Adventures and Conquests of Pizarro - George Towle

The Inca's Doom

The broad square presented, next morning, a most dismal aspect. The bodies of the massacred Peruvians, in all their gay attire, lay strewn over the grass, or piled up in ghastly heaps under the bright rays of the sun. At least two thousand of the Inca's nobles and soldiers were stretched out there, the victims of Pizarro's snare, martyrs to their loyalty.

It was no light task to clear the square of its dreary burden. The Peruvian prisoners were brought out under guard, and compelled to dig pits, and to bury their dead countrymen in them; while the poor Inca looked mournfully on from the window of his prison.

Pizarro knew that no time must be lost in following up his bloody triumph. He dispatched a force of thirty horsemen to the camp where Atahualpa had awaited his coming, three miles away, to disperse the remains of the Peruvian army, and seize such plunder as they could.

Though these cavaliers were so few, they found their work an easy one. The camp was in the wildest confusion. There yet remained thousands of Peruvian troops,—enough to have annihilated Pizarro and all his men, could they have rallied and attacked him. But they had lost their chief, their valiant monarch. There was no one to lead them; and such was their terror at what had taken place, that they thought of nothing but flight.

The Spaniards captured many prisoners, among them a number of women, some of whom were wives of the Inca. They also took a great quantity of sheep which had been collected to feed the Inca's army. But what most dazzled and delighted Pizarro was the amount of treasure they brought in.

In the Inca's pavilion they had found riches beyond their expectations. Massive gold plates, jars, cups and ornamental basins, necklaces, rings and bracelets, and many large, brilliant emeralds, were gathered, and laid by the cavaliers at Pizarro's feet. This was only a foretaste of the wealth he was destined to discover.

Pizarro was puzzled what to do with the great number of Peruvian prisoners that had been taken. He could not carry them with him, nor could he spare any of his men to stay behind and guard them. So he ordered his soldiers to choose such prisoners as they liked, to act as their servants; and the rest of the Peruvians he set free, to return to their homes. Some of the more brutal of his soldiers wished to slaughter them all, or at least to cut off their hands, and thus render them unable to fight; but Pizarro sternly reproved them, and declared that he would not be guilty of such cruelty.

So many sheep were brought in, that after killing as many as his army could eat, and as could be preserved, he let the rest loose on the mountains. Although he was eager to continue his conquest, Pizarro remained some time at Caxamalca, in order to rest his men, and to make every preparation for a vigorous campaign. He hoped too, to receive re-enforcements from St. Michael, and perhaps from Panama; for he lost no time in sending home the news of his amazing victory. Meanwhile he employed the time in strengthening the fortifications of Caxamalca, and in erecting a church there, with a view to settling it as a Spanish colony.

He availed himself of this period to converse often with his royal prisoner, and to try to reconcile him to his lot. Atahualpa's spirits, after the first few days, somewhat revived. He learned to speak Spanish very quickly; and Pizarro taught him to play chess and cards, which the poor captive seemed to enjoy very much.

The Inca also betrayed a great deal of enthusiasm in learning to read and write Spanish. He was puzzled to know whether the Spaniards were able to read by instinct, or whether they had to learn as he did. So he one day asked a soldier who was guarding him to write the word "God" on his thumbnail; and, when the soldier had done so, Atahualpa went around and showed it to the other soldiers, and asked them to read it. He was surprised to hear them all read it alike. Pizarro happened to come in at this moment; and the Inca ran to him and held up his thumb, and begged Pizarro to read it too. Pizarro looked at the word, colored up, and at last was forced to own that he could not read. After this the Inca seemed to regard him with less respect and awe than before.

On another occasion, when Pizarro and his royal captive were sitting at the door of their quarters, Atahualpa became very talkative, and gave Pizarro a long account of what had happened in recent years in Peru. He told Pizarro about his father Huayna Capac's wars; how he and his brother Huascar had quarreled; and how it came to pass that he, and not Huascar, was reigning over the empire. Then, after sitting silent for some time in deep thought, the Inca said,—

"If you will let me go free, commander, I will not only deliver my brother Huascar into your hands, but I will give you gold enough to half fill a large room: you shall have vases and jars, and bars of gold, piled ten feet high. And I will do yet more: you shall have silver enough to fill a large chamber twice over."

