Adventures and Conquests of Pizarro - George Towle

Pizarro's Second Venture

Soon after his arrival at Chuchama, Pizarro learned with surprise that his friend Almagro, alarmed for his safety, had shortly before set sail with seventy men to traverse the southern seas in search of him. The ships, it seems, had passed, but missed each other; and now Almagro Was doubtless wandering up and down the coast of South America in despair at not finding those for whom he was seeking.

Pizarro wisely refrained from putting himself in the jealous Pedrarias's power. He remained quietly where he was, and awaited, as patiently as he could, Almagro's return. After several "weeks, he was rejoiced to see the welcome sails of his friend's ship in the distance. Almagro entered the harbor, cast anchor, and was soon locked in Pizarro's embrace.

He had a tale of startling adventure and strange vicissitude to tell. In the course of his voyage he had landed at several points on the coast, where he had found traces of Pizarro's presence; and at the place where Pizarro had fought with the Indians, narrowly escaping with his life, Almagro had also engaged them in a terrific combat, in the course of which a dart had entered one of his eyes, and put it out.

Almagro had, moreover, sailed a considerable distance farther southward than Pizarro. He had entered the mouth of a beautiful river, and found himself in a country which seemed a perfect fairy-land. Here he had taken a great quantity of gold ornaments from the terrified natives, and had brought back with him a precious cargo, which made Pizarro's eyes glisten when Almagro displayed it to him.

The friends, delighted with the discoveries they had already made, and certain, that, beyond the farthest places they had visited, there lay a country teeming with gold and gems, resolved on the spot that they would lose no time, and shrink from no sacrifice, in fitting out another and larger expedition.

But in the ill-nature and jealousy of Pedrarias, the governor, they had a very serious obstacle to overcome. When Almagro went to Panama, and besought his consent and aid, Pedrarias replied with a dark frown,—

"No: I will not permit you to go on any more fools' errands. You have lost men, and exhausted supplies; and all you have brought back are a few pitiful trinkets. Your golden country is a dream. I need all the men I can enlist for more solid enterprises. You must abandon your crazy project."

Almagro was in despair. He hastened to his good friend, the priest Luque, and told him what Pedrarias had said.

"Cheer up," said Luque in a voice that restored confidence to Almagro's sinking heart. "All is not yet lost. I will myself go to Pedrarias, and will find means to wring from him, not only his consent, but his assistance."

The next day Luque returned to Almagro with an exultant expression in his face.

"Victory!" he cried. "We have won! Pedrarias no longer refuses his aid. Now to buy ships, raise men, collect money, and be off once more for the southern seas!"

Pizarro, meanwhile, was still at Chuchama with the fifty men who had survived the first expedition. Almagro hastened to him with the good news. The faithful Luque lost no time in procuring sufficient funds. Two ships, larger and more stanch than those used before, were purchased, and speedily stored; and Almagro succeeded in enlisting a force of a hundred and ten stalwart Spaniards, one and all eager to try their fortunes in the new venture.

Just before the ships were ready to set sail, the three friends made a solemn contract among themselves. They agreed to divide equally all the lands that might be conquered, and all the treasures that might be acquired by the expedition. This contract was confirmed by an imposing religious ceremony, which was witnessed by a great concourse of people.

It was in the spring of 1526 that the two vessels, one commanded by Pizarro and the other by Almagro, set out upon their dangerous voyage. Every heart on board beat high with eager hope, and the spirits of all were cheered by the soft and favorable breezes that sped them rapidly southward. Pizarro was full of courage and confidence as the ships ploughed the waters of the Pacific, and more than ever believed that his perseverance would soon be crowned with great good fortune.

As there was no object to be gained by casting anchor at the several places which Pizarro had visited on his first expedition, they steered directly for the River of San Juan, the farthest point southward reached by Almagro.

Here Pizarro gave the order to put in. Landing his soldiers, he attacked a native hamlet which he espied on a neighboring hill, and succeeded in seizing not only a number of golden trinkets, but several stalwart young savages. These he regarded as valuable captives; for he foresaw that they would be useful to him as guides and interpreters. They submitted to be taken on board ship, and stared about them, when they had got there, with an air of complete stupefaction.

