Pizarro and the Conquest of Peru - Frederick Ober

How Pizarro was Assassinated


All the Pizarros put on mourning for Almagro, and two of them, Hernando and Gonzalo, followed his remains to the tomb. The third member of this precious trio, Governor Francisco, was on his way from Lima while the trial was being conducted, and is said to have purposely delayed his arrival at Cuzco in order to leave Hernando a free hand. He desired the death of his partner and rival, but did not wish it to appear that he was privy to it. Hernando, it seems, had no such scruples, and when, after sending a message to the governor (who was then at Xauxa), asking what he should do with Almagro, he received in reply: "Deal with him so that he shall cause us no more trouble," he followed these instructions literally.

Almagro had, indeed, been put where he would cause them no more trouble; but he had left an heir to his claims, as well as friends who revered his memory and would avenge his death. He left a son, the off-spring of an Indian woman of Panama, and like himself illegitimate, but to whom he was tenderly attached. Young Diego Almagro had followed his father to the field and been with him constantly since he could stand alone. Just before the marshal was executed, he was sent to meet the governor, who received him graciously and promised him protection, at the same time assuring him his father should not be killed. Even at that moment, however, Almagro the elder was being strangled in his cell, and the boy was thus left at the mercy of his enemies.

When Francisco Pizarro received tidings of Almagro's death he was at the bridge of Abanrcay, where his rival had fought and defeated Alvarado. He was greatly affected, even to tears, and his frame trembled with emotion, though his grief was not so poignant but that he could hide it successfully on his entrance into Cuzco a few days later. With blare of trumpet and beat of drum, banners flying and horses prancing, Governor Pizarro entered a second time the city of the sun, to receive the homage of its inhabitants. He was richly dressed, wearing a splendid suit of velvet adorned with gems, which had been sent him from Mexico by Hernando CortÚs.

Establishing himself in the palace, he administered the government, while his brother, Hernando, made preparations for a voyage to Spain. It was a desperate move for Hernando, who, in doubt as to the reception he would receive, gathered a vast quantity of treasure as a gift to propitiate the emperor, perchance he should be incensed at his treatment of Almagro.

His fears were well founded, as it proved, for soon after arriving in Spain he was summoned to trial, and eventually cast into prison, from which he did not emerge for twenty-three years! When finally released, he found not one friend alive to welcome him, it is said, save his niece, Francisco's child by the daughter of Inca Atahuallpa, whom the governor lived with after he had murdered her father. This niece, in whose blood ran the blood of Pizarro and the Incas, took pity on Hernando and married him. Whether they lived happily together is not known; but they lived long, and Hernando attained the great age of one hundred years, surviving, it is believed, every comrade of his who had taken part in the conquest of Peru.

All his brothers had died by the hand of violence long before his term of imprisonment expired, and the first to fall a victim to the hatred and lust for vengeance he himself had engendered was Francisco, the governor, the marquis, the despot, and the "tyrant of Peru."

Before he set sail for Spain, Hernando had said to his brother, the marquis: "Beware the men of Chile! Disperse them over the country, and do not allow them to gather into bands of any size, for they are desperate and vengeful. They are already plotting, and mean to have revenge for what you and I have done to them."

"Ha, ha," laughed Francisco; "I shall take care of Almagro's men. I will make paupers of them all; there shall not be a single cloak between any dozen of them. But, strike me? No, they dare not."

"But they will dare," answered Hernando. "Would that I could be here to protect thee, brother mine."

With these words, and after many embraces, the brothers who had been chiefly instrumental in the conquest parted, and never saw each other again. The one went home to serve a score of years in prison; the other remained, to dig with his own hands the grave into which he was sent by the assassin's dagger.

