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Title: The Spanish Pioneers

Author: Charles Fletcher Lummis

Release date: July 6, 2010 [eBook #33095]
Most recently updated: January 6, 2021

Language: English

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By Charles F. Lummis

a.d. 1893




In pronouncing the Spanish names give—

athesound ofah
h issilent
llissounded likelliin million
ñ""nyin lanyard
hua""wain water

The views presented in this book have already taken their place in historical literature, but they are certainly altogether new ground for a popular work. Because it is new, some who have not fully followed the recent march of scientific investigation may fear that it is not authentic. I can only say that the estimates and statements embodied in this volume are strictly true, and that I hold myself ready to defend them from the standpoint of historical science.

I do this, not merely from the motive of personal regard toward the author, but especially in view of the merits of his work, its value for the youth of the present and of the coming generations.


[Pg 11]


It is because I believe that every other young Saxon-American loves fair play and admires heroism as much as I do, that this book has been written. That we have not given justice to the Spanish Pioneers is simply because we have been misled. They made a record unparalleled; but our text-books have not recognized that fact, though they no longer dare dispute it. Now, thanks to the New School of American History, we are coming to the truth,—a truth which every manly American will be glad to know. In this country of free and brave men, race-prejudice, the most ignorant of all human ignorances, must die out. We must respect manhood more than nationality, and admire it for its own sake wherever found,—and it is found everywhere. The deeds that hold the world up are not of any one blood. We may be born anywhere,—that is a mere accident;[Pg 12] but to be heroes we must grow by means which are not accidents nor provincialisms, but the birthright and glory of humanity.

We love manhood; and the Spanish pioneering of the Americas was the largest and longest and most marvellous feat of manhood in all history. It was not possible for a Saxon boy to learn that truth in my boyhood; it is enormously difficult, if possible, now. The hopelessness of trying to get from any or all English text-books a just picture of the Spanish hero in the New World made me resolve that no other young American lover of heroism and justice shall need to grope so long in the dark as I had to; and for the following glimpses into the most interesting of stories he has to thank me less than that friend of us both, A. F. Bandelier, the master of the New School. Without the light shed on early America by the scholarship of this great pupil of the great Humboldt, my book could not have been written,—nor by me without his generous personal aid.

C. F. L.

[Pg 13]


I. The Broad Story.


I. The Pioneer Nation 17

II. A Muddled Geography 25

III. Columbus the Finder 36

IV. Making Geography 43

V. The Chapter of Conquest 56

VI. A Girdle Round the World 71

VII. Spain in the United States 78

VIII. Two Continents Mastered 90

II. Specimen Pioneers.

I. The First American Traveller 101

II. The Greatest American Traveller 117

III. The War of the Rock 125

IV. The Storming of the Sky-City 135

V. The Soldier Poet 144

VI. The Pioneer Missionaries 149

VII. The Church-builders in New Mexico 158

VIII. Alvarado's Leap 170

[Pg 14]IX. The American Golden Fleece 181

III. The Greatest Conquest.

I. The Swineherd of Truxillo 203

II. The Man Who Would Not Give Up 215

III. Gaining Ground 225

IV. Peru As It Was 238

V. The Conquest of Peru 246

VI. The Golden Ransom 257

VII. Atahualpa's Treachery and Death 265

VIII. Founding a Nation.—the Siege of Cuzco 275

IX. The Work of Traitors 284

[Pg 15]




[Pg 17]




It is now an established fact of history that the Norse rovers had found and made a few expeditions to North America long before Columbus. For the historian nowadays to look upon that Norse discovery as a myth, or less than a certainty, is to confess that he has never read the Sagas. The Norsemen came, and even camped in the New World, before the year 1000; but they only camped. They built no towns, and practically added to the world's knowledge nothing at all. They did nothing to entitle them to credit as pioneers. The honor of giving America to the world belongs to Spain,—the credit not only of discovery, but of centuries of such pioneering as no other nation ever paralleled in any land. It is a fascinating story, yet one to which our histories have so far done scant justice. History on true principles was an unknown science until within a century; and public opinion has long been hampered by the narrow statements and false conclusions[Pg 18] of closet students. Some of these men have been not only honest but most charming writers; but their very popularity has only helped to spread their errors wider. But their day is past, and the beginnings of new light have come. No student dares longer refer to Prescott or Irving, or any of the class of which they were the leaders, as authorities in history; they rank to-day as fascinating writers of romance, and nothing more. It yet remains for some one to make as popular the truths of American history as the fables have been, and it may be long before an unmistaken Prescott appears; but meantime I should like to help young Americans to a general grasp of the truths upon which coming histories will be based. This book is not a history; it is simply a guideboard to the true point of view, the broad idea,—starting from which, those who are interested may more safely go forward to the study of details, while those who can study no farther may at least have a general understanding of the most romantic and gallant chapter in the history of America.

We have not been taught how astonishing it was that one nation should have earned such an overwhelming share in the honor of giving us America; and yet when we look into the matter, it is a very startling thing. There was a great Old World, full of civilization: suddenly a New World was found,—the most important and surprising discovery in the whole annals of mankind. One would naturally suppose that the greatness of such a discovery would stir the intelligence of all the civilized nations about equally, and[Pg 19] that they would leap with common eagerness to avail themselves of the great meaning this discovery had for humanity. But as a matter of fact it was not so. Broadly speaking, all the enterprise of Europe was confined to one nation,—and that a nation by no means the richest or strongest. One nation practically had the glory of discovering and exploring America, of changing the whole world's ideas of geography, and making over knowledge and business all to herself for a century and a half. And Spain was that nation.

It was, indeed, a man of Genoa who gave us America; but he came as a Spaniard,—from Spain, on Spanish faith and Spanish money, in Spanish ships and with Spanish crews; and what he found he took possession of in the name of Spain. Think what a kingdom Ferdinand and Isabella had then besides their little garden in Europe,—an untrodden half world, in which a score of civilized nations dwell to-day, and upon whose stupendous area the newest and greatest of nations is but a patch! What a dizziness would have seized Columbus could he have foreseen the inconceivable plant whose unguessed seeds he held that bright October morning in 1492!

It was Spain, too, that sent out the accidental Florentine whom a German printer made godfather of a half world that we are barely sure he ever saw, and are fully sure he deserves no credit for. To name America after Amerigo Vespucci was such an ignorant injustice as seems ridiculous now; but, at all events, Spain sent him who gave his name to the New World.[Pg 20]

Columbus did little beyond finding America, which was indeed glory enough for one life. But of the gallant nation which made possible his discovery there were not lacking heroes to carry out the work which that discovery opened. It was a century before Anglo-Saxons seemed to waken enough to learn that there really was a New World, and into that century the flower of Spain crowded marvels of achievement. She was the only European nation that did not drowse. Her mailed explorers overran Mexico and Peru, grasped their incalculable riches, and made those kingdoms inalienable parts of Spain. Cortez had conquered and was colonizing a savage country a dozen times as large as England years before the first English-speaking expedition had ever seen the mere coast where it was to plant colonies in the New World; and Pizarro did a still greater work. Ponce de Leon had taken possession for Spain of what is now one of the States of our Union a generation before any of those regions were seen by Saxons. That first traveller in North America, Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, had walked his unparalleled way across the continent from Florida to the Gulf of California half a century before the first foot of our ancestors touched our soil. Jamestown, the first English settlement in America, was not founded until 1607, and by that time the Spanish were permanently established in Florida and New Mexico, and absolute masters of a vast territory to the south. They had already discovered, conquered, and partly colonized[Pg 21] inland America from northeastern Kansas to Buenos Ayres, and from ocean to ocean. Half of the United States, all Mexico, Yucatan, Central America, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, Chile, New Granada, and a huge area besides, were Spanish by the time England had acquired a few acres on the nearest edge of America. Language could scarcely overstate the enormous precedence of Spain over all other nations in the pioneering of the New World. They were Spaniards who first saw and explored the greatest gulf in the world; Spaniards who discovered the two greatest rivers; Spaniards who found the greatest ocean; Spaniards who first knew that there were two continents of America; Spaniards who first went round the world! They were Spaniards who had carved their way into the far interior of our own land, as well as of all to the south, and founded their cities a thousand miles inland long before the first Anglo-Saxon came to the Atlantic seaboard. That early Spanish spirit of finding out was fairly superhuman. Why, a poor Spanish lieutenant with twenty soldiers pierced an unspeakable desert and looked down upon the greatest natural wonder of America or of the world—the Grand Cañon of the Colorado—three full centuries before any "American" eyes saw it! And so it was from Colorado to Cape Horn. Heroic, impetuous, imprudent Balboa had walked that awful walk across the Isthmus, and found the Pacific Ocean, and built on its shores the first ships that were ever made in the Americas, and sailed that unknown sea, and had[Pg 22] been dead more than half a century before Drake and Hawkins saw it.

England's lack of means, the demoralization following the Wars of the Roses, and religious dissensions were the chief causes of her torpidity then. When her sons came at last to the eastern verge of the New World they made a brave record; but they were never called upon to face such inconceivable hardships, such endless dangers as the Spaniards had faced. The wilderness they conquered was savage enough, truly, but fertile, well wooded, well watered, and full of game; while that which the Spaniards tamed was such a frightful desert as no human conquest ever overran before or since, and peopled by a host of savage tribes to some of whom the petty warriors of King Philip were no more to be compared than a fox to a panther. The Apaches and the Araucanians would perhaps have been no more than other Indians had they been transferred to Massachusetts; but in their own grim domains they were the deadliest savages that Europeans ever encountered. For a century of Indian wars in the east there were three centuries and a half in the southwest. In one Spanish colony (in Bolivia) as many were slain by the savages in one massacre as there were people in New York city when the war of the Revolution began! If the Indians in the east had wiped out twenty-two thousand settlers in one red slaughter, as did those at Sorata, it would have been well up in the eighteen-hundreds before the depleted colonies could have untied the[Pg 23] uncomfortable apron-strings of the mother country, and begun national housekeeping on their own account.

When you know that the greatest of English text-books has not even the name of the man who first sailed around the world (a Spaniard), nor of the man who discovered Brazil (a Spaniard), nor of him who discovered California (a Spaniard), nor of those Spaniards who first found and colonized in what is now the United States, and that it has a hundred other omissions as glaring, and a hundred histories as untrue as the omissions are inexcusable, you will understand that it is high time we should do better justice than did our fathers to a subject which should be of the first interest to all real Americans.

The Spanish were not only the first conquerors of the New World, and its first colonizers, but also its first civilizers. They built the first cities, opened the first churches, schools, and universities; brought the first printing-presses, made the first books; wrote the first dictionaries, histories, and geographies, and brought the first missionaries; and before New England had a real newspaper, Mexico had a seventeenth-century attempt at one!

One of the wonderful things about this Spanish pioneering—almost as remarkable as the pioneering itself—was the humane and progressive spirit which marked it from first to last. Histories of the sort long current speak of that hero-nation as cruel to the Indians; but, in truth, the record of Spain in[Pg 24] that respect puts us to the blush. The legislation of Spain in behalf of the Indians everywhere was incomparably more extensive, more comprehensive, more systematic, and more humane than that of Great Britain, the Colonies, and the present United States all combined. Those first teachers gave the Spanish language and Christian faith to a thousand aborigines, where we gave a new language and religion to one. There have been Spanish schools for Indians in America since 1524. By 1575—nearly a century before there was a printing-press in English America—many books in twelve different Indian languages had been printed in the city of Mexico, whereas in our history John Eliot's Indian Bible stands alone; and three Spanish universities in America were nearly rounding out their century when Harvard was founded. A surprisingly large proportion of the pioneers of America were college men; and intelligence went hand in hand with heroism in the early settlement of the New World.

[Pg 25]



The least of the difficulties which beset the finders of the New World was the then tremendous voyage to reach it. Had that three thousand miles of unknown sea been the chief obstacle, civilization would have overstepped it centuries before it did. It was human ignorance deeper than the Atlantic, and bigotry stormier than its waves, which walled the western horizon of Europe for so long. But for that, Columbus himself would have found America ten years sooner than he did; and for that matter, America would not have waited for Columbus's five-times-great-grandfather to be born. It was really a strange thing how the richest half of the world played so long at hide-and-seek with civilization; and how at last it was found, through the merest chance, by those who sought something entirely different. Had America waited to be discovered by some one seeking a new continent, it might be waiting yet.

Despite the fact that long before Columbus vagrant crews of half a dozen different races had already reached the New World, they had left[Pg 26] neither mark on America nor result in civilization; and Europe, at the very brink of the greatest discovery and the greatest events in history, never dreamed of it. Columbus himself had no imaginings of America. Do you know what he started westward to find? Asia.

The investigations of recent years have greatly changed our estimates of Columbus. The tendency of a generation ago was to transform him to a demigod,—an historical figure, faultless, rounded, all noble. That was absurd; for Columbus was only a man, and all men, however great, fall short of perfection. The tendency of the present generation is to go to the other extreme,—to rob him of every heroic quality, and make him out an unhanged pirate and a contemptible accident of fortune; so that we are in a fair way to have very little Columbus left. But this is equally unjust and unscientific. Columbus in his own field was a great man despite his failings, and far from a contemptible one.

To understand him, we must first have some general understanding of the age in which he lived. To measure how much of an inventor of the great idea he was, we must find out what the world's ideas then were, and how much they helped or hindered him.

In those far days geography was a very curious affair indeed. A map of the world then was something which very few of us would be able to identify at all; for all the wise men of all the earth knew less of the world's topography than an eight-year old[Pg 27] schoolboy knows to-day. It had been decided at last that the world was not flat, but round,—though even that fundamental knowledge was not yet old; but as to what composed half the globe, no man alive knew. Westward from Europe stretched the "Sea of Darkness," and beyond a little way none knew what it was or contained. The variation of the compass was not yet understood. Everything was largely guess-work, and groping in the dark. The unsafe little "ships" of the day dared not venture out of sight of land, for there was nothing reliable to guide them back; and you will laugh at one reason why they were afraid to sail out into the broad western sea,—they feared that they might unknowingly get over the edge, and that ship and crew might fall off into space! Though they knew the world was roundish, the attraction of gravitation was not yet dreamed of; and it was supposed that if one got too far over the upper side of the ball one would drop off!

Still, it was a matter of general belief that there was land in that unknown sea. That idea had been growing for more than a thousand years,—for by the second century it began to be felt that there were islands beyond Europe. By Columbus's time the map-makers generally put on their rude charts a great many guess-work islands in the Sea of Darkness. Beyond this swarm of islands was supposed to lie the east coast of Asia,—and at no enormous distance, for the real size of the world was underestimated by one third. Geography was in its mere[Pg 28] infancy; but it was engaging the attention and study of very many scholars who were learned for their day. Each of them put his studious guessing into maps, which varied astonishingly from one another.

But one thing was accepted: there was land somewhere to the west,—some said a few islands, some said thousands of islands, but all said land of some sort. So Columbus did not invent the idea; it had been agreed upon long before he was born. The question was not if there was a New World, but if it was possible or practicable to reach it without sailing over the jumping-off place or encountering other as sad dangers. The world said No; Columbus said Yes,—and that was his claim to greatness. He was not an inventor, but an accomplisher; and even what he accomplished physically was less remarkable than his faith. He did not have to teach Europe that there was a new country, but to believe that he could get to that country; and his faith in himself and his stubborn courage in making others believe in him was the greatness of his character. It took less of a man to make the final proof than to convince the public that it was not utter foolhardiness to attempt the proof at all.

Christopher Columbus, as we call him (as Colon[1] he was better known in his own day), was born in Genoa, Italy, the son of Dominico Colombo, a wool-comber, and Suzanna Fontanarossa. The year of his birth is not certain; but it was probably about[Pg 29] 1446. Of his boyhood we know nothing, and little enough of all his early life,—though it is certain that he was active, adventurous, and yet very studious. It is said that his father sent him for awhile to the University of Pavia; but his college course could not have lasted very long. Columbus himself tells us that he went to sea at fourteen years of age. But as a sailor he was able to continue the studies which interested him most,—geography and kindred topics. The details of his early seafaring are very meagre; but it seems certain that he sailed to England, Iceland, Guinea, and Greece,—which made a man then far more of a traveller than does a voyage round the world nowadays; and with this broadening knowledge of men and lands he was gaining such grasp of navigation, astronomy, and geography as was then to be had.

Autograph of Christopher Columbus. Autograph of Christopher Columbus.

It is interesting to speculate how and when Columbus first conceived an idea of such stupendous importance. It was doubtless not until he was a mature and experienced man, who had become not only a skilled sailor, but one familiar with what other sailors had done. The Madeiras and the Azores had been discovered more than a century. Prince Henry, the Navigator (that great patron of early exploration), was sending his crews down the west coast of[Pg 30] Africa,—for at that time it was not even known what the lower half of Africa was. These expeditions were a great help to Columbus as well as to the world's knowledge. It is almost certain, too, that when he was in Iceland he must have heard something of the legends of the Norse rovers who had been to America. Everywhere he went his alert mind caught some new encouragement, direct or indirect, to the great resolve which was half unconsciously forming in his mind.

About 1473 Columbus wandered to Portugal; and there formed associations which had an influence on his future. In time he found a wife, Felipa Moñiz, the mother of his son and chronicler Diego. As to his married life there is much uncertainty, and whether it was creditable to him or the reverse. It is known from his own letters that he had other children than Diego, but they are left in obscurity. His wife is understood to have been a daughter of the sea-captain known as "The Navigator," whose services were rewarded by making him the first governor of the newly discovered island of Porto Santo, off Madeira. It was the most natural thing in the world that Columbus should presently pay a visit to his adventurous father-in-law; and it was, perhaps, while in Porto Santo on this visit that he began to put his great thoughts in more tangible shape.

With men like "the world-seeking Genoese," a resolve like that, once formed, is as a barbed arrow,—difficult to be plucked out. From that day on he[Pg 31] knew no rest. The central idea of his life was "Westward! Asia!" and he began to work for its realization. It is asserted that with a patriotic intention he hastened home to make first offer of his services to his native land. But Genoa was not looking for new worlds, and declined his proffer. Then he laid his plans before John II. of Portugal. King John was charmed with the idea; but a council of his wisest men assured him that the plan was ridiculously foolhardy. At last he sent out a secret expedition, which after sailing out of sight of shore soon lost heart and returned without result. When Columbus learned of this treachery, he was so indignant that he left for Spain at once, and there interested several noblemen and finally the Crown itself in his audacious hopes. But after three years of profound deliberation, a junta[2] of astronomers and geographers decided that his plan was absurd and impossible,—the islands could not be reached. Disheartened, Columbus started for France; but by a lucky chance tarried at an Andalusian monastery, where he won the guardian, Juan Perez de Marchena, to his views. This monk had been confessor to the queen; and through his urgent intercession the Crown at last sent for Columbus, who returned to court. His plans had grown within him till they almost overbalanced him, and he seems to have forgotten that his discoveries were only a hope and not yet a fact. Courage and persistence he certainly had; but we could wish that now he had[Pg 32] been a trifle more modest. When the king asked on what terms he would make the voyage, he replied: "That you make me an admiral before I start; that I be viceroy of all the lands that I shall find; and that I receive one tenth of all the gain." Strong demands, truly, for the poor wool-comber's son of Genoa to speak to the dazzling king of Spain!

Ferdinand promptly rejected this bold demand; and in January, 1492, Columbus was actually on his way to France to try to make an impression there, when he was overtaken by a messenger who brought him back to court. It is a very large debt that we owe to good Queen Isabella, for it was due to her strong personal interest that Columbus had a chance to find the New World. When all science frowned, and wealth withheld its aid, it was a woman's persistent faith—aided by the Church—that saved history.

There has been a great deal of equally unscientific writing done for and against that great queen. Some have tried to make her out a spotless saint,—a rather hopeless task to attempt in behalf of any human being,—and others picture her as sordid, mercenary, and in no wise admirable. Both extremes are equally illogical and untrue, but the latter is the more unjust. The truth is that all characters have more than one side; and there are in history as in everyday life comparatively few figures we can either deify or wholly condemn. Isabella was not an angel,—she was a woman, and with failings, as every woman has. But she was a remarkable woman and a great one, and worthy our respect as well as[Pg 33] our gratitude. She has no need to fear comparison of character with "Good Queen Bess," and she made a much greater mark on history. It was not sordid ambition nor avarice which made her give ear to the world-finder. It was the woman's faith and sympathy and intuition which have so many times changed history, and given room for the exploits of so many heroes who would have died unheard of if they had depended upon the slower and colder and more selfish sympathy of men.

Isabella took the lead and the responsibility herself. She had a kingdom of her own; and if her royal husband Ferdinand did not deem it wise to embark the fortunes of Arragon in such a wild enterprise, she could meet the expenses from her realm of Castile. Ferdinand seems to have cared little either way; but his fair-haired, blue-eyed queen, whose gentle face hid great courage and determination, was enthusiastic.

The Genoan's conditions were granted; and on the 17th of April, 1492, one of the most important papers that ever held ink was signed by their Majesties, and by Columbus. If you could see that precious contract, you would probably have very little idea whose autograph was the lower one,—for Columbus's rigmarole of a signature would cause consternation at a teller's window nowadays. The gist of this famous agreement was as follows:—

1. That Columbus and his heirs forever should have the office of admiral in all the lands he might discover.[Pg 34]

2. That he should be viceroy and governor-general of these lands, with a voice in the appointment of his subordinate governors.

3. That he should reserve for himself one tenth part of the gold, silver, pearls, and all other treasures acquired.

4. That he and his lieutenant should be sole judges, concurrent with the High Admiral of Castile, in matters of commerce in the New World.

5. That he should have the privilege of contributing one eighth to the expenses of any other expedition to these new lands, and should then be entitled to one eighth of the profits.

It is a pity that the conduct of Columbus in Spain was not free from a duplicity which did him little credit. He entered the service of Spain, Jan. 20, 1486. As early as May 5, 1487, the Spanish Crown gave him three thousand maravedis (about $18) "for some secret service for their Majesties;" and during the same year, eight thousand maravedis more. Yet after this he was secretly proffering his services again to the King of Portugal, who in 1488 wrote Columbus a letter giving him the freedom of the kingdom in return for the explorations he was to make for Portugal. But this fell through.

Of the voyage itself you are more likely to have heard,—the voyage which lasted a few months, but to earn which the strong-hearted Genoese had borne nearly twenty years of disheartenment and opposition. It was the years of undaunted struggling to convert the world to his own unfathomed wisdom[Pg 35] that showed the character of Columbus more fully than all he ever did after the world believed him.

The difficulties of securing official consent and permission being thus at last overcome, there was only the obstacle left of getting an expedition together. This was a very serious matter; there were few who cared to join in such a foolhardy undertaking as it was felt to be. Finally, volunteers failing, a crew had to be gathered forcibly by order of the Crown; and with his não the "Santa Maria," and his two caravels the "Niña" and the "Pinta," filled with unwilling men, the world-finder was at last ready.


[1] Pronounced Cō-lōn,—the Spanish form.

[2] Pronounced Hoon-tah.

[Pg 36]



Columbus sailed from Palos, Spain, on Friday, August 3, 1492, at 8 a. m., with one hundred and twenty Spaniards under his command. You know how he and his brave comrade Pinzon held up the spirits of his weakening crew; and how, on the morning of October 12, they sighted land at last. It was not the mainland of America,—which Columbus never saw until nearly eight years later,—but Watling's Island. The voyage had been the longest west which man had yet made; and it was very characteristically illustrative of the state of the world's knowledge then. When the variations of the magnetic needle were noticed by the voyagers, they decided that it was not the needle but the north star that varied. Columbus was perhaps as well informed as any other geographer of his day; but he came to the sober conclusion that the cause of certain phenomena must be that he was sailing over a bump on the globe! This was more strongly brought out in his subsequent voyage to the Orinoco, when he detected even a worse earth-bump, and concluded that the world must be pear-shaped! It is interesting to remember that but for an accidental[Pg 37] change of course, the voyagers would have struck the Gulf Stream and been carried north,—in which case what is now the United States would have become the first field of Spain's conquest.

The first white man who saw land in the New World was a common sailor named Rodrigo de Triana, though Columbus himself had seen a light the night before. Although it is probable—as you will see later on—that Cabot saw the actual continent of America before Columbus (in 1497), it was Columbus who found the New World, who took possession of it as its ruler under Spain, and who even founded the first European colonies in it,—building, and settling with forty-three men, a town which he named La Navidad (the Nativity), on the island of San Domingo (Española, as he called it), in December, 1492. Moreover, had it not been that Columbus had already found the New World, Cabot never would have sailed.

The explorers cruised from island to island, finding many remarkable things. In Cuba, which they reached October 26, they discovered tobacco, which had never been known to civilization before, and the equally unknown sweet potato. These two products, of the value of which no early explorer dreamed, were to be far more important factors in the money-markets and in the comforts of the world than all the more dazzling treasures. Even the hammock and its name were given to civilization by this first voyage.

In March, 1493, after a fearful return voyage,[Pg 38] Columbus was again in Spain, telling his wondrous news to Ferdinand and Isabella, and showing them his trophies of gold, cotton, brilliant-feathered birds, strange plants and animals, and still stranger men,—for he had also brought back with him nine Indians, the first Americans to take a European trip. Every honor was heaped upon Columbus by the appreciative country of his adoption. It must have been a gallant sight to see this tall, athletic, ruddy-faced though gray-haired new grandee of Spain riding in almost royal splendor at the king's bridle, before an admiring court.

The grave and graceful queen was greatly interested in the discoveries made, and enthusiastic in preparing for more. Both intellectually and as a woman, the New World appealed to her very strongly; and as to the aborigines, she became absorbed in earnest plans for their welfare. Now that Columbus had proved that one could sail up and down the globe without falling over that "jumping-off place," there was no trouble about finding plenty of imitators.[3] He had done his work of genius,—he was the pathfinder,—and had finished his great mission. Had he stopped there, he would have left a much greater name; for in all that came after he was less fitted for his task.

A second expedition was hastened; and Sept. 25, 1493, Columbus sailed again,—this time taking fifteen hundred Spaniards in seventeen vessels, with[Pg 39] animals and supplies to colonize his New World. And now, too, with strict commands from the Crown to Christianize the Indians, and always to treat them well, Columbus brought the first missionaries to America,—twelve of them. The wonderful mother-care of Spain for the souls and bodies of the savages who so long disputed her entrance to the New World began early, and it never flagged. No other nation ever evolved or carried out so noble an "Indian policy" as Spain has maintained over her western possessions for four centuries.

The second voyage was a very hard one. Some of the vessels were worthless and leaky, and the crews had to keep bailing them out.

Columbus made his second landing in the New World Nov. 3, 1493, on the island of Dominica. His colony of La Navidad had been destroyed; and in December he founded the new city of Isabella. In January, 1494, he founded there the first church in the New World. During the same voyage he also built the first road.

As has been said, the first voyages to America were little in comparison with the difficulty in getting a chance to make a voyage at all; and the hardships of the sea were nothing to those that came after the safe landing. It was now that Columbus entered upon the troubles which darkened the remainder of a life of glory. Great as was his genius as an explorer, he was an unsuccessful colonizer; and though he founded the first four towns in all the New World, they brought him only ill. His colonists[Pg 40] at Isabella soon grew mutinous; and San Tonias, which he founded in Hayti, brought him no better fortune. The hardships of continued exploration among the West Indies presently overcame his health, and for nearly half a year he lay sick in Isabella. Had it not been for his bold and skilful brother Bartholomew, of whom we hear so little, we might not have heard so much of Columbus.

By 1495, the just displeasure of the Crown with the unfitness of the first viceroy of the New World caused Juan Aguado to be sent out with an open commission to inspect matters. This was more than Columbus could bear; and leaving Bartholomew as adelantado (a rank for which we now have no equivalent; it means the officer in chief command of an expedition of discoverers), Columbus hastened to Spain and set himself right with his sovereigns. Returning to the New World as soon as possible, he discovered at last the mainland (that of South America), Aug. 1, 1498, but at first thought it an island, and named it Zeta. Presently, however, he came to the mouth of the Orinoco, whose mighty current proved to him that it poured from a continent.

Stricken down by sickness, he returned to Isabella, only to find that his colonists had revolted against Bartholomew. Columbus satisfied the mutineers by sending them back to Spain with a number of slaves,—a disgraceful act, for which the times are his only apology. Good Queen Isabella was so indignant at this barbarity that she ordered the poor Indians to be[Pg 41] liberated, and sent out Francisco de Bobadilla, who in 1500 arrested Columbus and his two brothers, in Española, and sent them in irons to Spain. Columbus speedily regained the sympathy of the Crown, and Bobadilla was superseded; but that was the end of Columbus as viceroy of the New World. In 1502 he made his fourth voyage, discovered Martinique and other islands, and founded his fourth colony,—Bethlehem, 1503. But misfortune was closing in upon him. After more than a year of great hardship and distress, he returned to Spain; and there he died May 20, 1506.

The body of the world-finder was buried in Valladolid, Spain, but was several times transferred to new resting-places. It is claimed that his dust now lies, with that of his son Diego, in a chapel of the cathedral of Havana; but this is doubtful. We are not at all sure that the precious relics were not retained and interred on the island of Santo Domingo, whither they certainly were brought from Spain. At all events, they are in the New World,—at peace at last in the lap of the America he gave us.

Columbus was neither a perfect man nor a scoundrel,—though as each he has been alternately pictured. He was a remarkable man, and for his day and calling a good one. He had with the faith of genius a marvellous energy and tenacity, and through a great stubbornness carried out an idea which seems to us very natural, but to the world then seemed ridiculous. As long as he remained in the profession[Pg 42] to which he had been reared, and in which he was probably unequalled at the time, he made a wonderful record. But when, after half a century as a sailor, he suddenly turned viceroy, he became the proverbial "sailor on land,"—absolutely "lost." In his new duties he was unpractical, headstrong, and even injurious to the colonization of the New World. It has been a fashion to accuse the Spanish Crown of base ingratitude toward Columbus; but this is unjust. The fault was with his own acts, which made harsh measures by the Crown necessary and right. He was not a good manager, nor had he the high moral principle without which no ruler can earn honor. His failures were not from rascality but from some weaknesses, and from a general unfitness for the new duties to which he was too old to adapt himself.

We have many pictures of Columbus, but probably none that look like him. There was no photography in his day, and we cannot learn that his portrait was ever drawn from life. The pictures that have come down to us were made, with one exception, after his death, and all from memory or from descriptions of him. He is represented to have been tall and imposing, with a rather stern face, gray eyes, aquiline nose, ruddy but freckled cheeks, and gray hair, and he liked to wear the gray habit of a Franciscan missionary. Several of his original letters remain to us, with his remarkable autograph, and a sketch that is attributed to him.


[3] As he himself complains: "The very tailors turned explorers."

[Pg 43]



While Columbus was sailing back and forth between the Old World and the new one which he had found, was building towns and naming what were to be nations, England seemed almost ready to take a hand. All Europe was interested in the strange news which came from Spain. England moved through the instrumentality of a Venetian, whom we know as Sebastian Cabot. On the 5th of March, 1496,—four years after Columbus's discovery,—Henry VII. of England granted a patent to "John Gabote, a citizen of Venice," and his three sons, allowing them to sail westward on a voyage of discovery. John, and Sebastian his son, sailed from Bristol in 1497, and saw the mainland of America at daybreak, June 24, of the same year,—probably the coast of Nova Scotia,—but did nothing. After their return to England, the elder Cabot died. In May, 1498, Sebastian sailed on his second voyage, which probably took him into Hudson's Bay and a few hundred miles down the coast. There is little probability in the theory that he ever saw any part of what is now the United States. He was a northern rover,—so thoroughly so, that the three[Pg 44] hundred colonists whom he brought out perished with cold in July.

England did not treat her one early explorer well; and in 1512 Cabot entered the more grateful service of Spain. In 1517 he sailed to the Spanish possessions in the West Indies, on which voyage he was accompanied by an Englishman named Thomas Pert. In August, 1526, Cabot sailed with another Spanish expedition bound for the Pacific, which had already been discovered by a heroic Spaniard; but his officers mutinied, and he was obliged to abandon his purpose. He explored the Rio de la Plata (the "Silver River") for a thousand miles, built a fort at one of the mouths of the Paraña, and explored part of that river and of the Paraguay,—for South America had been for nearly a generation a Spanish possession. Thence he returned to Spain, and later to England, where he died about 1557.

Of the rude maps which Cabot made of the New World, all are lost save one which is preserved in France; and there are no documents left of him. Cabot was a genuine explorer, and must be included in the list of the pioneers of America, but as one whose work was fruitless of consequences, and who saw, but did not take a hand in, the New World. He was a man of high courage and stubborn perseverance, and will be remembered as the discoverer of Newfoundland and the extreme northern mainland.

After Cabot, England took a nap of more than half a century. When she woke again, it was to find[Pg 45] that Spain's sleepless sons had scattered over half the New World; and that even France and Portugal had left her far behind. Cabot, who was not an Englishman, was the first English explorer; and the next were Drake and Hawkins, and then Captains Amadas and Barlow, after a lapse of seventy-five and eighty-seven years, respectively,—during which a large part of the two continents had been discovered, explored, and settled by other nations, of which Spain was undeniably in the lead. Columbus, the first Spanish explorer, was not a Spaniard; but with his first discovery began such an impetuous and unceasing rush of Spanish-born explorers as achieved more in a hundred years than all the other nations of Europe put together achieved here in America's first three hundred. Cabot saw and did nothing; and three quarters of a century later Sir John Hawkins and Sir Francis Drake—whom old histories laud greatly, but who got rich by selling poor Africans into slavery, and by actual piracy against unprotected ships and towns of the colonies of Spain, with which their mother England was then at peace—saw the West Indies and the Pacific, more than half a century after these had become possessions of Spain. Drake was the first Englishman to go through the Straits of Magellan,—and he did it sixty years after that heroic Portuguese had found them and christened them with his life-blood. Drake was probably first to see what is now Oregon,—his only important discovery. He "took possession" of Oregon for England, under the name of[Pg 46] "New Albion;" but old Albion never had a settlement there.

Sir John Hawkins, Drake's kinsman, was, like him, a distinguished sailor, but not a real discoverer or explorer at all. Neither of them explored or colonized the New World; and neither left much more impress on its history than if he had never been born. Drake brought the first potatoes to England; but the importance even of that discovery was not dreamed of till long after, and by other men.

Captains Amadas and Barlow, in 1584, saw our coast at Cape Hatteras and the island of Roanoke, and went away without any permanent result. The following year Sir Richard Grenville discovered Cape Fear, and there was an end of it. Then came Sir Walter Raleigh's famous but petty expeditions to Virginia, the Orinoco, and New Guinea, and the less important voyages of John Davis (in 1585-87) to the Northwest. Nor must we forget brave Martin Frobisher's fruitless voyages to Greenland in 1576-81. This was the end of England in America until the seventeenth century. In 1602 Captain Gosnold coasted nearly our whole Atlantic seaboard, particularly about Cape Cod; and five years later yet was the beginning of English occupancy in the New World. The first English settlement which made a serious mark on history—as Jamestown did not—was that of the Pilgrim Fathers in 1602; and they came not for the sake of opening a new world, but to escape the intolerance of the old. In fact, as Mr. Winsor has pointed out, the Saxon never took any particular interest in America until it began to be understood as a commercial opportunity.

See page 87.

[Pg 47]

But when we turn to Spain, what a record is that of the hundred years after Columbus and before Plymouth Rock! In 1499 Vincente Yañez de Pinzon, a companion of Columbus, discovered the coast of Brazil, and claimed the new country for Spain, but made no settlement. His discoveries were at the mouths of the Amazon and the Orinoco; and he was the first European to see the greatest river in the world. In the following year Pedro Alvarez Cabral, a Portuguese, was driven to the coast of Brazil by a storm, "took possession" for Portugal, and founded a colony there.

As to Amerigo Vespucci, the inconsiderable adventurer whose name so overshadows his exploits, his American claims are extremely dubious. Vespucci was born in Florence in 1451, and was an educated man,—his father being a notary and his uncle a Dominican who gave him a good schooling. He became a clerk in the great house of the Medicis, and in their service was sent to Spain about 1490. There he presently got into the employ of the merchant who fitted out Columbus's second expedition,—a Florentine named Juanoto Berardi. When Berardi died, in 1495, he left an unfinished contract to fit out twelve ships for the Crown; and Vespucci was intrusted with the completion of the contract. There is no reason whatever to believe[Pg 48] that he accompanied Columbus either on the first or the second voyage. According to his own story, he sailed from Cadiz May 10, 1497 (in a Spanish expedition), and reached the mainland eighteen days before Cabot saw it. The statement of encyclopædias that Vespucci "probably got as far north as Cape Hatteras" is ridiculous. The proof is absolute that he never saw an inch of the New World north of the equator. Returning to Spain in the latter part of 1498, he sailed again, May 16, 1499, with Ojeda, to San Domingo, a voyage on which he was absent about eighteen months. He left Lisbon on his third voyage, May 10, 1501, going to Brazil. It is not true, despite the encyclopædias, that he discovered and named the Bay of Rio Janeiro; both those honors belong to Cabral, the real discoverer and pioneer of Brazil, and a man of vastly greater historical importance than Vespucci. Vespucci's fourth voyage took him from Lisbon (June 10, 1503) to Bahia, and thence to Cape Frio, where he built a little fort. In 1504 he returned to Portugal, and in the following year to Spain, where he died in 1512.

These voyages rest only on Vespucci's own statements, which are not to be implicitly believed. It is probable that he did not sail at all in 1497, and quite certain that he had no share whatever in the real discoveries in the New World.

The name "America" was first invented and applied in 1507 by an ill-informed German printer, named Waldzeemüller, who had got hold of Amerigo[Pg 49] Vespucci's documents. History is full of injustices, but never a greater among them all than the christening of America. It would have been as appropriate to call it Walzeemüllera. The first map of America was made in 1500 by Juan de la Cosa, a Spaniard,—and a very funny map it would seem to the schoolboy of to-day. The first geography of America was by Enciso, a Spaniard, in 1517.

