Adventures and Conquests of Pizarro - George Towle

Thrilling Adventures of Gonzalo

Pizarro entered Cuzco with great pomp and magnificence. He had not been in the capital of the Incas since he had captured it; and, in the meantime, many momentous events had happened there. Now the Peruvians seemed once more crushed and disheartened. Almagro's revolt had been subdued: the old chief lay in his grave. It seemed as if there were now no obstacle in the way of Pizarro's absolute rule over the Inca's empire.

Amid the sounding of trumpets and the flying of banners, at the head of a brilliant array of soldiers, he marched through the streets, which still bore evidence of the great conflagration which had swept through them, to the great square. He was attired in a rich suit of velvet, which Cortez had sent him as a present; he wore a hat from which floated lofty plumes of various colors; on his fingers and breast jewels glittered; and although he was somewhat grizzled, and his face clearly betrayed the lines of care and advancing age, he still looked a valiant and stalwart knight.

His first task was to bring order out of the confusion which still existed at Cuzco, and to establish his government on a firm foundation. Resolved to suppress Almagro's party altogether, he seized their estates, and banished their principal chiefs from the city. It was necessary, too, that he should take measures to retain the goodwill of the Emperor Charles the Fifth, for whom he had conquered so vast a territory, and gained so valuable a treasure.

He accordingly ordered that a large quantity of gold and silver should be collected; and, when this was done, he dispatched his brother Hernando to Spain with it. Hernando set sail for Mexico, crossed that country, and proceeded home with the magnificent gift intended for the sovereign. Before leaving Pizarro, he had said to him,

"Beware of Almagro's men. I shall not be here to defend you. They are bitterly resolved upon revenge; and, if you do not keep strict watch, they will deal you a foul blow."

Had Pizarro heeded his brother's words, so earnestly spoken, he might have escaped the terrible fate which soon overtook him.

Meanwhile the Peruvians, who mourned the desolation and confusion into which their once happy country had been plunged by the Spaniards, began once more to be troublesome. The Inca Manco could not rest easy while his power and capital remained in the hands of the conquerors; and one day Pizarro was alarmed to hear that he had taken up a position, with a large force, in the mountains westward from the city.

No time must be lost in frustrating the Inca's hostile design: so Pizarro sent out his brother Gonzalo, at the head of a large body of troops, to oppose him.

Gonzalo was the sole own brother still left with Pizarro in Peru. Juan had been killed in the siege of Cuzco. Hernando was far on his way to Spain with the emperor's treasure. Alcantara, who remained, was only a half-brother. Gonzalo most of all resembled the conqueror. He was a bold cavalier, a skillful soldier, an admirable horseman, and had a cordial, off-hand way with bum, that endeared him to his followers. He was, besides, the handsomest of all the Pizarros; and his noble bearing and kindly manner made him a favorite both in court and camp.

But, with all his spirit and daring, Gonzalo did not succeed in overcoming or capturing the Inca. Every time he met him in the open field, Manco was routed; but he fled into the mountain fastnesses, whither Gonzalo could not follow him.

Then Pizarro sent envoys to the Inca to see if he could not make peace with him; but one of his messengers was murdered by the Peruvians, and Pizarro was forced to abandon his attempt.

During all this time, many colonies of Spaniards, from Panama and other settled places farther north, had been pouring into Peru. The stories of the conquest, of the wealth of the country, the fertility of the tropical fields, the excellent harbors, aroused the ambition and enterprise of hundreds, both at the Isthmus and in Spain itself; and large numbers hastened to avail themselves of the opening afforded by Pizarro's rule to go to the new possessions of their sovereign, and establish themselves in the towns and villages, both along the coast and in the interior. Many of the settlers married Peruvian women, and these were the ancestors of the "half-breeds" who are still so numerous in Peru.

Pizarro encouraged the newcomers, and heartily welcomed them to Peru. Returning to Lima, his beloved "City of the Kings," he once more devoted himself to the growth of that place, and to the planting of colonies in other parts of the country. Lima had grown in a short time as if by magic. It was now a busy, flourishing town, with many fine buildings, an imposing public square, a noble bridge, spacious quay's along the riverside, and regular streets stretching out in every direction, and growing longer and more thickly settled every week. Its inhabitants comprised both Spaniards and native Peruvians, the latter being in most cases the slaves and servants of the former.

