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The Spanish Conquest of Peru

In the Peruvian conquest there may be said to have been three definite stages: one of waiting and preparation; one of active hostilities; and one of accomplishment. The stage of waiting and preparation, of patience and endurance, has already been glanced at. Here Pizarro shone. From the days when, under Ojeda, Balboa, and Pedrarias, he had served on the terrible Isthmus, to those when he challenged riches and renown on the hardly less terrible coast of Peru, there was nothing that he did not suffer. At San Juan River, toils of the jungle within reach of the hideous dangling boa and of the stealthy alligator; on the Island of Gallo, nauseating food, thunder, lightning, and torrential rain; on Gorgona, plague of insects, incessant, intolerable, inescapable. All these things, with starvation often added, Pizarro suffered, but though in distress he did not repine but bravely endured.

Tumbez he reached in the spring of 1532, and here the invaders were joined by Hernando de Soto with one hundred men and fifty horses from Nicaragua. Thus reŰnforced, Pizarro, as a means of establishing himself in the country he had set out to despoil and convert, resolved to found a town. Choosing a site near the sea, some thirty leagues to the south of Tumbez, he founded San Miguel, the first European settlement in the domain ruled by the Incas. Having secured a base, the next step was to locate and appraise the forces of opposition. He accordingly sent De Soto, with a party of horse, along the foot of the first of the several great chains of the Andes, to gather information. What Pizarro learned was that in Peru there was at that time a legitimate ruler named "Cuzco, son of old Cuzco," and that he had a brother, Atahualpa, who was in rebellion but to whom Fortune had been so far favorable that he had defeated young Cuzco and gone on conquering the land southward to a place called Caxamarca. Caxamarca, Pizarro learned, was beyond the mountain wall which confronted him, but at a distance of only twelve or fifteen days' march.

Traditionally the first Inca of Peru was Manco Ccapac, who flourished about 1100 and built or rebuilt the town of Cuzco. Historically, however, the first Inca was Viracocha, whose reign fell somewhere about 1380. In 1500 the Inca was Huayna Ccapac — the "old Cuzco" of Pizarro's informants — and under him it was that the Inca dominion was projected northward beyond Quito and southward into Chile. Huayna Ccapac, "old Cuzco," was succeeded by his legitimate son Huascar, young Cuzco. But Huascar had a brother, Atahualpa, son of Huayna by a concubine, daughter of the last independent ruler of Quito, and, in order to secure to him a share in the succession, Huayna at his death divided the royal possessions, assigning to Atahualpa the Quito inheritance and to Huascar the remainder. The results usual under such circumstances followed: strife between the brothers arose, and in the contest not only had Atahualpa triumphed but he had succeeded in making Huascar captive.

As between Pizarro and Atahualpa the situation was quite like that which a dozen years before had obtained between CortÚs and Montezuma. In both instances, invaders, believed to be engendered of the Sea or dropped from the Sky, sought from a seaboard base to overcome rulers established in the mountains as protectors of capitals which were believed to be the repositories of untold wealth. There were, however, certain differences. The way to Atahualpa, barred as it was by the mighty outer wall of the Andes, was more difficult than the way to Montezuma. But, offsetting this, CortÚs's advance was hindered by every subtlest art of Indian subterfuge, while that of Pizarro was uninterfered with. Then again, Montezuma had, as he thought, laid for CortÚs a trap in Mexico-Tenochtitlan itself; whereas Atahualpa, for aught that appears, received Pizarro at Caxamarca with such sublime faith in his own abounding resources that he felt for him little other than contempt. But let the narrative disclose its own tale.

It was in September that Pizarro set out from San Miguel. His force was in all one hundred and seventy-seven men, sixty-seven of whom were horsemen. At first the country was comparatively level, watered by mountain-fed aqueducts, and set with orchards and fields of waving grain. Withal the air was sweet with the breath of flowers, and the people were friendly. But the soldiers, some of them, showed discontent; and to meet it Pizarro promptly sent back to San Miguel nine men who lacked heart for the great enterprise.

CortÚs, under more trying circumstances, had dealt with disaffection by scuttling his ships and by meting out drastic punishments. Yet to the men of CortÚs the evidence of riches ahead was far stronger than to the men of Pizarro, for the latter had beheld naught to compare with the gold and silver wheels presented to CortÚs by Montezuma.

To Pizarro, therefore, relieved of his disaffected element but facing mountains and with no treasure in sight, it remained to urge forward his command by appealing to their piety — their sense of duty as propagandists of the Faith. Besides being primitive, proud, and romantic, the Spaniard, it will be recalled, was devout. Devoutness, indeed, as a spur to action, held with him a place second only to avarice.

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