It is pleasant to turn from an overrated and very dubious man to those genuine but almost unheard-of Portuguese heroes, the brothers Gaspard and Miguel Corte-Real. Gaspard sailed from Lisbon in the year 1500, and discovered and named Labrador,—"the laborer." In 1501 he sailed again from Portugal to the Arctic, and never returned. After waiting a year, his brother Miguel led an expedition to find and rescue him; but he too perished, with all his men, among the ice-floes of the Arctic. A third brother wished to go in quest of the lost explorers, but was forbidden by the king, who himself sent out a relief expedition of two ships; but no trace of the gallant Corte-Reals, nor of any of their men, was ever found.

Such was the pioneering of America up to the end of the first decade of the sixteenth century,—a series of gallant and dangerous voyages (of which only the most notable ones of the great Spanish inrush have been mentioned), resulting in a few ephemeral colonies, but important only as a peep into the doors of the New World. The real hardships and dangers, the real exploration and conquest of the Americas,[Pg 50] began with the decade from 1510 to 1520,—the beginning of a century of such exploration and conquest as the world never saw before nor since. Spain had it all to herself, save for the heroic but comparatively petty achievements of Portugal in South America, between the Spanish points of conquest. The sixteenth century in the New World was unparalleled in military history; and it produced, or rather developed, such men as tower far above the later conquerors in their achievement. Our part of the hemisphere has never made such startling chapters of conquest as were carved in the grimmer wildernesses to our south by Cortez, Pizarro, Valdivia, and Quesada, the greatest subduers of wild America.

There were at least a hundred other early Spanish heroes, unknown to public fame and buried in obscurity until real history shall give them their well-earned praise. There is no reason to believe that these unremembered heroes were more capable of great things than our Israel Putnams and Ethan Allens and Francis Marions and Daniel Boones; but they did much greater things under the spur of greater necessity and opportunity. A hundred such, I say; but really the list is too long to be even catalogued here; and to pay attention to their greater brethren will fill this book. No other mother-nation ever bore a hundred Stanleys and four Julius Cæsars in one century; but that is part of what Spain did for the New World. Pizarro, Cortez, Valdivia, and Quesada are entitled to be called the Cæsars of the New World; and no other conquests in the history of[Pg 51] America are at all comparable to theirs. As among the four, it is almost difficult to say which was greatest; though there is really but one answer possible to the historian. The choice lies of course between Cortez and Pizarro, and for years was wrongly made. Cortez was first in time, and his operations seem to us nearer home. He was a highly educated man for his time, and, like Cæsar, had the advantage of being able to write his own biography; while his distant cousin Pizarro could neither read nor write, but had to "make his mark,"—a striking contrast with the bold and handsome (for those days) autograph of Cortez. But Pizarro—who had this lack of education as a handicap from the first, who went through infinitely greater hardships and difficulties than Cortez, and managed the conquest of an area as great with a third as many men as Cortez had, and very much more desperate and rebellious men—was beyond question the greatest Spanish American, and the greatest tamer of the New World. It is for that reason, and because such gross injustice has been done him, that I have chosen his marvellous career, to be detailed later in this book, as a picture of the supreme heroism of the Spanish pioneers.

But while Pizarro was greatest, all four were worthy the rank they have been assigned as the Cæsars of America.

Certain it is that the bald-headed little great man of old Rome, who crowds the page of ancient history, did nothing greater than each of those four Spanish heroes, who with a few tattered Spaniards[Pg 52] in place of the iron legions of Rome conquered each an inconceivable wilderness as savage as Cæsar found, and five times as big. Popular opinion long did a vast injustice to these and all other of the Spanish conquistadores, belittling their military achievements on account of their alleged great superiority of weapons over the savages, and taxing them with a cruel and relentless extermination of the aborigines. The clear, cold light of true history tells a different tale. In the first place, the advantage of weapons was hardly more than a moral advantage in inspiring awe among the savages at first, for the sadly clumsy and ineffective firearms of the day were scarcely more dangerous than the aboriginal bows which opposed them. They were effective at not much greater range than arrows, and were tenfold slower of delivery. As to the cumbrous and usually dilapidated armor of the Spaniard and his horse, it by no means fully protected either from the agate-tipped arrows of the savages; and it rendered both man and beast ill-fitted to cope with their agile foes in any extremity, besides being a frightful burden in those tropic heats. The "artillery" of the times was almost as worthless as the ridiculous arquebuses. As to their treatment of the natives, there was incomparably less cruelty suffered by the Indians who opposed the Spaniards than by those who lay in the path of any other European colonizers. The Spanish did not obliterate any aboriginal nation,—as our ancestors obliterated scores,—but followed the first necessarily bloody lesson with humane education[Pg 53] and care. Indeed, the actual Indian population of the Spanish possessions in America is larger to-day than it was at the time of the conquest; and in that astounding contrast of conditions, and its lesson as to contrast of methods, is sufficient answer to the distorters of history.

Before we come to the great conquerors, however, we must outline the eventful career and tragic end of the discoverer of the Pacific Ocean, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa. In one of the noblest poems in the English language we read,—

"Like stout Cortes, when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific, and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise,
Silent upon a peak in Darien."

But Keats was mistaken. It was not Cortez who first saw the Pacific, but Balboa,—five years before Cortez came to the mainland of America at all.

Balboa was born in the province of Estremadura, Spain, in 1475. In 1501 he sailed with Bastidas for the New World, and then saw Darien, but settled on the island of Española. Nine years later he sailed to Darien with Enciso, and there remained. Life in the New World then was a troublous affair, and the first years of Balboa's life there were eventful enough, though we must pass them over. Quarrels presently arose in the colony of Darien. Enciso was deposed and shipped back to Spain a prisoner, and Balboa took command. Enciso, upon his arrival in Spain, laid all the blame upon Balboa, and got him condemned by the king for high treason.[Pg 54] Learning of this, Balboa determined upon a master-stroke whose brilliancy should restore him to the royal favor. From the natives he had heard of the other ocean and of Peru,—neither yet seen by European eyes,—and made up his mind to find them. In September, 1513, he sailed to Coyba with one hundred and ninety men, and from that point, with only ninety followers, tramped across the Isthmus to the Pacific,—for its length one of the most frightful journeys imaginable. It was on the 26th of September, 1513, that from the summit of the divide the tattered, bleeding heroes looked down upon the blue infinity of the South Sea,—for it was not called the Pacific until long after. They descended to the coast; and Balboa, wading out knee-deep into the new ocean, holding aloft in his right hand his slender sword, and in his left the proud flag of Spain, took solemn possession of the South Sea in the name of the King of Spain.

The explorers got back to Darien Jan. 18, 1514, and Balboa sent to Spain an account of his great discovery. But Pedro Arias de Avila had already sailed from the mother country to supplant him. At last, however, Balboa's brilliant news reached the king, who forgave him, and made him adelantado; and soon after he married the daughter of Pedro Arias. Still full of great plans, Balboa carried the necessary material across the Isthmus with infinite toil, and on the shores of the blue Pacific put together the first ships in the Americas,—two brigantines. With these he took possession of the[Pg 55] Pearl Islands, and then started out to find Peru, but was driven back by storms to an ignoble fate. His father-in-law, becoming jealous of Balboa's brilliant prospects, enticed him back to Darien by a treacherous message, seized him, and had him publicly executed, on the trumped-up charge of high treason, in 1517. Balboa had in him the making of an explorer of the first rank, and but for De Avila's shameless deed might probably have won even higher honors. His courage was sheer audacity, and his energy tireless; but he was unwisely careless in his attitude toward the Crown.

[Pg 56]



While the discoverer of the greatest ocean was still striving to probe its farther mysteries, a handsome, athletic, brilliant young Spaniard, who was destined to make much more noise in history, was just beginning to be heard of on the threshold of America, of whose central kingdoms he was soon to be conqueror.

Hernando Cortez came of a noble but impoverished Spanish family, and was born in Estremadura ten years later than Balboa. At the age of fourteen he was sent to the University of Salamanca to study for the law; but the adventurous spirit of the man was already strong in the slender lad, and in a couple of years he left college, and went home determined upon a life of roving. The air was full of Columbus and his New World; and what spirited youth could stay to pore in musty law-books then? Not the irrepressible Hernando, surely.

Accidents prevented him from accompanying two expeditions for which he had made ready; but at last, in 1504, he sailed to San Domingo, in which new colony of Spain he made such a record that Ovando, the commander, several times promoted him, and he earned the reputation of a model soldier.[Pg 57] In 1511 he accompanied Velasquez to Cuba, and was made alcalde (judge) of Santiago, where he won further praise by his courage and firmness in several important crises. Meantime Francisco Hernandez de Cordova, the discoverer of Yucatan,—a hero with this mere mention of whom we must content ourselves,—had reported his important discovery. A year later, Grijalva, the lieutenant of Velasquez, had followed Cordova's course, and gone farther north, until at last he discovered Mexico. He made no attempt, however, to conquer or to colonize the new land; whereat Velasquez was so indignant that he threw Grijalva in disgrace, and intrusted the conquest to Cortez. The ambitious young Spaniard sailed from Santiago (Cuba) Nov. 18, 1518, with less than seven hundred men and twelve little cannon of the class called falconets. No sooner was he fairly off than Velasquez repented having given him such a chance for distinction, and directly sent out a force to arrest and bring him back. But Cortez was the idol of his little army, and secure in its fondness for him he bade defiance to the emissaries of Velasquez, and held on his way.[4] He landed on the coast of Mexico March 4, 1519, near where is now the city of Vera Cruz (the True Cross), which he founded,—the first European town on the mainland of America as far north as Mexico.[Pg 58]

The landing of the Spaniards caused as great a sensation as would the arrival in New York to-day of an army from Mars.[5] The awe-struck natives had never before seen a horse (for it was the Spanish who brought the first horses, cattle, sheep, and other domestic animals to the New World), and decided that these strange, pale new-comers who sat on four-legged beasts, and had shirts of iron and sticks that made thunder, must indeed be gods.

Here the adventurers were inflamed by golden stories of Montezuma,—a myth which befooled Cortez no more egregiously than it has befooled some modern historians, who seem unable to discriminate between what Cortez heard and what he found. He was told that Montezuma—whose name is properly Moctezuma, or Motecuzoma, meaning "Our Angry Chief"—was "emperor" of Mexico, and that thirty "kings," called caciques, were his vassals; that he had incalculable wealth and absolute power, and dwelt in a blaze of gold and precious stones! Even some most charming historians have fallen into the sad blunder of accepting these impossible myths. Mexico never had but two emperors,—Augustin de Iturbide and the hapless Maximilian,—both in this present century; and Moctezuma was neither its emperor nor even its king. The social and political organization of the ancient Mexicans was exactly like that of the[Pg 59] Pueblo Indians of New Mexico at the present day,—a military democracy, with a mighty and complicated religious organization as its "power behind the throne." Moctezuma was merely Tlacatécutle, or head war-chief of the Nahuatl (the ancient Mexicans), and neither the supreme nor the only executive. Of just how little importance he really was may be gathered from his fate.

Having founded Vera Cruz, Cortez caused himself to be elected governor and captain-general (the highest military rank)[6] of the new country; and having burned his ships, like the famous Greek commander, that there might be no retreat, he began his march into the grim wilderness before him.

It was now that Cortez began to show particularly that military genius which lifted him so far above all other pioneers of America except Pizarro. With only a handful of men,—for he had left part of his forces at Vera Cruz, under his lieutenant Escalante,—in an unknown land swarming with powerful and savage foes, mere courage and brute force would have stood him in little stead. But with a diplomacy as rare as it was brilliant, he found the weak spots in the Indian organization, widened the jealous breaches between tribes, made allies of those who were secretly or openly opposed to Moctezuma's federation of tribes,—a league which somewhat resembled the Six Nations of our own history,—and thus vastly reduced the forces to be directly conquered. Having routed the tribes of[Pg 60] Tlacala (pronounced Tlash-cáh-lah) and Cholula, Cortez came at last to the strange lake-city of Mexico, with his little Spanish troop swelled by six thousand Indian allies. Moctezuma received him with great ceremony, but undoubtedly with treacherous intent. While he was entertaining his visitors in one of the huge adobe houses,—not a "palace," as the histories tell us, for there were no palaces whatever in Mexico,—one of the sub-chiefs of his league attacked Escalante's little garrison at Vera Cruz and killed several Spaniards, including Escalante himself. The head of the Spanish lieutenant was sent to the City of Mexico,—for the Indians south of what is now the United States took not merely the scalp but the whole head of an enemy. This was a direful disaster, not so much for the loss of the few men as because it proved to the Indians (as the senders intended it to prove) that the Spaniards were not immortal gods after all, but could be killed the same as other men.

As soon as Cortez heard the ill news he saw this danger at once, and made a bold stroke to save himself. He had already strongly fortified the adobe building in which the Spaniards were quartered; and now, going by night with his officers to the house of the head war-captain, he seized Moctezuma and threatened to kill him unless he at once gave up the Indians who had attacked Vera Cruz. Moctezuma delivered them up, and Cortez at once had them burned in public. This was a cruel thing, though it was undoubtedly necessary to make some[Pg 61] vivid impression on the savages or be at once annihilated by them. There is no apology for this barbarity, yet it is only just that we measure Cortez by the standard of his time,—and it was a very cruel world everywhere then.

It is amusing here to read in pretentious text-books that "Cortez now ironed Montezuma and made him pay a ransom of six hundred thousand marks of pure gold and an immense quantity of precious stones." That is on a par with the impossible fables which lured so many of the early Spaniards to disappointment and death, and is a fair sample of the gilded glamour with which equally credulous historians still surround early America. Moctezuma did not buy himself free,—he never was free again,—and he paid no ransom of gold; while as for precious stones, he may have had a few native garnets and worthless green turquoises, and perhaps even an emerald pebble, but nothing more.

Just at this crisis in the affairs of Cortez he was threatened from another quarter. News came that Pamfilo de Narvaez, of whom we shall see more presently, had landed with eight hundred men to arrest Cortez and carry him back prisoner for his disobedience of Velasquez. But here again the genius of the conqueror of Mexico saved him. Marching against Narvaez with one hundred and forty men, he arrested Narvaez, enlisted under his own banner the welcome eight hundred who had come to arrest him, and hastened back to the City of Mexico.[Pg 62]

Here he found matters growing daily to more deadly menace. Alvarado, whom he had left in command, had apparently precipitated trouble by attacking an Indian dance. Wanton as that may seem and has been charged with being, it was only a military necessity, recognized by all who really know the aborigines even to this day. The closet-explorers have pictured the Spaniards as wickedly falling upon an aboriginal festival; but that is simply because of ignorance of the subject. An Indian dance is not a festival; it is generally, and was in this case, a grim rehearsal for murder. An Indian never dances "for fun," and his dances too often mean anything but fun for other people. In a word, Alvarado, seeing in progress a dance which was plainly only the superstitious prelude to a massacre, had tried to arrest the medicine-men and other ringleaders. Had he succeeded, the trouble would have been over for a time at least. But the Indians were too numerous for his little force, and the chief instigators of war escaped.

When Cortez came back with his eight hundred strangely-acquired recruits, he found the whole city with its mask thrown off, and his men penned up in their barracks. The savages quietly let Cortez enter the trap, and then closed it so that there was no more getting out. There were the few hundred Spaniards cooped up in their prison, and the four dykes which were the only approaches to it—for the City of Mexico was an American Venice—swarming with savage foes by the countless thousands.[Pg 63]

The Indian makes very few excuses for failure; and the Nahuatl had already elected a new head war-captain named Cuitlahuátzin in place of the unsuccessful Moctezuma. The latter was still a prisoner; and when the Spaniards brought him out upon the housetop to speak to his people in their behalf, the infuriated multitude of Indians pelted him to death with stones. Then, under their new war-captain, they attacked the Spaniards so furiously that neither the strong walls nor the clumsy falconets, and clumsier flintlocks, could withstand them; and there was nothing for the Spaniards but to cut their way out along one of the dykes in a last desperate struggle for life. The beginning of that six days' retreat was one of the bitterest pages in American history. Then was the Noche Triste (the Sad Night), still celebrated in Spanish song and story. For that dark night many a proud home in mother Spain was never bright again, and many a fond heart broke with the crimson bubbles on the Lake of Tezcuco. In those few ghastly hours two thirds of the conquerors were slain; and across more than eight hundred Spanish corpses the frenzied savages pursued the bleeding survivors.

After a fearful retreat of six days, came the important running fight in the plains of Otumba, where the Spaniards were entirely surrounded, but cut their way out after a desperate hand-to-hand struggle which really decided the fate of Mexico. Cortez marched to Tlacala, raised an army of Indians[Pg 64] who were hostile to the federation, and with their help laid siege to the City of Mexico. This siege lasted seventy-three days, and was the most remarkable in the history of all America. There was hard fighting every day. The Indians made a superb defence; but at last the genius of Cortez triumphed, and on the 13th of August, 1521, he marched victorious into the second greatest aboriginal city in the New World.

These wonderful exploits of Cortez, so briefly outlined here, awoke boundless admiration in Spain, and caused the Crown to overlook his insubordination to Velasquez. The complaints of Velasquez were disregarded, and Charles V. appointed Cortez governor and captain-general of Mexico, besides making him Marquis de Oaxaca with a handsome revenue.

Safely established in this high authority, Cortez crushed a plot against him, and executed the new war-captain, with many of the caciques (who were not potentates at all, but religious-military officers, whose hold on the superstitions of the Indians made them dangerous).

But Cortez, whose genius shone only the brighter when the difficulties and dangers before him seemed insurmountable, tripped up on that which has thrown so many,—success. Unlike his unlearned but nobler and greater cousin Pizarro, prosperity spoiled him, and turned his head and his heart. Despite the unstudious criticisms of some historians, Cortez was not a cruel conqueror. He was not only a great[Pg 65] military genius, but was very merciful to the Indians, and was much beloved by them. The so-called massacre at Cholula was not a blot on his career as has been alleged. The truth, as vindicated at last by real history, is this: The Indians had treacherously drawn him into a trap under pretext of friendship. Not until too late to retreat did he learn that the savages meant to massacre him. When he did see his danger, there was but one chance,—namely, to surprise the surprisers, to strike them before they were ready to strike him; and this is only what he did. Cholula was simply a case of the biter bitten.

No, Cortez was not cruel to the Indians; but as soon as his rule was established he became a cruel tyrant to his own countrymen, a traitor to his friends and even to his king,—and, worst of all, a cool assassin. There is strong evidence that he had "removed" several persons who were in the way of his unholy ambitions; and the crowning infamy was in the fate of his own wife. Cortez had long for a mistress the handsome Indian girl Malinche; but after he had conquered Mexico, his lawful wife came to the country to share his fortunes. He did not love her, however, as much as he did his ambition; and she was in his way. At last she was found in her bed one morning, strangled to death.

Carried away by his ambition, he actually plotted open rebellion against Spain and to make himself emperor of Mexico. The Crown got wind of this precious plan, and sent out emissaries who seized[Pg 66] his goods, imprisoned his men, and prepared to thwart his secret schemes. Cortez boldly hastened to Spain, where he met his sovereign with great splendor. Charles received him well, and decorated him with the illustrious Order of Santiago, the patron saint of Spain. But his star was already declining; and though he was allowed to return to Mexico with undiminished outward power, he was thenceforth watched, and did nothing more that was comparable with his wonderful earlier achievements. He had become too unscrupulous, too vindictive, and too unsafe to be left in authority; and after a few years the Crown was forced to appoint a viceroy to wield the civil power of Mexico, leaving to Cortez only the military command, and permission for further conquests. In 1536 Cortez discovered Lower California, and explored part of its gulf. At last, disgusted with his inferior position where he had once been supreme, he returned to Spain, where the emperor received him coldly. In 1541 he accompanied his sovereign to Algiers as an attaché, and in the wars there acquitted himself well. Soon after their return to Spain, however, he found himself neglected. It is said that one day when Charles was riding in state, Cortez forced his way to the royal carriage and mounted upon the step determined to force recognition.

"Who are you?" demanded the angry emperor.

"A man, your Highness," retorted the haughty conqueror of Mexico, "who has given you more provinces than your forefathers left you cities!"[Pg 67]

Whether the story is true or not, it graphically illustrates the arrogance as well as the services of Cortez. He lacked the modest balance of the greatest greatness, just as Columbus had lacked it. The self-assertion of either would have been impossible to the greater man than either,—the self-possessed Pizarro.

At last, in disgust, Cortez retired from court; and on the 2d of December, 1554, the man who had first opened the interior of America to the world died near Seville.

There were some in South America whose achievements were as wondrous as those of Cortez in Mexico. The conquest of the two continents was practically contemporaneous, and equally marked by the highest military genius, the most dauntless courage, the overcoming of dangers which were appalling, and hardships which were wellnigh superhuman.

Francisco Pizarro, the unlettered but invincible conqueror of Peru, was fifteen years older than his brilliant cousin Cortez, and was born in the same province of Spain. He began to be heard of in America in 1510. From 1524 to 1532 he was making superhuman efforts to get to the unknown and golden land of Peru, overcoming such obstacles as not even Columbus had encountered, and enduring greater dangers and hardships than Napoleon or Cæsar ever met. From 1532 to his death in 1541, he was busy in conquering and exploring that enormous area, and founding a new nation amid its fierce tribes,—fighting off not only the vast hordes[Pg 68] of Indians, but also the desperate men of his own forces, by whose treachery he at last perished. Pizarro found and tamed the richest country in the New World; and with all his unparalleled sufferings still realized, more than any other of the conquerors, the golden dreams which all pursued. Probably no other conquest in the world's history yielded such rapid and bewildering wealth, as certainly none was bought more dearly in hardship and heroism. Pizarro's conquest has been most unjustly dealt with by some historians ignorant of the real facts in the case, and blinded by prejudice; but that marvellous story, told in detail farther on, is coming to its proper rank as one of the most stupendous and gallant feats in all history. It is the story of a hero to whom every true American, young or old, will be glad to do justice. Pizarro has been long misrepresented as a blood-stained and cruel conqueror, a selfish, unprincipled, unreliable man; but in the clear, true light of real history he stands forth now as one of the greatest of self-made men, and one who, considering his chances, deserves the utmost respect and admiration for the man he made of himself. The conquest of Peru did not by far cause as much bloodshed as the final reduction of the Indian tribes of Virginia. It counted scarcely as many Indian victims as King Philip's War, and was much less bloody, because more straightforward and honorable, than any of the British conquests in East India. The most bloody events in Peru came after the conquest was over, when the Spaniards[Pg 69] fell to fighting one another; and in this Pizarro was not the aggressor but the victim. It was the treachery of his own allies,—the men whose fames and fortunes he had made. His conquest covered a land as big as California, Oregon, and most of Washington,—or as our whole seaboard from Nova Scotia to Port Royal and two hundred miles inland,—swarming with the best organized and most advanced Indians in the Western Hemisphere; and he did it all with less than three hundred gaunt and tattered men. He was one of the great captains of all time, and almost as remarkable as organizer and executive of a new empire, the first on the Pacific shore of the southern continent. To this greatness rose the friendless, penniless, ignorant swineherd of Truxillo!

Pedro de Valdivia, the conqueror of Chile, subdued that vast area of the deadly Araucanians with an "army" of two hundred men. He established the first colony in Chile in 1540, and in the following February founded the present city of Santiago de Chile. Of his long and deadly wars with the Araucanians there is not space to speak here. He was killed by the savages Dec. 3, 1553, with nearly all his men, after an indescribably desperate struggle.

There is not space to tell here of the wondrous doings in the southern continent or the lower point of this,—the conquest of Nicaragua by Gil Gonzales Davila in 1523; the conquest of Guatemala, by Pedro de Alvarado, in 1524; that of Yucatan by Francisco de Montijo, beginning in 1526; that of New Granada[Pg 70] by Gonzalo Ximenez de Quesada, in 1536; the conquests and exploration of Bolivia, the Amazon, and the Orinoco (to whose falls the Spaniards had penetrated by 1530, by almost superhuman efforts); the unparalleled Indian wars with the Araucanians in Chile (for two centuries), with the Tarrahumares in Chihuahua, the Tepehuanes in Durango, the still untamed Yaquis in northwestern Mexico; the exploits of Captain Martin de Hurdaide (the Daniel Boone of Sinaloa and Sonora); and of hundreds of other unrecorded Spanish heroes, who would have been world-renowned had they been more accessible to the fame-maker.


[4] This mutiny against Velasquez was the first hint of the unscrupulous man who was finally to turn complete traitor to Spain.

[5] Tezozomoc, the Indian historian, graphically describes the wonder of the natives.

[6] Another specific act of treason.

[Pg 71]



Before Cortez had yet conquered Mexico, or Pizarro or Valdivia seen the lands with which their names were to be linked for all time, other Spaniards—less conquerors, but as great explorers—were rapidly shaping the geography of the New World. France, too, had aroused somewhat; and in 1500 her brave son Captain de Gonneville sailed to Brazil. But between him and the next pioneer, who was a Florentine in French pay, was a gap of twenty-four years; and in that time Spain had accomplished four most important feats.

Fernão Magalhaes, whom we know as Ferdinand Magellan, was born in Portugal in 1470; and on reaching manhood adopted the seafaring life, to which his adventurous disposition prompted. The Old World was then ringing with the New; and Magellan longed to explore the Americas. Being very shabbily treated by the King of Portugal, he enlisted under the banner of Spain, where his talents found recognition. He sailed from Spain in command of a Spanish expedition, August 10, 1519; and steering farther south than ever man[Pg 72] had sailed before, he discovered Cape Horn, and the Straits which bear his name. Fate did not spare him to carry his discoveries farther, nor to reap the reward of those he had made; for during this voyage (in 1521) he was butchered by the natives of one of the islands of the Moluccas. His heroic lieutenant, Juan Sebastian de Elcano, then took command, and continued the voyage until he had circumnavigated the globe for the first time in its history. Upon his return to Spain, the Crown rewarded his brilliant achievements, and gave him, among other honors, a coat-of-arms emblazoned with a globe and the motto, Tu primum circumdedisti me,—"Thou first didst go around me."

Juan Ponce de Leon, the discoverer of Florida,—the first State of our Union that was seen by Europeans,—was as ill-fated an explorer as Magellan; for he came to "the Flowery Land" (to which he had been lured by the wild myth of a fountain of perennial youth) only to be slain by its savages. De Leon was born in San Servas, Spain, in the latter part of the fifteenth century. He was the conqueror of the island of Puerto Rico, and sailing in 1512 to find Florida,—of which he had heard through the Indians,—discovered the new land in the same year, and took possession of it for Spain. He was given the title of adelantado of Florida, and in 1521 returned with three ships to conquer his new country, but was at once wounded mortally in a fight with the Indians, and died on his return to Cuba. He, by the way, was one of the bold[Pg 73] Spaniards who accompanied Columbus on his second voyage to America, in 1493.

Autograph of Hernando de Soto. Autograph of Hernando de Soto.

More of the credit of Florida belongs to Hernando de Soto. That gallant conquistador was born in Estremadura, Spain, about 1496. Pedro Arias de Avila took a liking to his bright young kinsman, helped him to obtain a university education, and in 1519 took him along on his expedition to Darien. De Soto won golden opinions in the New World, and came to be trusted as a prudent yet fearless officer. In 1528 he commanded an expedition to explore the coast of Guatemala and Yucatan, and in 1532 led a reinforcement of three hundred men to assist Pizarro in the conquest of Peru. In that golden land De Soto captured great wealth; and the young soldier of fortune, who had landed in America with no more than his sword and shield, returned to Spain with what was in those days an enormous fortune. There he married a daughter of his benefactor De Avila, and thus became brother-in-law of the discoverer of the Pacific,—Balboa. De Soto lent part of his soon-earned fortune to Charles V., whose constant wars had drained the royal coffers, and Charles sent him out as governor of Cuba and adelantado of the new province of[Pg 74] Florida. He sailed in 1538 with an army of six hundred men, richly equipped,—a company of adventurous Spaniards attracted to the banner of their famous countryman by the desire for discovery and gold. The expedition landed in Florida, at Espiritu Santo Bay, in May, 1539, and re-took possession of the unguessed wilderness for Spain.

But the brilliant success which had attended De Soto in the highlands of Peru seemed to desert him altogether in the swamps of Florida. It is note-worthy that nearly all the explorers who did wonders in South America failed when their operations were transferred to the northern continent. The physical geography of the two was so absolutely unlike, that, after becoming accustomed to the necessities of the one, the explorer seemed unable to adapt himself to the contrary conditions of the other.

De Soto and his men wandered through the southern part of what is now the United States for four ghastly years. It is probable that their travels took them through the present States of Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and the northeastern corner of Texas. In 1541 they reached the Mississippi River; and theirs were the first European eyes to look upon the Father of Waters, anywhere save at its mouth,—a century and a quarter before the heroic Frenchmen Marquette and La Salle saw it. They spent that winter along the Washita; and in the early summer of 1542, as they were returning down the Mississippi, brave De Soto died, and his body was laid to rest in the bosom of the mighty river he had discovered,—two centuries before any "American" saw it. His suffering and disheartened men passed a frightful winter there; and in 1543, under command of the Lieutenant Moscoso, they built rude vessels, and sailed down the Mississippi to the Gulf in nineteen days,—the first navigation in our part of America. From the Delta they made their way westward along the coast, and at last reached Panuco, Mexico, after such a five years of hardship and suffering as no Saxon explorer of America ever experienced. It was nearly a century and a half after De Soto's gaunt army of starving men had taken Louisiana for Spain that it became a French possession,—which the United States bought from France over a century later yet.

See page 125.

[Pg 75]

So when Verazzano—the Florentine sent out by France—reached America in 1524, coasted the Atlantic seaboard from somewhere about South Carolina to Newfoundland, and gave the world a short description of what he saw, Spain had circumnavigated the globe, reached the southern tip of the New World, conquered a vast territory, and discovered at least half-a-dozen of our present States, since the last visit of a Frenchman to America. As for England, she was almost as unheard of still on this side of the earth as though she had never existed.

Between De Leon and De Soto, Florida was visited in 1518 by Francisco de Garay, the conqueror of Tampico. He came to subdue the Flowery Land, but failed, and died soon after in Mexico,—the probability being that he was poisoned by order of Cortez. He left even less mark[Pg 76] on Florida than did De Leon, and belongs to the class of Spanish explorers who, though real heroes, achieved unimportant results, and are too numerous to be even catalogued here.

In 1527 there sailed from Spain the most disastrous expedition which was ever sent to the New World,—an expedition notable but for two things, that it was perhaps the saddest in history, and that it brought the man who first of all men crossed the American continent, and indeed made one of the most wonderful walks since the world began. Panfilo de Narvaez—who had so ignominiously failed in his attempt to arrest Cortez—was commander, with authority to conquer Florida; and his treasurer was Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca. In 1528 the company landed in Florida, and forthwith began a record of horror that makes the blood run cold. Shipwreck, savages, and starvation made such havoc with the doomed band that when in 1529 Vaca and three companions found themselves slaves to the Indians they were the sole survivors of the expedition.

Vaca and his companions wandered from Florida to the Gulf of California, suffering incredible dangers and tortures, reaching there after a wandering which lasted over eight years. Vaca's heroism was rewarded. The king made him governor of Paraguay in 1540; but he was as unfit for such a post as Columbus had been for a viceroy, and soon came back in irons to Spain, where he died.

But it was through his accounts of what he saw in that astounding journey (for Vaca was an educated[Pg 77] man, and has left us two very interesting and valuable books) that his countrymen were roused to begin in earnest the exploration and colonization of what is now the United States,—to build the first cities and till the first farms of the greatest nation on earth.

The thirty years following the conquest of Mexico by Cortez saw an astounding change in the New World. They were brimful of wonders. Brilliant discovery, unparalleled exploration, gallant conquest, and heroic colonization followed one another in a bewildering rush,—and but for the brave yet limited exploits of the Portuguese in South America, Spain was all alone in it. From Kansas to Cape Horn was one vast Spanish possession, save parts of Brazil where the Portuguese hero Cabral had taken a joint foothold for his country. Hundreds of Spanish towns had been built; Spanish schools, universities, printing-presses, books, and churches were beginning their work of enlightenment in the dark continents of America, and the tireless followers of Santiago were still pressing on. America, particularly Mexico, was being rapidly settled by Spaniards. The growth of the colonies was very remarkable for those times,—that is, where there were any resources to support a growing population. The city of Puebla, for instance, in the Mexican State of the same name, was founded in 1532 and began with thirty-three settlers. In 1678 it had eighty thousand people, which is twenty thousand more than New York city had one hundred and twenty-two years later.

[Pg 78]



Cortez was still captain-general when Cabeza de Vaca came into the Spanish settlements from his eight years' wandering, with news of strange countries to the north; but Antonio de Mendoza was viceroy of Mexico, and Cortez' superior, and between him and the traitorous conqueror was endless dissension. Cortez was working for himself, Mendoza for Spain.

As Mexico became more and more thickly dotted with Spanish settlements, the attention of the restless world-finders began to wander toward the mysteries of the vast and unknown country to the north. The strange things Vaca had seen, and the stranger ones he had heard, could not fail to excite the dauntless rovers to whom he told them. Indeed, within a year after the arrival in Mexico of the first transcontinental traveller, two more of our present States were found by his countrymen as the direct result of his narratives. And now we come to one of the best-slandered men of them all,—Fray Marcos de Nizza, the discoverer of Arizona and New Mexico.

Fray (brother) Marcos was a native of the province of Nizza, then a part of Savoy, and must have come to[Pg 79] America in 1531. He accompanied Pizarro to Peru, and thence finally returned to Mexico. He was the first to explore the unknown lands of which Vaca had heard such wonderful reports from the Indians, though he had never seen them himself,—"the Seven Cities of Cibola, full of gold," and countless other marvels. Fray Marcos started on foot from Culiacan (in Sinaloa, on the western edge of Mexico) in the spring of 1539, with the negro Estévanico, who had been one of Vaca's companions, and a few Indians. A lay brother, Onorato, who started with him, fell sick at once and went no farther. Now, here was a genuine Spanish exploration, a fair sample of hundreds,—this fearless priest, unarmed, with a score of unreliable men, starting on a year's walk through a desert where even in this day of railroads and highways and trails and developed water men yearly lose their lives by thirst, to say nothing of the thousands who have been killed there by Indians. But trifles like these only whetted the appetite of the Spaniard; and Fray Marcos kept his footsore way, until early in June, 1539, he actually came to the Seven Cities of Cibola. These were in the extreme west of New Mexico, around the present strange Indian pueblo of Zuñi, which is all that is left of those famous cities, and is itself to-day very much as the hero-priest saw it three hundred and fifty years ago. At the foot of the wonderful cliff of Toyallahnah, the sacred thunder mountain of Zuñi, the negro Estévanico was killed by the Indians, and Fray Marcos[Pg 80] escaped a similar fate only by a hasty retreat. He learned what he could of the strange terraced towns of which he got a glimpse, and returned to Mexico with great news. He has been accused of misrepresentation and exaggeration in his reports; but if his critics had not been so ignorant of the locality, of the Indians and of their traditions, they never would have spoken. Fray Marcos's statements were absolutely truthful.

When the good priest told his story, we may be sure that there was a pricking-up of ears throughout New Spain (the general Spanish name then for Mexico); and as soon as ever an armed expedition could be fitted out, it started for the Seven Cities of Cibola, with Fray Marcos himself as guide. Of that expedition you shall hear in a moment. Fray Marcos accompanied it as far as Zuñi, and then returned to Mexico, being sadly crippled by rheumatism, from which he never fully recovered. He died in the convent in the City of Mexico, March 25, 1558.

The man whom Fray Marcos led to the Seven Cities of Cibola was the greatest explorer that ever trod the northern continent, though his explorations brought to himself only disaster and bitterness,—Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. A native of Salamanca, Spain, Coronado was young, ambitious, and already renowned. He was governor of the Mexican province of New Galicia when the news of the Seven Cities came. Mendoza, against the strong opposition of Cortez, decided upon a move which[Pg 81] would rid the country of a few hundred daring young Spanish blades with whom peace did not at all agree, and at the same time conquer new countries for the Crown. So he gave Coronado command of an expedition of about two hundred and fifty Spaniards to colonize the lands which Fray Marcos had discovered, with strict orders never to come back!

Coronado and his little army left Culiacan early in 1540. Guided by the tireless priest they reached Zuñi in July, and took the pueblo after a sharp fight, which was the end of hostilities there. Thence Coronado sent small expeditions to the strange cliff-built pueblos of Moqui (in the northeastern part of Arizona), to the grand cañon of the Colorado, and to the pueblo of Jemez in northern New Mexico. That winter he moved his whole command to Tiguex, where is now the pretty New Mexican village of Bernalillo, on the Rio Grande, and there had a serious and discreditable war with the Tigua Pueblos.

It was here that he heard that golden myth which lured him to frightful hardships, and hundreds since to death,—the fable of the Quivira. This, so Indians from the vast plains assured him, was an Indian city where all was pure gold. In the spring of 1541 Coronado and his men started in quest of the Quivira, and marched as far across those awful plains as the centre of our present Indian territory. Here, seeing that he had been deceived, Coronado sent back his army to Tiguex, and himself with[Pg 82] thirty men pushed on across the Arkansas River, and as far as northeastern Kansas,—that is, three-fourths of the way from the Gulf of California to New York, and by his circuitous route much farther.

There he found the tribe of the Quiviras,—roaming savages who chased the buffalo,—but they neither had gold nor knew where it was. Coronado got back at last to Bernalillo, after an absence of three months of incessant marching and awful hardships. Soon after his return, he was so seriously injured by a fall from his horse that his life was in great danger. He passed the crisis, but his health was wrecked; and disheartened by his broken body and by the unredeemed disappointments of the forbidding land he had hoped to settle, he gave up all hope of colonizing New Mexico, and in the summer of 1542 returned to Mexico with his men. His disobedience to the viceroy in coming back cast him into disgrace, and he passed the remainder of his life in comparative obscurity.

