The Aborigines of Peru

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Pizarro’s Visit to Spain and Application to the Emperor

As Pizarro, Almagro, and Luque, received no encouragement from the governor, at Panama, in the prosecution of their plans; and as their funds were exhausted by the first expeditions, it became necessary to seek the assistance of some powerful patron, or to abandon the enterprise. In this emergency, Luque advised an immediate application to the Spanish court. In the discussion of the question as to who should undertake this duty, Almagro strongly urged the expediency of trusting the whole matter to the prudence and soldierly intrepidity of his unlettered companion-in-arms, Pizarro. He was the man who had seen and experienced more than any other of the nature of the land of promise, and his unflinching determination and perseverance seemed to qualify him as well to press his suit at court, as to undergo the disappointments and physical hardships of the conquest itself.

Pizarro consented to the proposal, and sailed for Spain, where he arrived early in the summer of 1528, carrying with him specimens of Peruvian art and wealth, together with natives of the country, and several of the beasts of burden peculiar to Peru. He was favorably received, and his accounts were credited by the Emperor Charles the Fifth; and the royal consent was obtained to the prosecution of the mighty undertaking of conquest. No pecuniary assistance, however, was rendered or promised. Prospective honors and emoluments were bestowed upon Pizarro and his two associates, contingent upon their success, and the latter to be drawn entirely from the conquered nation. Pizarro was to be governor, adelantado and alguacil mayor of Peru, which office he was to fill for life, and to which a large salary was to be attached. Almagro was placed in altogether an inferior position, as commander at Tumbez; and Father Luque was declared bishop of that district, now to be converted into a see of the church. One-fifth of the gold and silver to be obtained by plunder, and one-tenth of all gained by mining was reserved as a royal perquisite.

His Four Brothers

Pizarro immediately set himself to raise funds and enlist men for the proposed conquest. He was joined by his four brothers, one of whom, Hernando Pizarro, was a legitimate son of Gonzalo. The other three, Gonzalo and Juan Pizarro, and Francisco de Alcontara were illegitimate children, and connected with the hero of our narrative, the two first on the father s side, the latter on that of the mother.

It was no easy matter to provide money for the necessary expenses of so hazardous an exploit as that proposed; but fortunately for Pizarro, Hernando Cortez, the renowned conqueror of Mexico, was at this time in Spain, and, after seeing and conferring with him, furnished, from his own ample stores, what was needed to complete an outfit.

Upon Pizarro s return to America, serious quarrels ensued between him and Almagro, who, as appears justly, thought himself grossly neglected in the arrangements entered into with the Spanish government. Luque also distrusted the good faith of his emissary, and it seemed too evident to both of these parties to the old contract, that Pizarro would readily throw them aside, should occasion offer, and advance his own relations in their stead. These difficulties were, by Pizarro’s representations, promises, and concessions, for the time smoothed over, and three vessels were fitted out at Panama for the grand expedition. Those in which the recruits had been brought over from Spain, were necessarily left upon the other side of the Isthmus.

It was not until January, of 1531, that the adventurers set sail. The company consisted of less than two hundred men, twenty-seven of whom were provided with horses; the advantage of even a small body of cavalry in fights with the Indians having been so strikingly apparent in the proceedings at Mexico. Tumbez, on the southern shore of the gulf of Guayaquil, was the port for which the little fleet steered its course, but, owing to head winds and other difficulties in navigation, a landing was made at the bay of St. Matthew’s. Pizarro, with the armed force, went on shore at this place, not far from where Esmeraldas now stands, and marched southward, while the vessels coasted along the shore. Feeling himself strong enough to commence serious operations, the unprincipled invader no longer put on the cloak of friendship, but without warning fell upon the first Indian town in his route. This was in the district of Coaque. The natives fled, leaving their treasures to be seized and plundered by the Spaniards. A considerable quantity of gold, and a great number of the largest and most valuable emeralds fell into the hands of the rapacious adventurers. The spoil was collected, and publicly distributed, according to regulated portions, among the company, it being death to secrete any private plunder. The royal fifth was deducted previous to the division.

The vessels were sent back to Panama to excite, by the display of these treasures, the cupidity of new recruits, while the little army continued its march towards Tumbez.