"How soon can you do this?"

"In two months' time."

"Whence will you obtain all this wealth?"

"At my capital of Cuzco, many leagues away."

"How long will it take your messengers to go thither?"

"When they are sent on important errands, they run from village to village, and could reach Cuzco in fifteen days."

"Very well: if you do as you say, you shall be free."

The Inca sprang joyfully to his feet, and beckoned to a Peruvian who was standing near.

"Hasten to Cuzco," said he, speaking rapidly, "and order my chief men there to send two thousand men hither, bearing all the gold and silver they can carry."

The Peruvian started at once; and soon was seen trotting along the highway, and disappearing at the turning of the road.

Although the Inca was kept a prisoner, Pizarro permitted him to have his wives to keep him company, and his servants to wait upon him. When his nobles came to visit him, they were freely admitted to his presence; and Pizarro observed that they came before their captive sovereign with the same ceremonies of awe and reverence to which the Inca was accustomed when in his glory.

It may be remembered that Atahualpa, not long before Pizarro's arrival in Peru, had defeated and captured his elder brother, the Inca Huascar, and had caused him to be shut up in a distant fortress.

As soon as Huascar heard of Pizarro's victory, he contrived to send a message to him, that, if the Spaniards would set him free, he would give them twice as much gold and silver as Atahualpa had promised. Unfortunately for him, Atahualpa, who mortally feared his brother's release, somehow heard of this offer, and resolved that Huascar should be put to death. He was still more alarmed when Pizarro declared that he would have Huascar brought before him, and would decide between the brothers.

Atahualpa accordingly sent secret orders in all haste to some of his nobles to kill Huascar; and, as they were bringing him on the road to Caxamalca, Huascar was suddenly seized near a river and hurled into the deep and rapid stream, and he sank screaming into its waters.

Pizarro was enraged when he heard this, and swore to himself that he would visit this crime upon Atahualpa's own head. It was not so much that the rough Spanish cavalier was shocked by the enormity of the deed as that it gave him an excuse to deal with the captive Inca as he pleased.

In due time, the treasure promised by Atahualpa as his ransom began to arrive; and the eyes of the Spaniards sparkled with avarice as they saw the glittering heaps of golden plate, the ewers and basins and vases, and bars of the pure precious metal, so heavy that it took three or four men to lift them.

"It is indeed," they exclaimed, "a land of gold! We shall return laden with riches. Let us hasten and complete the conquest of this wonderful empire!"

Pizarro was as eager as the rest to push on; but, before doing so, he thought it wise that the country beyond should be explored. Rumors had reached him of the gathering of a Peruvian army, with the intent to attack him, and rescue the Inca; and, with his little force, it was, above all, important to run as few risks as possible.

So he sent out his brother Hernando on an expedition southward to explore the country, find out if there were any evidences of resistance, gather what treasure he could, and see what the disposition of the people was.

Hernando took with him twenty horsemen and as many foot-soldiers, and, finding broad and even high-roads, marched rapidly through the land as far as a great town called Pachacamac, where he found a splendid temple erected to a great Peruvian deity of the same name. Everywhere on the way he was received with a friendly welcome that amazed him. Sometimes the Peruvian villagers would come out to meet him, singing and dancing, and playing upon curious instruments; sometimes, he found banquets already spread, with which to regale him and his comrades. Nowhere was there the least sign of hostility to his advance.

Arriving at Pachacamac, Hernando marched straight to the great temple of which he had heard so much; and the simple natives trembled with horror to see the Spaniards tramp boldly into the sacred edifice, tear down the image of their god, and shatter it to pieces on the pavement. This Hernando did because he professed to be horrified by the idolatry of the Peruvians, and wished to show them how easily a Christian could destroy their most dread deities.

Having found, to his sore disappointment, that the treasures of Pachacamac, which had lured him thither, had been hurriedly removed and hidden by the priests, he resumed his march, and, crossing the Cordilleras, reached another famous place, called Xauxa.

