Chronicles of America 

Pizarro Sails for Birú (Peru)

In the same year in which Cortés started for Honduras, Francisco Pizarro set out for the Birú country of Andagoya. Under Balboa, on the shores of the Gulf of San Miguel, he had heard of Birú as the gateway to a country far to the south where the people were rich and used ships and beasts of burden; and later, under Morales, he had paid in this quarter a hasty and bloody visit. Pizarro, native of Trujillo in Estremadura, — tall, shapely, sedate — was at this time about fifty-three years old. He undoubtedly was ambitious but he certainly was not inspired. His strength lay not in initiative but in dogged persistence and endurance. His conquest of Peru was in certain respects heroic, but it was not original. His plans, so to speak, were borrowed ready finished from Cortés.

Pizarro had three coadjutors or partners: Diego de Almagro, an old friend and fellow rancher in the Isthmus; Fernando de Luque, vicar of Panamá; and Pedrarias Dávila, the Governor. To the requirements of military command Pizarro was equal; but Almagro was needed to superintend the dispatch of supplies, and Luque to play softly the part of intercessor with Pedrarias. None of the triumvirate was young in years; but none had as yet won a fortune, and, as Sir Arthur Helps sagely remarks, the disappointed are ever young. Young in this sense, and withal energetic, Pizarro, Almagro, and Luque certainly were, for between mid-November in 1524 and the end of the year 1528 they succeeded in demonstrating both the actuality and attainability of that Golden Peru which had been the objective of Balboa. In accomplishing this, however, never perhaps did men suffer more.

Starting from Panamá with one vessel, some eighty men, and four horses, Pizarro touched at the Pearl Islands and stopped for six weeks at Puerto de la Hambre (Hunger Harbor) while the ship went back to the Pearl Islands for supplies. Meanwhile Almagro had sailed from Panamá with a second ship and seventy men, and had sought for Pizarro as far as Puerto de la Hambre and the river San Juan. But the latter, ere this, had retraced his course to a spot in Tierra Firme called Chicamá, and here Almagro finally overtook him. By this time both leaders had endured much. Almagro had lost an eye by an arrow, and Pizarro had nearly starved to death.

It was at this stage of affairs that Pedrarias permitted himself to be outmaneuvered. He was preparing to enter Nicaragua and was loath to spare men to Pizarro and Almagro. In fact, he was on the point of ordering "the dutiful one" back to Panamá for good, so little did he perceive the glitter of gold in his direction, when his purpose was stayed by the persuasiveness of Luque and the resourcefulness of Almagro.

Though Pizarro might not be intellectual, and though of a surety he was unlettered, he nevertheless was astute. Amid his own active misery and that of his men he was shrewd enough to keep personally beyond the reach of the Governor at Panamá. Not for nothing had he served the latter all these years. He knew his Pedrarias. So it was Almagro and not Pizarro who went to Panamá, persuaded Pedrarias, for a consideration, to relinquish his share in the enterprise to Gaspar de Espinosa, and returned with two ships, and with arms and supplies, to resume the great adventure to the south.

The two leaders now had with them an unusual man, one "dextrous in his wit" — the pilot Bartolomé Ruiz. The trio, with one hundred and sixty followers, sailed to the river San Juan and there separated. Almagro returned to Panamá for more men; Pizarro held the ground gained — holding gains was ever a Pizarro trait; and Ruiz navigated the coast of Mundus Novus to the southwest. By this allotment of parts, opportunity —the spectacular chance — was all with Ruiz, and he perceived his advantage. Pushing boldly to and beyond the equator — the first navigator so to do in the Pacific — he rent the veil from before Peru. That is to say, he discovered the Island of Gallo and Bay of San Mateo, and, coming upon a raft propelled by a lateen sail and manned by Indians, he learned of Tumbez and also of Cuzco, where ruled the Inca and where there was vast golden treasure.

The crucial hour in the Peruvian expedition came with the return of Ruiz to the river San Juan, bringing tidings of what he had seen and heard; and it was an hour exalted by the heroism of Pizarro. Almagro had obtained about forty men in Panamá, but it was realized that the Peruvians were numerous and organized and that a strong force would be required to overcome them. So back once more to Panamá went Almagro. There Pedro de los Rios governed in the stead of Pedrarias, but he was hardly more willing to supply men to Pizarro and Almagro than Pedrarias had been, for the men already with Pizarro, now withdrawn to the Island of Gallo, had succeeded in making it known that they were being led to certain and probably futile death.

Look out, Senor Governor,
For the drover while he's near,

they wrote in characteristic Spanish doggerel, referring to Almagro;

Since he goes home to get the sheep
For the butcher [Pizarro] who stays here.

Rios, in fact, insisted upon sending two ships in command of a jurist, Pedro Tafur, to bring home the men thus complaining. Still — and here the value of Luque in the partnership strongly appears — the orders to Tafur were not so drastic but that Pizarro might proceed with the expedition with such men as chose to abide the issue.

On the Island of Gallo, therefore, Pizarro, upon the arrival of Tafur, assembled his men and put the situation squarely before them. On the one hand lay peril with possible riches; on the other, safety with assured poverty. The choice was theirs. Whether the Spanish chieftain actually drew in the sand with the point of his sword a line to the south of which he dramatically bade those pass who would follow him, is much to be doubted; but in imposing upon his men an unequivocal choice, he did something very like it. At all events, some sixteen men, including Ruiz the pilot, Pedro of Candia, a Greek, and an unnamed negro, stepped to his side; and with this little company Pizarro crossed from Gallo to the smaller but more easily defended Island of Gorgona to await the coming of Almagro preparatory to advancing toward Tumbez. On little Gorgona, "in a cloud-curtained sea, near a fearfully fascinating shore," for seven months he waited, starving.

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