Pizarro and the Conquest of Peru - Frederick Ober

In the City of the Sun


Leaving the treasure he had collected with a guard of forty men in Xauxa, Pizarro continued his march into the beautiful vale of Xaquixaguana (Ha-kee-ha-guana), which, for its great natural charms, had been selected by many Peruvian nobles as a retreat, and where they had built attractive villas in the midst of delectable gardens. Here he was met one day by a young Peruvian, who promised to establish that control over the natives which had been lost when Atahuallpa was executed. He was the one, indeed, in whom was vested the only right to the succession, for it was none other than Prince Manco Capac, a brother of the murdered Huascar, and legitimate son of the great Huayna Capac.

Then Pizarro rejoiced that fate had been so kind to him, in causing the deaths of Atahuallpa and Toparca, for thereby he was relieved of what, in the circumstances, might have been embarrassing burdens. For there was no doubt that the Indian prince, who came to him with a large retinue of nobles and escorted by a numerous army, was the only legitimate heir to the Incarial throne. He was a young man of engaging appearance, and blessed with intelligence far surpassing that of Atahuallpa—an intelligence, in truth, which was to cause the Spaniards trouble. It had been one of the charges against Atahuallpa that he had put all his relatives, descendants of the Incas, to death, not even stopping short of the most distant connections of the royal family; but the living presence of Prince Manco was in itself a refutation of that charge.

Pizarro was delighted at the change wrought in the aspect of political affairs, and at once ranged the young Inca and his force beneath his banners. He assured him that his only mission in Peru was the punishment of his and the late Huascar's enemies, and to reduce the country to subjection under its lawful sovereign. To this end he had landed on its shores; in pursuance of this aim he had first captured, then, on proof of treason, condemned the Inca Atahuallpa, and, finally, he was then ready to assist Prince Manco with all the strength of his forces. This assertion, though the prince must have known it to be false, was borne out on the face of it, and made to appear true to the people by the combining of the two commands. Together they marched along, the soldiers and the Indians fraternizing like real brothers, and together they repelled an assault by a body of armed natives, who ambushed them in a defile of the mountains.

Emerging from the gloomy recesses of the sierras one afternoon, the Spaniards saw the city of Cuzco lying before them, its white towers gleaming in the slant rays of a setting sun. Then they knew their long journey was nearing its end, and that within their sight were the depositories of treasure which they had long desired to pillage. They could not reach it that night, however, and a camp was pitched in the valley outside the city walls. Strict watch was kept, for, notwithstanding the invaders had with them the only lawful claimant to the throne of the Incas, they knew that dissension and strife were rife in the land.

What their reception would be, they hardly dared to imagine; but this they knew: that, as opposed to the barbarian hosts, they might consider themselves invincible. They had reached the heart of the empire; they were about to look upon the great imperial city, and enjoy a privilege which had been denied the unfortunate Atahuallpa, who had halted too soon and too long on his journey thither from the distant city of Quito.

It was on the morning of November 15, 1533, exactly one year after their entry into Cassamarca, that the Spaniards approached the city gates of Cuzco, capital of Peru. For a twelve-month they had planned and schemed to this end; for eight years and more the commander of that band of veterans had had in mind the consummation about to be realized. In battle array, with De Soto leading, at the head of his cavalry, Pizarro commanding the centre and one of his brothers the rear-guard, the troops made their entrance into the great square of Cuzco, which was surrounded, like the plaza of Cassamarca, with massive structures of stone. Their arms and accoutrements shone in the sun, their banners fluttered in the breeze, and their martial tramp woke the echoes of the ancient city.

