09/05/2014 02:31 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Nuño de Guzman: Spain's Bad Boy in Mexico

This is a story for vacationers heading to the golden sands of Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo and other spots on the Mexican Riviera. It will give you a little history of the Spanish conquest of western Mexico - and perhaps some interesting nuggets to share with other tourists during your stay.

Chances are you've heard of Hernan Cortes, the great Spanish conquistador who - with just 500 soldiers - snatched what's now the country of Mexico away from the powerful Aztec emperor Moctezuma in 1521. But you likely never heard of Nuño de Guzman, one of Cortes' top captains. Maybe Cortes had a better public relations man, but Guzman was almost as big a conquistador, having led the invasion of the better part of western Mexico and who for a while served as governor of a couple of states.


Guzman slashed his way through colonial Puebla on his way to Mexico's west coast. Photo by Bob Schulman.

Some historians say Guzman's westward charge was ordered by Cortes as a way as getting rid of him (Spain's King Charles V had sent Guzman - his buddy and the son of a big wheel in the Inquisition - to Mexico to keep an eye on Cortes).

So off Guzman went with an army of 10,000 soldiers. Having earlier gained a reputation for cruelty along Mexico's Gulf Coast -- for instance, selling thousands of Indians to work as slaves on Caribbean plantations -- his westward thrust was to give him an even bloodier rep along the Pacific. Soon to find out why Guzman was known as "the butcher" were villagers in a region stretching from Sinaloa down to Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima, Michoacan and Guerrero (the home states of such modern-day beach resorts as Mazatlan, the Riviera Nayarit, Puerto Vallarta, Careyas, Manzanillo and Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, among others).


Guzman's army of 10,000 trounced 30,000 defenders of Sinaloa in 1531. Shown above is the state's top resort at Mazatlan. Photo by Bob Schulman.

Historians note Guzman took some time off from slaughtering Indians in the coastal states to found the big inland city of Guadalajara (which he named after the city in Spain where he was born) and the silver-rich city of Zacatecas.


Puerto Vallarta's 160 hotel-resorts edge Banderas Bay. Photo by Bob Schulman

He was so brutal, according to author Jaime Capulli, that the top chronicler of the era had this to say about him: "In all the provinces of New Spain (Mexico) there is no other man more foul and evil than (Guzman)." Another report said Guzman "was the most depraved man to ever set foot in New Spain." His biographer charged him with "cruelty of the highest order, ambition without limit and great immorality."

It took a while, but King Charles finally got fed up with his man in Mexico (possibly with some urging by Cortes and church heavyweight Vasco de Quiroga). Guzman was arrested in 1536, held in prison for a couple of years, put on trial - where de Quiroga was one of the judges -- and then shipped back to Spain in chains. He died in 1558, a broken man.