Stories of South America - E. C. Brooks

Pizarro, the Great Adventurer

The question naturally arises why did the Spanish colonies in South America develop so rapidly in the sixteenth century? It was chiefly due to the tremendous power of Spain, whose sovereigns were the greatest rulers of the world in that century. Spain in the days of Ferdinand and Isabella had not been so strong a nation. Their grandson, Charles V., however, was not only king of Spain but also ruler of a territory including the Netherlands and much of Italy. Then he was elected king of Hungary and emperor of Austria and the German states, and later gained by discovery and conquest a large part of North and South America. He was known as the Emperor Charles V. He ruled over a wider territory and a larger population than any Christian sovereign had ever before done.

In 1519, the year in which Charles V. became emperor, Cortez landed in Mexico and overthrew Montezuma, the ruler of that land, sending to Spain a vast quantity of gold. This enabled Charles V. to build palaces, raise armies, strengthen his empire, and equip other adventurers desiring to explore the New World. As was said in a previous chapter, England was too weak to compete with such a sovereign. France was the next most powerful nation, and the only one that could hope to check the growing ambition of the young emperor.

Within a few years of Cortez's conquest of Mexico, Charles V. was surprised by the news that another Spaniard had led an expedition into Peru and opened a new country containing immense amounts of gold and silver. This was Francisco Pizarro, one of the most remarkable men that Spain has produced. Through him, Charles V. obtained further territory and more gold and silver than he had hitherto received from all other sources together.

The life of Francisco Pizarro is a story of poverty, cruelty, hardship, and distress, followed by boundless success. Pizarro was born in Trujillo, Spain, about 1471. Few boys have had a more unpromising start, and yet few men have played so large a part in changing the current of history. Pizarro's mother was an ignorant peasant woman without a home and without friends. When this son was born, the mother, it is said, was lying in the doorway of a church by way of shelter. Later she and the child were taken to a wretched hovel, where the babe was brought up on the coarsest fare. His cradle was a bed of straw on the cobble-stone floor in a corner of the hut. Almost as soon as he could walk, the boy was hired out to feed hogs. In this way he got food. For every neglect of duty he was mercilessly beaten and abused as if he were not a human being. There were schools in those days in Trujillo, but the little swineherd had no time for learning. Early and late he toiled for the bread that barely nourished his body and the rags that scarcely covered his nakedness.

Such inhuman treatment usually kills children or so hardens them that they turn into criminals. Francisco Pizarro did not die from ill-treatment and neglect, but his moral nature suffered. Nature, no doubt, intended him to be a great man, but the cruelties of his youth warped his character so that his after life reflected his early training. He grew to be hardened and cruel, careless of everything but his own interests.

The brutality of his masters caused him, at the age of fifteen, to run away and join the Spanish army. The kings of France and of Spain were at war in Italy, and Spanish soldiers were being shipped there to protect the Italian dominions of the Spanish. Pizarro joined one of these expeditions. His courage, his endurance, and his ability attracted the attention of his officers, and before the war was over he became a lieutenant.

After the war he went back with the army to Spain. Just at this time Columbus returned from his wonderful voyage to the New World, and all Spain was thrilled with the stories the discoverer told. Young Pizarro, who was then twenty-one years old, determined to seek his fortune in America. Little is known of his adventures until Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Darien and discovered the Pacific Ocean. Pizarro made the journey with him and took an active part in the expedition. When the town of Panama was founded, he bought a plantation near it and became a stock-raiser. He had a large number of Indian slaves to work his fields and tend his cattle. He built a home in Panama and for a time lived like a Spanish nobleman, while his servants cultivated his land.

The story of Cortez in Mexico and his conquest of that rich country fired the Spaniards with a new zeal. Thousands of adventurers were coming to the New World every year, and Panama was growing rapidly. In such a time of excitement, Pizarro was not content to live the easy life of a cattle-farmer. He, too, had heard wonderful stories of a country far to the south, where gold and silver and precious stones were plentiful. At length he formed a partnership with a priest named Hernando de Luque and a soldier, Diego de Almagro, for the purpose of exploration and conquest. They agreed to divide equally among themselves the rich empire which they hoped to conquer and about which they had heard so many tales.

