Reign: 1523 – 1524
Summary: As a man who became Guatemala's national hero in 1960, Tecún Umán was a thorn in the side of Spain during his campaign against Pedro de Alvarado in the 1520s. He ruled a large tribe of Maya as the elected king of the K'iche' confederacy. In 1523, Conquistador Hernán Cortés sent Alvarado to conquer the lands south of México. Alvarado was given roughly eight hundred soldiers, archers, musketeers, horsemen, and local warriors to defeat the locals. Messages sent as early as 1520 to the K'iche' had demanded their submission under Spanish rule, but the tribe had declined. The tribe began to fortify their defenses and ally with local neighbors. The people chose Tecún Umán, a local leader, as their war chief against the Spanish, and over eight thousand troops were raised to meet the invaders.
Legends surround the Battle of El Pinal that saw the end of the K'iche' Confederacy and the beginning of Spain's colonization of Central America. One such legend states that Alvarado and Tecún met in single combat. Tecún, believing that Alvarado's horse was part of the same being as Alvarado himself, killed the horse but failed to kill Alvarado before himself being speared through by the conquistador. Tecún's bird, a quetzal, landed on the chieftains chest, staining its breast with blood. This explains why male quetzals have a scarlet breast to this day. Another legend states that Tecún physically turned into the bird upon his death and that Alvarado was saved by a maiden, since associated with the Virgin Mary. The more logical truth is that Tecún probably killed the horse and another Spanish soldier or ally killed the king. Regardless, Tecún Umán died in that battle and tradition states that he was buried at Atalaya, near the ancient capital of Q'umarkaj. The Spaniards soon conquered the remainder of Central America and the Maya fell into poverty and neglect.
Date of Death: 20 February 1524
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