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TitleOld America - The Toltecs
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1875
AuthorsOttinger, G.M.
MagazineJuvenile Instructor
Issue Number7
Date Published3 April 1875
KeywordsAncient America; Mesoamerica; Native Americans - Toltec

Series of articles dealing with archaeological, anthropological, geographical, societal, religious, and historical aspects of ancient America and their connections to the Book of Mormon, which is the key to understanding “old American” studies.

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It is impossible to know anything to a certainly in regard to the people of ancient America, as all, or nearly all of the old books are lost or destroyed. The few annals preserved furnish but vague and dreamy outlines of the past. Here and there a faint gleam of light breaks the obscurity, only sufficient to show at different periods in the history a reasonable and passable outline.

When Cortez subjugated Mexico the Aztecs had been in power more than two centuries. Extensive ruins and splendid monuments of art attest that a highly civilized people had, centuries before, occupied Anahuac. This race had not only peopled Mexico proper, but also Central America, and doubtless South America, as traces of a like civilization are found in these localities. Most of the ancient history of the Aztecs relates to ages previous to their time, and chiefly to their predecessors, the Toltecs. But, according to these writings, the country where the vast ruins are found was occupied at different periods by three distinct peoples, the Chichimecs, the Colhuas, and the Toltecs or Nahuas.

Jefferies supposes the Toltecs arrived in Anahuac in the year 648, A. D. Baldwin, more properly, asserts that they came into the country about one thousand years before the Christian era; and it appears their supremacy ceased and left the country broken up and divided into small states two or three centuries before the arrival of the Aztecs.

The knowledge of astronomy and the correct measurement of the year known to Montezuma's people were methods adopted from and formerly in use among the Toltecs. "And," says Baldwin, "it is not reasonable to refuse to give some attention to their chronology, even while doubting its value as a means of fixing dates and measuring historical periods." De Bourbourg says: "In the histories written in the Nahuatl language, the oldest certain date is nine hundred and fifty-five years before Christ." This is the oldest date in the history of the Toltecs which has been accurately determined; and he arrives at this date by the following calculation, which is quoted from the "Codex Chimalpopoka," one of the oldest American books still preserved: "Six times 460 years, plus 113," previous to the year 1558 A. D. This is given as a date of the division of the land by the Toltecs; that is, a division was made 2513 years previous to 1558 A. D., or in the year 955 B. C. The Toltecs issued, if this date be accepted, more than a thousand years before the Christian era, from a country called Huehue-Tlapalaii, somewhere at a distance to the northeast, undoubtedly the Ohio and Mississippi valleys.

Sahagun learned from the old books and traditions that the Toltecs came from a distant north- eastern country. He mentions a company that settled near the Tampico river, and built a town called Panuco. De Botirbourg finds an account of this or another company preserved at Xilanco, an ancient city, situated on an island between Lake Terminos and the sea. This city was famous for its commerce, intelligence and wealth. The company came from the northeast, it is said, to the Tampico river. It consisted of twenty chiefs, and a large company of people. Torquemada also found a record which describes them as a people fine in appearance, industrious, orderly and intelligent; also that they worked in metals and were skillful artists and lapidaries."

All the accounts say the Toltecs came at different times by land and sea, in small companies and always from the northeast. This can only be explained by supposing they came from the mouth of the Mississippi river along the coast, and by land through Texas. But the country from which they came was invariably Huehue-Tlapalan. Cabrera and Torquemada say the name of the country was simply Tlapalan; but that they called it Huehue (old) to distinguish it from three other Tlapalans which they founded in their new kingdom; and it seems not improbable that the old Tlapalan was the country of our Mound Builders.

In connection with the account of the Toltec migration another circumstance is mentioned: that Huehue-Tlapalan was invaded by the Chichimecs (meaning barbarous aboriginal tribes, united under one leader). Baldwin gives a statement, a little condensed, of this transaction: "There was a terrible struggle, but, after about thirteen years, the Toltecs, no longer able to resist successfully, were obliged to abandon their country to escape complete subjugation. Two chiefs guided the march of the emigrating nation. At length they reached a region near the sea, named Tlapalan- Conco, where they remained several years. But they finally undertook another migration, and reached Mexico, where they built a town called Tollanzinco, and, later, the city of Tullan, which became the seat of their government." This Chicimec invasion is placed at a period in the chronology of the old native books long previous to the Christian era.

According to the manuscript of Don Juan Torres, grandson of the last king of the Quiches, the Toltees descended from the house of Israel, who were released by Moses from the tyranny of Pharaoh. This story runs as follows:

After they had fallen into idolatry, to avoid the reproofs of man, they separated from him (Moses), and, under the guidance of Tanub, passed from one continent to the other, landing at a place called the "Seven Caverns," a part of the kingdom of Mexico, where they founded the city of Tula. From Tanub sprang the kings of Quiche and the first monarchs of the Toltecs.

The Toltecs were the most celebrated nation of Anahuac; they always lived in a social manners collected into cities under government of regular laws. Their superior civilization and skill in the arts were adopted by all the civilized nations of Mexico. They were not very warlike, preferring the civilization of the arts to the exercise of arms. If not the inventors, they were at least the reformers of the admirable system of the arrangement of time, which was adopted by the nations of Mexico. Boturini gleaned from their ancient histories that during the reign of one of their kings, Ixtlalcuechahuac, a celebrated astronomer named Huematzin, by the king's consent, assembled all the wise men of the nation, and with them painted that famous book called Teoamoxtli, or Divine Book, in which were represented, in plain figures, the origin of the Indians, their dispersion after the flood and confusion of tongues at Babel, their journey in Asia, their first settlement in America, the founding of their kingdom -- as well as its progress to that time; also a description of the calendar, their mythology and mysteries of their religion, moral philosophy, in fact, all that appertained to their history, religion and manners.

The same author says that the eclipse of the sun, which happened at the death of our Savior, was marked in their paintings in the year 7, Tochtli, and that some learned Spaniards have compared their chronology with ours, and have found that they reckoned from the creation to the birth of Christ 5199 years, which corresponds with the Roman calendar. Clavigero says: "Upon reading Boturini, I set about comparing the Toltecan years with ours, and I found the thirty-fourth year of Christ, or the thirtieth of our era, to be the 7 Tochtli." Their religion was idolatrous, and they appear to have been the authors of the greater part of the mythology of the Aztecs; but they never practiced those barbarous and bloody sacrifices which became afterwards so common among the other nations. Sometime about the year 1052 A. D., the Toltecan monarchy concluded. Previous to this, direful calamities happened to them: for several years heaven denied them rain, the earth, the fruits and the air were filled with mortal contagion, and consequently the greater part of the nation perished. The wretched remains sought relief to their misfortunes by scattering themselves over the territory south and north of their kingdom. After the destruction of the Toltecs, for nearly a century, the land remained solitary and almost entirely deserted.