America First—100 Stories from Our History by Lawton B. Evans

The Conquest of Peru

FRANCISCO PIZARRO was a Spaniard of low birth, and was so ignorant that never in all his life did he learn to read and write. His parents were very poor, and his wicked mother deserted him when he was a child. He would have died if he had not been nursed by an old sow.

When Pizarro became old enough to work, he took up the occupation of a swineherd, feeding and tending pigs. He became very rough and lawless, but like all other Spaniards of the day, was eager for conquest in America. So he ran away from his master, and shipped in a vessel bound for the West Indies. Here he met Vasco Nunez de Balboa, and was one of the party that went with this explorer when he beheld the waters of the Pacific Ocean. He heard a great deal about a land to the south, abounding in gold and silver.

Of course Pizarro wanted to conquer this land, just as Cortez had conquered Mexico. With a small party of men and some horses, he started out in one ship to explore the west coast of South America, where the Peruvians lived. As he went down the coast he saw signs of villages here and there, and some large towns with houses and streets. The people he noticed wore clothing, and appeared to have plenty of gold ornaments.

At one place a party of fifty of his men landed with their horses and began a march into the interior. The Peruvians came against them by the thousands, but the Spaniards fired off their guns and dismounted their horses. The strange noise of armor, and the appearance of an animal that could separate itself into two parts,—for the natives thought the horse and rider were one, so terrified the savages that they fled in dismay.

Seeing the vast numbers of people in this new land, and also its limitless riches of gold and silver, Pizarro decided to return to Spain for larger forces and more supplies, and then to return for the complete conquest of Peru. So he made his way back to Spain and reported to his King what he had seen. The Spanish monarch told Pizarro that he might be governor of all the land he subdued, and in addition he might keep half the gold he found. But the King did not give him any money with which to buy ships and supplies.

Pizarro was not daunted, however, by this. After a few months he found enough men and borrowed enough money to start afresh. He landed again on the Peruvian coast, and remained a year in one place, awaiting reinforcements and supplies. He then started on his march inland to meet Atahualpa, who was the King of the country. Atahualpa sent friendly messages, beautiful presents of gold, silver, and precious stones, together with plentiful provisions for the Spaniards.

Pizarro marched over the narrow mountain passes with a few hundred men, while Atahualpa could easily have gathered fifty thousand soldiers to overwhelm him. But Pizarro's men were fierce as wolves, while the Peruvians were as timid as sheep. There was no opposition to the onward march of the Spaniards. At last they came to a large village, which had been abandoned by the inhabitants and left for the use of the Spaniards. In this village Pizarro quartered his men, and made himself comfortable.

He was now with about two hundred men in the heart of Peru, a thickly settled country of thousands of Indians, who could destroy him at any time they saw fit. But the Indians were superstitious, timid, and not warlike; while the Spaniards had horses and guns, and were long accustomed to war.

Pizarro fortified his town as best he could, and then sent his own brother, with forty men, to Atahualpa's camp to ask him to pay the Spaniards a visit. "Tell the Inca that he must come, or else I shall make him. I will take a few horses and my men, and lay waste all his country."

The terrified King then made haste to visit the Spanish camp.

Pizarro waited all day for Atahualpa to appear. Late in the afternoon he learned that the King and his men were on the outskirts of the village. So word was sent him that supper was prepared and that it would be kept waiting until he arrived. In the meantime, Pizarro made ready for an attack, inasmuch as he feared the treachery of the Spaniards.

Atahualpa appeared, borne on a litter, plated with silver and gold, and adorned with feathers. With him were five thousand soldiers, carrying clubs, slings, and bags of stones. The cortege halted in the great square, and Pizarro came forward to greet his guest. After an exchange of courtesies, a Spanish priest began to expound the Christian religion. The King listened, and grunted as if he were not interested.

Then Atahualpa glanced around at his soldiers, speaking to them in their own language. The Spaniards thought this was a signal for war, drew their swords, and rushed upon the Indians. They met with but slight resistance. Hundreds of the Indians fell in the pursuit, for they all ran away. Those who bore the King's litter dropped it, leaving the poor monarch on the ground. He was easily taken prisoner, all of his army having fled with loud cries over the mountains.

Atahualpa saw what the Spaniards wanted, and offered to buy his life and liberty by giving up many wagon-loads of gold and silver. Pizarro agreed to this and the wagons began to come in, bringing riches in such abundance that it would have been impossible to carry all away. There were vessels, cups, bowls, idols, earrings, ornaments of all kinds—everything of pure gold or silver.

"Take this and leave my country. Also baptize me as a Christian, if you will, for I would serve your God if you will give me back to my people," said Atahualpa.

The eyes of Pizarro burned at the sight of so much wealth. If this were a part of it, why not have it all? His men gathered around the great pile and began to wonder at their own riches.

Pizarro, for no reason whatsoever, began to accuse his captive of treachery, claiming he had an army ready to overwhelm the Spaniards, and hence deserved death for his conduct. He then put the King in chains, and had him tried for treason and for being a heathen.

Poor Atahualpa was sentenced to be burned at the stake. In spite of his willingness to give up all his gold and silver, and to become a Christian, he was cruelly put to death. Thus did Pizarro carry out the practices of the early Spaniards in America, and complete the Conquest of Peru.

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