Pizarro saw every evidence about him that the country on the borders of which he had landed both abounded with treasure, and was thickly inhabited by, a warlike race. With his little force of one hundred and sixty men, however, though they were trained and brave soldiers, and were supplied with fire-arms, he could not venture to cope with the hordes of even undisciplined Indians of whom his scouts brought in such formidable stories.

He resolved, therefore, that Almagro should return in his ship to Panama for more soldiers, while he himself made his headquarters on the banks of the San Juan. At the same time he thought it prudent that his trusty pilot Ruiz should take the other ship, and reconnoiter the coast still farther southward.

Almagro and Ruiz accordingly put to sea again, soon parting, and going their different ways.

Left alone in the strange land, surrounded by barbarians whose movements were anything but friendly, with a supply of provisions which would not last very long, Pizarro could not, nevertheless, wait idly for the return of his comrades. He made the most of his time by leading excursions into the interior, ascertaining as well as he could the character of the country, and the numbers and degree of intelligence of the natives.

Many of these excursions proved dismal and dangerous. He was forced to penetrate through forests where it was almost as dark as night; he found himself often in dark ravines, and then in densely tangled marshes; and, as he ascended now and then a precipitous hill, he beheld the towering crests of the Cordilleras forming an impassable barrier before him. As the soldiers trudged with difficulty over the rough crags or among the brambles, they would be stung by huge snakes, and would fall dying in intense agony in the path of their companions; while sometimes they were ferociously assailed by savage bands, and only escaped with the loss of several of their number.

Then their provisions gave out, and they were obliged to live on wild cocoanuts and bitter mangroves; and, to add to their tortures, they were attacked by dense swarms of large mosquitoes, which covered them with excruciating bites, and compelled them, for want of a better protection, to bury themselves up to their chins in the sand.

No wonder that the courage even of the bravest sank, and that they loudly bewailed their miserable plight and their folly at leaving home to meet with such unparalleled suffering. But once more Pizarro betrayed the heroism of his nature. By his unfaltering spirits and patience, and his tact in dealing with his men, he soothed their anger, and banished their despair, until the welcome sails of Ruiz's ship appeared in sight, and brought succor and new reason to hope for brilliant triumphs.

Ruiz made their hearts thrill with the story of his adventures southward of the San Juan. He had found countries better cultivated than any they had hitherto seen, and natives much more civilized than those by whom they were surrounded. He had seen Indian vessels, rude, to be sure, when compared with Spanish caravels, but so well built as to show that the inhabitants had some knowledge of the art of navigation. The people, too, whom he found in the boats, wore woolen cloths of delicate texture, worked in many colors; and they had balances with which to weigh gold, silver, and gems. He had contrived to approach and talk with these natives, and they had given him tempting pictures of the lands that lay between the ocean and the mountains, of the sides of the hills covered with sheep, of the towns adorned by stately temples and palaces, and of the broad roads that extended for many leagues across the country.

That there might be no doubt of what he said, Ruiz had brought with him several Indians, who were very quick and intelligent, and by vivacious signs and gestures confirmed to Pizarro what his faithful pilot had narrated.

Pizarro's longing for the return of Almagro was soon satisfied; for Ruiz had not been back many days, before the other ship, coming from Panama, made its appearance, and was greeted with the liveliest demonstrations of joy.

Almagro had made a prosperous voyage to the isthmus, and brought back with him a force of eighty men, some of whom had just arrived from Spain eager for adventure and conquest. On arriving at Panama he had found Pedrarias gone, and a new governor, named Don Pedro de los Rios, in his place. Fortunately, this new governor did not have Pedrarias's jealous and grasping disposition. He aided Almagro in recruiting his soldiers and re-provisioning his ship, and sent him away with cordial good wishes.

It was without regret that Pizarro and his comrades left the place where they had suffered so much, and with gay hearts they once more set sail. The ships took a southerly course; and it seemed probable that at last the brave Spaniards were on the point of achieving a really great success.

But misfortune seemed to pursue Pizarro at every step. If he escaped one peril, he speedily encountered another. No sooner did he begin to rejoice at his triumph over one obstacle than a new difficulty presented itself.

