Pizarro and the Conquest of Peru - Frederick Ober

How Atahuallpa was Captured


The cavaliers were invited to dismount and partake of refreshments; but as it was late they were in haste to return, and accepted only a foaming beverage called chichi, which was handed up to them by dark-skinned Hebes, and which they drank from golden goblets gemmed with emeralds. Their fingers itched to snatch those precious vessels from the fair hands of the Indian maidens, and bear them back as trophies to their commander; but they forebore—the time was not yet come for pillage.

They rode back to camp in the darkness, the white road showing them the way, gloomily discussing the strength and martial aspect of the Inca's army. They were now convinced of his power, as well as of the grandeur of his court, and were more than dubious as to the result should he appeal to arms. Their fears they communicated to Pizarro, who, though he also realized the critical nature of their situation, affected to scoff at their misgivings.

"Fear ye not," he exclaimed. "Have I not known this all the time? Have I not been dwelling upon this situation by night and by day? And, think ye, comrades, that I have not a scheme? Ay, that have I. This is it. Listen, attend, and obey, for all our lives depend upon the success of it!"

They were gathered within the fortress on the height, where Pizarro had posted their artillery, consisting of two falconets, or small field-pieces, in charge of Pedro de Candia. The cavalry were quartered in the barracks, the infantry in the "House of the Serpent"; sentinels paced their rounds in the upper and the lower fortress. All due care having been taken to secure the camp against surprise, Pizarro and his captains had assembled for a council of war.

"I hold that we are of one mind," continued Pizarro, "which is that ours is a most desperate case. Whatever happens, whichever way we turn, we cannot retreat. Neither can we go forward, nor stay still. We cannot engage the army of the Inca in the open field—it is too vast. We might hold our own here for a time, if attacked; but we have only a scanty supply of provisions, and even this is owing to the bounty of the Inca.

There is only one thing to do. I have pondered it long, but only this day did it appear to me how it could be done. What think ye it is, brothers and comrades?"

No one replied, for each one feared to guess aright, as that would have vexed their commander.

"Ha! you cannot imagine? No, of course not. But I, Francisco Pizarro, though it is said I cannot read nor write—I can think! And this is what I have thought: that no thing, no man, no beast, nor government can live without a head! Cut off the head, and you cut down the man, beast, or government—you take its life! Well, we cut off the head of Peru at a stroke by—"

"Beheading Atahuallpa the Inca," exclaimed his three brothers, almost in unison.

"Nay, nay," answered Francisco, with a smile. "At least, not until we have him in hand. But that is it—to take him!"

"But how?" It was De Soto who asked the question. He had no doubt of his commander's ability to accomplish anything he undertook, and he knew, also, that whenever the slow-thinking Pizarro declared his thoughts he was ready to strike.

"Well," answered Pizarro, "our artillery is here, in the fortress, the cavalry in barracks at one side of the plaza; the foot-soldiers are in quarters opposite. Now, then, Atahuallpa the Inca comes to-morrow—let it be with a force large or small, it matters not; he comes, he enters the plaza. At the signal of command, which I will give when ready, the cavalry fall upon the throng in front of them; the foot-soldiers, the pikemen and the arquebusiers do likewise on their side; the falconets in the fortress play upon the army outside the walls and put them to rout. That is all. The plan is simple, it is feasible, and it shall be carried out. But one thing, remember: the Inca must not be killed. With him in our hands, and alive, we have the strongest assurance of safety; but once he dies—that is the end of us!"

The council discussed the scheme till long past the midnight hour, and in the end unanimously favored it. Whether the Inca intended treachery or no, absolute safety could only be assured them by depriving him of liberty, perhaps of life. They felt sure the Inca had a grievance, that his coming boded them ill, for he had told the interpreter that one of his curacas, Maycabilica, had sent him an iron collar which the Spaniards had placed around the neck of another curaca, whom they had maltreated shamefully; he had also informed him that the Spaniards were not immortal, not even puissant warriors, for he had killed three of them and one of their horses. When the army with which his generals had defeated Huascar arrived, they would drive the Spaniards from the country. Meanwhile, he would entertain them in Cassamarca, and on the morrow he would visit them in state.

