Adventures and Conquests of Pizarro - George Towle

The Third Expedition

It was on a cool, crisp day in January, 1531, that a long and brilliant procession, winding its way through the irregular streets of the little city of Panama, entered the square in front of the cathedral. Once more that sacred edifice, the most imposing that Panama could as yet boast, was filled with its motley population; and once more a royal governor, no longer the jealous Pedrarias, but now the more generous De los Rios, stood by the high altar, surrounded by a gay concourse of cavaliers.

Near him, again, might be seen the tall figure of Pizarro, and the short form of Almagro; while just behind these stood Pizarro's four brothers,—Hernando, Juan, Gonzalo, and Francisco of Alcantara. At the high altar, the worthy Luque, as before, officiated; and in the space just in front were ranged the files of doughty soldiers who were about to follow Pizarro to Peru. Above them were held the banners and the royal standard of Spain, the coats of arms skillfully worked in many bright colors, and in gold and silver thread.

Presently the solemn ceremonies began. The priest, turning towards the soldiers, raised his arms aloft. The soldiers kneeled, all except the standard-bearers, who advanced with lowered banners to the foot of the altar. Luque touched the banners with his fingers, and blessed them: the bearers then stepped back to their places, and knelt beside their comrades.

This rite was followed by the chanting of the mass; after which Luque administered the sacrament, first to Pizarro and his brothers, then to the soldiers, one after another. Next came the benediction, which the priest delivered in a loud and fervent voice. Scarcely had he ceased speaking when the drums beat, and the trumpets sounded: the procession reformed, with the governor and the cavaliers at its head; the populace flocked eagerly at its heels; and, with flying banners and soul-stirring music, it took its course towards the quays.

The three vessels, with streamers floating gaily at the mastheads, were moored just by the wharf; and, promptly on reaching them, the men, after embracing their families and friends, began to embark.

Pizarro lingered behind the rest to bid adieu to the governor and his partners Almagro and Luque, who took leave of him with ardent wishes for his success. Then, alone, he passed on board the flagship, and, standing on the deck, waved a cheery farewell to the assembled multitude.

Soon the sails were spread, and the ships, side by side, sailed slowly into the lovely bay. Cannon boomed their noisy Godspeed from the shore, and a great shout went up from the excited throng. Soon, however, the town was lost to view as the vessels rounded a point; and Pizarro once more found himself on the open sea, speeding towards the golden land.

Among those who were most impatient to reach the scene of action were Pizarro's brothers, all of whom were inspired with his own bold and intrepid spirit, and who longed to display their skill and valor in the conflicts that were to ensue.

The voyage began with happy auguries. Though the winds were sometimes contrary, no furious tempest burst over their heads, checking their progress, or endangering their lives. The ships, thanks to the experience of the captains in these waters and a better knowledge of navigation, made far greater speed than when Pizarro made his first expedition; and a distance which had formerly taken him months to traverse was now accomplished in a fortnight.

Pizarro wished to make his first landing at Tumbez, the wealth and beauty of which had so much impressed him, and where he had left Molina and his companions. But he was forced to put in some leagues farther north,—at the Bay of St. Matthew. Here were a good harbor and an easy landing-place; and, anchoring his little fleet just off the shore, he disembarked his men, and established a camp.

With the force he now commanded, he felt sure that he could defend himself from any number of natives who were likely to attack him in this part of the country; and he resolved to send all three of the ships back to Panama for re-enforcements, while he marched his little army southward towards Tumbez.

The time had come when Pizarro was bent upon a desperate and determined attempt to make the conquest of Peru. He had a brave army, though a small one, that was heart and soul devoted to him; and he knew that he could not long conceal his purpose from those whom he intended to attack. He therefore made up his mind that he would no longer, except when absolutely necessary, attempt to win the confidence of the natives by pretensions of friendship, but would boldly assail them, and capture their treasures and country as fast as he could.

Having sent his ships forward to meet him farther south, Pizarro broke up his camp at the Bay of St. Matthew, and gave the order to march. Addressing his men in a resolute tone, he said,—

"Comrades, we are about to go through a difficult country, where there are few good roads or bridges, and which is full of hostile Indians. But be of good courage: fame and fortune await you at the end. Never doubt that the victory will be ours. Bear every trial bravely, and keep up stout hearts, and your triumph will be certain."

As if to set his men a good example, and animate them with his own confidence and hopefulness, he marched at their head, and himself guided them through the swamps and thickets, and across the yawning chasms. When they came to a roaring torrent, which they often did, they saw their leader plunge boldly into the water, waving them to follow, and swim across the rapid current; and when, wearied with the perpetual marching over uneven ground and through entangled brush that tripped them up at every step, they saw his sturdy form still pushing vigorously forward, they were ashamed to show themselves weaker than he, and braced up anew their bodies and spirits.

It was not very long before the Spaniards had a foretaste of the good things which awaited them in Peru. On turning a hill, they came suddenly in sight of a closely-built Indian village, nestling between the hill and a winding river. This village was called Coaque.

