Discovery of New Worlds - M. B. Synge

Conquest of Peru

"Not to be wearied, not to be deterred,

Not to be overcome."

—SOUTHEY (on Pizarro).

The dazzling conquest of Mexico gave a new impulse to American discovery.

"If gold is what you prize so much, that you are willing to leave your distant homes and even risk life itself," the Indian prince had said to Balboa, "I can tell you of a land where they drink out of golden vessels, and gold is as cheap as iron in your own country."

He spoke of Peru, on the western coast of South America, washed by the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Among those who heard him was one Pizarro, who as a young man had climbed the steep mountain with Balboa, and looked his fill on the hitherto unknown waters of the Pacific Ocean.

But it was not till three years after Magellan had sailed across the Pacific Ocean, and five since Cortes had conquered Mexico, that Pizarro got his chance and started off from the little port of Panama in search of the golden kingdom of Peru.

This first expedition was a dismal failure; and after untold hardships Pizarro returned to Panama in a sorry state. Still undaunted in spirit, he again started forth. The land of gold was farther away than he had imagined, the coast was stormy and inhospitable, the natives unfriendly.

At last, however, an expedition was fitted out, and guided by the clever pilot Ruiz, who was well experienced in the navigation of the Pacific, they reached the island of Gallo, near the equator. Here they determined to wait, and send back for more troops from Panama, as there was clearly fighting to be done on the coast of Peru. But this proposal caused a great outcry.

"What," faltered the faint-hearted, "are we to be left in this obscure spot to die of hunger?"

What did they care for lands of gold: they only wanted to go home. But the ships sailed away for help, and Pizarro was left alone on the far-off island with his discontented crew. They survived on crabs and shell-fish, picked up on the shore, till the two welcome ships returned well laden with food and men. By this time Pizarro's men had made up their minds to return to Panama at all costs. Pizarro was determined to go on. Drawing his sword one day, he traced a line on the sand from east to west. Then turning to the south, he cried—

"Friends and comrades, on that side are toil, hunger, nakedness, the drenching storm, desertion, and death; on this side ease and pleasure. There lies Peru with its riches: here Panama and its poverty. Choose, each man, what best becomes a brave Spaniard. For my part, I go south."

Saying this, he stepped across the line. The brave pilot and twelve others followed him, while the rest turned their faces homewards.

The old historian speaks with enthusiasm of this little band of men, who in the face of difficulties unequalled in history, with death rather than riches for their reward, never deserted their leader in the hour of his greatest need—an example of loyalty for all future ages.

It was the crisis of Pizarro's life. The little band now sailed southwards, 600 miles south of the equator, touching at various points along the coast. After a year and a half's absence they found themselves once more in the port of Panama, telling their eager listeners that they had indeed found the land of gold, and they had only come back to fit out a new expedition to go and conquer it.

Pizarro now returned to Spain, where he obtained leave from the king to attempt the conquest of Peru, of which he was named Governor, on a promise to pay the king one-fifth part of all the treasure he might get. In February 1531 he landed in Peru with two hundred men and fifty horses. He at once marched south along the coast, built a town, which he called San Miguel, as head-quarters, and learned more of the country he meant to conquer.

Pizarro then started off on his inland journey, to find the monarch, or Inca as he was called, of these parts. It was September 1532 when he began his great march for the Peruvian city of Caxamalca, where the king was to be found. It was a daring enterprise, for between the Spaniards and the old city of Peru rose a great mountain-range, which numbered some of the highest peaks in the whole world. This range was known as the Andes. After a few days' march they saw the stupendous range rising before them, their crests of everlasting snow glittering amid the clouds.

It needed some courage to plunge across those lonely mountain ways to the capital of the Incas.

"Let each man take heart and go forward like a good soldier," cried Pizarro.

"Lead on, wherever thou thinkest best," shouted his devoted followers; "we will follow."

Scrambling up rocks, winding along narrow ledges with yawning chasms below, always leading their horses by the bridle, the brave Spaniards struggled through the very heart of the mountains. At the top they looked down on the little old city of Caxamalea glittering in the sunshine.

Meanwhile the news had reached the Inca that white bearded strangers had come up from the sea, clad in shining array, riding upon "unearthly monsters" and wielding deadly thunderbolts. The ruler of Peru at once sent messengers, laden with presents, to make friends with these strangers.

As the conquerors neared the city, the Inca was carried on his golden litter to meet them.

A solitary white man came forth. It was the Spanish priest, who proceeded to give him a long account of Bible history from the Creation to the call of St Peter, begging him at the same time to accept a Spanish Bible, and thus acknowledge the power of Spain. As the Inca hurled the Bible from him, a number of armed Spaniards rushed out of the houses surrounding the market-place, where they had been in hiding, seized the terrified Inca, and slew his followers. Pizarro had the Inca shut up in a room till his fate should be decided. Making a mark on the wall, as high as his hand would reach, the poor deposed ruler offered the Spaniards as ransom for his life gold enough to fill the room up to the height he had marked. Pizarro accepted the offer, but afterwards he easily put the Inca to death.

A year later Pizarro entered the city of Cuzco, the capital of Peru. The city was full of treasure, as he had expected. There were figures of pure gold and planks of solid silver. The women wore sandals of gold, and their dresses glittered with beads of gold.

So the "Children of the Sun" entered into possession of the old town of Cuzco, and the conquest of golden Peru was practically complete.

When the loads of gold from this rich country and the wonderful tales of adventure reached Spain, there was such excitement as had hardly been felt since Columbus had returned from his first voyage across the Sea of Darkness. Again Spaniards flocked across the seas to the New World, and ships plied between Spain and Peru. Pizarro himself was made a Marquis, and his name was on every lip, for had he not surmounted every obstacle to win this great country for Spain?