Pizarro and the Conquest of Peru - Frederick Ober

Success in Sight at Last


The weary months went by without a sign of succor. Oppressed by famine, worn with watching for the sail that did not appear, the Spaniards would have welcomed any diversion, even an invasion by the Indians, rather than longer endure that life of inaction. Day by day, from earliest morn to night, they vainly scanned the heaving bosom of the Pacific, until at last they settled down into sullen despair. The promised land lay within their sight, the glittering spires and domes of the snow-crested Andes beckoned them mockingly; but these famishing islanders had no means of sailing over to the main, save their clumsy raft, upon which they would be utterly defenceless.

They had resolved, at last, that death by slow starvation was to be their fate, believing themselves utterly abandoned, when, one day, a sail was sighted tossing on the waves. It drew near the island, but might have passed it had not Pizarro and his men rushed to a conspicuous headland and waved a banner, at the same time shooting off their arquebuses. It was a small craft to which that sail belonged, but it was found to be well stored with provisions and munitions, though with only just men enough aboard to navigate it. Sent by the faithful Almagro and Luque, who had used the last of their resources in outfitting it, even this small vessel had been allowed by the governor to sail only on condition that it should return within six months. Governor Rios had felt it incumbent upon him to rescue these reckless outcasts, even though they had disobeyed him by marooning themselves in the enemies' waters; but he imposed upon them the necessity of returning within half a year, under penalty of imprisonment if they did not obey.

"We accept the conditions," cried Pizarro; and his men, refreshed by the food they had eaten, and fortified by the resolution of their commander, assented with a shout.

"The prison yawns for us, anyway, if we return," continued Pizarro, "for all of us are in debt, even for the swords we carry and the armor we wear. Then, on, say I; perchance we may win fame and fortune yet!"

"On, on!" shouted the gallant men. "To the limit of our time. On to Peru!"

So they sailed away from Gorgona; and it seemed as if Dame Fortune mocked them, for, when in this condition, with a scant dozen of faithful adherents and only a single ship provisioned for six months, Pizarro found the kingdom and the opportunity to take it he had sought so long!

Southward, ever southward, sailed this little company of the most determined navigators since the days of Columbus. They passed the southernmost point reached by Ruiz, the pilot, who was aboard, and ardently serving Pizarro; they crossed the equinoctial line, and, after sailing for weeks in waters never before entered by Spaniards, reached the Gulf of Guayaquil.

Twenty days after leaving Gorgona they landed at an island which Pizarro named Santa Clara, and here found many images of men and beasts made of gold and silver, curiously wrought. The island was a sacred spot, visited by the Indians at stated times, when they left here their offerings, consisting of the golden objects mentioned and richly colored mantles woven of native wool. The Spaniards greatly desired to appropriate these treasures, but they refrained; not because the spot in which they were found was held sacred, but on account of the danger in offending the natives. They were too weak to engage in pillage, declared Pizarro, and must consider this voyage one of exploration merely.

"But we will remember what we saw, and where we saw it," he added, significantly; "for we shall return, and then, my children, you will revel in wealth such as mortal man never had before!"

While sustaining his men with promises, however, and holding them back from snatching at the gold almost within their grasp, he could not refrain from bitterly reflecting upon the hard fortune which had placed him in the position of Tantalus. And after they had crossed the great bay, and saw upon its farther shore a city of temples and palaces, their snow-white walls rivaling the frozen dome of Chimborazo, and probably containing treasures of gold and silver, he gnashed his teeth with vexation and rage.

But when he saw the craggy fortress dominating all, the swarms of people pouring forth from streets and dwellings, and the warriors by thousands assembling, or embarking on board the balsas in the harbor, he shrugged his shoulders and thought upon the cacique's warning: not to attempt the reduction of Peru without at least a thousand soldiers.