Pizarro made up his mind to attack Coaque at once, and, by surprising the inhabitants, to render them powerless to resist his assault. He therefore ordered his men to rush forward and fire their guns, and to capture the huts.

The natives, hearing the noise and shouts, ran out in dismay; and, on seeing the body of strange men rapidly advancing, made all haste to escape into the woods.

The Spaniards, on entering the huts, were delighted to find not only an abundance of food, but many articles made of gold and silver, besides cloths of fine texture. As they were eagerly searching the rooms, one of the soldiers uttered a loud cry, and held up a large green stone, that glittered in his hand.

"It is an emerald!" cried a keen-eyed monk named Reginaldo, who had gone with Pizarro to convert the natives: "that is, it looks like one. But it can be easily tested. Pound it with a hammer. If it breaks, it is no true jewel; but, if it resists the stroke, it is precious indeed."

The soldier did as he was bidden, and the stone crumbled under the hammer. Several similar stones found in the huts were subjected to the same test, and all of them broke; and the ignorant soldiers thus destroyed a number of jewels which, at home, would have brought enormous prices. The monk knew better than to advise them as he did; for he carefully kept all the emeralds he could lay his hands on, and secreted them about his person. His advice, indeed, was a shrewd way of making the emeralds more scarce, so that those he kept would be more rare and valuable when he returned to Panama.

The ships rejoined Pizarro at Coaque. He put on board a considerable portion of the treasures he had seized in the village; and, having divided the rest equally among the men, he sent the ships home with a glowing account of the prospects of the expedition.

It was on leaving Coaque, and marching southward towards Tumbez, that the Spaniards began to suffer some of the serious hardships of their expedition. They were forced to trudge over sandy roads under a blazing sun, and their heavy armor and thick clothing added greatly to their discomfort. They grew ill with horrid ulcers, which proved in some cases fatal, and which caused great suffering to nearly every man in the company. They found but few villages, and those few were poverty-stricken. Their eyes, moreover, were greeted by neither food nor treasure.

Pizarro kept his line of march close to the coast. He knew that it was possible that re-enforcements or supplies might come for him from Panama any day, and he was anxious not to miss them when they came.

One day, sure enough, he espied a ship bearing down from the north. He ordered his standard-bearers to run along the shore, and wave their banners. These were soon perceived by the ship, which swung in towards the shore, and anchored. She proved to be laden with food, and to have brought several officers sent out by the emperor to accompany Pizarro on his expedition.

Nor was this the only instance of good fortune which happened to the intrepid chief; for, on arriving a few days after at a little harbor called Puerto Vieja, he was there rejoined by another ship, bringing a re-enforcement of thirty men to his little army. These men were commanded by a brave and veteran cavalier named Belalcazar.

But Pizarro had now to contend with another difficulty. Puerto Vieja, unlike the country through which the Spaniards had been passing, was a beautiful spot. Tropical trees, affording abundant shade, grew in profusion almost to the water's edge. The region round about, moreover, abounded in luscious fruits and vegetables. In the distance, the giant range of the Cordilleras loomed to the clouds; and the snow-crested peak of Chimborazo, the mightiest of all, towered in sublime grandeur almost directly opposite.

In such a spot some of the Spanish soldiers felt that they might happily establish themselves, and settle down; and these begged Pizarro to proceed no farther, but to avail himself of the locality; to remain there, and form a colony.

But Pizarro had no other thought, no less an ambition, than that of conquering Peru. His was not the gentle temper that could be content to rest in peace and plenty on the borders of the promised land. As he himself was discouraged by no obstacle, terrified by no danger, he scouted the idea that the expedition should end so tamely; and he appealed to his men with all his simple and rugged eloquence to follow him on to the glorious goal which he foresaw awaited them.

There was not a soldier in all his little army that was not devotedly attached to him: he had quite won their hearts by sharing their every toil and peril; and one and all promptly gave up their scheme, and with a single voice called out for him to lead on, and they would follow.

A rapid march soon brought the adventurers to the shores of the Bay of Guayaquil. Pizarro now recognized every landmark. Here, in the bay, was the Island of Santa Clara, where he had anchored. Nearer still, the long wooded Island of Puna, with its Indian villages, appeared to the view. In the dim distance, on the opposite shore, could just be descried the dome of the Temple of the Sun, which rose above the other buildings of Tumbez.

Once more the bold cavalier found himself at the very frontier of Peru. This time, at least, he had men enough to attempt a determined attack; and Tumbez was the first object at which to aim it.

Pizarro had no sooner arrived on the shore opposite Puna than a number of boats came off, and some Indians landed. It soon appeared that at their head was the chief, or, as they called him, the "cacique," of the island; and that his errand was to invite Pizarro and his company to take up their abode upon it. Pizarro communicated with the cacique through the Indians he had taken to Panama, and had brought back with him to act as interpreters.

After heartily thanking the cacique for his hospitality, Pizarro said,—

"I gladly accept your invitation; but how can so large a number of men, with their arms and baggage, be carried to the island?"

"Easily," replied the cacique. "I will cause some balsas to be built, and upon them a large number of men can cross at once."

"And what are balsas?"

"We will soon show you."