On this march Hernando was more and more amazed at every step to find how abundant were gold and silver in Peru. While crossing the mountains, some of the horses lost their shoes; and as Hernando found no iron, but plenty of silver, he had silver shoes made for them.

He had scarcely arrived at Xauxa, which proved to be a large and prosperous town, when he heard that a great Peruvian general, named Challcuchima, with no less than thirty-five thousand men, was encamped a few miles distant. This news was alarming; but Hernando Pizarro was as brave and bold as his brother, and he promptly sent to the general, and asked him to visit him at Xauxa. This Challcuchima did; and so far from thinking of attacking the Spaniards, even with his large force, he allowed Hernando to persuade him to return with him, and visit the captive sovereign at Caxamalca.

Callcuchima was a noble, soldierly-looking old man, with flowing white hair, and a stalwart, erect frame. As he passed with Hernando Pizarro along the broad high-road that led from Xauxa to Caxamalca, borne on a high litter, and surrounded by a numerous array of attendants, the simple people crowded by the roadside, and greeted him with the respect and awe due to his high military rank. It was evident that he was one of the chief men of Peru.

It seems strange that so powerful and brave a general should consent to leave a force of thirty-five thousand men, and submissively follow a mere handful of Spaniards to a place where the captors of his sovereign were in command. But it must be remembered that all Peru was panic-stricken by Pizarro's bold stratagem and miraculous success. The people looked upon the Spaniards, who had so easily overcome the Child of the Sun, as beings more than human. Their terrible weapons, their horses, those monsters upon which they rode, appeared to prove that they were a higher order of beings. This terror and fright extended throughout the empire, and for a while paralyzed all resistance.

The march back to Caxamalca was made rapidly and without obstacle. Hernando hastened to tell his brother of the wonderful things he had seen; of the submission of the people everywhere; of the shattering of the idol at Pachacamac; of the abundance of gold, silver, and gems which he had found at every turn; and of his success in bringing Callcuchima, the ablest of the Inca's generals, back with him.

The interview between the captive Inca and his faithful old warrior was very touching. Before entering the presence of his unhappy sovereign, Callcuchima reverentially took off his shoes, uncovered his gray head, and placed a bundle on his back. Approaching the Inca, he prostrated himself on the ground, and humbly kissed the royal feet and hands. Then raising his hands aloft, as the tears streamed down his wrinkled cheeks, he exclaimed with a sob,—

"Ah, would that I had been here! then this great misfortune would never have happened."

The Inca, however, betrayed no emotion. He greeted the old soldier calmly, and, after a brief interview, dismissed him with a haughty wave of his hand. This was the way in which he thought it fitting to treat all, even the highest, of his subjects; and the fact of his being a captive in no way altered either their abject obeisance or his proud demeanor.

While Hernando was marching to Pachacamac and back, Pizarro sent another expedition in a different direction. All the treasure that Atahualpa had promised had not arrived, and Pizarro was resolved to lose no portion of the booty. So, demanding of the Inca a safe-conduct, he dispatched three cavaliers, who were accompanied by the Inca's brother, to Cuzco, the capital of Peru, to hasten the sending forward of the ransom, and to observe and report what they saw on the way and in the city.

Soon after Hernando's arrival, these cavaliers also returned. They had fully as marvelous a tale to tell as Hernando. Thanks to the Inca's orders to his people, they had everywhere been received with honor and hospitality. The great road to Cuzco they described as a wonder of engineering science; and they had been carried over it, almost the entire way,—a distance of six hundred miles,—in chairs on the shoulders of the natives. They had passed through many large, handsome, flourishing towns; and on their arrival at Cuzco they had been welcomed with feasts and sports, and had been luxuriously lodged in a splendid palace. They described Cuzco in the most glowing colors. They declared that the walls of the Temple of the Sun were actually plated with massive gold, and that they themselves had taken from it no less than seven hundred golden plates.

These cavaliers, indeed, brought back from Cuzco an immense quantity of gold and silver, which they had taken, despite the feeble resistance of the natives, from the temples and convents. Their story, and the fresh evidences they produced of the incalculable wealth of Peru, only whetted the cupidity of the Spaniards the more, and made them more than ever eager to complete the conquest of the country.