Had Pizarro desired to hasten his own ending, he could not have taken surer means to do so than he did. While as brave as a lion, he was impolitic and indiscreet. He dispersed Almagro's followers, and deprived them of everything they owned, at the same time rewarding his adherents with farms, mines, flocks of llamas, and droves of Indians. His brothers, especially, were recompensed beyond any ten or twenty other cavaliers, who had fought in scores of battles, so that there was great murmuring on every side. In order to quiet those murmurings, the governor sent off Gonzalo, with a large body of troops, to seek out and if possible destroy the Inca Manco, who had descended from his mountain fastnesses and was waging a guerilla warfare against the scattered settlements. Swooping down from his strongholds, with bands of fleet-footed warriors, the Inca carried desolation into many a district, and committed great depredations. Gonzalo took his trail, but was unable to subdue him, though the two had many encounters, in which, if he did not win the victory, the Inca so far crippled his adversary that he could not pursue him to his secret haunts in the mountains.

At last Pizarro tried to propitiate the Inca with gifts, and sent presents by an African slave; but his emissary was murdered on the way. In revenge, the cruel Pizarros ordered one of the favorite wives of the Inca, who had fallen into their hands, to be scourged to death while naked and bound to a tree. She endured the torture with such fortitude that the rude soldiers were amazed; but no sentiment of pity stirred their hearts, it seemed, for they made no protest to the governor.

Except for his cruelty to the Indians and his shameful treatment of Almagro's men, Pizarro's conduct was now most commendable. He devoted himself altogether to the development of Peru's vast resources, to the increasing of her commerce, and the founding of cities. In a few years from his initial attempts at city-making, he had established on a secure basis such places as Lima, Callao, Truxillo, and Arequipa. He delighted in promoting their growth and adorning them with splendid structures; nor was he interested in them to the exclusion of his concern for the country at large. He imported great quantities of seeds and plants from Europe, also cattle, sheep, and swine, which flourished amazingly in the land he had adopted as his own.

But it was in Lima, the new "City of the Kings," that he expended most. There he built a splendid palace; there he settled the pick of his soldiers; there he resolved to live out the remainder of his days. Surrounding himself with a large retinue of dependents, and in every way evincing that he belonged to the class known as hidalgos (though he had hewn his way solely by his sword), he maintained in Lima the state of a great grandee. Yet he was always simple in dress and manners, preferring comfort to display, and while avaricious in the pursuit of gold, was lavish in the spending of it.

He had chosen as companion a daughter of the Inca Atahuallpa (as already stated), and with her and their growing family of children lived in great content, surrounded with every luxury. In this manner, with all his wishes gratified, and as independent of control as the emperor himself, Pizarro lived at ease in Lima. Though he could not read or write, and though he had found it impossible to supply these deficiencies of his early education late in life, he was possessed of a sturdy good sense, which enabled him to govern his vast realm and diverse peoples wisely.

No portion of Peru was so distant, so wild and rugged, that he did not keep it within his ken and inform himself constantly of what was occurring there. He sent out expeditions to explore and conquer: as, Valdivia to Chile and his brother, Gonzalo, to Quito and the Land of Cinnamon. The gallant and dashing Gonzalo, youngest of his brothers, and his favorite, he despatched to Quito as governor, with instructions to penetrate, if possible, to the mysterious country beyond the Cordilleras. Taking with him three hundred and fifty soldiers, horse and foot, and four thousand Indians, Gonzalo set out on his perilous journey. He was young, ambitious, enthusiastic, and loyal. Two years he was absent on this expedition, and when he returned the whole aspect of political affairs had changed, his brother was dead, and the government overthrown.

Soon after establishing himself in Quito, Gonzalo had led his little army over the mountains, setting out in January, 1540. After passing the regions of fire and snow, he plunged into the tropical forests which opened and swallowed him up. For nearly two years he wandered in those vast forests, where the towering trees almost hid the sun, and where boa-constrictors, jaguars, and alligators were the only visible inhabitants, save for the birds infrequently seen.

The sufferings of Gonzalo and his companions were intense. Their clothing was torn off by the branches of trees or rotted from the damp; their provisions became exhausted and they were forced to eat their horses, then their dogs, a thousand of which latter animals they had taken along for hunting down the natives. They were extremely ferocious, and could not have been put to a better use than that in which they served the starving Spaniards. When horses and dogs were gone, the only food available consisted of roots and herbs, upon which the miserable explorers lived for months.

