Pizarro and the Conquest of Peru - Frederick Ober

The Inca and his Murderers


What a day was that in Cassamarca, when the emissaries returned from Cuzco! It was filled with rejoicings, and the Inca was as delighted as the soldiers of Pizarro at the successful outcome of their hazardous journey. He may have felt some pangs of regret when the adornments of the temple were exposed to view: those plates and bars of gold which had been lavished by his ancestors upon the abode of their deity. But were they not the price of his freedom?

The great room was now filling rapidly, with such a variety of golden plate, tiles, goblets, salvers, vases, such ingenious creations of the barbaric artisans, that the Spaniards gasped in wonder and astonishment. All were beautiful—too beautiful to go to the melting-pot—but among them were several objects that claimed particular attention. One of these was a golden fountain, of which not only the basin and sparkling jet of water were imitated, but, as well, aquatic birds that played about them and disported in the spray. Another was a sheaf of maize, with ear of solid gold incased in leaves of silver, and golden tassel pendent. If any object in nature were worth imitating it surely should be the maize, or Indian-corn, which for centuries had fed the natives of America, and was destined to prove such a blessing to countless thousands in both worlds divided by the great waters. Some of these inestimable treasures of art were preserved, for exhibition in Spain; but the most of them were melted into ingots, in which shape they were more easily divided among the impatient conquerors.

Ever since the return of the emissaries from Cuzco, in fact, the soldiers had clamored for an immediate partition of the spoils, realizing the dangers in delay; but a full month was consumed in recasting and reckoning up the value of this treasure, so that by the time the day of division came round the soldiers were almost ready to tear one another into pieces for their shares. If Pizarro had wished to deprive any one of his portion, he surely did not dare, and the result was that all received what was due them, though many were far from satisfied.

The grand total amounted to more than fifteen million dollars, of which first the "King's fifth" was set aside, then Francisco Pizarro's share, which amounted to more than half a million (including his booty in silver). His brother, Hernando, received half as much as he, Hernando de Soto half the sum given to the former, and so on, in a descending scale, the cavalry receiving more than eight thousand golden pesos each, and the infantry four thousand.

Besides his share of the ingots, Pizarro appropriated the great golden throne in which the Inca had made his entry into the city, and which was valued at not less than two hundred thousand dollars. Then the recently erected church of San Francisco, the first in Cassamarca and in Peru, was remembered with an endowment of twenty-three thousand dollars, and the monks and clerigos were not forgotten. All this was done in the most solemn manner, after invoking the continued blessing of heaven upon the enterprise, and accompanied with legal formalities.

It was impossible that everybody should be content, however, and the disgust of some was so great that it nearly resulted in bloodshed. This discontent was chiefly manifested by a body of men that had joined Pizarro after the capture of Atahuallpa had been effected, but before the spoils had been divided. It was two hundred strong, and in point of fact outnumbered the original conquerors, so that, in case of a trial of strength, it might have gone hard with the latter.

This company was commanded by Diego de Almagro, who (the reader will recall) had been the stanch supporter of Pizarro, and was entitled by contract, solemnly signed and witnessed, to one-third of whatever spoils he might acquire. The good clerigo, Luque, was also entitled to a third; but he had passed to his final account, and so had forfeited his share; while here was Almagro, the one-eyed partner of Pizarro, demanding an accounting.

He had faithfully performed his duties, inasmuch as he had raised two hundred men, fifty of whom were cavalry, and in three ships had sailed from Panama for Peru. After prolonged search, he had come upon the trail of Pizarro, and followed it from Tumbez to San Miguel. In that settlement he was cautioned against trusting himself in the power of his partner, to whom his own secretary sent warning that Almagro had come with the purpose of establishing an independent government. But the magical lure of gold was sufficient to lead him on, and his confidence in his own strength supreme, so he started for Cassamarca, which he reached in February, 1533.

When the old partners met they fell into each other's arms and embraced like brothers; and when Pizarro was told by Almagro that he had hanged his secretary to a tree, on learning of his treachery, the former was moved to tears. He did not offer, however, to divide his newly acquired wealth with Almagro—though that would have been in accord with their agreement—nor could he be persuaded to do so.

He lamented the death of the faithful Luque, who had been the life and soul of the enterprise, and but for whom it might have failed, but in his heart rejoiced that one the less was left to reckon with. With the remaining one, Almagro, he compounded for one hundred thousand pesos, giving to his soldiers the absurdly small sum of twenty thousand more, or about one hundred pesos apiece. How small it was may be seen by comparing the amount with some of the prices current in the camp for things in common use. A head of garlic cost half a peso; a bottle of wine cost seventy, and a horse fifteen hundred pesos, such was the enhancement of prices consequent upon the great abundance of gold in Cassamarca; while (according to Oviedo, the historian) "creditors shunned their debtors, and actually hid themselves, to avoid being paid!"