Just about the time of the return of Hernando and the cavaliers, an event occurred which was destined to have a powerful influence on Pizarro's future career in Peru.

Almagro, Pizarro's friend at Panama, had heard rumors of his earlier successes, and had at last managed to raise a force of a hundred and fifty men. With these he hurriedly set sail from Panama, and after a stormy voyage, in which he and his men were nearly lost, succeeded in reaching the little colony of St. Michael, which, as we have seen, Pizarro had planted. There he heard the thrilling story of the Inca's defeat and capture.

This news filled Almagro with impatience to reach Caxamalca, and share Pizarro's splendid fortune. If the truth must be told, Almagro had long suspected that Pizarro did not intend to give him his due portion of the plunder and power of the conquest. He feared that the commander's real purpose was to reap all its fruits for himself; and for this doubt he seems to have had only too good reason.

Pizarro was surprised, when, one day, his old friend marched into Caxamalca at the head of a hundred and fifty foot-soldiers and fifty cavalrymen, the latter having joined him on the way.

Pizarro welcomed Almagro with a most cordial greeting, and was delighted to see his little army increased by so goodly a force of stalwart Spaniards. It was whispered in his ear, indeed, that Almagro had really come, not to aid him, but to compel him to divide his authority and his treasure. But Pizarro paid but little heed to this warning; and, establishing Almagro in the best quarters Caxamalca afforded, he began at once to concert with him plans for advancing to Cuzco, and taking full possession of Peru.

A most pleasant task remained to be fulfilled before they left Caxamalca. This was to divide up the great mass of treasure which had been collected as the ransom of the Inca. Several of the buildings in the great square were heaped up and filled with this treasure. It consisted of a great variety of articles of gold and silver. There were not only goblets, basins, vases, table-plate, utensils, the golden slabs that had paneled the walls of the temples, and the heavy golden bars which had formed their cornices, but solid golden fountains, and birds, vegetables, and fruits carved in the precious metal.

In order to divide these dazzling riches, it was necessary to melt them all down into square ingots, or bars; and when this had been done, and the whole had been weighed, it was found that the value of the gold in possession of the Spaniards was about what the stupendous sum of fifteen millions of dollars is at the present time! The silver amounted also to a very considerable sum.

The division of the spoils was then made with the most solemn ceremony. First, a fifth of the whole was deducted and set apart for Pizarro's sovereign, the Emperor Charles V., which Hernando Pizarro was ordered to carry for him to Spain. Then Pizarro received the principal share, which in itself was a large fortune, besides the massive throne of gold on which Atahualpa had been brought to Caxamalca. Next came Hernando, De Soto, and the other principal cavaliers, whose shares were much less than that of Pizarro, but were nevertheless very large. The rest of the spoil was divided among the cavalry, infantry, and other Spaniards, various sums having been set apart for the Christian church established at Caxamalca, and for the little colony of St. Michael.

Almagro and his soldiers, not having taken part thus far in the conquest, did not share equally with the others; but a goodly amount was nevertheless divided among them. The good priest Luque, Pizarro's and Almagro's partner in the expedition, had died at Panama; and his share was, therefore, absorbed by the others.

The Inca had now fulfilled his promise, and paid his full ransom. He therefore eagerly demanded his liberty. But Pizarro, with many brave and good qualities, was unscrupulous. Though he had solemnly agreed to set Atahualpa free on payment of the ransom, he now refused to do so. His excuse was, that it would be dangerous to let the Inca depart, lest he should assemble an army, arouse his empire, and fall upon the Spaniards and destroy them.

A rumor now reached Pizarro's ears, which made him more than ever determined not to release the Inca, and which gave rise to a yet darker project in the conqueror's mind.

He learned that the Peruvians were rapidly mustering and preparing to attack him, and that these preparations were being made by the secret orders of the Inca himself. A Peruvian noble, who desired to win Pizarro's friendship, came to him stealthily one night, and said,—

Atahualpa has sent to Quito and other provinces, with orders to collect troops and march against you, and kill you all. The army is now very near this place. It will come at night, and attack and set fire to the camp. There are two hundred thousand men in this army, and thirty thousand Caribs besides, who eat human flesh."

