- 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
There was only one way in which this community of people could be held together and that was by the communicating roads. All Indians were obliged to give one-third of their time to work-service. Each tribal unit must build and maintain the highway running through its section. The direction, planning and master plan was laid down by technicians sent out from Cuzco; these master architects charted the direction the roads would take, planned the way-stops, figured out the distances that the couriers would run and where their platforms would be set up. With these communications completed, nothing could occur anywhere in the realm without the officials at Cuzco being made immediately aware of it.
All this and much more did de Soto see and learn during his stay in Cuzco. And the summer of the dry season had come before he quit the city. He gathered much gold, wrote his report and prepared to move out. Cuzco was now gay with arriving Indians, for it was the time of the Sun Festival, the Inti-raymi , celebrating the time when, as the Indians believed, the Sun God came down to live with them. The Spaniard turned on the hill of Karmenka and looked back on Cuzco; the last European to see it in its pagan state.
When he returned to Cajamarca over the Royal Road, the gold was still pouring into Cajamarca filling up the room designated by the imprisoned Inca. Indians carried litters filled “in greater part of goldplates . . . taken from the walls, for holes showed where they had been secured.” An account was taken and it came to 326,539 pesos of gold, the equivalent of $20,000,000. All this gold and a larger amount of silver plate was ordered to be melted down in order to make it easier to divide among the conquerors. But while this gold was being reduced in the crucibles of the Indian goldsmiths, Atahualpa found that the gold, instead of buying his freedom, was only purchasing his demise. Before the gold was distributed the captains about Pizarro began to press for Atahualpa’s death. Rumors of the mobilization of the Inca’s army were brought in, as Xerez tells us, and in a feigned rage Pizarro, who had the Inca chained, remonstrated with him.
“What treasons is that you have prepared for me, Lord Inca? For me, who have treated you with honor like a brother and have trusted your words.”
“Do not make nonsense with me,” protested the Inca.
Hernando de Soto objected vigorously at the turn of events and with twelve other soldiers he opposed the Inca’s death; he had honorably proposed to ransom himself and had done so. Only the King of Spain should judge the Indian monarch and de Soto demanded that he be allowed to go to the city of Huaraachuco, two days distance, to see if native warriors were really in fact gathering. He was allowed this, not to learn the facts but so that he would be out of the way.
The Inca, as soon as de Soto was gone, was tried for his “crimes.” Atahualpa had twelve accusations leveled against him; that he was a bastard, had many wives, was an idolater, waged unjust wars, that he had spent tribute which rightfully belonged to the Spaniards! Naturally he was guilty, and condemned to be burned alive. In great distress, Atahualpa asked if there was not some way he could escape and he was offered some hope.
“If you would become a Christian, I can promise that not a drop of your blood shall be shed.” Pizarro kept his promise on that twenty-ninth day of August, J533. when the Inca was led out to the square “without showing any feeling.” Not a drop of his blood was shed; he was strangled by the garrote.
De Soto’s protests, on his return, were drowned out by the distribution of the ransom of Atahualpa. As fourth on the list after God, king and the captaingeneral, he received 724 marks of gold—17,740 pesos—a tidy sum for a year’s work amounting to about 300,000 gold ducats. The conquest had, however, just begun and de Soto, head of the cavalry, spent yet two more years in Peru up to formal entrance into Cuzco and the final conquest of the surrounding country. After that he quit Peru, returned to Spain with his golden loot, where he became a great figure at the Spanish court “with a large enough fortune to make it worth the Emperor’s while to borrow it from him.”