Adventures and Conquests of Pizarro - George Towle

Pizarro Invades Peru

In coming near the shore, Pizarro's surprise was great to see nothing of his rafts, which had gone on ahead with his baggage and military stores; and still greater, when the streets of Tumbez, instead of being alive, as on his first visit, with a throng of curious and friendly natives, appeared to be completely deserted.

Here and there an Indian was seen hurrying along the shore or through the streets: otherwise the town was solitary and silent. Pizarro at once conjectured that the people of Tumbez, learning his approach with a larger force than before, had become alarmed, and fled. But what had become of his rafts, and the men who had gone upon them?

Landing as soon as he could, and ordering his soldiers to disembark, he sent out reconnoitering parties to search for the Indians, and find out the cause of this sudden disappearance.

Pretty soon several natives, who had been caught running away by one of the parties, were brought to Pizarro, who caused them to be questioned by his interpreters.

From them he learned that his rafts had been seized and broken up, the goods carried off, and the men on them hurried into the woods, and there killed.

Meanwhile other scouts came in to tell Pizarro that Tumbez was not only deserted by its inhabitants, but that most of its buildings had been destroyed, and the treasures taken away out of reach.

Among the parties sent out to reconnoiter was one commanded by Hernando Pizarro, comprising forty cavalry and eighty foot-soldiers. Pizarro caused a large raft to be constructed, upon which Hernando and his force crossed a broad and winding river which flowed just south of Tumbez. After scouring the country for some time, Hernando came in sight of an Indian encampment.

He attacked this encampment without delay, and easily routed the Indians; and, after pursuing them for some distance, he sent a messenger to their chief to ask him to make peace.

"I am afraid of the Spaniards," was the chief's reply; "and I dare not trust myself with them, unless they promise that I shall not be killed."

Hernando at once responded,—

"You will not be injured, but may go with me to our captain without fear; and he will pardon you for your offences against him."

The chief and some of his chief men then timidly approached Hernando's camp, whence they were conducted back to Pizarro. When Pizarro saw the chief, who proved to be the governor or "cacique" of Tumbez, a dark frown settled on his face.

"Why have you, whom I treated so well when I was here before, massacred the brave comrades whom I left under your protection?" he angrily asked. "And what have you done with the men who came on the raft?"

The chief trembled with fear: his teeth chattered, and his knees knocked together. He feared lest Pizarro was about to order him to be shot.

"I beg you, great stranger, listen to me, and spare me," he faltered. "It was not I, but some of my principal men, who dealt foully with the Spaniards."

Pizarro commanded the principal men who had been captured to be brought face to face with the cacique. When they arrived, he said,—

"Point out those who committed this atrocious deed."

The chief glanced from one to the other, and then, falling at Pizarro's feet, begged him not to take his life; adding,—

"I swear to you, mighty lord, that I do not see the men here who did it."

Pizarro looked at him scornfully, and ordered him and the other Indians to be kept close prisoners. He reflected that the cacique might, after all, be of more use to him alive than dead, and resolved to spare him, but to take care that he had no chance to betray him.

The Spanish commander had taken up his residence in two large and quite comfortable houses, which were surrounded by two high walls, and had open courts and doors just like European dwellings. But he did not remain long at Tumbez. There was no treasure to obtain, and the provisions he had brought were becoming exhausted.

Assembling his men one day, Pizarro told them that they were now in the dominions of the great Inca of Peru.

"There are great dangers and difficulties yet before us," he said; "but they are of a different sort from those which have hitherto impeded us. We are approaching the mountains, which we shall have to cross; and beyond them we shall at last come face to face with the might of the Peruvian monarch. We are few, and his soldiers are many and brave; but we have fire-arms, discipline, and glorious hopes. The stirring action of war is before us: let us hasten on to meet it!"

"Long live the captain! Lead us forward, and we will follow!" shouted his men in reply, waving their hands.

Leaving the cacique, whom he had now bound to him in friendship by his leniency, to gather his people together again at Tumbez, and also a detachment of Spaniards to guard the place, Pizarro set out at the head of his men, keeping his march near the seacoast.