The Spaniards were awake and alert with the morning sun, which, rising bright and clear, was hailed by the Peruvians as a propitious omen. The Inca's camp was early astir, and within the city walls all was commotion, also, among the Spaniards. Arms and armor were furbished to a mirror-like brightness, the harness of the cavalry was hung with bells, arquebuses were charged, and the cannon in the fortress trained to sweep the plain. After a bountiful breakfast, mass was said, and prayers were offered, in which God's blessing was invoked upon the projected massacre of men made in His image!—for most of the atrocious deeds of the Spaniards were committed in the name of religion, and sanctioned by the priests who accompanied the army. The soldiers chanted a hymn, and then, "filled with a holy zeal for the conversion of the heathen," took the posts assigned them by their captains.

The day wore on, but, despite the activity prevailing in the Inca's camp, nothing seemed to come of it save bustle and confusion. No advance was made in the morning, and noon arrived before the march was actually begun. A multitude of Indians poured forth upon the highway, in the van being a corps of menials who swept it clean for the passage of their immaculate monarch, borne in a palanquin upon the shoulders of stalwart chiefs, the most conspicuous personage in the procession. Immediately behind him marched a body-guard of picked warriors, who, in accordance with a message sent by the Inca to Pizarro, were all well armed. The Spaniards had come to his camp, said Atahuallpa, with weapons in their hands, consequently his men would appear in like manner.

Pizarro had returned answer that it mattered not to him how they came, so he received a visit from their great sovereign, whom he was anxious to meet and entertain. All the more anxious, was he, now that the afternoon waned, with Atahualipa still on the road. Less than a mile from the city, however, the procession halted, while the soldiers that occupied the highway, and those who marched by thousands on either flank, separated into groups as if about to pitch their tents and form a camp. No doubt of this intention was allowed to linger in the mind of Pizarro, after a messenger from Atahualipa arrived, with the intelligence that his royal master had concluded to remain where he was for the night, but would proceed again in the morning.

This was astounding news to Pizarro and his soldiers, who had then been chafing at their posts since break of day. They were tired, they were hungry to desperation, and consequently they were greatly incensed against Atahualipa. What an unreasonable Inca he was, to be sure, and how unstable! He surely deserved his fate, whatever was preparing for him, for no man like that, who did not know his own mind two hours at a time, was fit to govern a kingdom!

The situation at this moment cannot fail to suggest the fable of the "spider and the fly." The amiable Pizarro represents the dissembling spider, who, having spread his web in a convenient corner, awaits with impatience the coming of his victim.

But the shallow-pated Atahualipa, though unable to fathom the deeps of Pizarro's perfidy, is yet uneasy. Why, he asks himself (and perhaps his nobles have also ventured to inquire, in their humble way), should he walk into the web at all?

Why, indeed? It was certainly incredibly foolish in him to do so. He had nothing at all to gain, but, on the contrary, everything to lose, by entering the city at that time.

It is impossible, at this distance from the time and circumstance, for us to penetrate the motives of the Inca—if he had any—and, in fact, no adequate explanation has ever been given for his advance into the heart of his enemy's camp. Perhaps he may have had an overweening confidence in his prowess, never having met any opponent who could overthrow him, and having been taught from earliest childhood to believe himself invincible and infallible.

But, the net having been spread since dawn, Pizarro was exceedingly vexed that Atahuallpa should hesitate to walk directly into it and promptly entangle himself. He sent back word that, having prepared a banquet against the coming of the Inca, he should certainly expect him to sup with him that night. As it was already late, he would suggest that his highness keep on, and enter the city while the sun was yet above the mountains.

What the impelling reason was, no one may ever know, but doubtless it was the dominant mind of Pizarro acting upon the feebler will of the Inca; at all events, the latter again changed his intention, and at once announced to his generals that he would pass the night in Cassamarca.

