1530: Tangaxuan II, the last Tarasco ruler

This date in 1530 marked the end of the pre-Columbian Tarasco Empire, when the Spaniard Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán lashed its last independent king (Spanish link) to a tree and burned him to death.

Legendary even by conquistador standards for his cruelty, Beltran de Guzman eliminated the Tarascan state in western Mexico — a onetime Aztec rival which had got off relatively easy during Cortes’s 1520s incursion by cooperating with the Spanish.

Beltran de Guzman had set out from Spanish holdings on the hunt for gold, butchering the many natives on his westward jag unable or unwilling to comply with his demand for more and better treasure.

Tangaxuan — or Tangaxoan, or Tanganxoan, or Tangaxhuan, and other such variants — met his foreign-born visitor peacefully with some gifts of gold and silver. This only whetted Nuno Beltran de Guzman’s appetite, and he promptly had the king detained and tortured for more pelf before dispatching him by dragging by horses and burning alive at the confluence of the Río Lerma and the Río Angulo. (Spanish, again.)


The monumental Juan O’Gorman mural in Michoacan, the present-day Mexican state occupying what was once Tarascan land, depicts this day’s execution above the inscription, “Tangaxhuán, the last monarch of the Purhépecha Indians was tortured and assassinated by the ferocious hordes led by the sadistic, vile, Nuño de Guzmán.”

Although even other Spanish officials viewed our bloodthirsty conquistador with distaste, his depredations were ultimately rooted in the logic of imperial expansion, and the conquest of Tarasco consolidated (Spanish link) the colonial power’s grip on “New Spain”.

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