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The old Spanish province of Estremadura, though distant from the sea, shut in by mountain-chains, furnished numerous adventurers for the expeditions of discovery, conquest, and plunder that followed Columbus to the New World; two of whom achieved astonishing renown. One was the conqueror of Mexico; the other, the conqueror of Peru.
Pizarro exhorting his band at Gallo.
Rumors of a rich empire far to the south, where gold was as common with the natives as iron was with the Spaniards, had long inflamed the imaginations of the colonists; then news came of the prodigious exploits of Cortes in Mexico. Pizarro burned to emulate his kinsman. Having formed a partnership with Diego de Almagro, a soldier of experience, and Hernando de Luque, a priest supplied with worldly means, he secured an old vessel that had been designed by Balboa for a similar expedition, refitted it with Luque's money, and with a hundred adventurers sailed from the port of Panama in November, 1524; leaving Almagro to follow in a smaller vessel.
Pizarro was then more than fifty years old, but still in possession of all his masterful qualities. And he had need of all, amid the perils of sea and land, the tempests, swamps, battles, sickness, and famine, which rendered his first voyage down the coast a deplorable failure. Almagro met with no better success. Both returned to the isthmus buffeted, baffled, humiliated, but too stout of heart to be cast down. They brought back but little gold, but with that little they had gathered evidence of the indubitable existence of the opulent empire they sought.
The governor was hugely dissatisfied with the results of the expedition, of which he had expected to share some of the profits; and his consent to another could hardly have been obtained, but for the persuasive eloquence of the priest, backed by the offer of a sum in ready cash. For a thousand pesos de oro Pedrarias gave his consent, and signed away his right to the spoils of an empire.
A new contract was entered into by the three partners, and an elaborate and solemn document was drawn up, in sonorous Spanish, which is curious reading at this day. Father Luque signed it with his own hand, and the two soldiers by the hands of witnesses, since neither Pizarro nor Almagro could write his name. About one hundred and sixty men were enlisted, and again the two chiefs set sail from Panama in separate ships.
They made their first landing at the mouth of the Rio San Juan, where by the plunder of a small village, they secured some ornaments of gold and a few prisoners. Almagro hastened to carry the treasure back to Panama, as a bait to other followers, while Pizarro and his pilot Ruiz remained to explore the interior and the coast. Ruiz sailed as far south as the equator, and after a memorable voyage of some weeks, returned to his chief with a cheering report. He had fallen in with what seemed at first a ship at sea, where no European ship had ever been, and found it to be an Indian balsa, a huge raft across which was stretched a sail of cotton-cloth. It had a rudder and a keel. On board were men and women clad in a curious sort of woollen stuff, skilfully woven, and beautifully dyed and embroidered. They were making a voyage of traffic along the coast. They wore ornaments of gold, and had with them, besides vessels and mirrors of burnished silver, balances for weighing the precious metals, which by signs they assured Ruiz were common in their country.
Pizarro in the meanwhile vainly endeavored to pass the yawning gorges, bottomless swamps, and dense dark forests that lay between him and the snow-covered peaks of the Cordilleras. Entangled vines and trees of a luxuriant tropical vegetation, huge boas coiling in the branches, ready to spring upon their prey, screaming parrots, chattering and grimacing monkeys, mosquitoes, alligators, prowling savages,-amid such scenes as these he and his band had once more confronted famine and death in the absence of Almagro and Ruiz.
Ruiz came opportunely with his good news, and Almagro returned with eighty recruits. The expedition re-embarked and proceeded southward. The aspect of the coast became more inviting as they advanced. There were signs of an extensive civilization; fields cultivated with maize, cacao, and potatoes; many villages; and at length a town of more than two thousand houses, laid out with streets, and thronging with inhabitants. Among the Spaniards wild enthusiasm prevailed. But it was quickly checked by the hostile demonstrations with which they were met, when they attempted to gain a foothold on the soil of the Incas. It was useless to make front against such numbers as opposed them. Divided counsels and a violent quarrel between the two captains ensued, and the expedition sailed back northward. Once more Almagro returned to Panama for more men, while Pizarro and his followers remained to starve on the barren isle of Gallo.
