Warren’s latest work is a detailed reconstruction of events in the Tarascan kingdom from the arrival of the Spaniards until the execution of the native ruler, Cazonci, in 1530. In addition to the actual conquest of Michoacán, the book covers early evangelization, the operation of the encomienda, and the development of other forms of Spanish enterprise. Although an earlier version appeared in Mexico in 1977, this English edition includes new material on the preconquest period and a brief discussion of Spanish estancias.
Warren focuses on the unenviable position of the Cazonci Tzintzicha Tangaxoan, who succeeded to the Tarascan throne after his father died of smallpox in 1520. Inexperienced and insecure, the Cazonci meekly submitted to the Spaniards when they arrived, hoping to spare his kingdom the devastation suffered by Tenochtitlán. The Cazonci remained an ambiguous figure thereafter. His people still revered him as their monarch, yet the division of Michoacán into encomiendas left him a “king without a kingdom” (p. 239). Meanwhile, encomenderos resented his attempts to continue exacting tribute from “their” towns. Though hardly an apologist for the greedy and ruthless Nuño de Guzmán, Warren concedes that the charges brought by Guzmán against the Cazonci were not without substance. The king was responsible for the deaths of several Spaniards, he persisted in practicing human sacrifice after converting to Christianity, and he evidently planned an ambush attack on Guzmán’s army as it marched through Michoacán.
Throughout the period under study, Spaniards believed that the Tarascan kingdom contained large reserves of precious metals. They accused the Indians of concealing mines and pressured the Cazonci and other leaders to surrender their hidden treasure. The Spaniards were mistaken in their belief, but important sources of silver and gold were discovered to the west, beyond the Tarascan kingdom. The development of mining there affected the operation of the encomienda throughout Michoacán, since encomienda Indians regularly supplied and transported large amounts of foodstuffs to the mines.
Warren’s attention to detail is meticulous, even somewhat tedious at times. He is particularly skillful in showing how the factional disputes raging in Mexico City shaped events in Michoacán, and he carefully resolves discrepancies that appear in various chronicles and other documents. This work will long stand as the classic study of the conquest of Michoacán and as a model of disciplined research.