This was a sad end for the remarkable man who had found out so many thousands of miles of the thirsty Southwest nearly three centuries before any of our blood saw any of it,—a well-born, college-bred, ambitious, and dashing soldier, and the idol of his troops. As an explorer he stands unequalled, but as a colonizer he utterly failed. He was a city-bred man, and no frontiersman; and being accustomed only to Jalisco and the parts of Mexico which lie along the Gulf of California, he knew nothing of,[Pg 83] and could not adapt himself to, the fearful deserts of Arizona and New Mexico. It was not until half a century later, when there came a Spaniard who was a born frontiersman of the arid lands, that New Mexico was successfully colonized.

While the discoverer of the Indian Territory and Kansas was chasing a golden fable across their desolate plains, his countrymen had found and were exploring another of our States,—our golden garden of California. Hernando de Alarcon, in 1540, sailed up the Colorado River to a great distance from the gulf, probably as far as Great Bend; and in 1543 Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo explored the Pacific coast of California to a hundred miles north of where San Francisco was to be founded more than three centuries later.

After the discouraging discoveries of Coronado, the Spaniards for many years paid little attention to New Mexico. There was enough doing in Mexico itself to keep even that indomitable Spanish energy busy for awhile in the civilizing of their new empire. Fray Pedro de Gante had founded in Mexico, in 1524, the first schools in the New World; and thereafter every church and convent in Spanish America had always a school for the Indians attached. In 1524 there was not a single Indian in Mexico's countless thousands who knew what letters were; but twenty years later such large numbers of them had learned to read and write that Bishop Zumarraga had a book made for them in their own language. By 1543 there were even industrial schools for the[Pg 84] Indians in Mexico. It was this same good Bishop Zumarraga who brought the first printing-press to the New World, in 1536. It was set up in the City of Mexico, and was soon very actively at work. The oldest book printed in America that remains to us came from that press in 1539. A majority of the first books printed there were to make the Indian languages intelligible,—a policy of humane scholarship which no other nation colonizing in the New World ever copied. The first music printed in America came from this press in 1584.

The most striking thing of all, as showing the scholarly attitude of the Spaniards toward the new continents, was a result entirely unique. Not only did their intellectual activity breed among themselves a galaxy of eminent writers, but in a very few years there was a school of important Indian authors. It would be an irreparable loss to knowledge of the true history of America if we were to lose the chronicles of such Indian writers as Tezozomoc, Camargo, and Pomar, in Mexico; Juan de Santa Cruz, Pachacuti Yamqui Salcamayhua, in Peru; and many others. And what a gain to science if we had taken pains to raise up our own aborigines to such helpfulness to themselves and to human knowledge!

In all other enlightened pursuits which the world then knew, Spain's sons were making remarkable progress here. In geography, natural history, natural philosophy, and other sciences they were as truly the pioneers of America as they had been in[Pg 85] discovery. It is a startling fact that so early as 1579 a public autopsy on the body of an Indian was held at the University of Mexico, to determine the nature of an epidemic which was then devastating New Spain. It is doubtful if by that time they had got so far in London itself. And in still extant books of the same period we find plans for repeating firearms, and a plain hint of the telephone! The first printing-press did not reach the English colonies of America until 1638,—nearly one hundred years behind Mexico. The whole world came very slowly to newspapers; and the first authentic newspaper in its history was published in Germany in 1615. The first one in England began in 1622; and the American colonies never had one until 1704. The "Mercurio Volante" (Flying Mercury), a pamphlet which printed news, was running in the City of Mexico before 1693.

When the ill reports of Coronado had largely been forgotten, there began another Spanish movement into New Mexico and Arizona. In the mean time there had been very important doings in Florida. The many failures in that unlucky land had not deterred the Spaniards from further attempts to colonize it. At last, in 1560, the first permanent foothold was effected there by Aviles de Menendez, a brutal Spaniard, who nevertheless had the honor of founding and naming the oldest city in the United States,—St. Augustine, 1560. Menendez found there a little colony of French-Huguenots, who had wandered thither the year before under Ribault;[Pg 86] and those whom he captured he hanged, with a placard saying that they were executed "not as Frenchmen, but as heretics." Two years later, the French expedition of Dominique de Gourges captured the three Spanish forts which had been built there, and hanged the colonists "not as Spaniards, but as assassins,"—which was a very neat revenge in rhetoric, if an unpraiseworthy one in deed. In 1586 Sir Francis Drake, whose piratical proclivities have already been alluded to, destroyed the friendly colony of St. Augustine; but it was at once rebuilt. In 1763 Florida was ceded to Great Britain by Spain, in exchange for Havana, which Albemarle had captured the year before.

It is also interesting to note that the Spaniards had been to Virginia nearly thirty years before Sir Walter Raleigh's attempt to establish a colony there, and full half a century before Capt. John Smith's visit. As early as 1556 Chesapeake Bay was known to the Spaniards as the Bay of Santa Maria; and an unsuccessful expedition had been sent to colonize the country.

In 1581 three Spanish missionaries—Fray Agostin Rodriguez, Fray Francisco Lopez, and Fray Juan de Santa Maria—started from Santa Barbara, Chihuahua (Mexico), with an escort of nine Spanish soldiers under command of Francisco Sanchez Chamuscado. They trudged up along the Rio Grande to where Bernalillo now is,—a walk of a thousand miles. There the missionaries remained to teach the gospel, while the soldiers explored the country as far as Zuñi, and[Pg 87] then returned to Santa Barbara. Chamuscado died on the way. As for the brave missionaries who had been left behind in the wilderness, they soon became martyrs. Fray Santa Maria was slain by the Indians near San Pedro, while trudging back to Mexico alone that fall. Fray Rodriguez and Fray Lopez were assassinated by their treacherous flock at Puaray, in December, 1581.

In the following year Antonio de Espejo, a wealthy native of Cordova, started from Santa Barbara in Chihuahua, with fourteen men to face the deserts and the savages of New Mexico. He marched up the Rio Grande to some distance above where Albuquerque now stands, meeting no opposition from the Pueblo Indians. He visited their cities of Zia, Jemez, lofty Acoma, Zuñi, and far-off Moqui, and travelled a long way out into northern Arizona. Returning to the Rio Grande, he visited the pueblo of Pecos, went down the Pecos River into Texas, and thence crossed back to Santa Barbara. He intended to return and colonize New Mexico, but his death (probably in 1585) ended these plans; and the only important result of his gigantic journey was an addition to the geographical and ethnological knowledge of the day.

In 1590 Gaspar Castaño de Sosa, lieutenant-governor of New Leon, was so anxious to explore New Mexico that he made an expedition without leave from the viceroy. He came up the Pecos River and crossed to the Rio Grande; and at the pueblo of Santo Domingo was arrested by Captain[Pg 88] Morlette, who had come all the way from Mexico on that sole errand, and carried home in irons.

Juan de Oñate, the colonizer of New Mexico, and founder of the second town within the limits of the United States, as well as of the city which is now our next oldest, was born in Zacatecas, Mexico. His family (which came from Biscay) had discovered (in 1548) and now owned some of the richest mines in the world,—those of Zacatecas. But despite the "golden spoon in his mouth," Oñate desired to be an explorer. The Crown refused to provide for further expeditions into the disappointing north; and about 1595 Oñate made a contract with the viceroy of New Spain to colonize New Mexico at his own expense. He made all preparations, and fitted out his costly expedition. Just then a new viceroy was appointed, who kept him waiting in Mexico with all his men for over two years, ere the necessary permission was given him to start. At last, early in 1597, he set out with his expedition,—which had cost him the equivalent of a million dollars, before it stirred a step. He took with him four hundred colonists, including two hundred soldiers, with women and children, and herds of sheep and cattle. Taking formal possession of New Mexico May 30, 1598, he moved up the Rio Grande to where the hamlet of Chamita now is (north of Santa Fé), and there founded, in September of that year, San Gabriel de los Españoles (St. Gabriel of the Spaniards), the second town in the United States.[Pg 89]

Oñate was remarkable not only for his success in colonizing a country so forbidding as this then was, but also as an explorer. He ransacked all the country round about, travelled to Acoma and put down a revolt of its Indians, and in 1600 made an expedition clear up into Nebraska. In 1604, with thirty men, he marched from San Gabriel across that grim desert to the Gulf of California, and returned to San Gabriel in April, 1605. By that time the English had penetrated no farther into the interior of America than forty or fifty miles from the Atlantic coast.

In 1605 Oñate founded Santa Fé, the City of the Holy Faith of St. Francis, about whose age a great many foolish fables have been written. The city actually celebrated the three hundred and thirty-third anniversary of its founding twenty years before it was three centuries old.

In 1606 Oñate made another expedition to the far Northeast, about which expedition we know almost nothing; and in 1608 he was superseded by Pedro de Peralta, the second governor of New Mexico.

Oñate was of middle age when he made this very striking record. Born on the frontier, used to the deserts, endowed with great tenacity, coolness, and knowledge of frontier warfare, he was the very man to succeed in planting the first considerable colonies in the United States at their most dangerous and difficult points.

[Pg 90]



This, then, was the situation in the New World at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Spain, having found the Americas, had, in a little over a hundred years of ceaseless exploration and conquest, settled and was civilizing them. She had in the New World hundreds of towns, whose extremes were over five thousand miles apart, with all the then advantages of civilization, and two towns in what is now the United States, a score of whose States her sons had penetrated. France had made a few gingerly expeditions, which bore no substantial fruit; and Portugal had founded a few comparatively unimportant towns in South America. England had passed the century in masterly inactivity,—and there was not so much as an English hut or an English man between Cape Horn and the North Pole.

That later times have reversed the situation; that Spain (largely because she was drained of her best blood by a conquest so enormous that no nation even now could give the men or the money to keep the enterprise abreast with the world's progress) has never regained her old strength, and is now[Pg 91] a drone beside the young giant of nations that has grown, since her day, in the empire she opened,—has nothing to do with the obligation of American history to give her justice for the past. Had there been no Spain four hundred years ago, there would be no United States to-day. It is a most fascinating story to every genuine American,—for every one worthy of the name admires heroism and loves fairplay everywhere, and is first of all interested in the truth about his own country.

By 1680 the Rio Grande valley in New Mexico was beaded with Spanish settlements from Santa Cruz to below Socorro, two hundred miles; and there were also colonies in the Taos valley, the extreme north of the Territory. From 1600 to 1680 there had been countless expeditions throughout the Southwest, penetrating even the deadly Llano Estacado (Staked Plain). The heroism which held the Southwest so long was no less wonderful than the exploration that found it. The life of the colonists was a daily battle with niggard Nature—for New Mexico was never fertile—and with deadliest danger. For three centuries they were ceaselessly harried by the fiendish Apaches; and up to 1680 there was no rest from the attempts of the Pueblos (who were actually with and all about the settlers) at insurrection. The statements of closet historians that the Spaniards enslaved the Pueblos, or any other Indians of New Mexico; that they forced them to choose between Christianity and death; that they made them work in the mines, and[Pg 92] the like,—are all entirely untrue. The whole policy of Spain toward the Indians of the New World was one of humanity, justice, education, and moral suasion; and though there were of course individual Spaniards who broke the strict laws of their country as to the treatment of the Indians, they were duly punished therefor.

Yet the mere presence of the strangers in their country was enough to stir the jealous nature of the Indians; and in 1680 a murderous and causeless plot broke out in the red Pueblo Rebellion. There were then fifteen hundred Spaniards in the Territory,—all living in Santa Fé or in scattered farm settlements; for Chamita had long been abandoned.

Thirty-four Pueblo towns were in the revolt, under the lead of a dangerous Tehua Indian named Popé. Secret runners had gone from pueblo to pueblo, and the murderous blow fell upon the whole Territory simultaneously. On that bitter 10th of August, 1680, over four hundred Spaniards were assassinated,—including twenty-one of the gentle missionaries who, unarmed and alone, had scattered over the wilderness that they might save the souls and teach the minds of the savages.

Antonio de Otermin was then governor and captain-general of New Mexico, and was attacked in his capital of Santa Fé by a greatly-outnumbering army of Indians. The one hundred and twenty Spanish soldiers, cooped up in their little adobe city, soon found themselves unable to hold it longer against their swarming besiegers; and after a week's[Pg 93] desperate defence, they made a sortie, and hewed their way through to liberty, taking their women and children with them. They retreated down the Rio Grande, avoiding an ambush set for them at Sandia by the Indians, and reached the pueblo of Isleta, twelve miles below the present city of Albuquerque, in safety; but the village was deserted, and the Spaniards were obliged to continue their flight to El Paso, Texas, which was then only a Spanish mission for the Indians.

In 1681 Governor Otermin made an invasion as far north as the pueblo of Cochiti, twenty-five miles west of Santa Fé, on the Rio Grande; but the hostile Pueblos forced him to retreat again to El Paso. In 1687 Pedro Reneros Posada made another dash into New Mexico, and took the rock-built pueblo of Santa Ana by a most brilliant and bloody assault. But he also had to retire. In 1688 Domingo Jironza Petriz de Cruzate—the greatest soldier on New Mexican soil—made an expedition, in which he took the pueblo of Zia by storm (a still more remarkable achievement than Posada's), and in turn retreated to El Paso.

At last the final conqueror of New Mexico, Diego de Vargas, came in 1692. Marching to Santa Fé, and thence as far as ultimate Moqui, with only eighty-nine men, he visited every pueblo in the Province, meeting no opposition from the Indians, who had been thoroughly cowed by Cruzate. Returning to El Paso, he came again to New Mexico in 1693, this time with about one[Pg 94] hundred and fifty soldiers and a number of colonists. Now the Indians were prepared for him, and gave him the bloodiest reception ever accorded in New Mexico. They broke out first at Santa Fé, and he had to storm that town, which he took after two days' fighting. Then began the siege of the Black Mesa of San Ildefonso, which lasted off and on for nine months. The Indians had removed their village to the top of that New Mexican Gibraltar, and there resisted four daring assaults, but were finally worn into surrender.

Meantime De Vargas had stormed the impregnable citadel of the Potrero Viejo, and the beetling cliff of San Diego de Jemez,—two exploits which rank with the storming of the Peñol of Mixton[7] in Jalisco (Mexico) and of the vast rock of Acoma, as the most marvellous assaults in all American history. The capture of Quebec bears no comparison to them.

These costly lessons kept the Indians quiet until 1696, when they broke out again. This rebellion was not so formidable as the first, but it gave New Mexico another watering with blood, and was suppressed only after three months' fighting. The Spaniards were already masters of the situation; and the quelling of that revolt put an end to all trouble with the Pueblos,—who remain with us to this day practically undiminished in numbers, though they have fewer towns, a quiet, peaceful, Christianized race of industrious farmers, living[Pg 95] monuments to the humanity and the moral teaching of their conquerors.

Then came the last century, a dismal hundred years of ceaseless harassment by the Apaches, Navajos, and Comanches, and occasionally by the Utes,—a harassment which had hardly ceased a decade ago. The Indian wars were so constant, the explorations (like that wonderful attempt to open a road from San Antonio de Bejar, Texas, to Monterey, California) so innumerable, that their individual heroism is lost in their own bewildering multitude.

More than two centuries ago the Spaniards explored Texas, and settlement soon followed. There were several minor expeditions; but the first of magnitude was that of Alonzo de Leon, governor of the Mexican State of Coahuila, who made extensive explorations of Texas in 1689. By the beginning of the last century there were several Spanish settlements and presidios (garrisons) in what was to become, more than a hundred years later, the largest of the United States.

The Spanish colonization of Colorado was not extensive, and they had no towns north of the Arkansas River; but even in settling our Centennial State they were half a century ahead of us, as they were some centuries ahead in finding it.

In California the Spaniards were very active. For a long time there were minor expeditions which were unsuccessful. Then the Franciscans came in 1769 to San Diego Bay, landed on the bare sands where a[Pg 96] million-dollar American hotel stands to-day, and at once began to teach the Indians, to plant olive-orchards and vineyards, and to rear the noble stone churches so beautifully described by the author of "Ramona," which shall remain as monuments of a sublime faith long after the race that built them has gone from off the face of the earth.

California had a long line of Spanish governors—the last of whom, brave, courtly, lovable old Pio Pico, has just died—before our acquisition of that garden-State of States. The Spaniards discovered gold there centuries, and were mining it a decade, before an "American" dreamed of the precious deposit which was to make such a mark on civilization, and had found the rich placer-fields of New Mexico a decade earlier yet.

In Arizona, Father Franciscus Eusebius Kuehne,[8] a Jesuit of Austrian birth but under Spanish auspices, was first to establish the missions on the Gila River,—from 1689 to 1717 (the date of his death). He made at least four appalling journeys on foot from Sonora to the Gila, and descended that stream to its junction with the Colorado. It would be extremely interesting, did space permit, to follow fully the wanderings and achievements of that class of pioneers of America who have left such a wonderful impress on the whole Southwest,—the Spanish missionaries. Their zeal and their heroism were infinite. No desert was too frightful for them, no danger too appalling. Alone, unarmed, they traversed the[Pg 97] most forbidding lands and braved the most deadly savages, and left in the lives of the Indians such a proud monument as mailed explorers and conquering armies never made.

The foregoing is a running summary of the early pioneering of America,—the only pioneering for more than a century, and the greatest pioneering for still another century. As for the great and wonderful work at last done by our own blood, not only in conquering part of a continent, but in making a mighty nation, the reader needs no help from me to enable him to comprehend it,—it has already found its due place in history. To record all the heroisms of the Spanish pioneers would fill, not this book, but a library. I have deemed it best, in such an enormous field, to draw the condensed outline, as has now been done; and then to illustrate it by giving in detail a few specimens out of the host of heroisms. I have already given a hint of how many conquests and explorations and dangers there were; and now I wish to show by fair "sample pages" what Spanish conquest and exploration and endurance really were.


[7] Pronounced Mish-tón.

[8] Often misspelled Kino.

[Pg 98]



[Pg 101]



The achievements of the explorer are among the most important, as they are among the most fascinating, of human heroisms. The qualities of mind and body necessary to his task are rare and admirable. He should have many sides and be strong in each,—the rounded man that Nature meant man to be. His body need not be as strong as Samson's, nor his mind as Napoleon's, nor his heart the most fully developed heart on earth; but mind, heart, and body he needs, and each in the measure of a strong man. There is hardly another calling in which every muscle, so to speak, of his threefold nature will be more constantly or more evenly called into play.

It is a curious fact that some of the very greatest of human achievements have come about by chance. Many among the most important discoveries in the history of mankind have been made by men who were not seeking the great truth they found. Science is the result not only of study, but of precious accidents; and this is as true of history. It is an interesting study in itself,—the influence which happy blunders[Pg 102] and unintended happenings have had upon civilization.

In exploration, as in invention, accident has played its important part. Some of the most valuable explorations have been made by men who had no more idea of being explorers than they had of inventing a railroad to the moon; and it is a striking fact that the first inland exploration of America, and the two most wonderful journeys in it, were not only accidents, but the crowning misfortunes and disappointments of the men who had hoped for very different things.

Exploration, intended or involuntary, has not only achieved great results for civilization, but in the doing has scored some of the highest feats of human heroism. America in particular, perhaps, has been the field of great and remarkable journeys; but the two men who made the most astounding journeys in America are still almost unheard of among us. They are heroes whose names are as Greek to the vast majority of Americans, albeit they are men in whom Americans particularly should take deep and admiring interest. They were Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, the first American traveller; and Andrés Docampo, the man who walked farther on this continent than any other.

See page 135.

[Pg 103]

In a world so big and old and full of great deeds as this, it is extremely difficult to say of any one man, "He was the greatest" this or that; and even in the matter of journeys there have been bewilderingly many great ones, of the most wonderful of which we have heard least. As explorers we cannot give Vaca and Docampo great rank; though the latter's explorations were not contemptible, and Vaca's were of great importance. But as physical achievements the journeys of these neglected heroes can safely be said to be without parallel. They were the most wonderful walks ever made by man. Both men made their records in America, and each made most of his journey in what is now the United States.

Cabeza de Vaca was the first European really to penetrate the then "Dark Continent" of North America, as he was by centuries the first to cross the continent. His nine years of wandering on foot, unarmed, naked, starving, among wild beasts and wilder men, with no other attendants than three as ill-fated comrades, gave the world its first glimpse of the United States inland, and led to some of the most stirring and important achievements connected with its early history. Nearly a century before the Pilgrim Fathers planted their noble commonwealth on the edge of Massachusetts, seventy-five years before the first English settlement was made in the New World, and more than a generation before there was a single Caucasian settler of any blood within the area of the present United States, Vaca and his gaunt followers had trudged across this unknown land.

It is a long way back to those days. Henry VIII. was then king of England, and sixteen rulers have since occupied that throne. Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen, was not born when Vaca started on his appalling journey, and did not begin to reign until[Pg 104] twenty years after he had ended it. It was fifty years before the birth of Captain John Smith, the founder of Virginia; a generation before the birth of Shakspere, and two and a half generations before Milton. Henry Hudson, the famous explorer for whom one of our chief rivers is named, was not yet born. Columbus himself had been dead less than twenty-five years, and the conqueror of Mexico had seventeen yet to live. It was sixty years before the world had heard of such a thing as a newspaper, and the best geographers still thought it possible to sail through America to Asia. There was not a white man in North America above the middle of Mexico; nor had one gone two hundred miles inland in this continental wilderness, of which the world knew almost less than we know now of the moon.

The name of Cabeza de Vaca may seem to us a curious one. It means "Head of a Cow." But this quaint family name was an honorable one in Spain, and had a brave winning: it was earned at the battle of Naves de Tolosa in the thirteenth century, one of the decisive engagements of all those centuries of war with the Moors. Alvar's grandfather was also a man of some note, being the conqueror of the Canary Islands.

Alvar was born in Xeres[9] de la Frontera, Spain, toward the last of the fifteenth century. Of his early life we know little, except that he had already won some consideration when in 1527, a mature man, he came to the New World. In that year we[Pg 105] find him sailing from Spain as treasurer and sheriff of the expedition of six hundred men with which Panfilo de Narvaez intended to conquer and colonize the Flowery Land, discovered a decade before by Ponce de Leon.

They reached Santo Domingo, and thence sailed to Cuba. On Good Friday, 1528, ten months after leaving Spain, they reached Florida, and landed at what is now named Tampa Bay. Taking formal possession of the country for Spain, they set out to explore and conquer the wilderness. At Santo Domingo shipwreck and desertion had already cost them heavily, and of the original six hundred men there were but three hundred and forty-five left. No sooner had they reached Florida than the most fearful misfortunes began, and with every day grew worse. Food there was almost none; hostile Indians beset them on every hand; and the countless rivers, lakes, and swamps made progress difficult and dangerous. The little army was fast thinning out under war and starvation, and plots were rife among the survivors. They were so enfeebled that they could not even get back to their vessels. Struggling through at last to the nearest point on the coast, far west of Tampa Bay, they decided that their only hope was to build boats and try to coast to the Spanish settlements in Mexico. Five rude boats were made with great toil; and the poor wretches turned westward along the coast of the Gulf. Storms scattered the boats, and wrecked one after the other. Scores of the haggard adventurers[Pg 106] were drowned, Narvaez among them; and scores dashed upon an inhospitable shore perished by exposure and starvation. The living were forced to subsist upon the dead. Of the five boats, three had gone down with all on board; of the eighty men who escaped the wreck but fifteen were still alive. All their arms and clothing were at the bottom of the Gulf.

The survivors were now on Mal Hado, "the Isle of Misfortune." We know no more of its location than that it was west of the mouth of the Mississippi. Their boats had crossed that mighty current where it plunges out into the Gulf, and theirs were the first European eyes to see even this much of the Father of Waters. The Indians of the island, who had no better larder than roots, berries, and fish, treated their unfortunate guests as generously as was in their power; and Vaca has written gratefully of them.

In the spring his thirteen surviving companions determined to escape. Vaca was too sick to walk, and they abandoned him to his fate. Two other sick men, Oviedo and Alaniz, were also left behind; and the latter soon perished. It was a pitiable plight in which Vaca now found himself. A naked skeleton, scarce able to move, deserted by his friends and at the mercy of savages, it is small wonder that, as he tells us, his heart sank within him. But he was one of the men who never "let go." A constant soul held up the poor, worn body; and as the weather grew less rigorous, Vaca slowly recovered from his sickness.[Pg 107]

For nearly six years he lived an incomparably lonely life, bandied about from tribe to tribe of Indians, sometimes as a slave, and sometimes only a despised outcast. Oviedo fled from some danger, and he was never heard of afterward; Vaca faced it, and lived. That his sufferings were almost beyond endurance cannot be doubted. Even when he was not the victim of brutal treatment, he was the worthless encumbrance, the useless interloper, among poor savages who lived the most miserable and precarious lives. That they did not kill him speaks well for their humane kindness.

The thirteen who escaped had fared even worse. They had fallen into cruel hands, and all had been slain except three, who were reserved for the harder fate of slaves. These three were Andrés Dorantes, a native of Bejar; Alonzo del Castillo Maldonado, a native of Salamanca; and the negro Estévanico, who was born in Azamor, Africa. These three and Vaca were all that were now left of the gallant four hundred and fifty men (among whom we do not count the deserters at Santo Domingo) who had sailed with such high hopes from Spain, in 1527, to conquer a corner of the New World,—four naked, tortured, shivering shadows; and even they were separated, though they occasionally heard vaguely of one another, and made vain attempts to come together. It was not until September, 1534 (nearly seven years later), that Dorantes, Castillo, Estévanico, and Vaca were reunited; and the spot where they found this happiness was somewhere in eastern Texas, west of the Sabine River.[Pg 108]

But Vaca's six years of loneliness and suffering unspeakable had not been in vain,—for he had acquired, unknowingly, the key to safety; and amid all those horrors, and without dreaming of its significance, he had stumbled upon the very strange and interesting clew which was to save them all. Without it, all four would have perished in the wilderness, and the world would never have known their end.

While they were still on the Isle of Misfortune, a proposition had been made which seemed the height of the ridiculous. "In that isle," says Vaca, "they wished to make us doctors, without examining us or asking our titles; for they themselves cure sickness by blowing upon the sick one. With that blowing, and with their hands, they remove from him the disease; and they bade us do the same, so as to be of some use to them. We laughed at this, saying that they were making fun, and that we knew not how to heal; and for that they took away our food, till we should do that which they said. And seeing our stubbornness, an Indian said to me that I did not understand; for that it did no good for one to know how, because the very stones and other things of the field have power to heal,... and that we, who were men, must certainly have greater power."

This was a characteristic thing which the old Indian said, and a key to the remarkable superstitions of his race. But the Spaniards, of course, could not yet understand.

Presently the savages removed to the mainland.[Pg 109] They were always in abject poverty, and many of them perished from starvation and from the exposures incident to their wretched existence. For three months in the year they had "nothing but shell-fish and very bad water;" and at other times only poor berries and the like; and their year was a series of wanderings hither and thither in quest of these scant and unsatisfactory foods.

It was an important fact that Vaca was utterly useless to the Indians. He could not serve them as a warrior; for in his wasted condition the bow was more than he could master. As a hunter he was equally unavailable; for, as he himself says, "it was impossible for him to trail animals." Assistance in carrying water or fuel or anything of the sort was impossible; for he was a man, and his Indian masters could not let a man do woman's work. So, among these starveling nomads, this man who could not help but must be fed was a real burden; and the only wonder is that they did not kill him.

Under these circumstances, Vaca began to wander about. His indifferent captors paid little attention to his movements, and by degrees he got to making long trips north, and up and down the coast. In time he began to see a chance for trading, in which the Indians encouraged him, glad to find their "white elephant" of some use at last. From the northern tribes he brought down skins and almagre (the red clay so indispensable to the savages for face-paint), flakes of flint to make arrow-heads, hard reeds for the shafts, and tassels of deer-hair dyed red. These[Pg 110] things he readily exchanged among the coast tribes for shells and shell-beads, and the like,—which, in turn, were in demand among his northern customers.

On account of their constant wars, the Indians could net venture outside their own range; so this safe go-between trader was a convenience which they encouraged. So far as he was concerned, though the life was still one of great suffering, he was constantly gaining knowledge which would be useful to him in his never-forgotten plan of getting back to the world. These lonely trading expeditions of his covered thousands of miles on foot through the trackless wildernesses; and through them his aggregate wanderings were much greater than those of either of his fellow-prisoners.

It was during these long and awful tramps that Cabeza de Vaca had one particularly interesting experience. He was the first European who saw the great American bison, the buffalo, which has become practically extinct in the last decade, but once roamed the plains in vast hordes,—and first by many years. He saw them and ate their meat in the Red River country of Texas, and has left us a description of the "hunchback cows." None of his companions ever saw one, for in their subsequent journey together the four Spaniards passed south of the buffalo-country.

Meanwhile, as I have noted, the forlorn and naked trader had had the duties of a doctor forced upon him. He did not understand what this involuntary profession might do for him,—he was simply pushed[Pg 111] into it at first, and followed it not from choice, but to keep from having trouble. He was "good for nothing but to be a medicine-man." He had learned the peculiar treatment of the aboriginal wizards, though not their fundamental ideas. The Indians still look upon sickness as a "being possessed;" and their idea of doctoring is not so much to cure disease, as to exorcise the bad spirits which cause it.

This is done by a sleight-of-hand rigmarole, even to this day. The medicine-man would suck the sore spot, and pretend thus to extract a stone or thorn which was supposed to have been the cause of trouble; and the patient was "cured." Cabeza de Vaca began to "practise medicine" after the Indian fashion. He says himself, "I have tried these things, and they were very successful."

When the four wanderers at last came together after their long separation,—in which all had suffered untold horrors,—Vaca had then, though still indefinitely, the key of hope. Their first plan was to escape from their present captors. It took ten months to effect it, and meantime their distress was great, as it had been constantly for so many years. At times they lived on a daily ration of two handfuls of wild peas and a little water. Vaca relates what a godsend it seemed when he was allowed to scrape hides for the Indians; he carefully saved the scrapings, which served him as food for days. They had no clothing, and there was no shelter; and constant exposure to heat and cold and the myriad[Pg 112] thorns of that country caused them to "shed their skin like snakes."

At last, in August, 1535, the four sufferers escaped to a tribe called the Avavares. But now a new career began to open to them. That his companions might not be as useless as he had been, Cabeza de Vaca had instructed them in the "arts" of Indian medicine-men; and all four began to put their new and strange profession into practice. To the ordinary Indian charms and incantations these humble Christians added fervent prayers to the true God. It was a sort of sixteenth-century "faith-cure;" and naturally enough, among such superstitious patients it was very effective. Their multitudinous cures the amateur but sincere doctors, with touching humility, attributed entirely to God; but what great results these might have upon their own fortunes now began to dawn upon them. From wandering, naked, starving, despised beggars, and slaves to brutal savages, they suddenly became personages of note,—still paupers and sufferers, as were all their patients, but paupers of mighty power. There is no fairy tale more romantic than the career thenceforth of these poor, brave men walking painfully across a continent as masters and benefactors of all that host of wild people.

Trudging on from tribe to tribe, painfully and slowly the white medicine-men crossed Texas and came close to our present New Mexico. It has long been reiterated by the closet historians that they entered New Mexico, and got even as far north as[Pg 113] where Santa Fé now is. But modern scientific research has absolutely proved that they went on from Texas through Chihuahua and Sonora, and never saw an inch of New Mexico.

With each new tribe the Spaniards paused awhile to heal the sick. Everywhere they were treated with the greatest kindness their poor hosts could give, and with religious awe. Their progress is a very valuable object-lesson, showing just how some Indian myths are formed: first, the successful medicine-man, who at his death or departure is remembered as a hero, then as a demigod, then as divinity.

In the Mexican States they first found agricultural Indians, who dwelt in houses of sod and boughs, and had beans and pumpkins. These were the Jovas, a branch of the Pimas. Of the scores of tribes they had passed through in our present Southern States not one has been fully identified. They were poor, wandering creatures, and long ago disappeared from the earth. But in the Sierra Madre of Mexico they found superior Indians, whom we can recognize still. Here they found the men unclad, but the women "very honest in their dress,"—with cotton tunics of their own weaving, with half-sleeves, and a skirt to the knee; and over it a skirt of dressed deerskin reaching to the ground, and fastened in front with straps. They washed their clothing with a soapy root,—the amole, now similarly used by Indians and Mexicans throughout the Southwest. These people gave Cabeza de Vaca some turquoise, and five arrow-heads each chipped from a single emerald.[Pg 114]

In this village in southwestern Sonora the Spaniards stayed three days, living on split deer-hearts; whence they named it the "Town of Hearts."

A day's march beyond they met an Indian wearing upon his necklace the buckle of a sword-belt and a horseshoe nail; and their hearts beat high at this first sign, in all their eight years' wandering, of the nearness of Europeans. The Indian told them that men with beards like their own had come from the sky and made war upon his people.

The Spaniards were now entering Sinaloa, and found themselves in a fertile land of flowing streams. The Indians were in mortal fear; for two brutes of a class who were very rare among the Spanish conquerors (they were, I am glad to say, punished for their violation of the strict laws of Spain) were then trying to catch slaves. The soldiers had just left; but Cabeza de Vaca and Estévanico, with eleven Indians, hurried forward on their trail, and next day overtook four Spaniards, who led them to their rascally captain, Diego de Alcaráz. It was long before that officer could believe the wondrous story told by the naked, torn, shaggy, wild man; but at last his coldness was thawed, and he gave a certificate of the date and of the condition in which Vaca had come to him, and then sent back for Dorantes and Castillo. Five days later these arrived, accompanied by several hundred Indians.

Alcaráz and his partner in crime, Cebreros, wished to enslave these aborigines; but Cabeza de Vaca, regardless of his own danger in taking such a stand,[Pg 115] indignantly opposed the infamous plan, and finally forced the villains to abandon it. The Indians were saved; and in all their joy at getting back to the world, the Spanish wanderers parted with sincere regret from these simple-hearted friends. After a few days' hard travel they reached the post of Culiacan about the first of May, 1536, where they were warmly welcomed by the ill-fated hero Melchior Diaz. He led one of the earliest expeditions (in 1539) to the unknown north; and in 1540, on a second expedition across part of Arizona and into California, was accidentally killed.

After a short rest the wanderers left for Compostela, then the chief town of the province of New Galicia,—itself a small journey of three hundred miles through a land swarming with hostile savages. At last they reached the City of Mexico in safety, and were received with great honor. But it was long before they could accustom themselves to eating the food and wearing the clothing of civilized people.

The negro remained in Mexico. On the 10th of April, 1537, Cabeza de Vaca, Castillo, and Dorantes sailed for Spain, arriving in August. The chief hero never came back to North America, but we hear of Dorantes as being there in the following year. Their report of what they saw, and of the stranger countries to the north of which they had heard, had already set on foot the remarkable expeditions which resulted in the discovery of Arizona, New Mexico, our Indian Territory, Kansas, and Colorado, and[Pg 116] brought about the building of the first European towns in the inland area of the United States. Estévanico was engaged with Fray Marcos in the discovery of New Mexico, and was slain by the Indians.

Cabeza de Vaca, as a reward for his then unparalleled walk of much more than ten thousand miles in the unknown land, was made governor of Paraguay in 1540. He was not qualified for the place, and returned to Spain in disgrace. That he was not to blame, however, but was rather the victim of circumstances, is indicated by the fact that he was restored to favor and received a pension of two thousand ducats. He died in Seville at a good old age.


[9] Pronounced Hay-ress.

[Pg 117]



The student most familiar with history finds himself constantly astounded by the journeys of the Spanish Pioneers. If they had done nothing else in the New World, their walks alone were enough to earn them fame. Such a number of similar trips over such a wilderness were never heard of elsewhere. To comprehend those rides or tramps of thousands of miles, by tiny bands or single heroes, one must be familiar with the country traversed, and know something of the times when these exploits were performed. The Spanish chroniclers of the day do not dilate upon the difficulties and dangers: it is almost a pity that they had not been vain enough to "make more" of their obstacles. But however curt the narrative may be on these points, the obstacles were there and had to be overcome; and to this very day, after three centuries and a half have mitigated that wilderness which covered half a world, have tamed its savages, filled it with convenient stations, crossed it with plain roads, and otherwise removed ninety per cent of its terrors, such journeys as were looked upon as everyday matters by those[Pg 118] hardy heroes would find few bold enough to undertake them. The only record at all comparable to that Spanish overrunning of the New World was the story of the California Argonauts of '49, who flocked across the great plains in the most remarkable shifting of population of which history knows; but even that was petty, so far as area, hardship, danger, and endurance went, beside the travels of the Pioneers. Thousand-mile marches through the deserts, or the still more fatal tropic forests, were too many to be even catalogued. It is one thing to follow a trail, and quite another to penetrate an absolutely trackless wilderness. A big, well-armed wagon-train is one thing, and a little squad on foot or on jaded horses quite another. A journey from a known point to a known point—both in civilization, though the wilderness lies between—is very different from a journey from somewhere, through the unknown, to nowhere; whose starting, course, and end are all untrodden and unguessed wilds. I have no desire to disparage the heroism of our Argonauts,—they made a record of which any nation should be proud; but they never had a chance to match the deeds of their brother-heroes of another tongue and another age.

The walk of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, the first American traveller, was surpassed by the achievement of the poor and forgotten soldier Andrés Docampo. Cabeza de Vaca tramped much more than ten thousand miles, but Docampo much over twenty[Pg 119] thousand, and under as fearful hardships. The explorations of Vaca were far more valuable to the world; yet neither of them set out with the intention of exploring. But Docampo did make a fearful walk voluntarily, and for a heroic purpose, which resulted in his later enormous achievement; while Vaca's was merely the heroism of a very uncommon man in escaping misfortune. Docampo's tramp lasted nine years; and though he left behind no book to relate his experiences, as did Vaca, the skeleton of his story as it remains to us is extremely characteristic and suggestive of the times, and recounts other heroism than that of the brave soldier.

