South America – Fragments Of History

THE very beginnings of the history of the southern continent of America are shrouded in mystery. Tradition, however, has been strong enough to furnish a basis for the wonderful story given us by Prescott in his Conquest of Peru that reads like a fairy tale, but in which it is a little difficult to draw the line between real facts and the glowing and fertile imagination of the brilliant historian. Certain it is that a great civilization existed there centuries before the discovery of the Americas by Columbus concerning which we have but meager information. In short, the origin and character of the earliest South American civilization are completely hidden from view. The most ancient traces of man on the continent are the “kitchen-midden” found on the coast of Peru, consisting of shells and refuse, mixed with fragments of earthen pots and ashes and occasionally the rude implements used by these primitive people. After these men who lived on sea-food, there came more advanced tribes of whom we know nothing except what may be inferred from their pottery and textures found in the deepest layers of soil. This development, such as it was, was confined to the sea coast. It was followed by a wonderful civilization on the high tablelands. Where this civilization came from is a mystery. We know nothing of how long it lasted or what its nature was except as its architectural ruins show that it had oriental kinships and that it was as interesting as it was powerful. These ruins can be seen today at Tiahuanaco, in Bolivia, just south of Lake Titicaca. Immense stone pillars and gateways, which must have been brought from great distances, prove that a people lived on these tablelands in centuries which we can not fix now, akin to the race which left its massive monuments in Central America and Mexico, and capable of as great achievements as the ancient Egyptians. Of their ideas and language we know nothing; but it is evident that their influence extended from Colombia on the north to Chile on the south, and as far as Tucuman and the Gran Chaco in what is now Argentina.

This ancient pre-Inca civilization disappeared centuries before the discovery of Arrerica. Its remains, however, were scattered over the whole Andean plateau, and on this base of an ancient culture it was easy for the Incas to build their empire. The Incas had no written language or literature, and while, according to Garland, in his Peru in 1906, “there exist ancient chronicles written by some of the conquerors and missionaries, . . . it is impossible to place absolute confidence in these narratives.” So that the real character of the empire of the Incas and the conditions of the South American people at the time of the Spanish conquest are but uncertainly known to us. It seems clear, however, that there was a widespread socialistic, theocratic civilization organized and administered by the Incas, reaching from Colombia to central Chile and Argentina. Wonderful schemes of irrigation and, it is said, not less wonderful systems of roads were constructed. This matter of the wonderful roads, it is now believed by experts who have been over the ground, were mere Indian trails. Armies were organized which brought the whole Andean plateau under the Inca sovereigns, who appear to have possessed from the eleventh century, when tradition says they first came upon the scene, a sacred, semi-divine character. The Inca empire had reached its greatest prosperity in the generation before the Spaniards came, and the disruption of that prosperity by civil war was one of the conditions which played into Pizarro’s hands when, with a handful of audacious desperadoes like himself, he came for glory and gold.

Apart from the Incas, the only other great people in South America, whom we can identify, were the Caras of Ecuador. Tradition says that they came from the south in the seventh century and invaded the seaboard of central Ecuador, and by the thirteenth century the outlines of their empire which was ruled by male succession, appear. The Cara kingdom reached its zenith at the end of the fourteenth century, after which it was overthrown and absorbed by the Incas. The Caras were a vigorous stock, however, and survived the Inca conquest and also outlived the decimating tyranny of the Spaniards, so that ninety-five per cent of the present population of Ecuador is composed of their descendants.

The Incas and the Caras are the only South American races which attained any sort of organized and advanced civilization, and even that civilization was weak and inarticulate. History has shown us in their fate the frailty of a socialistic order. Under the Incas the state controlled everything—agriculture, commerce, marriage, work and play. The result was that when the central government fell, the whole civilization collapsed. We read that there were thousands of functionaries who spent their lives in superintending the furniture, the dress, the work, the very cookery, of the families under their charge, and inflicting corporal chastisement on those whom they surprised in a fault. These methods formed a correct and regular society, drilled like bees in a hive, it formed a nation of submissive slaves, but it could not nor did not make a nation of men. And this is why a handful of unscrupulous Spaniards overthrew what is reported to have been a great and powerful people. They were great in numbers and in long-standing institutions, but they were weak in character and could not stand the test. Reville has called it a “skilfully constructed machine, which worked like a chronometer; but when once the mainspring was broken, all was over.”