Having survived the danger of famine and massacre, it was now the turn of the tempest to threaten him with destruction. The ships had only been at sea a few days when they were assailed by violent gales, and contrary winds made their progress slow and labored. Then storms of terrific fury burst upon them in quick succession, making it absolutely necessary that they should seek the shelter of some port.

Happily, Ruiz had already explored that part of the ocean, and one day recognized an island where he had staid several days. He assured Pizarro that it possessed a good harbor: whereupon the captain ordered the ships to run into it. At this island, which was named Gallo, they remained a fortnight; after which, the storms subsiding, they continued to sail until they reached a bay on the coast, which Pizarro called the Bay of St. Matthew, having arrived there on the day of that saint.

They did not stop long in this bay, but, keeping on their way down the coast, were delighted to observe that the country bordering on the ocean gave constantly-increasing evidences of cultivation and thrift.

One bright morning, as the ships were skimming over a rippling sea, Pizarro espied on the shore a large village, with better houses and a more civilized aspect than any he had before seen. There were regular streets, and the Indians whom he espied passing to and fro fairly glittered with golden ornaments. The natives on board told him that the name of the town was Tacamez, a famous place in those parts; and that the pretty winding river that flowed just beyond abounded in large and beautiful emeralds.

Had Pizarro been familiar with the geography of the region he was traversing, he would have been rejoiced to know that he was now on the very borders of the Peruvian Empire; but he was feeling his way, and was really ignorant that he was so near the goal of his ambition.

His first impulse was to land. Just as he had done so with a force of soldiers, a great multitude of natives, armed with javelins and bows and arrows, rushed down towards the shore, and gathered close together in hostile array. His situation was now extremely perilous. It seemed as if he and his men must speedily be annihilated. An amusing accident, however, saved them.

Among his soldiers were several who were on horseback. Now, the Indians had never seen a horse, and supposed the rider and his horse to be one animal. A soldier happened to fall off his steed; and this so amazed and frightened the savages, who thus saw the animal appear to divide in two pieces, that they retreated in all haste to the town.

But Pizarro was convinced that, even now, his force was not large enough to struggle with such formidable numbers of savages as, it was clear, inhabited the country. He therefore proposed to Almagro that he himself should return to Panama for re-enforcements.

For the first time the friends angrily disagreed. Almagro declared that he would not remain while Pizarro went back; and Pizarro hotly upbraided Almagro for always wishing to leave him behind, to suffer the miseries of those strange regions, while Almagro himself went to Panama. The dispute became so bitter that the two captains were on the point of striking each other, when Ruiz and the treasurer Ribera interposed and pacified them.

At last Pizarro yielded; and it was decided that he should remain, and that Almagro should return for more men. The Island of Gallo, which they had already visited, was selected as the refuge of Pizarro and his comrades; and this decision was announced to the men.

A great clamor at once arose among them. Many were disheartened and discouraged by their past hardships, and declared that they would not again stay to become the prey of famine and of the poisoned arrows of the savages. They at last seemed to be pacified, however; and Almagro set sail.

It happened that several of the soldiers, finding that they could not openly escape, secretly wrote letters to their friends in Panama, describing their miseries, and concealed these letters in some bales of cotton which Almagro carried with him. When Almagro arrived at Panama, these letters were found by those to whom they were sent; and one of them found its way into the hands of the governor. He was very much exasperated at its contents, which betrayed to him that the men had suffered dreadfully, and that, as yet, no very brilliant discoveries had been made.

The governor sternly rebuked Almagro for concealing from him the true state of things, and declared, that not only should no more men be sent out, but that he would at once dispatch some ships to bring back Pizarro and the men left with him on the Island of Gallo.

This he did. Two vessels were sent out under the command of a Spaniard named Tafur, and meanwhile Almagro was detained at Panama.

When Tafur reached the Island of Gallo, he found Pizarro and his comrades in a wretched plight. They had exhausted their provisions, and worn their clothes to rags; while perpetual storms had continually drenched them, there being no good shelter where they were.

The men were frantic with delight when they saw Tafur's ship. They reveled in the ample provisions he had brought; and, when he announced that he had come to carry them all home again, they received the news with the wildest demonstrations of joy.