When Coronado first came to New Mexico in 1540, he brought four missionaries with his little army. Fray Marcos returned soon from Zuñi to Mexico, on account of his physical infirmities. Fray Juan de la Cruz entered earnestly into mission-work among the Pueblos; and when Coronado and his whole force abandoned the Territory, he insisted upon remaining behind among his dusky wards at Tiguex (Bernalillo). He was a very old man, and fully expected to give up his life as soon as his countrymen should be gone; and so it was. He was murdered by the Indians about the 25th of November, 1542.

The lay-brother, Fray Luis Descalona, also a very old man, chose for his parish the pueblo of Tshiquite (Pecos), and remained there after the Spaniards had left the country. He built himself a little hut outside the great fortified town of the savages,[Pg 120] and there taught those who would listen to him, and tended his little flock of sheep,—the remnants of those Coronado had brought, which were the first that ever entered the present United States. The people came to love him sincerely,—all save the wizards, who hated him for his influence; and these finally murdered him, and ate the sheep.

Fray Juan de Padilla, the youngest of the four missionaries, and the first martyr on the soil of Kansas, was a native of Andalusia, Spain, and a man of great energy both mentally and physically. He himself made no mean record as a foot-traveller, and our professional pedestrians would stand aghast if confronted with the thousands of desert miles this tireless apostle to the Indians plodded in the wild Southwest. He had already held very important positions in Mexico, but gladly gave up his honors to become a poor missionary among the savages of the unknown north. Having walked with Coronado's force from Mexico across the deserts to the Seven Cities of Cibola, Fray Padilla trudged to Moqui with Pedro de Tobar and his squad of twenty men. Then plodding back to Zuñi, he soon set forth again with Hernando de Alvarado and twenty men, on a tramp of about a thousand miles more. He was in this expedition with the first Europeans that ever saw the lofty town of Acoma, the Rio Grande within what is now New Mexico, and the great pueblo of Pecos.

In the spring of 1541, when the handful of an army was all gathered at Bernalillo, and Coronado[Pg 121] set out to chase the fatal golden myth of the Quivira, Fray Padilla accompanied him. In that march of one hundred and four days across the barren plains before they reached the Quiviras in northeastern Kansas, the explorers suffered tortures for water and sometimes for food. The treacherous guide misled them, and they wandered long in a circle, covering a fearful distance,—probably over fifteen hundred miles. The expedition was mounted, but in those days the humble padres went afoot. Finding only disappointment, the explorers marched all the way back to Bernalillo,—though by a less circuitous route,—and Fray Padilla came with them.

But he had already decided that among these hostile, roving, buffalo-living Sioux and other Indians of the plains should be his field of labor; and when the Spanish evacuated New Mexico, he remained. With him were the soldier Andrés Docampo, two young men of Michuacan, Mexico, named Lucas and Sebastian, called the Donados, and a few Mexican Indian boys. In the fall of 1542 the little party left Bernalillo on its thousand-mile march. Andrés alone was mounted; the missionary and the Indian boys trudged along the sandy way afoot. They went by way of the pueblo of Pecos, thence into and across a corner of what is now Colorado, and nearly the whole length of the great State of Kansas. At last, after a long and weary tramp, they reached the temporary lodge-villages of the Quivira Indians. Coronado had planted a large cross at one of these villages, and[Pg 122] here Fray Padilla established his mission. In time the hostile savages lost their distrust, and "loved him as a father." At last he decided to move on to another nomad tribe, where there seemed greater need of his presence. It was a dangerous step; for not only might the strangers receive him murderously, but there was equal risk in leaving his present flock. The superstitious Indians were loath to lose the presence of such a great medicine-man as they believed the Fray to be, and still more loath to have such a benefit transferred to their enemies,—for all these roving tribes were at war with one another. Nevertheless, Fray Padilla determined to go, and set out with his little retinue. One day's journey from the villages of the Quiviras, they met a band of Indians out on the war-path. Seeing the approach of the savages, the good Father thought first for his companions. Andrés still had his horse, and the boys were fleet runners.

"Flee, my children!" cried Fray Padilla. "Save yourselves, for me ye cannot help, and why should all die together? Run!"

They at first refused, but the missionary insisted; and as they were helpless against the savages, they finally obeyed and fled. This may not seem, at first thought, the most heroic thing to do, but an understanding of their time exonerates them. Not only were they humble men used to give the good priests implicit obedience, but there was another and a more potent motive. In those days of earnest faith, martyrdom was looked upon as not only a heroism but[Pg 123] a prophecy; it was believed to indicate new triumphs for Christianity, and it was a duty to carry back to the world the news. If they stayed and were slain with him,—as I am sure these faithful followers were not physically afraid to do,—the lesson and glory of his martyrdom would be lost to the world.

Fray Juan knelt on the broad prairie and commended his soul to God; and even as he prayed, the Indians riddled him with arrows. They dug a pit and cast therein the body of the first Kansas martyr, and piled upon it a great pile of stones. This was in the year 1542.

Andrés Docampo and the boys made their escape at the time, but were soon captured by other Indians and kept as slaves for ten months. They were beaten and starved, and obliged to perform the most laborious and menial tasks. At last, after long planning and many unsuccessful attempts, they escaped from their barbarous captors. Then for more than eight years they wandered on foot, unarmed and alone, up and down the thirsty and inhospitable plains, enduring incredible privations and dangers. At last, after those thousands of footsore miles, they walked into the Mexican town of Tampico, on the great Gulf. They were received as those come back from the dead. We lack the details of that grim and matchless walk, but it is historically established. For nine years these poor fellows zigzagged the deserts afoot, beginning in northeastern Kansas and coming out far down in Mexico.

Sebastian died soon after his arrival in the Mexican[Pg 124] State of Culiacan; the hardships of the trip had been too much for even his strong young body. His brother Lucas became a missionary among the Indians of Zacatecas, Mexico, and carried on his work among them for many years, dying at last in a ripe old age. As for the brave soldier Docampo, soon after his return to civilization he disappeared from view. Perhaps old Spanish documents may yet be discovered which will throw some light on his subsequent life and his fate.

[Pg 125]



Some of the most characteristic heroisms and hardships of the Pioneers in our domain cluster about the wondrous rock of Acoma, the strange sky-city of the Quéres[10] Pueblos. All the Pueblo cities were built in positions which Nature herself had fortified,—a necessity of the times, since they were surrounded by outnumbering hordes of the deadliest warriors in history; but Acoma was most secure of all. In the midst of a long valley, four miles wide, itself lined by almost insurmountable precipices, towers a lofty rock, whose top is about seventy acres in area, and whose walls, three hundred and fifty-seven feet high, are not merely perpendicular, but in most places even overhanging. Upon its summit was perched—and is to-day—the dizzy city of the Quéres. The few paths to the top—whereon a misstep will roll the victim to horrible death, hundreds of feet below—are by wild, precipitous clefts, at the head of which one determined man, with no other weapons than stones, could almost hold at bay an army.[Pg 126]

This strange aerial town was first heard of by Europeans in 1539, when Fray Marcos, the discoverer of New Mexico, was told by the people of Cibola of the great rock fortress of Hákuque,—their name for Acoma, which the natives themselves called Ah'ko. In the following year Coronado visited it with his little army, and has left us an accurate account of its wonders. These first Europeans were well received there; and the superstitious natives, who had never seen a beard or a white face before, took the strangers for gods. But it was more than half a century later yet before the Spaniards sought a foothold there.

When Oñate entered New Mexico in 1598, he met no immediate resistance whatever; for his force of four hundred people, including two hundred men-at-arms, was large enough to awe the Indians. They were naturally hostile to these invaders of their domain; but finding themselves well treated by the strangers, and fearful of open war against these men with hard clothes, who killed from afar with their thunder-sticks, the Pueblos awaited results. The Quéres, Tigua, and Jemez branches formally submitted to Spanish rule, and took the oath of allegiance to the Crown by their representative men gathered at the pueblo of Guipuy (now Santo Domingo); as also did the Tanos, Picuries, Tehuas, and Taos, at a similar conference at the pueblo of San Juan, in September, 1598. At this ready submission Oñate was greatly encouraged; and he decided to visit all the principal pueblos in person, to make them[Pg 127] securer subjects of his sovereign. He had founded already the first town in New Mexico and the second in the United States,—San Gabriel de los Españoles, where Chamita stands to-day. Before starting on this perilous journey, he despatched Juan de Zaldivar, his maestro de campo,[11] with fifty men to explore the vast, unknown plains to the east, and then to follow him.

Oñate and a small force left the lonely little Spanish colony,—more than a thousand miles from any other town of civilized men,—October 6, 1598. First he marched to the pueblos in the great plains of the Salt Lakes, east of the Manzano mountains,—a thirsty journey of more than two hundred miles. Then returning to the pueblo of Puaray (opposite the present Bernalillo), he turned westward. On the 27th of the same month he camped at the foot of the lofty cliffs of Acoma. The principales (chief men) of the town came down from the rock, and took the solemn pledge of allegiance to the Spanish Crown. They were thoroughly warned of the deep importance and meaning of this step, and that if they violated their oath they would be regarded and treated as rebels against his Majesty; but they fully pledged themselves to be faithful vassals. They were very friendly, and repeatedly invited the Spanish commander and his men to visit their sky-city. In truth, they had had spies at the conferences in Santo Domingo and San Juan, and had decided[Pg 128] that the most dangerous man among the invaders was Oñate himself. If he could be slain, they thought the rest of the pale strangers might be easily routed.

But Oñate knew nothing of their intended treachery; and on the following day he and his handful of men—leaving only a guard with the horses—climbed one of the breathless stone "ladders," and stood in Acoma. The officious Indians piloted them hither and yon, showing them the strange terraced houses of many stories in height, the great reservoirs in the eternal rock, and the dizzy brink which everywhere surrounded the eyrie of a town. At last they brought the Spaniards to where a huge ladder, projecting far aloft through a trapdoor in the roof of a large house, indicated the estufa, or sacred council-chamber. The visitors mounted to the roof by a smaller ladder, and the Indians tried to have Oñate descend through the trapdoor. But the Spanish governor, noting that all was dark in the room below, and suddenly becoming suspicious, declined to enter; and as his soldiers were all about, the Indians did not insist. After a short visit in the pueblo the Spaniards descended the rock to their camp, and thence marched away on their long and dangerous journey to Moqui and Zuñi. That swift flash of prudence in Oñate's mind saved the history of New Mexico; for in that dark estufa was lying a band of armed warriors. Had he entered the room, he would have been slain at once; and his death was to be the signal for a general onslaught[Pg 129] upon the Spaniards, all of whom must have perished in the unequal fight.

Returning from his march of exploration through the trackless and deadly plains, Juan de Zaldivar left San Gabriel on the 18th of November, to follow his commander-in-chief. He had but thirty men. Reaching the foot of the City in the Sky on the 4th of December, he was very kindly received by the Acomas, who invited him up into their town. Juan was a good soldier, as well as a gallant one, and well used to the tricks of Indian warfare; but for the first time in his life—and the last—he now let himself be deceived. Leaving half his little force at the foot of the cliff to guard the camp and horses, he himself went up with sixteen men. The town was so full of wonders, the people so cordial, that the visitors soon forgot whatever suspicions they may have had; and by degrees they scattered hither and yon to see the strange sights. The natives had been waiting only for this; and when the war-chief gave the wild whoop, men, women, and children seized rocks and clubs, bows and flint-knives, and fell furiously upon the scattered Spaniards. It was a ghastly and an unequal fight the winter sun looked down upon that bitter afternoon in the cliff city. Here and there, with back against the wall of one of those strange houses, stood a gray-faced, tattered, bleeding soldier, swinging his clumsy flintlock club-like, or hacking with desperate but unavailing sword at the dark, ravenous mob that hemmed him, while stones rained upon his bent[Pg 130] visor, and clubs and cruel flints sought him from every side. There was no coward blood among that doomed band. They sold their lives dearly; in front of every one lay a sprawling heap of dead. But one by one the howling wave of barbarians drowned each grim, silent fighter, and swept off to swell the murderous flood about the next. Zaldivar himself was one of the first victims; and two other officers, six soldiers, and two servants fell in that uneven combat. The five survivors—Juan Tabaro, who was alguacil-mayor, with four soldiers—got at last together, and with superhuman strength fought their way to the edge of the cliff, bleeding from many wounds. But their savage foes still pressed them; and being too faint to carve their way to one of the "ladders," in the wildness of desperation the five sprang over the beetling cliff.

Never but once was recorded so frightful a leap as that of Tabaro and his four companions. Even if we presume that they had been so fortunate as to reach the very lowest point of the rock, it could not have been less than one hundred and fifty feet! And yet only one of the five was killed by this inconceivable fall; the remaining four, cared for by their terrified companions in the camp, all finally recovered. It would be incredible, were it not established by absolute historical proof. It is probable that they fell upon one of the mounds of white sand which the winds had drifted against the foot of the cliffs in places.[Pg 131]

Fortunately, the victorious savages did not attack the little camp. The survivors still had their horses, of which unknown brutes the Indians had a great fear. For several days the fourteen soldiers and their four half-dead companions camped under the overhanging cliff, where they were safe from missiles from above, hourly expecting an onslaught from the savages. They felt sure that this massacre of their comrades was but the prelude to a general uprising of the twenty-five or thirty thousand Pueblos; and regardless of the danger to themselves, they decided at last to break up into little bands, and separate,—some to follow their commander on his lonely march to Moqui, and warn him of his danger; and others to hasten over the hundreds of arid miles to San Gabriel and the defence of its women and babes, and to the missionaries who had scattered among the savages. This plan of self-devotion was successfully carried out. The little bands of three and four apiece bore the news to their countrymen; and by the end of the year 1598 all the surviving Spaniards in New Mexico were safely gathered in the hamlet of San Gabriel. The little town was built pueblo-fashion, in the shape of a hollow square. In the Plaza within were planted the rude pedreros—small howitzers which fired a ball of stone—to command the gates; and upon the roofs of the three-story adobe houses the brave women watched by day, and the men with their heavy flintlocks all through the winter nights, to guard against the expected attack. But the Pueblos rested on their arms. They[Pg 132] were waiting to see what Oñate would do with Acoma, before they took final measures against the strangers.

It was a most serious dilemma in which Oñate now found himself. One need not have known half so much about the Indian character as did this gray, quiet Spaniard, to understand that he must signally punish the rebels for the massacre of his men, or abandon his colony and New Mexico altogether. If such an outrage went unpunished, the emboldened Pueblos would destroy the last Spaniard. On the other hand, how could he hope to conquer that impregnable fortress of rock? He had less than two hundred men; and only a small part of these could be spared for the campaign, lest the other Pueblos in their absence should rise and annihilate San Gabriel and its people. In Acoma there were full three hundred warriors, reinforced by at least a hundred Navajo braves.

But there was no alternative. The more he reflected and counselled with his officers, the more apparent it became that the only salvation was to capture the Quéres Gibraltar; and the plan was decided upon. Oñate naturally desired to lead in person this forlornest of forlorn hopes; but there was one who had even a better claim to the desperate honor than the captain-general,—and that one was the forgotten hero Vicente de Zaldivar, brother of the murdered Juan. He was sargento-mayor[12] of the little army; and when he came to Oñate and[Pg 133] begged to be given command of the expedition against Acoma, there was no saying him nay.

On the 12th of January, 1599, Vicente de Zaldivar left San Gabriel at the head of seventy men. Only a few of them had even the clumsy flintlocks of the day; the majority were not arquebusiers but piquiers, armed only with swords and lances, and clad in jackets of quilted cotton or battered mail. One small pedrero, lashed upon the back of a horse, was the only "artillery."

Silently and sternly the little force made its arduous march. All knew that impregnable rock, and few cherished an expectation of returning from so desperate a mission; but there was no thought of turning back. On the afternoon of the eleventh day the tired soldiers passed the last intervening mesa,[13] and came in sight of Acoma. The Indians, warned by their runners, were ready to receive them. The whole population, with the Navajo allies, were under arms, on the housetops and the commanding cliffs. Naked savages, painted black, leaped from crag to crag, screeching defiance and heaping insults upon the Spaniards. The medicine-men, hideously disguised, stood on projecting pinnacles, beating their drums and scattering curses and incantations to the winds; and all the populace joined in derisive howls and taunts.

Zaldivar halted his little band as close to the foot of the cliff as he could come without danger. The indispensable notary stepped from the ranks, and at[Pg 134] the blast of the trumpet proceeded to read at the top of his lungs the formal summons in the name of the king of Spain to surrender. Thrice he shouted through the summons; but each time his voice was drowned by the howls and shrieks of the enraged savages, and a hail of stones and arrows fell dangerously near. Zaldivar had desired to secure the surrender of the pueblo, demand the delivery to him of the ringleaders in the massacre, and take them back with him to San Gabriel for official trial and punishment, without harm to the other people of Acoma; but the savages, secure in their grim fortress, mocked the merciful appeal. It was clear that Acoma must be stormed. The Spaniards camped on the bare sands and passed the night—made hideous by the sounds of a monster war-dance in the town—in gloomy plans for the morrow.


[10] Pronounced Káy-ress.

[11] Commander in the field: equivalent to our colonel.

[12] Equivalent to lieutenant-colonel.

[13] Huge "table" of rock.

[Pg 135]



At daybreak, on the morning of January 22, Zaldivar gave the signal for the attack; and the main body of the Spaniards began firing their few arquebuses, and making a desperate assault at the north end of the great rock, there absolutely impregnable. The Indians, crowded along the cliffs above, poured down a rain of missiles; and many of the Spaniards were wounded. Meanwhile twelve picked men, who had hidden during the night under the overhanging cliff which protected them alike from the fire and the observation of the Indians, were crawling stealthily around under the precipice, dragging the pedrero by ropes. Most of these twelve were arquebusiers; and besides the weight of the ridiculous little cannon, they had their ponderous flintlocks and their clumsy armor,—poor helps for scaling heights which the unencumbered athlete finds difficult. Pursuing their toilsome way unobserved, pulling one another and then the pedrero up the ledges, they reached at last the top of a great outlying pinnacle of rock, separated from the main cliff of Acoma by a narrow but awful chasm. Late in the afternoon they had their howitzer[Pg 136] trained upon the town; and the loud report, as its cobble-stone ball flew into Acoma, signalled the main body at the north end of the mesa that the first vantage-ground had been safely gained, and at the same time warned the savages of danger from a new quarter.

That night little squads of Spaniards climbed the great precipices which wall the trough-like valley on east and west, cut down small pines, and with infinite labor dragged the logs down the cliffs, across the valley, and up the butte on which the twelve were stationed. About a score of men were left to guard the horses at the north end of the mesa; and the rest of the force joined the twelve, hiding behind the crags of their rock-tower. Across the chasm the Indians were lying in crevices, or behind rocks, awaiting the attack.

At daybreak of the 23d, a squad of picked men at a given signal rushed from their hiding-places with a log on their shoulders, and by a lucky cast lodged its farther end on the opposite brink of the abyss. Out dashed the Spaniards at their heels, and began balancing across that dizzy "bridge" in the face of a volley of stones and arrows. A very few had crossed, when one in his excitement caught the rope and pulled the log across after him.

It was a fearful moment. There were less than a dozen Spaniards thus left standing alone on the brink of Acoma, cut off from their companions by a gulf hundreds of feet deep, and surrounded by swarming savages. The Indians, sallying from their[Pg 137] refuge, fell instantly upon them on every hand. As long as the Spanish soldier could keep the Indians at a distance, even his clumsy firearms and inefficient armor gave an advantage; but at such close quarters these very things were a fatal impediment by their weight and clumsiness. Now it seemed as if the previous Acoma massacre were to be repeated, and the cut-off Spaniards to be hacked to pieces; but at this very crisis a deed of surpassing personal valor saved them and the cause of Spain in New Mexico. A slender, bright-faced young officer, a college boy who was a special friend and favorite of Oñate, sprang from the crowd of dismayed Spaniards on the farther bank, who dared not fire into that indiscriminate jostle of friend and foe, and came running like a deer toward the chasm. As he reached its brink his lithe body gathered itself, sprang into the air like a bird, and cleared the gulf! Seizing the log, he thrust it back with desperate strength until his companions could grasp it from the farther brink; and over the restored bridge the Spanish soldiers poured to retrieve the day.

Then began one of the most fearful hand-to-hand struggles in all American history. Outnumbered nearly ten to one, lost in a howling mob of savages who fought with the frenzy of despair, gashed with raw-edged knives, dazed with crushing clubs, pierced with bristling arrows, spent and faint and bleeding, Zaldivar and his hero-handful fought their way inch by inch, step by step, clubbing their heavy guns, hewing with their short swords, parrying deadly[Pg 138] blows, pulling the barbed arrows from their quivering flesh. On, on, on they pressed, shouting the gallant war-cry of Santiago, driving the stubborn foe before them by still more stubborn valor, until at last the Indians, fully convinced that these were no human foes, fled to the refuge of their fort-like houses, and there was room for the reeling Spaniards to draw breath. Then thrice again the summons to surrender was duly read before the strange tenements, each near a thousand feet long, and looking like a flight of gigantic steps carved from one rock. Zaldivar even now wished to spare unnecessary bloodshed, and demanded only that the assassins of his brother and countrymen should be given up for punishment. All others who should surrender and become subjects of "Our Lord the King" should be well treated. But the dogged Indians, like wounded wolves in their den, stuck in their barricaded houses, and refused all terms of peace.

The rock was captured, but the town remained. A pueblo is a fortress in itself; and now Zaldivar had to storm Acoma house by house, room by room. The little pedrero was dragged in front of the first row of houses, and soon began to deliver its slow fire. As the adobe walls crumbled under the steady battering of the stone cannon-balls, they only formed great barricades of clay, which even our modern artillery would not pierce; and each had to be carried separately at the point of the sword. Some of the fallen houses caught fire from their own fogones;[14] and soon a stifling smoke hung over the town, from which issued the shrieks of women and babes and the defiant yells of the warriors. The humane Zaldivar made every effort to save the women and children, at great risk of self; but numbers perished beneath the falling walls of their own houses.

See page 161.

[Pg 139]

This fearful storming lasted until noon of January 24. Now and then bands of warriors made sorties, and tried to cut their way through the Spanish line. Many sprang in desperation over the cliff, and were dashed to pieces at its foot; and two Indians who made that incredible leap survived it as miraculously as had the four Spaniards in the earlier massacre, and made their escape.

At last, at noon of the third day, the old men came forth to sue for mercy, which was at once granted. The moment they surrendered, their rebellion was forgotten and their treachery forgiven. There was no need of further punishment. The ringleaders in the murder of Zaldivar's brother were all dead, and so were nearly all the Navajo allies. It was the most bloody struggle New Mexico ever saw. In this three days' fight the Indians lost five hundred slain and many wounded; and of the surviving Spaniards not one but bore to his grave many a ghastly scar as mementos of Acoma. The town was so nearly destroyed that it had all to be rebuilt; and the infinite labor with which the patient people had brought up that cliff on their backs all the stones[Pg 140] and timber and clay to build a many-storied town for nearly a thousand souls was all to be repeated. Their crops, too, and all other supplies, stored in dark little rooms of the terraced houses, had been destroyed, and they were in sore want. Truly a bitter punishment had been sent them by "those above" for their treachery to Juan de Zaldivar.

When his men had sufficiently recovered from their wounds Vicente de Zaldivar, the leader of probably the most wonderful capture in history, marched victorious back to San Gabriel de los Españoles, taking with him eighty young Acoma girls, whom he sent to be educated by the nuns in Old Mexico. What a shout must have gone up from the gray walls of the little colony when its anxious watchers saw at last the wan and unexpected tatters of its little army pricking slowly homeward across the snows on jaded steeds!

The rest of the Pueblos, who had been lying demure as cats, with claws sheathed, but every lithe muscle ready to spring, were fairly paralyzed with awe. They had looked to see the Spaniards defeated, if not crushed, at Acoma; and then a swift rising of all the tribes would have made short work of the remaining invaders. But now the impossible had happened! Ah'ko, the proud sky-city of the Quéres; Ah'ko, the cliff-girt and impregnable,—had fallen before the pale strangers! Its brave warriors had come to naught, its strong houses were a chaos of smoking ruins, its wealth was gone, its people nearly wiped from off the earth! What use[Pg 141] to struggle against "such men of power,"—these strange wizards who must be precious to "those above," else they never could have such superhuman prowess? The strung sinews relaxed, and the great cat began to purr as though she had never dreamt of mousing. There was no more thought of a rebellion against the Spaniards; and the Indians even went out of their way to court the favor of these awesome strangers. They brought Oñate the news of the fall of Acoma several days before Zaldivar and his heroes got back to the little colony, and even were mean enough to deliver to him two Quéres refugees from that dread field who had sought shelter among them. Thenceforth Governor Oñate had no more trouble with the Pueblos.

But Acoma itself seemed to take the lesson to heart less than any of them. Too crushed and broken to think of further war with its invincible foes, it still remained bitterly hostile to the Spaniards for full thirty years, until it was again conquered by a heroism as splendid as Zaldivar's, though in a far different way.

In 1629 Fray Juan Ramirez, "the Apostle of Acoma," left Santa Fé alone to found a mission in that lofty home of fierce barbarians. An escort of soldiers was offered him, but he declined it, and started unaccompanied and on foot, with no other weapon than his crucifix. Tramping his footsore and dangerous way, he came after many days to the foot of the great "island" of rock, and began the ascent. As soon as the savages saw a stranger[Pg 142] of the hated people, they rallied to the brink of the cliff and poured down a great flight of arrows, some of which pierced his robes. Just then a little girl of Acoma, who was standing on the edge of the cliff, grew frightened at the wild actions of her people, and losing her balance tumbled over the precipice. By a strange providence she fell but a few yards, and landed on a sandy ledge near the Fray, but out of sight of her people, who presumed that she had fallen the whole height of the cliff. Fray Juan climbed to her, and carried her unhurt to the top of the rock; and seeing this apparent miracle, the savages were disarmed, and received him as a good wizard. The good man dwelt alone there in Acoma for more than twenty years, loved by the natives as a father, and teaching his swarthy converts so successfully that in time many knew their catechism, and could read and write in Spanish. Besides, under his direction they built a large church with enormous labor. When he died, in 1664, the Acomas from being the fiercest Indians had become the gentlest in New Mexico, and were among the furthest advanced in civilization. But a few years after his death came the uprising of all the Pueblos; and in the long and disastrous wars which followed the church was destroyed, and the fruits of the brave Fray's work largely disappeared. In that rebellion Fray Lucas Maldonado, who was then the missionary to Acoma, was butchered by his flock on the 10th or 11th of August, 1680. In November, 1692, Acoma voluntarily surrendered[Pg 143] to the reconqueror of New Mexico, Diego de Vargas. Within a few years, however, it rebelled again; and in August, 1696, Vargas marched against it, but was unable to storm the rock. But by degrees the Pueblos grew to lasting peace with the humane conquerors, and to merit the kindness which was steadily proffered them. The mission at Acoma was re-established about the year 1700; and there stands to-day a huge church which is one of the most interesting in the world, by reason of the infinite labor and patience which built it. The last attempt at a Pueblo uprising was in 1728; but Acoma was not implicated in it at all.

The strange stone stairway by which Fray Juan Ramirez climbed first to his dangerous parish in the teeth of a storm of arrows, is used by the people of Acoma to this day, and is still called by them el camino del padre (the path of the Father).


[14] Fireplaces.

[Pg 144]



But now to go back a little. The young officer who made that superb leap across the chasm at Acoma, pushed back the bridge-log, and so saved the lives of his comrades, and indirectly of all the Spanish in New Mexico, was Captain Gaspar Perez de Villagran.[15] He was highly educated, being a graduate of a Spanish university; young, ambitious, fearless, and athletic; a hero among the heroes of the New World, and a chronicler to whom we are greatly indebted. The six extant copies of the fat little parchment-bound book of his historical poem, in thirty-four heroic cantos, are each worth many times their weight in gold. It is a great pity that we could not have had a Villagran for each of the campaigns of the pioneers of America, to tell us more of the details of those superhuman dangers and hardships,—for most of the chroniclers of that day treat such episodes as briefly as we would a trip from New York to Brooklyn.

The leaping of the chasm was not Captain Villagran's only connection with the bloody doings at Acoma in the winter of 1598-99. He came very[Pg 145] near being a victim of the first massacre, in which Juan de Zaldivar and his men perished, and escaped that fate only to suffer hardships as fearful as death.

In the fall of 1598 four soldiers deserted Oñate's little army at San Gabriel; and the governor sent Villagran, with three or four soldiers, to arrest them. It is hard to say what a sheriff nowadays would think if called upon to follow four desperadoes nearly a thousand miles across such a desert, and with a posse so small. But Captain Villagran kept the trail of the deserters; and after a pursuit of at least nine hundred miles, overtook them in southern Chihuahua, Mexico. The deserters made a fierce resistance. Two were killed by the officers, and two escaped. Villagran left his little posse there, and retraced his dangerous nine hundred miles alone. Arriving at the pueblo of Puaray, on the west bank of the Rio Grande, opposite Bernalillo, he learned that his commander Oñate had just marched west, on the perilous trip to Moqui, of which you have already heard. Villagran at once turned westward, and started alone to follow and overtake his countrymen. The trail was easily followed, for the Spaniards had the only horses within what is now the United States; but the lonely follower of it was beset with continual danger and hardship. He came in sight of Acoma just too late to witness the massacre of Juan de Zaldivar and the fearful fall of the five Spaniards. The survivors had already left the fatal spot; and when the natives saw a solitary Spaniard approaching, they descended from their rock citadel[Pg 146] to surround and slay him. Villagran had no firearms, nothing but his sword, dagger, and shield. Although he knew nothing of the dreadful events which had just occurred, he became suspicious of the manner in which the savages were hemming him in; and though his horse was gaunt from its long journey, he spurred it to a gallant effort, and fought his way through the closing circle of Indians. He kept up his flight until well into the night, making a long circuit to avoid coming too near the town, and at last got down exhausted from his exhausted horse, and laid himself on the bare earth to rest. When he awoke it was snowing hard, and he was half buried under the cold, white blanket. Remounting, he pushed on in the darkness, to get as far as possible from Acoma ere daylight should betray him. Suddenly horse and rider fell into a deep pit, which the Indians had dug for a trap and covered with brush and earth. The fall killed the poor horse, and Villagran himself was badly hurt and stunned. At last, however, he managed to crawl out of the pit, to the great joy of his faithful dog, who sat whining and shivering upon the edge. The soldier-poet speaks most touchingly of this dumb companion of his long and perilous journey, and evidently loved it with the affection which only a brave man can give and a faithful dog merit.

Starting again on foot, Villagran soon lost his way in that trackless wilderness. For four days and four nights he wandered without a morsel of food or a drop of water,—for the snow had already disappeared.[Pg 147] Many a man has fasted longer under equal hardships; but only those who have tasted the thirst of the arid lands can form the remotest conception of the meaning of ninety-six hours without water. Two days of that thirst is often fatal to strong men; and that Villagran endured four was little short of miraculous. At last, fairly dying of thirst, with dry, swollen tongue, hard and rough as a file, projecting far beyond his teeth, he was reduced to the sad necessity of slaying his faithful dog, which he did with tears of manly remorse. Calling the poor brute to him, he dispatched it with his sword, and greedily drank the warm blood. This gave him strength to stagger on a little farther; and just as he was sinking to the sand to die, he spied a little hollow in a large rock ahead. Crawling feebly to it, he found to his joy that a little snow-water remained in the cavity. Scattered about, were a few grains of corn, which seemed a godsend; and he devoured them ravenously.

He had now given up all hope of overtaking his commander, and decided to turn back and try to walk that grim two hundred miles to San Gabriel. But he was too far gone for the body longer to obey the heroic soul, and would have perished miserably by the little rock tank but for a strange chance.

As he lay there, faint and helpless, he suddenly heard voices approaching. He concluded that the Indians had trailed him, and gave himself up for lost, for he was too weak to fight. But at last his ear caught the accent of Spain; and though it was[Pg 148] spoken by hoarse, rough soldiers, you may be sure he thought it the sweetest sound in all the world. It chanced that the night before, some of the horses of Oñate's camp had strayed away, and a small squad of soldiers was sent out to catch them. In following the trail of the runaways, they came in sight of Captain Villagran. Luckily they saw him, for he could no longer shout nor run after them. Tenderly they lifted up the wounded officer and bore him back to camp; and there, under the gentle nursing of bearded men, he slowly recovered strength, and in time became again the daring athlete of other days. He accompanied Oñate on that long, desert march; and a few months later was at the storming of Acoma, and performed the astounding feat which ranks as one of the remarkable individual heroisms of the New World.


[15] Pronounced Veel-yah-gráhn.

[Pg 149]



To pretend to tell the story of the Spanish pioneering of the Americas without special attention to the missionary pioneers, would be very poor justice and very poor history. In this, even more than in other qualities, the conquest was unique. The Spaniard not only found and conquered, but converted. His religious earnestness was not a whit behind his bravery. As has been true of all nations that have entered new lands,—and as we ourselves later entered this,—his first step had to be to subdue the savages who opposed him. But as soon as he had whipped these fierce grown-children, he began to treat them with a great and noble mercy,—a mercy none too common even now, and in that cruel time of the whole world almost unheard of. He never robbed the brown first Americans of their homes, nor drove them on and on before him; on the contrary, he protected and secured to them by special laws the undisturbed possession of their lands for all time. It is due to the generous and manly laws made by Spain three hundred years ago, that our most interesting and advanced Indians, the Pueblos, enjoy to-day full[Pg 150] security in their lands; while nearly all others (who never came fully under Spanish dominion) have been time after time ousted from lands our government had solemnly given to them.

That was the beauty of an Indian policy which was ruled, not by politics, but by the unvarying principle of humanity. The Indian was first required to be obedient to his new government. He could not learn obedience in everything all at once; but he must at least refrain from butchering his new neighbors. As soon as he learned that lesson, he was insured protection in his rights of home and family and property. Then, as rapidly as such a vast work could be done by an army of missionaries who devoted their lives to the dangerous task, he was educated to citizenship and Christianity. It is almost impossible for us, in these quiet days, to comprehend what it was to convert a savage half-world. In our part of North America there have never been such hopeless tribes as the Spaniards met in Mexico and other southern lands. Never did any other people anywhere complete such a stupendous missionary work. To begin to understand the difficulties of that conversion, we must look into an appalling page of history.

Most Indians and savage peoples have religions as unlike ours as are their social organizations. There are few tribes that dream of one Supreme Being. Most of them worship many gods,—"gods" whose attributes are very like those of the worshipper; "gods" as ignorant and cruel and treacherous as he.[Pg 151] It is a ghastly thing to study these religions, and to see what dark and revolting qualities ignorance can deify. The merciless gods of India, who are supposed to delight in the crushing of thousands under the wheels of Juggernaut, and in the sacrificing of babes to the Ganges, and in the burning alive of girl-widows, are fair examples of what the benighted can believe; and the horrors of India were fully paralleled in America. The religions of our North American Indians had many astounding and dreadful features; but they were mild and civilized compared with the hideous rites of Mexico and the southern lands. To understand something of what the Spanish missionaries had to combat throughout America, aside from the common danger, let us glance at the condition of affairs in Mexico at their coming.

The Nahuatl, or Aztecs, and similar Indian tribes of ancient Mexico, had the general pagan creed of all American Indians, with added horrors of their own. They were in constant blind dread of their innumerable savage gods,—for to them everything they could not see and understand, and nearly everything they could, was a divinity. But they could not conceive of any such divinity as one they could love; it was always something to be afraid of, and mortally afraid of. Their whole attitude of life was one of dodging the cruel blows of an unseen hand; of placating some fierce god who could not love, but might be bribed not to destroy. They could not conceive a real creation, nor that anything could be without father and mother: stones and stars and[Pg 152] winds and gods had to be born the same as men. Their "heaven," if they could have understood such a word, was crowded with gods, each as individual and personal as we, with greater powers than we, but with much the same weaknesses and passions and sins. In fact, they had invented and arranged gods by their own savage standards, giving them the powers they themselves most desired, but unable to attribute virtues they could not understand. So, too, in judging what would please these gods, they went by what would please themselves. To have bloody vengeance on their enemies; to rob and slay, or be paid tribute for not robbing and slaying; to be richly dressed and well fed,—these, and other like things which seemed to them the highest personal ambitions, they thought must be likewise pleasing to "those above." So they spent most of their time and anxiety in buying off these strange gods, who were even more dreaded than savage neighbors.

Their ideas of a god were graphically expressed in the great stone idols of which Mexico was once full, some of which are still preserved in the museums. They are often of heroic size, and are carved from the hardest stone with great painstaking, but their faces and figures are indescribably dreadful. Such an idol as that of the grim Huitzilopochtli was as horrible a thing as human ingenuity ever invented, and the same grotesque hideousness runs through all the long list of Mexican idols.

These idols were attended with the most servile care, and dressed in the richest ornaments known to[Pg 153] Indian wealth. Great strings of turquoise,—the most precious "gem" of the American aborigines,—and really precious mantles of the brilliant feathers of tropic birds, and gorgeous shells were hung lavishly upon those great stone nightmares. Thousands of men devoted their lives to the tending of the dumb deities, and humbled and tortured themselves unspeakably to please them.

But gifts and care were not enough. Treachery to his friends was still to be feared from such a god. He must still further be bought off; everything that to an Indian seemed valuable was proffered to the Indian's god, to keep him in good humor. And since human life was the most precious thing an Indian could understand, it became his most important and finally his most frequent offering. To the Indian it seemed no crime to take a life to please a god. He had no idea of retribution after death, and he came to look upon human sacrifice as a legitimate, moral, and even divine institution. In time, such sacrifices became of almost daily occurrence at each of the numberless temples. It was the most valued form of worship; so great was its importance that the officials or priests had to go through a more onerous training than does any minister of a Christian faith. They could reach their position only by pledging and keeping up unceasing and awful self-deprivation and self-mutilation.