The harbor of Callao, but a few miles from Lima, where the River Rimac flowed into the sea, was now gay with its fleets of ships anchored in the roadstead, and with the constant arrivals and departures. Trade was fast growing up between the young colonies and the isthmus. The ships brought provisions, arms, and clothing, and took back cargoes of gold, silver, and precious stones, wool, tropical spices, fruits, and vegetables. Pizarro founded a city, called Guamanga, half way between Cuzco and Lima, fortified it with strong walls, and built it of stone. He also established two other good-sized cities, one of which he called the "City of Silver," and the other "Arequipa," near the coast.

It gladdened the conqueror's heart to see these busy, thriving communities growing up around him. He was now growing old. His hair and beard, once of raven blackness, were grizzled; his swarthy face was lined with wrinkles; but his stalwart frame was as erect and noble in bearing as ever. He had taken as the companion of his later years a beautiful Peruvian girl, a daughter of the very Inca Atahualpa whom he had put to death; and he saw a family of young children growing up around him. Boundless wealth was now his. He lived in a stately palace which he had built for himself on the great square at Lima; and there he lived in pomp and luxury, surrounded by a multitude of guards and attendants, his apartments adorned with brilliant hangings and rich furniture, and his table provided with the daintiest dishes of Peru and the finest wines of Spain. Of his riches he was very lavish. He loved to accumulate gold, not to hoard it, but to spend it generously. He provided festivities for the people, and often displayed a royal pageantry before their eyes.

His power, too, seemed absolute. There were now so many Spaniards in Peru, so many strongly-fortified towns, and such complete armaments, that the natives were overawed; and there seemed to be no danger that the Inca, with all his hosts, could ever rid his country of the intruders. Pizarro gave laws to the whole empire. The emperor, on hearing of his conquest, had conferred upon him the title of Marquis; and thus the once shabby little runaway of Truxillo took his place among the haughty grandees of Spain, whose families had been of noble rank for centuries.

Pizarro enjoyed watching the growth of his colonies fully as much as he had gloried in the din and excitement of the battlefield. In every way he sought to promote the prosperity of the settlers. He caused cargoes of seeds to be brought from Europe, and distributed amongst them. He saw to it that the gold and silver mines were diligently worked, and thus made to increase rapidly the riches of the people. He sent out gangs of workmen to quarry stone, which served to build new towns; and, as fast as the new towns were founded, settlers flocked in to fill them up.

It was while Pizarro was engaged in these peaceful pursuits that he sent his brother Gonzalo on an expedition which proved to be one of the most romantic and perilous that the Spaniards had ever undertaken in Peru. Gonzalo, to his great joy, was appointed by his brother Governor of Quito, the northern kingdom which had been conquered by the Inca Huayna Capac shortly before Pizarro's arrival in Peru. At the same time, Pizarro told Gonzalo to take a large force across the Cordilleras, and make an excursion to the countries on the eastern side of the mountains. One of his objects was to try to find the cinnamon-groves, which, the Peruvians said, grew in great abundance beyond the giant range.

Gonzalo desired nothing better than to enter anew on a career of adventure. He was somewhat younger than Pizarro, and his daring spirit pined for the excitements of danger and conflict. Having got together a force consisting of two hundred foot-soldiers, one hundred and fifty horsemen, and four thousand Indians, he marched rapidly to the foot of the mountains, and began to creep up their rugged defiles.

Soon he and his companions began to suffer all the distresses incident to a wild and strange mountain region. They clambered painfully over the pathless crags, and through the dense, entangled forests. As they mounted higher and higher, they shivered with cold, which grew at every step more intense; until, near the summits, they struggled through the heaped-up snow, and across slopes of glaring ice. Scarcely had they begun to descend on the eastern side, when they were horrified by a tremendous shock, which cast many of them suddenly upon the ground. The mountain cracked, and then yawned open; and sulphurous flames burst through the fissures. It was a terrible earthquake, and every moment Gonzalo expected to be swallowed up with all his company. Escaping this peril, they descended the rugged slopes, to find themselves, below, overwhelmed with a heat as distressing as the cold had been above. Terrific tempests of thunder and lightning broke over their heads, and tornadoes swept across the slopes, which almost carried the adventurers off their feet.

To crown all, their provisions began to give out; nor, in the wild and desolate country in which they found themselves, could they find any food fit to assuage their hunger. They soon became so famished, that they killed and ate some dogs they had brought with them; and were finally reduced to chewing herbs and roots, and trying to digest the leather belts they wore around their waists. Gonzalo was on the point of giving up in despair, and retracing his steps as best he could to Peru, when some of the natives, whom his men had captured and brought to him, revived his spirits by telling him of a land full of gold, silver, and cinnamon, which lay some distance beyond. Plucking up his courage, and inspiring that of his men by the picture he drew of their coming good fortune, he once more pushed vigorously forward.

