And the sun was so taken with this, he said, "Give me one of your feathers.
" And so the eagle plucked out a tail feather and gave it to the sun and the sun kissed that feather.
Which is why, you know, eagle feathers are black on the end it's because the sun singed them there.
He said, "Take this back and forever this will be my recognition of my special people.
" Along the Mississippi River six miles from present-day St.
Louis, Missouri there stood a city that once dominated the heart of the continent.
At its center was a powerful leader.
A great number of years ago there appeared among us a man who came down from the sun.
This man told us that he had seen from on high that we did not govern ourselves well that we had no master that each of us had presumption enough to think himself capable of governing others while he could not even conduct himself.
A thousand years ago, the Great Sun a leader who was both king and pope lived atop a man-made royal mountain 10 stories high its 16-acre base larger than any pyramid in Egypt.
He told us that in order to live in peace among ourselves we must observe the following points.
We must never kill anyone but in defense of our own lives.
We must never know any woman besides our own.
We must never take any things that belong to another.
We must never lie nor get drunk.
We must not be avaricious.
We must give generously and with joy and share our subsistence with those who are in need of it.
From the heights of his royal estate the Great Sun mediated between the Creator and the people between the sun and the Earth.
This is Cahokia, "City of the Sun.
" The Great Sun ruled the thriving center of a vast Mississippian culture.
Outside the walled city communities of farmers, hunters and fishermen stretched for miles surrounded by fields of corn.
With 20,000 residents, no city in the United States would surpass Cahokia's historic size before 1800.
Only then would Philadelphia's population eclipse the ancient center.
These people lived in daub and wattle houses.
The principal people did, the priests and the royalty.
They lived in very substantial houses, not tepees.
Not tepees! Tepees, western Plains people.
Down here, they lived in houses.
They were sedentary.
They were farmers.
They used the rivers and the bayous and the streams not only for commerce, but for sustenance as well.
With the Mississippi and other major rivers as its highways Cahokia was linked by trade to a third of the continent.
Copper arrived from the Great Lakes obsidian from Yellowstone mica and crystal from the Appalachians gold and silver from Canada shell from the Gulf of Mexico.
Look at these old, live oak trees that have seen so much pass by them.
Magnificently dressed Indian people coming down that bayou in a dugout greeting people, standing right here on this bank having a good time.
Because they did, you know.
Indian people have always known how to have a good time.
And there would be a feast prepared.
And the women would put the corn together.
They'd make sofkey.
They would roast a deer.
The people would bring gifts.
You never go to an Indian's house without bringing something.
That's as old as the sunrise.
Cahokia was the pinnacle of a mound-building culture with traditions dating back to before 1000 B.
Thousands of mounds still dot the landscape from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.
An average funeral mound in the Ohio Valley was three stories tall.
Construction could represent 200,000 man-hours of labor or a hundred men carrying the baskets of earth for a year.
But few mounds compare with the religious effigy located 50 miles east of Cincinnati, Ohio: The Great Serpent Mound.
The enormous snake stretches over 400 yards in length.
While their earthworks are the Mound Builders' most visible legacy their smaller creations are their most beautiful.
Only glimpses remain of the people who changed the course of life on the northern continent.
Most of their material world, wooden buildings, boats, baskets woven textiles, leather footwear and clothes have long since turned to dust.
An old Caddo relative of mine said that I used to go outside and hold my hands up and bless myself with the sun.
Well, I can't do that anymore, because they say we're sun worshipers.
We didn't worship the sun.
We worshipped what was behind it, the power behind it.
In the 19th century, 2000 miles south of Cahokia a group of European explorers carved their way into the jungles of southern Mexico.
There, buried for centuries and surrounded by massive pyramids they came upon a royal palace resplendent with grand rooms, courts and a tower.
The Europeans recognized that by their own standards the site was a legacy of greatness.
Standing in the middle of the largest Indian nation in North America, the Maya descendants of the pyramid builders.
The explorers could not imagine that the towering architecture was the work of Indian people.
Instead, they speculated wildly about the lost civilization that could have built so grand an existence.
Refugees from the sunken continent of Atlantis a lost tribe of Israel, seafarers from the Orient even beings from another planet.