Landing Of The Spaniards Upon The Peruvian Coast

The natives of the villages through which they passed, learning, in advance of the Spaniards approach, the course pursued at Coaque, abandoned their homes, bearing all their valuables with them. Privation and suffering en sued. The tropical heat of the country, famine and fatigue, began to dishearten the troops. Worse than all, a singular and malignant cutaneous disease began to spread among them. Large warts or vascular excrescences broke out upon those attacked, which, if opened, bled so profusely as to cause death. “The epidemic,” says Prescott, “which made its first appearance during this invasion, and which did not long survive it, spread over the whole country, sparing neither native nor white man.”

The distresses of the Spaniards were somewhat relieved by the arrival of a vessel from Panama, in which came a number of new state officers, appointed by the Emperor Charles since Pizarro s departure from Spain, bringing with them a quantity of provision. “With some slight further reinforcement, the commander brought his troops to the gulf of Guayaquil, and, by invitation from the islanders, who had never been reduced by the Peruvian monarchs, and still maintained a desultory warfare with their forces, he took up his quarters upon the isle of Puna. The inhabitants of Tumbez (lying, as we have mentioned, upon the southern shore of the gulf, and opposite the island,) came over, in large numbers, to welcome the whites, trusting to their friendly demonstrations at the time of the early expeditions. Difficulties soon arose from the bringing of these hostile Indian races in contact. Pizarro was told that a conspiracy had been formed by some of the island chiefs, to massacre him and his followers. Without delay, he seized upon the accused, and delivered them over to their old enemies of Tumbez for destruction. The consequence was a furious attack by the islanders. The thousands of dusky warriors who surrounded the little encampment, were dispersed and driven into the thickets, with very small loss to the well-armed and mail-clad Europeans. The discharge of musketry, and the rush of mounted men, glistening with defensive armor, seldom failed to break the lines, and confuse the movements even of the bravest and most determined savages.

After their victory Pizarro found his situation extremely precarious, for the enemies whom he had driven into the forest continued to harass and weary his army by night attacks, and the difficulty of procuring provisions daily increased. He became desirous of passing over to the main as speedily as possible, and his good fortune sent him, at this period, such assistance as rendered the continuance of his enterprise more hopeful. This was afforded by the arrival of the celebrated Hernando de Soto, whose roman tic adventures in after-life, have been briefly chronicled in the early part of this volume, under the title of the Florida Indians. De Soto brought out one hundred men and a considerable number of horses. Thus reinforced, the commander of the expedition at once undertook the transportation of his men and stores across to Tumbez.

Instead of rejoicing their eyes with the splendor of this celebrated city, and luxuriating in its wealth, the Spaniards found the whole place dilapidated and deserted. Such of the Indians as appeared, manifested a decidedly hostile disposition, and several of the party engaged in transporting the baggage and provisions, upon balsas or rafts, were seized and slain. Most of the houses of the city were found to be destroyed, and the costly ornaments and decorations were all stripped from the temple. It can not be certainly known, at this day, what were the causes for this conduct on the part of the people of Tumbez. The curaca of the place was taken prisoner by some of Pizarro s men, and his explanation of the matter was, that the war with the Puna islanders had resulted in this demolition of the city. No certain intelligence was ever obtained of the fate of those whites who had been left at Tumbez at the time of the former expedition of discovery.

It now became evident to Pizarro that he should have some fixed place of settlement, where his troops might encamp and live in safety until a proper opportunity presented itself for more active operations. He therefore set himself to explore the country to the southward. In con ducting this examination, he made use of a more conciliatory policy than heretofore, in his intercourse with the natives, and took pains to restrain, for the time, the rapacity of his followers. The result was that the Indians were in turn friendly and hospitable. A settlement was made, and the foundation of a town, called San Miguel, commenced on the river Piura. Numbers of the natives were reduced to vassalage, and distributed among the Spaniards to aid in the labor of improving and extending the village.

Pizarro had gathered information, by means of the interpreters in his company the natives formerly taken by him to Spain of the political state of the country, and of the present location of Atahuallpa, at or near Caxamalca. He had secured a considerable amount of gold, which was sent back to Panama, by consent of the company, and applied, after deducting the perquisites of the crown, to defray the expense of fitting out the expedition.

Settlement Of San Miguel

The whole summer was spent in these operations, and it was not until the 24th of September 1532, that the commander was prepared to lead his small army into the interior. His whole force was less than two hundred men, from whom it was necessary to deduct a portion for the purpose of garrisoning San Miguel. On the march towards the enormous range of mountains, which they were to cross, the Spaniards refrained from rapine and plunder.