They ere long came to vast groves of cinnamon, and stripped off the aromatic bark with delight. But they could not take it with them, and were forced to be content with the discovery, leaving it to future expeditions to gather its fruits. They marched on and on; yet no such land of gold and plenty as had been reported to them rejoiced their eyes. At last they were relieved to come in sight of a broad, sweeping river, one of the largest the Spaniards had ever seen, called the "Napo." Here they hoped to find settlements, and a plenty of food. They struggled with difficulty along the banks, which were so overgrown with dense brush that they could scarcely break through it. Suddenly they came to a roaring cataract, where the waters of the river plunged headlong for hundreds of feet through an awful chasm; while below, as far as eye could reach, stretched out a series of boisterous rapids. Beyond these the river became more narrow; and here Gonzalo resolved to cross over to the other bank, in the hope that the way along it might be easier. But he found progress on that side quite as difficult. At last, seeing that many of his men were weary beyond endurance, and that it was almost impossible to carry all the baggage, the idea struck him to build a kind of boat with which to transport the weaker men and their burdens.

Timber was felled, and the shoes of the horses were beaten into rude nails; the gum of the trees served as pitch; and the torn coats of the soldiers were used to fill the seams in the rude vessel. It was soon finished, and ready to be launched upon the river.

Among Gonzalo's chief officers was one named Orellana, who had come from Truxillo, Pizarro's own town. Gonzalo placed the utmost confidence in this man, and confided to him the command of the boat. Having chosen the less hardy half of his force, he caused them to embark with the greater portion of the baggage; and, having ordered Orellana to proceed down the river so slowly that those on shore could keep up with the boat, Gonzalo marched with the rest along the bank.

Their hardships were far from over. Their provisions were now nearly exhausted; and the poor fellows were forced to chew the leather of their belts, and even to eat toads, lizards, and snakes, to keep themselves alive.

In this desperate situation Gonzalo would have turned back, had he not kept hearing that some distance ahead was a flourishing land, watered by a larger river than the Napo, into which the latter emptied. He finally made up his mind to go no farther, but to send Orellana forward with a small force to explore the country beyond, and bring him back word whether there really existed such a land as the natives told him of.

One morning the boat was pushed out into the rapid stream. Orellana was upon it, with fifty chosen soldiers. No sooner had the craft struck the current than it sped swiftly away, and soon disappeared in the distance.

Gonzalo and those who remained with him had nothing to do but to exist as well as they could, and await patiently Orellana's return. They spent much of their time in weary search after food, of which they could only find the most wretched and scanty supply. After a lapse of a week without any signs of Orellana, Gonzalo began to grow impatient. What could have become of the boat and its occupants? Day after day passed, and yet no boat appeared. The days lengthened into weeks, the weeks into months; and still Orellana did not return. Gonzalo's patience was at length exhausted. Calling together the miserable remnant of his force, he ordered them to resume their march. He resolved to go forward at least as far as the junction of the rivers. It was a terrible journey; and the adventurers suffered untold tortures of hunger, heat, and sickness, many of them dying in agony by the way. It took no less than two months for them to reach the place where the Napo emptied into the larger river. This larger river was the famous Amazon.

Here still they heard no news and saw no signs of Orellana. They found themselves in a wild and desolate region. And now a new danger threatened them from the ferocious savages whom they saw hovering in multitudes on the hills, and edges of the woods.

One day, as Gonzalo was sitting gloomily in the midst of his forlorn camp, he was astonished to see a gaunt, cadaverous-looking white man, his clothes hanging in tatters and strings about his body, come feebly creeping out of the forest. The man was so weak and thin, that he could scarcely drag himself forward. Several of Gonzalo's soldiers hurried up to him, and, supporting him with their arms, brought him to the captain.

"Who are you?" exclaimed Gonzalo, looking earnestly at him. "And how came you, a white man, a Spaniard, in this desolate wilderness?"

I am Sanchez de Vargas," replied the man faintly; a cavalier and a soldier, though you see me in this sad plight."

"Ah! I know you well, poor cavalier. You are one of those who went with Orellana. Tell me," added Gonzalo, rising in his eagerness, and peering into the man's face, "where is Orellana?"

"Give me food and drink," returned Vargas, "and let me rest upon this bank, and I will tell you."