They considered everything but the obvious.
In 1949 a Mexican archaeologist came to the same magnificent ruins now known as Palenque.
He climbed the steps to the top of the largest pyramid the Temple of the Inscription.
There, he noticed holes in the floor, below the capstones.
He removed the slabs and discovered a rubble-filled passageway descending deep into the pyramid's heart.
After three years of excavation, the passage was cleared.
At the bottom was a tomb that had been buried for over 1200 years.
It would unlock the history of Palenque and help to reveal the past of the Mayan people a past they left for the future to read.
For centuries, Mayan glyphs were considered complex picture stories like Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Only in the 1980s did archaeologists finally recognize that it was true writing.
They were not looking at pictures to be interpreted but symbols for sounds to be read.
It was the Maya language.
Instantly, a door was opened on the past.
Beneath the 5-ton sarcophagus cover at Palenque, lay Pakal "shield" in the Maya language.
He was born in 603 A.
His head was bound at birth to enlarge his forehead a fashion that marked him as a member of the royal elite.
He wore a cosmetic bridge on his nose and decorated his hair with water lilies.
Pakal rose to power at the age of 12.
He would build a holy city and rule for nearly 70 years leading Palenque during a time of greatness and growth in the Mayan world.
As the Maya expanded, over 60 capital cities emerged their growth fueled by a successful agricultural society.
The roots of Mayan agriculture reached back thousands of years and stretched across Mexico and into Central America.
Now, friends and brothers listen to these words of dreaming.
Spring rains give us life and bring forth the golden corn silk.
By the time of Christ, there were millions of people in the region with agriculture allowing populations to settle and expand.
Art, mathematics, astronomy, architecture priesthoods and royalty all flourished.
By the mid-700s, at Palenque alone the sons of Pakal ruled over 200,000 Maya living in regional communities of farmers, weavers, stonemasons and feather workers.
But the golden age of building and growth would be transformed by a new era of war and destruction.
For reasons still locked in the past, the Mayan world turned against itself.
Farmers became soldiers.
By 800 A.
, an era had ended.
Most of the capitals that had been among the living wonders of human creativity including Palenque, were deserted and reclaimed by the jungle.
South of here, there is a desert.
It's a forbidding barrier stretching hundreds of miles.
On the other side of that desert is Mexico.
Over thousands of years, skilled travelers managed to cross this barrier but widespread contact was impossible and so each side developed in their own unique way.
In Mexico, millions of Indian people 80 percent of the continent's population created art and architecture that was unparalleled in its sheer size and physical ambition.
They developed writing and astronomy.
Their wars were waged between massive armies even by contemporary standards.
In this hour, we follow an epic story told through the actual words of those who took part in it along with eyewitness illustrations of events that occurred almost 500 years ago.
We take you to the present-day site of Mexico City to the heart of the most powerful military empire in the continent's history: The Aztec.
Extended, lies the city, lies Mexico spreading circles of emerald light radiating splendor like a quetzal plume.
O author of life, your house is here.
Your song is heard on earth.
It spreads among the people.
Behold, Mexico.
By the Aztec calendar, it was the year 1 Reed and Motecuhzoma, emperor of the Aztec was the most powerful man in the Americas.
By many standards, the most powerful man in the world.
From his capital in Tenochtitlán Motecuhzoma ruled over 10 million subjects.
For almost 90 years, his people had built an empire with their armies and become rich from the tribute of defeated states.
But Motecuhzoma was troubled.
Prophetic nightmares disturbed his sleep and he had been reading ominous signs.
A huge tongue of fire burning in the night sky to the east a major temple mysteriously destroyed by fire a comet blazing across the daytime sky.
Signs and dreams were vital to the Aztec.
They guided decisions of state.
Motecuhzoma thought, as Nahuatl do in our villages today that when important things happen, you will dream of it.
They, too, saw things, perhaps in the night sky a shooting star.
Motecuhzoma and others at the time would have thought, "I have seen it.
" Motecuhzoma could feel disaster approaching but he did not know what threatened his empire.
He did know that nations lived in cycles, like all things in nature.
Growth and fullness were followed by fall.
The cycles of nations had been played out many times in the Valley of Mexico.