Beyond the empires of the Incas and the Caras the native peoples were Indians with a primitive social and political order, not very different probably from the Indians of the present time. The strongest and most virile race among them were the Araucanians of Chile, who showed themselves well nigh inconquerable, and whose sturdy, truculent qualities characterize the Chilean people today. In Brazil, covering one-half of the continent, and with an Indian population whose size is absolutely unknown to us, there was only a stagnant and rudimentary civilization, and the Brazilian Indians melted away before the white man’s coming even more pitifully than did the Indians of the Andean plateau.

The savage Indians of South America, whom the discoverers found, were tame and feeble in comparison with the Indians of North America, and while the civilization of the Incas surpassed that of the Aztecs in Mexico, their resisting power was as nothing in comparison with the energy and fierceness of the Aztec race. The differences between North and South America today are not more the transported differences between the Latin and the Germanic peoples than the continuance of the ancient and primitive dissimilarities. The racial basis of the South American people is not Spanish nor Portuguese, but it is Indian. The native stock was not wiped out by the Conquistadores. They were decimated by disease and misuse, but at the same time they were made the stock upon which the Latin blood from Europe was grafted. To this day no small part of the diversities of, character among the South American republics is due to the differences in the Indian racial stocks—Quichua, Aymara, Araucanian, Guarany ; and in the Latin racial grafts Galician, Basques, Catalonian, Andausian, Portuguese.

Brazil was one of the first parts of South America to be discovered, and the men who really found it were not Spaniards, but Portuguese, though Pinzon, a Spaniard from Palos, and one of the companions of Columbus, was the first European to see the new continent. Before Pinzon reached the limit of his journey, the mouth of the Amazon, Portugal had despatched Pedro Alvarez Cabral, who, in April, 1500, sighted what is now the state of Bahia. Cabral was followed by Amerigo Vespucci, whose name was given to the new world, and who gave the name of Brazil to the shores on which he landed on account of the Brazil wood he found there in quantities, and which was highly prized in Europe on account of its bright red and dyeing properties—Brazil meaning “the color of fire.”

It was Columbus himself who began the Spanish exploration of South America. On his third voyage he sighted the Venezuelan coast on Aug. 1, 1498. The country was then inhabited by numerous Indian tribes who were not of a peaceful character, and who bitterly fought against the cruelties and enslavements of the Spaniards. Not until 1545 were permanent settlements effected in the interior. On his fourth and last voyage in 1502 Columbus sailed along the Colombian shore, but no attempt to conquer the country was made until 1508, when Ojeda effected a settlement on the coast. In 1536, Quesada undertook the subjugation of the Chibchas, a civilized people similar to the Incas on the high plateau, and established his capital, the present city of Bogota, near the site of the Chibcha capital. In 1570, Diego da Nicuera effected a settlement which extended from the Gulf of Darien to Cape Gracias a Dios. In 1513 Balboa crossed the Isthmus and discovered the Pacific Ocean.

It was Pizarro who finally opened the wealth of Peru to the world and established Spanish dominion on the whole of the Andean plateau. In 1532, after several experimental expeditions with a little company of one hundred and two foot soldiers and seventy-two horses, the daring adventurer seized the Inca emperor at Cajamarca, overpowered his futile soldiery and took possession of Peru, gathering in as the first booty gold worth more than $20,000,000. Pizarro wasted no time and stood on no scruples. The Inca emperor he slew, the wealth he confiscated, and within half a dozen years the whole of the vast region ruled by the Inca power was overrun and subdued. Pizarro’s lieutenant, Benalcazar, conquered the northern region of Ecuador and entered Quito on Dec. 6, 1534. Pizarro’s brother, Gonzalo, was appointed governor of the province of Quito, and here, as else-where, the Spaniards apportioned the land and people among themselves and established feudal estates on which they lived upon the labor of the natives. To the south of Peru, Pizarro’s triumph was even easier, and his brother Hernando was given charge of Bolivia. Almagro, another one of Pizarro’s lieutenants, was sent further south to Chile, but here he encountered a vigorous, hardy people, not debilitated by the weakening socialism of the Incas. Individual owner-ship of property, rough struggle with nature and men, had made the Chilean tribes strong and virile, and although Almagro was victorious in his battle, he soon turned back from such an inhospitable and godless land. Returning to dispute with Pizarro his possession of the wealth of Peru, Almagro fell at Pizarro’s hands, and the conquest of Chile was accomplished in 1540-45 by another lieutenant, Pedro Valdiva, who, after heroic marches and campaigns, subdued the land and set up the landed aristocracy which rules the country to this day. In the thirty years following Valdiva’s invasion, settlers from Chile and Bolivia passed over the Andes and established Santiago de Estero, Mendoza, and Cordoba in western Argentina. Pedro de Mendoza founded Buenos Aires in 1536, although it was not till thirty years later that the settlement was securely established. The natural approach from Europe to the valley of the Rio de la Plata and its tributaries was, of course, direct by sea, and Juan de Solis, coming by water, is credited with having discovered the great river in 1515. The explorer lost his life at the hands of the Uruguayan Indians, and it is an odd fact that Paraguay, far inland, was an earlier settlement than Uruguay on the sea. A settlement was made on the site of Asuncion, the present Paraguayan capital, in 1536, while the first permanent establishments in Uruguay were not set up until the Jesuits came in 1624.