Not long before, he had been joined by the famous Hernando de Soto, who was destined afterwards to discover the Mississippi River. De Soto had brought with him a hundred cavaliers and some horses, which were a most welcome re-enforcement to Pizarro's little army; while De Soto's own intrepid valor and indomitable spirit were worth more to him than many men.

As the Spaniards marched along, they abstained from offering any violence to the natives in the villages by which they passed. This was a wise stroke of policy on the part of Pizarro: for he had cut himself off from all communication with Panama; and, if he were defeated in his conflict with the Inca, he would need the friendship of the Indians in his rear to secure a safe retreat northward.

Besides, by treating them kindly, he was able to procure provisions easily from them, and good quarters at his halting-places. A long but not very difficult tramp brought the brave little army to a beautifully green and fertile valley, through which a river ran to the sea a few leagues beyond. Struck by the loveliness of the spot, and its excellent situation for defense, Pizarro resolved to found a colony there. He sent back to Tumbez, and ordered the ships in which De Soto had come to sail around to the bay at the mouth of the river; and soon his men were busily at work cutting timber, and gathering heavy blocks of stone, which were speedily transformed into handsome buildings,—among them a church, some storehouses, and fortifications.

Pizarro formed a government for the colony, and divided up the fertile pastures and meadows round about among the settlers whom he appointed to remain there; and after naming the town "St. Michael," after the saint upon whose day it was established, he again gave the order to push forward. The Spaniards crossed the river on two rafts; the horses, held by their bridles, swimming at the sides.

A broad sandy desert stretched out before them, beyond the river; but the soldiers were refreshed by their sojourn at St. Michael, and felt reassured at leaving a place of retreat and defense behind them; while the prospect of ere long measuring their prowess with the legions of the Inca infused new vigor and alacrity into their movement.

Pizarro's force now consisted of about two hundred men, fifty having been left at St. Michael; a pigmy army indeed to assail a vast, rich, and warlike empire.

Pizarro had learned that the Inca was posted with a large force at a town called Caxamalca, on the other side of the mountains; and he had formed the desperate resolve to advance directly to that place, and to overcome the Peruvian monarch by stratagem, or by force of arms, as it might chance.

The desert was soon crossed. And now the Spaniards found themselves passing through a delightful country, endowed with the richest and most luxuriant vegetation, full of luscious fruits, watered by the most picturesque streams, and inhabited by a gentle and thrifty people, who welcomed their coming with simple and eager hospitality. For many leagues it was almost a holiday march. By day they traversed shady roads or teeming fields; at night they rested in villages, and sometimes in considerable towns, where they lodged in the very palaces provided for the Inca in his journeys through the empire.

As they approached nearer and nearer to the lofty range of the Cordilleras, which they could see looming in the dim south distance, and which they knew they should have to climb in order to reach their destination, a few of the Spaniards seemed to falter in their courage.

Their chief observed this, and resolved, that, if there was any discontent among his men, he would find out at once how much there was, and put a stop to it. When they were resting one day under the grateful shade of a copse of wide-spreading trees, Pizarro spoke:—

"My comrades, I have not concealed from you the perils and obstacles we are about to encounter. Fame and fortune can only be won by bearing them bravely, and overcoming them with unflagging perseverance. Now choose, each man, what you will do. All who wish to return to St. Michael may do so: those alone who are entirely content to follow me need go forward."

Nine men only availed themselves of this permission; the rest cried out eagerly that they would advance with their intrepid chief to the end.

It was not many days before the Spaniards began to find traces of the Inca's military strength. They reached villages and towns where there were Peruvian garrisons; but, these manifested no hostility towards the strangers, while the caciques of the villages often welcomed them, and made feasts in their honor.

At last, on coming to a town named Zaran, Pizarro learned, that, some leagues farther on, a large Peruvian force was drawn up as if in hostile array. This news puzzled him. Was this force awaiting his approach in order to attack him? Had the suspicions of the Inca been already aroused? and were the Spaniards about to be challenged to a combat?

Pizarro was as conspicuous for his prudence and tact as for his valor. While he was ready to risk his life and the lives of his men in order to achieve the end he had in view, he was unwilling to sacrifice a single soldier by needless risk.