Ruins of ancient cultures were scattered across the region.
Motecuhzoma had only to look 20 miles to the east to the ruins of a long-abandoned city, so magnificent the Aztec called it the "Home of the Gods.
" In the cycle of nations, even the Home of the Gods had fallen.
Nine hundred years before Motecuhzoma workers had come from throughout Mexico to build Teotihuacan.
The city, among the grandest in the world, was a monumental work of art.
Its largest building, the Pyramid of the Sun had a base the size of the biggest pyramid in Egypt.
Teotihuacan's military might controlled Central Mexico for centuries.
When I first saw this place, Teotihuacan and the pyramids I thought, "This is truly beautiful that which our grandfathers, our fathers before have done.
" And I thought, when I looked at it again: "It is like having your father that died or your brother that died and meeting them again here.
" You remember them, and you see their greatness when you contemplate what they left behind.
With all its power Teotihuacan was still trapped in the cycle of nations.
In one of history's great, unsolved mysteries the city was systematically burned and abandoned at its height.
With the dissolving of the empire, Central Mexico turned to chaos with small rival kingdoms locked in a struggle for power and survival.
Elite warriors fought for kings on the field of honor like knights in medieval Europe.
It was a world of royal bloodlines, betrayal and revenge.
In Central Mexico, the small kingdoms would struggle for 200 years before the cycle would turn again and they would begin to unify under the leadership of the Toltec people from the city-state of Tollan.
Over 500 years before the rise of the Aztec the Toltec redefined leadership in Central Mexico enforcing power, not through military might but through the moral force of their teachings.
They coordinated trade between states and arbitrated disputes, all within the framework of their religion.
Their capital functioned like Wall Street the Vatican and the Supreme Court combined.
It was also here in Tollan that a priest who held the name of the god Quetzalcoatl, the "Feathered Serpent" would be exiled, eventually sailing into the Gulf of Mexico vowing to return in another time as a savior for the people.
After less than two centuries Tollan, like Teotihuacan before it, was violently destroyed.
But while the city burned the sophisticated Toltec leadership escaped many of the elite families moving to the Valley of Mexico.
For 150 years, in the shadows of the ruins of Teotihuacan the Toltec established control over the city-states of the valley.
Their influence was so great that their bloodlines became the benchmark of nobility throughout the region.
During the same time, a nomadic tribe far to the west was in the midst of an epic search for a homeland.
They were the Mexica, Motecuhzoma's ancestors.
Behold a new sun is risen, a new god is born new laws are written and new men are made.
Around 1300, after nearly two centuries of wandering the Mexica people came to the Valley of Mexico a valley long dominated by the Toltec.
The Mexica, with no Toltec blood were seen by the refined city-states as violent barbarians a threat to the stability of the valley.
The local states attacked the nomad nation, killing many and driving the survivors to a rocky area covered with cactus and infested with snakes.
The exile was meant to destroy them, but the Mexica were used to adversity.
They flourished.
Soon their resilience and skills in warfare impressed their sophisticated neighbors.
They began to sell their services as mercenaries.
And within a generation, the Mexica were accepted as part of the social and political fabric of the lush mountain valley.
In 1325, they asked the neighboring Lord of Colhuacán to send his daughter to become the wife of a Mexica ruler.
Flattered, and seeing the opportunity for unity the Lord of Colhuacán complied.
Days later, when he and the other lords of the valley went to the Mexica town to honor the new princess instead of seeing his young child emerge a priest appeared, dressed in her skin.
Horrified, the Lord of Colhuacán called for revenge.
Here! Come here, my vassals from Colhuacân.
Come avenge the hideous crime committed by these Mexica.
Let them die.
Destroy them, such depraved men of evil.
My vassals, we shall finish them off and leave no trace or memory of them.
Colhuacán and its allies attacked the Mexica driving those they did not kill into a lake in the center of the valley.
Almost annihilated, the Mexica again proved resilient.
As they gathered on a swampy island in the lake they saw an eagle perch on a cactus the prophetic sign they were told they would see when they reached the end of their long search for a homeland.
The place that would be called Tenochtitlán.
Now we have found the land promised to us.
We have found peace for the weary Mexican people.