But Pizarro was determined not to go back. He was incensed at the governor's conduct, and was ready to risk his life in preventing the execution of his orders. Having come thus far, he resolutely refused to return to Panama, and thus confess his failure. Having caught a glimpse of a land abounding in riches, his heart was set on reaping the reward of his trials and courage.

Commanding his men to assemble on the shore, in a firm but quiet tone he thus addressed them:—

"Comrades, you have two paths between which to decide. One is full of perils and privations, exhausting toil, storms and famine, the poisoned arrow, the midnight attack of countless and ruthless savages; but it leads to Peru, with its untold wealth, the lasting glory and power of its conquest. The other road leads home, to Panama with its ease and indolence, and to contempt, poverty, and obscurity. Each one of you may choose which way to take. For my part, I remain."

Pizarro then drew his sword, and, bending down, traced a deep, long line in the sand.

"Those of you," he said, pointing to the line, "who decide to go back to Panama, stay where you are; but those of you who will stand by your captain, who are brave enough to still share his dangers and his triumphs, follow me, and cross this line." As he said this, he stepped across the line, and, drawing himself up proudly, waited.

For a moment there was complete silence. The men glanced at each other, and at the immovable face of their commander. Some hung their heads, and slunk off to the rear. Others seemed to be hesitating. Then the faithful pilot Ruiz, glancing behind him as if to appeal to his comrades to follow him, strode over the line. After another moment of silence, a second passed it; then a third; then a fourth. When all had crossed who made up their minds to stay with Pizarro, he found that he had thirteen gallant and devoted followers.

It was a small force with which to conquer an empire; but Pizarro's stout soul never faltered at the prospect. He knew, that, far away in Panama, his good friends Almagro and Luque were using all their energies to send him aid; and, after all, to get rid of the faint-hearted and mutinous among his men was at least some gain.



Tafur sailed away; and Pizarro, with his thirteen comrades, remained on the Island of Gallo. But he had already discovered that this island was not favorable for a long sojourn. Unhappily he had sent away his other ship soon after Almagro had sailed, so that he was now without any means of transportation whatever.

This difficulty was soon overcome. His men set lustily to work, and in a few hours had completed a strong raft. Upon this they placed their provisions, arms, and utensils; and, huddling together on the remaining space, they pushed out to sea.

They were upon the raft several days. Fortunately the weather was calm, and they were able to reach the Island of Gorgona, seventy miles north of Gallo, without accident. Here Pizarro resolved to establish his little company as best he could, and to wait patiently till assistance from Almagro should arrive.

Huts were built beside a pretty stream, which afforded them good water to drink and cook with; and the men found plenty of rabbits and pheasants, which they shot and brought in, and served up in tempting dishes.

At first their residence on the Island of Gorgona was very pleasant. But ere long the tempests beat in their huts; the sun, when it was fair, blazed remorselessly down upon them; and they were tortured by the swarms of mosquitoes and other insects that assailed them by day and night.

For seven months they endured miseries not less terrible than those they had before suffered. It seemed as if relief would never come. But Pizarro was now surrounded by stout and resolute fellows, who bore up as bravely as he himself against every mishap and anguish that afflicted them.

At last a small vessel came in sight. Pizarro rushed down to the shore, and waved to it to show where he was. The people on the vessel luckily saw him: the prow was turned towards the island; and the little band waded out into the sea, and clambered on board.

Pizarro found, as he had supposed, that the vessel had been sent out by Almagro; but he was greatly disappointed to discover that she had brought no soldiers. The Governor of Panama, while he had allowed Almagro to send Pizarro provisions and ammunition, had sternly, refused to permit any more men to embark.

The provisions, at least, were most welcome; and the adventurers partook of them with great gusto. It was something, moreover, to procure a fresh supply of powder and guns; and the little vessel was quite large enough to transport the little band wherever they wished to go.

Pizarro soon made up his mind what to do. Leaving two of his men, who were ill, in the care of some friendly Indians on the Isle of Gorgona, he embarked with the remaining eleven, and took his way southward, even with so small a force, in the direction of the golden land which he was sure existed, and of which he was confident, that, sooner or later, he would make the conquest.