Pizarro and the Conquest of Peru - Frederick Ober

In the Heart of Peru


Surrounded by a guard, the body of the Inca remained overnight in the plaza, but in the morning was taken to the church the Spaniards had built and interred with pomp and ceremony. This tardy honor to the deceased, it was thought, would give great satisfaction to the nobles and caciques, since he was buried "as if he had been a Spaniard"; but the funeral rites, though solemn and impressive, were not so regarded by his people, who invaded the church in crowds, and filled the air with shrieks and lamentations.

They were forcibly expelled, and told that Atahuallpa no longer belonged to them, having died a Christian; but several of his wives and sisters (it is related) hastened to their quarters, and there committed suicide, in order to join their lord and master in the celestial abode to which they believed he had gone. They could not believe that he had, by a mere nod of his head, transferred his allegiance to the God of the strangers. They cherished his memory, notwithstanding his apostasy, and after the Spaniards had left Cassamarca some devoted followers secretly exhumed his remains and transferred them to Quito, the "City of the Kings."

The barbarity of this heinous act of Pizarro is apparent on the face of it, and needs no comment from the historian. While the capture and imprisonment of Atahuallpa may have seemed a military necessity, there was absolutely no excuse for the attendant massacre, and for the crime committed in putting the Inca to death. Had he been cast in the ordinary mould of humanity, Pizarro must have suffered from remorse, especially when, a few days after the execution, De Soto returned and reported that there was no hostile army, and that the rumor of a rising instigated by the Inca was absolutely false. The generous cavalier was wrought to a pitch of indignation almost beyond restraint. He strode into the presence of Pizarro and denounced the execrable deed in unmeasured terms.

Steeped in crime as he was, Pizarro had the sensibility to blush with shame, and sought to cast the blame upon Riquelme, the treasurer, and Valverde, the priest. They in turn recriminated, and through the squabble that ensued, when these murderers met face to face, it became evident to all that they had done to death an innocent man.

"You knew I was his friend," exclaimed De Soto, reproachfully, "and so sent me away that I might not be here to defend him! It was a dastardly crime, and, moreover, one committed without a precedent. You had no right to bring to trial one so high in station as the Inca. He was a king, and only the king, our emperor, should have sat in judgment on him!"

With this startling statement, De Soto turned on his heel and left the trio confounded. They had not, probably, thought of that. Atahuallpa had been made captive so easily, and had been so long a prisoner, on familiar terms with all, that they had lost sight of his kingly prerogatives. Yet, that he was  a king, and as such entitled to the form of trial mentioned by De Soto, was now apparent to every one.

"We have made a great mistake," said Riquelme, with a shrug.

"Perhaps," replied the monk, "but we can gloss it over. It is, meseemeth, a small matter that we have shortened the Inca's mortal life by a few years, when in return we have snatched his soul from perdition! This will have weight with the emperor, and especially with St. Peter's vicar, the pontiff. Came we not here to save souls? Yea, verily!"

"That is the chief part of our mission," assented Pizarro, eagerly. "Never have I lost sight of that, good father, as you can testify. Gold we must have, but souls we must save. And, moreover, it is not too late to amend what we have done. We have deprived these people of their ruler, 'tis true; but there are others just as fit to rule. It is the shadow of authority, and not the man, these Peruvian cattle reverence. Now I bethink me, there is among the prisoners a young man, half-brother to Atahuallpa, who will suit our purpose well. It matters not whether the son of Huayna Capac by one concubine or by another sits the throne. I have unmade one Inca, and I can as easily make another. Ho there, Felipillo! hither."

Close upon Pizarro's command, the interpreter came in and stood cringingly before him.

"Boy, there is, I understand, a brother of Atahuallpa among the prisoners. Will he not make a good Inca, think you?"

"Yes, Senor Governor. As good as any other. The rightful heir, now that both Atahuallpa and Huascar are dead, is one Manco Capac. He is, in fact, the only legitimate heir, being a son of the great Huayna Capac by his own sister the queen. But he is far away, and this young man, Toparca—"

"He is here—that is enough—and he shall be crowned at once! Ho, Hernando, brother of my heart, assemble the cavaliers, bring out all the soldiers, for to-day we have a coronation! Cause the trumpet to sound, command that every one appear, as to a festive gathering, for we are to crown another Inca!"

Once again the great plaza filled with a tumultuous throng, assembled in all haste, and composed, not only of the various followers of Almagro and Pizarro, each with a grievance slumbering in his breast, but of the dark-browed Peruvians, dwelling gloomily upon the scenes of blood they had witnessed in that very square. The young Toparca, a slender, dark-eyed youth of seventeen, was brought from his cell and set upon the golden throne, which was placed in the centre of the square, on or near the spot where, but a few hours before, his brother had breathed his last.

He was filled with apprehension, and doubted not that, being so nearly related to the Inca, he had been selected to afford fresh sport for the conquerors. But he quailed not, nor, when Pizarro advanced with sword extended, did he withdraw his gaze from his ferocious visage, though vaguely wondering why it should be wreathed in smiles.

The sword descended, flatwise, upon his shoulders, and then Pizarro turned about and shouted, "Where's the borla? Did I not command that it should be brought here for this ceremony?"

The serried ranks around him moved uneasily, as a soldier stepped out, holding in one hand the fringed head-dress, badge of Peruvian royalty.

"Here it is," he said, in surly tone, and scowling at his commander. "But it is mine! Did I not snatch it myself from the brow of Atahuallpa?"

"Yes, yes," assented Pizarro. "Of a truth it is thine, my son; but lend it to me now, for without this trumpery around his head this puppet of mine will be no Inca to his people. Thou shalt have it again, after this ceremony is over." So saying, he took it from the soldier's hand and bound it round Toparca's brow.