Now we want for nothing.
Be comforted, children, brothers and sisters because we have obtained the promise of our god.
For 100 years the people of Tenochtitlán built up the island through great sacrifice.
They reclaimed land from the swampy lake and erected stone temples and public buildings.
Causeways of hewn stone were constructed to the north, south and west.
An aqueduct was built to bring in fresh water from a mainland spring 3 miles away.
Canals were dug throughout the island to transport goods and people.
They gained trade wealth and again hired themselves out as mercenary soldiers for the powerful city-states of the valley.
Marriages were arranged that finally brought them honored Toltec bloodlines.
Tenochtitlán was a city on the rise.
The cycle of power was turning toward the Mexica.
And when war again broke out in the valley, the Mexica and their allies prevailed.
In victory, they called themselves the Aztec after the Mexica place of origin: Azatlán, "Land of the Herons.
" From this point, Aztec prophecy foretold a glorious future.
The might of our powerful arms and the spirit of our hearts shall be felt.
With them, we will conquer all nations near and far rule over all villages and cities from sea to sea become lords of gold and silver, jewels and precious stones feathers and tributes.
And we shall become lords over them and their lands and over their sons and their daughters who will serve us as our subjects.
For over 80 years, the Aztec launched far-reaching campaigns of conquest expanding their domain from Gulf to Pacific.
They fought epic battles with city-states throughout the region.
Most were conquered and turned into tributaries forced to supply slave laborers for Aztec public works and pay high taxes in goods.
Aztec scribes recorded the taxes of many states.
Bolts of fine cloth disks of hammered gold, exotic plants and feathers precious stones, feathered military uniforms.
Built on the backs of the tributary states the island capital of the Aztec grew into one of the wonders of the world.
When I first opened my eyes in this world, I was born of this heritage.
I have seen the beautiful festivals we have in our villages, our dances and it would have been like that there.
They had many festivals in this place with many beautiful dancers wearing many brilliant colors.
I think it was even more beautiful then.
Much more beautiful when our grandfathers lived there and followed their ways.
The two-story houses of the elite were adorned with beautiful gardens.
Royal aviaries housed thousands of rare birds and storehouses swelled with the wealth of empire.
The city was cleaned daily by thousands of sweepers its refuse collected and shipped away on barges.
The central markets thronged with professional traders whose travels took them to far distant locations men who spoke many languages and often carried with them news of the world.
The center of Tenochtitlán was dominated by the Great Temple its twin pyramids representing deities who embodied the conflict at the heart of Aztec society.
The eternal struggle between life and death, fertility and war.
Their private rituals, which on special occasions included the sacrifice of human prisoners incorporated this duality.
Life required death to exist and death required life.
Tenochtitlán became a city of hundreds of thousands a bustling metropolis ruled by the Aztec emperor from the grand imperial palace.
But in the year 1 Reed, the Christian year 1519 Motecuhzoma could feel a shadow across his empire and he could not forget that the prophecy of Aztec greatness had a dark side a prophecy long held in their oral tradition.
I shall make war against all provinces and cities towns and settlements and make all of them my subjects, my servants but just as I will subjugate them so, too, will they be snatched from me and turned against me by strangers who will drive me out of this land.
Ever since their years as a wandering tribe the Aztec believed their destiny was to rule the world.
Now, at the height of empire Motecuhzoma listened to his dreams and saw the signs.
They foretold disaster.
Then word came of strange happenings in the east.
Boats and men landing on the Mexican coast.
Men unlike any they had encountered before.
Their bodies sheathed in metal.
Motecuhzoma sent scouts to the coast to find out more about the new arrivals.
They were very white.
Their eyes were like chalk.
Their hair, on some it was yellow, and on some it was black.
They wore long beards.
They were yellow too.
The strangers had landed on the Gulf Coast.
That was also disturbing information.
Centuries earlier, the banished priest from the cult of the Feathered Serpent Quetzalcoatl, had left Mexico from the same coast promising one day to return.
Another prophecy that threatened Motecuhzoma.
If he comes in the year 1 Reed he strikes at kings.
It was now the Aztec year 1 Reed.
Whether Motecuhzoma believed the prophecy or not was of little importance.
