Pizarro and the Conquest of Peru - Frederick Ober

The Inca Raises His Standard


Pizarro now had wealth beyond any expectation in which he had ever indulged; he had honors, also, greater than any his proud father had enjoyed; for, as Marquis of Atavillos, he had been admitted to the aristocracy of Spain. Such an elevation, of one who in youth had been a swineherd, might have turned the head of Francisco Pizarro if it had come to him at a previous period of his life; but he was now old enough to measure his honors by the proper standard. He had received no more than he merited, and, aside from the vast wealth he had won, his rewards were, in truth, hardly adequate for the thirty long years of persistent endeavor. Of one thing he was convinced: that he had had enough of fighting, and now desired only to spend his last years, if not in retirement, at least in peace.

The founding of cities and the promotion of agriculture were now more congenial to his temperament than the wielding of the sword. But he was not to be allowed to rest, for, after having, as he thought, conquered and pacified the country, he was suddenly called upon to gird himself again for battle, and thereafter was in constant turmoil. The cause of his next anxiety was the young Inca, Manco Capac, whom he had left virtually a captive in charge of Juan and Gonzalo Pizarro. We have seen that he had never abandoned the idea of assuming the authority which had been denied him, and was merely awaiting the right moment for striking a blow for liberty.

The dissensions of the Spaniards seemed to offer him this opportunity, and he promptly availed himself of it, as soon as the two great leaders, Pizarro and Almagro, had turned their backs upon Cuzco. Soon after Almagro's departure, the Peruvian high-priest, Villaoma, stealthily returned to Cuzco and held a long interview with the Inca. Hernando Pizarro was in command at the time, having superseded his brothers because of his superior ability. Though cruel and tyrannical, he had, somehow, won the sympathy of the Indians, who recalled that Atahuallpa had said, just before his death, that if Hernando had been in Cassamarca he would not have suffered so cruel a fate.

It is believed he was more lenient to the Inca than his brothers, and when Manco asked permission to retire for a few days into the country, in order to offer his annual tribute at the tomb of his father, he readily consented. His avarice may have been more potent, however, than his friendliness in securing the desired permission, as the crafty Indian had promised him a golden statue, which, he said, was concealed in a cave near his father's tomb. When the time had expired, at the end of which Manco was to return, Hernando's suspicions became aroused, and he sent out his brother, Juan, with sixty horsemen, to search for and bring back the recreant Inca.

Meanwhile, what was occurring in the secluded mountain valley where the great Huayna Capac was buried? Had the Spaniards been able to penetrate the wall of rocks which hid it from their sight, they might have witnessed a sight that would have struck them with surprise, if not with terror, for there were gathered the chieftains of a hundred bands, and their followers to the number of at least a hundred thousand.

Standing by the tomb of the king were the Inca and his high-priest, the former lifted upon the shoulders of his subjects, the latter haranguing the Indians in a voice that penetrated far into the surrounding forest. "The time has come," he shrieked, "in which we are to avenge the thousands upon thousands of insults which have been heaped upon us! The time has passed for many of our nobles, who have been cut down; for our Inca, Atahuallpa, who was murdered; for our vestal virgins, who have been more than murdered. For them there is no redress. But for us who live, for your families, your wives, and sons, and daughters, there is yet hope of revenge! Here are vessels of chicha, the wine of our country; here in the presence of our Inca, lord and master, let him come and drink who this day resolves to fight until death for the rescue of our country!"

Instantly there was great commotion. Spears tipped with gold and silver, pole and battle-axes edged with copper, were thrust by the thousand towards the brightly shining sun, as, with a mighty voice like the roar of mountain winds, the assembled warriors shouted: "Death to the strangers! Death to the murderers! Death to the violaters of our temples!"

The Inca was the first to drink, holding a golden goblet to his lips, and then exclaiming: "This is a pledge that we shall kill them all—all, and leave not one alive!" Then, as his warriors crowded eagerly around, he descended from his palanquin, and mounting a horse which had been kept in waiting till this moment, placed himself at their head.

"Henceforth," he said, "your Inca leads; no longer will he follow! For this is our last hope. Unless we fight as those strangers fight, we cannot overcome them. Adopt their methods, turn their own weapons against them: thus we shall benefit by our sore experience."

This meeting was but the sequence to a series of drills, and of numerous secret assemblages during many months, by which the wild warriors had brought to their aid the military tactics of the Spaniards. Supplementing these with their natural liking for war, with their ferocity in combat, their disregard for life, their superior numbers, and craving for bloodshed, who could overcome them now? They lacked but the weapons of the strangers to make them every way their equals.

