The vast majority of all Native American massacres resulted in anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred casualties (even if we include those who were responsible for the massacre to begin with). But those seem insignificant to the most brutal slaughters in Native American history. In fact, the two worst massacres were nightmares even if we look at all of history. So what were they?
The Massacre of Cholula
Descriptions of the bloodbath that occurred at Cholula are based on little evidence, and historians are torn about what actually occurred there. It seems that one of the Native American leaders was trying to halt the advance of Cortes, who had brought the full brunt of his force to bear down on them. Although the Spanish did not encounter resistance upon entering the city, they heard rumors that they were to be murdered in the night.
They decided to kill the local nobles as a reminder of Spanish supremacy.
But of course they did not stop there. They captured the enemy leaders and then torched the city. During the sack, they murdered thousands. Reports were as low as 3,000 or as high as 30,000. Certainly this was one of the most egregious slaughters of Native Americans of all time — but it doesn’t even hold a candle to the first on the list.
The Massacre of Tenochtitlan
Surprise, surprise: Cortes was responsible for this one as well. He and his forces had pushed the Aztecs into a corner by August 13, 1521. They surrendered. Cortes had lost a bit of gold during his conquests in South America, so he did what any god-fearing man would do to get it back: he burned the feet of his enemies using oil as a catalyst until they gave up the location.
During the entirety of the conquest for Tenochtitlan, between 100,000 and 240,000 people were killed. These included fighting men, but an enormous number of the dead were women and children. Reports suggested that tens of thousands of Aztecs were floating in the city’s canals after it fell to Cortes.
It’s difficult not to characterize these atrocities as genocide.
Cortes went from town to town, slaughtering those who resided in each. Few were spared. Even after those who resided in the city surrendered, the Spanish and their allies continued to press the attack, killing everyone. The Aztec civilization as a whole was pillaged and looted. Women were raped en masse. Children were stabbed in front of their families. Although there were some survivors, they had nowhere to go and they were hunted thereafter.