He knew that many subjugated people throughout the empire embraced the story of the Feathered Serpent and awaited his return.
For it was in their hearts that he would come that he would come to land to reclaim his kingdom.
Whoever these invaders were whether they represented Quetzalcoatl or a foreign power Motecuhzoma could feel the threat to his empire.
And his fears were justified.
Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortés had landed in Mexico.
It was said that first he dreamt that Quetzalcoatl would return.
After that, when he saw Hernân Cortés and the others, he thought: "He has come.
Quetzalcoatl has come.
" Only, he was wrong.
Another had come.
Someone with evil intentions because Cortés did not come with religious faith or to do good things.
He came to commit terrible crimes against the Mexica.
As a diplomatic gesture Motecuhzoma sent emissaries carrying the costume of Quetzalcoatl which they presented to Cortés aboard his ship.
Cortés responded with a display of force.
He ordered the Aztec delegation shackled and forced to watch as his men fired a Lombard cannon in a thunderous hail of fire and smoke blowing apart a tree onshore.
The astonished emissaries were released, and they raced back to Tenochtitlán.
Motecuhzoma received the news with alarm.
Spanish weapons and armor were formidable and it would be only a matter of time before tributary states chafing under the yoke of Aztec oppression would join the conquistador.
They would lead him to the wealth that lay at the center of the empire to the one thing Spanish conquistadors craved above all else.
We Spanish suffer from a disease of the heart which only gold can cure.
Cortés ordered his 450-man army inland.
When some of his men resisted, he sank his ships.
There would be no turning back.
The army moved relentlessly toward the Valley of Mexico.
As Motecuhzoma had anticipated Cortés formed alliances along the way with rebellious city-states.
One tributary leader spoke for the fears of many.
Motecuhzoma and the Mexica have given us much pain.
They have imposed a tribute upon us.
They have become our rulers.
If the Spaniards should abandon us in haste, if they should go so perverse are the Mexica that they will kill us.
While many nations lived in fear of the Aztec one city-state less than 50 miles east of Tenochtitlán had never fallen to the empire: Tlaxcala.
There, Cortés forged his key alliance.
Six thousand Tlaxcalan troops joined the Spaniards.
As reports reached the Aztec capital some of Motecuhzoma's advisers argued for a decisive military campaign.
But Motecuhzoma held his armies in check unwilling to leave the capital unprotected or risk setting off a general rebellion.
Stalling for time, he sent emissaries to protest Cortés' advance and even had a wall of trees planted across the road to disguise the route to Tenochtitlán.
Paralyzed with doubt the emperor was fast becoming only a player in a prophecy being fulfilled.
And he must have thought: "These men, why have they come? What do they want? Maybe we can attack and kill some of them, but not all of them.
" For that reason, some did not want to fight.
They had seen that if they shot arrows at them, they did not fall.
They made a clanging sound as they bounced off their armor.
Even if they fired at the horses, they did not die because the horses had armor.
Cortés and the Tlaxcalan army turned first to a city-state that remained loyal to the Aztec emperor, Cholula.
Eyewitness accounts were recorded.
And there arose from the Spaniards a cry summoning all the noblemen, lords, war leaders warriors and common folk.
And when they had crowded into the temple courtyard then the Spaniards and their allies blocked the entrances and every exit.
There followed a butchery of stabbing, beating killing of the unsuspecting Cholulans armed with no bows and arrows protected by no shields.
With no warning, they were treacherously, deceitfully slain.
Six thousand Cholulan citizens lay dead in the streets.
Tenochtitlán received the news of the massacre in shock.
An Aztec eyewitness later recalled: The city rose in tumult, alarmed, as if by an earthquake as if there were a constant reeling at the face of the earth.
Motecuhzoma's worst nightmare was about to reveal itself.
Do the former rulers know what is happening in their absence? Oh, that any of them might see, might wonder at what has befallen me at what I am seeing now, that they have gone for I cannot be dreaming.
Proudly stands the city of Mexico: Tenochtitlân.
Here, no one fears to die in war.
Keep this in mind, o princes.