Instead of permitting any more of his people to depart on what seemed so foolhardy and fatal a business, Rios, the new governor of Panama, despatched to the island two vessels, under a commander named Tafur, with orders to bring away every Spaniard left alive there. Then occurred the famous episode that decided so dramatically the fortunes of Pizarro and the fate of Peru. Tafur had brought supplies of provisions to the famished and emaciated, but now jubilant soldiers; and all except Pizarro appeared eager to abandon their barren adventure and return in the ships. Pizarro alone refused obedience to the governor's agent. Drawing a line on the sand with his sword, he cried: "Comrades! on that side lie hunger and hardship; on this side, ease and safety. There lies Peru with its riches; here, Panama and poverty. Choose, every man for himself, like brave Castilians. For me, I go to the south."
He stepped across the line. There was a minute of dismay and silence. Then Ruiz followed, and after him twelve others went over, an act of as desperate and resolute courage as ever inspired a forlorn band.
They saw the ships containing their comrades sail away without them; Ruiz also returned, pledged to bring assistance to his companions left behind; while Pizarro remained with his twelve Spaniards, and three or four Indian captives whom he had made friends, on the desolate island.
Not even a ship was left them, and they had to build a raft to convey them to a less inhospitable island, that of Gorgona, farther north. There they lived seven months, subsisting on small game brought down by their cross-bows, and shell-fish found on the shores, until Ruiz, after weary delays, returned in a small vessel, bringing supplies, but not the expected reinforcement of troops.
In this frail craft the dauntless rovers put to sea. Pizarro pursued his explorations southward, beyond the point where he afterward founded Truxillo, named after his native town; visited several Peruvian ports, and learned much of the country he proposed to subjugate. He then returned to Panama, which he reached after an absence of eighteen months. The reappearance of the little group of wanderers bringing news of their discoveries, was the cause of great astonishment in the colony, and of joyful enthusiasm among their friends, who had long given them up for dead.
The governor, however, resenting Pizarro's disobedience of his orders at the isle of Gallo, refused to sanction another expedition; and Pizarro resolved upon the bold course of returning to Spain and appealing to the Crown. This was in the spring of 1528.
Arriving at Seville, he was immediately thrown into prison for a debt incurred at Darien. But he was released by order of the emperor, Charles V., who received him graciously at Toledo, heard the wondrous story of his wanderings, which Pizarro knew how to tell, and saw the vessels of gold and silver, the fine fabrics, the llamas, and other evidences of the Peruvian civilization, which were displayed before his royal eyes. He was also, no doubt influenced by the recent achievements of Cortes, who was then at court, and who perhaps spoke for his kinsman a friendly word.
The monarch turned over Pizarro and his enterprise, with his recommendation, to the Council of the Indies. Yet a year passed, and nothing was done. Pizarro was fast sinking into obscurity, and he would likewise have sunk into despair, if he had been less stout of heart. Then, as Queen Isabella had aided Columbus, so the queen of Charles V. came to the assistance of Pizarro, and caused to be executed the extraordinary instrument which bestowed on him, with the rights of discovery and conquest, the titles of Governor and Captain-General of New Castile, as Peru was then called, and a salary of 725,000 maravedis, to be drawn however from the conquered country. Almagro and Luque were also provided for, but in a more modest way, which proved the beginning of a long, bitter, and deadly feud between Almagro and his chief. Nor did the instrument fail to make the usual provision for the conversion to Christianity of the nations to be subjugated and plundered.
In mustering his recruits Pizarro had the satisfaction of revisiting his native town of Truxillo, where he had lived in degradation, and to which he now returned a renowned discoverer and soldier, and a titled magnate. There he found his three brothers, the Pizarros, all poor and proud and eager for adventure; and a fourth brother, on his mother's side. With these and other followers, hardly exceeding one hundred, he sailed from Seville, in January, 1530; and a year later, namely, in January, 1531, after a solemn consecration of his enterprise in the cathedral of Panama, he put forth from that port with one hundred and eighty men and twenty-seven horses, on his fourth, last, and finally successful expedition, to overthrow a populous empire.