Human lives were offered not only to one or two principal idols of each community, but each town had also many minor fetiches to which such sacrifices[Pg 154] were made on stated occasions. So fixed was the custom of sacrifice, and so proper was it deemed, that when Cortez came to Cempohuál the natives could think of no other way to welcome him with sufficient honor, and in perfect cordiality proposed to offer up human sacrifices to him. It is hardly necessary to add that Cortez sternly declined this pledge of hospitality.

These rites were mostly performed on the teocallis, or sacrificial mounds, of which there were one or more in every Indian town. These were huge artificial mounds of earth, built in the shape of truncated pyramids, and faced all over with stone. They were from fifty to two hundred feet high, and sometimes many hundreds of feet square at the base. Upon the flat top of the pyramid stood a small tower,—the dingy chapel which enclosed the idol. The grotesque face of the stone deity looked down upon a cylindrical stone which had a bowl-like cavity in the top,—the altar, or sacrificial stone. This was generally carved also, and sometimes with remarkable skill and detail. The famous so-called "Aztec Calendar Stone" in the National Museum of Mexico, which once gave rise to so many wild speculations, is merely one of these sacrificial altars, dating from before Columbus. It is a wonderful piece of Indian stone-carving.

The idol, the inner walls of the temple, the floor, the altar, were always wet with the most precious fluid on earth. In the bowl human hearts smouldered. Black-robed wizards, their faces painted[Pg 155] black with white rings about eyes and mouth, their hair matted with blood, their faces raw from constant self-torture, forever flitted to and fro, keeping watch by night and day, ready always for the victims whom that dreadful superstition was always ready to bring. The supply of victims was drawn from prisoners taken in war, and from slaves paid as tribute by conquered tribes; and it took a vast supply. Sometimes as many as five hundred were sacrificed on one altar on one great day. They were stretched naked upon the sacrificial stone, and butchered in a manner too horrible to be described here. Their palpitating hearts were offered to the idol, and then thrown into the great stone bowl; while the bodies were kicked down the long stone stairway to the bottom of the great mound, where they were seized upon by the eager crowd. The Mexicans were not cannibals regularly and as a matter of taste; but they devoured these bodies as part of their grim religion.

It is too revolting to go more into detail concerning these rites. Enough has been said to give some idea of the moral barrier encountered by the Spanish missionaries when they came to such blood-thirsty savages with a gospel which teaches love and the universal brotherhood of man. Such a creed was as unintelligible to the Indian as white blackness would be to us; and the struggle to make him understand was one of the most enormous and apparently hopeless ever undertaken by human teachers. Before the missionaries could make these[Pg 156] savages even listen to—much less understand—Christianity, they had the dangerous task of proving this paganism worthless. The Indian believed absolutely in the power of his gory stone-god. If he should neglect his idol, he felt sure the idol would punish and destroy him; and of course he would not believe anything that could be told him to the contrary. The missionary had not only to say, "Your idol is worthless; he cannot hurt anybody; he is only a stone, and if you kick him he cannot punish you," but he had to prove it. No Indian was going to be so foolhardy as to try the experiment, and the new teacher had to do it in person. Of course he could not even do that at first; for if he had begun his missionary work by offering any indignity to one of those ugly gods of porphyry, its "priests" would have slain him on the spot. But when the Indians saw at last that the missionary was not struck down by some supernatural power for speaking against their gods, there was one step gained. By degrees he could touch the idol, and they saw that he was still unharmed. At last he overturned and broke the cruel images; and the breathless and terrified worshippers began to distrust and despise the cowardly divinities they had played the slave to, but whom a stranger could insult and abuse with impunity. It was only by this rude logic, which the debased savages could understand, that the Spanish missionaries proved to the Indians that human sacrifice was a human mistake and not the will of "Those Above." It was a wonderful achievement,[Pg 157] just the uprooting of this one, but worst, custom of the Indian religion,—a custom strengthened by centuries of constant practice. But the Spanish apostles were equal to the task; and the infinite faith and zeal and patience which finally abolished human sacrifice in Mexico, led gradually on, step by step, to the final conversion of a continent and a half of savages to Christianity.

[Pg 158]



To give even a skeleton of Spanish missionary work in the two Americas would fill several volumes. The most that can be done here is to take a sample leaf from that fascinating but formidable record; and for that I shall outline something of what was done in an area particularly interesting to us,—the single province of New Mexico. There were many fields which presented even greater obstacles, and cost more lives of uncomplaining martyrs and more generations of discouraging toil; but it is safe to take a modest example, as well as one which so much concerns our own national history.

New Mexico and Arizona—the real wonderland of the United States—were discovered in 1539, as you know, by that Spanish missionary whom every young American should remember with honor,—Fray Marcos, of Nizza. You have had glimpses, too, of the achievements of Fray Ramirez, Fray Padilla, and other missionaries in that forbidding land, and have gained some idea of the hardships which were common to all their brethren; for the[Pg 159] wonderful journeys, the lonely self-sacrifice, the gentle zeal, and too often the cruel deaths of these men were not exceptions, but fair types of what the apostle to the Southwest must expect.

There have been missionaries elsewhere whose flocks were as long ungrateful and murderous, but few if any who were more out of the world. New Mexico has been for three hundred and fifty years, and is to-day, largely a wilderness, threaded with a few slender oases. To people of the Eastern States a desert seems very far off; but there are hundreds of thousands of square miles in our own Southwest to this day where the traveller is very likely to die of thirst, and where poor wretches every year do perish by that most awful of deaths. Even now there is no trouble in finding hardship and danger in New Mexico; and once it was one of the cruellest wildernesses conceivable. Scarce a decade has gone by since an end was put to the Indian wars and harassments, which had lasted continuously for more than three centuries. When Spanish colonist or Spanish missionary turned his back on Old Mexico to traverse the thousand-mile, roadless desert to New Mexico, he took his life in his hands; and every day in that savage province he was in equal danger. If he escaped death by thirst or starvation by the way, if the party was not wiped out by the merciless Apache, then he settled in the wilderness as far from any other home of white men as Chicago is from Boston. If a missionary, he was generally alone with a flock of hundreds of cruel savages;[Pg 160] if a soldier or a farmer, he had from two hundred to fifteen hundred friends in an area as big as New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio combined, in the very midst of a hundred thousand swarthy foes whose war-whoop he was likely to hear at any moment, and never had long chance to forget. He came poor, and that niggard land never made him rich. Even in the beginning of this century, when some began to have large flocks of sheep, they were often left penniless by one night's raid of Apaches or Navajos.

Such was New Mexico when the missionaries came, and very nearly such it remained for more than three hundred years. If the most enlightened and hopeful mind in the Old World could have looked across to that arid land, it would never have dreamed that soon the desert was to be dotted with churches,—and not little log or mud chapels, but massive stone masonries whose ruins stand to-day, the noblest in our North America. But so it was; neither wilderness nor savage could balk that great zeal.

The first church in what is now the United States was founded in St. Augustine, Fla., by Fray Francisco de Pareja in 1560,—but there were many Spanish churches in America a half century earlier yet. The several priests whom Coronado brought to New Mexico in 1540 did brave missionary work, but were soon killed by the Indians. The first church in New Mexico and the second in the United States was founded in September,[Pg 161] 1598, by the ten missionaries who accompanied Juan de Oñate, the colonizer. It was a small chapel at San Gabriel de los Españoles (now Chamita). San Gabriel was deserted in 1605, when Oñate founded Santa Fé, though it is probable that the chapel was still occasionally used. In time, however, it fell into decay. As late as 1680 the ruins of this honorable old church were still visible; but now they are quite indistinguishable. One of the first things after establishing the new town of Santa Fé was of course to build a church,—and here, by about 1606, was reared the third church in the United States. It did not long meet the growing requirements of the colony; and in 1622 Fray Alonzo de Benavides, the historian, laid the foundations of the parish church of Santa Fé, which was finished in 1627. The church of San Miguel in the same old city was built after 1636. Its original walls are still standing, and form part of a church which is used to-day. It was partly destroyed in the Pueblo rebellion of 1680, and was restored in 1710. The new cathedral of Santa Fé is built over the remnants of the still more ancient parish church.

In 1617—three years before Plymouth Rock—there were already eleven churches in use in New Mexico. Santa Fé was the only Spanish town; but there were also churches at the dangerous Indian pueblos of Galisteo and Pecos, two at Jemez (nearly one hundred miles west of Santa Fé, and in an appalling wilderness), Taos (as far north),[Pg 162] San Yldefonso, Santa Clara, Sandia, San Felipe, and Santo Domingo. It was a wonderful achievement for each lonely missionary—for they had neither civil nor military assistance in their parishes—so soon to have induced his barbarous flock to build a big stone church, and worship there the new white God. The churches in the two Jemez pueblos had to be abandoned about 1622 on account of incessant harassment by the Navajos, who from time immemorial had ravaged that section, but were occupied again in 1626. The Spaniards were confined by the necessities of the desert, so far as home-making went, to the valley of the Rio Grande, which runs about north and south through the middle of New Mexico. But their missionaries were under no such limitation. Where the colonists could not exist, they could pray and teach; and very soon they began to penetrate the deserts which stretch far on either side from that narrow ribbon of colonizable land. At Zuñi, far west of the river and three hundred miles from Santa Fé, the missionaries had established themselves as early as 1629. Soon they had six churches in six of the "Seven Cities of Cibola" (the Zuñi towns), of which the one at Chyánahue is still beautifully preserved; and in the same period they had taken foothold two hundred miles deeper yet in the desert, and built three churches among the wondrous cliff-towns of Moqui.

Down the Rio Grande there was similar activity. At the ancient pueblo of San Antonio de Senecú, now nearly obliterated, a church was founded in[Pg 163] 1629 by Fray Antonio de Arteaga; and the same brave man, in the same year, founded another at the pueblo of Nuestra Señora del Socorro,—now the American town of Socorro. The church in the pueblo of Picuries, far in the northern mountains, was built before 1632, for in that year Fray Ascencion de Zárate was buried in it. The church at Isleta, about in the centre of New Mexico, was built before 1635. A few miles above Glorieta, one can see from the windows of a train on the Santa Fé route a large and impressive adobe ruin, whose fine walls dream away in that enchanted sunshine. It is the old church of the pueblo of Pecos; and those walls were reared two hundred and seventy-five years ago. The pueblo, once the largest in New Mexico, was deserted in 1840; and its great quadrangle of many-storied Indian houses is in utter ruin; but above their gray mounds still tower the walls of the old church which was built before there was a Saxon in New England. You see the "mud brick," as some contemptuously call the adobe, is not such a contemptible thing, even for braving the storms of centuries. There was a church at the pueblo of Nambé by 1642. In 1662 Fray Garcia de San Francisco founded a church at El Paso del Norte, on the present boundary-line between Mexico and the United States,—a dangerous frontier mission, hundreds of miles alike from the Spanish settlements in Old and New Mexico.

The missionaries also crossed the mountains east of the Rio Grande, and established missions among[Pg 164] the Pueblos who dwelt in the edge of the great plains. Fray Geronimo de la Llana founded the noble church at Cuaray about 1642; and soon after came those at Abó, Tenabo, and Tabirá (better, though incorrectly, known now as The Gran Quivira). The churches at Cuaray, Abó, and Tabirá are the grandest ruins in the United States, and much finer than many ruins which Americans go abroad to see. The second and larger church at Tabirá was built between 1660 and 1670; and at about the same time and in the same region—though many thirsty miles away—the churches at Tajique[16] and Chililí. Acoma, as you know, had a permanent missionary by 1629; and he built a church. Besides all these, the pueblos of Zia, Santa Ana, Tesuque, Pojoaque, San Juan, San Marcos, San Lazaro, San Cristobal, Alameda, Santa Cruz, and Cochiti had each a church by 1680. That shows something of the thoroughness of Spanish missionary work. A century before our nation was born, the Spanish had built in one of our Territories half a hundred permanent churches, nearly all of stone, and nearly all for the express benefit of the Indians. That is a missionary record which has never been equalled elsewhere in the United States even to this day; and in all our country we had not built by that time so many churches for ourselves.

A glimpse at the life of the missionary to New Mexico in the days before there was an English-speaking preacher in the whole western hemisphere[Pg 165] is strangely fascinating to all who love that lonely heroism which does not need applause or companionship to keep it alive. To be brave in battle or any similar excitement is a very easy thing. But to be a hero alone and unseen, amid not only danger but every hardship and discouragement, is quite another matter.

The missionary to New Mexico had of course to come first from Old Mexico,—or, before that, from Spain. Some of these quiet, gray-robed men had already seen such wanderings and such dangers as even the Stanleys of nowadays do not know. They had to furnish their own vestments and church furniture, and to pay for their own transportation from Mexico to New Mexico,—for very early a "line" of semi-annual armed expeditions across the bitter intervening wilderness was arranged. The fare was $266, which made serious havoc with the good man's salary of $150 a year (at which figure the salaries remained up to 1665, when they were raised to $330, payable every three years). It was not much like a call to a fashionable pulpit in these times. Out of this meagre pay—which was all the synod itself could afford to give him—he had to pay all the expenses of himself and his church.

Arriving, after a perilous trip, in perilous New Mexico,—and the journey and the Territory were still dangerous in the present generation,—the missionary proceeded first to Santa Fé. His superior there soon assigned him a parish; and turning his back on the one little colony of his countrymen,[Pg 166] the fray trudged on foot fifty, one hundred, or three hundred miles, as the case might be, to his new and unknown post. Sometimes an escort of three or four Spanish soldiers accompanied him; but often he made that toilsome and perilous walk alone. His new parishioners received him sometimes with a storm of arrows, and sometimes in sullen silence. He could not speak to them, nor they to him; and the very first thing he had to do was to learn from such unwilling teachers their strange tongue,—a language much more difficult to acquire than Latin, Greek, French, or German. Entirely alone among them, he had to depend upon himself and upon the untender mercies of his flock for life and all its necessities. If they decided to kill him, there was no possibility of resistance. If they refused him food, he must starve. If he became sick or crippled, there were no nurses or doctors for him except these treacherous savages. I do not think there was ever in history a picture of more absolute loneliness and helplessness and hopelessness than the lives of these unheard-of martyrs; and as for mere danger, no man ever faced greater.

The provision made for the support of the missionaries was very simple. Besides the small salary paid him by the synod, the pastor must receive some help from his parish. This was a moral as well as a material necessity. That interest partly depends on personal giving, is a principle recognized in all churches. So at once the Spanish laws commanded from the Pueblos the same contribution to the[Pg 167] church as Moses himself established. Each Indian family was required to give the tithe and the first fruits to the church, just as they had always given them to their pagan cacique. This was no burden to the Indians, and it supported the priest in a very humble way. Of course the Indians did not give a tithe; at first they gave just as little as they could. The "father's" food was their corn, beans, and squashes, with only a little meat rarely from their hunts,—for it was a long time before there were flocks of cattle or sheep to draw from. He also depended on his unreliable congregation for help in cultivating his little plot of ground, for wood to keep him from freezing in those high altitudes, and even for water,—since there were no waterworks nor even wells, and all water had to be brought considerable distances in jars. Dependent wholly upon such suspicious, jealous, treacherous helpers, the good man often suffered greatly from hunger and cold. There were no stores, of course, and if he could not get food from the Indians he must starve. Wood was in some cases twenty miles distant, as it is from Isleta to-day. His labors also were not small. He must not only convert these utter pagans to Christianity, but teach them to read and write, to farm by better methods, and, in general, to give up their barbarism for civilization.

How difficult it was to do this even the statesman of to-day can hardly measure; but what was the price in blood is simple to be understood. It was not the killing now and then of one of these noble men by[Pg 168] his ungrateful flock,—it was almost a habit. It was not the sin of one or two towns. The pueblos of Taos, Picuries, San Yldefonso, Nambé, Pojoaque, Tesuque, Pecos, Galisteo, San Marcos, Santo Domingo, Cochiti, San Felipe, Puaray, Jemez, Acoma, Halona, Hauicu, Ahuatui, Mishongenivi, and Oraibe—twenty different towns—at one time or another murdered their respective missionaries. Some towns repeated the crime several times. Up to the year 1700, forty of these quiet heroes in gray had been slain by the Indians in New Mexico,—two by the Apaches, but all the rest by their own flocks. Of these, one was poisoned; the others died bloody and awful deaths. Even in the last century several missionaries were killed by secret poison,—an evil art in which the Indians were and are remarkably adept; and when the missionary had been killed, the Indians burned the church.

One very important feature must not be lost sight of. Not only did these Spanish teachers achieve a missionary work unparalleled elsewhere by others, but they made a wonderful mark on the world's knowledge. Among them were some of the most important historians America has had; and they were among the foremost scholars in every intellectual line, particularly in the study of languages. They were not merely chroniclers, but students of native antiquities, arts, and customs,—such historians, in fact, as are paralleled only by those great classic writers, Herodotus and Strabo. In the long and eminent list of Spanish missionary authors[Pg 169] were such men as Torquemada, Sahagun, Motolinia, Mendieta, and many others; and their huge volumes are among the greatest and most indispensable helps we have to a study of the real history of America.


[16] Pronounced Tah-hee-ky.

[Pg 170]



If the reader should ever go to the City of Mexico,—as I hope he may, for that ancient town, which was old and populous when Columbus was born, is alive with romantic interest,—he will have pointed out to him, on the Rivera de San Cosme, the historic spot still known as El Salto de Alvarado. It is now a broad, civilized street, with horse-cars running, with handsome buildings, with quaint, contented folk sauntering to and fro, and with little outwardly to recall the terrors of that cruellest night in the history of America,—the Noche Triste.

The leap of Alvarado is among the famous deeds in history, and the leaper was a striking figure in the pioneering of the New World. In the first great conquest he bore himself gallantly, and the story of his exploits then and thereafter would make a fascinating romance. A tall, handsome man, with yellow locks and ruddy face, young, impulsive, and generous, a brilliant soldier and charming comrade, he was a general favorite with Spaniard and Indian alike. Though for some reason not fully liked by Cortez, he was the conqueror's right-hand man, and throughout the conquest of Mexico had generally[Pg 171] the post of greatest danger. He was a college man, and wrote a large, bold hand,—none too common an accomplishment in those days, you will remember,—and signed a beautiful autograph. He was not a great leader of men like Cortez,—his valor sometimes ran away with his prudence; but as a field-officer he was as dashing and brilliant as could be found.

Captain Pedro de Alvarado was a native of Seville, and came to the New World in his young manhood, soon winning some recognition in Cuba. In 1518 he accompanied Grijalva in the voyage which discovered Mexico, and carried back to Cuba the few treasures they had collected. In the following year, when Cortez sailed to the conquest of the new and wonderful land, Alvarado accompanied him as his lieutenant. In all the startling feats of that romantic career he played a conspicuous part. In the crisis when it became necessary to seize the treacherous Moctezuma, Alvarado was active and prominent. He had much to do with Moctezuma during the latter's detention as a hostage; and his frankness made him a great favorite with the captive war-chief. He was left in command of the little garrison at Mexico when Cortez marched off on his audacious but successful expedition against Narvaez, and discharged that responsible duty well. Before Cortez got back, came the symptoms of an Indian uprising,—the famous war-dance. Alvarado was alone, and had to meet the crisis on his own responsibility. But he was equal to the emergency. He[Pg 172] understood the murderous meaning of this "ghost-dance," as every Indian-fighter does, and the way to meet it. In his unsuccessful attempt to capture the wizards who were stirring up the populace to massacre the strangers, Alvarado was severely wounded. But he bore his part in the desperate resistance to the Indian assaults, in which nearly every Spaniard was wounded. In the great fighting to hold their adobe stronghold, and the wild sorties to force back the flood of savages, the golden-haired lieutenant was always a prominent figure. When Cortez, who had now returned with his reinforcements, saw that Mexico was untenable and that their only salvation was in retreat from the lake city to the mainland, the post of honor fell to Alvarado. There were twelve hundred Spaniards and two thousand Tlaxcaltecan allies, and this force was divided into three commands. The vanguard was led by Juan Velasquez, the second division by Cortez, the third, upon which it was expected the brunt of pursuit would fall, by Alvarado.

All was quiet when the Spaniards crept from their refuge to try to escape along the dyke.

It was a rainy night, and intensely dark; and with their horses' hoofs and little cannon muffled, the Spaniards moved as quietly as possible along the narrow bank, which stretched like a tongue from the island city to the mainland.

See page 163.

[Pg 173]

This dyke was cut by three broad sluices, and to cross them the soldiers carried a portable bridge. But despite their care the savages promptly detected the movement. Scarcely had they issued from their barracks and got upon the dyke, when the boom of the monster war-drum, tlapan huehuetl, from the summit of the pyramid of sacrifice, burst upon the still night,—the knell of their hopes. It is an awesome sound still, the deep bellowing of that great three-legged drum, which is used to-day, and can be heard more than fifteen miles; and to the Spaniards it was the voice of doom. Great bonfires shot up from the teocalli, and they could see the savages swarming to overwhelm them.

Hurrying as fast as their wounds and burdens would permit, the Spaniards reached the first sluice in safety. They threw their bridge over the gulf, and began crossing. Then the Indians came swarming in their canoes at either side of the dyke, and attacked with characteristic ferocity. The beset soldiers fought as they struggled on. But as the artillery was crossing the bridge it broke, and down went cannon, horses, and men forever. Then began the indescribable horrors of "The Sad Night." There was no retreat for the Spaniards, for they were assailed on every side. Those behind were pushing on, and there was no staying even for that gap of black water. Over the brink man and horse were crowded in the darkness, and still those behind came on, until at last the channel was choked with corpses, and the survivors floundered across the chaos of their dead. Velasquez, the leader of the vanguard, was slain, and Spaniard and Tlaxcaltecan were falling like wheat before the sickle. The second sluice, as well as[Pg 174] each side of the dyke, was blocked with canoes full of savage warriors; and there was another sanguinary mêlée until this gap too was filled with slain, and over the bridge of human corpses the fugitives gained the other bank. Alvarado, fighting with the rearmost to hold in check the savages who followed along the dyke, was the last to cross; and before he could follow his comrades the current suddenly broke through the ghastly obstruction, and swept the channel clear. His faithful horse had been killed under him; he himself was sorely wounded; his friends were gone, and the merciless foe hemmed him in. We cannot but be reminded of the Roman hero,—

"Of him who held the bridge so well
In the brave days of old."

Alvarado's case was fully as desperate as that of Horatius; and he rose as manlike to the occasion. With one swift glance about, he saw that to plunge into the flood would be sure death. So, with a supreme effort of his muscular frame, he thrust down his lance and sprang! It was a distance of eighteen feet. Considerably longer jumps have been recorded. Our own Washington once made a running jump of over twenty feet in his athletic youth. But considering the surroundings, the darkness, his wounds, and his load of armor, the wonderful leap of Alvarado has perhaps never been surpassed:—

"For fast his blood was flowing,
And he was sore in pain;
And heavy was his armor,
And spent with changing blows."
[Pg 175]

But the leap was made, and the heroic leaper staggered up the farther bank and rejoined his countrymen.

From here the remnant fought, struggling along the causeway, to the mainland. The Indians at last drew off from the pursuit, and the exhausted Spaniards had time to breathe and look about to see how many had escaped. The survivors were few in number. Small wonder if, as the legend tells, their stout-hearted general, used as he was to a stoic control of his feelings, sat him down under the cypress, which is still pointed out as the tree of the Noche Triste, and wept a strong man's tears as he looked upon the pitiful remnant of his brave army. Of the twelve hundred Spaniards eight hundred and sixty had perished, and of the survivors not one but was wounded. Two thousand of his allies, the Tlaxcaltecan Indians, had also been slain. Indeed, had it not been that the savages tried less to kill than to capture the Spanish for a more horrible death by the sacrificial knife, not one would have escaped. As it was, the survivors saw later three score of their comrades butchered upon the altar of the great teocalli.

All the artillery was lost, and so was all the treasure. Not a grain of powder was left in condition to be used, and their armor was battered out of recognition. Had the Indians pursued now, the exhausted men would have fallen easy victims. But after that terrific struggle the savages were resting too, and the Spaniards were permitted to escape.[Pg 176] They struck out for the friendly pueblo of Tlaxcala by a circuitous route to avoid their enemies, but were attacked at every intervening pueblo. In the plains of Otumba was their most desperate hour. Surrounded and overwhelmed by the savages, they gave themselves up for lost. But fortunately Cortez recognized one of the medicine men by his rich dress, and in a last desperate charge, with Alvarado and a few other officers, struck down the person upon whom the superstitious Indians hang so much of the fate of war. The wizard dead, his awe-struck followers gave way; and again the Spaniards came out from the very jaws of death.

In the siege of Mexico,—the bloodiest and most romantic siege in all America,—Alvarado was probably the foremost figure after Cortez. The great general was the head of that remarkable campaign, and a head indeed worth having. There is nothing in history quite like his achievement in having thirteen brigantines built at Tlaxcala and transported on the shoulders of men over fifty miles inland across the mountains to be launched on the lake of Mexico and aid in the siege. The nearest to it was the great feat of Balboa in taking two brigantines across the Isthmus. The exploits of Hannibal the great Carthaginian at the siege of Tarentum, and of the Spanish "Great Captain" Gonzalo de Cordova at the same place, were not at all to be compared to either.

In the seventy-three days' fighting of the siege, Alvarado was the right hand as Cortez was the head.[Pg 177]

The dashing lieutenant had command of the force which pushed its assault along the same causeway by which they had retreated on the Noche Triste. In one of the battles Cortez's horse was killed under him, and the conqueror was being dragged off by the Indians when one of his pages dashed forward and saved him. In the final assault and desperate struggle in the city Cortez led half the Spanish force, and Alvarado the other half; and the latter it was who conducted that memorable storming of the great teocalli.

After the conquest of Mexico, in which he had won such honors, Alvarado was sent by Cortez to the conquest of Guatemala, with a small force. He marched down through Oaxaca and Tehuantepec to Guatemala, meeting a resistance characteristically Indian. There were three principal tribes in Guatemala,—the Quiché, Zutuhil, and Cacchiquel. The Quiché opposed him in the open field, and he defeated them. Then they formally surrendered, made peace, and invited him to visit them as a friend in their pueblo of Utatlan. When the Spaniards were safely in the town and surrounded, the Indians set fire to the houses and fell fiercely upon their stifling guests. After a hard engagement Alvarado routed them, and put the ringleaders to death. The other two tribes submitted, and in about a year Alvarado and his little company had achieved the conquest of Guatemala. His services were rewarded by making him governor and adelantado of the province; and he founded his city of Guatemala, which in his day[Pg 178] probably became something like what Mexico then was,—a town containing fifteen thousand to twenty thousand Indians and one thousand Spaniards.

From this, his capital, Governor Alvarado was frequently absent. There were many expeditions to be made up and down the wild New World. His greatest journey was in 1534, when, building his own vessels as usual, he sailed to Ecuador and made the difficult march inland to Quito, only to find himself in Pizarro's territory. So he returned to Guatemala fruitless.

During one of his absences occurred the frightful earthquake which destroyed the city of Guatemala, and dealt Alvarado a personal blow from which he never recovered. Above the city towered two great volcanoes,—the Volcan del Agua and the Volcan del Fuego. The volcano of water was extinct, and its crater was filled with a lake. The volcano of fire was—and is still—active. In that memorable earthquake the lava rim of the Volcan del Agua was rent asunder by the convulsion, and its avalanche of waters tumbled headlong upon the doomed city. Thousands of the people perished under falling walls and in the resistless flood; and among the lost was Alvarado's wife, Doña Beatriz de la Cueva. Her death broke the brave soldier's spirit, for he loved her very dearly.

In the troublous times which befell Mexico after Cortez had finished his conquest, and began to be spoiled by prosperity and to make a very unadmirable exhibition of himself, Alvarado's support was[Pg 179] sought and won by the great and good viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza,—one of the foremost executive minds of all time. This was no treachery on Alvarado's part toward his former commander; for Cortez had turned traitor not only to the Crown, but also to his friends. The cause of Mendoza was the cause of good government and of loyalty.

It had become necessary to tame the hostile Nayares Indians, who had caused the Spaniards great trouble in the province of Jalisco; and in this campaign Alvarado joined Mendoza. The Indians retreated to the top of the huge and apparently impregnable cliff of the Mixton, and they must be dislodged at any cost. The storming of that rock ranks with the storming of Acoma as one of the most desperate and brilliant ever recorded. The viceroy commanded in person, but the real achievement was by Alvarado and a fellow officer. In the scaling of the cliff Alvarado was hit on the head by a rock rolled down by the savages, and died from the wound,—but not until he saw his followers win that brilliant day.

The man who, next to Alvarado, deserves the credit of the Mixton was Cristobal de Oñate, a man of distinction for several reasons. He was a valued officer, a good executive, and one of the first millionnaires in North America. He was, too, the father of the colonizer of New Mexico, Juan de Oñate. June 11, 1548, several years after the battle of the Mixton, the elder Oñate discovered the richest silver mines on the continent,—the[Pg 180] mines of Zacatecas, in the barren and desolate plateau where now stands the Mexican city of that name. These huge veins of "ruby," "black," arsenate, and virgin silver made the first millionnaires in North America, as the conquest of Peru made the first on the southern continent. The mines of Zacatecas were not so vast as those developed at Potosi, in Bolivia, which produced between 1541 and 1664 the inconceivable sum of $641,250,000 in silver; but the Zacatecas mines were also enormously productive. Their silver stream was the first realization of the dreams of vast wealth on the northern continent, and made a startling commercial change in this part of the New World. Locally, the discovery reduced the price of the staples of life about ninety per cent! Mexico was never a great gold country, but for more than three centuries has remained one of the chief silver producers. It is so to-day, though its output is not nearly so large as that of the United States.

Cristobal de Oñate was, therefore, a very important man in the working out of destiny. His "bonanza" made Mexico a new country, commercially, and his millions were put to a better use than is always the case nowadays, for they had the honor of building two of the first towns in our own United States.

[Pg 181]



We all know of that strange yellow ramskin which hung dragon-guarded in the dark groves of Colchis; and how Jason and his Argonauts won the prize after so many wanderings and besetments. But in our own New World we have had a far more dazzling golden fleece than that mythical pupil of old Cheiron ever chased, and one that no man ever captured,—though braver men than Jason tried it. Indeed, there were hundreds of more than Jasons, who fought harder and suffered tenfold deadlier fortunes and never clutched the prize after all. For the dragon which guarded the American Golden Fleece was no such lap-dog of a chimera as Jason's, to swallow a pretty potion and go to sleep. It was a monster bigger than all the land the Argonauts lived in and all the lands they roamed; a monster which not man nor mankind has yet done away with,—the mortal monster of the tropics.

The myth of Jason is one of the prettiest in antiquity, and it is more than pretty. We are beginning to see what an important bearing a fairy tale may have on sober knowledge. The myth has[Pg 182] always somewhere some foundation of truth; and that hidden truth may be of enduring value. To study history, indeed, without paying any attention to the related myths, is to shut off a precious side light. Human progress, in almost every phase, has been influenced by this quaint but potent factor. Where do you fancy chemistry would be if the philosopher's stone and other myths had not lured the old alchemists to pry into mysteries where they found never what they sought, but truths of utmost value to mankind? Geography in particular has owed almost more of its growth into a science to myths than to scholarly invention; and the gold myth, throughout the world, has been the prophet and inspiration of discovery, and a moulder of history.

We have been rather too much in the habit of classing the Spaniards as the gold-hunters, with an intimation that gold-hunting is a sort of sin, and that they were monumentally prone to it. But it is not a Spanish copyright,—the trait is common to all mankind. The only difference was that the Spaniards found gold; and that is offence enough to "historians" too narrow to consider "what would the English have done had they found gold in America at the outset."

I believe it is not denied that when gold was discovered in the uttermost parts of his land the Saxon found legs to get to it,—and even adopted measures not altogether handsome in clutching it; but nobody is so silly as to speak of "the days of[Pg 183] '49" as a disgrace to us. Some lamentable pages there were; but when California suddenly tipped up the continent till the strength of the east ran down to her, she opened one of the bravest and most important and most significant chapters in our national story. For gold is not a sin. It is a very necessary thing, and a very worthy one, as long as we remember that it is a means and not an end, a tool and not an accomplishment,—which point of business common-sense we are quite as apt to forget in Wall Street as in the mines.

We have largely to thank this universal and perfectly proper fondness for gold for giving us America,—as, in fact, for civilizing most other countries.

The scientific history of to-day has fully shown how foolishly false is the idea that the Spaniards sought merely gold; how manfully they provided for the mind and the soul as well as the pocket. But gold was with them, as it would be even now with other men, the strong motive. The great difference was only that gold did not make them forget their religion. It was the golden finger that beckoned Columbus to America, Cortez to Mexico, Pizarro to Peru,—just as it led us to California, which otherwise would not have been one of our States to-day. The gold actually found at first in the New World was disappointingly little; up to the conquest of Mexico it aggregated only $500,000. Cortez swelled the amount, and Pizarro jumped it up to a fabulous and dazzling figure. But, curiously enough, the gold that was found did not cut a more[Pg 184] important figure in the exploration and civilization of the New World than that which was pursued in vain. The wonderful myth which stands for the American Golden Fleece had a more startling effect on geography and history than the real and incalculable riches of Peru.

Of this fascinating myth we have very little popular knowledge, except that a corruption of its name is in everybody's mouth. We speak of a rich region as "an Eldorado," or "the Eldorado" oftener than by any other metaphor; but it is a blunder quite unworthy of scholars. It is simply saying "an the," "the the." The word is Dorado; and it does not mean "the golden," as we seem to fancy, but "the gilded man," being a contraction of the Spanish el hombre dorado. And the Dorado, or gilded man, has made a history of achievement beside which Jason and all his fellow demi-gods sink into insignificance.

Like all such myths, this had a foundation in fact. The Colchian ramskin was a poetic fancy of the gold mines of the Caucasus; but there really was a gilded man. The story of him and what he led to is a fairy tale that has the advantage of being true. It is an enormously complicated theme; but, thanks to Bandelier's final unravelling of it, the story can now be told intelligibly,—as it has not been popularly told heretofore.

A number of years ago there was found in the lagoon of Siecha, in New Granada, a quaint little group of statuary; it was of the rude and ancient[Pg 185] Indian workmanship, and even more precious for its ethnologic interest than for its material, which was pure gold. This rare specimen—which is still to be seen in a museum in Berlin—is a golden raft, upon which are grouped ten golden figures of men. It represents a strange custom which was in prehistoric times peculiar to the Indians of the village of Guatavitá, on the highlands of New Granada. That custom was this: On a certain great day one of the chiefs of the village used to smear his naked body with a gum, and then powder himself from head to foot with pure gold-dust. He was the Gilded Man. Then he was taken out by his companions on a raft to the middle of the lake, which was near the village, and leaping from the raft the Gilded Man used to wash off his precious and wonderful covering and let it sink to the bottom of the lake. It was a sacrifice for the benefit of the village. This custom is historically established, but it had been broken up more than thirty years before the story was first heard of by Europeans,—namely, the Spaniards in Venezuela in 1527. It had not been voluntarily abandoned by the people of Guatavitá. The warlike Muysca Indians of Bogota had ended it by swooping down upon the village of Guatavitá and nearly exterminating its inhabitants. Still, the sacrifice had been a fact; and at that enormous distance and in those uncertain days the Spaniards heard of it as still a fact. The story of the Gilded Man, El Hombre Dorado, shortened to El Dorado, was too startling not to make an impression. It became a household[Pg 186] word, and thenceforward was a lure to all who approached the northern coast of South America. We may wonder how such a tale (which had already become a myth in 1527, since the fact upon which it was founded had ceased) could hold its own for two hundred and fifty years without being fully exploded; but our surprise will cease when we remember what a difficult and enormous wilderness South America was, and how much of it has unexplored mysteries even to-day.

The first attempts to reach the Gilded Man were from the coast of Venezuela. Charles I. of Spain, afterward Charles V., had pawned the coast of that Spanish possession to the wealthy Bavarian family of the Welsers, giving them the right to colonize and "discover" the interior. In 1529, Ambrosius Dalfinger and Bartholomew Seyler landed at Coro, Venezuela, with four hundred men. The tale of the Gilded Man was already current among the Spaniards; and, allured by it, Dalfinger marched inland to find it. He was a dreadful brute, and his expedition was nothing less than absolute piracy. He penetrated as far as the Magdalena River, in New Granada, scattering death and devastation wherever he went. He found some gold; but his brutality toward the Indians was so great, and in such a strong contrast to what they had been accustomed to from the Spaniards, that the exasperated natives turned, and his march amounted to a running fight of more than a year's duration. The trouble was, the Welsers cared only to get treasure back for the money they[Pg 187] had paid out, and had none of the real Spanish spirit of colonizing and christianizing. Dalfinger failed to find the Gilded Man, and died in 1530 from a wound received during his infamous expedition.

His successor in command of the Welser interests, Nicolas Federmann, was not much better as a man and no more successful as a pioneer. In 1530 he marched inland to discover the Dorado, but his course was due south from Coro, so he never touched New Granada. After a fearful march through the tropical forests he had to return empty-handed in 1531.

Here already begins to enter, chronologically, one of the curious ramifications and variations of this prolific myth. At first a fact, in thirty years a fable, now in three years more the Gilded Man began to be a vagabond will-o'-the-wisp, flitting from one place to another, and gradually becoming tangled up in many other myths. The first variation came in the first attempt to discover the source of the Orinoco,—the mighty river which it was supposed could flow only from a great lake. In 1530, Antonio Sedeño sailed from Spain with an expedition to explore the Orinoco. He reached the Gulf of Paria and built a fort, intending thence to push his exploration. While he was doing this, Diego de Ordaz, a former companion of Cortez, had obtained in Spain a concession to colonize the district then called Maranon,—a vaguely defined area covering Venezuela, Guiana, and northern Brazil. He sailed from Spain in 1531, reached the Orinoco and sailed[Pg 188] up that river to its falls. Then he had to return, after two years of vainly trying to overcome the obstacles before him. But on this expedition he heard that the Orinoco had its source in a great lake, and that the road to that lake led through a province called Meta, said to be fabulously rich in gold. On the authority of Bandelier, there is no doubt that this story of Meta was only an echo of the Dorado tale which had penetrated as far as the tribes of the lower Orinoco.

