Among the men who had been with Balboa, and who had heard of the wonderful country of the Incas, was Francisco Pizarro. He determined to find this rich country and to conquer it.
Securing a band of about two hundred men, well armed and mounted on strong horses, he led them, in spite of terrible hardships, over mountains, through valleys, and across plateaus to Cajamarca, the city where the Inca, or king, was then staying.
The natives gazed at the Spaniards in wonder and dread. These simple people thought that the white-faced, bearded strangers, who carried thunderbolts in their hands, and who rode such frightful-looking animals, were gods. In spite of their fear, the Indians received the strangers kindly, and gave them food and shelter.
That evening, Pizarro and De Soto, taking with them thirty-five horsemen, visited the Inca and arranged with him for a meeting next day in the open square. It was a strange visit. The Inca was surrounded by his slaves and chieftains, and was very polite to the strangers.
But the Spaniards began to feel very uneasy. An army composed of thousands of Indians was encamped only two miles away; and compared with it, the two hundred men of Pizarro appeared powerless. The situation of the Spaniards, should the Inca decide to oppose them, seemed without hope.
Pizarro scarcely slept that night. He lay awake planning how he might take the Inca prisoner.
The next day, about noon, the Indian procession approached the market place. First came attendants who cleared the way; then followed nobles and men of high rank, richly dressed, and covered with ornaments of gold and gems. Last came the Inca, carried on a throne of solid gold, which was gorgeously trimmed with the plumes of tropical birds.
The Indian monarch wore rich garments adorned with gold ornaments, and around his neck was a collar of superb emeralds of great size and brilliancy. He took his position near the center of the square, his escort, numbering several thousand, gathered around him.
Looking about, the Inca failed to see any of the Spaniards.
"Where are the strangers?" he asked.
Just then Pizarro's chaplain, with his Bible in his hand, approached the Inca. The chaplain said that he and his people had been sent by a mighty prince to beg the Inca to accept the true religion and consent to be tributary to the great emperor, Charles V., who would then protect them.
The Inca grew very angry at this, and declared that he would not change his faith nor be any man's tributary. He then indignantly threw the sacred book upon the ground, and demanded satisfaction from the Spaniards for this insult to him.
At this the priest gave the signal, and the Spaniards rushed from their hiding-places and attacked the panic-stricken Indians. The Inca and his attendants were wholly unprepared, being unarmed and utterly defenseless.
The Spaniards charged through them, showing no mercy, their swords slashing right and left, and their prancing horses trampling the natives under foot. The guns and firearms of the Spaniards made such havoc and confusion that the terrified Indians offered no resistance. Indeed, they could not offer any.
In the vicinity of the Inca the struggle was fierce. The Indians, faithful to the last to their beloved monarch, threw themselves before him, shielding him with their naked bodies from the swords of the Spaniards. At last, as night drew near, the Spaniards, fearing that the Inca might escape, attempted to kill him.
But Pizarro desired that he should be taken alive, and in a loud voice ordered his followers, as they valued their own lives, not to strike the Inca. Stretching out his arm to save the monarch, Pizarro received a wound on his hand, This was the only wound received by a Spaniard during the attack.
At length the Inca was cast from his throne, and, falling to the ground, was caught by Pizarro. He was then imprisoned and placed under a strong guard. As soon as the news of the capture of the Inca spread, all resistance ceased. Many of the Indians fled to the mountains, leaving untold wealth at the disposal of their conquerors, while others remained, hoping to be able to assist their fallen ruler.
As soon as the Inca had an opportunity, he tried to think of some way of obtaining his freedom.
The room in which he was confined was twenty-two feet in length by seventeen feet in width. Raising his hand as high as he could, the Inca made a mark upon the wall, and told Pizarro that gold enough to fill the room to that mark would be given as a ransom for his release.
Pizarro agreed to this bargain, and the natives began to send gold to the Inca to secure his release. Some of the treasures in the temples were buried and hidden by the priests; but ornaments of all kinds, vases, and plate were collected, and in a few months gold amounting to fifteen millions of dollars in our money was divided among the Spaniards.
Millions of dollars' worth of gold and silver were shipped to Spain, and the Spanish nation grew very wealthy. Pizarro himself returned to Spain to take Charles V. his share of the plunder. During Pizarro's absence the Spaniards caused the Inca to be killed, notwithstanding the large ransom which they had accepted.
The richer the Spanish people grew, the more careless they became in their treatment of other nations and of those under their rule. They grew more cruel and more merciless and more greedy for gold. They flocked in great numbers to South America, a reckless, adventurous, unprincipled horde, ready to commit any crime in order to secure gold.