Adventures and Conquests of Pizarro - George Towle

Pizarro in the New World

When he arrived on the shores of the New World, Pizarro was no longer the raw and awkward but enthusiastic boy whom we have seen setting forth from his wretched home in search of a more exciting career. He was now a full-grown man, with a character toughened and matured by the hard service of military life, and a strength of body and mind acquired by rough contact with men. But the same strong ambition burned in his soul, and the same energy and perseverance which enabled him to escape from Truxillo now aided him in carving out for himself fame and power.

He found himself in the midst of sturdy adventurers like himself, seeking the same ends, and ready to brave every peril to accomplish them. Not only the islands of the West Indies, but the mainland of Central and South America, had already been to some extent explored by the earlier Spanish navigators. New expeditions were arriving from Spain every little while. The discoveries already made had been so brilliant as to kindle to a flame the cupidity, and love of power, of the strangers. Gold and precious stones had been found; conquests made over the natives; and the beauty of the islands had induced colonies to settle upon them, and had caused governments to be established under the authority of the Spanish crown.

Pizarro entered into the schemes of conquest which were constantly being planned around him with all the passionate ardor of his nature. He felt his own capacity to command, and he was determined to lose no chance of bettering his fortunes. His zeal and ability were soon observed and recognized. He was sought after by the chiefs of the expeditions to the mainlands, and ere long became a favorite with the soldiers, who, when he led them, learned to repose the most implicit confidence in him.

One of the boldest of the Spaniards at Hispaniola was a cavalier named Alonzo de Ojeda. He was famous for the spirit with which he assailed the armies of the natives, and the valor with which he often defeated them at overwhelming odds, A part of the mainland, on the Isthmus of Darien, had been divided into two provinces; and of one of these provinces Ojeda was appointed the governor. He knew Pizarro's courage and enterprise, and proposed that he should go with him to the province as second in command. The offer was just what Pizarro wished. He accepted it without hesitation, and shortly after sailed from Hispaniola with Ojeda and his little army.

On reaching the coast of the isthmus, Ojeda resolved to land at a place called by the Spaniards Carthagena, after the ancient town of that name in their own country. But one of his officers, De Coza, who had before visited the coast, warned him by no means to do so. The natives, he said, were very warlike, and bitterly hostile to the Spaniards. They were, moreover, very numerous in that region, and would soon make an end of Ojeda's little party. This news, far from dissuading the dauntless governor, only made him the more resolute to go on shore; and Pizarro, who was as ignorant of fear as his chief, gave his voice in favor of the venture.

No sooner had the Spaniards landed than De Coza's prediction was realized. Swarms of Indians poured down from the hills and emerged from the forests, and assailed the intruders with the wildest ferocity. De Coza himself was the first to fall; and, ere an hour had passed, no less than seventy Spaniards lay dead on the shore. The rest were forced back to their ships. But Ojeda, having been surrounded by the savages, with his giant's arm cut his way through them, and escaped, half dead with wounds, to the shelter of the woods. He was found the next day by a party of his men who had ventured upon shore to seek for him, and was carried, fainting, to his vessel.

He set sail at once, and did not again land until he had reached his new colony at San Sebastian. Here, however, Ojeda and his party suffered the severest hardships. Their provisions were soon exhausted; and the natives, who were as fierce and as implacable as those at Carthagena, perpetually attacked the settlement. The worst of it was that they used poisoned arrows, so that all the Spaniards who were wounded suffered a death of excruciating agony.

Ojeda, seeing that, unless he received help, his colony would soon be exterminated, decided to return to Hispaniola for recruits and provisions. On the eve of his departure he called Pizarro, and confided to him the command of the colony until he should return. But misfortune followed the poor little colony to the end. To crown their misfortunes, Ojeda, failing to get the succor he hoped for, never went back, but died soon after in extreme poverty and neglect. For fifty weary days Pizarro and his companions waited, expecting every day to see the welcome sails which would bring them relief. They subsisted mainly on palm-nuts and the flesh of wild hogs, which, though plentiful, were far from being healthful food; and every week saw their number lessened by disease and the poisoned arrows of the Indians.