They were prepared for whatever might occur, realizing their isolation, six hundred miles from any force that could come to their aid, in the heart of the enemies' country. But, though the natives thronged the broad streets by thousands, and jostled one another in their eagerness to view those fair and bearded "Children of the Sun," they made no hostile demonstration, and allowed the strangers to take possession of the plaza without protest. Here they pitched their tents; here they picketed their horses; and here, for weeks thereafter, they remained, pillaging the palaces and temples by day, and at night slumbering on their weapons. Rumors of their doings had preceded them, and the natives regarded the strangers as hardly less than immortal. Thus their prestige protected them from assault, and, coming in company with the rightful heir to the imperial crown, they received the homage of the people. By the side of grim Pizarro, mounted on his fiery steed, with a white plume in his helmet and a naked sword grasped in his strong right hand, Indian carriers bore young Manco Capac, in a palanquin adorned with a canopy and shining with gems. The acclaim of shouting thousands, which rolled along like the sound of sea-waves breaking on the shore, was for him, their sovereign in prospective; but for Pizarro and his men were their open-mouthed admiration and wonder.

The Spaniards found the architecture of Cuzco to be similar to that of Cassamarca, though the former exceeded in the number of its beautiful buildings. Around the central plaza were the same barrack-like structures of stone, one story in height, with low, broad doorways, and scattered throughout the city were numerous large dwellings, the palaces of the nobles. Towering over all, perched on a crag jutting out from the hill-side, rose a tower-like fortress, with circling parapets so well constructed that they seemed hewn out of solid rock.

The long, straight streets, the square, and the causeway leading to it, were paved with small pebbles, while the canal-like stream that supplied the city with water was spanned by bridges of hewn stone. No grander city, nor one more profusely supplied with magnificent structures, could be found in Spain, says an ancient authority; while words fail in describing the splendor of the vast temple containing the great golden effigy of the sun. It stood in its grandeur like a stupendous cliff, its grim exterior conveying no hint of the unique beauty of its interior decorations. Its chief ornaments, the golden plates and tiles, had been removed by the orders of Atahuallpa, and had long since been transformed into ugly ingots, valuable only for their intrinsic worth; but there still remained that simulacrum of the sun, its radiant rays extending from roof to floor. Also, there remained the frieze or cornice of gold, set into the rock and running all around the ceiling, truly a part of the structure itself, and on this account difficult to remove.

Allowed to plunder at will, but on condition that private dwellings should be respected and all pillage deposited with the royal treasurer, the eager soldiery soon divested the temples and palaces of their adornments, in their reckless quest robbing corpses in their graves and desecrating many a tomb. In the public storehouses, also, they found rich treasure, consisting of golden utensils in great variety, bales of fine cloths, gold beads, and sandals. The most unique of spoils were found in a cavern outside the city, where were stored, among other rare works of the native artisans, four golden llamas and a dozen statues of life size, representing women, probably queens or princesses. These, together with the golden effigies of the Incas, shared the common fate, and were melted into ingots with the rest.

Including the plunder along the route, among which were ten planks of solid silver, twenty feet in length and a foot in breadth, the combined spoils, after having been melted into bars by the Indian goldsmiths, amounted to more than six million dollars. After the customary fifth had been deducted for the crown, and the Pizarros had rewarded themselves, as in the division of the spoils at Cassamarca, there remained an amount sufficient to bestow about seventy thousand dollars upon each of the horsemen, and half as much upon the foot-soldiers, so that every man in the army was made rich.

It can hardly be said that, though all were enriched in a day, they had obtained more than their deserts, for they had toiled incredibly hard, and at the moment were involved in perils from which they might never be able to extricate themselves. Could they have retired, each man with his portion, to their homes in distant Spain, they might have lived there in luxury during the remainder of their lives; but, aside from the obstacles in the way of such a course, nothing was further from their thoughts than to do so.

Every man in the army was wealthy, and every man was a gambler by instinct, so it was not long before an epidemic of gambling broke out and swept all before it. In a single day, or night, many a soldier was deprived of the gains which he had suffered so much to acquire. The expert gamblers were few, of course, while the victims were many, so it resulted that the more dishonest of the soldiers secured the spoils.

One of these misguided soldiers was ever after known as "the fool who gambled away the sun before sunrise." To him had fallen, as his share of spoils, the great golden sun that once shone in the temple, and which he lost at cards in a single night—hence the expression, which passed into a by-word in Peru.

As before, in Cassamarca, gold and silver were so abundant that the prices of other things rose correspondingly to their depression in value, and it soon came about that a pair of shoes cost thirty pesos, a sword fifty, and a cloak a hundred, while rich food and drinks were scarce at any price.