Ordaz was followed in 1534 by Geronimo Dortal, who attempted to reach Meta, but failed even to get up the Orinoco. In 1535 he tried to penetrate overland from the northeast coast of Venezuela to Meta, but made a complete failure. These attempts from Venezuela, as Bandelier shows, finally localized the home of the Dorado by limiting it to the northwestern part of the continent. It had been vainly sought elsewhere, and the inference was that it must be in the only place left,—the high plateau of New Granada.

The conquest of the plateau of New Granada, after many unsuccessful attempts which cannot be detailed here, was finally made by Gonzalo Ximenez de Quesada in 1536-38. That gallant soldier moved up the Magdalena River with a force of six hundred and twenty men on foot, and eighty-five horsemen. Of these only one hundred and eighty survived when he reached the plateau in the beginning of 1537. He found the Muysca Indians living in permanent villages, and in possession of gold and[Pg 189] emeralds. They made a characteristic resistance; but one tribe after another was overpowered, and Quesada became the conqueror of New Granada.

The treasure which was divided by the conquerors amounted to 246,976 pesos de oro,—about $1,250,000 now,—and 1,815 emeralds, some of which were of enormous size and value. They had found the real home of the Gilded Man,—and had even come to Guatavitá, whose people made a savage resistance,—but of course did not find him, since the custom had been already abandoned.

Hardly had Quesada completed his great conquest when he was surprised by the arrival of two other Spanish expeditions, which had been led to the same spot by the myth of the Dorado. One was led by Federmann, who had penetrated from the coast of Venezuela to Bogota on this his second expedition,—a frightful journey. At the same time, and without the knowledge of either, Sebastian de Belalcazar had marched up from Quito in search of the Gilded Man. The story of that gold-covered chief had penetrated the heart of Ecuador, and the Indian statements induced Belalcazar to march to the spot. An arrangement was made between the three leaders by which Quesada was left sole master of the country he had conquered, and Federmann and Belalcazar returned to their respective places.

While Federmann was chasing the myth thus, a successor to him had already arrived at Coro. This was the intrepid German known as "George of[Pg 190] Speyer," whose real name, Bandelier has discovered, was George Hormuth. Reaching Coro in 1535, he heard not only of the Dorado, but even of tame sheep to the southwest,—that is, in the direction of Peru. Following these vague indications, he started southwest, but encountered such enormous difficulties in trying to reach the mountain pass, which the Indians told him led to the land of the Dorado, that he drifted into the vast and fearful tropical forests of the upper Orinoco. Here he heard of Meta, and, following that myth, penetrated to within one degree of the equator. For twenty-seven months he and his Spanish followers floundered in the tangled and swampy wastes between the Orinoco and the Amazon. They met some very numerous and warlike tribes, most conspicuous of which were the Uaupes.[17] They found no gold, but everywhere heard the fable of a great lake associated with gold. Of the one hundred and ninety men who started on this expedition only one hundred and thirty came back, and but fifty of these had strength left to bear arms. The whole of the indescribably awful trip lasted three years. The result of its horrors was to deflect the attention of explorers from the real home of the Dorado, and to lead them on a wild-goose chase after a related but rather geographic myth to the forests of the Amazon. In other words, it prepared for the exploration of northern Brazil.

Shortly after George of Speyer, and entirely unconnected with him, Francisco Pizarro, the conqueror[Pg 191] of Peru, had given an impulse to the exploration of the Amazon from the Pacific side of the continent. In 1538, distrusting Belalcazar, he sent his brother, Gonzalo Pizarro, to Quito to supersede his suspected lieutenant. The following year Gonzalo heard that the cinnamon-tree abounded in the forests on the eastern slope of the Andes, and that farther east dwelt powerful Indian tribes rich in gold. That is, while the original and genuine myth of the Dorado had reached to Quito from the north, the echo myth of Meta had got there from the east. Since Belalcazar had gone to the real former home of the Dorado, and had failed to find that gentleman at home, it was supposed that the home must be somewhere else,—east, instead of north, from Quito. Gonzalo made his disastrous expedition into the eastern forests with two hundred and twenty men. In the two years of that ghastly journey all the horses perished, and so did all the Indian companions; and the few Spaniards who survived to get back to Peru in 1541 were utterly broken down. The cinnamon-tree had been found, but not the Gilded Man. One of Gonzalo's lieutenants, Francisco de Orellana, had gone in advance on the upper Amazon with fifty men in a crazy boat. The two companies were unable to come together again, and Orellana finally drifted down the Amazon to its mouth with untold sufferings. Floating out into the Atlantic, they finally reached the island of Cubagua, Sept. 11, 1541. This expedition was the first to bring the world reliable information as to the size and nature of the greatest[Pg 192] river on earth, and also to give that river the name it bears to-day. They encountered Indian tribes whose women fought side by side with the men, and for that reason named it Rio de las Amazones,—River of the Amazons.

In 1543 Hernan Perez Quesada, a brother of the conqueror, penetrated the regions which George of Speyer had visited. He went in from Bogota, having heard the twisted myth of Meta, but only found misery, hunger, disease, and hostile savages in the sixteen awful months he floundered in the wilderness.

Meanwhile Spain had become satisfied that the leasing of Venezuela to the German money-lenders was a failure. The Welser régime was doing nothing but harm. Yet a last effort was determined upon, and Philip von Hutten, a young and gallant German cavalier, left Coro in August, 1541, in chase of the golden myth, which by this time had flitted as far south as the Amazon. For eighteen months he wandered in a circle, and then, hearing of a powerful and gold-rich tribe called the Omaguas, he dashed on south across the equator with his force of forty men. He met the Omaguas, was defeated by them and wounded, and finally struggled back to Venezuela after suffering for more than three years in the most impassable forests and swamps of the tropics. Upon his return he was murdered; and that was the last of the German domination in Venezuela.

The fact that the Omaguas had been able to defeat a Spanish company in open battle gave that tribe a great reputation. So strong in numbers and[Pg 193] in bravery, it was naturally supposed that they must also have metallic wealth, though no evidence of that had been seen.

Driven from its home, the myth of the Gilded Man had become a wandering ghost. Its original form had been lost sight of, and from the Dorado had gradually been changed to a golden tribe. It had become a confusion and combination of the Dorado and Meta, following the curious but characteristic course of myths. First, a remarkable fact; then the story of a fact that had ceased to be; then a far-off echo of that story, entirely robbed of the fundamental facts; and at last a general tangle and jumble of fact, story, and echo into a new and almost unrecognizable myth.

This vagabond and changeling myth figured prominently in 1550 in the province of Peru. In that year several hundred Indians from the middle course of the Amazon—that is, from about the heart of northern Brazil—took refuge in the eastern Spanish settlements in Peru. They had been driven from their homes by the hostility of neighbor tribes, and had reached Peru only after several years of toilsome wanderings.

They gave exaggerated accounts of the wealth and importance of the Omaguas, and these tales were eagerly credited. Still, Peru was now in no condition to undertake any new conquest, and it was not till ten years after the arrival of these Indian refugees that any step was taken in the matter. The first viceroy of Peru, the great and good Antonio de[Pg 194] Mendoza, who had been promoted from the vice-royalty of Mexico to this higher dignity, saw in this report the chance for a stroke of wisdom. He had cleared Mexico of a few hundred restless fellows who were a great menace to good government, by sending them off to chase the golden phantom of the Quivira—that remarkable expedition of Coronado which was so important to the history of the United States. He now found in his new province a similar but much worse danger; and it was to rid Peru of its unruly and dangerous characters that Mendoza set on foot the famous expedition of Pedro de Ursua. It was the most numerous body of men ever assembled for such a purpose in Spanish America in the sixteenth century, but was composed of the worst and most desperate elements that the Spanish colonies ever contained. Ursua's force was concentrated on the banks of the upper Amazon; July 1, 1560, the first brigantine floated down the great river. The main body followed in other brigantines on the 26th of September.

The country was one vast tropical forest, absolutely deserted. It soon became apparent that their golden expectations could never be realized, and discontent began to play a bloody rôle. The throng of desperadoes by whose practical banishment the wise viceroy had purified Peru, could not be expected to get along well together. No longer scattered among good citizens who could restrain them, but in condensed rascality, they soon began to suggest the fable of the Kilkenny cats. Their voyage was an orgie entirely indescribable.[Pg 195]

Among these scoundrels was one of peculiar character,—a physically deformed but very ambitious fellow, who had every reason not to wish to return to Peru. This was Lope de Aguirre. Seeing that the object of the expedition must absolutely fail, he began to form a nefarious plot. If they could not get gold in the way they had hoped, why not in another way? In short, he conceived the audacious plan of turning traitor to Spain and everything else, and founding a new empire. To achieve this he felt it necessary to remove the leaders of the expedition, who might have scruples against betraying their country. So, as the wretched brigantines floated down the great river, they became the stage of a series of atrocious tragedies. First, the commander Ursua was assassinated, and in his place was put a young but dissolute nobleman, Fernando de Guzman. He was at once elevated to the dignity of a prince,—the first open step toward high treason.

Then Guzman was murdered, and also the infamous Yñez de Atienza, a woman who bore a shameful part in the affair; and the misshapen Aguirre became leader and "tyrant." His treason was now undisguised, and he commanded the expedition thenceforth not as a Spanish officer, but as a rebel and a pirate. As he steered toward the Atlantic, it was with plans of appalling magnitude and daring. He intended to sail to the Gulf of Mexico, land on the Isthmus, seize Panama, and thence sail to Peru, where he would kill off all who opposed him, and establish an empire of his own![Pg 196]

But a curious accident brought his plans to nought. Instead of reaching the mouth of the Amazon, the flotilla drifted to the left, in that wonderfully tangled river, and got into the Rio Negro. The sluggish currents prevented their discovering their mistake, and they worked ahead into the Cassiquiare, and thence into the Orinoco. On the 1st of July, 1561 (a year to a day had been passed in navigating the labyrinth, and the days had been marked with murder right and left), the desperadoes reached the Atlantic Ocean; but through the mouth of the Orinoco, and not, as they had expected, through the Amazon. Seventeen days later they sighted the island of Margarita, where there was a Spanish post. By treachery they seized the island, and then proclaimed their independence of Spain.

This step gave Aguirre money and some ammunition, but he still lacked vessels for a voyage by sea. He tried to seize a large vessel which was conveying the provincial Monticinos, a Dominican missionary, to Venezuela; but his treachery was frustrated, and the alarm was given on the mainland. Infuriated by his failure, the little monster butchered the royal officers of Margarita. His plan to reach Panama was balked; but he succeeded at last in capturing a smaller vessel, by means of which he landed on the coast of Venezuela in August, 1561. His career on the mainland was one of crime and rapine. The people, taken by surprise, and unable to make immediate resistance to the outlaw, fled at his[Pg 197] approach. The authorities sent as far as New Granada in their appeals for help; and all northern South America was terrorized.

Aguirre proceeded without opposition as far as Barquecimeto. He found that place deserted; but very soon there arrived the maestro de campo, (Colonel) Diego de Paredes, with a hastily collected loyal force. At the same time Quesada, the conqueror of New Granada, was hastening against the traitor with what force he could muster. Aguirre found himself blockaded in Barquecimeto, and his followers began to desert. Finally, left almost alone, Aguirre slew his daughter (who had shared all those awful wanderings) and surrendered himself. The Spanish commander did not wish to execute the arch-traitor; but Aguirre's own followers insisted upon his death, and secured it.

There were many subsequent attempts to discover the Gilded Man; but they were of little importance, except the one undertaken by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1595. He got only as far as the Salto Coroni,—that is, failed to achieve anything like as great a feat as even Ordaz,—but returned to England with glowing accounts of a great inland lake and rich nations. He had mixed up the legend of the Dorado with reports of the Incas of Peru,—which proves that the Spanish were not the only people to swallow fables. Indeed, the English and other explorers were fully as credulous and fully as anxious to get to the fabled gold.[Pg 198]

The myth of the great lake, the lake of Parime,[18] gradually absorbed the myth of the Gilded Man. The historic tradition became merged and lost in the geographic fable. Only in the eastern forests of Peru did the Dorado re-appear in the beginning of the last century, but as a distorted and groundless tale. But Lake Parime remained on the maps and in geographical descriptions. It is a curious coincidence that where the golden tribes of Meta were once believed to exist, the gold fields of Guiana (now a bone of contention between England and Venezuela) have recently been discovered. It is certain that Meta was only a myth, but even the myth was useful.

The fable of the lake of Parime—long believed in as a great lake with whole ranges of mountains of silver behind it—was fully exploded by Humboldt in the beginning of the present century. He showed that there was neither a great lake nor were there mountains of silver. The broad savannas of the Orinoco, when overflowed in the rainy season, had been taken for a lake, and the silver background was simply the shimmer of the sunlight on peaks of micaceous rock.

With Humboldt finally perished the most remarkable fairy tale in history. No other myth or legend in either North or South America ever exercised such a powerful influence on the course of geographical discovery; none ever called out such surpassing human endeavor, and none so well illustrated the[Pg 199] matchless tenacity of purpose and the self-sacrifice inherent in the Spanish character. It is a new lesson to most of us, but a true and proved one, that this southern nation, more impulsive and impetuous than those of the north, was also more patient and more enduring.

The myth died, but it had not existed in vain. Before it had been disproved, it had brought about the exploration of the Amazon, the Orinoco, all Brazil north of the Amazon, all Venezuela, all New Granada, and eastern Ecuador. If we look at the map a moment, we shall see what this means,—that the Gilded Man gave to the world the geography of all South America above the equator.


[17] Pronounced Wów-pess.

[18] Pronounced Pah-ree-may.

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[Pg 203]



Somewhere between the years 1471 and 1478, (we are not sure of the exact date), an unfortunate boy was born in the city of Truxillo,[19] province of Estremadura, Spain. He was an illegitimate son of Colonel Gonzalo Pizarro,[20] who had won distinction in the wars in Italy and Navarre. But his parentage was no help to him. The disgraced baby never had a home,—it is even said that he was left as a foundling at the door of a church. He grew up to young manhood in ignorance and abject poverty, without schools or care or helping hands, thrown entirely upon his own resources to keep from starving. Only the most menial occupations were open to him; but he seems to have done his best with them. How the neighbor-boys would have laughed and hooted if one had said to them: "That dirty, ragged youngster who drives his pigs through the oak-groves of Estremadura will one day be the greatest man in a new world which no one has yet seen, and will be a more famous soldier than our Great Captain,[21] and will divide more gold than the[Pg 204] king has!" And we could not have blamed them for their sneers. The wisest man in Europe then would have believed as little as they such a wild prophecy; for truly it was the most improbable thing in the world.

But the boy who could herd swine faithfully when there was no better work to do, could turn his hand to greater things when greater offered, and do them as well. Luckily the New World came just in time for him. If it had not been for Columbus, he might have lived and died a swineherd, and history would have lost one of its most gallant figures, as well as many more of those to whom the adventurous Genoese opened the door of fame. To thousands of men as undivined by themselves as by others, there was then nothing to see in life but abject obscurity in crowded, ignorant, poverty-stricken Europe. When Spain suddenly found the new land beyond the seas, it caused such a wakening of mankind as was never before nor ever has been since. There was, almost literally, a new world; and it made almost a new people. Not merely the brilliant and the great profited by this wonderful change; there was none so poor and ignorant that he might not now spring up to the full stature of the man that was in him. It was, indeed, the greatest beginning of human liberty, the first opening of the door of equality, the first seed of free nations like our own. The Old World was the field of the rich and favored; but America was already what it is so proud to be to-day,—the poor man's chance. And it is a very striking fact that nearly all who made great names in America were not of those who came great, but of the obscure men who won here the admiration of a world which had never heard of them before. Of all these and of all others, Pizarro was the greatest pioneer. The rise of Napoleon himself was not a more startling triumph of will and genius over every obstacle, nor as creditable morally.

See page 260.

[Pg 205]

We do not know the year in which Francisco Pizarro, the swineherd of Truxillo, reached America; but his first importance here began in 1510. In that year he was already in the island of Española, and accompanied Ojeda[22] on the disastrous expedition to Urabá on the mainland. Here he showed himself so brave and prudent that Ojeda left him in charge of the ill-fated colony of San Sebastian, while he himself should return to Española for help. This first honorable responsibility which fell to Pizarro was full of danger and suffering; but he was equal to the emergency, and in him began to grow that rare and patient heroism which was later to bear him up through the most dreadful years that ever conqueror had. For two months he waited in that deadly spot, until so many had died that the survivors could at last crowd into their one boat.

Then Pizarro joined Balboa, and shared that frightful march across the Isthmus and that brilliant honor of the discovery of the Pacific. When Balboa's gallant career came to a sudden and bloody ending, Pizarro was thrown upon the hands of Pedro[Pg 206] Arias Davila, who sent him on several minor expeditions. In 1515 he crossed the Isthmus again, and probably heard vaguely of Peru. But he had neither money nor influence to launch out for himself. He accompanied Governor Davila when that official moved to Panama, and won respect in several small expeditions. But at fifty years of age he was still a poor man and an unknown one,—an humble ranchero near Panama. On that pestilent and wild Isthmus there had been very little chance to make up for the disadvantages of his youth. He had not learned to read or write,—indeed, he never did learn. But it is evident that he had learned some more important lessons, and had developed a manhood equal to any call the future might make upon it.

In 1522, Pascual de Andagóya made a short voyage from Panama down the Pacific coast, but got no farther than Balboa had gone years before. His failure, however, called new attention to the unknown countries to the south; and Pizarro burned to explore them. The mind of the man who had been a swineherd was the only one that grasped the importance of what awaited discovery,—his courage, the only courage ready to face the obstacles that lay between. At last, he found two men ready to listen to his plans and to help him. These were Diego de Almagro[23] and Hernando de Luque.[24] Almagro was a soldier of fortune, a foundling like Pizarro, but better educated and somewhat older.[Pg 207] He was a brave man physically; but he lacked the high moral courage as well as the moral power of Pizarro. He was in every way a lower grade of man,—more what would have been expected from their common birth than was that phenomenal character which was as much at home in courts and conquest as it had been in herding beasts. Not only could Pizarro accommodate himself to any range of fortune, but he was as unspoiled by power as by poverty. He was a man of principle; a man of his word; inflexible, heroic, yet prudent and humane, generous and just, and forever loyal,—in all of which qualities Almagro fell far below him.

De Luque was a priest, vicar at Panama. He was a wise and good man, to whom the two soldiers were greatly indebted. They had nothing but strong arms and big courage for the expedition; and he had to furnish the means. This he did with money he secured from the licentiate Espinosa, a lawyer. The consent of the governor was necessary, as in all Spanish provinces; and though Governor Davila did not seem to approve of the expedition, his permission was secured by promising him a share of the profits, while he was not called upon for any of the expenses. Pizarro was given command, and sailed in November, 1524, with one hundred men. Almagro was to follow as soon as possible, hoping to recruit more men in the little colony.

After coasting a short distance to the south, Pizarro effected a landing. It was an inhospitable spot. The explorers found themselves in a vast,[Pg 208] tropical swamp, where progress was made almost impossible by the morasses and by the dense growth. The miasma of the marsh brooded everywhere, an intangible but merciless foe. Clouds of venomous insects hung upon them. To think of flies as a danger to life is strange to those who know only the temperate zones; but in some parts of the tropics the insects are more dreadful than wolves. From the swamps the exhausted Spaniards struggled through to a range of hills, whose sharp rocks (lava, very likely) cut their feet to the bone. And there was nothing to cheer them; all was the same hopeless wilderness. They toiled back to their rude brigantine, fainting under the tropic heat, and re-embarked. Taking on wood and water, they pursued their course south. Then came savage storms, which lasted ten days. Hurled about on the waves, their crazy little vessel barely missed falling asunder. Water ran short; and as for food, they had to live on two ears of corn apiece daily. As soon as the weather would permit they put to a landing, but found themselves again in a trackless and impenetrable forest. These strange, vast forests of the tropics (forests as big as the whole of Europe) are Nature's most forbidding side; the pathless sea and the desert plains are not so lonely or so deadly. Gigantic trees, sometimes much more than a hundred feet in circumference, grow thick and tall, their bases buried in eternal gloom, their giant columns interwoven with mighty vines, so that it is no longer a forest but a wall. Every step must be won by the[Pg 209] axe. Huge and hideous snakes and great saurians are there; and in the hot, damp air lurks a foe deadlier than python or alligator or viper,—the tropic pestilence.

The men were no weaklings, but in this dreadful wilderness they soon lost hope. They began to curse Pizarro for leading them only to a miserable death, and clamored to sail back to Panama. But this only served to show the difference between men who were only brave physically and those of moral courage like Pizarro's. He had no thought of giving up; yet as his men were ripe for mutiny, something must be done; and he did a very bright thing,—one of the small first flashes of that genius which danger and extremity finally developed so conspicuously. He cheered his followers even while he was circumventing their mutiny. Montenegro, one of the officers, was sent back with the brigantine and half the little army to the Isle of Pearls for supplies. That kept the expedition from being given up. Pizarro and his fifty men could not return to Panama, for they had no boat; and Montenegro and his companions could not well fail to come back with succor. But it was a bitter waiting for relief. For six weeks the starving Spaniards floundered in the swamps, from which they could find no exit. There was no food except the shellfish they picked up and a few berries, some of which proved poisonous and caused tortures to those who ate them. Pizarro shared the hardships of his men with unselfish gentleness, dividing with the poorest soldier, and[Pg 210] toiling like the rest, always with brave words to cheer them up. More than twenty men—nearly half the little force—died under their hardships; and all the survivors lost hope save the stout-hearted commander. When they were almost at the last gasp, a far light gleaming through the forest aroused them; and forcing their way in that direction they came at last to open ground, where was an Indian village whose corn and cocoanuts saved the emaciated Spaniards. These Indians had a few rude gold ornaments, and told of a rich country to the south.

At last Montenegro got back with the vessel and supplies to Puerto de la Hambre, or the Port of Hunger, as the Spaniards named it. He too had suffered greatly from hunger, having been delayed by storms. The reunited force sailed on southward, and presently came to a more open coast. Here was another Indian village. Its people had fled, but the explorers found food and some gold trinkets. They were horrified, however, at discovering that they were among cannibals, for before the fireplaces human legs and arms were roasting. They put to sea in the teeth of a storm sooner than remain in so repulsive a spot. At the headland, which they named Punta Quemada,—the Burnt Cape,—they had to land again, their poor bark being so strained that it was in great danger of going to the bottom. Montenegro was sent inland with a small force to explore, while Pizarro camped at a deserted Indian rancheria. The lieutenant had penetrated but a few miles when he was ambushed by the savages,[Pg 211] and three Spaniards were slain. Montenegro's men had not even muskets; but with sword and cross-bow they fought hard, and at last drove off their dusky foes. The Indians, failing there, made a rapid march back to their village, and knowing the paths got there ahead of Montenegro and made a sudden attack. Pizarro led his little company out to meet them, and a fierce but unequal fight began. The Spaniards were at great odds, and their case was desperate. In the first volley of the enemy, Pizarro received seven wounds,—a fact which in itself is enough to show you what slight advantage their armor gave the Spaniards over the Indians, while it was a fearful burden in the tropic heats and amid such agile foes. The Spaniards had to give way; and as they retreated, Pizarro slipped and fell. The Indians, readily recognizing that he was the chief, had directed their special efforts to slay him; and now several sprang upon the fallen and bleeding warrior. But Pizarro struggled up and struck down two of them with supreme strength, and fought off the rest till his men could run to his aid. Then Montenegro came up and fell upon the savages from behind, and soon the Spaniards were masters of the field. But it had been dearly bought, and their leader saw plainly that he could not succeed in that savage land with such a weak force. His next step must be to get reinforcements.

He accordingly sailed back to Chicamá, and remaining there with most of his men,—again careful not to give them a chance to desert,—sent[Pg 212] Nicolas de Ribera, with the gold so far collected and a full account of their doings, to Governor Davila at Panama.

Meanwhile Almagro, after long delays, had sailed with sixty men in the second vessel from Panama to follow Pizarro. He found the "track" by trees Pizarro had marked at various points, according to their agreement. At Punta Quemada he landed, and the Indians gave him a hostile reception. Almagro's blood was hot, and he charged upon them bravely. In the action, an Indian javelin wounded him so severely in the head that after a few days of intense suffering he lost one of his eyes. But despite this great misfortune he kept on his voyage. It was the one admirable side of the man,—his great brute courage. He could face danger and pain bravely; but in a very few days he proved that the higher courage was lacking. At the river San Juan (St. John) the loneliness and uncertainty were too much for Almagro, and he turned back toward Panama. Fortunately, he learned that his captain was at Chicamá, and there joined him. Pizarro had no thought of abandoning the enterprise, and he so impressed Almagro—who only needed to be led to be ready for any daring—that the two solemnly vowed to each other to see the voyage to the end or die like men in trying. Pizarro sent him on to Panama to work for help, and himself stayed to cheer his men in pestilent Chicamá.

Governor Davila, at best an unenterprising and unadmirable man, was just now in a particularly bad[Pg 213] humor to be asked for help. One of his subordinates in Nicaragua needed punishment, he thought, and his own force was small for the purpose. He bitterly regretted having allowed Pizarro to go off with a hundred men who would be so useful now, and refused either to help the expedition or to permit it to go on. De Luque, whose calling and character made him influential in the little colony, finally persuaded the mean-hearted governor not to interfere with the expedition. Even here Davila showed his nature. As the price of his official consent,—without which the voyage could not go on,—he extorted a payment of a thousand pesos de oro, for which he also relinquished all his claims to the profits of the expedition, which he felt sure would amount to little or nothing. A peso de oro, or "dollar of gold," had about the intrinsic value of our dollar, but was then really worth far more. In those days of the world gold was far scarcer than now, and therefore had much more purchasing power. The same weight of gold would buy about five times as much then as it will now; so what was called a dollar, and weighed a dollar, was really worth about five dollars. The "hush-money" extorted by Davila was therefore some $5,000.

Fortunately, about this time Davila was superseded by a new governor of Panama, Don Pedro de los Rios, who opposed no further obstacles to the great plan. A new contract was entered into between Pizarro, Almagro, and Luque, dated March 10, 1526. The good vicar had advanced gold bars to[Pg 214] the amount of one hundred thousand dollars for the expedition; and was to receive one third of all the profits. But in reality most of this large sum had come from the licentiate Espinosa; and a private contract insured that Luque's share should be turned over to him. Two new vessels, larger and better than the worn-out brigantine which had been built by Balboa, were purchased and filled with provisions. The little army was swelled by recruits to one hundred and sixty men, and even a few horses were secured; and the second expedition was ready.


[19] Pronounced Troo-heel-yo.

[20] Pronounced Pee-sáh-roh.

[21] The famous European campaigner, De Cordova.

[22] Pronounced O-yáy-dah.

[23] Pronounced Dee-ay-go day Al-mah-gro.

[24] Pronounced Er-nan-do day Loo-kay.

[Pg 215]



With so inadequate a force, yet much stronger than before, Pizarro and Almagro sailed again on their dangerous mission. The pilot was Bartolomé Ruiz, a brave and loyal Andalusian and a good sailor. The weather was better now, and the adventurers pushed on hopefully. After a few days' sail they reached the Rio San Juan, which was as far as any European had ever sailed down that coast: it will be remembered that this was where Almagro had got discouraged and turned back. Here were more Indian settlements, and a little gold; but here too the vastness and savagery of the wilderness became more apparent. It is hard for us to conceive at all, in these easy days, how lost these explorers were. Then there was not a white man in all the world who knew what lay beyond them; and the knowledge of something somewhere ahead is the most necessary prop to courage. We can understand their situation only by supposing a band of schoolboys—brave boys but unlearned—carried blindfold a thousand miles, and set down in a trackless wilderness they had never heard of.

Pizarro halted here with part of his men, and sent Almagro back to Panama with one vessel for[Pg 216] recruits, and Pilot Ruiz south with the other to explore the coast. Ruiz coasted southward as far as Punta de Pasado, and was the first white man who ever crossed the equator on the Pacific,—no small honor. He found a rather more promising country, and encountered a large raft with cotton sails, on which were several Indians. They had mirrors (probably of volcanic glass, as was common to the southern aborigines) set in silver, and ornaments of silver and gold, besides remarkable cloths, on which were woven figures of beasts, birds, and fishes. The cruise lasted several weeks; and Ruiz got back to the San Juan barely in time. Pizarro and his men had suffered awful hardships. They had made a gallant effort to get inland, but could not escape the dreadful tropical forest, "whose trees grew to the sky." The dense growth was not so lonely as their earlier forests. There were troops of chattering monkeys and brilliant parrots; around the huge trees coiled lazy boas, and alligators dozed by the sluggish lagoons. Many of the Spaniards perished by these grim, strange foes; some were crushed to pulp in the mighty coils of the snakes, and some were crunched between the teeth of the scaly saurians. Many more fell victims to lurking savages; in a single swoop fourteen of the dwindling band were slain by Indians, who surrounded their stranded canoe. Food gave out too, and the survivors were starving when Ruiz got back with a scant relief but cheering news. Very soon too Almagro arrived, with supplies and a reinforcement of eighty men.[Pg 217]

The whole expedition set sail again for the south. But at once there rose persistent storms. After great suffering the explorers got back to the Isle of Gallo, where they stayed two weeks to repair their disabled vessels and as badly shattered bodies. Then they sailed on again down the unknown seas. The country was gradually improving. The malarial tropic forests no longer extended into the very sea. Amid the groves of ebony and mahogany were occasional clearings, with rudely cultivated fields, and also Indian settlements of considerable size. In this region were gold-washings and emerald-mines, and the natives had some valuable ornaments. The Spaniards landed, but were set upon by a vastly superior number of savages, and escaped destruction only in a very curious way. In the uneven battle the Spaniards were sorely pressed, when one of their number fell from his horse; and this trivial incident put the swarming savages to flight. Some historians have ridiculed the idea that such a trifle could have had such an effect; but that is merely because of ignorance of the facts. You must remember that these Indians had never before seen a horse. The Spanish rider and his steed they took for one huge animal, strange and fearful enough at best,—a parallel to the old Greek myth of the Centaurs, and a token of the manner in which that myth began. But when this great unknown beast divided itself into two parts, which were able to act independently of each other, it was too much for the superstitious Indians, and they fled in terror. The Spaniards[Pg 218] escaped to their vessels, and gave thanks for their strange deliverance.

But this narrow escape had shown more clearly how inadequate their handful of men was to cope with the wild hordes. They must again have reinforcements; and back they sailed to the Isle of Gallo, where Pizarro was to wait while Almagro went to Panama for help. You see Pizarro always took the heaviest and hardest burden for himself, and gave the easiest to his associate. It was always Almagro who was sent back to the comforts of civilization, while his lion-hearted leader bore the waiting and danger and suffering. The greatest obstacle all along now was in the soldiers themselves,—and I say this with a full realization of the deadly perils and enormous hardships. But perils and hardships without are to be borne more easily than treachery and discontent within. At every step Pizarro had to carry his men,—morally. They were constantly discouraged (for which they surely had enough reason); and when discouraged they were ready for any desperate act, except going ahead. So Pizarro had constantly to be will and courage not only for himself, who suffered as cruelly as the meanest, but for all. It was like the stout soul we sometimes see holding up a half-dead body,—a body that would long ago have broken loose from a less intrepid spirit.

The men were now mutinous again; and despite Pizarro's gallant example and efforts, they came very near wrecking the whole enterprise. They[Pg 219] sent by Almagro to the governor's wife a ball of cotton as a sample of the products of the country; but in this apparently harmless present the cowards had hidden a letter, in which they declared that Pizarro was leading them only to death, and warned others not to follow. A doggerel verse at the end set forth that Pizarro was a butcher waiting for more meat, and that Almagro went to Panama to gather sheep to be slaughtered.

The letter reached Governor de los Rios, and made him very indignant. He sent the Cordovan Tafur with two vessels to the Isle of Gallo to bring back every Spaniard there, and thus stop an expedition the importance of which his mind could not grasp. Pizarro and his men were suffering terribly, always drenched by the storms, and nearly starving. When Tafur arrived, all but Pizarro hailed him as a deliverer, and wanted to go home at once. But the captain was not daunted. With his dagger he drew a line upon the sands, and looking his men in the face, said: "Comrades and friends, on that side are death, hardship, starvation, nakedness, storms; on this side is comfort. From this side you go to Panama to be poor; from that side to Peru to be rich. Choose, each who is a brave Castilian, that which he thinks best."

As he spoke he stepped across the line to the south. Ruiz, the brave Andalusian pilot, stepped after him; and so did Pedro de Candia, the Greek, and one after another eleven more heroes, whose names deserve to be remembered by all who love[Pg 220] loyalty and courage. They were Cristóval de Peralta, Domingo de Soria Luce, Nicolas de Ribera, Francisco de Cuellar, Alonso de Molina, Pedro Alcon, Garcia de Jerez, Anton de Carrion, Alonso Briceño, Martin de Paz, and Juan de la Torre.

The narrow Tafur could see in this heroism only disobedience to the governor, and would not leave them one of his vessels. It was with difficulty that he was prevailed upon to give them a few provisions, even to keep them from immediate starvation; and with his cowardly passengers he sailed back to Panama, leaving the fourteen alone upon their little island in the unknown Pacific.

Did you ever know of a more remarkable heroism? Alone, imprisoned by the great sea, with very little food, no boat, no clothing, almost no weapons, here were fourteen men still bent on conquering a savage country as big as Europe! Even the prejudiced Prescott admits that in all the annals of chivalry there is nothing to surpass this.

The Isle of Gallo became uninhabitable, and Pizarro and his men made a frail raft and sailed north seventy-five miles to the Isle of Gorgona. This was higher land, and had some timber, and the explorers made rude huts for shelter from the storms. Their sufferings were great from hunger, exposure, and venomous creatures which tortured them relentlessly. Pizarro kept up daily religious services, and every day they thanked God for their preservation, and prayed for his continued protection. Pizarro was always a devout man, and never thought of acting[Pg 221] without invoking divine help, nor of neglecting thanks for his successes. It was so to the last, and even with his last gasp his dying fingers traced the cross he revered.

For seven indescribable months the fourteen deserted men waited and suffered on their lonely reef. Tafur had reached Panama safely, and reported their refusal to return. Governor de los Rios grew angrier yet, and refused to help the obstinate castaways. But De Luque, reminding him that his orders from the Crown commanded assistance to Pizarro, at last induced the niggard governor to allow a vessel to be sent with barely enough sailors to man it, and a small stock of provisions. But with it went strict orders to Pizarro to return, and report at the end of six months, no matter what happened. The rescuers found the brave fourteen on the Isle of Gorgona; and Pizarro was at last enabled to resume his voyage, with a few sailors and an army of eleven. Two of the fourteen were so sick that they had to be left on the island in the care of friendly Indians, and with heavy hearts their comrades bade them farewell.

Pizarro sailed on south. Soon they passed the farthest point a European had ever reached,—Punta de Pasado, which was the limit of Ruiz's explorations,—and were again in unknown seas. After twenty days' sail they entered the Gulf of Guayaquil, in Ecuador, and anchored in the Bay of Tumbez. Before them they saw a large Indian town with permanent houses. The blue bay was dotted with Indian sail-rafts; and far in the background loomed[Pg 222] the giant peaks of the Andes. We may imagine how the Spaniards were impressed by their first sight of mountains that rose more than twenty thousand feet above them.

The Indians came out on their balsas (rafts) to look at these marvellous strangers, and being treated with the utmost kindness and consideration, soon lost their fears. The Spaniards were given presents of chickens, swine, and trinkets, and had brought to them bananas, corn, sweet potatoes, pineapples, cocoanuts, game, and fish. You may be sure these dainties were more than welcome to the gaunt explorers after so many starving months. The Indians also brought aboard several llamas,—the characteristic and most valuable quadruped of South America. The fascinating but misled historian who has done more than any other one man in the United States to spread an interesting but absolutely false idea of Peru, calls the llama the Peruvian sheep; but it is no more a sheep than a giraffe is. The llama is the South American camel (a true camel, though a small one), the beast of burden whose slow, sure feet and patient back have made it possible for man to subdue a country so mountainous in parts as to make horses useless. Besides being a carrier it is a producer of clothing; it supplies the camel's hair which is woven into the woollen garments of the people. There were three other kinds of camel,—the vicuña, the guanaco, and the alpaca,—all small, and all variously prized for their hair, which still surpasses the wool of the best sheep for making fine fabrics. The[Pg 223] Peruvians domesticated the llama in large flocks, and it was their most important helper. They were the only aborigines in the two Americas who had a beast of burden before the Europeans came, except the Apaches of the Plains and the Eskimos, both of whom had the dog and the sledge.

At Tumbez, Alonso de Molina was sent ashore to look at the town. He came back with such gorgeous reports of gilded temples and great forts that Pizarro distrusted him, and sent Pedro de Candia. This Greek, a native of the Isle of Candia, was a man of importance in the little Spanish force. The Greeks everywhere were then regarded as a people adept in the still mysterious weapons; and all Europe had a respect for those who had invented that wonderful agent "Greek fire," which would burn under water, and which no man now-a-days knows how to make. The Greeks were generally known as "fire-workers," and were in great demand as masters of artillery.

Autograph of Pedro de Candia. Autograph of Pedro de Candia.