However dissatisfied the soldiers of Almagro may have been (and they were not slow in expressing their discontent), they were finally pacified by the promise of more, and perhaps greater, spoil for the future, in which they would undoubtedly share. They could not expect, of course, to receive the winnings of a game they did not play; but henceforth they would be entitled to the same shares as the first arrivals.

What they had seen, Pizarro assured them, was only a specimen nugget, so to speak, of the country's vast resources. They had barely entered the country, had not even scratched the soil with a pick, or sunk a shaft; yet more than fifteen millions in gold had been obtained, while the true source of it was still unknown to them. All this, moreover, had come mainly from a single city, Cuzco, which was six hundred miles away, and still unvisited, save by those three unarmed soldiers, who did not bring off a tithe of its treasures. Almagro's soldiers listened, and for a time were silenced, placated by promises; but they joined with Pizarro's impatient cohorts in a deafening cry of "On to Cuzco!"

Pizarro allowed himself to be swayed by the vociferous clamor of his men, and consented to lead the advance upon the capital so soon as he should consider it safe. But, as the commander-in-chief of the enterprise, and responsible for any disaster to the men in his charge, he refused to be driven to that step before he was ready. To cut loose from his base of supplies, and leave the Inca at large, with power to collect an army to oppose him, seemed the height of folly, as it undoubtedly was.

What, then, should he do? Atahuallpa was already demanding his release, declaring that he had complied with the conditions, by furnishing, if not a room-full—of treasure, at least approximately that. Had it not been for the impatience of the Spaniards themselves, he said, the full amount would have been forthcoming; but their rapacity defeated his object by frightening the priests and custodians of the temples, who secreted much that would otherwise have been obtainable.

Pizarro recognized the justice of this assertion, and caused to be issued a proclamation, drawn up by a notary, to the effect that the Inca had paid his ransom in full, and hence was entitled to his freedom; but, owing to the critical situation of the Spaniards—a mere handful of men surrounded by myriads of natives, who still owed allegiance to the deposed ruler—it would not be politic to release him at that time.

This was the first act in the proceedings by which Atahuallpa lost his life; the second was forced upon Pizarro mainly by Almagro's men, who were hungering and thirsting for spoils, and who saw no opportunity for gratifying their desires while the Inca remained alive. So they shouted: "Kill him! kill him! Make way with the wretch, and lead us to the capital!" They threatened, indeed, to march upon Cuzco as an independent command, and Pizarro knew well enough that their captain, Almagro, would be more than willing to lead.

In his desire to keep his men together and maintain his authority, he finally yielded to their demands and ordered Atahuallpa brought to trial.

The question naturally arises: On what charges could he be tried? The truthful answer would be, that there were no charges which his accusers could prove. The first article in his indictment was that he had caused the death of his defeated rival and half-brother, Huascar Inca. This unfortunate, and only legitimate, claimant to the Incarial throne had been kept a prisoner in Cuzco until shortly after the imprisonment of Atahuallpa.

One day it was revealed to the latter that Pizarro intended sending for Huascar and submitting the claims of the two to arbitration. This proposal was not relished by Atahuallpa, who is said to have sent secret orders to Cuzco, as the result of which Huascar was taken from prison and, in charge of a guard, sent forward on the road to Cassamarca. Somewhere on the way he was strangled and thrown into a river; and that was the last ever heard from Huascar Inca, except that messengers arrived at Cassamarca, who had previously been despatched by him, urging Pizarro to free him from his chains, in reward for which he would be his faithful tributary and ally. He is said, also, to have been seen by the soldier-emissaries, when on the road to Cuzco, to whom he made a vain appeal, promising to double the ransom Atahuallpa had offered, as he alone knew everything respecting the treasures of the royal city.

It is probable that Atahuallpa caused the death of Huascar Inca, when he found that the results achieved by his hard-fought battles might be neutralized by the decision of Pizarro in favor of his rival. He had won the throne—and lost it; but he still hoped to regain it. If he could not, at least no other should sit there; he would be the last Inca of Peru!

The second count in the indictment was that he had incited a rising of his people, who had banded together, and were already marching in immense numbers to attack the Spaniards. They were then about a hundred miles distant, rumor said, at a place called Huamachuco. This rumor was believed by Pizarro, who caused the patrols to be doubled, ordered the cavalry to keep their horses always saddled, and all soldiers to sleep on their arms. At the same time, he sent his favorite lieutenant, Ferdinand de Soto, to reconnoitre with a troop, in the direction of Huamachuco, and when the hostile forces should be discovered to return at once and report.

Atahuallpa viewed the departure of De Soto with deep misgivings, for the frank and honest cavalier had won his confidence. "Do not go," he said to him (though, according to some, it was to Hernando Pizarro), "for if you do, that fat man and that one-eyed man will surely have me killed." The "one-eyed man" was Almagro, from whom he certainly had much to fear; and the "fat man" was Riquelme, the king's treasurer, who had come up from San Miguel to spy upon Pizarro.