Two small vessels were fitted up for the voyage and a company of one hundred and twelve men was enlisted. By November 14, 1524, everything was ready. The governor of the colony, who was deeply interested in the success of the expedition, and other notables who had invested money in the enterprise, went down to the bay to see Pizarro and his company off. It was just four years after Cortez's thrilling conquest of Mexico. The vessels moved out of the bay, stopped a while at the Isle of Pearls, and then turned southward toward the unknown land. After exploring the coast for several days and finding provisions running low, the adventurers sent back one of the vessels. The condition of the voyagers, waiting on the shore, soon became desperate. Without provisions, and with little hope of obtaining food, their troubles were increased by a deadly fever that carried off many of them. Moreover, the natives were hostile, and some of Pizarro's men were killed by them.

The governor of Panama, learning of the hardships of the party through the vessel that returned, sent another ship with supplies and with an order for Pizarro to bring his followers back to Panama. But Pizarro had no intention of returning until he had accomplished his purpose. Drawing a line in the sand with his sword, he stepped in front of his men and invited all who wished to go back to Panama to cross the line. All but thirteen stepped over the line. They departed to report to the governor that Pizarro had disobeyed his orders.



Pizarro and the thirteen faithful were left alone, almost without food and among hostile natives. So far the expedition had been a failure, and all of Pizarro's wealth had been lost in the venture. The explorers existed as best they might. They sailed out on a raft to an island, where they shot game with their cross-bows. For five months they lingered on this unhealthy island, half-starved and with the clothing rotting from their limbs.

The governor of Panama, angered at Pizarro's disobedience, sent another vessel with supplies and with positive orders to bring him and his men back to Panama. When this craft reached the island, Pizarro and his companions hardly looked like civilized beings. But the adventurer still refused to return. Instead, he talked with the newcomers, who were full of the spirit of adventure, and at last persuaded a small number of them to venture with his party further down the coast. Setting out, they soon came to a region where they saw natives wearing gold ornaments. Pizarro was greatly pleased, believing that he was near the rich country of which he had heard so much. A little later, the eager company entered the Gulf of Guayaquil, which indents the shores of Ecuador. The prospects there were encouraging. Pizarro questioned the natives who came down to the shore to meet him. They told him that on the coast of the mainland further south stood a great city named Tumbez, which Pizarro at once determined to visit.

As the explorers cruised along the coast, a town of some size came into view, the sight of which filled Pizarro with amazement. He saw a strongly fortified city, with temples and palaces and aqueducts carrying water from the mountains to the houses. He saw broad, paved streets, stone buildings, and men and women dressed in gay colors and wearing rings, bracelets, and chains of pure gold. He marveled at the sight and learned that he was at last in the land of the Incas, the land from which so many wonderful stories had come. The city was Tumbez.

If you will look at the map of South America, you will see that Peru extends northward to the Gulf of Guayaquil and that Tumbez is situated at the northern extremity, near the gulf. The Indians of the city were friendly, giving Pizarro plenty of food and inviting him to visit their homes.

After spending several days at Tumbez and visiting many points of interest, Pizarro decided to return and tell the governor of Panama of what he had seen. He was determined, also, to carry the news to Spain and inform the emperor of the new land added to his dominions by this discovery.

After Pizarro had collected as much gold as he could secure without angering the natives and after thanking the Peruvians for their kindness and promising to come back, he took his departure, resolved to return shortly and conquer the country. He hastened to Panama. Notwithstanding his glowing report, Pizarro secured little encouragement from the governor of Panama, who remembered that he had disobeyed orders and sacrificed a number of men in order to carry out his plans. Besides, the governor was jealous of the popularity of the new leader. Pizarro, therefore, decided to hasten on to Spain, to tell the emperor about Peru. He rode across the isthmus, taking with him such articles as he had obtained on his voyage, and soon was on the sea bound for Spain. He believed that when he told his story he could secure sufficient help and encouragement to conquer the new country and rule over it.

The emperor was highly pleased at what he heard and saw and at once gave Pizarro permission to conquer the land and add it to his vast dominions. Moreover, he appointed the discoverer governor-general of the new territory. Thus, Pizarro was following closely the footsteps of Cortez. He was now independent of the governor of Panama.