The sun had almost set when, preceded by the band of menials in their checkered robes of red and white, and by groups of musicians playing on rude instruments, singing, and dancing, battalions of warriors began to file into the square. They were arrayed in garments of many colors, on their breasts were great plates of gold, on their heads tiger-skin helmets studded with gems, and in their hands maces of copper and silver. Beneath their tunics, it was afterwards charged by the Spaniards, they carried slings and darts, for an emergency; but if so, they made no use of them.

Company after company marched in, until the plaza was alive with Indians—almost filled, in truth. They lined it many deep, deploying into two great bodies, so that, when a wild burst of barbaric music announced the approach of the Inca, the magnificent prince and his gorgeous escort, blazing with gems and with nodding plumes, passed through a living lane of warriors.

High over all, seated in a throne of massive gold adorned with parrots' plumes, the "Child of the Sun" gazed serenely and unmoved upon the vast assemblage. He was more gorgeously arrayed than when visited by the cavaliers, for besides the blood-red borla fringe that hid his brow, and the rare feathers in his diadem, he wore a broad collar of emeralds, and his voluminous robe blazed with jewels. As the palanquin and its escort reached the centre of the square, Atahuallpa ordered a halt and looked around him. He saw on every side the eager, upturned faces of his people; but, save for a small group of cavaliers gathered about Pizarro in a corner of the plaza, no Spaniards were in sight.

"Where are they, where are the strangers?" he asked, in surprise. As if in answer to his question, a strangely garbed figure advanced from the corner, and, approaching the Inca, held up a crucifix before him. It was Pizarro's chaplain, Friar Vicente Valverde, and as he stood there silent, in his cowl, with rope-begirdled robe and sandalled feet, Atahuallpa gazed at him in astonishment.

He had come to see Pizarro, the captain of the stranger band; but this could not be he, for his appearance was not martial, like that of the cavaliers who had visited him in camp. One of the nobles who had met Pizarro in the mountains was standing near the litter, and of him Atahuallpa inquired what office this man held. He replied, it is said, that he was the Spaniards' "guide of talk and priest of their supreme deity." The rest were not like him, he added, but in a certain sense he was their captain.

While the Inca was puzzling over this answer, the monk opened his mouth and poured forth such a discourse as (it is safe to say) no Child of the Sun had ever listened to before. Various renderings have been given of this discourse, but probably the most literal is that of the historian Benzoni, who was in Peru a few years later, and had it directly from the lips of the conquerors.

Coming to the Inca's entry into Cassamarca, he says: "Atabaliba (Atahuallpa) thus entered triumphantly into the city, feeling quite safe, to hear the messages of the bearded men. Brother Vicente Valverde, of the order of St. Dominic, with cross and breviary in his hand, advanced to the presence of his majesty, as if to make that monarch believe that he had some great theologian before him. By means of the interpreter, he gave him to understand that he came to his excellency commissioned by his sacred majesty, the emperor, with the authority of the Roman pontiff, celestial vicar of our Saviour, who had given him the unknown countries so that he might send there worthy persons to preach and to publish His most holy name, doing away with their (the Peruvians') false and diabolical errors.

"Thus saying, he showed him the Law of God (the Bible), and related how He had created all out of nothing. He related the beginning of Adam and Eve, and how Jesus Christ descended from heaven and became incarnate; how He then died on the cross, and rose again to redeem mankind. Having then reascended to heaven, He confirmed the resurrection of the dead and the life of Peter, His first vicar. Brother Valverde then showed the authority of the pontiffs, Peter's successors, and finally the authority of the emperor and King of Spain, monarch of the world. He concluded with showing the Inca that it was his duty to become a friend and tributary of the emperor, submitting to the divine law and the Christian religion, and abandoning his false gods. "And if you do not accede to this, war will compel you to it!' concluded Brother Valverde.