If Atahuallpa had said, "the fat man, the one-eyed man, and the rest," he might have been justified, for all, with few if any exceptions, were thirsting for his blood. They wanted to go on to Cuzco, but feared either to take the Inca with them, to leave him behind a prisoner, or to set him free. In the circumstances, of course, the only alternative was to kill him—and this they resolved to do. But it must be done "legally and in order." The conquistadores had a justifiable horror of all lawyers, and many a time had memorialized the king not to allow any of those "pestiferous bachelors" to visit their colony; but they recognized the necessity for acting under legal forms.

Oh yes! Atahuallpa was legally tried, legally condemned, and legally executed—according to the formal paper which was afterwards drawn up and sent to Charles, the king. He was allowed a counsel for defence, and on the bench sat, as judges, Pizarro and Almagro, neither of whom had he injured. On the contrary, he had conferred upon them benefits beyond measure.

Perhaps he might have been acquitted, as it was, if it had not been for the enmity of—first, the natives of Cassamarca province (who started the rumors of a rising instigated by the Inca), and of the interpreter, Felipillo, who was apprehended in an intrigue with one of Atahuallpa's favorite wives. The penalty of his transgression, had the Inca been in power, would have been death; but as Felipillo could claim that he was doing no worse than his masters, he escaped without punishment.

But Atahuallpa had incurred the enmity of the interpreter by suggesting that he should be put to death, and as he was the only medium through which the Inca's answers to the charges could be obtained, he perverted them to suit his base purpose, and virtually wrought the ruin of the sovereign.

Atahuallpa was, in effect, condemned before he was tried, for Pizarro caused a chain to be put about his neck, and he was led like a felon to the dock. He was already doomed—that he knew—but he walked with firm step to the square, in which the court was held, and with unblanched cheek listened to the sentence quickly passed upon him. It was death—by burning at the stake, if he should still persist in his "idolatrous belief"; but by strangling, if he should, at the last moment, "consent to become a Christian!"

Again was the centre of the plaza the scene of murder most foul, when, at the close of that very day on which sentence had been passed, the Inca was conducted to the execution-place. He walked without support, his head erect, and with the dignity of a sovereign. He had made his protest—a last appeal to Pizarro—when doomed to die; now he was silent. Chained hand and foot, he was bound to a stake, fagots were piled around him to his waist, and the executioner but awaited the signal to set them on fire.

The shades of night had fallen and the plaza was enveloped in gloom, pierced only by the light of torches held in the hands of grim soldiers, who, in double ranks, encircled the place of execution. The moment had arrived when Atahuallpa was about to suffer the extreme penalty, as proclaimed by sound of trumpet, in the great square, where he had been wont to resort for festive ceremonies. Outside the circle of light shed by the flickering torches, all was dark and silent—silent, save for the sound of lamentation, wrung from hearts bursting with anguish. There was gathered the household of the Inca, there stood his retainers, a sad and sombre group, helpless to save their sovereign.

The Inca raised his head and looked around, seeking in vain a look of sympathy. A sigh escaped him then, for the great Atahuallpa, at whose mere nod thousands once had trembled, was now alone, indeed, without a friend.

Suddenly the enclosing circle opened and towards the doomed one strode the Dominican monk, Valverde. In one uplifted hand he held a cross, in the other the book which Atahuallpa once had spurned. Since then, at intervals during his imprisonment, the monk had labored with him "for the good of his soul," as he expressed it. Now he once more proffered him an opportunity—the last—to renounce his idolatrous belief and embrace the religion of his enemies.

"Renounce, or you shall be burned," said the monk. "Become like one of us, and you will be strangled merely. O man of sin, will you not look upon this cross and become a Christian?"

The Inca had looked at him with dull eyes, perhaps unseeing; yet, it is said, he bowed his head, as a sign that he accepted the dread alternative—but more probably it fell from weakness.

The monk turned eagerly to the soldiers. "He has recanted! He dies a Christian!" he cried; and then he baptized his bewildered convert in the name of "Juan de Atahuallpa."

It would seem that, having by this renunciation cut himself off from friends, kindred, and the religion of his ancestors, Atahuallpa was entitled to the poor gift of his life. But no! while the surrounding soldiers, including Almagro and Pizarro, received the announcement with delight, they made no motion to secure his release. They were still determined upon his death, and remained passive, while the executioner slowly strangled his victim with a cross-bow string, soothing their consciences by chanting the credo, or creed of the Church to which he now belonged. Such was their monstrous depravity, in fact, that they took great credit to themselves in allowing the Inca to be strangled, or garroted, instead of being burned at the stake!

The struggles of the royal victim soon were over. As the last convulsive shudder shot through his frame, and his head fell forward on his breast, a word of command rang out, the soldiers with their torches fell into line and marched to their quarters, leaving the last of the Incas where he died.