Pizarro, indeed, would have returned to Hispaniola sooner than he did, had it not been that there was but one small ship left to him, and the colony was at first too numerous to be transported on it: so he waited until death had so far reduced their number as to enable him to embark with all the survivors.

A still more perilous expedition soon after attracted the ambition of Pizarro. Balboa, the captain-general of the colony of Darien, having heard through friendly natives that there existed a vast sea on the western side of the isthmus, determined to penetrate to its shores. He picked out one hundred and ninety of his bravest and sturdiest soldiers, armed them with arquebuses, swords, and crossbows, and added to his forces a number of bloodhounds, which were of great though cruel service in fighting against the Indians. It is said that Balboa himself had a favorite bloodhound, which dealt such havoc among the savages, that, whenever the plunder was divided, a portion was allotted to the valiant dog. His name was Leoncico; and so much did Leoncico terrify the Indians, that they ran away as soon as he made his appearance.

Pizarro went with Balboa as one of his lieutenants, and shared in the glory as well as the dangers of this famous expedition. The first part of the journey was over steep and rocky mountains. There was no road, and the party was forced to move slowly, and to halt often to rest. The heavy armor of the soldiers and the blazing sun of the tropics made the ascent difficult and fatiguing.

The mountains passed, they descended into dense entangled forests, and now and then encountered streams, which could only be crossed on rafts made hastily on the spot. A friendly chief named Ponca accompanied Balboa, and acted as his guide. One day, as they emerged from the woods, Ponca suddenly uttered a loud exclamation. Hurrying to Balboa, who with Pizarro was trudging sturdily forward in front of his men, the chief pointed to a lofty mountain that rose in the dim distance.

"There!" he cried: "when you have reached the top of that big mountain, you will see the great ocean stretched out at your feet."

The peak which the Indian pointed out was still a great way off; but his words so thrilled Balboa and his comrades, that they pushed forward rapidly, eager to catch a glimpse of the mighty waters now screened by the high ranges from their view.

Unfortunately the provisions of the Spaniards now gave out, and they were footsore from their long tramp; and, to make their situation yet more serious, they had now reached a country hostile to Ponca and the Europeans. They were assailed with great ferocity, the Indians showering spears, arrows, and clubs upon them. But these Indians had never heard or seen a gun go off; and when Pizarro, leading on the men, ordered them to fire, and the volley with its flash and smoke thundered upon the savages, they ran shrieking and howling away. No less than six hundred of them, including their chief, were killed; and, their rout being complete, the Spaniards entered their village unopposed, and found not only an abundance of food, but a rare treasure of gold and jewels.

Balboa, on resuming his way toward the mountain, left a number of his men behind in the Indian village. His force was now reduced to sixty-seven. He was still accompanied by his faithful lieutenant, Pizarro.

It was just at daybreak, on a bright September morning, that the adventurers, guided by Ponca and other friendly Indians, began their ascent of the mountain. There was no path; and at first their march lay through dense woods, so tangled with brush that the men stumbled at almost every step. After several hours, however, they emerged from this wood into open and rocky ground, where they could mount far more easily. It was so cold here, that vegetation could not grow. Just before them towered in solitary grandeur a lofty, bare, jagged peak, far above the surrounding eminences. This was the peak, from the summit of which, Ponca said, the ocean could be seen.

Balboa, with throbbing heart, gazed long at the mighty crag. If it were indeed true that another ocean was visible from its crest, he would be its discoverer, and would be renowned and honored throughout Europe.

"My men," he said, "do you rest here. I must ascend alone to the summit. My eyes must be the first to behold the vast ocean which rolls beyond."

He then walked forward, and began to climb lightly and eagerly up the precipitous cliffs; while his companions watched him with breathless interest from below. Ere long his sturdy figure was seen standing on the summit, his plumes waving in the upper air. Before him, in truth, lay spread out the limitless waters to the dim horizon. The waves dashed with a roar and rush against the crags at the foot of the mountain; and, looking to the east and the west, Balboa could discern rich and beautiful lands stretching down to the water's edge.

