In the month of May, 1528, shortly after his return from Mexico, Cortez met in the little town of Palos, whence Columbus had sailed, a relation, whose name was Francisco Pizarro. He was a man of about fifty-seven years of age, tall, weather-beaten, but straight, and rather good-looking. He had been one of the first Spanish adventurers who had gone to seek wealth in Hispaniola, and had spent some seventeen or eighteen years in the New World without gaining fame or fortune. This veteran now told Cortez that there was in South America a country richer than Mexico, which could be conquered by a bold dash such as he had made on the kingdom of the Aztecs; that he, Pizarro, was resolved to make that dash; and that help, in the shape of money or advice, would be welcome. What Cortez replied, history does not tell us. Perhaps he had cares enough of his own not to concern himself about the schemes of others. Perhaps he did not believe Pizarro.
Yet the latter told the truth. On two separate occasions he had explored the west coast of South America from the Isthmus to the place where Truxillo now stands, and had landed, and had seen quantities of gold and silver, a rich country, and a cultured people. These voyages of discovery had been undertaken by him in partnership with a priest named Luque and an old soldier named Almagro. Luque furnished the money, Pizarro and Almagro undertook to do the discovering, the fighting, and the plundering, and all three were to divide the profit. A queer partnership for a priest to be a member of. Two voyages had been made; everything turned out as they hoped; but no conquest had been accomplished, and Father Luque had come to the bottom of his purse. Under these circumstances there was nothing to be done but to ask help from the King of Spain.
King Charles never gave money to any one. He kept it all for himself. But he granted Pizarro permission to conquer any countries he chose for the crown of Spain, and agreed that when he had conquered them, he should govern then with full authority. lie conferred high rank upon Pizarro, and agreed to pay him a large salary—out of the revenues of the conquered countries. Pizarro had promised to obtain from the king the same honors and powers for his partner Almagro as he got for himself; this part of his business he forgot. But be told such glowing stories of Peru, and boasted so loudly of his new rank as captain-general and governor that people advanced him money for his new expedition, and it is believed that Cortez helped him. At any rate, he managed to fit out three small vessels with a crew of one hundred and sixty men, and with these he departed. Four of his brothers, who, like himself, were hungry adventurers, joined his force.
In January, 1531, he set sail southward from Panama with one hundred and eighty men and twenty-seven horses. The men heard mass and took the sacrament before embarking; the priests blessed the expedition with especial fervor as a crusade against the infidel.
The first place they came to was a town in the province of Coaque, which was not far from the present city of Quito. The people, who were generous and hospitable, received the Spaniards without suspicion; whereupon, as one of Pizarro's captains said, "we fell on them sword in hand." The Spaniards stole all their gold and silver and jewels and fine stuffs; in fact, requited their kindness by making a clean sweep of all the natives had. The spoil they sent to Panama to show how bravely the expedition was coming on.
Panama was at the time full of vagabond adventurers and dare-devils, who had drifted thither from Hispaniola and Mexico. Their greed was roused by sight of the gold which Pizarro sent, and many of them fitted out small vessels to join him. In this way the Spanish force in South America was strengthened by recruits, among whom was the famous De Soto, who afterwards discovered the Mississippi; and Pizarro was able to move south to the Piura River, where he founded the town of San Miguel, which is inhabited to this day.
From that town, on September 24th, 1532, Pizarro marched at the head of one hundred and seventy-seven men, sixty-seven of whom were mounted. He knew that the King of Peru, who was called the Inca, and whose name was Atahnalpa, was at a place known as Caxamalka, on the other side of a spur of the Andes, with a large force of troops. The Spaniards crossed the mountains to meet him.
I must tell you here that the Peruvians, like the Aztecs, were a civilized people, though, unlike the Aztecs, they had no Teocallis, and very rarely offered up prisoners as sacrifices. They worshipped several gods, but the chief god was the sun, who had temples in which priests and virgins, who were not allowed to marry, held religious services. The Inca was all-powerful, but there was a system of laws which even he had to obey. Under him were a number of nobles who served him in the wars, who paid no taxes, and many of whom lived in the Inca's palaces and ate at the Inca's table.
The land of Peru was so divided that every head of a family (and every man was obliged to marry) held a portion of it, which he farmed. One-third of the crop went to the Inca; one-third to the sick, to the soldiers, and to others whose calling kept them in cities; the remaining third belonged to the holder of the land, and if it was not sufficient, he could get corn from the public storehouses without paying for it. Thus, there were no poor in Peru, and hardly any rich, except relations of the Inca. The people were warlike, and had subdued the nations round them.
Their farming was thorough. Their lands were irrigated, and manured with guano. They grew corn, potatoes, bananas, tobacco, and a number of vegetables. On the hills flocks of vicuna sheep bore a wool which was even finer than the merino wool of Spain. The country was full of gold mines; the walls of the sun god's temple were hidden by plates of gold. Strange to say, the Peruvians had no iron, and the steel weapons of the Spaniards filled them with surprise.
The chief city of Peru was Cuzco, in a valley of the Andes. It was surrounded by a wall of immense thickness; at one point a huge fortress built of great stones towered above the palaces of the Incas and the nobility. It was said that it took twenty thousand men twenty years to erect this fortress. Several thousand Peruvians lived in Cuzco in houses built of mud and reeds.
Like the king of the Aztecs, the Inca lived in lofty state. He wore a dress made of the finest wool of the vicuna, dyed in the brightest colors, and girdled with a belt shining with gold and precious stones. In his turban stood two feathers of a rare bird; no one but he was allowed to wear those feathers. Every year he travelled through his empire in a litter blazing with gold and emeralds, and carried on men's shoulders. At night, the litter reached an inn, which had been built for the purpose, and where the Inca was regaled. Before he started out in the morning the people swept the road over which he was to travel, and strewed it with flowers. When lie died, his vitals were taken out of his body and deposited in a temple with his plate and jewels; a thousand of his women were put to death on his tomb. The body itself was embalmed, clothed in the dress the Inca wore in life, and set upright in a gold chair by the side of a long row of his ancestors.
This was the people whom Pizarro had resolved to conquer and despoil.