Chronicles of America 

Pizarro Marches to Caxamarca

Pizarro's chief obstacle was the Andes, with "their crests of snow glittering high in the heavens — such a wild chaos of magnificence and beauty as no other mountain scenery in the world [could] show." Up this barrier struggled foot-soldiers and horsemen, the latter dismounted and tugging at their beasts. Here the path hugged the base of a toppling cliff; there it shunned a reeling abyss; while ever above the crawling Spanish line hung, greedy for mishap, that obscene bird of carrion, the Peruvian condor. Near the summit of the range the invaders came upon one of the military roads of the Incas, a road which connected Cuzco with Quito, and which in point of length has been likened to a conceivable highway connecting Calais with Constantinople. It was a road, however, upon which no wheel turned, for, unlike the early Chaldeans, Babylonians, and Egyptians, the Peruvians, with whom "everything stopped short," were unacquainted with the principle of the wheel.

On this journey upward to Caxamarca, this New World anabasis, Pizarro was met and waited upon, as Cortés had been on his journey, by successive embassies. One came under the escort of De Soto, whom the Spanish leader had sent to reconnoiter, and met Pizarro at the foot of the range; while the others, whereof there were two, met him near the summit. All brought gifts: the first, an elaborate drinking-cup of stone, woolen stuffs embroidered in gold and silver, and perfume; the second, several llamas; and the third, Peruvian sheep, chicha or "fermented juice of the maize," to employ a delicate periphrasis, and, what to the Spaniards was more to the point, "golden goblets" from which to quaff this beverage. Mid-November was now at hand and Pizarro had bested his great obstacle. He had scaled the Andes. Beneath him spread a valley, stream-traversed and highly cultivated, and in this valley he descried three things: the town of Caxamarca, steam rising from hot mineral springs, and — did his pulse quicken? — "a white cloud of pavilions covering the ground as thick as snowflakes."

Pizarro entered Caxamarca on the 15th of November at the hour of vespers. His first act was to send De Soto with twenty horsemen to announce to Atahualpa his arrival; and his second, to send his brother Hernando after De Soto with twenty more horsemen as a reënforcement. The Inca, a man of thirty, sat at the door of his tent, cross-legged on a low cushion, surrounded by male and female attendants. He wore a tunic and robe, but what distinguished him as a ruler was the headdress, the borla. This consisted of a fringed cord of red vicuña wool wound several times around the head, the fringe depending over the eyes. As lord of both Quito and Cuzco, and especially of Quito through his mother, Atahualpa would no doubt have felt himself entitled to wear (as later he did wear) the insignia of Quito, a string of royal emeralds. Seated on his cushion, the Inca held his eyes fixed upon the ground; nor did he raise them or otherwise respond when Hernando Pizarro, with grave Spanish mien, invited him to visit his brother in the town. His thoughts — what were they? In all probability the question in the mind of Montezuma in the case of Cortés: Were these newcomers gods?

It was the horse, as we have seen, that more than aught else in Indian eyes gave to the Spaniard the seeming of a god. Atahualpa had kept himself informed regarding this weird creature, and in a measure was fortified against the terror of him. Through messengers from the Quito country he had learned that the Spaniard and his horse were not "all one animal," for on the coast a rider had been observed to fall from a horse. Confirming this idea of the separability of horse and rider, had come news that at night the horses were unsaddled. Nor was the horse immortal, for a cacique of the neighborhood of San Miguel had sent word that he personally had killed one.

Glancing up at length from his reverie, Atahualpa said to Hernando Pizarro that the Spaniards could be no great warriors, for the San Miguel curaca (cacique) had killed three, besides a horse. Nettled at this speech so weighed and measured in its audacity, Hernando Pizarro replied that one horse, let alone riders, could conquer the whole country; and, as if practically to substantiate the claim, De Soto, the best mounted man in the Spanish group, struck spurs into his steed, dashed across the plain, and, wheeling in graceful circles, reined in the animal so close to the Inca that foam from his sides bespattered the royal garments. But Atahualpa, self-schooled against terror of the horse, did not flinch. To him evidently the Spaniards, if gods at all, were not f ormidable ones; and when he consented, as now he did, to visit Pizarro in camp the next day, it was, as the chronicle has it, "with the smile of a man who did not very much esteem us."

That night the Spaniards knew fear. The twinkling distant camp fires of the Peruvian host —fires likened in multitude to the stars of heaven —impressed them with a sense of their numerical inferiority, and again Pizarro found it expedient to warm their zeal and stiffen their courage by appealing to them as sons of the Church and propagandists of the Faith. As for Pizarro himself, he had a plan which had been long in his mind: he would seize the person of Atahualpa, even as Cortés had seized the person of Montezuma, and all would be well.