The rapidity with which the Spanish explorers overran the western and southern sections of the continent is extraordinary. In fifty years they had laid the foundations of practically all the Spanish states which are now organized as nine independent republics. One reason for the rapidity of the con-quest was the fact that the Spaniards had not come as agricultural settlers, but as adventurers for gold. They were looking for quick and easy wealth. They did no more work themselves than was avoidable. They were equal to any heroism, but to no industry. The Indian population were impressed to support and enrich them. The newcomers passed on to their children no inheritance of industrious conflict with common conditions, no disposition to seek wealth in the orderly development of common resources, no agricultural knowledge, but only the dominant ideas of quick action or feudal ease.

One of the tragedies of the conquest was the dramatic death of Pizarro at the hands of the friends of Almagro, the general, whom Pizarro, as governor of Peru, caused to be put to death. Almagro’s friends quickly carried the news of his illegal execution to Spain, crying for justice against the Pizarros. The Spanish government was not unwilling to secure a selfish advantage from the disputes among the original conquerors, and sent out Vaca de Castro to investigate and report.

When the royal commissioners arrived at Panama early in 1541, the latest news from Peru was tranquilizing. Pizarro was busily engaged in enlarging and beautifying Lima, in regulating the revenue and the administration, in distributing encomiendas, and in restraining the rapacity of his Spaniards. How-ever, Lima was full of the “men of Chile,” as Almagro’s adherents were called—all bitter enemies of the governor. They passed him in the street without saluting, and their attitude was so menacing that Pizarro received repeated warnings and was urged to banish them. Absolutely incapable of personal fear, magnanimous when his passion had not been aroused, he only replied, “Poor fellows; they have had trouble enough. We will not molest them.” He even sent for Juan de la Rada, the guide, counsellor, and guardian of the young half-breed who was Almagro’s heir, and condescended to try to argue him into a bet-ter frame of mind, saying at parting, “Ask me frankly what you desire.” But the iron had entered too deeply into Rada’s soul ; he had already organized a conspiracy to assassinate Pizarro.

At noon on Sunday, the 26th of June, 1541, Pizarro was sitting at dinner in his house with twenty gentlemen, among them his half-brother Francisco Alcantara, and several of the most illustrious knights who had taken part in the conquest. The great door into the public square was lying wide open. The conspirators, to the number of a score, had assembled in a house opposite. All of a sudden they rushed into the square fully armed and carrying their swords naked in their hands. A young page standing in front of the governor’s house saw them and ran back shouting: “To arms! all the men of Chile are coming to kill the Marquis, our lord.” The guests rose in alarm from the table and all but half a dozen fled to the windows and dropped into the garden. Pizarro threw off his gown and snatched up a sword, while the valiant Francisco Chaves stepped forward through the anteroom to dispute the passage to the staircase. The ferocious crowd of murderers rushed up and laid him dead on the stairs. Alcantara checked them for a few moments with his single sword, but was soon forced back into the dining-room and fell pierced with many thrusts. The old lion shouted from inside, “What shameful thing is this ! Why do you wish to kill me ?” and with cloak wrapped round one arm and his sword grasped in the other hand, he rushed forward to meet his assassins and strike a blow to avenge his brother before he himself should fall. Only two faithful young pages remained at his side. Though over seventy years of age, his practiced sword laid two of the crowd dead before he was surrounded. The two boys were butchered and in the melee Pizarro received a mortal wound in the throat, and falling to the floor, made the sign of the cross on the boards and kissed it. One of the ruffians had snatched up an earthern water jar and with this pounded out the old man’s brains as he lay prostrate, ‘disdaining to ask for mercy and murmuring “Jesus.”