So it was not as a soldier, but as a "man of peace," proclaiming good-will and good faith, that he approached this newly discovered town of Tumbez and asked permission to interview its governor. It was one of the Inca's subject cities, inhabited by mitamies, or conquered colonists, and ruled by a curaca, or tributary cacique, but it was wealthy and powerful. In response to Pizarro's intimation that some fresh provisions would be acceptable, the curaca sent a balsa to the vessel, laden with game, fish, and tropical fruits, besides a number of llamas—the first of these curious animals ever seen by Europeans. Rude drawings of them had been shown Pizarro when he and Balboa reached the Pacific, but these were the first he had looked upon in the flesh.

The balsa was in charge of a Peruvian noble, who was also the first man of rank the Spaniards had met, all they had seen hitherto having been of the teeming common class. He was a stately, dignified personage, and magnificently appareled, but his ears were shockingly deformed by the insertion of huge ornaments of gold several inches in diameter. These glittering disks of gold were the most conspicuous things about him, and caused the Spaniards to nickname him the "Orejon,"  a word derived from the Spanish oreja, an ear.

As he was received by Pizarro with distinction, shown all over the ship, feasted and wined, he was greatly pleased, and on his departure invited his host to visit him ashore. On the morrow, Pizarro sent ashore one of his trusty cavaliers named Molina, with a negro servant bearing a present of swine and poultry for the governor. Not only was this Molina the first white man the inhabitants of Tumbez had seen on their native soil, but the negro, the swine, and the poultry were the first objects of their kind ever landed there. They crowded around by thousands, respectful and courteous, but filled with awe and admiration.

They knew not which to admire most, the fair complexion and flowing beard of the white man, or the kinky wool and sable skin of the negro. The latter, they thought, must be artificially colored, so they tried to rub off the coloring, greatly to the glee of the black man, who showed his teeth and rolled his eyes, which pleased the Indians mightily. They were further entertained when one of the cocks crowed lustily, and wanted to know what that strange bird was saying.

Molina was hospitably received at the curaca's palace, served with food and drink from gold and silver vessels, and finally departed greatly impressed with the wealth and magnificence of the Inca's deputy. His tales seemed so wild and extravagant that Pizarro (deeming it unwise to leave the vessel and go ashore himself) sent that gallant knight Pedro de Candia in his stead. He had a fine figure, and being clad entirely in steel armor, with helmet and cuirass, a shining sword in his right hand and an arquebuse over his shoulder, the simple Indians were dazzled by his appearance. He appeared to them a veritable "child of the sun," indeed, and when, at their request, he caused his arquebuse to "speak to them"—when they heard the stunning report, and saw the flash, the smoke, and the destruction wrought by the ball it sent forth—they fell to the ground as if ready to worship him. Especially pleased with this handsome cavalier were the "brides of the Inca," or Virgins of the Sun, who, though immured within great walls of masonry, yet managed to gain a glimpse of him as he wandered through the convent gardens set with flowers and fruits in gold and silver.

The report carried by Candia to his commander made Pizarro "mad with joy," while at the same time he was deeply chagrined that he could not land and consummate his discovery by conquest. Being on his "good behavior," however, and unable to plunder those golden gardens, those temples sheathed with silver plates, those palaces furnished with vessels of gold, he reluctantly sailed on his course again, but resolved that no portion of that rich treasure should escape him. This voyage was the result of years of effort, the realization of hopes deferred, or schemes delayed; and having waited so long, he could afford to contain himself yet a while longer. So Pizarro reasoned, for he was a philosopher, perhaps a fatalist, believing that whatever happened must be accepted for what it was worth—at all events, accepted.

That he amply rewarded himself for his restraint on this voyage, when he did not dare to plunder, much less massacre, and bore himself with an air of benignity which captivated the hearts of the natives, will appear in some of the succeeding chapters. It will then be seen that his benevolence was but a mask behind which he hid his true character, which displays a ferocity equaled by that of few men mentioned in the annals of America.

The voyage was continued to a point nine degrees south of the line, where, off the mouth of the Santa River, a broad stream flowing through an arid country, he turned about for Panama. Nothing was to be gained by going on, and scant time remained for regaining Panama within the prescribed period. He felt no misgivings now, to be sure, for he had proved his contention as to the existence of a kingdom, an empire—or at least a rich and wonderful country—abounding in natural wealth and teeming with half-civilized people.