The town of Caxamarca itself was not large. Its distinguishing feature, however, was an extensive triangular plaza — "larger than any plaza in Spain" — enclosed on two sides by long low buildings. These buildings may have been communal dwellings, for they are spoken of as divided on the interior into blocks, each block comprising a suite of rooms. If the buildings in question were communal, they serve to illustrate Peruvian nation-making as in this quarter something yet in process, the clan here not having been superseded by the family. But there were other buildings — survivals of the early medicine lodge and council lodge — temples and great halls, all very much as in Mexico-Tenochtitlan.

Of the great halls there were three, each giving through a wide opening upon the plaza. In one, Pizarro stationed a squadron of horsemen under Hernando Pizarro; in another, a squadron under De Soto; and in the third, a squadron under a doughty cavalier, newly arrived, Sebastián de Benalcazar. The foot-soldiers as a body he placed in concealment round about; but twenty such, picked for their prowess, he attached to his own person, taking with them a central station, well concealed, whence he could sally forth in any direction. Pedro de Candia, be it added, trained upon the plaza, from a "fortress" above it, the artillery of the invaders — two falconets.

Such was the disposition of the Spanish leaders when, about noon of the 16th of November, Atahualpa emerged from his camp on his way to visit Pizarro in Caxamarca, the lion in his lair. He was attended by thousands, and the spectacle offered was that of Montezuma advancing to meet Cortés. But when within a short distance of the town, what should the Peruvian monarch do but stop the progress and prepare to pitch his tents! This Pizarro saw with dismay, for his men, long kept at high tension, must speedily find relief in action or succumb to fear. He accordingly dispatched an earnest request to Atahualpa that he resume the march and enter the town that evening, where every arrangement for his reception and entertainment had been made.

The Inca granted this request and just before sunset the "Child of the Sun" passed the gates. In front, as with Montezuma, came runners, clearing the way of dirt and obstructions and singing sonorous songs — songs pronounced "hellish" in the chronicle. Then came dancers. Then caciques of divers grades bearing "hammers" of silver or copper, and conspicuous for checkered or white liveries. Those immediately about the Inca were caciques or noblemen of special dignity, wearing head-dresses ornamented with gold and silver, breast armor of gold plates, and great ear-studs. All more or less seem to have been distinguished by vestments of blue — that azure (azul or sky color) so marked and evidently so significant in the apparel of Montezuma.

The Inca himself, like the " Chief-of-Men, " was borne aloft in a litter. He sat on a throne of gold within a baldaquin lined with the brilliant plumage of the parrakeet and covered with gold and silver plates. A man of vigor — large, with bold eyes somewhat bloodshot — his aspect was commanding and even fierce. As lord of Quito, he wore the royal emeralds. As Child of the Sun, he wore the borla; and in addition a golden diadem garnished with the wing feathers of the caraquenque. It was his right, moreover, to be preceded by a standard bearer carrying a banner emblazoned with the rainbow. In any event he was an impressive figure, as, dividing to the right and left, his numerous escort fell away, leaving him alone, the observed of all observers in the plaza.

No Spaniard was in sight, and Atahualpa was perplexed. " What has become of these fellows?" he demanded with impatience. Hereupon Pizarro sent forth to meet the Indian ruler, and to account to him for the presence of the Spaniards in his country, the priest and spiritual leader of the expedition, Vicente de Valverde, later Bishop of Cuzco. Valverde of course could speak to Atahualpa only through the interpreter, a young Indian captured at Tumbez, named Fellipillo or Little Philip, who was for the purpose a feeble dependence, in no sense a second Marina or Aguilar. What Father Valverde undertook to impress upon Atahualpa was that there was one true God; that He had sent to earth his Son Jesus Christ; that Christ, being put to death, had left his power in the hands of St. Peter, who, dying, had passed it on to the Popes of Rome. One of the Popes, the one now alive, had heard that the Indians of the world, instead of worshiping the true God, "adored idols and likenesses of the devil." Thereupon he had given it into the hands of " Charles, King of Spain and Monarch of the whole earth," to "conquer the Indian nations" and bring them to "the knowledge of God and the obedience of the Church." To effect this conquest, Charles had commissioned "Don Francisco Pizarro — now here." "If thou shalt deny and refuse to obey," fervently exclaimed the priest, "know that thou shalt be persecuted with fire and sword without mercy !"