His next step was to secure men, ammunition, horses, and equipment for the great venture that he was getting ready to make. There were so many things to do and so many difficulties to overcome in preparing his expedition that it was nearly six years before he saw Tumbez again. When he set sail from Spain, he had two vessels and about two hundred men. There were cannon, which he expected to use in overawing the natives, and horses to aid in carrying his supplies and in moving swiftly across the country. The Peruvians had no horses, no cannon, and no muskets. Their weapons were spears and bows and arrows.

On arriving at the isthmus, Pizarro had to unload and transport all his equipment across on horseback. But when he entered Panama this time, he was equal in power and dignity to the governor. However, he called on the latter and obtained his aid for the approaching expedition to Peru.

His next act was to secure two more vessels. This was a difficult task; it is said that he had to wait for one of them to be built. When all was in readiness, he set sail for Peru. Coming into the Gulf of Guayaquil, he reached Tumbez a second time (1531).

Pizarro now had an opportunity to study the land of the Incas. He moved cautiously, laying his plans for conquest and observing everything carefully. It was a wonderful country the Spaniards beheld. They found it hard to believe that all they saw was true, that a civilized nation actually existed in the world, at such a distance from Europe. It was a country which had made considerable progress, though the development was so unique that Pizarro and his men were puzzled in trying to understand it.

There were all grades of poverty and a high degree of progress. The better class of people lived in houses built of stone and had beautiful fields irrigated with water brought down from the mountains, since there was little rain near the coast. The more prosperous people were dressed in fine fabrics unlike anything that Europeans wore. Around the villages and towns were herds of tame cattle different from any the Spaniards had ever seen. These were llamas or Peruvian sheep, which were used as beasts of burden and for food.

The Spaniards saw temples of the sun and moon, and palaces belonging to the Inca, built of stone and containing queer devices of gold and silver and hangings of gorgeous cloth. In many places these buildings were surrounded by luxurious gardens of plants and flowers of every size and color. The explorers also saw public baths, filled with water brought down from the mountain streams and flowing through silver pipes into broad basins of shining gold.

This lavish display of the precious metals made the Spaniards stare with wonder. Evidently, the Peruvians did not attach the same value to gold and silver that the Spaniards did, for the natives freely gave the visitors enough of these precious metals to make them rich for life.

As the Spaniards advanced through the country, they saw among the lofty crags or dotted over the plains busy towns and villages, connected by well-constructed roads, some of which ran straight from village to village while others zig-zagged around mountain coves and over ridges.

There were caravans of llamas moving slowly along the roads, carrying provisions or merchandise. Sometimes as many as a thousand llamas were in one train, creeping along with small packages on their backs. The Spaniards learned that these beasts of burden were very tame and gentle, that their flesh was the best of food, and that their wool was used for clothing. Moreover, they learned that the llamas lived on the wild grass which was very plentiful in the villages and thus cost the owners nothing for keep.

There was another sheep closely resembling the llama. This was the alpaca. The Spaniards found that the rough clothing of laborers, the garments of the king, and the dresses of court ladies were made from this alpaca wool, which, as we well know, is capable of being woven into the finest cloth.

What astonished Pizarro and his men more than anything else was the well-cultivated land, especially the wonderful hanging gardens. Students have read of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which were considered one of the "Seven Wonders of the World." The reader may ask, "What is a hanging garden?" It is a series of terraces on the side of a steep hill or mountain. Those of Babylon are said to have been only about seventy-five feet high, but the gardens that Pizarro and his men beheld were much loftier. One mountain side had more than fifty terraces, of ten feet each, which thus formed a stairway as high as the Washington Monument.

One writer says, "The sides of the mountain had been transformed by long and patient labor into terraces which, rising one above the other, as far as the eye could reach, support luxuriant gardens and fauns, rich in fruits, flowers, shrubs and vegetables of almost every degree of climate and temperature."

It is said that these beautiful terraces, built tier upon tier up the mountain side, were monuments to the rulers. Other nations much older than Peru erected great monuments or pyramids, such as are found in Rome or Egypt. But the Peruvians, it seems, believed that the most glorious memorial a king could have was a terrace that produced food for those who cultivated it. Which do you think had the better idea, the Romans and Egyptians or the Peruvians?