Pizarro had obtained possession of Cuzco, anciently the seat of Peruvian authority, without striking a single blow. He had occupied the city and its fortresses, pillaged its temples, and ransacked its palaces, without asking leave of a single individual. But, in order to give his acts the sanction of authority, he lost no time in proclaiming the succession of Manco Capac to the throne which he himself had stained with the blood of its former occupant.

At the coronation, which shortly ensued, all the olden ceremonies were revived, and the new Inca received the red-fringed borla from the hands of Pizarro himself. He received it from the conqueror—that was the humiliation of the act; he was surrounded by the mailed warriors of an alien people, and his accession was proclaimed by the trumpets of strangers.

Yet the servile Peruvians gave him glad acclaim, and received young Manco Capac as Inca in place of the one Pizarro had deposed and murdered. In his veins flowed the blood of great Huayna Capac, and it was a triumph of diplomacy on Pizarro's part to set up this sovereign—even if merely to overthrow him later. It then served his purpose to have an Inca in his hands whom he could control and through him the millions of people, who had been left without a head, when Pizarro lopped it off at Cassamarca.

Behold him, then, the supreme, yet powerless, Inca, seated at the right hand of his conqueror, upon an elevated platform in the plaza, where all can see and hear! From cups of gold they quaff each other's health, in draughts of foaming chicha, not forgetting to "toast" the royal mummies, which, having been brought from their sepulchres and ranged on seats about the festive board, were waited on by attentive servitors.

The people shout and dance and sing in honor of the reinstated house of Huayna Capac. In young Manco they see the old warrior personified, and in him hope for a renewal of the glories of the past regime. They look upon Pizarro as the warlord of their Inca, come to fight his battles; but Manco himself is not deceived, neither are his war-chiefs, secreted in the mountains, with their soldiers by the thousand, in the guise of shepherds and cultivators!

He realizes his position; he knows that Pizarro is his master; but, the while the ceremonial banquet drags along, he whispers to himself, perhaps, "Wait and see." Atahuallpa lost his throne through an overweening confidence in his greatness, in his armies; he would commit no such mistake, for he knew more than Atahuallpa knew. He knew the Spaniards were for the moment invincible, while his own warriors were scattered, his armies disorganized; but he would play a game of duplicity and cunning, until the strangers, disarmed by his apparent submission, should have become weak by dissipation, their soldiers dispersed, and their munitions exhausted. Wait and see!

Meanwhile, deceived by the servile submission of the Inca, Pizarro devoted his energies to intrenching himself strongly in the capital. He organized a government, appointing alcaldes  and regidores, among these last being two of his brothers, Juan and Gonzalo. We have not seen much of these brothers since they landed in Peru; but they have already done valiant service, for they were worthy of their distinguished kinsman, and soon were to rise to eminence themselves. Upon them and other captains were bestowed the palaces taken from native nobles, as well as their retinues of servants, while Francisco himself now took his military title of captain-general, and was henceforth addressed as "governor."

A noble cathedral was built, a nunnery was established in the house of the vestal virgins, and these "daughters of the sun" were thrust forth to fare as they might, the prey of the licentious soldiery. Among them were many who had been destined for the Inca's household—his wives, in fact; and the heart of Manco Capac swelled with grief and rage. But he was helpless, for Pizarro had grasped the substance of power, while he held only the shadow. He knew, however, that Cuzco was not all the empire, that it was but a golden grain in the sands of the sea. The vast territory of Peru, with its teeming millions, contained latent resources, in ferocious fighting-men which, once aroused, would, under his leadership, sweep the invaders from the face of the earth.

Manco Capac did not doubt his capacity for leadership, but he had never tested his powers in open field; hence, when invited to accompany Almagro, in a campaign against a force of natives under Quizquiz, one of the generals who had won victories for Atahuallpa, he gladly consented to go. Quizquiz was overcome and killed, his army dispersed, and Manco Capac, having materially assisted Almagro, returned with him to Cuzco to receive the praises of Pizarro.