His first impulse was to fall upon his knees, lift his hands heavenward, and thank God for his good fortune. Then he rose, and excitedly beckoned to his comrades to come up to him. They darted forward, and scrambled wildly up the rocks, Pizarro at their head; and he was the second European whose eyes greeted the Pacific Ocean.

The sounds of joy and thanksgiving filled the air. Men and leaders frantically embraced each other, without respect to rank; a priest began to sing a Te Deum  in a loud voice; and then Balboa, turning to the noble panorama before him, solemnly took possession of the ocean and the surrounding countries in the name of King Ferdinand of Spain. He caused trees to be cut down, and made into a cross, which his men planted on the very spot where he stood when he first beheld the ocean.

The Spaniards now descended the mountain, bent on exploring the shores of the Pacific. They here and there encountered savage and hostile tribes, but, with their guns and their bloodhounds, easily overcame them.

After meeting with many adventures on the coast, naming several bays and towns, visiting the villages of friendly chiefs, collecting a goodly amount of gold and gems, and taking possession of the country in the name of the king, Balboa, with Pizarro, returned in safety and triumph across the isthmus to Darien.

The tidings of his discoveries caused the greatest excitement in the colony, and the treasure he brought aroused the envy of all who saw it.

Soon after Balboa's arrival at Darien, a new governor of that settlement, named Pedrarias, came from Spain to take Balboa's place. Balboa, instead of resisting him, as he might have done, welcomed him with due honor; but as soon as Pedrarias, who was vain and ambitious, heard of the gallant cavalier's great achievements, and the affection and respect in which he was held in the colony, he became very jealous. When Balboa told him of all that he had done, and proposed to lead a new expedition to the shores of the Pacific, Pedrarias pretended to consent to the project; but no sooner had Balboa set about his preparations than the governor gruffly refused to let him go, and even threatened to arrest and throw him into prison.

Pedrarias coveted the glory of future discoveries, and the lion's share of the treasure that might be obtained, for himself. So he fitted out an expedition of his own, and gave the command to a cousin of his, named Morales; but, as Morales was quite ignorant of the country and the Indians, Pedrarias was forced to choose someone familiar with both, to share the command with him.

Pizarro was selected for this office, and in due time the expedition set forth across the isthmus. They reached the shores of the Pacific in safety. Pizarro, who had already been on that part of the coast, pointed out to Morales a group of islands, lying not far out to sea, where, he had heard it reported, a great quantity of pearls might be obtained. Leaving half of their force on the mainland, the two chiefs set out in canoes for the islands with the rest. The canoes were several times nearly capsized; but the largest island was at last reached, and the adventurers landed.

The natives, who had perceived them coming, and had guessed that they were not bent on an errand of peace, fiercely attacked them; and it was only after much hard fighting that the Spaniards were able to make their position on the island secure. They then searched for pearls, and were rewarded with obtaining not only a vast number of these precious stones of large size and brilliancy, but a large quantity of gold. Pizarro named the place the "Isle of Pearls," which is the name it bears to this day.

The return of the party of Morales and Pizarro, with their glowing stories of the west coast and the golden evidences of its wealth, excited Pedrarias's cupidity and ambition to the highest pitch. He resolved to remove the seat of government from Darien across the isthmus, and chose what is now known as Panama as the future capital of the province.

Pizarro went with the governor; and, having now become well to do with his share of the booty obtained in the expeditions whose perils he had shared, he bought a house and lands near Panama, was served by a retinue of Indian servants, and was held in high distinction as one of the cavaliers who had taken a conspicuous part in conquering and settling the country.

But a quiet and monotonous life, though prosperous and attended with ease and comfort, did not satisfy the bold and adventurous spirit of our hero. He could not settle down with content into the placid career of a gentleman farmer. He longed for the stirring actions of the battlefield, for the hazards and excitements of wandering through wild, strange lands, discovering unknown seas and nations, and procuring, at the risk of life, the treasures hidden beyond difficult and dangerous journeyings.