They found the forests of cinnamon, but could not make use of the aromatic bark; they saw signs of gold, but could not carry it away; and when in the midst of their greatest perils, they made a discovery which has linked the name of Pizarro with the greatest river in the world. Deeming it impossible to return to Peru, Gonzalo caused a boat to be built, from green timbers cut in the forest, put together with nails made from horse-shoes, and calked with rags from the soldiers' raiment. It was not large enough to contain them all, but fifty of the feebler men embarked in it, commanded by Francisco de Orellana, who had come from Gonzalo's own town of Truxillo. They embarked, and the swift current swept them away, never more to be seen by Gonzalo; but they emerged at last on the Atlantic, and carried to Spain tidings of the great river Amazon.

With the disappearance of the rude brigantine, the soldiers yielded themselves to despair; but Gonzalo was equal to the emergency, and, though they had then been a year in the forest, and another year elapsed before they emerged, he eventually led them through all besetting perils—all that was left of them, eighty soldiers and two thousand Indians—over the mountains, and out upon the plains of Quito. They were welcomed by their friends as if they had risen from their graves; and, indeed, for two years they had been as effectually cut off from the world as if buried beneath the ground. No word had reached them of what had happened in Peru, but when they heard they were thunder-struck, their gallant leader especially being overcome with grief.

Gonzalo had left his brother, the governor, in the midst of his family, with every prospect of passing the remainder of his days in serene content. But the elder Pizarro had committed the fatal mistake of trusting men whose memories of the past were filled with bitterness. He himself never forgot an insult nor forgave one. Why, then, should he assume that other men had shorter memories?

He allowed the son of Almagro not only to live in Lima, after he had deprived him of his father's legacies, but to occupy a house on the same square with himself. He heard, from time to time, rumors of gatherings in that house which boded no good to himself: of meetings at night, attended by dark-browed conspirators against his power, perhaps against his life. He knew that the "men of Chile" had latterly come in from the country, where they had lived for years in poverty. By twos and threes they had stealthily gained admittance to the city, and, growing bold at Pizarro's indifference, were wont to assemble in Almagro's house. The governor's secretary, one Picado, warned him that these men were plotting against his life; but Pizarro was too brave, too self-confident, to take alarm.

"Let them plot, and much good may it do them," he answered, carelessly. "The poor devils have suffered enough, in sooth; let us leave them to their misery."

A few days later he came to Pizarro in genuine alarm. "Your excellency," he stammered, "I have a story you must hear and must heed. It comes from Father, who obtained it in confession from a man of Chile. It is this: Only last night they met—twenty of them—at Almagro's house. Juan de Rada sat at the head of the table. Yes, he is the leader of the conspirators. Ha, you start! for only yesterday he was walking with you in your garden. You taxed him with buying a suit of mail and a sword, and what did he say, your excellency?"

"He said," responded Pizarro, lightly, "that he had heard I was buying lances to slay the men of Chile with, and so would be prepared. And I replied, 'Please God, Juan de Rada, I shall do no such thing,' and gave him some oranges, at which he kissed my hand, departing well pleased."

"Ha, yes! Well pleased that he had fooled your excellency! But, know you, he it is who has sworn to waylay you to-morrow, coming from morning mass, and stab you to the heart! It is true, oh, believe me. Be warned in time, and send those men of Chile all to prison."

"I might do worse, in sooth. But who told you? Father—? Ho! I have it. It is a trick of his. He is tired of being a priest, and wants me to make him bishop!" And Pizarro, laughing loudly at his jest, turned away and left Picado speechless.

But he was not so insensible to the warning as he had made the secretary believe, for he sought out his chief judge, Velasquez, told him the story, and asked his advice. The judge listened intently, then replied: "I will inquire into this affair, your excellency. But, meanwhile, have no fear," he added, pompously; "for no harm shall come to you while I hold the rod of justice in my hands!"

The "rod of justice" was no mere figure of speech, but a wand, which the judge was wont by custom to carry. It fell out that his words came true, for no harm came to Pizarro while he held it in his hands, as will soon be shown.