That empire lay in the bosom and on both sides of the mighty ranges of the Andes, occupying thirty-seven degrees of the coast south of the equator, and extending eastward far over the valleys of the Amazon and its numerous tributaries. It was under the rule of the Incas, a parental despotism, which spread an iron network of laws over millions of subjects of different races and languages. Its mountain slopes, table-lands, sea-coasts, and plains comprised every variety of climate and almost every diversity of physical features. Its capital was Cuzco, where dwelt the adored Incas; there also was the famous Temple of the Sun, with its gorgeous decorations of gold and gems. Canals, aqueducts, complete systems of irrigation for the rainless regions; magnificent mountain roads, built to endure for centuries; fine textile fabrics, utensils of clay and copper, vessels and ornaments of silver and gold; bridges, fortresses, and edifices of a rude but massy and symmetrical architecture, well adapted to the climate and the needs of the inhabitants; armies, magistrates, courts of justice,-such were some of the tokens of a wide semi-civilized prosperity, which less than two hundred Spanish adventurers were proceeding ruthlessly to destroy.
With incredible difficulties still to overcome, Pizarro had in his favor a circumstance of immense importance. The country was at that time distracted by civil war. Two brothers, Huascar and Atahualpa, sons of the last Inca, were engaged in a fratricidal strife for the imperial power, and their armies were turned against each other.
Pizarro resolved to strike his first blow at Tumbez; but was constrained by baffling winds to put into the Bay St. Matthew. There he landed his force, and soon fell upon a peaceful village, putting the inhabitants to flight and pillaging their dwellings. A considerable treasure thus obtained was sent back to Panama, where it had the desired effect of rallying new recruits for the conquest. A most welcome reinforcement was headed by Hernando de Soto, afterwards famed as the discoverer of the Mississippi, who sailed to join Pizarro with one hundred men and a number of horses.
De Soto arrived in time to aid in extricating him from a harassing situation on the island of Puna. Pizarro had been so indiscreet as to get into a quarrel with the inhabitants, whom he had defeated in battle and slaughtered in large numbers, and from whose incessant attacks he was suffering great annoyance.
He now felt himself strong enough to invade the interior. The story of that invasion is one of the most astonishing in history. It has been many times told, but nowhere else so effectively as in the full, flowing, and lucid narrative of Prescott. It can be but briefly sketched here.
Having established near the sea-coast a settlement which he named San Miguel, to serve as a key of communication between him and his ships, Pizarro set out boldly on his march, having with him but one hundred and seventy-seven men, nine of whom showing signs of sinking courage, were soon sent back to the settlement. By pretences of a friendly mission to their Inca, he won his way among such of the surprised inhabitants as were not frightened from their villages by his approach; and penetrated the wild defiles of the Cordilleras, behind which, near Caxamalca-now Caxamarca-the Inca Atahualpa, with an immense army lay encamped. He was fresh from a great and decisive victory over his elder brother, and was resting, and enjoying the warm baths near the city,-the "baths of the Incas," as they are called to this day.
Instead of disputing the passage of the strangers in the mountain fortresses, and hurling destruction upon them from a thousand crags, the monarch sent to exchange gifts with them, and assurances of friendship; and awaited them in his camp, the pavilions of which whitened the wide hillsides for miles.
On a dull afternoon in November, 1532, Pizarro entered Caxamalca, and undismayed by the innumerable host that confronted him, went to pay a visit of courtesy to the Inca. He was gloomily received by Atahualpa, who chanced to be observing a fast, but who promised to return his visit on the following day.
Pizarro felt that a crisis in his audacious business was close at hand; and endured the deepest anxiety until late the next afternoon, that of November 16th, when, after long delays and apparent waverings on the part of the Inca, which severely tried the patience of the Spaniards lying in wait with their heavy armor on, he at length appeared, borne in a gorgeous palanquin, and accompanied by an immense and magnificent procession.
With ferocious satisfaction Pizarro beheld his august victim advancing to his doom. The procession entered the grand plaza of Caxamalca, on three sides of which, under cover of low buildings opening into it, spearmen and horsemen stood to their arms. Not a Spaniard was to be seen, until a priest with interpreters advanced to meet the monarch, and to confuse him with an astonishing harangue concerning the true faith and the supremacy of Spain. Pizarro saw that his opportunity had come. He waved his scarf; from the fortress sounded a signal-gun; and with fierce battle-cries the Spaniards rushed from all sides upon the Peruvians.
The shouts, the blaze and smoke of fire-arms, the terrible detonations, the sight of plunging horses and their riders, with the sudden fury of the onset, paralyzed with terror the multitude of unarmed attendants, who fell the victims of a horrible massacre. The Inca was seized and borne off a captive. And yet the pursuit and slaughter did not cease until thousands of the panic-stricken and defenceless Peruvians had been slain, and more prisoners had been taken than were required to provide every Spaniard with a retinue of servants.