Who could attack Tenochtitlân? Who could shake the foundations of heaven? On November 8th, 1519 in the Aztec year 1 Reed Hernando Cortés arrived at the gates to the imperial city of the Aztec empire Tenochtitlán.
An Aztec eyewitness later recalled: Mexico lay stunned, silent.
None went out-of-doors.
Mothers kept their children in.
The roads were deserted, as if it were early morning.
Motecuhzoma walked out onto the grand causeway.
Coming face to face with Cortés the emperor offered his hospitality leading the Spaniards through the city gates to his imperial palace.
The people of Tenochtitlán watched, and their words were remembered.
The iron of their lances glistened from afar.
The shimmer of their swords was as of a sinuous watercourse.
Their iron breast and back pieces, their helmets clanked.
Some came completely encased in iron as if turned to iron.
And ahead of them ran their dogs, panting with foam continually dripping from their muzzles.
The Spanish soldiers were themselves struck with awe.
We were astounded.
The majestic towers and houses, all of massive stone and rising out of the waters were like enchanted castles we had read of in books.
Indeed, some of our men even asked if what we saw was not a dream.
Even Cortés was amazed.
Considering that these people are barbarous lacking the knowledge of God and cut off from all civilized nations it is truly remarkable to see what they have achieved.
Once they reached the palace Motecuhzoma's diplomatic plans were shattered.
Cortés turned on his host, seizing the emperor hostage.
What now, my warriors? We have come to the end.
We have taken our medicine.
Is there anywhere a mountain we can run away to and climb? Motecuhzoma was forced to lead Cortés to the treasury.
Motecuhzoma's own property was then brought out.
Precious things like necklaces with pendants armbands tufted with quetzal feathers golden armbands, bracelets, golden anklets with shells turquoise diadems, turquoise nose rods no end of treasure.
They took all, seized everything for themselves as if it were theirs.
Cortés wrote to the king of Spain.
Your Highness there is so much to describe that I do not know how to begin even to recount some part of it.
Motecuhzoma has all the things to be found under the heavens fashioned in gold and silver.
The Spaniards melted the beautifully crafted gold into blocks.
For five months, holding Motecuhzoma prisoner in his own palace they lived in splendor and pillaged the city from within.
They thought, "This isn't Quetzalcoatl.
This isn't a god.
" They said, "Look at them, how they eat, just as we do.
Look at them.
They go about just as we.
" When they saw him, they knew he wasn't really Quetzalcoatl.
They said among themselves to their people: "Look, brothers, this isn't a god.
Our gods do good things and this one, he wants to destroy us.
" Among the Aztec people, a resistance began to organize under the direction of Motecuhzoma's brother, Cuitláhuac.
In an effort to cripple the movement the Spaniards attacked a large, unarmed religious gathering in April of 1520.
One man, who saved his life by playing dead later recounted the scene.
They charged the crowd with their iron lances and hacked us with their iron swords.
They slashed the backs of some.
They hacked at the shoulders of others, splitting their bodies open.
The blood of the young warriors ran like water.
It gathered in pools.
And the Spaniards began to hunt them out of the administrative buildings dragging and killing anyone they could find even starting to take those buildings to pieces as they searched.
The Aztec counterattacked, forcing the conquistadors to retreat behind the walls of the great palace.
The Spaniards then brought Motecuhzoma out in chains before his people to order them to stop fighting but the emperor could not bring himself to speak.
He stood by while another hostage delivered his message.
Mexicans men of Tenochtitlân your ruler, the lord of men, Motecuhzoma, implores you.
He says, "Listen, Mexicans.
We are not equal to the Spaniards.
Abandon the battle.
Still your arrows.
Hold back your shields.
Otherwise, evil will be the fate of the miserable old men and women of the people, of babes in arms, of the toddlers of the infants crawling on the ground or still in the cradle.
" But the Aztec were not a people to be subjugated.
They reformed their government and elected Motecuhzoma's brother, Cuitláhuac as the 10th emperor.
Under his direction, the Aztec continued the siege of the palace.
After 30 days, Motecuhzoma was killed.
The Aztec accused the Spaniards of strangling him and hurling his body from the top of the palace.
The Spaniards claimed he was stoned to death by his own people.
One of the most powerful men on earth had fallen trapped in a play of destiny.