He accordingly sent De Soto forward with a small company of picked men to see what the Peruvian force intended. Meanwhile Pizarro himself, with his main army, rested at Zaran.

So long was De Soto gone, that Pizarro feared that he and his companions had been overpowered, and perhaps massacred, by the Peruvians. His joy was great, when, after an absence of a fortnight, his faithful lieutenant made his appearance.

De Soto and his comrades were not, however, alone. With them came a tall and stately Indian, so brilliantly arrayed that the Spaniards gazed at him with wonder. At the same time other Indians appeared, bearing a number of heavy burdens.

The mystery of these arrivals was soon solved. The tall Indian was no less a personage than the brother of the Inca of Peru, whom the Inca had sent as an envoy to Pizarro; while the burdens borne by his countrymen were presents from the sovereign, and comprised two stone fountains, some finely-woven and many-colored cloths, sheep, deer, birds, dried fruits, honey, pepper, gold and silver vases, emeralds, and a strange perfume made of dried geese.

Pizarro welcomed his royal visitor with the respect due to his rank, and, calling an interpreter, bade the Indian sit down and talk with him. The Indian gazed in wonder at the light complexions, the attire, the glittering armor, and the weapons of the Spaniards; for he had never seen a European before De Soto and his party arrived in the town where they had found him.

Then, turning with much dignity and grace to Pizarro, he said,—

"I have come by the command of my mighty sovereign, the Inca of Peru, to welcome you to his land, and to invite you to visit him at his camp."

This greeting surprised Pizarro very much; but he was too shrewd to believe the proffered hospitality sincere. He felt sure that the Indian had come to see how large a force he had. He pretended, however, to be very grateful for the Inca's invitation, and to accept it; and took great pains to entertain the royal envoy in the best manner his camp afforded.

As the Indian was about to go away, Pizarro gave him a red cap and some glass beads, which appeared to delight him exceedingly; and bade him tell the Inca that he would cross the mountains, and wait upon him in the midst of his army.

It was now De Soto's turn to tell the story of his adventures.

"I have penetrated," said he to Pizarro, "some forty miles into the country of the Inca, and found villages and towns yet more imposing and more rich than any we have hitherto seen. The country is beautiful, and the people are generally friendly. At one place, called Caxas, the Indians gathered in front of a royal palace with their weapons, as if to oppose my progress. But I succeeded in reassuring them; and presently there came to me an Indian noble, who received the tribute in that region, and who described to me the road from there to the valley where the Inca is posted with his army.

"He told me also of a great city, thirty days' march away, which is a league in circumference, with a great and vast palace of the Inca, and a gorgeous temple dedicated to the sun. In the hall of the palace, he said, the floor is plated with solid silver, and the walls are of gold and silver interwoven. This city is called Cuzco, and is the capital of the Incas. On entering Caxas, I found it encompassed with a high wall of clay; and before the doors of the houses I saw women, fair to look upon, with long glossy ringlets, and jewels on their necks and ears, spinning and weaving bright-colored cloths. At the very entrance of the place I saw a horrible sight, of men hung up by the feet for having assaulted some of the women.

"I pushed on from thence by a fair even road, broad enough for six men to ride upon abreast, to a larger and nobler town, with fortresses entirely built of great blocks of hewn stone, and a lofty flight of stone steps leading up to the principal buildings; while handsome and well-built bridges span the river that flows directly through the place. On the other side, the broad road stretches away, they told me, for no less than three hundred leagues across the empire. In this town, which was called Huancapampa, I found a house full of shoes, and salt cakes, forced-meat balls, and other food, for the soldiers. It was here that I met the Inca's brother, whom you have just seen; and, on learning his errand, I thought it best to hurry back with him, that you might receive the Inca's message as soon as possible."

Pizarro thanked De Soto for his zeal, and praised him for his success, and lost no time in sending back word to St. Michael of the bright prospects of the expedition. At the same time, he dispatched to his little colony some of the cloths which the Inca's brother had brought, and which, so beautifully were they embroidered with dazzling designs and figures of beaten gold, seemed rather silk than the soft wool of the llama.