As he overlooked his fields and flocks, he pondered on the marvelous stories he had heard oft repeated, of countries beyond the coast, which faded, as he looked, in the dim distance,—countries where there were temples filled with massive ornaments of gold and jewels, and which would reward their conqueror with fabulous riches and unlimited power and glory. He dreamed by day and by night visions of a possible future, in which he should act a leading part in brilliant discovery, and the acquisition of unguessed treasures; when men would speak of him as they spoke of his gallant chief Balboa; and when the world would ring with his praises as it was just now ringing with those of his cousin Cortez, the conqueror of Mexico. Now and then, indeed, he led expeditions at short distances from Panama to conquer, a hostile chief, or occupy a desirable part of the country; but these sallies were far from satisfying his ambitious spirit, and only made him the more restlessly eager to achieve something really great and famous.

He was now over forty years old, and in the full vigor of body and mind. He felt the most perfect confidence in his own energy, perseverance, and courage; and he awaited with impatience an opportunity to set forth once more in pursuit of a higher fortune than he had as yet attained.

It happened, that, while Pizarro was thus chafing under the dull round of his farm-life at Panama, a voyager named Andagoya came into port, after a long and unsuccessful voyage to the south of that town. Andagoya had gone farther southward than any previous navigator. He had found islands scattered along the coasts, had landed at several points, and had communicated with men superior in aspect and intelligence to the Indians with whom the Spaniards were familiar on the isthmus. He had seen, besides, the mighty chain of the Cordilleras, rising, as it seemed, to the very clouds, their peaks crested with eternal snow, and their range completely shutting in, as far as eye could reach, the lands that lay beyond. Andagoya had been told, that, behind the Cordilleras, there was a country abounding in riches of every kind; that it was a land of gold; and that, moreover, its condition was such, that it might be conquered by a band of determined and fearless warriors.

Pizarro listened to this story with beating heart. He could no longer resist the impulse to stake life, health, and fortune in a new and great enterprise. Unhappily, though rich enough to live in comfort at Panama, he had not the means to fit out ships and store them, to hire and equip a large number of men, and to provide for a long absence from the colony. In this strait he looked about him to see if he could find anyone to join him in the expense and risk of an expedition. Happily, Andagoya's tale had aroused the ambition and cupidity of others in Panama besides Pizarro.

Among those who became eager to explore the southern seas was a generous-hearted and honest though quick-tempered cavalier, named Diego de Almagro. He was a man of position and note; and no sooner had Pizarro proposed an expedition to him than Almagro readily agreed to join in his project. The two then resorted to a rich and ambitious priest, Hernando de Luque, the vicar of Panama, whom they urged to unite with them in the undertaking, and to furnish the necessary funds for buying, equipping, and manning the ships. Luque readily yielded to their entreaty, agreed to supply the money, and to accept his share of the booty which might be taken by the expedition as repayment. Pizarro and Almagro next resorted to Pedrarias, the governor, who, in spite of his jealousy, gave his sanction to the enterprise.

Preparations were begun without delay. To Pizarro was entrusted the command of the expedition, and two small ships were purchased. It was Almagro's task to see that they were properly fitted and provisioned for the perilous voyage, and to enlist the men whom Pizarro needed to accompany him. Almagro took care to select the hardiest and most experienced soldiers and sailors that he could find; and succeeded, by dint of effort, in raising a force of one hundred and twelve. With so small an army the brave Pizarro was to set out to conquer what might prove a new continent. He never faltered in his purpose, however, but urged Almagro to complete every arrangement at the earliest possible moment.

At last Almagro announced that all was ready. The little ships lay in the harbor of Panama, gay with their new rigging and fresh paint, loaded down with what seemed an ample store of provisions and other necessaries, and provided each with a full and stalwart crew.

It only remained for the captain to bid adieu to the governor and his friends, to go on board, and give the order to sail out upon the unknown seas.