The news of the murder threw Peru into confusion. In Lima the governor’s friends hid themselves or fled; a hundred sympathizers joined the assassins; the rudders and sails of the ships in port were taken away so that no word could be sent to Panama ; and all the treasure in the city was plundered. Young Almagro assumed the title of governor of Peru, but he and Rada soon realized that the vast majority at Lima regarded them with execration, while threatening messages came from the commanders in other towns. Rada and the boy usurper started up the road for Jauja and Cuzco. At the former place Rada died, but his protege, though only twenty-two years old, now showed unexpected ability and resource. Suppressing with bloody severity a quarrel among his captains, he took the road to Cuzco, where his father’s party was strongest.

In the meantime the royal commissioner, now become legal governor of Peru, had sailed from Panama. Shipwrecked off the coast of southern Colombia, he resolved to proceed by land, and disembarking at Buenventura, made his way with infinite difficulty through the tangled forests and steep defiles of the Maritime Cordillera to the valley of the Cauca River. Thence to Quito over the highlands of Popayan and Pasto was easier. As soon as the news of Pizarro’s murder reached him, he hastened south, receiving many offers of help from the friends of the dead governor. At Jauja he found a considerable army ready to his orders, so he proceeded promptly to Guamanga, to which point Almagro was advancing from Cuzco. The soldiers of the young half-breed knew that they were fighting with halters round their necks, and the battle was the bloodiest since the Spaniards had landed in Peru. Of the twelve hundred white men who went into the fight only five hundred escaped unwounded. The rebels were practically annihilated. Two days after the battle Pizarro’s murderers were executed in the great square at Guamanga. Young Almagro managed to escape to Cuzco, but he was quickly captured and relentlessly put to death.

Upon the death of Francisco Pizarro the right .,to nominate a governor reverted to the Spanish Crown. Though some disappointment was felt that Gonzalo Pizarro had not been appointed, Vaca de Castro succeeded without opposition. Gonzalo’s selection would not have suited the new policy of the Spanish government. Las Casas had written his famous book exposing the unspeakable iniquities of the earlier conquer-ors toward the West Indian natives. It produced a tremendous effect on public opinion, and the authorities at Madrid decided to root up Indian slavery, and gradually abolish the existing encomiendas. Manifestly, such a step would excite bitter dissatisfaction among the adventurers in Peru, and it seemed best to name a viceroy, who would be ipso facto vested with absolute power, and not subject to the influence of the conquistadores.

This dangerous post was entrusted to Blasco Nunez de Vela, an old bureaucrat of the Escurial, whose integrity, piety, and rigid obedience to orders had pushed him into high positions. Arriving in Peru early in 1554, he was received with outward courtesy and respect, thinly veiling real alarm and distrust. The “New Laws” abolished personal service by Indians; the grandees of estates must hereafter be con-tent with a moderate tribute from their tenants ; encomiendas might not be sold or even descend by inheritance; and—worst of all—public officials and all Spaniards who had taken part in the wars between Almagro and Pizarro were to be deprived. The pro-visions were drastic and rumor exaggerated them. In his journeys down the coast the viceroy had sternly ordered that no Indian be forced to carry a burden against his will. To the Spaniards this seemed an outrageous violation of the natural order of things. The whole fabric of their fortunes rested upon forced Indian labor. Without it they could not work their mines, farm their estates, or transport their goods, and these “New Laws” enforced by a conscientious and stubborn old bureaucrat, would virtually rob them of all that their swords had won.

Dismayed encomienderos wrote to Gonzalo Pizarro, urging him to espouse their cause; his own vast estates would infallably be wrenched away by the viceroy, and he was told that his head was to be cut off as soon as Nunez Vela could lay hands on him. With the Pizarro instinct of running to meet a danger, he hastened from southern Bolivia to Cuzco, where he was proclaimed “procurator general” of Peru ; soldiers flocked to his camp; he seized the artillery and stores at Cuzco, and soon was at the head of four hundred desperate men, well armed and provided. Many, however, shrank from open rebellion against the representative of the Castilian king, and the Pizarros had enemies. The result was still doubtful, when the viceroy himself turned the scale by his own violent measures. He imprisoned Vaca de Castro on suspicion of favoring the revolt; quarreled with the judges of the royal court; and finally in an altercation with the popular factor of Lima, stabbed his opponent with his own hand, and then attempted to conceal the murder. Frightened at the burst of public indignation, he fled to Trujillo, while the royal judges took the direction of affairs into their own hands. They ordered the arrest and deportation of the viceroy, and sent a conciliatory message to Gonzalo. But he knew better than to rely on the unauthorized promises of the judges. His answer was to send a detachment to Lima, which seized three deserters and hanged them on trees outside the town. The judges having no troops upon whom they could rely, were forced to recognize Pizarro as governor. A few days later he made his triumphal entry, riding at the head of twelve hundred men.