De Candia went ashore with his armor and arquebuse, both of which astounded the natives; and when he set up a plank and shivered it with a ball, they were overwhelmed at the strange noise and its result. Candia brought back as glowing reports as Molina had done; and the tattered Spaniards began to feel that at last their golden dreams were coming[Pg 224] true, and took heart again. Pizarro gently declined the gifts of gold and silver and pearls which the awe-struck natives offered, and turned his face again to the south, sailing as far as about the ninth degree of south latitude. Then, feeling that he had seen enough to warrant going back for reinforcements, he stood about for Panama. Alonso de Molina and one companion were left in Tumbez at their own request, being much in love with the country. Pizarro took back in their places two Indian youth, to learn the Spanish language. One of them, who was given the name of Felipillo (little Philip) afterward cut an important and discreditable figure. The voyagers stopped at the Isle of Gorgona for their two countrymen who had been left there sick. One was dead, but the other gladly rejoined his compassionate comrades. And so, with his dozen men, Pizarro came back to Panama after an absence of eighteen months, into which had been crowded the sufferings and horrors of a lifetime.

[Pg 225]



Governor de los Rios was not impressed by the heroism of the little party, and refused them aid. The case seemed hopeless; but the leader was not to be crushed. He decided to go to Spain in person, and appeal to his king. It was one of his most remarkable undertakings, it seems to me. For this man, whose boyhood had been passed with swine, and who in manhood had been herding rude men far more dangerous, who was ignorant of books and unversed in courts, to present himself confidently yet modestly at the dazzling and punctilious court of Spain, showed another side of his high courage. It was very much as if a London chimney-sweep were to go to-morrow to ask audience and favors of Queen Victoria.

But Pizarro was equal to this, as to all the other crises of his life, and acquitted himself as gallantly. He was still tattered and penniless, but De Luque collected for him fifteen hundred ducats; and in the spring of 1528 Pizarro sailed for Spain. He took with him Pedro de Candia and some Peruvians, with some llamas, some beautifully-woven Indian cloths, and a few trinkets and vessels of gold and silver, to[Pg 226] corroborate his story. He reached Seville in the summer, and was at once thrown into jail by Enciso under the cruel old law, long prevalent in all civilized countries, allowing imprisonment for debt. His story soon got abroad, and he was released by order of the Crown and summoned to court. Standing before the brilliant Charles V., the unlettered soldier told his story so modestly, so manfully, so clearly, that Charles shed tears at the recital of such awful sufferings, and warmed to such heroic steadfastness.

The king was just about to embark for Italy on an important mission; but his heart was won, and he left Pizarro to the Council of the Indies with recommendation to help the enterprise. That wise but ponderous body moved slowly, as men learned only in books and theories are apt to move; and delay was dangerous. At last the queen took up the matter, and on the 26th of July, 1529, signed with her own royal hand the precious document which made possible one of the greatest conquests, and one of the most gallant, in human history. America owes a great deal to the brave queens of Spain as well as to its kings. We remember what Isabella had done for the discovery of the New World; and now Charles's consort had as creditable a hand in its most exciting chapter.

The capitulacion, or contract, in which two such strangely different "parties" were set side by side—one signing boldly Yo la Reina ("I the Queen"), and the other following with "Francisco [X] Pizarro,[Pg 227] his mark"—was the basis of Pizarro's fortunes. The man who had been sneered at and neglected by narrow minds that had constantly hindered his one great hope, now had won the interest and support of his sovereigns and their promise of a magnificent reward,—of which latter we may be sure a man of his calibre thought less than of the chance to realize his dream of discovery. Followers he had to bait with golden hopes; and for that matter it was but natural and right that after more than fifty years of poverty and deprivation he should also think somewhat of comfort and wealth for himself. But no man ever did or ever will do from mere sordidness such a feat as Pizarro's. Such successes can be won only by higher minds with higher aims; and it is certain that Pizarro's chief ambition was for a nobler and more enduring thing than gold.

Autograph of Francisco Pizarro. Autograph of Francisco Pizarro.

The contract with the Crown gave to Francisco Pizarro the right to find and make a Spanish empire of the country of New Castile, which was the name given to Peru. He had leave "to explore, conquer, pacify, and colonize" the land from Santiago to a point two hundred leagues south; and of this vast and unknown new province he was to be governor and captain-general,—the highest military rank. He was also to bear the titles of adelantado and[Pg 228] alguacil-mayor for life, with a salary of seven hundred and twenty-five thousand maravedis (about $2,000) a year. Almagro was to be commander of Tumbez, with an annual rental of three hundred thousand maravedis and the rank of hidalgo. Good Father Luque was made Bishop of Tumbez and Protector of the Indians, with one thousand ducats a year. Ruiz was made Grand Pilot of the South Seas; Candia, commander of the artillery; and the eleven others who had stood so bravely by Pizarro on the lonely isle were all made hidalgos.

In return, Pizarro was required to pledge himself to observe the noble Spanish laws for the government, protection, and education of the Indians, and to take with him priests expressly to convert the savages to Christianity. He was also to raise a force of two hundred and fifty men in six months, and equip them well, the Crown giving a little help; and within six months after reaching Panama, he must get his expedition started for Peru. He was also invested with the Order of Santiago; and thus suddenly raised to the proud knighthood of Spain he was allowed to add the royal arms to those of the Pizarros, with other emblems commemorative of his exploits,—an Indian town, with a vessel in the bay, and the little camel of Peru. This was a startling and significant array of honors, hard to be comprehended by those used only to republican institutions. It swept away forever the disgrace of Pizarro's birth, and gave him an unsullied place among the noblest. It is doubly important in that it shows that the Spanish[Pg 229] Crown thus recognized the rank of Pizarro in American conquest. Cortez never earned and never received such distinction.

This division of the honors led to very serious trouble. Almagro never forgave Pizarro for coming out a greater man than he, and charged him with selfishly and treacherously seeking the best for himself. Some historians have sided with Almagro; but we have every reason to believe that Pizarro acted straightforwardly and with truth. As he explained, he made every effort to induce the Crown to give equal honors to Almagro; but the Crown refused. Pizarro's word aside, it was merely political common-sense for the Crown to refuse such a request. Two leaders anywhere are a danger; and Spain already had had too bitter experience with this same thing in America to care to repeat it. It was willing to give all honor and encouragement to the arms; but there must be only one head, and that head, of course, could be none but Pizarro. And certainly any one who looks at the mental and moral difference between the two men, and what were their actions and results both before and after the royal grant, will concede that the Spanish Crown made a most liberal estimate for Almagro, and gave him certainly quite as much as he was worth. In the whole contract there is circumstantial evidence that Pizarro did his best in behalf of his associate,—the ungrateful and afterward traitorous Almagro,—an evidence mightily corroborated by Pizarro's long patience and[Pg 230] clemency toward his vulgar, ignoble, and constantly deteriorating comrade. Pizarro had the head that fate could not turn. He was neither crushed by adversity, nor, rarer yet, spoiled by the most dazzling success,—wherein he rose superior to the greater genius, but less noble man, Napoleon. When raised from lifelong, abject poverty to the highest pinnacle of wealth and fame, Pizarro remained the same quiet, modest, God-fearing and God-thanking, prudent, heroic man. Success only intensified Almagro's base nature, and his end was ignominious.

Having secured his contract with the Crown, Pizarro felt a longing to see the scenes of his boyhood. Unhappy as they had been, there was a manly satisfaction in going back to look upon these places. So the ragged boy who had left his pigs at Truxillo, came back now a knighted hero with gray hair and undying fame. I do not believe it was for the sake of vain display before those who might remember him. That was nowhere in the nature of Pizarro. He never exhibited vanity or pride. He was of the same broad, modest, noble gauge as gallant Crook, the greatest and best of our Indian conquerors, who was never so content as when he could move about among his troops without a mark in dress or manner to show that he was a major-general of the United States army rather than some poor scout or hunter. No; it was the man in him that took Pizarro back to Truxillo,—or perhaps a touch of the boy that is always left in such great hearts. Of course the people were glad to[Pg 231] honor the hero of such a fairy tale as his sober story makes; but I am sure that the brilliant general was glad to escape sometimes from the visitors, and get out among the hillsides where he had driven his pigs so many years before, and see the same old trees and brooklets, and even, no doubt, the same ragged, ignorant boy still herding the noisy porkers. He might well have pinched himself to see if he were really awake; whether that were not the real Francisco Pizarro over yonder, still in his rags tending the same old swine, and this gray, famous, travelled, honored knight only a dream like the years between them. And he was the very man who, finding himself awake, would have gone over to the ragged herder and sat down beside him upon the sward with a gentle Como lo va, amigo?—"How goes it, friend?" And when the wondering and frightened lad stammered or tried to run away from the first great personage that had ever spoken to him, Pizarro would talk so kindly and of such wonderful things that the poor herder would look upon him with that hero-worship which is one of the purest and most helpful impulses in all our nature, and wonder if he too might not sometime be somewhat like this splendid, quiet man who said, "Yes, my boy, I used to herd pigs right here." The more I think of it, from what we know of Pizarro, the surer I am that he really did look up the old pastures and the swine and their ignorant keepers, and talked with them simply and gently, and left in them the resolve to try for better things.[Pg 232]

Autograph of Hernando Pizarro. Autograph of Hernando Pizarro.
Autograph of Juan Pizarro. Autograph of Juan Pizarro.

But the interest which everywhere centred upon Pizarro did not bring in recruits to his banner as fast as could be desired. Most people would much rather admire the hero than become heroes at the cost of similar suffering. Among those who joined him were his brothers, Hernando, Gonzalo, and Juan, who were to figure prominently in the New World, though until now they had never been heard of. Hernando, the eldest of brothers, was the only legitimate son, and was much better educated. But he was also the worst; and being without the strict principles of Francisco made a sorry mark in the end. Juan was a sympathetic figure, and distinguished himself by his great manliness and courage before he came to an untimely end. Gonzalo was a genuine knight-errant, fearless, generous, and chivalric, beloved alike in the New World by the soldiers he led and the Indians he conquered. He made one of the most incredible marches in all history, and would have won a great name, probably, had not the death of his guide-brother Francisco thrown him into the power of evil counsellors like the scoundrel Carabajal and others, who led and pushed him to ruin. But while none of the brothers were wicked men, nor cowards,[Pg 233] nor fools, there was none like Francisco. He was one of the rare types of whom but a few have been scattered, far apart, up and down the world's path. He had not only the qualities which make heroes and which are very common, fortunately for us, but with them the insight and the unfaltering aim of genius. Less than Napoleon in insight, because less learned, fully as great in resolve and greater in principle, he was one of the prominent men of all time.

But the six months were up, and he still lacked something of the necessary two hundred and fifty recruits. The Council was about to inspect his expedition, and Pizarro, fearing that the strict letter of the law might now prevent the consummation of his great plans just for the want of a few men, and growing desperate at the thought of further delay, waited no longer for official leave, but slipped his cable and put to sea secretly in January, 1530. It was not exactly the handsomest course to take, but he felt that too much was at stake to be risked on a mere technicality, and that he was keeping the spirit if not the letter of the law. The Crown evidently looked upon the matter in the same light, for he was neither brought back nor punished. After a tedious voyage he got safely to Santa Marta. Here his new soldiers were aghast at hearing of the great snakes and alligators to be encountered, and a considerable number of the weaker spirits deserted. Almagro, too, began an uproar, declaring that Pizarro had robbed him of his rightful honors; but[Pg 234] De Luque and Espinosa pacified the quarrel, helped by the generous spirit of Pizarro. He agreed to make Almagro the adelantado, and to ask the Crown to confirm the appointment. He also promised to provide for him before he did for his own brothers.

Early in January, 1531, Francisco Pizarro sailed from Panama on his third and last voyage to the south. He had in his three vessels one hundred and eighty men and twenty-seven horses. That was not an imposing army, truly, to explore and conquer a great country; but it was all he could get, and Pizarro was bound to try. He made the real conquest of Peru with a handful of rough heroes; indeed, he would certainly have tried, and very possibly would have succeeded in the vast undertaking, if he had had but fifty soldiers; for it was very much more the one man who conquered Peru than his one hundred and eighty followers. Almagro was again left behind at Panama to try to drum up recruits.

Pizarro intended to sail straight to Tumbez, and there effect his landing; but storms beat back the weak ships, so that he was obliged to change his plan. After thirteen days he landed in the Bay of San Mateo (St. Matthew), and led his men by land, while the vessels coasted along southward. It was an enormously difficult tramp on that inhospitable shore, and the men could scarcely stagger on. But Pizarro acted as guide, and cheered them up by words and example. It was the old story with him. Everywhere he had fairly to carry his company.[Pg 235] Their legs no doubt were as strong as his, though he must have had a very wonderful constitution; but there is a mental muscle which is harder and more enduring, and has held up many a tottering body,—the muscle of pluck. And that pluck of Pizarro was never surpassed on earth. You might almost say it had to carry his army pick-a-back.

Wild as the region was, it had some mineral wealth. Pizarro collected (so Pedro Pizarro[25] says) two hundred thousand castellanos (each weighing a dollar) of gold. This he sent back to Panama by his vessels to speak for him. It was the kind of argument the rude adventurers on the Isthmus could understand, and he trusted to its yellow logic to bring him recruits. But while the vessels had gone on this important errand, the little army, trudging down the coast, was suffering greatly. The deep sands, the tropic heat, the weight of their arms and armor were almost unendurable. A strange and horrible pestilence broke out, and many perished. The country grew more forbidding, and again the suffering soldiers lost hope. At Puerto Viejo they were joined by thirty men under Sebastian de Belalcazar, who afterward distinguished himself in a brave chase of that golden butterfly which so many pursued to their death, and none ever captured,—the myth of the Dorado.

Pushing on, Pizarro finally crossed to the island of Puná, to rest his gaunt men, and get them in[Pg 236] trim for the conquest. The Indians of the island attempted treachery; and when their ringleaders were captured and punished, the whole swarm of savages fell desperately on the Spanish camp. It was a most unequal contest; but at last courage and discipline prevailed over mere brute force, and the Indians were routed. Many Spaniards were wounded, and among them Hernando Pizarro, who got an ugly javelin-wound in the leg. But the Indians gave them no rest, and were constantly harassing them, cutting off stragglers, and keeping the camp in endless alarm. Then fortunately came a reinforcement of one hundred men with a few horses, under command of Hernando de Soto, the heroic but unfortunate man who later explored the Mississippi.

Thus strengthened, Pizarro crossed back to the mainland on rafts. The Indians disputed his passage, killed three men on one raft, and cut off another raft, whose soldiers were overpowered. Hernando Pizarro had already landed; and though a dangerous mud-flat lay between, he spurred his floundering horse through belly-deep mire, with a few companions, and rescued the imperilled men.

Entering Tumbez, the Spaniards found the pretty town stripped and deserted. Alonso de Molina and his companion had disappeared, and their fate was never learned. Pizarro left a small force there, and in May, 1532, marched inland, sending De Soto with a small detachment to scout the base of the giant Andes. From his very first landing, Pizarro enforced the strictest discipline. His soldiers must treat the Indians well, under the severest penalties. They must not even enter an Indian dwelling; and if they dared disobey this command they were sternly punished. It was a liberal and gentle policy toward the Indians which Pizarro adopted at the very start, and maintained inflexibly.

See page 268.

[Pg 237]

After three or four weeks spent in exploring, Pizarro picked out a site in the valley of Tangara, and founded there the town of San Miguel (St. Michael). He built a church, storehouse, hall of justice, fort and dwellings, and organized a government. The gold they had collected he sent back to Panama, and waited several weeks hoping for recruits. But none came, and it was evident that he must give up the conquest of Peru, or undertake it with the handful of men he already had. It did not take a Pizarro long to choose between such alternatives. Leaving fifty soldiers under Antonio Navarro to garrison San Miguel, and with strict laws for the protection of the Indians, Pizarro marched Sept. 24, 1532, toward the vast and unknown interior.


[25] A Spanish historian of the sixteenth century, a relative of Francisco Pizarro.

[Pg 238]



Now that we have followed Pizarro to Peru, and he is about to conquer the wonderful land to find which he has gone through such unparalleled discouragements and sufferings, we must stop for a moment to get an understanding of the country. This is the more necessary because such false and foolish tales of "the Empire of Peru" and "the reign of the Incas," and all that sort of trash, have been so widely circulated. To comprehend the Conquest at all, we must understand what there was to conquer; and that makes it necessary that I should sketch in a few words the picture of Peru that was so long accepted on the authority of grotesquely mistaken historians, and also Peru as it really was, and as more scholarly history has fully proved it to have been.

We were told that Peru was a great, rich, populous, civilized empire, ruled by a long line of kings who were called Incas; that it had dynasties and noblemen, throne and crown and court; that its kings conquered vast territories, and civilized their conquered savage neighbors by wonderful laws and schools and other tools of the highest political[Pg 239] economy; that they had military roads finer than those built by the Romans, and a thousand miles in length, with wonderful pavement and bridges; that this wonderful race believed in one Supreme Being; that the king and all of the royal blood were immeasurably above the common people, but mild, just, paternal, and enlightened; that there were royal palaces everywhere; that they had canals four or five hundred miles long, and county fairs, and theatrical representations of tragedy and comedy; that they carved emeralds with bronze tools the making of which is now a lost art; that the government took the census, and had the populace educated; and that while the policy of the remarkable aborigines of Mexico was the policy of hate, that of the Inca kings was the policy of love and mildness. Above all, we were told much of the long line of Inca monarchs, the royal family, whose last great king, Huayna Capac, had died not a great while before the coming of the Spaniards. He was represented as dividing the throne between his sons Atahualpa and Huascar, who soon quarrelled and began a wicked and merciless fratricidal war with armies and other civilized arrangements. Then, we were told, came Pizarro and took advantage of this unfraternal war, arrayed one brother against the other, and thus was enabled at last to conquer the empire.

All this, with a thousand other things as ridiculous, as untrue, and as impossible, is part of one of the most fascinating but misleading historical romances ever written. It never could have been written if[Pg 240] the beautiful and accurate science of ethnology had then been known. The whole idea of Peru so long prevalent was based upon utter ignorance of the country, and, above all, of Indians everywhere. For you must remember that these wonderful beings, whose pictured government puts to shame any civilized nation now on earth, were nothing but Indians. I do not mean that Indians are not men, with all the emotions and feelings and rights of men,—rights which I only wish we had protected with as honorable care as Spain did. But the North and South American Indians are very like each other in their social, religious, and political organization, and very unlike us. The Peruvians had indeed advanced somewhat further than any other Indians in America, but they were still Indians. They had no adequate idea of a Supreme Being, but worshipped a bewildering multitude of gods and idols. There was no king, no throne, no dynasty, no royal blood, nor anything else royal. Anything of that sort was even more impossible among the Indians than it would be now in our own republic. There was not, and could not be, even a nation. Indian life is essentially tribal. Not only can there be no king nor anything resembling a king, but there is no such thing as heredity,—except as something to be guarded against. The chief (and there cannot be even one supreme chief) cannot hand down his authority to his son, nor to any one else. The successor is elected by the council of officials who have such things in charge. Where there are no kings[Pg 241] there can be no palaces,—and there were neither in Peru. As for fairs and schools and all those things, they were as untrue as impossible. There was no court, nor crown, nor nobility, nor census, nor theatres, nor anything remotely suggesting any of them; and as for the Incas, they were not kings nor even rulers, but a tribe of Indians. They were the only Indians in the Americas who had the smelter; and that enabled them to make rude gold and silver ornaments and images; so their country was the richest in the New World, and they certainly had a remarkable though barbaric splendor. The temples of their blind gods were bright with gold, and the Indians wore precious metals in profusion, just as our own Navajos and Pueblos in New Mexico and Arizona wear pounds and pounds of silver ornaments to-day. They made bronze tools too, some of which had a very good temper; but it was not an art, only an accident. Two of those tools were never found of the same alloy; the Indian smith simply guessed at it, and had to throw away many a tool for every one he accidentally made.

The Incas were one of the Peruvian tribes, at first weak and sadly mauled about by their neighbors. At last, driven from their old home, they stumbled upon a valley which was a natural fortress. Here they built their town of Cuzco,—for they built towns as did our Pueblos, but better. Then when they had fortified the two or three passes by which alone that pocket in the Andes can be reached, they were safe. Their neighbors could[Pg 242] no longer get in to kill and rob them. In time they grew to be numerous and confident, and like all other Indians (and some white peoples) at once began to sally out to kill and rob their neighbors. In this they succeeded very well, because they had a safe place to retreat to; and, above all, because they had their little camels, and could carry food enough to be gone long from home. They had domesticated the llama, which none of the neighbor tribes, except the Aymaros, had done; and this gave the Incas an enormous advantage. They could steal out from their safe valley in a large force, with provisions for a month or more, and surprise some village. If they were beaten off, they merely skulked in the mountains, living by their pack-train, constantly harassing and cutting off the villagers until the latter were simply worn out. We see what the little camel did for the Incas: it enabled them to make war in a manner no other Indians in America had then ever used. With this advantage and in this manner this warrior tribe had made what might be called a "conquest" over an enormous country. The tribes found it cheaper at last to yield, and pay the Incas to let them alone. The robbers built storehouses in each place, and put there an official to receive the tribute exacted from the conquered tribe. These tribes were never assimilated. They could not enter Cuzco, nor did Incas come to live among them. It was not a nation, but a country of Indian tribes held down together by fear of the one stronger tribe.[Pg 243]

The organization of the Incas was, broadly speaking, the same as that of any other Indian tribe. The most prominent official in such a tribe of land-pirates was naturally the official who had charge of the business of fighting,—the war-captain. He was the commander in war; but in the other branches of government he was far from being the only or the highest man! And that is simply what Huayna Capac and all the other fabulous Inca kings were,—Indian war-captains of the same influence as several Indian war-captains I know in New Mexico.

Huayna Capac's sons were also Indian war-captains, and nothing more,—moreover, war-captains of different tribes, rivals and enemies. Atahualpa moved down from Quito with his savage warriors, and had several fights, and finally captured Huascar and shut him up in the Indian fort at Xauxa.[26]

That was the state of things when Pizarro began his march inland; and lest you should be misled by assertions that the condition of things in Peru was differently stated by the Spanish historians, it is needful to say one thing more. The Spanish chroniclers were not liars nor blunderers,—any more than our own later pioneers who wrote gravely of the Indian King Philip, and the Indian King Powhatan, and the Indian Princess Pocahontas. Ethnology was an unknown science then. None of those old writers comprehended the characteristic Indian organization. They saw an ignorant, naked, superstitious man who commanded his ignorant followers;[Pg 244] he was a person in authority, and they called him a king because they did not know what else to call him. The Spaniards did the same thing. All the world in those days had but one little foot-rule wherewith to measure governments or organizations; and ridiculous as some of their measurements seem now, no one then could do better. No; the mistakes of the Spanish chroniclers were as honest and as ignorant as those which Prescott made three centuries later, and by no means so absurd.

Peru, however, was a very wonderful country to have been built up by simple Indians, without even that national organization or spirit which is the first step toward a nation. Its "cities" were substantial, and in their construction had considerable claim to skill; the farms were better than those of our Pueblos, because they had indigenous there the potato and other plant-foods unknown then in our southwest, and were watered by the same system of irrigation common to all the sedentary tribes. They were the only shepherd Indians, and their great flocks of llamas were a very considerable source of wealth; while the camel's-hair cloths of their own weaving were not disdained by the proud ladies of Spain. And above all, their rude ovens for melting metal enabled them to supply a certain dazzling display, which was certainly not to be expected among American Indians: indeed, it would surprise us to enter churches anywhere and find them so bright with golden plates and images and dados as were some of their barbaric temples. We cannot say[Pg 245] that they never made human sacrifices; but these hideous rites were rare, and not to be compared with the daily horrors in Mexico. For ordinary sacrifices, the llama was the victim.

It was into the strongholds of this piratical but uncommon Indian tribe that Pizarro was now leading his little band.


[26] Pronounced Sów-sa.

[Pg 246]



Certainly no army ever marched in the face of more hopeless odds. Against the countless thousands of the Peruvians, Pizarro had one hundred and seventy-seven men. Only sixty-seven of these had horses. In the whole command there were but three guns; and only twenty men had even cross-bows; all the others were armed with sword, dagger, and lance. A pretty array, truly, to conquer what was an empire in size though not in organization!

Five days out from San Miguel, Pizarro paused to rest. Here he noticed that the seeds of discontent were among his followers; and he adopted a remedy characteristic of the man. Drawing up his company, he addressed them in friendly fashion. He said he wished San Miguel might be better guarded; its garrison was very small. If there were any now who would rather not proceed to the unknown dangers of the interior, they were at perfect liberty to return and help guard San Miguel, where they should have the same grants of land as the others, besides sharing in the final profits of the conquest.

It was an audacious yet a wise step. Four foot-soldiers and five cavalrymen said they believed they[Pg 247] would go back to San Miguel; and back they went, while the loyal one hundred and sixty-eight pressed on, pledged anew to follow their intrepid leader to the end.

De Soto, who had been out on a scout for eight days, now returned, accompanied by a messenger from the Inca war-captain, Atahualpa. The Indian brought gifts, and invited them to visit Atahualpa, who was now encamped with his braves at Caxamarca.[27] Felipillo, the young Indian from Tumbez, who had gone back to Spain with Pizarro and had learned Spanish, now made a very useful interpreter; and through him the Spaniards were able to converse with the Inca Indians. Pizarro treated the messenger with his usual courtesy, and sent him home with gifts, and marched on up the hills in the direction of Caxamarca. One of the Indians declared that Atahualpa was simply decoying the Spaniards into his stronghold to destroy them without the trouble of going after them, which was quite true; and another Indian declared that the Inca war-captain had with him a force of at least fifty thousand men. But without faltering, Pizarro sent an Indian ahead to reconnoitre, and pushed on through the fearful mountain passes of the Cordillera, cheering his men with one of his characteristic speeches:—

"Let all take heart and courage to do as I expect of you, and as good Spaniards are wont to do. And do not be alarmed by the multitude the enemy is said to have, nor by the small number of us Christians. For[Pg 248] even if we were fewer and the opposing army greater, the help of God is much greater yet; and in the utmost need He aids and favors His own to disconcert and humble the pride of the infidels, and bring them to the knowledge of our holy faith."

To this knightly speech, the men shouted that they would follow wherever he led. Pizarro went ahead with forty horsemen and sixty infantry, leaving his brother Hernando to halt with the remaining men until further orders. It was no child's play, climbing those awful paths. The horsemen had to dismount, and even then could hardly lead their horses up the heights. The narrow trails wound under hanging cliffs and along the brinks of gloomy quebradas,[28]—narrow clefts, thousands of feet deep, where the rocky shelf was barely wide enough to creep along. The pass was commanded by two remarkable stone forts; but luckily these were deserted. Had an enemy occupied them, the Spaniards would have been lost; but Atahualpa was letting them walk into his trap, confident of crushing them there at his ease. At the top of the pass Hernando and his men were sent for, and came up. A messenger from Atahualpa now arrived with a present of llamas; and at about the same time Pizarro's Indian spy returned, and reiterated that Atahualpa meant treachery. The Peruvian messenger plausibly explained the suspicious movements related by the spy. His explanation was far from satisfactory; but Pizarro was too wise to show his[Pg 249] distrust. Nothing but a confident front could save them now.

The Spaniards suffered much from cold in crossing that lofty upland; and even the descent on the east side of the Cordillera was full of difficulty. On the seventh day they came in sight of Caxamarca in its pretty oval valley,—a pocket of the great range. Off to one side was the camp of the Inca war-captain and his army, covering a great area. On the 15th of November, 1532, the Spaniards entered the town. It was absolutely deserted,—a serious and dangerous omen. Pizarro halted in the great square or common, and sent De Soto and Hernando Pizarro with thirty-five cavalry to Atahualpa's camp to ask an interview. They found the Indian surrounded by a luxury which startled them; and the overwhelming number of warriors impressed them no less. To their request Atahualpa replied that to-day he was keeping a sacred fast (itself a highly suspicious fact), but to-morrow he would visit the Spaniards in the town. "Take the houses on the square," he said, "and enter no others. They are for the use of all. When I come, I will give orders what shall be done."

The Peruvians, who had never seen a horse before, were astounded at these mounted strangers, and doubly charmed when De Soto, who was a gallant horseman, displayed his prowess,—not for vanity; it was a matter of very serious importance to impress these outnumbering barbarians with the dangerous abilities of the strangers.[Pg 250]

The events of the next day deserve special attention, as they and their direct consequences have been the basis of the unjust charge that Pizarro was a cruel man. The real facts are his full justification.

On the morning of November 16, after an anxious night, the Spaniards were up with the first gray dawn. It was plain now that they had walked right into the trap; and the chances were a hundred to one that they would never get out. Their Indian spy had warned them truly. Here they were cooped up in the town, one hundred and sixty-eight of them; and within easy distance were the unnumbered thousands of the Indians. Worse yet, they saw their retreat cut off; for in the night Atahualpa had thrown a large force between them and the pass by which they had entered. Their case was absolutely hopeless,—nothing but a miracle could save them. But their miracle was ready,—it was Pizarro.

It is by one of the finest provisions of Nature that the right sort of minds think best and swiftest when there is most need for them to think quickly and well. In the supreme moment all the crowding, jumbled thoughts of the full brain seem to be suddenly swept aside, to leave a clear space down which the one great thought may leap forward like the runner to his goal,—or like the lightning which splits the slow, tame air asunder even as its fire dashes on its way. Most intelligent persons have that mental lightning sometimes; and when it can be relied on to come and instantly illumine the[Pg 251] darkest crisis, it is the insight of genius. It was that which made Napoleon, Napoleon; and made Pizarro, Pizarro.

There was need of some wonderfully rapid, some almost superhuman thinking. What could overcome those frightful odds? Ah! Pizarro had it! He did not know, as we know now, what superstitious reasons made the Indians revere Atahualpa so; but he did know that the influence existed. Somewhat as Pizarro was to the Spaniards, was their war-captain to the Peruvians,—not only their military head, but literally equal to "a host in himself." Very well! If he could capture this treacherous chieftain, it would reduce the odds greatly; indeed, it would be the bloodless equivalent of depriving the hostile force of several thousand men. Besides, Atahualpa would be a pledge for the peace of his people. And as the only way out of destruction, Pizarro determined to capture the war-captain.

For this brilliant strategy he at once made careful preparations. The cavalry, in two divisions commanded respectively by Hernando de Soto and Hernando Pizarro, was hidden in two great hallways which opened into the square. In a third hallway were put the infantry; and with twenty men Pizarro took his position at a fourth commanding point. Pedro de Candia, with the artillery,—two poor little falconets,—was stationed on the top of a strong building. Pizarro then made a devout address to his soldiers; and with public prayers to God to[Pg 252] aid and preserve them, the little force awaited its enemy.

The day was nearly gone when Atahualpa entered town, riding on a golden chair borne high on the shoulders of his servants. He had promised to come for a friendly visit, and unarmed; but singularly his friendly visit was made with a following of several thousand athletic warriors! Ostensibly they were unarmed; but underneath their cloaks they clutched bows and knives and war-clubs. Atahualpa was certainly not above curiosity, unconcerned as he had seemed. This new sort of men was too interesting to be exterminated at once. He wished to see more of them, and so came, but perfectly confident, as a cruel boy might be with a fly. He could watch its buzzings for a time; and whenever he was tired of that, he had but to turn down his thumb and crush the fly upon the pane. He reckoned too soon. A hundred and seventy Spanish bodies might be easily crushed; but not when they were animated by one such mind as their leader's.

Even now Pizarro was ready to adopt peaceful measures. Good Fray Vicente de Valverde, the chaplain of the little army, stepped forth to meet Atahualpa. It was a strange contrast,—the quiet, gray-robed missionary, with his worn Bible in his hand, facing the cunning Indian on his golden throne, with golden ornaments and a necklace of emeralds. Father Valverde spoke. He said they came as servants of a mighty king and of the true God. They came as friends; and all they asked[Pg 253] was that the Indian chief should abandon his idols and submit to God, and accept the king of Spain as his ally, not as his sovereign.

Atahualpa, after looking curiously at the Bible (for of course he had never seen a book before), dropped it, and answered the missionary curtly and almost insultingly. Father Valverde's exhortations only angered the Indian, and his words and manner grew more menacing. Atahualpa desired to see the sword of one of the Spaniards, and it was shown him. Then he wished to draw it; but the soldier wisely declined to allow him. Father Valverde did not, as has been charged, then urge a massacre; he merely reported to Pizarro the failure of his conciliatory efforts. The hour had come. Atahualpa might now strike at any moment; and if he struck first, there was absolutely no hope for the Spaniards. Their only salvation was in turning the tables, and surprising the surprisers. Pizarro waved his scarf to Candia; and the ridiculous little cannon on the housetop boomed across the square. It did not hit anybody, and was not meant to; it was merely to terrify the Indians, who had never heard a gun, and to give the signal to the Spaniards. The descriptions of how the "smoke from the artillery rolled in sulphurous volumes along the square, blinding the Peruvians, and making a thick gloom," can best be appreciated when we remember that all this deadly cloud had to come from two little pop-cannon that were carried over the mountains on horseback, and three old flintlock muskets! Yet in such a ridiculous[Pg 254] fashion have most of the events of the conquest been written about.

Not less false and silly are current descriptions of the "massacre" which ensued. The Spaniards all sallied out at the signal and fell upon the Indians, and finally drove them from the square. We cannot believe that two thousand were slain, when we consider how many Indians one man would be capable of killing with a sword or clubbed musket or cross-bow in half an hour's running fight, and multiplying that by one hundred and sixty-eight; for after such a computation we should believe, not that two thousand, but two hundred is about the right figure for those killed at Caxamarca.

The chief efforts of the Spaniards were necessarily not to kill, but to drive off the other Indians and capture Atahualpa. Pizarro had given stern orders that the chief must not be hurt. He did not wish to kill him, but to secure him alive as a hostage for the peaceful conduct of his people. The bodyguard of the war-captain made a stout resistance; and one excited Spaniard hurled a missile at Atahualpa. Pizarro sprang forward and took the wound in his own arm, saving the Indian chief. At last Atahualpa was secured unhurt, and was placed in one of the buildings under a strong guard. He admitted—with the characteristic bravado of an Indian, whose traditional habit it is to show his courage by taunting his captors—that he had let them come in, secure in his overwhelming numbers, to make slaves of such as pleased him, and put the[Pg 255] others to death. He might have added that had the wily war-chief his father been alive, this never would have happened. Experienced old Huayna Capac would never have let the Spaniards enter the town, but would have entangled and annihilated them in the wild mountain passes. But Atahualpa, being more conceited and less prudent, had taken a needless risk, and now found himself a prisoner and his army routed. The biter was bitten.

The distinguished captive was treated with the utmost care and kindness. He was a prisoner only in that he could not go out; but in the spacious and pleasant rooms assigned him he had every comfort. His family lived with him; his food, the best that could be procured, he ate from his own dishes; and every wish was gratified except the one wish to get out and rally his Indians for war. Father Valverde, and Pizarro himself, labored earnestly to convert Atahualpa to Christianity, explaining the worthlessness and wickedness of his idols, and the love of the true God,—as well as they could to an Indian, to whom, of course, a Christian God was incomprehensible. The worthlessness of his own gods Atahualpa was not slow to admit. He frankly declared that they were nothing but liars. Huayna Capac had consulted them, and they answered that he would live a great while yet,—and Huayna Capac had promptly died. Atahualpa himself had gone to ask the oracle if he should attack the Spaniards: the oracle had answered yes, and that he would easily conquer them. No wonder the Inca war-chief had lost confidence in the makers of such predictions.[Pg 256]

The Spaniards gathered many llamas, considerable gold, and a large store of fine garments of cotton and camel's-hair. They were no longer molested; for the Indians without their professional war-maker were even more at a loss than a civilized army would be without its officers, for the Indian leader has a priestly as well as a military office,—and their leader was a prisoner.

At last Atahualpa, anxious to get back to his forces at any cost, made a proposition so startling that the Spaniards could scarce believe their ears. If they would set him free, he promised to fill the room wherein he was a prisoner as high as he could reach with gold, and a smaller room with silver! The room to be filled with golden vessels and trinkets (nothing so compact as ingots) is said to have been twenty-two feet long and seventeen wide; and the mark he indicated on the wall with his fingers was nine feet from the floor!


[27] Pronounced Cash-a-már-ca.

[28] Pronounced kay-bráh-das.

[Pg 257]



There is no reason whatever to doubt that Pizarro accepted this proposition in perfect good faith. The whole nature of the man, his religion, the laws of Spain, and the circumstantial evidence of his habitual conduct lead us to believe that he intended to set Atahualpa free when the ransom should have been paid. But later circumstances, in which he had neither blame nor control, simply forced him to a different course.

Atahualpa's messengers dispersed themselves through Peru to gather the gold and silver for the ransom. Meanwhile, Huascar,—who, you will remember, was a prisoner in the hands of Atahualpa's men,—having heard of the arrangement, sent word to the Spaniards setting forth his own claims. Pizarro ordered that he should be brought to Caxamarca to tell his story. The only way to learn which of the rival war-captains was right in his claims was to bring them together and weigh their respective pretensions. But this by no mean suited Atahualpa. Before Huascar could be brought to Caxamarca he was assassinated by his Indian keepers, the henchmen of Atahualpa,—and, it is commonly agreed, by Atahualpa's orders.[Pg 258]

The gold and silver for the ransom came in slowly. Historically there is no doubt what was Atahualpa's plan in the whole arrangement. He was merely buying time,—alluring the Spaniards to wait and wait, until he could collect his forces to his rescue, and then wipe out the invaders. This, indeed, began to dawn on the Spaniards. Tempting as was the golden bait, they suspected the trap behind it. It was not long before their fears were confirmed. They began to learn of the secret rallying of the Indian forces. The news grew worse and worse; and even the daily arrival of gold—some days as high as $50,000 in weight—could not blind them to the growing danger.

It was necessary to learn more of the situation than they could know while shut up in Caxamarca; and Hernando Pizarro was sent out with a small force to scout to Guamachúcho and thence to Pachacámac, three hundred miles. It was a difficult and dangerous reconnoissance, but full of interest. Their way along the table-land of the Cordillera was a toilsome one. The story of great military roads is largely a myth, though much had been done to improve the trails,—a good deal after the rude fashion of the Pueblos of New Mexico, but on a larger scale. The improvements, however, had been only to adapt the trails for the sure-footed llama; and the Spanish horses could with great difficulty be hauled and pushed up the worst parts. Especially were the Spaniards impressed with the rude but effective swinging bridges of vines, with which the Indians had spanned narrow but fearful chasms; yet even these swaying paths were most difficult to be crossed with horses.