Pizarro treated his captive with the consideration due to a great but fallen potentate; he granted him ample apartments, and the society of his favorite wives and nobles. He at the same time endeavored to save his soul, by enforcing upon his mind the truths of the Catholic faith. Atahualpa accepted with dignity the fortunes of war; and as a ransom offered to fill a large room in which he one day was, with vessels of gold, as high as he could reach. Pizarro agreed to the proposal, and by the Inca's orders messengers were despatched to Cuzco and other important cities of the empire, for the required booty.
This arrangement reached the ears of Huascar, then a prisoner in the hands of his younger brother's adherents; he thereupon sent word to the Spaniards that he would pay a much larger reward if they would espouse his cause and set him free. Unfortunately for both him and Pizarro, the offer reached the ears of Atahualpa, who secretly caused Huascar to be put to death.
The golden treasure soon began to come in, borne on the backs of Indians,-goblets, vases, salvers, massy plates and tiles from the walls of palaces and temples, and images of plants and animals. Some of these objects weighed individually several pounds; and the art displayed in their manufacture was often admirable. But they were all ruthlessly melted down into ingots, to be divided among the conquerors. Gold to the value of more than seventeen million dollars, measured by our modern standard, was thus secured, besides a vast amount of silver. Certainly no prince in all the world's history had ever paid such a ransom.
The treasure was a long while coming in; and Pizarro had ample time to consider how he should keep his part of the contract. He could never have had any intention of giving the Inca his liberty; nor was he deep enough in his craft to perceive the immense advantage he might gain by holding him a captive. He resolved upon his death. The unhappy prince was tried by a military court of his enemies, charged with the usurpation of the empire, with the murder of his brother, and with attempts to incite an insurrection against the Spaniards. He was condemned, received as a convert to the Catholic faith, baptized, and executed. This event occurred August 29, 1533.
Meanwhile Almagro had arrived with a much-needed reinforcement; and adventurers of all sorts, from Spain and her western colonies, soon began to flock to the newly opened land of gold. Pizarro marched upon Cuzco, which he took after a fierce battle, and pillaged of what gold had not been already removed for Atahualpa's ransom. He caused Manco Capae, a young prince of the royal blood, to be proclaimed Inca; drove him by his oppressions to revolt; and was besieged by him in Cuzco. The Peruvians assaulted the city in countless numbers, set fire to the houses with flaming arrows and red-hot stones, and might have starved or destroyed the Spaniards, had not they themselves been forced by starvation to raise the siege.
In June, 1538, the old feud between Pizarro and Almagro culminated in a battle between their two factions, and Almagro was defeated and killed. Pizarro now ruled the country with red-handed despotism. The benignant laws of the Incas were replaced by the rapine of the conquerors. Not only gold and silver, but the land itself and its former peaceful occupants, were apportioned among them; and slavery and concubinage prevailed in their most revolting forms. The rumors of these wrongs reached Spain, and a commissioner was sent out to inquire into them; but before his arrival Pizarro died by violence in his own Ciudad de los Reyes, "City of the Kings,"-now Lima,-which he had founded in 1535.
His death was worthy of his life. Attacked in his own house by the avengers of Almagro, he fought furiously, and cut down three of his assailants; but fell, overcome by numbers, and pierced by as many blades as met in the body of Caesar. His last word was "Jesu!" and his last act, to stoop and kiss the symbol of a cross which he traced with his finger on the bloody floor.
Thus lived and died one of the most extraordinary men of his time, indeed of all times. It is hard to sum up briefly the good and evil of such a character. He was said to be of a pleasing and dignified presence, simple and self-reliant. We know that he was possessed of indomitable courage, endurance, and persistency of purpose; avaricious, perfidious, devout; and conspicuous for his cruelty even in a cruel age. Greedy as he was of gold, he spent little of it upon himself, and seemed to desire it chiefly for the power and honor it would command. He founded settlements and cities, and was lavish in his expenditures upon public works; no doubt ambitious of building up a new empire on the ruins of the one he had destroyed. But he exhibited none of the great qualities of a born ruler and lawgiver; in the coarseness of his moral nature, a swineherd to the last. He never married, but by a daughter of Atahualpa he had a daughter, who survived him. In his native town of Truxillo her descendants are still to be found, with the mingled blood of the conqueror and of the last of the Incas in their veins.
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