Led by Juan Pizarro, not the least courageous of the Pizarro brothers, to all of whom fear was utterly unknown, the sixty horsemen sent out by Hernando galloped across the plain and finally arrived at the river Yucay, where, on the opposite bank, they saw an Indian host drawn up in solid battalions. Shouting their battle-cry, the Spaniards dashed across the river and into the serried masses, committing great slaughter; but, though the foe retreated, they did so in good order, and when evening came it found the attacking party at a disadvantage.

Scarcely an eye was closed in sleep that night, and dawn revealed the forest swarming with the enemy. Great rocks came tumbling down upon the cavalry, and the air was filled with arrows, darts, and javelins, so that, while the Spaniards stubbornly refused to retreat, neither could they advance in the face of that terrible tempest. They held their position during that day and part of the next, when, greatly to the disgust and surprise of Juan Pizarro, an imperative order came from Hernando to retire upon Cuzco at once, as the city was invested by a multitude of warriors.

Under a less careful commander, the retreat of the Spaniards might have become a rout, as the triumphant Inca and his horde pressed them so closely that they could scarcely save their wounded, and left their numerous dead on the field. Arrived within sight of the city, what was their astonishment to behold a vast host surrounding it on every side, through which it would have been impossible to cleave their way, had not the battalions about the gateway opened of their own accord, as though disdaining to combat so small a body of soldiers, when the entire army was destined to become their prey!

The brothers embraced, and hastened to the watch-tower on the crag, whence they could view the city, which seemed to be enclosed within a sea of human beings, from whose throats issued terrific shouts of rage and war-cries in a deafening chorus, which, added to the crash of drum and trumpet, created a veritable pandemonium.

When the sun had sunk behind the hills, and darkness covered the scene, the sky was crossed by trains of light, like shooting-stars, proceeding from hundreds of burning arrows, which, descending upon the dry thatched roofs of palace and hut alike, soon caused the city to be wrapped in flames.

The two hundred Spaniards, together with their allies, numbering about a thousand, were entirely surrounded by fire, while dense volumes of smoke filled the air to suffocation. Fire and famine were the aids upon which the Peruvians relied to exterminate their enemies, but they never for a moment relaxed their individual efforts. When, at last, after enduring for three days the heat of this fiery furnace, some of the cavalry ventured forth, they were savagely attacked by Indians armed with lassos, who threw the horses to the ground and exultingly dragged their riders away to be killed at their leisure.

The desperate Spaniards made many sallies from the square, in which they were encircled by the flames, and committed great slaughter, but all to no purpose, the number of the Indians was so large.

Early in the siege, the Peruvians had gained possession of the fortress overlooking the city, from this post of vantage discharging torrents of missile weapons, and one day tossing thence several human heads, which the sorrowing Spaniards recognized as those of former companions who had settled in the country. This showed that the uprising was wide-spread, probably comprehending the whole country, and, as the Indians held all the mountain passes, a retreat to the coast was entirely out of the question. What had become of the governor, the beleaguered Spaniards often asked, as the weary days went by; but they well knew that he could not come to their rescue.

At last the fire from the fort became so annoying that Hernando resolved upon its capture. He detailed fifty men for this forlorn hope, whom he placed in charge of Juan Pizarro. Led by this gallant cavalier, they dashed up the heights, scaled the first of the circling parapets, and were attacking the second, when the Indians swarmed upon them in such numbers that they were overcome.

The intrepid Juan had been wounded the previous day, and in consequence had not worn his helmet, as it chafed the wound. While he was in the thick of the battle in front of the second parapet, a great stone descended with terrific force upon his unprotected head and brought him to earth. He attempted to rise, but was unable to, and his sorrowing companions gathered him in their arms and made the best retreat they could. Juan lingered a few days in agony, and then expired, the first of the brothers to die a violent death—but not the last!

Meanwhile, the Indians still held the fortress, and by their taunts and showers of missiles so enraged Hernando that he determined to take it, come what might. Even while poor Juan lay dying, he committed the defence of the city to Gonzalo, and himself led the attack upon the walls above. Scaling-ladders were placed against them, and up the Spaniards climbed, but only to be hurled headlong to the rocks below. Again and again these desperate men repeated their efforts, until finally they prevailed, and with yells of exultation leaped into the midst of the Indians.