For a moment the lad sat as if petrified; then, as he realized the significance of this act—that he, now, was a chosen "Child of the Sun"—he rose and made as though he would tear the scarlet fringe in fragments. But the eyes of Pizarro were on him, and again his sword was displayed, this time menacingly pointed at Toparca's breast.

"Down! down!" he growled, like a beast ravening his prey. "Sit you there and receive the homage of your people!"

With a deep sigh, the youth sank back upon the throne, and when the ranks had opened and let in the eager natives the air was rent with acclamations: "Long live the Inca, Child of the Sun, and his wife, the Moon! May he long dwell in the City of Kings! May he dwell in the mansions of the sun, whither the good Atahuallpa has fled!"

Such were the cries that greeted the accession of young Toparca to the throne. He seemed to hear them not, but sat silent and distrait, though to the ears of Pizarro they were as welcome music.

"Ha!" he exclaimed, with satisfaction. "Did I not say that I could make as well as unmake? It is all the same to these two-legged llamas, so they have a shepherd called an Inca!"

It seemed, indeed, to make no difference to them whether the ruler's name were Toparca or Atahuallpa; but one thing Pizarro had overlooked: most of the warriors were from Quito, and hence the more inclined to acclaim a prince from their own province. Yet it was sad to reflect that Atahuallpa could so soon be forgotten!

Nothing now prevented the advance upon Cuzco, for every obstacle in the road had been swept aside. In the morning of a summer's day, 1533, the army set out on its long and fatiguing march, from first to last travelling over the magnificent highway that connected Cassamarca with the capital. Pizarro and Almagro led the advance in turn, for as yet there was no serious trouble between them, and accompanying the army were the new Inca and Chalcuchima, the old general captured by Hernando Pizarro. They were borne in litters on the shoulders of the natives, and surrounded by attendants in gay attire, who vied with one another to do them honor.

That the country was in a state of disturbance was manifested by the broken bridges, by a village in flames at times, and the ravaged condition of the fields. But the Spaniards encountered no opposition until they had arrived at the vale of Xauxa (pronounced Haawah), where the various bands of warriors which had hovered at a distance were consolidated into a single body of vast proportions. They were massed upon the opposite bank of a river which the Spaniards were obliged to cross. There was no bridge, and when the soldiers arrived at the river a cloud of missiles fell upon them; but, with Pizarro in the van, shouting "Santiago and at them!" they boldly plunged in and, swimming or wading, scrambled across.

There was little fighting after the river was forded, for the Peruvians dispersed in the mountains, and the Spaniards took possession of the beautiful hamlet of Xauxa, which was the place whence Hernando had enticed Chalcuchima. It was such a delectable spot that Pizarro resolved to rest there and refresh the main body of his army, meanwhile sending out sixty horsemen, in command of the valiant De Soto, to reconnoitre the route ahead, repair the bridges, and open communication with the great valley of the Apurimac.

It was on this reconnoissance that the Spaniards discovered the Peruvians could fight, and valiantly, when the odds were not overwhelmingly against them, for, as they reached the steep defile of a mountain, a torrent of warriors rolled down upon them and actually arrested their advance. Soldiers were slain by blows from ponderous battle-axes, horses were overturned by rocks rolled upon them, and brought to the ground by desperate Indians clinging to their legs, while the air resounded with the war-cries of the attacking enemy.

Led by De Soto on his powerful charger, the Spaniards pressed upward and onward, until at last they gained a level space on the mountain-top surrounded by dense forest. Here they remained for the night, with the Indians gathering round them like famished wolves, waiting only for dawn to break to sweep them into the deep gorges that yawned on every side. The night was passed in sleepless vigilance, the beleaguered soldiers expecting every moment to hear the onrush of Indian warriors; but between midnight and dawn, the silver notes of a bugle rang through the air. Up the steep stairways cut in the rocks, a reinforcement under Almagro was toiling in the darkness, determined to effect a rescue or perish. In short, the two commands were joined on the plateau, and when daylight had cleared the mists, it was found that the Indians had melted away and disappeared.

No further opposition was encountered on the march, and in due time, after a most toilsome journey, the valley containing Cuzco the capital was reached. But while the army was advancing, there occurred a death and a tragedy, both of which, combined, cast the deepest gloom over officers and soldiers. When Pizarro received word that a strong force of Peruvians had attacked and nearly overcome the pick of his troopers, he at once suspected Chalcuchima of secretly sending information to the enemy. When brought before him, the aged general denied the accusation, but to no avail. He was at once placed in chains, and told that when a junction had been effected with Almagro's forces he should be tried for his life by a court-martial.

This occurred at Xauxa, where shortly after—alarmed, perhaps, at the probable fate in store for himself—the youthful Inca drooped and died.

Greatly disturbed by this ill-omened happening to his plans, this also Pizarro charged to the account of Chalcuchima, and after the farce of a trial he was condemned to death by burning at the stake. This was the favorite form of punishment with the Spaniards when they wished to inflict the extreme penalty upon a prisoner; and ever around the pyre and its victim might have been seen flitting the cowled monk, Valverde. After Chalcuchima had been lashed to the stake, he approached, and, though he did not offer him the alternative he had proffered the Inca, solemnly warned him of what the hereafter held in store for all idolaters.

The aged warrior is said to have listened attentively, and to have replied, "The white men I do not understand, nor their religion." After that utterance he kept a stubborn silence, and did not break it even by a groan, as the cruel flames leaped up and ate into his quivering flesh.

His eyes were raised as if to look in last appeal upon his supreme deity, the sun, and some of his followers, who were compelled to feed the flames that consumed their chief, whispered to one another that with his expiring breath he invoked the name of his god, Pachacamac.