What Atahualpa probably gathered out of this harangue, as rendered in what has been called the "deplorable Cuzcan" of Fellipillo, was that a distant mysterious lord — a "white stranger's" lord — operating as the agent of a mysterious deity — or of several such, for the Trinity had figured in the discourse — claimed his allegiance and tribute and meant to deprive him and the people of independence. Fear of the Spaniards as themselves gods, or at least preternatural beings, does not seem to have much dwelt in the mind of the Inca, for observing that Father Valverde held in his hand a book, the Bible, whence he had derived the matter of his exhortation, Atahualpa demanded to see it. It was clasped, and the Indian was unable to open it. The priest stepped to the side of the litter to give help. but Atahualpa, resenting the intrusion, forced the clasps back, ran his eyes helplessly through the leaves, and cast the holy volume violently upon the ground.

Not only did the Inca spurn the Word of God, but he at the same time said that he knew how the Spaniards had maltreated his people all the way from Tumbez, even to burning some of them alive, and that he required reparation. Here then was defiance complete — defiance of all the Powers : of the Powers Temporal as well as of those Spiritual; of Emperor, and of Francisco Pizarro, as well as of God, Christ, St. Peter, and the Pope; and punishment was called for. The hour — the moment — had come!

On hearing Father Valverde's report, Pizarro informed his brother Hernando. The latter in turn informed Pedro de Candia, who discharged his falconets — the signal agreed upon — and the horsemen everywhere burst from cover. In advance of all, sword in hand, and shouting "Santiago," ran Pizarro. His object was the royal litter, but ere he could reach it the attendants of Atahualpa had interposed themselves, and there ensued a furious melee. In the, end, amid great slaughter, the litter was overturned and Atahualpa, the god-descended, his robes in tatters, diadem and borla torn from his brow, was dragged forth a captive.

Montezuma fell before Cortés, a victim of vacillation, the result of timidity bred of superstition. Atahualpa fell before Pizarro, a victim of assurance which was the result of arrogance. Entering Caxamarca late in the day, Atahualpa had notified Pizarro that he would spend the night within its gates, but with only a fraction of his forces, and these "unarmed." What need, forsooth, of arms, of copper-pointed spears, of bows and arrows, and of lassos, had Atahualpa? Was he not Inca? Was he not literally Child of the Sun? "Your God, " he is said to have boasted to Father Valverde, "was, you say, slain by men, the work of his hands; my god," pointing proudly to the sinking Sun, "dies but to live again!"

That November evening, 1532, Pizarro and Atahualpa supped together. Breaking bread with the defeated seems to have been an amiable if somewhat ironical Spanish custom, whether those so honored were themselves Spaniards or not. Cristóbal de Olid had supped with his prisoners Gil Gonzalez and Francisco de las Casas, but only to have his hospitality requited by slashes at his throat. In the case of Atahualpa such requital was not to be apprehended. The Inca was too dazed to think of trying it himself, and his followers were too profoundly overawed. But, dazed though Atahualpa was, he did not so remain. On the morrow after his overthrow he noticed that, while the Spaniards brought in as booty many bales of beautifully woven woolen and cotton fabrics, the things which as booty they esteemed most were the royal utensils of gold and silver. If it were gold and silver the white strangers coveted — he personally much preferred glass — these metals abounded in Peru. Why not purchase with them his own freedom? Freedom was valuable to him just then, for the legitimate Inca, Huascar his brother, was himself a captive, and when the latter should learn of the captivity of Atahualpa, what plots —plots even with the invaders — might he not concoct against him? One day, therefore, as he and Pizarro stood in a chamber of Pizarro's quarters, he suddenly offered to cover the floor with gold if his freedom were granted.

The offer provoked only a smile, and Atahualpa was piqued. He stepped proudly to the wall, and indicating a point thereon as high as he could reach, offered to fill the entire room to that point with gold. He also offered to fill a smaller room, adjoining, twice over with silver. The only conditions he made were that the metals should not first be melted down, but should retain the form of the objects into which they had been wrought, and that he should have two months within which to fulfill his undertaking.

Then ensued one of the most wonderful episodes in history. Each day there went forth from the presence of Atahualpa couriers to the four quarters of the Empire; and ere long, in answer, porters began to appear bearing all manner of gold and silver objects: jars, vases, ewers, salvers, and goblets from the temples; to say naught of hammered golden sheets, an occasional "throne," "pedestal," or "sun." They brought, too, wonderful things from the official dwellings — the "palaces" — of the Inca: such, for example, as "fountains designed to emit sparkling jets of gold "; miniature gold birds and beasts; trees also; plants with leaves, flowers, and fruit; fields of maize with leaves, heads, canes, roots, and flowers; and flowers of the field with petals, stems, and leaves. So gleaming indeed were the long files of porters under their golden packs, that as beheld afar they seemed veritable threads of gold caught from point to point across the landscape.

