It is the conventional wisdom that the Mexica Triple Alliance, or Aztec Empire as it is commonly refered to, was broken and destroyed by the Spanish in 1521, and the last rule, Cuauhtémoc, imprisoned and eventually executed several years later. And for practical purposes, this might as well be true. What the conventional histories generally leave out, however, is the attempt at continuing the Aztec rule by a small cadre of rouge Mexica who fled into the Sierra Madres.
They were led by the younger brother of Cuauhtémoc, Cloacatakaka, who claimed to have inherited rulership of the Empire upon his brother’s capture, and later refused to recognize the rights of Tlacotzin, the puppet ruler chosen by Cortes. Numbering some thousand men, women and children, with a core force of 200 Jaguar and Eagle Warriors, Cloacatakaka’s band continued to wage a small guerrilla war against the Spanish occupiers of their country, launching raids from their mountain base to harass the Spanish and steal supplies as needed. Their early successes led to many more people to flee into the mountains, and by 1540, the Aztec “Empire” numbered almost 5,000, mostly housed in their fortified city in the mountains, with several smaller settlements spread up the range to the north.
It was in 1548 that, finally fed up with the nuisance, that the Vicroy of New Spain, Antonio de Mendoza, organized an expedition to wipe out the rogue Aztecs once and for all. Led by Nalgas de la Cabeza, the force included an entire 3,000 man Tercio bolstered with a native levy of nearly 10,000 men. Well placed informants in the levies however were able to discover the plans, and the Aztecs were well forewarned. A cunning ambush was prepared in the approaches to the Sierra Madres, including several cannons that had been pilfered over the years, not to mention several hundred smaller firearms now wielded with expert precision.
With cavalier lack of concern given their opinion of Aztec abilities, the Spanish marched directly into the trap, and suffered accordingly. Several hundred of the Spaniards were cut down within the first hour, and the majority of the native levies fled in terror, while many that remained on the field did so in order to turn on the Spanish. It was an utter rout, compounded thricefold when the Aztec unleashed a well coordinated cavalry charge on the retreating forces - a total surprise to the Spanish, who did not know the Aztec had built up a stock of horses. It would be two months before a new attempt was made, and although better preparation avoided such a disastrous pitfall a second time, it took several weeks of hard fighting before the Spanish forced the passes and reached the new Aztec capital of Technotitlan.
Not one to admit defeat, Cloacatakaka was last seen in the thick of the fighting, with his elite Tiger Warriors, but all were eventually cut down. Their stand was not in vain, and served as an effective rear guard action for a significant portion of the population to flee and disperse. Aztec power in the Sierra Madres was finally broken, but several smaller bands, stretching from modern Chihuahua almost to the border of modern Utah, continued to fight on, although were never able to project any of the regional power held by Cloacatakaka. These Aztec warbands would be merely a minor thorn in the side of the Spanish, and interband squabbles over leadership and the true heir of the Aztec Emperorship served to further reduce their effectiveness. One by one the bands were eliminated, but it would be until 1649 that the last strain of Aztec resistance would be fully eliminated, with the ambush of Zappatafranka’s small group in the Nacimiento Mountains. Captured alive Zappatafranka would be summarily executed the next morning, July 17th, the last claimant of the Aztec Throne to have asserted his right through force.