So, northward the vessel's prow was turned, and homeward the happy voyagers set themselves, stopping on the way at a port named by Pizarro Santa Cruz, where they were entertained by a native princess. Their reception here reminds one of that given Don Bartholomew Columbus by the Haitian princess, Anacaona, for the Spaniards were met by dancing throngs of maidens, chanting to the music of primitive instruments, and a bountiful feast was prepared and served in arbors thatched with fragrant grasses.

The native character of the aborigines in America, whether of the West Indies or Peru, was very similar throughout, and though the latter were cast in sterner mould than the islanders, they showed themselves susceptible to kindness and fair treatment. If only the character in which Pizarro and his companion Spaniards appeared to the natives had been real, and not assumed; if their benevolence had been innate, and not a sham, the Indians might have been won over, and the conquest of Peru achieved without the bloodshed with which it was stained.

Such confidence had Pizarro in these people, that, touching in at Tumbez, on the homeward voyage, he allowed two or three of his men to remain there, taking with him in exchange two Indian youths, whom he afterwards made great use of as interpreters. One of them, in fact, who was called Felipillo, served him throughout his next campaign in this capacity, and exerted, by false interpretation, a malign influence upon the fate of Inca Atahuallpa.

A direct course was shaped from Tumbez to Panama, with a brief tarry only at Gorgona, to take aboard two sick Spaniards who had been left there in care of some friendly Indians. One alone survived, and after he had been rescued, the voyage was resumed. Good weather attended all the way to Panama, at which port the little band of heroes arrived in safety, after some of them, including their intrepid leader, had been absent eighteen months.

Pizarro and his partners were now courted and fawned upon, for at last they had achieved success, at last their persistence had received its reward. But, though they had proved the existence of the country which all along the Panamans had declared was wholly mythical; though Pizarro exhibited the strange animals, the llamas, and the cloths woven from their wool; though he dazzled the eyes of the commonalty with the gems and gold he had obtained by barter, the governor was yet obdurate. He might as well have been old Pedrarias himself, so far as granting favors to the trio was concerned. While he was not vicious, nor crafty, he was cautious and incredulous, declaring that lives enough had been sacrificed already "by the cheap display of gold and silver toys and a few Indian sheep."

This was the truth, and was intended as a rebuke to Pizarro and his friends; but, unpalatable as it was to them, they resolved to make the most of that display until their object should have been accomplished. They had made three expeditions; but, while each one had penetrated farther than the one preceding, discovering something of importance until that time unknown, the diffusion of knowledge was not the object they had aimed at. For that alone they cared nothing; they desired to be recompensed for their outlay. As the governor would not consent to another venture, much less aid in it, they resolved, in conference, to appeal to a higher authority—in fact, to lay their cause before the King of Spain.

After a vast deal of discussion, during which the old jealousies flamed up anew between Almagro and Pizarro, at last it was determined that the latter should go to Spain with their project. Almagro could not go, for he himself realized that his very appearance would turn the face of royalty away from the scheme; the clerigo could not go because of his duties; thus it remained to Pizarro, who, all finally agreed, was the man for the venture. He had been the principal actor in the events that made up the substance of their presentment; he was, moreover, despite his lack of education and his many years in the forests, courtly and dignified. He had inherited from his father, old Gonzalo, the cavalier, that inborn dignity which is the peculiar attribute of the Spanish hidalgo. He was ignorant of letters, it is true, but in a rude way he was eloquent, and his confidence in himself was such that no court, king, or queen, could bring him to confusion.

So he was sent on the mission to Spain, Almagro and Luque assenting thereto; but the latter expressing his distrust of Pizarro, nevertheless, in a "left-handed compliment" at parting. "Please God," he is said to have remarked, "that you do not steal the blessing, one from the other, as Jacob did from Esau; but I would that you had gone together!" This was a pretty plain intimation to Pizarro that he had better walk in the straight and narrow path, and to Almagro that he might become the victim of a misplaced confidence.