They were therefore received with kindly curiosity by the inhabitants, and in their progress availed themselves with out molestation of the public fortresses and sheltered stopping-places prepared upon the high roads for the use of the royal armies. They were delighted with the rich and highly cultivated appearance of many of the beautiful valleys passed upon the route.

The company consisted of one hundred and seventy-seven men, of whom sixty-seven were mounted. From this number, nine malcontents were suffered by the prudent leader to return to San Miguel, upon pretense that the garrison left there was too weak, but in reality to prevent the spread of discontent among the troops.

In a hopeful spirit, and with strengthened confidence in their commander, the little cavalcade pressed on to Xaran, a fertile settlement amid the mountains. A few leagues south of this place, at Caxas, a garrison of the Inca s troops were said to be stationed, and thither Pizarro sent an embassy, under the direction of De Soto, to open a communication with the prince. The messengers were absent no less than a week; but they finally returned in safety, accompanied by one of the officers of the Inca, bearing rich presents and messages of welcome and invitation from the monarch in person. Pizarro received this noble with the respect due to his rank and position, be stowing upon him such gifts as would be most attractive in the eyes of a person ignorant of European arts. At his departure, the envoy was charged to tell his sovereign that the band of whites was subject to a great emperor of a distant country; that they had heard of the Inca s greatness and conquests, and had come to proffer their aid in his wars.

Passage Of The Andes

Continuing their march, the Spaniards reached the foot of the Andes. Nothing but the fiercest courage and the most undaunted resolution, both excited to the utmost by the hope of boundless riches and rewards, could have stimulated such a handful of adventurers to undertake the ascent of this enormous range of mountains, where nothing could save them from utter destruction, should the forbearance of the natives cease. The main mountain road, stretching off to the southward towards the ancient Peruvian capital, tempted them to take their course in that direction, while across the mountains a narrow and difficult pass led towards the encampment of the Inca. It was determined to push on in the originally proposed direction. The vast and rugged elevations, rising one beyond another, must have appeared to the unpracticed eye totally insurmountable.

“Those everlasting clouds,
Seedtime and harvest, morning, noon, and night,
Still where they were, steadfast, immovable
So massive, yet so shadowy, so ethereal,
As to belong rather to Heaven than Earth
They seemed the barriers of a World, Saying,
Thus far, no farther!”

The accounts of modern travelers have familiarized us with the details of the dangers attendant upon a passage of the Andes. What then must -have been the attempt by these pioneers, totally ignorant of the route, and momentarily expecting an attack from the natives in passes where an army could be effectually checked by a handful of resolute men. Their fears of Indian treachery proved, how ever, groundless; they reached the summit in safety, and, while encamped about the fires rendered necessary by the sharp air of those elevated regions, messengers again appeared, sent by Atahuallpa to meet them. A present of llamas proved most acceptable to the wearied and suffering troops, and, from all that could be gathered by communion with the ambassadors, it did not appear probable that they would be molested upon their route.

Entry Into Caxamalca

Little doubt was entertained by Pizarro that the Inca fully intended to entrap and seize him as soon as he should be completely in his power, and surrounded by an irresistible force of his subjects. It was ascertained that Atahuallpa was encamped with a large army only three miles from Caxamalca, and that the city was abandoned by its inhabitants. This had a threatening appearance, but the Inca continued to send friendly messages, and as it was too late to think of retreat, even had their hearts now failed them, the Spaniards descended the eastern slope of the Andes, and entered the valley of Caxamalca. Every thing now seen gave tokens of prosperity, industry, and skill. “Below the adventurers,” says Prescott, “with its white houses glittering in the sun, lay the little city of Caxamalca, like a sparkling gem on the dark skirts of the sierra.” Farther on, the immense encampment of the Inca was seen in the distance, spot ting the rising ground with countless tents. Marching through the valley, the troops entered the vacant city upon the 15th of November (1532).


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MLA Source Citation:

Brownell, Charles De Wolf. Indian Races of North and South America: Comprising an account of the principal aboriginal races; a description of their national customs, mythology, and religious ceremonies, the history of their most powerful tribes, and of their most celebrated chiefs and warriors; their intercourse and wars with the European settlers; and a great variety of anecdote and description, illustrative of personal and national character. Hartford, Conn., Chicago,E. B. & R.C. Treat; [etc., etc.]: Hurlbut, Scranton & Co. 1864. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 20 October 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/the-aborigines-of-peru.htm - Last updated on Jan 31st, 2013


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