Gonzalo Pizarro


Having voraciously swallowed such miserable fare as the camp still provided, Vargas, reclining wearily upon the sward, told the story of Orellana's adventures, and revealed to Gonzalo the dismal news of what had become of him.

"We sailed very rapidly down the river," said he, "and reached this place, the junction of the rivers, in three days. But, when we had got here, we found the country savage and unfruitful, as you see. We were almost in despair. Our food gave out, and we thought we should all starve to death. Then Orellana called the chief officers together, and told them what he had resolved to do. It was useless, he said, to try to get back to Gonzalo again. The current was against us, and we could never reach the place from which we started. Orellana therefore declared that he had made up his mind to continue straight on down the river to the ocean, to cross the Atlantic, and roach Spain! I cried out earnestly against this, and told him how perfidious it would be to leave you and your comrades in this wilderness to die of hunger or of the poisoned shafts of the savages. But Orellana grew very angry with me, and, telling me that I should not go with him, embarked on board the boat with the rest, and sailed away on the great river, leaving me here to starve."

Gonzalo's blood ran cold as he heard of Orellana's base treachery and desertion. Ere this, no doubt, the miscreant had reached the ocean, and was on his way to Europe. No hope remained that he would return, and save them from what seemed their impending doom.

The sequel of Orellana's voyage may be told here. After escaping many dangers, he at last traversed the whole length of the Amazon. He launched boldly out upon the waters of the Atlantic, and succeeded in reaching Spain. There he told wonderful stories of what he had seen and heard of the lands through which he had passed, and, resolved to make the most of his discoveries, easily persuaded a force of five hundred men to return with him to the banks of the Amazon. But he died on the way out; and his followers, disheartened, returned to their native country.

Nothing remained for Gonzalo, after it became certain that he should not see Orellana again, but to turn his face westward, and make his way back, if possible, over the desolate country and the perilous range of the Cordilleras, to Quito. At first his soldiers, on learning his decision, were in despair. But Gonzalo had all his brother's power of persuasion. The soldiers loved him; for he always shared their every hardship, and was gentle and indulgent with their faults. He held out to them the prospect of returning to home and comfort, and perhaps riches, so temptingly, that their murmurs soon ceased, and they asked nothing better than that he should lead them back.

The trials and difficulties with which the party had to contend on their homeward march may be judged, when it is said that they were more than a year returning to the land of Quito. No peril or distress known to adventure was spared them. Often they were forced to fight for their lives against hordes of swarthy and half-naked savages, who burst suddenly upon them in the densely-wooded ravines, or dashed down upon them from behind sheltering boulders. Many a Spaniard and Peruvian fell wounded and poisoned by their envenomed arrows, and lay writhing in agony till death released them. Nor were the savages their only assailants. Wild beasts howled about their camp at night, and now and then leaped from the boughs or the jungles upon them, tearing their victims limb from limb. Now they were horrified to hear the ominous rumbling under the earth which betokened an earthquake; and stood still with terror as they saw great fissures crack in the ground, puffing forth sulphurous smoke and flame. Terrific tempests burst upon them in places where they could find no shelter from the unwonted violence of the wind and rain. Their clothes rotted and hung in rags upon their emaciated, half-fed bodies; their arms rusted in their hands. For want of food, they suffered day by day, and week by week. They ate everything that they could chew, however noisome and unsavory. Even their belts and knapsacks had become exhausted with much frantic chewing; and they were at last so woefully reduced, that they struggled fiercely with each other over a toad or a snake, as if it were a delicious morsel.

Of course the poor creatures died by the hundred of hunger, disease, and very weariness. Some were killed by sunstroke in the plains; others were frozen to death by the bitter winds of the mountain heights.

When Gonzalo led his forlorn party down the sunny slopes that led to Quito, there were scarcely two thousand Peruvians left of the four thousand he had led over the Cordilleras. Of the three hundred and fifty Spaniards, only eighty survived to tell the shocking story of their sufferings. As the people came out of Quito to greet their return, wives and children, searching eagerly in the gaunt and feeble band for husbands and fathers, failed to recognize them when they saw them, so horribly had their forms and features changed. But the poor fellows were glad enough to get home again, to sit in their houses, and receive the loving care of their families; and almost all who returned survived their hardships, and were restored to health.

But Gonzalo, who had now been away for more than two years, and had not heard a word of news since his departure, was overwhelmed with horror and grief by an event which had taken place during his absence, and which seemed to have completely changed the fortunes of the family of Pizarro. A crushing misfortune had overtaken them, which, it appeared, no energy or courage could retrieve.