Sunday came, June 26, 1541; but Pizarro did not go to church that day, giving out that he was ill. The conspirators were baffled—for there were conspirators, and they had sworn to kill Pizarro, as stated. They watched through the latticed windows of Almagro's house all the morning for the portly figure of the governor and his brilliant retinue, but in vain. At last it dawned upon them that Pizarro had been warned.

"Betrayed!" they muttered, looking at one another furtively and fumbling their swords. "Then there is nothing but flight!" exclaimed one; but Rada turned upon him instantly with: "Flight! Not for me. No, nor for any one of us. The first one shall be run through with my sword!"

He threw open the door and darted out of the house, closely followed by the rest, with drawn swords held aloft, and shouting: "Long live the king! Death to the tyrant!"

"Who is the tyrant?" asked an on-looker, coolly, of another.

"Oh, the marquis, I suppose. They are going to kill him."

His death had been imminent so long, his enemies so many, that, the hour now arrived, no surprise was manifested. And the hour was noon, when the streets of the city were mostly deserted. Some cavaliers, however, who perhaps had been notified to be in readiness, joined the conspirators as they hurried across the plaza, and swelled the shout of "Down with the tyrant! Long live the king!"

Pizarro was at dinner, together with a few friends enjoying his mid-day repast. Though he had been warned, he felt secure in his palace, with its strong gates, its massive walls, and the few faithful servitors on duty. But this sense of false security was his undoing, for the conspirators easily entered the court-yard, the gate of which was open, cut down a domestic who ventured to oppose them, and dashed up the broad stairway to the dining-hall. Ahead of them, fleeing in terror, darted a servant, who woke the echoes with his cries of "Help! help! The men of Chile are here to murder the marquis!"

Pizarro heard the cries, and could not but be aware what they signified. But he coolly said to a friend, who stood by, one Francisco de Chaves. "Close the door, Chaves, and bar it. Only give me time to get my armor on."

Death of Pizarro


He and his half-brother, Martin Alcantara, darted for their armor, and were struggling to get into it all the while that band of conspirators raged at the door. If Chaves had obeyed Pizarro's command, there might be a different story to tell; but instead of closing the door instantly, he held it ajar, either from curiosity or in order to parley with the assassins, and that moment's delay was fatal. One of them reached in and drove a sword through his heart, and then, tumbling the bleeding body down the stairs, they all rushed up, with loud cries of "Where is the marquis? Show us the tyrant!"

The fifteen or twenty retainers in the room thrust themselves before the throng, and in the melee several were slain, as well as two of the conspirators. Martin Alcantara hastened to their assistance, and was quickly cut down. At sight of his brother on the floor, bathed in blood, Pizarro could contain himself no longer. Casting aside the corselet he was trying to fasten on, he wrapped his cloak around one arm, and brandishing his sword, dashed himself against the group of men, whom he met at the entrance to the antechamber. He cut and slashed so vigorously that they all fell back, while he cried: "Ho, come on! Come on! You think to kill me in my own house! We shall see!"

While he was holding them at bay, his guests cast themselves from the windows into the garden, and among them was the boastful judge, Velasquez. He had his rod of office with him, and in the exigency of the moment, in order to be able to use both his hands, took it in his mouth. Thus it came literally true that Pizarro was not harmed while the judge had his rod in his hands, as was afterwards jestingly said.

Meanwhile, the conspirators were not idle. By relieving one another in turn, they began to weary Pizarro, who still fought on, however, though against fearful odds. At last the chief conspirator, Rada, who was behind the rest as they struggled in the narrow doorway, shouted hoarsely: "Why are ye so long about it? Kill him, and have done! So saying, he threw the man in front upon Pizarro, who instantly ran him through with his sword. Before he could withdraw it, the fierce Rada was upon him with a dagger, and several swords were plunged into his body. Mortally stricken, he fell reeling to the floor, with the cry of "Jesu"—Saviour—on his lips.

The blood from his many ghastly wounds formed a pool on the floor, in which, with his forefinger, he traced the sign of the cross. As he bent over to kiss the holy symbol, another swift stroke descended, and the Conqueror of Peru was no more.