The Spaniards, furthermore, saw fields which showed a greater knowledge of agriculture than the people of Spain themselves had. The Peruvians understood the value of fertilizer and used the guano from the nearby islands. Guano was not found by Europeans to have any use until near the beginning of the eighteenth century. But the Peruvians placed such high value on it as an aid to agriculture that they protected the birds that made the great deposits. It seems, therefore, that the Peruvians had the first laws for protecting birds.

The Peruvians could have given the Spaniards valuable lessons in agriculture, if the latter had been interested in anything except gold and silver. Sometimes; when it was necessary to have water for their fields, the natives built long aqueducts; sometimes they changed the course of streams, and barren lands that never saw any rain were made to blossom and yield abundantly.

Agriculture was more highly developed in the land of the Incas than in most of the European countries of that day. Peru was the home of the potato, both the sweet and Irish. Maize or Indian corn was in a better state of cultivation here than anywhere else in America. The pineapple, the bean, the gourd, the tomato, cotton, and a variety of other plants were to be found. In fact, more plants seem to have been domesticated in the Peruvian region at that time than in any other section of the world.

But Pizarro was not much impressed by what he saw of the native agriculture; he wanted gold and silver. He wanted wealth, which comes most quickly through the precious metals. The Peruvians observed that the Spaniards attached a particular value to these metals and they began to wonder why. They wished to know the purpose of these visitors in coming to their land.

Pizarro and his companions saw a well-governed country. The Inca was absolute monarch and his word was law, but the people respected his government and honored him. They were honest and law-abiding: it is said that it was difficult to find a thief among them. The story is told of an Indian who had 100,000 pieces of gold and silver stored away in his house. The door was never locked; the owner, when away, merely left a little stick across the doorsill as a sign that he was out; and nobody ever molested his treasure.

Pizarro realized that he had found a superior race of Indians. When he saw that they actually did have what appeared to be an unlimited amount of gold and silver, he determined to conquer the country as soon as possible. He went among the Indians in order to learn as much as possible from them before making his purpose plain. One surprise after another greeted him.

Once while he was riding across the country, his horse lost a shoe. As the Spaniards had no iron, the natives supplied Pizarro with a metal from which a horseshoe was made. It was a shoe of solid silver!

Pizarro saw paths, from one foot to three feet wide, leading from the seacoast to the interior. On inquiring, he learned that these paths were the special roads for bringing fish to the Inca. The ruler ate fresh fish for breakfast but he lived many miles from the seacoast. Fish were brought, therefore, by relays of swift runners who covered incredible distances. A fish would be caught the evening before and the runners, stationed at intervals of a few miles apart, carried it nearly a hundred miles to the Inca. Thus he had fish for breakfast. The remains of these foot-paths are still preserved.

Pizarro heard of the wonderful palaces and baths of the Inca, which existed in every important place. One was at Quito on the top of a mountain; one was in Chile, and at Lake Titicaca there was a great temple with baths of gold. The explorer wished to see all these places, but he especially desired to visit the capital, Cuzco, which lay somewhat southwest of the central part of Peru, several hundred miles distant from Tumbez. There lived the Inca, Atahualpa.

What Pizarro and his men beheld on every hand exceeded the wonderful stories that had traveled up the coast to Panama. But there were other sights surpassing those with which they had become familiar. The Indians were at first very friendly and showed a disposition to give Pizarro and his men all the information that the latter could possibly desire. The ruling classes seemed to take a great pride in their country, and when they saw that the Spaniards represented a civilization different from theirs and, in some respects superior, they desired the friendship of the foreigners.

Historians say that for many years there had been unrest in this far-away country and that different pretenders to the throne had been striving for supremacy, but that Atahualpa finally triumphed. His last conflict was with his brother, Huascar, whom he defeated and cast into prison. He put to death a number of chieftains who had been unfriendly to him. His triumph was complete, and when the Spaniards entered the country he was the absolute sovereign of a territory almost as large as that of Charles V. of Spain. It took in most of the Andean country; it extended southward and included northern Chile; eastward, and much of Argentina, Brazil, and Bolivia; northward, and Ecuador, with a capitol at Cuzco, several hundred miles southeast of Tumbez. Such was the land of the Incas, the land which Pizarro desired to conquer for Spain and for himself.