Many centuries ago -- in fact long anterior to the conquest of Mexico by Cortez -- the Aztecs inhabited the valley of the Nemaha and the adjacent country. They were a prosperous and happy people, and were far advanced in civilization. It is not known when they first took possession of the valley, but the traditions preserved by the Pawnee Indians (who are descendants from the Aztecs, as is well known to every student of history) would seem to indicate that the pioneers of that fertile part of Nebraska planted their standard long centuries before the occurrence of the romantic incident which we are about to relate.
We have said the Aztecs were far advanced in civilization. This statement will appear more plausible when we say that they were unexcelled in the arts and sciences. Their architecture was grand and marvelous. Towering castle of granite and lordly palaces of marble dotted city and plain. Except that these piles were on a larger scale, we have no doubt (judging from the ruins that have been exhumed in various places) that somewhat resembled the Alhambra in architectural design.
The Aztecs were doubtless attracted to this valley by the richness of its soil. They tilled this soil, and such was its exceeding fertility that in the time they became as we have described them.
It was a religious custom of the Aztecs to sacrifice a beautiful and chaste maiden every year to their idol. This was done by burning her on a high granite altar or table, after bleeding her to death. It was believed by the people that if they failed in this duty, that the idol would be so incensed as to destroy them.
In accordance with this custom, a maiden was "once upon a time" chosen by lot, and duly sacrificed upon the high altar.
The maiden thus sacrificed had a lover - a nobleman, and one of the most astute of the Aztec statesmen. At the time of the sacrifice he was in a distant part of the empire attending to weighty state affairs, and not until his return did he learn who had been sacrificed. And then his sorrow was pitiful to behold. He cried aloud and tore his hair in a perfect frenzy of grief. But finally he became calm and apparently reconciled. He went about with a melancholy face, it is true, but he made no demonstrations of grief. However, he was not the same man after this. He took no part in state affairs, and was seldom soon at court where he had formerly been a favorite. He sought companionship of the peasantry, with whom he was always found in close consultation.
One day news was brought to the emperor that the peasantry headed by Puoblo, the melancholy nobleman, had arisen in insurrection. When his imperial majesty heard this, he ordered his generals to go forth and seize the rebels, and bring them before him where he would condemn them to death. The generals went forth but returned empty handed. They represented that the rebels were organized into a great army, which could not be put down in a day. Then the emperor called together a great army, and putting himself at the head of the same, sailed forth to meet the rebels. The opposing armies met just outside the walls of the capital (the capital stood where Pawnee City now stands) but before the battle commenced, the emperor sent a truce, and asked a parley with Puoblo, which was granted. Puoblo met the Emperor half way between the two armies.
The emperor was the first to speak. "Oh Puoblo, formerly my most devoted servant, why hast thou rebelled against thy sovereign? Speak."
"Oh sire," answered Puoblo,"thou askest why have I rebelled against thee, and it fit that I shouldest answer thee. I rebel against thee because thou hast sacrificed the light of my eye, the joy of my soul, the maiden whom I loved to the idol. Oh sire, I have sworn by the blood of that sacrifice to avenge. I have sworn to destroy every city, hamlet and hut in this beautiful valley, and leave but one single role of its present grandeur. Oh sire, I have spoken."
After this parley Puoblo and the emperor returned to their place sat the head of their respected armies..
We shall not attempt to describe the battle, for it differed little from other battles of that age. It was fierce and the slaughter on both sides terrible, but at last Pueblo's army was compelled to flee. After the defeat of Puoblo, the emperor offered amnesty to all rebels that would lay down their army and return to peaceful pursuits. And nearly all of Pueblo's Army accepted the offer. This was almost a death blow to Puoblo, for he was compelled to flee the country. But he did not give up in despair; after a short exile he secretly returned and sowed the seeds of another insurrection. Before long he raised another army, but again he was defeated. This time he was taken prisoner by the emperor army, and along with his bravest generals condemned to death. They were publicly executed near the sacrificial altar.
This altar was what is now known as Table Rock. Then it was supported by two massive stone columns, and was some twenty foot high. Now it has fallen, and of the columns having given away after a service of so many culture. It is said that the thunder of the A & N Train shook it so that it could not stand.
This altar was the only structure sacred to Puoblo. On it his beloved had died, and by it he swore that it should last longer that the Aztec monarchy. He swore by the blood of his beloved that stained the alter, that it should last long after every vestige of the former greatness of the Aztecs had been swept away from the valley. Before his execution exhorted his followers to remember his oath. He exhorted them to kill the followers of the emperor, and sack and burn their enemies villages. After the death of Puoblo a sort of guerrilla warfare was commenced against the government by small bands of desperate men. Cities were suddenly surprised, and burned. These depredations increased to such an alarming extent that many people were panic-stricken and fled the country. They drove the enemy out of the valley toward the southwest. .
After the conquest, the rebels finished the work of demolition they had commenced. Castles, palaces and huts alike were torn down and the debris buried in deep trenches. After this the people became nomadic and worthless. Having been reared as warriors, they had no taste for civil pursuits. They lodged in tents and fed off the wild game, which was, as is now, abundant in the valley. They never tried to improve their condition. On the contrary they became worse and worse, until they finally degenerated into the savage Pawnee of the present day.
A conner plate, covered with ancient hieroglyphics, was recently found in the older column of Table Rock, where Prof. Plerro Vummore, of the Paris University, has succeeded in translating, by careful comparison with the most ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, and kindly furnished Prof. Pangburn with a translation, (this tablet is now in the possession of C. Foote, passenger conductor on the A & N railroad) from which we have been able to gather some of the facts set forth in the foregoing narrative. We also learn from the translation in question many other particulars. For instance, that the Aztecs, when they were compelled to flee from the Nemaha Valley, sought a home in Mexico where, owing to the extreme sterility of the soil as compared with the Eden they had left, they appear to have sadly degenerated.
A visit to Table Rock will repay anyone, but more particularly the lover of romantic history. No one can look upon the time-worn altar and not meditate on the great devotion of Puoblo. No one can think of Puoblo and not wish there were such lovers nowadays.