The Spaniards resumed their march with light hearts and high hopes. The very sense of danger excited them to hasten forward. Most of them were already accustomed to the din and intoxication of battle; and in the Peruvians, though less well armed and less civilized, they knew they would find brave foemen worthy of their steel. Pizarro felt that the Inca's invitation was a stratagem; and resolved, that, if it came to that, he would match craft with craft, and would boldly trust himself to his fate and the valor of his men.

The little army passed through a pleasant country, but were at first much distressed for want of water. They marched three days before finding so much as a spring: they came to one at last, however; and never did cold sparkling water taste more deliciously to parched lips.

It was not long after leaving the spring that they descended into an umbrageous valley, which, they observed, was dotted with thriving towns and villages. Entering one of these, Pizarro ordered his men to encamp in an open space at the farther end of the settlement; and there they remained four days.

Pizarro conversed with the chief men and people through his Indian interpreters; and from them he learned that his march from this village to the foot of the Cordilleras would be entirely through pleasant valleys and over good roads.

He now had leisure to observe the natives; and he was much struck with their intelligence, their curious customs, and their beauty of person, which, however, was marred by their slovenliness. He noticed, that, while the men wore short shirts, the women had long loose robes that reached to the ground,—a dress similar to that of Spanish women. These robes were often finely embroidered with gold and silver thread.

Their principal food seemed to consist of raw mutton, fish, and boiled or roasted maize. They sowed their corn and other cereals in the meadows by the riverside, irrigating the fields by means of ditches.

Setting out once more on the fourth day, Pizarro found that the natives had told him truly about the districts through which he would pass. The adventurers marched from one valley to another, and were everywhere received peacefully, whether through friendship or fear. They found ample stores of provisions wherever they went, and took shelter in the huts when it rained.

One day they came to a wide river, the current of which was very rapid. It had been swollen by recent freshets, and it was not safe to trust the men on rafts. On the opposite bank Pizarro espied a cluster of Indian villages.

The river was an obstacle he had not foreseen; but he soon made up his mind what to do. Calling his men together, he told those who knew how to swim to step forward. A goodly number of soldiers did so; among them his brother Hernando Pizarro.

"There is only one thing to do," said the captain; "and that is, for as many as are able to swim the river, and take possession of the villages on the other bank. Otherwise they might oppose our passage."

Hernando was the first to obey his brother's command. Unbuckling his armor, and, laying it on the bank, he plunged into the swollen waters, and was soon sturdily buffeting his way across. He was followed by a score of soldiers; and presently Pizarro saw them standing safe and sound on the opposite shore. Hernando walked up the bank, followed by his comrades, and was amicably received by the inhabitants of the nearest village. They lodged the Spaniards in a fortress on a slight eminence, and offered them food and drink.

But Hernando saw, that, although apparently so friendly, these natives were all armed. Resolved to find out, if possible, the real truth about the Inca's intentions, he seized one of the Indians, had him brought to the fortress, and put him to the torture.

Then the Indian confessed that the Inca, Atahualpa, was really hostile to the Spaniards, and that there were Peruvian troops both at the foot of the mountains, on their summit, and on the other side.

The next day the freshet had somewhat subsided. It was now possible for the Spaniards to cross on rafts. Some trees were cut down, and rafts made; and in the afternoon Pizarro crossed safely with his troops, baggage, and horses.

On learning from Hernando what he had learned from the tortured Indian about the designs and preparations of the Inca, Pizarro called one of the principal Indians who had come with him from St. Michael, and asked him,—

"Have you the courage to go to Caxamalca as a spy, and bring me back tidings of the Inca's camp?"

"I will not go as a spy," replied the Indian; "but, if you wish, I will go as your messenger to the Inca, and will ask him what his intentions are, and how many troops he has."

"Very well: go in that way if you please. Tell the Inca how well I have treated those who have been friendly to me, and that I only fight those who are hostile. If he will be my friend, I will become his ally; but let him beware how he uses me treacherously."

The Indian departed on his errand; and Pizarro, after staying a while at the village, once more set forth towards the mountains. On the third day he found himself at the foot of the lofty Cordilleras, which looked steep and forbidding, and on the other side of which he knew that the mighty Inca and his hosts were encamped. But he was undismayed, and vigorously prepared for the formidable march before him.