Under the cacique's orders, several Indians began to cut some long light poles. These they fastened together firmly, crosswise, like a raft; and, when this had been done, they fixed some boards on top. The shape of these balsas, when finished, was like a hand stretched out flat. A sail was hoisted in the center, and then the cacique invited the Spaniards to embark.

Four balsas proved sufficient to carry over the men, horses, and baggage; for two of them held fifty men each. Meanwhile Pizarro crossed in a small boat with the cacique and several other leading Indians.

They soon reached the verdant and picturesque shore of Puna, where a great crowd of natives, decked out with cloaks of brilliant colors and gold ornaments, had gathered to welcome them. Pizarro was almost deafened with the din of the rude musical instruments that greeted his arrival; and was amused to see the wild capers of the natives, who threw up their legs and arms in a perfect frenzy, in treating him to an Indian dance.

Along the road that led from the shore to the center of the island a profusion of fruits and vegetables had been collected, with which to regale the strangers; and, as may well be believed, they fell to with a lusty appetite.

Their hunger appeased, the cacique led them to a hillock, with an opening in the forest which extended down the side to the shore; and here he begged Pizarro to make his quarters.

This cordial reception from the natives of Puna pleased Pizarro very much. He thought it would be a good thing to have them as his allies; since he was now resolved to attack Tumbez, and knew that the Puna men were the bitter enemies of that town.

For some time the Spaniards remained peaceably on the island, living on the fat of the land, and obeyed as superiors by the Indians. But one day a faithful Indian, one of the interpreters Pizarro had brought with him, went to the captain's tent, and said in a mysterious tone,—

"Be warned in time, master. These people pretend to be your friends; but they are plotting some perfidy against you. The cacique comes to you with bows and smiles and sweet words; but he is secretly assembling his warriors and drilling them in the woods, and they are busy in the villages making arrows and javelins."

Pizarro, aroused to the danger, sent some men out to watch the Indians, and observe what they could in the villages. They soon returned to confirm the interpreter's suspicions. There were indeed warriors concealed in the woods and houses, and arms were being busily made. It appeared that the Indians intended to attack the Spanish camp on the following night.

Not a moment was to be lost. Pizarro at once sent a small force into the village where the cacique and other chiefs lived. The Spaniards surrounded the cacique's house, and, having easily overcome his guard, seized him, bound him hand and foot, and sent him to the camp. Then they ransacked the house, and several others nearby, and found many golden ornaments, jewels, and fine cloths. The natives fled in dismay into the forest.

Content with their success, the Spaniards returned with their booty to the camp. But Pizarro knew that the whole population of the island would now be fired with anger against him, and would speedily seek their revenge. He posted a circle of sentinels all around his camp, and they kept careful watch throughout the night.

This was, as it proved, a wise precaution. Sure enough, just before dawn, a wild roar of voices was heard at the edge of the wood, mingled with the deafening sound of warlike instruments; and presently a swarm of savages issued from behind the trees. They advanced upon several sides, and a shower of arrows and darts fell upon the Spaniards.

Pizarro leaped forward, and commanded his men to respond with a volley of powder and shot. A short and sharp encounter ensued; and several Spaniards, among them Pizarro's brother Hernando, fell to the ground, crying out and writhing in their pain. But, though there were only a hundred and fifty Spaniards, and many thousands of Indians, the battle soon ended in a complete victory for Pizarro.

The Indians turned and ran, and were instantly followed up by Pizarro's little body of cavalry, who pursued them for some distance, striking them down two and three at a time as they fled.

Pizarro did not neglect to make the most of his triumph. He sent his troops all over the island, attacking and plundering the villages, seizing provisions, and, wherever they were resisted, dealing deadly havoc among the natives. Many of the natives fled to their boats, and, leaving all they possessed behind them, fled to the mainland. Those who submitted to the Spaniards, however, were spared; though Pizarro ordered their movements to be narrowly watched.

It remained to deal with the cacique and other chiefs who had been taken prisoners. The latter charged that the treachery to the Spaniards was the work of the cacique; but he, on the other hand, declared that it was they who had instigated him to attack Pizarro, and that he was forced to enter into the plot against his will.

Pizarro came to the conclusion, after sharply questioning them, that the cacique's story was the true one. Sparing him, therefore, the captain sternly commanded the other chiefs to be beheaded. It was a cruel and barbarous act; but Pizarro, in doing as he did, followed the rough custom of his time, and resolutely took the harsh measures which seemed necessary to achieve his purposes.

He then set the cacique at liberty, and made him solemnly promise to be his ally, and to gather his scattered subjects together again.

It was full time to resume his progress towards Peru; and the first task was to subdue Tumbez, the domes and buildings of which he could dimly descry on the shore from his camp at Puna.

Getting together such boats as he could find, and bringing the four balsas, or rafts, once more into service, he embarked his little army, horses, and supplies, one bright spring day, and set out for the mainland. The balsas went on ahead with the plunder captured at Puna, while the boats followed with the main force; and in a few hours Pizarro found himself again off the harbor of Tumbez, and on the very borders of the dominions of the Inca of Peru.