But few of the brave defenders were alive when this occurred; but one of them, a man of powerful build, said by some to have been the high-priest, Villaoma, was equal to a host of warriors. He wielded a ponderous battle-axe with such force that many a Spaniard went down before him. At last, charging upon him in a body, they drove him to the capstones of the parapet, where, for a moment, he poised himself defiantly, then, hurling his battle-axe into their midst, leaped out into space, and was dashed to pieces at the foot of the battlements. All the remaining Indians were put to the sword, and thus, at terrible loss of life, the fortress was won.

Holding now the key to the city, the Spaniards were enabled to keep the Peruvians in check; but they could not appear outside the blackened walls without being set upon by maddened thousands thirsting for their blood. For weeks and months the siege was protracted, and, all the provisions in the Inca's granaries having been exhausted, the besieged finally were compelled to endure the horrors of a famine. They made many a foray into the surrounding hills, sometimes returning with scanty supplies of provisions, but only obtained at the expense of valuable lives.

Leaving these heroic brothers of the governor for a while, let us seek information respecting the real hero of this narrative, Francisco. We have devoted some space to detailing their experiences, because they were within striking distance of the Inca's arm, and bore the brunt of the contest. But, while Cuzco, the ancient Peruvian capital, was the main object of attack, the insurrection had been universal, and the garrisons at Xauxa and Lima were not spared.

A large body of warriors made an assault upon Lima, but, not being under the immediate direction of the Inca, they were soon routed by Pizarro's cavalry, and chased across the plains into the mountains. Having secured himself and the city, Pizarro's next care was the relief of his beleaguered soldiers at Cuzco. He sent forward, at various times, four detachments of a hundred each, comprised of tried veterans and led by efficient officers; but they could not penetrate the mighty barrier of mountains that intervened between the valleys of Lima and Cuzco. All were cut off and ambuscaded by the swarming Indians, who rolled down great rocks upon the heads of the soldiers with fatal effect, and in the resulting confusion slaughtered them almost at will.

A few stragglers only returned to Lima, where the consternation of the people was such that they implored Pizarro to abandon the country and seek refuge on shipboard. But the stern old warrior spurned such cowardly counsel. He was never known to abandon a comrade to his fate, no matter what the odds against him. Moreover, he realized that the empire was at stake; and he knew the temper of his brothers at Cuzco: they would never surrender, so long as a man was left alive or an arquebuse fit to be fired.

And in the end his implicit trust in his comrades won the day. Instead of allowing the ships on the coast to be used for the purpose suggested by the craven populace, he despatched them all in search of succor. He wrote urgent letters to his friends in Panama, in Guatemala, and in Mexico, begging them, in the name of their king, and as Christians engaged in a common cause against the heathen, to hasten to his assistance before he and all his friends should be swept into the sea. He even wrote to Alvarado, so recently his enemy, to send him ships, with men and munitions, so that, as Spaniards, they could save and hold the empire he had all but won.

Six long and weary months dragged by, during which the Inca's troops held the Spaniards prisoners within the few fortified places in which they had taken refuge. The mountains were their strongholds, but on the plains they were no match for the cavalry, which cut them down and slaughtered hecatombs of their warriors.

At last, about midsummer, the Inca felt compelled to withdraw the bulk of his army from about Cuzco, in order to cultivate the neglected fields and prevent a threatened famine. The instinct of prudence, inherited from his ancestors, was strong within him; but by yielding to it he, in effect, signed the death-warrant of himself and his people. For, no sooner had he retired to the mountains, than Hernando sallied forth with all his available cavalry and ravaged the country, returning to Cuzco with thousands of llamas and vast quantities of grain. Then, refreshed by this sustenance so providentially supplied, the Spaniards grew aggressive, and deliberately slaughtered, not only such warriors as they could find, but all the women and children who came to their camps to serve them.

Learning that the Inca had taken refuge in a strongly fortified camp on a mountain-top, Hernando himself went in pursuit of him, hoping by his capture to put an end to the war. But, becoming entangled in a gloomy defile beneath the fort, he was set upon by the Inca's warriors in such numbers, that of the eighty horsemen with him, very few escaped the avalanche of rocks and hurricane of missiles launched upon them. From the ramparts above, Manco Capac peered down upon his discomfited enemy, and directed the assault, as well as the continued attacks upon the Spanish rear, when, finally overcome through sheer force of numbers, Hernando's horsemen withdrew in confusion and fled for the city, closely pursued by the victorious Peruvians.

This was the Inca's last victory, but not his last stand against his relentless foe. Driven farther and farther into the mountain wilderness, but ever maintaining his high courage and attitude of implacable hostility to the Spaniards, he gradually passed from sight, and was finally killed by some renegade soldiers, who, in return, were massacred by his incensed warriors.