A circumstance which helped materially in collecting the treasure was that Hernando Pizarro and Hernando de Soto had conceived for Atahualpa a genuine liking. A suite of rooms was assigned him, and within these he maintained his customary state. Here he amused himself with his concubines; here with great animation and skill he played dice and chess, games learned from his conquerors; and here he received his vassals in audience — none of whom, however great, presumed to enter before him without first removing his sandals and placing a burden on his back.

The point to which Atahualpa had agreed to fill Pizarro's chamber with gold was some nine feet from the floor, and the floor dimensions were about seventeen by twenty-two feet. As this space of over three thousand cubic feet began to gradually lessen under the heaps and piles of gold thrown into it, did Francisco Pizarro reflect? Twenty years before — first in Comogre's country, then on the peak in Darien, and finally on the shores of the Gulf of San Miguel — he, a dutiful lieutenant to Balboa, had heard intimations of Peru, of Peru the golden somewhere to the south. Since then Balboa had forfeited his head, and he alone had found Peru. Had Columbus found it, or Behaim, or Alonso Pinzón, how each would have wrestled with geography to prove that he had found, if not Cathay and Cipangu, at least India, at least the Golden Chersonese! Columbus on his fourth voyage would have seen in Peru — capping "the stem of the earth," as from its altitude it might well have been thought to do — the "Earthly Paradise"; and to Cortés, had he found it, it would have answered, more even than did Mexico, to the requirements of that land whence "Solomon is said to have brought the gold for the Temple."

It took longer to fill Pizarro's chamber with gold up to the nine-foot point than Atahualpa had counted on,' for, as the drain became severe, the public guardians, especially in the temples, began to secrete their treasures. At length, Pizarro waxing highly impatient, Atahualpa, who too was impatient, proposed that the former send out collectors of his own. They might go to Pachacamac, Peru's shrine to "an unknown god," very ancient and very rich; or they might go directly to Cuzco, where more than anywhere else the gold and silver of the Inca government was massed; and at either place they might help themselves. They went to both places, and what they brought back was, from Pachacamac, twenty-seven loads (cargas) of gold and two thousand marks of silver; and from Cuzco, two hundred loads of gold and twenty-five loads of silver. A "load" (333 pounds) was what could be carried by four Indians, and as part of several such loads from Cuzco there were brought seven hundred gold plates stripped from the Temple of the Sun, each plate being ten or twelve inches wide, and weighing from four to twelve pounds.

It was now June, 1533, and although the nine-foot level in Pizarro's chamber was not yet quite attained, it was deemed expedient to melt down the collection and value it preparatory to a division. So valued, it reached a total of 1,326,539 pesos de oro; or, counting the purchasing power of a peso as $11.67, nearly $15,500,000 in American money. Nor did this include the silver of the smaller chamber, which was estimated at 51,610 marks. No such treasure had ever before been amassed by a conqueror. So gigantic was it, so staggering, that had Pizarro sought for it a parallel, he must needs have betaken himself, not to Marco Polo's East or that of Ibn Batuta, but to the East of the Arabian Nights Entertainments. "The genie [so runs a familiar tale] returned with forty black slaves each bearing on his head a heavy tray of pure gold; . . . each tray was covered with silver tissue embroidered with flowers of gold. . . . The genie disappeared but presently returned with the forty slaves, ten of whom carried each a purse containing a thousand pieces of gold. . . . But most of all to be coveted were four large buffets profusely furnished with large flagons, basins, and cups, all of massy gold." So was it with Aladdin, and so, without hyperbole, was it with Pizarro.

Desiring to impress his King with the wealth of Peru, that Peru which he alone had conquered, Pizarro, in the same year in which he melted down his treasure, sent to Spain his brother Hernando with the fifth portion belonging to the Crown and with half a million pesos de oro besides. The custom-house at Seville, it is said, overflowed with "solid ingots," not to mention "vases, animals, flowers, and fountains, all of pure gold." The populace were dazed; the Court aghast, for successful adventurers were not loved at Court; and the King, delighted. Cortés had created a flurry with his "wheels of gold and silver" sent home in 1519; and had all of his "gleanings" from Montezuma been got together in one place and at one time, they would have made an enduring impression. But for the most part Spain never saw them, for they were either captured by Francis I of France or lost during the noche triste. When Cortés and Pizarro met at Palos, in 1,528, the cry in Spain was all " Cortés and Mexico !" After the coming of Hernando Pizarro to Seville, in 1534, the tables were completely turned. The cry then, and ever after as long as Cortés and Pizarro lived, was "Pizarro and Peru!"

