- Historic Sites
De Soto And The Golden Road
Some men see the beginnings. The conquistador who first saw the Mississippi also took the Inca highway to fabulous Cuzco.
August 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 5
It was after this that the soldiers found “a great and strong building in the town of Caxas surrounded by adobe walls in which there were many women spinning and weaving cloth . . . and there were no men with them except the porters who guarded them.” At the entrance three dead Indians were found hanging by their feet because they had entered the house. These Virgins of the Sun were inviolable to ordinary men, but this did not concern the Spaniards. Unable to restrain his men, who had not seen desirable women in months, de Soto ordered the 500 women out into the plaza. “De Soto,” said Oviedo, “was a man of good impulses,” who, had he not been schooled in the questionable methods of the Pizarros, might have left behind an untarnished name, “but poor human beings must be allowed to have maxims not always in accord with their feelings.” While the crossbowmen mounted guard, the Spaniards took their turns with the Virgins of the Sun. Then they made their way back to where the main army waited.
The little Spanish column arrived at Cajamarca on Friday, the fifteenth of November, 1532, at the hour of vespers. It was a city of stone houses, in the center of them a large plaza, “larger than any in Spain,” surrounded by a high wall and entered by only two doorways. In the distance steam could be seen rising from the sulphur baths where the chieftain was surrounded by a pavilion of white tents. Thirty thousand battle-tried soldiers were encamped about him. “It filled us with amazement,” said one of the Spaniards, “to behold the Indians holding so proud a position.”
Why had not the Indians attacked their tiny force of 102 foot and Ga cavalrymen? This question agitated the assembled captains. They knew now that the Inca had been informed by the chasquis , or native couriers, of every detail of their movement; he knew how few of them there were, of the incident of the raped Virgins of the Sun. Atahualpa was curious but he was not in awe of them. He was aware that five years before these same white-bearded men had come to Tumbes, only to sail away in deceptive peace.
The Indians entertained many misconceptions about the conquistadores. They believed that the white man and his horse were one and that, dismounted, the “man-part” was ineffective and therefore incapable of fighting at night; that their “fire-sticks” were animated thunderbolts; and that the Spaniard’s steel swords were no more effective than a woman’s weaving battens.
To the Spaniards the moment called for audacious action. De Soto rode boldly into the Indians’ camp to invite the Inca king into his. Mistaking Atahualpa for d general, writes Oviedo, “he arrived galloping, making his horse curvet for bravery or else to amaze the Indians; he came so close to the chair on which Atahualpa sat, that the horse snorted into his face; yet the Inca moved not.” Then, seeing his error, de Soto, remembering that he was not only a conquistador but also a gentleman on all four sides, quickly dismounted and made a graceful obeisance. Invited to sit on a seat of gold where he was waited upon by two Indian girls “as beautiful as suns,” de Soto spoke. His talk was of the Pope, the Vice-Regent of God, and the King of Spain, of how they had sent Francisco Pizarro and his companions to bring the divine truth and holy law to these realms. All of this was duly translated into Quechua, the native speech, by one of de Soto’s own Indians. The Inca, whose curiosity could not be assuaged, agreed to come to their camp as invited with his warriors “unarmed,” so as not to give offense to Pizarro, the soldier of the Vice-Regent of God.
Toward the evening of November 16, 1532, the retinue of the Inca advanced into the plaza. It was a magical hour; the high priest, consulting a llama’s liver, had read a good augury. Besides, he announced, the belching fire-sticks of the white man were not effective at nighttide. First came a squadron of Indians dressed in livery colored different hues in the design of a chessboard; they advanced by sweeping the road clear of any obstacle. Next came other Indians, beating the drum, blowing the conch horn, dancing and singing. Then came the Inca borne on a litter with plumes of parrot feathers and adorned with plates of gold and silver and carried on the shoulders of eight blue-liveried nobles of the Rucana tribe. To the bleat of the horn and drum they entered the plaza. The rest is history. The Spaniards were hidden in the surrounding buildings and the plaza was vacant of white men. When in annoyance the Inca inquired where his hosts were, a solitary figure approached across the plaza. It was Friar Vicente. He stopped before the Inca.
“I am a priest of God,” he said, “and I teach Christians the things of God. I come to teach you.”
He offered the Bible to the Inca who, after a brief uncomprehending glance, dashed it to the ground in proper royal rage. That was enough. There was a battle cry, “ Santiago! ” and from the houses the armed Spaniards poured down on the trapped Indians.