Prophecy had become reality.
Days later, the Spaniards, trapped in the palace without food or water attempted to escape under cover of darkness.
Aztec witnesses recounted the events.
That night at midnight, the enemy came out, crowded together.
The Spaniards in the lead, Tlaxcalans following.
Screened by a fine drizzle a fine sprinkle of rain they were able, undetected, to cross the canals.
Just as they were crossing the canal a woman drawing water saw them.
"Mexicas! Come, all of you.
They are already leaving.
They are already secretly getting out.
" Then a watcher at the top of a temple also shouted and his cries pervaded the entire cities.
"Brave warriors! Mexicas! Your enemy already leaves.
Hurry with the shield boats and along the road.
" As the Spaniards moved out onto one of the main causeways over the lake canoe after canoe full of Aztec soldiers under Cuitláhuac's direction showered them with spears and arrows.
Many Spaniards, weighted down with gold stolen from the palace fell into the water and drowned carried to the bottom by the weight.
The canal was filled crammed with them.
Those who came along behind walked on corpses.
It was as if a mountain of men had been laid down.
They had pressed against one another smothered one another.
Three-quarters of the Spanish army never reached the outskirts of Tenochtitlán.
Cortés and the rest of the survivors escaped into the countryside.
For a moment, the great city was free.
And when the Spaniards thus disappeared we thought they had gone for good nevermore to return.
Once again, the temples could be swept out the dirt removed.
It could be adorned ornamented.
But the fleeing Spaniards left behind another enemy.
An Aztec survivor remembered: At about the time that the Spaniards had fled from the city there came a great sickness, a pestilence: The smallpox.
It spread over the people with great destruction of men.
It caused great misery.
The brave Mexica warriors were indeed weakened by it.
Even the new emperor died of the disease.
It was after all this had happened that the Spaniards came back.
Cortés and his men had healed their wounds and rebuilt their army.
New alliances were made.
The Spaniards and 75,000 Tlaxcalan and allied Indian soldiers set siege to Tenochtitlán.
The entire population rose to defend their city.
Aztec witnesses would remember the struggle.
Fighting continued.
Both sides took captives.
On both sides, there were deaths.
Great became the suffering of the common folk.
There was hunger.
Many died of famine.
There was no more good, pure water to drink.
Many died of it.
The people ate anything.
Lizards, barn swallows, corn leaves, salt grass.
Never had such suffering been seen.
The enemy pressed about us like a wall.
They herded us.
The brave warriors were still hopelessly resisting.
After two and a half long months the Spaniards, with their overwhelming numbers brought Tenochtitlán to its knees.
Finally, the battle just quietly ended.
Silence reigned.
Nothing happened.
All was quiet and nothing more took place.
Night fell and the next day, nothing happened either.
No one spoke aloud.
The people were crushed.
Great was the stench of the dead.
Your grandfathers died and with them died the son of the king and his brothers and kinsmen.
So it was that we became orphans, o my sons.
So we became when we were young.
All of us were thus.
We were born to die.
Tenochtitlán was leveled.
The magnificent gardens, the marvel of their world, were destroyed.
The rivers and canals that so amazed the Spaniards were filled in.
Then Cortés set fire to the aviaries.
Thousands of birds, vermilion flycatchers iridescent hummingbirds, scarlet tanagers green and blue macaws.
The beauty that was Mexico was turned to ashes.
Some say the Mexica came to an end.
"It's gone, finished.
" We're still here.
We, the people who ignorant outsiders insult by calling us Indians we are here.
This culture was not finished off.
The culture is gone as an empire as a social, political, religious structure but what remains is what the people have.
We weren't finished off.
Proudly stands the city of Mexico: Tenochtitlân.
Here, no one fears to die in war.
Keep this in mind, o princes.
Who could attack Tenochtitlân? Who could shake the foundations of heaven? Our next program will begin far to the east of Mexico on a Caribbean island, where a meeting between Spanish and Indian people appeared at first glance to be merely an encounter between two potential trading partners.
But that first encounter between Christopher Columbus and the Taino people in 1492 was, in reality, a world-shattering event.
Please join us for 500 Nations: A Clash of Cultures.