But to go back a little. It was midsummer, 1533, and Pizarro had decided to march to Cuzco, his real objective since the day when Bartolomé Ruiz had heard of it and its splendor from the Indians on the raft off Tumbez. Seven full months had he lingered at Caxamarca, and all the gold that could be gathered there he had obtained. Besides, Almagro was again in Peru. He had landed late in December, 1532, with three ships piloted by Ruiz, and with a force consisting of one hundred and fifty foot-soldiers and fifty horsemen. Pizarro was glad of the reënforcement. Whether he was glad of the personal presence of Almagro is not so certain. Almagro was Pizarro's "partner" — his only active partner, for Luque was now dead — and, to apply the motto of the present chapter, "he that has partners has masters."

If Almagro was Pizarro's " master, " this was a relationship for the future to disclose. Up to the present Almagro's only recompense for toil and a lost eye had been the captaincy of Tumbez, whatever that might import, and against Pizarro his soul was bitter. Nor was the news which greeted him at San Miguel, whither he came from Tumbez, of a sort to appease. Pizarro had scaled the Andes; had seized the Inca of Peru; and from the latter was exacting an enormous ransom. In these momentous transactions, where did Almagro, pi.. zarro's "partner, " figure? Did he figure at all? Almagro determined to see. With his men he, too, scaled the Andes and in February, 1533, was at Caxamarca. Hence Pizarro's decision to march to Cuzco; for not only had he exhausted the gold to be obtained at Caxamarca, but, in order to meet the expectations and demands of his followers, now by Almagro's arrival quite doubled in number, he needed yet more gold. Of the fifteen and one-half million dollars in Pizarro's hands, as revealed by the melting down and weighing of his main treasure, Almagro's company would seem to have been quieted with some two hundred and thirty-three thousand dollars. Their harvest, it was explained to them, awaited them in Cuzco. What Almagro himself consented to receive is nowhere told. To Pizarro and his men, as those by whom thus far the conquest had actually been achieved, there fell immense sums: to Pizarro himself, nearly seven hundred thousand dollars, to say nothing of two thousand three hundred marks of silver; to Hernando Pizarro, nearly three hundred and sixty-three thousand dollars, without counting silver; to De Soto, two hundred and seventy thousand dollars, not counting silver; to each horseman, one hundred and three thousand dollars; and to the foot-soldiers, the most meritorious of them, nearly fifty-two thousand dollars each.

And now on every hand, and especially from Almagro's contingent, the cry arose: "On to Cuzco!" "But," said Pizarro, "wait! What about Atahualpa?"

The Indian monarch had in substance, if not in letter, kept his word regarding his ransom and was now demanding freedom. Should freedom be given him? Early in his captivity the news that he was paying vast sums to Pizarro as a ransom had come to the ears of the legitimate Inca, who was in captivity near Cuzco; and Huascar, proceeding to do what Atahualpa had surmised he might, had surreptitiously entered into relations with the Spaniards and offered a greater ransom for freedom than the ransom offered by Atahualpa. What a situation was here! And how completely to the Spanish advantage ! It admitted the playing off of one hostile element against another, and a Spaniard like Cortés would have triumphed by it. But Pizarro was not Cortés. What he did was to leave Huascar in Atahualpa's power, and at the same time incautiously let it be known to Atahualpa that Huascar was outbidding him. The natural result followed: Huascar, by order of Atahualpa, was quietly put to death.

Atahualpa at liberty must in any event be to the Spaniards no small menace; but, with Huascar out of the way, the menace was yet greater. What should be done with him? The general voice was for killing him. Against this some protested —notably Hernando de Soto; and had Hernando Pizarro been then in Peru, his protest probably would have backed that of De Soto. But the general voice so far prevailed that in August the Inca was brought to trial. Some of the charges against him were unfair, as for example that he was an idolater and that he kept concubines; but two of them may have been genuinely conceived: one that he had injured the Spaniards by diverting part of his treasure; and the other, that he had done so by the murder of Huascar. A final charge there was, and its genuineness was manifest, to wit, that he was plotting an insurrection against Spanish rule.

The result of the proceedings was that Atahualpa was found guilty and was condemned to death at the stake. But on his recanting his own faith and professing himself a Christian, his sentence was commuted. At night, on August 29, 1533, in the plaza of Caxamarca, he was strangled with a bowstring.

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