Adventures and Conquests of Pizarro - George Towle

Pizarro a Soldier

My readers may have guessed that the bravest and most determined of the runaways was no other than the hero of this book. It was indeed Francisco Pizarro, destined to become one of the most famous conquerors and adventurers the world has seen, who thus ran away from his wretched home in Truxillo, induced two boys as badly treated as himself to go with him, and travelled on foot to Seville to take part in the exciting and perilous events of his time.

Pizarro, at the time of his escape, was about fifteen years old. From his earliest recollection he had known nothing but cruelty, drudgery, and hardship. His father, Gonzalo Pizarro, was not only a gentleman of wealth and good descent, but a brave soldier, who had fought with gallantry and distinction in the wars; but his mother was a humble and ignorant peasant, who, it is said, gave birth to Francisco on the steps of a church, took him to the wretched hovel which was her home, and reared him in her own condition of life. Francisco's illegitimate birth was a stigma of which he was forced to suffer the penalty. While he bore his father's name, Pizarro, he was not admitted to his house, or recognized as his son. The haughty old Spaniard disdained a child born in disgrace; and so the poor little boy was consigned to his mother's low lot, to eat the bread of poverty, to grow up amid mean and squalid surroundings in ignorance and privation, and to follow the vocation of a swineherd. Almost as soon as he could walk, he was set to taking care of pigs; and this he continued to do, until, rebelling against his fate, and inspired with a fiery ambition, he took the bold resolve to leave the harsh past behind him, and carve out a future for himself.

He had known but few of the joys of childhood. To look after the pigs from dawn till dark; to subsist on a scanty allowance of the coarsest food; to sleep at night on a floor of cobblestones thinly sprinkled with hay; to be mercilessly beaten at the slightest neglect of his task; and to continue this weary round day after day, and month after month,—this had been the almost unbroken tenor of his life. The hardships and ill treatment he suffered were not, perhaps, more severe in themselves than those of the other boys in his neighborhood and condition. But his boyhood was doubtless more unhappy than theirs; for he had inherited from his father a proud, fierce spirit, which could not patiently submit to the daily tyranny of those who were set above him. He was descended from a haughty, ambitious, hot-blooded race; and, even in early youth, his soul was fired with aspirations which rose far above his humble lot as a swineherd. He chafed angrily under the brutal cruelty of those who drove him, day after day, to tasks which were revolting to him, but from which he could not escape. There were schools at Truxillo; but poor Francisco, though he ardently longed to learn something, never attended school a day. Fiercely in after-years did he curse those who in his youth had denied him the boon of even a little knowledge; and bitterly did he lament, when a great conqueror and ruler, that he had never been taught to read or write.

It happened, that while he was pursuing with fiery impatience, and anger in his heart, the detested round of his daily task, an event took place which thrilled his whole soul with ambition, and cast a bright ray of hope through the deep gloom of his life. A rough, weather-beaten sailor arrived in Truxillo, bringing with him wonderful news. Young Pizarro, as it chanced, fell in with this sailor, and heard his story; and he listened to it with beating heart.

A new land, the sailor said, had been discovered: he had seen it with his own eyes. He had sailed with a great Italian captain, named Christopher Columbus, far across the unknown seas. Sometimes, amid terrific storms, they had thought that they would be lost; but at last they had reached a beautiful land smiling with plenty, and rich beyond conjecture, it was thought, in gold, silver, and precious stones. This land was believed to be a part of Asia, but a part unknown, at least, before; and he had returned with Columbus to tell the marvelous story of its discovery and its wealth.

The sailor gave a glowing account of all that he had seen: he described the perils and excitements of the voyage, and made the boy's eyes glisten with his tales of "a life on the ocean-wave;" in his rude fashion he told of the thrilling moment when the mahout of "Land! land!" echoed across the waters from ship to ship; he pictured all the strange and remarkable sights he had seen on going ashore; and he ended by relating how the news had created a great sensation at Cadiz and other cities on or near the coast, where other expeditions were already proposed to be fitted out for the newly-discovered country.

Young Pizarro, deeply affected by what he heard from the sailor, plied him with questions, and listened eagerly to his replies. As he tended the pigs by day, he pondered on what he had heard; and at night bright visions of distant lands, and exciting dreams of adventure by sea, attended his slumbers. Here, then, was a career worthy of his courage and ambition; and he soon made up his mind that he would risk all to pursue it. Pizarro had long thought he would like to be a soldier. As news of the Spanish victories penetrated to his remote home, he longed to join in the din and turmoil of the battlefield.

