THE CONQUERORS OF CENTRAL AMERICA, III

The triple alliance—Francisco Pizarro and his brothers—Don Diego d'Almagro—First attempts—Peru, its extent, people, and kings—Capture of Atahualpa, his ransom and death—Pedro d'Alvarado—Almagro in Chili—Strife among the conquerors—Trial and execution of Almagro—Expeditions of Gonzalo Pizarro and Orellana—Assassination of Francisco Pizarro—Rebellion and execution of his brother Gonzalo.

The information which had been gained by Balboa as to the riches of the countries situated to the south of Panama had scarcely become known to the Spaniards before several expeditions were organized to attempt the conquest of them. But all had failed, either from the means used being insufficient, or from the commanders not being equal to the greatness of the undertaking. It must be confessed also that the localities explored by these first adventurers—these pioneers, as they would be called now-a-days—did not at all come up to what Spanish greed had expected from them, and for this reason, that all the attempts had been hitherto made upon what was then called "Terra Firma," a country pre-eminently unhealthy, mountainous, marshy, and covered with forests; the inhabitants were few, but of so warlike a disposition that they had added another obstacle to all those which nature had strewn with so prodigal a hand in the path of the invaders. Little by little, therefore, the enthusiasm had cooled, and the wonderful narratives of Balboa were mentioned only to be turned into ridicule.

Francisco Pizarro
Francisco Pizarro.
From an old print.

There lived, however, in Panama a man well able to weigh the truth of the reports which had been circulated concerning the richness of the countries bathed by the Pacific; this man was Francisco Pizarro, who had accompanied Muñez de Balboa to the southern sea, and who now associated with himself two other adventurers, Diego de Almagro and Ferdinand de Luque. A few words must be said about the chiefs of the enterprise. Francisco Pizarro, born near Truxillo between the years 1471 and 1478, was the natural son of a certain Captain Gonzalo Pizarro, who had taught the boy nothing but to take care of pigs; he was soon tired of this occupation, and took advantage of his having allowed one of the animals who were in his charge to stray, not to return to the paternal roof, where he was accustomed to be cruelly beaten for the smallest peccadillo. The young Pizarro enlisted, and after passing some years amidst the Italian wars, he followed Christopher Columbus to Hispaniola in 1510. He served there with distinction, and also in Cuba; afterwards he accompanied Hojeda to Darien, discovered, as has been already mentioned, the Pacific, with Balboa, and after the execution of the latter, he assisted Pedrarias Davila, whose favourite he had become, in the conquest of all the country known as Castille d'Or.

While Pizarro was an illegitimate child, Diego de Almagro was a foundling, picked up according to some in 1475 at Aldea del Rey, but according to others at Almagro, from which circumstance, as they maintain, he derived his name. He was educated in the midst of soldiers, and while still young went to America, where he had succeeded in amassing a small fortune.

Ferdinand de Luque was a rich ecclesiastic of Tobago, who exercised the calling of a schoolmaster at Panama. The youngest of these adventurers was by this time more than fifty years of age, and Garcilasso de la Vega relates that upon their project being known, they became the objects of general derision; Ferdinand de Luque was the most laughed at, and was called by no other name than Hernando el Loco, Ferdinand the Fool. The terms of partnership were soon agreed upon between these three men, of whom two at least were without fear, if they were not all three without reproach. Luque furnished money needed for the armament of the vessels and the pay of the soldiers, and Almagro bore an equal part in the expense, but Pizarro, who possessed nothing but his sword, was to pay his contribution in another manner. It was he who took the command of the first attempt, upon which we shall dwell in some detail, because it was then that the perseverance and inflexible obstinacy of the "conquistador" first came fully into sight.