See page 278.

[Pg 259]

After several weeks of severe travel, the party reached Pachacámac without opposition. The famous temple there had been stripped of its treasures, but its famous god—an ugly idol of wood—remained. The Spaniards dethroned and smashed this pagan fetich, purified the temple, and set up in it a large cross to dedicate it to God. They explained to the natives, as best they could, the nature of Christianity, and tried to induce them to adopt it.

Here it was learned that Chalicuchima, one of Atahualpa's subordinate war-captains, was at Xauxa with a large force; and Hernando decided to visit him. The horses were in ill shape for so hard a march; for their shoes had been entirely worn out in the tedious journey, and how to shoe them was a puzzle: there was no iron in Peru. But Hernando met the difficulty with a startling expedient. If there was no iron, there was plenty of silver; and in a short time the Spanish horses were shod with that precious metal, and ready for the march to Xauxa. It was an arduous journey, but well worth making. Chalicuchima voluntarily decided to go with the Spaniards to Caxamarca to consult with his superior, Atahualpa. Indeed, it was just the chance he desired. A personal conference would enable them to see exactly what was best to be done to get rid of these mysterious strangers.[Pg 260] So the adventurous Spaniards and the wily sub-chief got back at last to Caxamarca together.

Meanwhile Atahualpa had fared very well at the hands of his captors. Much as they had reason to distrust, and did distrust, the treacherous Indian, they treated him not only humanely but with the utmost kindness. He lived in luxury with his family and retainers, and was much associated with the Spaniards. They seem to have been trying their utmost to make him their friend,—which was Pizarro's principle all along. Prejudiced historians can find no answer to one significant fact. The Indians came to regard Pizarro and his brothers Gonzalo and Juan as their friends,—and an Indian, suspicious and observant far beyond us, is one of the last men in the world to be fooled in such things. Had the Pizarros been the cruel, merciless men that partisan and ill-informed writers have represented them to be, the aborigines would have been the first to see it and to hate them. The fact that the people they conquered became their friends and admirers is the best of testimony to their humanity and justice.

Atahualpa was even taught to play chess and other European games; and besides these efforts for his amusement, pains was also taken to give him more and more understanding of Christianity. Notwithstanding all this, his unfriendly plots were continually going on.

In the latter part of May the three emissaries who had been sent to Cuzco for a portion of the ransom got back to Caxamarca with a great treasure. From[Pg 261] the famous Temple of the Sun alone the Indians had given them seven hundred golden plates; and that was only a part of the payment from Cuzco. The messengers brought back two hundred loads of gold and twenty-five of silver, each load being carried on a sort of hand-barrow by four Indians. This great contribution swelled the ransom perceptibly, though the room was not yet nearly filled to the mark agreed upon. Pizarro, however, was not a Shylock. The ransom was not complete, but it was enough; and he had his notary draw up a document formally freeing Atahualpa from any further payment,—in fact, giving him a receipt in full. But he felt obliged to delay setting the war-captain at liberty. The murder of Huascar and similar symptoms showed that it would be suicidal to turn Atahualpa loose now. His intentions, though masked, were fully suspected, and so Pizarro told him that it would be necessary to keep him as a hostage a little longer. Before it would be safe for him to release Atahualpa he knew that he must have a larger force to withstand the attack which Atahualpa was sure at once to organize. He was rather better acquainted with the Indian vindictiveness than some of his closet critics are.

Meantime Almagro had at last got away from Panama with one hundred and fifty foot and fifty horse, in three vessels; and landing in Peru, he reached San Miguel in December, 1532. Here he heard with astonishment of Pizarro's magical success, and of the golden booty, and at once communicated with him. At the same time his secretary secretly[Pg 262] forwarded a treacherous letter to Pizarro, trying to arouse enmity and betray Almagro. The secretary had gone to the wrong man, however, for Pizarro spurned the contemptible offer. Indeed, his treatment of his unadmirable associate from first to last was more than just; it was forbearing, friendly, and magnanimous to a degree. He now sent Almagro assurance of his friendship, and generously welcomed him to share the golden field which had been won with very little help from him. Almagro reached Caxamarca in February, 1533, and was cordially received by his old companion-in-arms.

The vast ransom—a treasure to which there is no parallel in history—was now divided. This division in itself was a labor involving no small prudence and skill. The ransom was not in coin or ingots, but in plates, vessels, images, and trinkets varying greatly in weight and in purity. It had to be reduced to something like a common standard. Some of the most remarkable specimens were saved to send to Spain; the rest was melted down to ingots by the Indian smiths, who were busy a month with the task. The result was almost fabulous. There were 1,326,539 pesos de oro, commercially worth, in those days, some five times their weight,—that is, about $6,632,695. Besides this vast sum of gold there were 51,610 marks of silver, equivalent by the same standard to $1,135,420 now.

The Spaniards were assembled in the public square of Caxamarca. Pizarro prayed that God would help him to divide the treasure justly, and the apportionment began. First, a fifth of the whole[Pg 263] great golden heap was weighed out for the king of Spain, as Pizarro had promised in the capitulacion. Then the conquerors took their shares in the order of their rank. Pizarro received 57,222 pesos de oro, and 2,350 marks of silver, besides the golden chair of Atahualpa, which weighed $25,000. Hernando his brother got 31,080 pesos de oro, and 2,350 marks of silver. De Soto had 17,749 pesos de oro, and 724 marks of silver. There were sixty cavalrymen, and most of them received 8,880 pesos de oro, and 362 marks of silver. Of the one hundred and five infantry, part got half as much as the cavalry each, and part one fourth less. Nearly $100,000 worth of gold was set aside to endow the first church in Peru,—that of St. Francis. Shares were also given Almagro and his followers, and the men who had stayed behind at San Miguel. That Pizarro succeeded in making an equitable division is best evidenced by the absence of any complaints,—and his associates were not in the habit of keeping quiet under even a fancied injustice. Even his defamers have never been able to impute dishonesty to the gallant conqueror of Peru.

To put in more graphic shape the results of this dazzling windfall, we may tabulate the list, giving each share in its value in dollars to-day:—

To theSpanish Crown$1,553,623
"Francisco Pizarro462,810
"Hernando Pizarro207,100
"De Soto104,628
"each cavalryman52,364
"each infantryman26,182

[Pg 264]

All this was besides the fortunes given Almagro and his men and the church.

This is the nearest statement that can be made of the value of the treasure. The study of the enormously complicated and varying currency values of those days is in itself the work for a whole lifetime; but the above figures are practically correct. Prescott's estimate that the peso de oro was worth eleven dollars at that time is entirely unfounded; it was close to five dollars. The mark of silver is much more difficult to determine, and Prescott does not attempt it at all. The mark was not a coin, but a weight; and its commercial value was about twenty-two dollars at that time.

[Pg 265]



But in the midst of their happiness at this realization of their golden dreams,—and we may half imagine how they felt, after a life of poverty and great suffering, at now finding themselves rich men,—the Spaniards were rudely interrupted by less pleasant realities. The plots of the Indians, always suspected, now seemed unmistakable. News of an uprising came in from every hand. It was reported that two hundred thousand warriors from Quito and thirty thousand of the cannibal Caribs were on their way to fall upon the little Spanish force. Such rumors are always exaggerated; but this was probably founded on fact. Nothing else was to be expected by any one even half so familiar with the Indian character as the Spaniards were. At all events, our judgment of what followed must be guided not merely by what was true, but even more by what the Spaniards believed to be true. They had reason to believe, and there can be no question whatever that they did believe, that Atahualpa's machinations were bringing a vastly superior force down upon them, and that they were in imminent peril of their lives. Their newly acquired wealth[Pg 266] only made them the more nervous. It is a curious but common phase of human nature that we do not realize half so much the many hidden dangers to our lives until we have acquired something which makes life seem better worth the living. One may often see how a fearless man suddenly becomes cautious, and even laughably fearful, when he gets a dear wife or child to think of and protect; and I doubt if any stirring boy has come to twenty years without suddenly being reminded, by the possession of some little treasure, how many things might happen to rob him of the chance to enjoy it. He sees and feels dangers that he had never thought of before.

The Spaniards certainly had cause enough to be alarmed for their lives, without any other consideration; but the sudden treasure which gave those lives such promise of new and hard-earned brightness undoubtedly made their apprehensions more acute, and spurred them to more desperate efforts to escape.

There is not the remotest evidence of any sort that Pizarro ever meditated any treachery to Atahualpa; and there is very strong circumstantial evidence to the contrary. But now his followers began to demand what seemed necessary for their protection. Atahualpa, they believed, had betrayed them. He had caused the murder of his brother Huascar, who was disposed to make friends with them, for the sake of being put by this alliance above the power of his merciless rival. He had baited them[Pg 267] with a golden ransom, and by delaying it had gained time to have his forces organized to crush the Spaniards,—and now they demanded that he must not only be punished, but be put past further plotting. Their logic was unanswerable by any one in the same circumstances; nor can I now bring myself to quarrel with it. Not only did they believe their accusation just,—it probably was just; at all events, they acted justly by the light they had. So serious was the alarm that the guards were doubled, the horses were kept constantly under saddle and bridle, and the men slept on their arms; while Pizarro in person went the rounds every night to see that everything was ready to meet the attack, which was expected to take place at any moment.

Yet in this crisis the Spanish leader showed a manly unwillingness even to seem treacherous. He was a man of his word, as well as a humane man; and it was hard for him to break his promise to set Atahualpa free, even when he was fully absolved by Atahualpa's own utter violation of the spirit of the contract. But it was impossible to withstand the demands of his followers; he was responsible for their lives as well as his own, and when it came to a question between them and Atahualpa there could be but one decision. Pizarro opposed, but the army insisted, and at last he had to yield. Yet even then, when the enemy might come at any moment, he insisted upon a full and formal trial for his prisoner, and saw that it was given. The court found Atahualpa proven guilty of causing his[Pg 268] brother's murder, and of conspiring against the Spaniards, and condemned him to be executed that very night. If there were any delay, the Indian army might arrive in time to rescue their war-captain, and that would greatly increase the odds against the Spaniards. That night, therefore, in the plaza of Caxamarca, Atahualpa was executed by the garrote; and the next day he was buried from the Church of St. Francis with the highest honors.

Again the Peruvians were taken by surprise, this time by the death of Atahualpa. Without the direction of their war-captain and the hope of rescuing him, they found themselves hesitating at a direct attack upon the Spaniards. They stayed at a safe distance, burning villages and hiding gold and other articles which might "give comfort to the enemy;" and upon the whole, though the immediate danger had been averted by the execution of the war-captain, the outlook was still extremely ominous. Pizarro, who did not understand the Peruvian titles better than some of our own historians have done, and in hope of bringing about a more peaceful feeling, appointed Toparca, another son of Huayna Capac, to be war-captain; but this appointment did not have the desired effect.

It was now decided to undertake the long and arduous march to Cuzco, the home and chief town of the Inca tribe, of which they had heard such golden stories. Early in September, 1533, Pizarro and his army—now swelled by Almagro's force to some four hundred men—set out from Caxamarca.[Pg 269] It was a journey of great difficulty and danger. The narrow, steep trails led along dizzy cliffs, across bridges almost as difficult to walk as a hammock would be, and up rocky heights where there were only foot-holes for the agile llama. At Xauxa a great number of Indians were drawn up to oppose them, intrenched on the farther side of a freshet-swollen stream. But the Spaniards dashed through the torrent, and fell upon the savages so vigorously that they presently gave way.

In this pretty valley Pizarro had a notion to found a colony; and here he made a brief halt, sending De Soto ahead with a scouting-party of sixty men. De Soto began to find ominous signs at once. Villages had been burned and bridges destroyed, so that the crossing of those awful quebradas was most difficult. Wherever possible, too, the road had been blocked with logs and rocks, so that the passage of the cavalry was greatly impeded. Near Bilcas he had a sharp brush with the Indians; and though the Spaniards were victorious, they lost several men. De Soto, however, resolutely pushed on. Just as the wearied little troop was toiling up the steep and winding defile of the Vilcaconga, the wild whoop of the Indians rang out, and a host of warriors sprang from their hiding-places behind rock and tree, and fell with fury upon the Spaniards. The trail was steep and narrow, the horses could barely keep their footing; and under the crash of this dusky avalanche rider and horse went rolling down the steep. The Indians fairly swarmed[Pg 270] upon the Spaniards like bees, trying to drag the soldiers from their saddles, even clinging desperately to the horses' legs, and dealing blows with agile strength. Farther up the rocky pathway was a level space; and De Soto saw that unless he could gain this, all was lost. By a supreme effort of muscle and will, he brought his little band to the top against such heavy odds; and after a brief rest, he made a charge upon the Indians, but could not break that grim, dark mass. Night came on, and the worn and bleeding Spaniards—for few men or horses had escaped without wounds from that desperate mêlée, and several of both had been killed—rested as best they might with weapons in their hands. The Indians were fully confident of finishing them on the morrow, and the Spaniards themselves had little room for hope to the contrary. But far in the night they suddenly heard Spanish bugles in the pass below, and a little later were embracing their unexpected countrymen, and thanking God for their deliverance. Pizarro, learning of the earlier dangers of their march, had hurriedly despatched Almagro with a considerable force of cavalry to help De Soto; and the reinforcement by forced marches arrived just in the nick of time. The Peruvians, seeing in the morning that the enemy was reinforced, pressed the fight no further, and retreated into the mountains. The Spaniards, moving on to a securer place, camped to await Pizarro.

He soon came up, having left the treasure at Xauxa, with forty men to guard it. But he was[Pg 271] greatly troubled by the aspect of affairs. These organized and audacious attacks by the enemy, and the sudden death of Toparca under suspicious circumstances, led him to believe that Chalicuchima, the second war-captain, was acting treacherously,—as he very probably was. After rejoining Almagro, Pizarro had Chalicuchima tried; and being found guilty of treason, he was promptly executed. We cannot help being horrified at the manner of the execution, which was by fire; but we must not be too hasty in calling the responsible individual a cruel man for all that. All such things must be measured by comparison, and by the general spirit of the age. The world did not then deem the stake a cruelty; and more than a hundred years later, when the world was much more enlightened, Christians in England and France and New England saw no harm in that sort of an execution for certain offences,—and surely we shall not say that our Puritan forefathers were wicked and cruel men. They hanged witches and whipped infidels, not from cruelty, but from the blind superstition of their time. It seems a hideous thing now, but it was not thought so then; and we must not expect that Pizarro should be wiser and better than the men who had so many advantages that he had not. I certainly wish that he had not allowed Chalicuchima to be burned; but I also wish that the shocking pages of Salem and slavery could be blotted from our own story. In neither case, however, would I brand Pizarro as a monster, nor the Puritans as a cruel people.[Pg 272]

At this juncture, the Inca Indian Manco came in gorgeous fashion to Pizarro and proposed an alliance. He claimed to be the rightful war-chief, and desired that the Spaniards recognize him as such. His proposition was gladly accepted.

Moving onward, the Spaniards were again ambushed in a defile, but beat off their assailants; and at last entered Cuzco November 15, 1533. It was the largest Indian "city" in the western hemisphere, though not greatly larger than the pueblo of Mexico; and its superior buildings and furnishings filled the Spaniards with wonder. A great deal of gold was found in caves and other hiding-places. In one spot were several large gold vases, gold and silver images of llamas and human beings, and cloths adorned with gold and silver beads. Among other treasures Pedro Pizarro, an eye-witness and chronicler, mentions ten rude "planks" of silver twenty feet long, a foot wide, and two inches thick. The total treasure secured footed up 580,200 pesos de oro and 215,000 marks of silver, or an equivalent of about $7,600,000.

Pizarro now formally crowned Manco as "ruler" of Peru, and the natives seemed very well pleased. Good Father Valverde was made bishop of Cuzco; a cathedral was founded; and the devoted Spanish missionaries began actively the work of educating and converting the heathen,—a work which they continued with their usual effectiveness.

Quizquiz, one of Atahualpa's subordinate war-captains and a leader of no small prowess, still[Pg 273] kept the field. Almagro with a few cavalry, and Manco with his native followers, were sent out and routed the hostiles; but Quizquiz held out until put to death by his own men.

In March, 1534, Pedro de Alvarado, Cortez's gallant lieutenant, who had been rewarded for his services in Mexico by being made governor of Guatemala, landed and marched on Quito, only to discover that it was in Pizarro's territory. A compromise was made between him and Pizarro; Alvarado received a compensation for his fruitless expedition, and went back to Guatemala.

Pizarro was now very busy in developing the new country he had conquered, and in laying the cornerstone of a nation. January 6, 1535, he founded the Ciudad de los Reyes, the City of the Kings, in the lovely valley of Rimac. The name was soon changed to Lima; and Lima, the capital of Peru, remains to this day. The remarkable conqueror was now showing another side of his character,—his genius as an organizer and administrator of affairs. He addressed himself to the task of upbuilding Lima with energy, and his direction of all the affairs of his young government showed great foresight and wisdom.

Meantime Hernando, his brother, had been sent to Spain with the treasure for the Crown, arriving there in January, 1534. Besides the "royal fifth" he carried half a million pesos de oro belonging to those adventurers who had decided to enjoy their money at home. Hernando made a great impression in Spain. The Crown fully confirmed all former[Pg 274] grants to Pizarro, and extended his territory seventy leagues to the south; while Almagro was empowered to conquer Chile (then called New Toledo), beginning at the south end of Pizarro's domain and running south two hundred leagues. Hernando was knighted, and given command of an expedition,—one of the largest and best equipped that had sailed from Spain. He and his followers had a terrible time in getting back to Peru, and many perished on the way.

[Pg 275]



But before Hernando reached Peru, one of his company carried thither to Almagro the news of his promotion; and this prosperity at once turned the head of the coarse and unprincipled soldier. Forgetful of all Pizarro's favors, and that Pizarro had made him all he was, the false friend at once set himself up as master of Cuzco.

It was shameful ingratitude and rascality, and very nearly precipitated the Spaniards into a civil war. But the forbearance of Pizarro bridged the difficulty at last; and on the 12th of June, 1535, the two captains renewed their friendly agreement. Almagro soon marched off to try—and to fail in—the conquest of Chile; and Pizarro turned his attention again to developing his conquered province.

In the few years of his administrative career Pizarro achieved remarkable results. He founded several new towns on the coast, naming one Truxillo in memory of his birthplace. Above all, he delighted in upbuilding and beautifying his favorite city of Lima, and promoting commerce and other necessary factors in the development of the new[Pg 276] nation. How wise were his provisions is attested by a striking contrast. When the Spaniards first came to Caxamarca a pair of spurs was worth $250 in gold! A few years before Pizarro's death the first cow brought to Peru was sold for $10,000; two years later the best cow in Peru could be bought for less than $200. The first barrel of wine sold for $1600; but three years later native wine had taken the place of imported, and was to be had in Lima at a cheap price. So it was with almost everything. A sword had been worth $250; a cloak, $500; a pair of shoes, $200; a horse, $10,000; but under Pizarro's surprising business ability it took but two or three years to place the staples of life within the reach of every one. He encouraged not only commerce but home industry, and developed agriculture, mining, and the mechanical arts. Indeed, he was carrying out with great success that general Spanish principle that the chief wealth of a country is not its gold or its timber or its lands, but its people. It was everywhere the attempt of the Spanish Pioneers to uplift and Christianize and civilize the savage inhabitants, so as to make them worthy citizens of the new nation, instead of wiping them off the face of the earth to make room for the new-comers, as has been the general fashion of some European conquests. Now and then there were mistakes and crimes by individuals; but the great principle of wisdom and humanity marks the whole broad course of Spain,—a course which challenges the admiration of every manly man.[Pg 277]

While Pizarro was busy with his work, Manco showed his true colors. It is not at all improbable that he had meditated treachery throughout, and had made alliance with the Spaniards simply to get them in his power. At all events he now suddenly slipped away, without provocation, to raise forces to attack the Spaniards, thinking to overcome them while they were scattered at work in their various colonies. The loyal Indians warned Juan Pizarro, who captured and imprisoned Manco. Just then Hernando Pizarro arrived from Spain, and Francisco gave him command at Cuzco. The wily Manco fooled Hernando into setting him free, and at once began to rally his forces. Juan was sent out with sixty mounted men, and finally met Manco's thousands at Yucay. In a terrible struggle of two days the Spaniards held their ground, though with heavy loss, and then were startled by a messenger with the news that Cuzco itself was besieged by the savages. By a forced march they got back to the city by nightfall, and found it surrounded by a vast host. The Indians suffered them to enter,—evidently desiring to have all their mice in one trap,—and then closed in upon the doomed city.

Hernando and Juan were now shut up in Cuzco. They had less than two hundred men, while outside, the slopes far and near were dotted with the camp-fires of the enemy,—so innumerable as to seem "like a sky full of stars." Early in the morning (in February, 1536), the Indians attacked. They hurled into the town fire-balls and burning arrows,[Pg 278] and soon had set fire to the thatched roofs. The Spaniards could not extinguish the fire, which raged for several days. The only thing that saved them from being smothered or roasted to death was the public square, in which they huddled. They made several sallies, but the Indians had driven stakes and prepared other obstacles in which the horses became entangled.

The Spaniards, however, cleared the road under a fierce fire and made a gallant charge, which was as gallantly resisted. The Indians were expert not only with the bow but with the reata as well, and many Spaniards were lassoed and slain. The charge drove the savages back somewhat, but at heavy cost to the Spaniards, who had to return to town. They had no chance for rest; the Indians kept up their harrying assaults, and the outlook was very black. Francisco Pizarro was besieged in Lima; Xauxa was also blockaded; and the Spaniards in the smaller colonies had been overpowered and slain. Their ghastly heads were hurled into Cuzco, and rolled at the feet of their despairing countrymen. The case seemed so hopeless that many were for trying to cut through the Indians and escape to the coast; but Hernando and Juan would not hear of it.

Upon the hill overlooking Cuzco was—and is to this day—the remarkable Inca fortress of the Sacsahuaman. It is a cyclopean work. On the side toward the city, the almost impregnable bluff was made fully impregnable by a huge wall twelve hundred feet long and of great thickness. On the other[Pg 279] side of the hill the gentler slope was guarded by two walls, one above the other, and each twelve hundred feet long. The stones in these walls were fitted together with surprising skill; and some single stones were thirty-eight feet long, eighteen feet wide, and six feet thick! And, most wonderful of all, they had been quarried at least twelve miles away, and then transported by the Indians to their present site! The top of the hill was further defended by great stone towers.

This remarkable aboriginal fortress was in the hands of the Indians, and enabled them to harass the beleaguered Spaniards much more effectively. It was plain that they must be dislodged. As a preliminary to this forlorn hope, the Spaniards sallied out in three detachments, commanded by Gonzalo Pizarro, Gabriel de Rojas, and Hernando Ponce de Leon, to beat off the Indians. The fighting was thoroughly desperate. The Indians tried to crush their enemies to the earth by the mad rush of numbers; but at last the Spaniards forced the stubborn foe to give ground, and fell back to the city.

For the task of storming the Sacsahuaman Juan Pizarro was chosen, and the forlorn hope could not have been intrusted to a braver cavalier. Marching out of Cuzco about sunset with his little force, Juan went off as if to forage; but as soon as it was dark he turned, made a detour, and hurried to the Sacsahuaman. The great Indian fort was dark and still. Its gateway had been closed with great stones, built up like the solid masonry;[Pg 280] and these the Spaniards had much difficulty in removing without noise. When at last they passed through and were between the two giant walls, a host of Indians fell upon them. Juan left half his force to engage the savages, and with the other half opened the gateway in the second wall which had been similarly closed. When the Spaniards succeeded in capturing the second wall, the Indians retreated to their towers; and these last and deadliest strongholds were to be stormed. The Spaniards assaulted them with that characteristic valor which faltered at no odds of Nature or of man, but at the first onset met an irreparable loss. Brave Juan Pizarro had been wounded in the jaw, and his helmet so chafed the wound that he snatched it off and led the assault bareheaded. In the storm of Indian missiles a rock smote him upon his unprotected skull and felled him to the ground. Yet even as he lay there in his agony and weltering in his blood, he shouted encouragement to his men, and cheered them on,—Spanish pluck to the last. He was tenderly removed to Cuzco and given every care; but the broken head was past mending, and after a few days of agony the flickering life went out forever.

The Indians still held their stronghold; and leaving his brother Gonzalo in charge of beleaguered Cuzco, Hernando Pizarro sallied out with a new force to attack the towers of the Sacsahuaman. It was a desperate assault, but a successful one at last. One tower was soon captured; but in the other and stronger one the issue was long doubtful. Conspicuous[Pg 281] among its defenders was a huge and fearless Indian, who toppled over the ladders and struck down the Spaniards as fast as they could scale the tower. His valor filled the soldiers with admiration. Heroes themselves, they could see and respect heroism even in an enemy. Hernando gave strict orders that this brave Indian should not be hurt. He must be overpowered, but not struck down. Several ladders were planted on different sides of the tower, and the Spaniards made a simultaneous rush, Hernando shouting to the Indian that he should be preserved if he would yield. But the swarthy Hercules, seeing that the day was lost, drew his mantle over his head and face, and sprang off the lofty tower, to be dashed to pieces at its base.

The Sacsahuaman was captured, though at heavy cost, and thereby the offensive power of the savages was materially lessened. Hernando left a small garrison to hold the fortress and returned to the invested city, there with his companions to bear the cruel fortunes of the siege. For five months the siege of Cuzco lasted; and they were five months of great suffering and danger. Manco and his host hung upon the starving city, fell with deadly fury upon the parties that were driven by hunger to sally out for food, and harassed the survivors incessantly. All the outlying Spanish colonists had been massacred, and matters grew daily darker.

Francisco Pizarro, beleaguered in Lima, had beaten off the Indians, thanks to the favorable nature of the country; but they hovered always about.[Pg 282] He was full of anxiety for his men at Cuzco, and sent out four successive expeditions, aggregating four hundred men, to their relief. But the rescue-parties were successively ambushed in the mountain passes, and nearly all were slain. It is said that seven hundred Spaniards perished in that unequal war. Some of the men begged to be allowed to cut through to the coast, take ship, and escape this deadly land; but Pizarro would not hear to such abandonment of their brave countrymen at Cuzco, and was resolved to stand by them and save them, or share their fate. To remove the temptation to selfish escape, he sent off the ships, with letters to the governors of Panama, Guatemala, Mexico, and Nicaragua detailing his desperate situation and asking aid.

At last, in August, Manco raised the siege of Cuzco. His great force was eating up the country; and unless he set the inhabitants to their planting, famine would presently be upon him. So, sending most of the Indians to their farms, he left a large force to watch and harass the Spaniards, and himself with a strong garrison retired to one of his forts. The Spaniards now had better success in their forays for food, and could better stave off starvation; but the watchful Indians were constantly attacking them, cutting off men and small parties, and giving them no respite. Their harassment was so sleepless and so disastrous that to check it Hernando conceived the audacious plan of capturing Manco in his stronghold. Setting out with eighty of his best horsemen[Pg 283] and a few infantry, he made a long, circuitous march with great caution, and without giving the alarm. Attacking the fortress at daybreak, he thought to take it unawares; but behind those grim walls the Indians were watching for him, and suddenly rising they showered down a perfect hail of missiles upon the Spaniards. Three times with the courage of despair the handful of soldiers pressed on to the assault, but three times the outnumbering savages drove them back. Then the Indians opened their sluice-gates above and flooded the field; and the Spaniards, reduced and bleeding, had to beat a retreat, hard pressed by the exultant foe. In this dark hour, Pizarro was suddenly betrayed by the man who, above all, should have been loyal to him,—the coarse traitor Almagro.

[Pg 284]



Almagro had penetrated Chile, suffering great hardships in crossing the mountains. Again he showed the white feather; and, discouraged by the very beginning, he turned and marched back to Peru. He seems to have concluded that it would be easier to rob his companion and benefactor than to make a conquest of his own,—especially since he learned how Pizarro was now beset. Pizarro, learning of his approach, went out to meet him. Manco fell upon the Spaniards on the way, but was repulsed after a hot fight.

Despite Pizarro's manly arguments, Almagro would not give up his plans. He insisted that he should be given Cuzco, the chief city, pretending that it was south of Pizarro's territory. It was really within the limits granted Pizarro by the Crown, but that would have made no difference with him. At last a truce was made until a commission could measure and determine where Pizarro's southern boundary lay. Meantime Almagro was bound by a solemn oath to keep his hands off. But he was not a man to regard his oath or his honor; and on the dark and stormy night of April 8, 1537, he seized Cuzco, killed the[Pg 285] guards, and made Hernando and Gonzalo Pizarro prisoners. Just then Alonso de Alvarado was coming with a force to the relief of Cuzco; but being betrayed by one of his own officers, he was captured with all his men by Almagro.

At this critical juncture, Pizarro was strengthened by the arrival of his old supporter, the licentiate Espinosa, with two hundred and fifty men, and a shipload of arms and provisions from his great cousin Cortez. He started for Cuzco, but at the overpowering news of Almagro's wanton treachery, retreated to Lima and fortified his little capital. He was clearly anxious to avert bloodshed; and instead of marching with an army to punish the traitor, he sent an embassy, including Espinosa, to try to bring Almagro to decency and reason. But the vulgar soldier was impervious to such arguments. He not only refused to give up stolen Cuzco, but coolly announced his determination to seize Lima also. Espinosa suddenly and conveniently died in Almagro's camp, and Hernando and Gonzalo Pizarro would have been put to death but for the efforts of Diego de Alvarado (a brother of the hero of the Noche Triste), who saved Almagro from adding this cruelty to his shame. Almagro marched down to the coast to found a port, leaving Gonzalo under a strong guard in Cuzco, and taking Hernando with him as a prisoner. While he was building his town, which he named after himself, Gonzalo Pizarro and Alonso de Alvarado made their escape from Cuzco and reached Lima in safety.[Pg 286]

Francisco Pizarro still tried to keep from blows with the man who, though now a traitor, had been once his comrade. At last an interview was arranged, and the two leaders met at Mala. Almagro greeted hypocritically the man he had betrayed; but Pizarro was of different fibre. He did not wish to be enemies with former friends; but as little could he be friend again to such a person. He met Almagro's lying welcome with dignified coolness. It was agreed that the whole dispute should be left to the arbitration of Fray Francisco de Bobadilla, and that both parties should abide by his decision. The arbitrator finally decided that a vessel should be sent to Santiago to measure southward from there, and determine Pizarro's exact southern boundary. Meantime Almagro was to give up Cuzco and release Hernando Pizarro. To this perfectly just arrangement the usurper refused to agree, and again violated every principle of honor. Hernando Pizarro was in imminent danger of being murdered; and Francisco, bound to save his brother at any cost, bought him free by giving up Cuzco.

At last, worn past endurance by the continued treachery of Almagro, Pizarro sent him warning that the truce was at an end, and marched on Cuzco. Almagro made every effort to defend his stolen prize, but was outgeneralled at every step. He was shattered by a shameful sickness, the penalty of his base life, and had to intrust the campaign to his lieutenant Orgoñez. On the 26th of April, 1538, the loyal Spaniards, under Hernando and Gonzalo[Pg 287] Pizarro, Alonso de Alvarado, and Pedro de Valdivia, met Almagro's forces at Las Salinas. Hernando had Mass said, aroused his men by recounting the conduct of Almagro, and led the charge upon the rebels. A terrible struggle ensued; but at last Orgoñez was slain, and then his followers were soon routed. The victors captured Cuzco and made the arch-traitor prisoner. He was tried and convicted of treason,—for in being traitor to Pizarro, he had also been a traitor to Spain,—and was sentenced to death. The man who could be so physically brave in some circumstances was a coward at the last. He begged like a craven to be spared; but his doom was just, and Hernando Pizarro refused to reverse the sentence. Francisco Pizarro had started for Cuzco; but before he arrived Almagro was executed, and one of the basest treacheries in history was avenged. Pizarro was shocked at the news of the execution; but he could not feel otherwise than that justice had been done. Like the man he was, he had Diego de Almagro, the traitor's illegitimate son, taken to his own house, and cared for as his own child.

Hernando Pizarro now returned to Spain. There he was accused of cruelties; and the Spanish government, prompter than any other in punishing offences of the sort, threw him into prison. For twenty years the gray-haired prisoner lived behind the bars of Medina del Campo; and when he came out his days of work were over, though he lived to be a hundred years old.[Pg 288]

The state of affairs in Peru, though improved by the death of Almagro and the crushing of his wicked rebellion, was still far from secure. Manco was developing what has since come to be regarded as the characteristic Indian tactics. He had learned that the original fashion of rushing upon a foe in mass, fairly to smother him under a crush of bodies, would not work against discipline. So he took to the tactics of harassment and ambuscade,—the policy of killing from behind, which our Apaches learned in the same way. He was always hanging about the Spaniards, like a wolf about the flock, waiting to pounce upon them whenever they were off their guard, or when a few were separated from the main body. It is the most telling mode of warfare, and the hardest to combat. Many of the Spaniards fell victims; in a single swoop he cut off and massacred thirty of them. It was useless to pursue him,—the mountains gave him an impregnable retreat. As the only deliverance from this harassment, Pizarro adopted a new policy. In the most dangerous districts he founded military posts; and around these secure places towns grew rapidly, and the people were able to hold their own. Emigrants were coming to the country, and Peru was developing a civilized nation out of them and the uplifted natives. Pizarro imported all sorts of European seeds, and farming became a new and civilized industry.

Besides this development of the new little nation, Pizarro was spreading the limits of exploration and[Pg 289] conquest. He sent out brave Pedro de Valdivia,—that remarkable man who conquered Chile, and made there a history which would be found full of thrilling interest, were there room to recount it here. He sent out, too, his brother Gonzalo as governor of Quito, in 1540. That expedition was one of the most astounding and characteristic feats of Spanish exploration in the Americas; and I wish space permitted the full story of it to enter here. For nearly two years the knightly leader and his little band suffered superhuman hardships. They froze to death in the snows of the Andes, and died of heat in the desert plains, and fell in the forest swamps of the upper Amazon. An earthquake swallowed an Indian town of hundreds of houses before their eyes. Their way through the tropic forests had to be hewn step by step. They built a little brigantine with incredible toil,—Gonzalo working as hard as any,—and descended the Napo to the Amazon. Francisco de Orellana and fifty men could not rejoin their companions, and floated down the Amazon to the sea, whence the survivors got to Spain. Gonzalo at last had to struggle back to Quito,—a journey of almost matchless horror. Of the three hundred gallant men who had marched forth so blithely in 1540 (not including Orellana's fifty), there were but eighty tattered skeletons who staggered into Quito in June, 1542. This may give some faint idea of what they had been through.

Meanwhile an irreparable calamity had befallen the young nation, and robbed it at one dastardly blow of[Pg 290] one of its most heroic figures. The baser followers who had shared the treachery of Almagro had been pardoned, and well-treated; but their natures were unchanged, and they continued to plot against the wise and generous man who had "made" them all. Even Diego de Almagro, whom Pizarro had reared tenderly as a son, joined the conspirators. The ringleader was one Juan de Herrada. On Sunday, June 26, 1541, the band of assassins suddenly forced their way into Pizarro's house. The unarmed guests fled for help; and the faithful servants who resisted were butchered. Pizarro, his half-brother Martinez de Alcántara, and a tried officer named Francisco de Chaves had to bear the brunt alone. Taken all by surprise as they were, Pizarro and Alcántara tried to hurry on their armor, while Chaves was ordered to secure the door. But the mistaken soldier half opened it to parley with the villains, and they ran him through, and kicked his corpse down the stair-case. Alcántara sprang to the door and fought heroically, undaunted by the wounds that grew thicker on him. Pizarro, hurling aside the armor there was no time to don, flung a cloak over his left arm for a shield, and with the right grasping the good sword that had flashed in so many a desperate fray he sprang like a lion upon the wolfish gang. He was an old man now; and years of such hardship and exposure as few men living nowadays ever dreamed of had told on him. But the great heart was not old, and he fought with superhuman valor and superhuman strength. His swift sword struck[Pg 291] down the two foremost, and for a moment the traitors were staggered. But Alcántara had fallen; and taking turns to wear out the old hero, the cowards pressed him hard. For several minutes the unequal fight went on in that narrow passage, slippery with blood,—one gray-haired man with flashing eyes against a score of desperadoes. At last Herrada seized Narvaez, a comrade, in his arms, and behind this living shield rushed against Pizarro. Pizarro ran Narvaez through and through; but at the same instant one of the crowding butchers stabbed him in the throat. The conqueror of Peru reeled and fell; and the conspirators plunged their swords in his body. But even then the iron will kept the body to the last thought of a great heart; and calling upon his Redeemer, Pizarro drew a cross with bloody finger upon the floor, bent and kissed the sacred symbol, and was dead.

So lived and so died the man who began life as the swineherd of Truxillo, and who ended it the conqueror of Peru. He was the greatest of the Pioneers; a man who from meaner beginnings rose higher than any; a man much slandered and maligned by the prejudiced; but nevertheless a man whom history will place in one of her highest niches,—a hero whom every lover of heroism will one day delight to honor.

Such was the conquest of Peru. Of the romantic history which followed in Peru I cannot tell here,—of the lamentable fall of brave Gonzalo Pizarro;[Pg 292] of the remarkable Pedro de la Gasca; of the great Mendoza's vice-royal promotion; nor of a hundred other chapters of fascinating history. I have wished only to give the reader some idea of what a Spanish conquest really was, in superlative heroism and hardship. Pizarro's was the greatest conquest; but there were many others which were not inferior in heroism and suffering, but only in genius; and the story of Peru was very much the story of two thirds of the Western Hemisphere.