He resolved, therefore, that, as soon as chance favored him, he would escape from his drudgery, make his way as best he could to Seville, join the army, and finally, if he found an opportunity, embark in some expedition to the newly-discovered countries beyond the ocean of which the sailor had told him.

Full of his scheme, which he imparted to two young companions, swineherds like himself, he waited a great while, as patiently as he could, for the moment to arrive when he, might hope to escape. It came at last; and, as we have seen, he succeeded in reaching Seville with his friends.

They had not been long in the city before they saw many signs of military preparation. Troops of soldiers were constantly passing through the streets, and the transports in the river were actively getting ready to depart for the theatre of war. The boys were alone and penniless, and Seville was less hospitable than the rustic hamlets through which they had passed. The sight of the soldiers, too, in their gay attire and bravery of weapons and armor, rekindled the ardor of Pizarro, and made him impatient to become one of them. Though but fifteen, he was tall, stalwart, and resolute; and he had only to make known his wish to join the king's forces to be admitted into the ranks. The three companions now separated, each going his own way; and it was with tearful grief that they parted from each other.

The war in which Spain was then engaged was going on in Southern Italy. The good king and queen, Ferdinand and Isabella (the same who had not long before so generously aided Columbus in his expedition of discovery across the Atlantic), had a cousin, whose name was also Ferdinand, and who was the rightful king of Naples. He had been driven from his kingdom, however, by the French, who claimed it as theirs by right. Ferdinand, driven from Naples, appealed for aid to his Spanish cousins; and they hastened to take up arms in his defense. They sent a powerful army to Italy under the command of Gonsalvo de Cordova, who was called "the Great Captain," because he was one of the most valiant and enterprising generals of his time. The Great Captain was fighting the French in Italy at the moment that Pizarro was enlisting at Seville.

The young adventurer soon found himself arrayed in the showy uniform of a private, and in due time, after having been carefully drilled, went with his company on board one of the transports. Eager to reach the scene of conflict, he impatiently awaited its departure. One morning the sails were spread, and the transport glided down the Guadalquivir, and out to sea. In a few hours the Straits of Gibraltar were passed; and then Pizarro saw the coast of his native land recede and disappear, and for the first time found himself out of sight of land.

He reached the scene of war just in time to take part in its final conflicts, and to share in the brilliant triumphs of the Great Captain over his French enemies. Pizarro's bravery and great strength of body, the ardor with which he fought, and the resolute patience with which he underwent tedious marches and endured the privations and hardships of camp and field, soon won the goodwill of his officers and the respect of his brother-soldiers.

After the capture of Naples, and the restoration of King Ferdinand to his throne, the Spanish forces returned leisurely home; and Pizarro received the reward of his valor by being, promoted to the rank of lieutenant.

He remained in the army several years, and gained each year in military reputation and experience. But his restless spirit could not suffer in patience the dull monotony of barracks life. As soon as he found that there was little prospect of further active service, his thoughts once more turned towards the new world in the West. There, at least, there would be occupation for his sword, and scope for his ambition. He longed for a life of bold adventure, of perpetual danger, and desperate conflict. As he heard the oft-repeated story of the beauty and riches of the far-off land, and of the chances it offered for conquest, power, and wealth, he burned to cross the ocean, and try his fortunes where so many seemed to prosper.

The expedition of Rodrigo de Bastides, which had sailed to South America in search of gold and pearls, had returned to Cadiz laden with precious stores; and, not long after, four ships commanded by Alonzo Quintezo had set out for the Western Continent, one of which had carried Cortez, destined to conquer the empire of Mexico.

At last opportunity favored Pizarro's aspirations. It was reported that an expedition would soon depart from Cadiz for Hispaniola, the commander of which needed a number of resolute men accustomed to arms, and willing to submit to the rude and perilous life of military adventure on the chance of winning wealth and fame. Pizarro hastened to join the party, to offer his sword and his life to the enterprise, and to embark upon one of the ships. In a few days the little fleet was tossing on the tempestuous billows of the Atlantic; and, after a long and stormy voyage, its destination was safely reached.