"When the Inca heard this he said in reply that he would certainly live in friendship with the 'monarch of the world'; but it did not seem incumbent upon a free king, like himself, to pay tribute to a person he had never seen, and that the pontiff must be a great fool to give away so liberally the property of others! As to religion: he would on no account abandon his own, for if they believed in Christ, who died on the cross, he believed in the Sun, who never died.

"Then he asked Valverde how he knew that the god of the Christians had made the world from nothing, and that he had died on the cross. The monk answered that the Book said so, handing the Bible to Atabaliba, who took it, and after looking at it laughed, and said, 'This says nothing to me.' He then threw it on the ground, whence the monk took it back again, and immediately called out with a loud voice: 'Vengeance! vengeance, Christians! for the gospels are despised and thrown on the ground! You may now kill these dogs who despise the Law of God!'

"Francisco Pizarro, having unfurled his flags, gave the order for battle. Thus the first guns were fired, and immediately on this alarm the horses followed, with bells round their necks and on their legs, making great noise withal, and adding to the crashing of the guns, the trumpets, and the drums. Laying hands on their weapons, the Spaniards then attacked the Indians, who, stupefied by so much novelty, by such ferocious animals, and by the sharpness of their swords, began to clear away and fly in utter disorder."

What can we add to this account, by one who had conversed with the participants in this dreadful affray? It would seem that perfidy could go no further, for, whatever might have been the outcome of the monk's appeal to Atahuallpa, Pizarro had resolved upon his capture and the massacre of his subjects. These hypocrites, who cloaked their designs in the garb of religion, were about to stain with blood the holy emblems which they had held up for the Inca to worship.

Shouting the well-known battle-cry, "Santiago! Santiago!" Pizarro gave the signal for slaughter. The cavalry burst out upon the defenceless Indians like a band of demons, cutting and slashing, bearing down all before them, crushing the poor creatures beneath iron hoofs, and carrying consternation everywhere. On the other side, they were attacked by the infantry, shot down by the musketeers and cross-bowmen, lanced by the halberdiers, and brained with ponderous battle-axes.

There was no resistance, for the Indians were not only unarmed, but were taken completely by surprise. On every side blood flowed like water in a freshet; but it was Indian blood, for scarcely a drop escaped from Spanish veins that day. As the foot-soldiers and cavalry advanced towards one another, hewing their way through the quivering ranks of unresisting Indians, the Inca and his escort became the centre of conflict.

Around the royal litter, still upheld by faithful attendants, gathered the frantic chiefs and nobles, offering their lives in a vain attempt to save, or for a while defend, their revered sovereign. They were cut down ruthlessly, and a mound of writhing, bleeding bodies was formed about the litter, which, deprived of its support, crashed to the ground. As Atahuallpa fell he was set upon by a soldier, who would have despatched him instantly had not Pizarro, at that moment, thrust forth his sword, receiving a slight wound in the hand. Throwing the soldier to one side, he shouted: "The Inca shall not be slain! Let no harm come to him, on pain of death!

Caputre of Atahualpa


He himself seized the unhappy monarch by the arm, while the soldier, balked of his prey, in revenge snatched the imperial borla from his brow and bore it off in triumph. The plaza was filled with the sounds of strife: the clashing of weapons, the cries of the wounded, and shouts of the soldiery; while over all hung a pall of smoke, from the incessant fire of cannon and musketry.

Dazed by the terrible occurrences about him, stupefied by his sudden descent from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the depths of humiliation, Atahuallpa was led away by Pizarro and delivered over to a guard.

As the news of his capture spread around, the Peruvians were seized with a panic, and a large body of them burst through a wall surrounding the enclosure and fled into open country. They were pursued by the cavalry and cut down remorselessly, while of the five thousand warriors who had accompanied the Inca, at least half their number lay rigid in death, or bleeding from ghastly wounds.

So perfectly was the scheme of Pizarro carried out that the bloody work consumed less than an hour. The Inca had entered the plaza shortly before set of sun. When darkness fell he had lost his empire, his army was in flight, and his life at the mercy of the enemy.