Gonzalo’s administration lasted three years, and they were golden ones for the Spanish adventurers. The marvelous silver mines of Potosi and the gold washings of southern Ecuador were discovered. Encomiendas were lavishly granted; the Indians went back to their fields ; the mining industry began that marvelous development which soon made Peru the treasure box of the world and Potosi a synonym for limitless wealth. But the dazzling sunlight of prosperity was dimmed by the shadow of Pizarro’s scaffold slowly creeping across the Atlantic and down the coast. His chief lieutenants, knowing that they had sinned past forgiveness, urged him to declare himself king of Peru, but he was at once too proud and patriotic to fling away his right to die a loyal Spaniard.

Philip, the leaden-eyed, close-mouthed despot, was regent of Spain. Bitterly chagrinned that the stream of Peruvian gold had ceased to flow into the royal treasury, his vindicative heart held no mercy for the gallant soldier whose sword had helped win the riches now temporarily diverted. He selected a man after his own heart—Pedro de la Gasca, an ugly, de-formed little priest, hypocritically humble, though astute and untiring, whose success as an inquisitor was a guaranty that he would be as pitilessly cruel as even Philip could wish. Gasca landed at Panama in the character of a modest ecclesiastic, a humble man of peace who had been commissioned to investigate the sad situation in Peru and reestablish peace. He said he would recommend the repeal of the obnoxious New Laws, and had authority to suspend them. Gonzalo refused to put his head into the noose and demanded substantial assurances. But many Peruvians were more easily beguiled, and welcomed the excuse to renew their allegiance to lawful authority. While Gasca remained at Panama, gathering troops from the neighboring provinces, Pizarro’s fleet deserted, leaving the coast open to attack. An advance guard came sailing down the coast, sending letters ashore at every port promising amnesty and rewards. Desertions were so numerous that Gonzalo was forced to give up the hope of defending Lima and retreated toward Arequipa. Gasca ascended to Jauja, while Pizarro’s old enemies in the Titicacan region rose, gathered a thousand men, and sent word to Gasca that they could overwhelm without help the five hundred soldiers who remained faithful. But a Pizarro never waited to be attacked. By forced marches he crossed the dizzy pass where the Mollendo and Puno Railway now runs, and fell upon his enemies near the southern end of Lake Titicaca. Though outnumbered two to one, the superior discipline of his men, his admirable dispositions, Carbajal’s skilful handling of the artillery, and his own cool and intrepid leadership of the cavalry charges, gave him a decisive though dearly bought victory.

Meanwhile Gasca was coming up the road from Jauja to Cuzco, his army increasing by accessions from every direction until it numbered over two thou-sand. The wisest of Gonzalo’s counsellors advised him to retire to southern Bolivia and make a defensive campaign in that remote region, but he preferred bold methods. For once, however, he could not inspire his men with his own confidence. They followed with heavy hearts his eager march against Gasca’s overwhelming army. He drew them up for attack and the battle was about to begin when, to his despair, he saw several captains desert to the enemy and his soldiers surrendering without a blow. Knowing that all was over, he turned to Juan Acosta, who rode at his side, saying, “What shall we do, Brother Juan?” “Sir, let us charge them and die like Romans.” “Better to die like Christians,” replied Pizarro, and he rode across the plain and gave himself up. The exulting priest grossly insulted the fallen warrior, and called a court-martial to condemn him and his captains to immediate execution. Though only forty-one years old when he went to the scaffold, Gonzalo had taken a leading part in nearly every one of the battles and expeditions of Peru.

The property of Pizarro’s friends was confiscated; the prisons filled with wretched victims ; many were put to death; many more were mutilated or flogged; even the staunchest loyalists were not safe. Gasca evaded and delayed as long as possible the distribution of land-grants among those who had earned and been promised such rewards, and when he had to announce the list he sneaked to Lima by an unfrequented route in cowardly fear of his miserable life. He never dared to try to put the New Laws into effect, and when a peremptory order came from Spain that enforced Indian labor must cease, he kept , it secret until he could resign the government to the royal judges, leaving instructions that it should be published immediately he was at sea.

Peru was left in confusion. The prohibition of Indian slavery added to the dissatisfaction felt over Gasca’s awards. The ad interim governments could make little progress in securing its enforcement-Rebellion after rebellion broke out, and civil war continued to desolate Peru, with a few intervals of quiescence during which the government allowed the proprietors to do as they pleased, until the arrival of the Marquis of Canete, the “good viceroy,” on the 29th of June, 1556.