Pizarro at once summoned the captive Inca to his presence; and, when Atahualpa with grave and gloomy countenance appeared, he exclaimed, "What is this treason you have done to me? I have treated you with honor and indulgence, and have been a brother to you; and you now betray my trust."

"Why do you laugh at me?" responded the Inca with a disdainful smile. "When you speak to me, you are always joking. What am I, and all my people, that we should trouble such valiant men as you are? Do not speak such folly to me."

Pizarro, however, was by no means convinced of Atahualpa's innocence: besides, he needed some such excuse as the rumors of an attack afforded to still keep the Inca a close prisoner.

Every precaution was taken to prevent a surprise. Reports kept coming in of a Peruvian rising, and the Spaniards held themselves ready to repel an assault on their camp at an instant's warning. The guard was doubled; the soldiers slept on their arms; and De Soto was sent to reconnoiter the country in the direction where the hostile force was supposed to be gathering.

A great clamor now rose in the camp against the poor Inca. The officers and soldiers loudly demanded that he should be put to death, and this demand was warmly seconded by Almagro and the newcomers. At first Pizarro warmly resisted it. He called to mind his solemn promise made to Atahualpa to set him free when the ransom was paid. But he found the camp, with very few exceptions, united against him. The Spaniards swore that the Inca should be killed, even if it were done by stealth. They declared that he was the cause of their present peril, and that so long as he lived there would be no safety.

Pizarro finally found himself compelled to yield to the ferocious clamor of his comrades. He reluctantly consented that the Inca should be tried on the charges of inciting an attack by his subjects upon the Spaniards, and of having caused his brother Huascar to be assassinated.

The trial was a very brief one; for the cause of the unfortunate Atahualpa was already lost, and his doom sealed. Then came the moment for passing sentence upon him.

The Inca sat on a bench in the square before his relentless judges, Pizarro and Almagro; while a group of soldiers formed a circle around them.

Here and there in the group might have been seen a Peruvian, in the curious dress of his country, looking on eagerly, though he could understand little of what was going forward. The Inca's eyes were cast on the ground. He had quite lost heart, and felt but too sure what would be his fate; yet he preserved the same serenity and dignity that he was wont to hold in the midst of his gorgeous court.

Despite the protests of a few of the Spaniards, he was found guilty, and was sentenced, as a heathen, to be burned in the center of the square.

For a moment Atahualpa seemed overcome by the decision of his judges. Tears rolled slowly down his swarthy cheeks; and, turning to Pizarro, he said in a beseeching tone,—

"What have I done to be doomed to such a fate?—and from you too, who have been befriended and welcomed by my subjects, and with whom I have shared my riches! Even I, the once mighty Inca of Peru, implore you to spare my life."

Pizarro blushed, and turned away. Even his stern heart was reproved and melted. But his resolve was not shaken.

The sun had gone down, and it was quite dark, when the Inca, chained hand and foot, was slowly led from his quarters to the center of the square. Once more his face was calm, and his bearing proud and kingly. At this last moment he disdained to show emotion, or to plead again for life and liberty. He stepped as firmly and with as much dignity as if he had been leading a procession to the Temple of the Sun.

The square, lit up by flickering torches which were held by lines of soldiers ranged around it, presented a weird and awe-striking scene.

The Inca reached the fatal stake, to which he was securely bound; and the fagots were piled around him till they reached his waist.

At this moment the monk Vicente advanced, and urged Atahualpa to renounce idolatry, and become a Christian.

"If you do this," said the monk, "you will not be burned, but will be strangled, and thus die like a Christian."

The Inca hesitated a moment, and then sorrowfully bowed his head as a sign that he consented. The monk hastily performed the ceremony of baptism, and, raising his hands aloft, called upon Heaven to have mercy upon the Inca's soul.



Then a noose was drawn around the Inca's neck, attached to a stick behind. Atahualpa raised his dark eyes to the firmament, and clasped his hands tightly. The stick to which the noose was attached was suddenly twisted: a spasm shot through the noble frame of the Peruvian monarch, and in another instant his head dropped upon his breast.

Atahualpa was no more.