“So many tents were visible that it truly frightened us. We never thought that Indians could maintain such a magnificent estate nor have so many tents… Nothing like this had been seen in the Indies up till then. It filled all of us Spaniards with confusion and fear although it was not appropriate for us to show any fear nor to turn back. For had they sensed any weakness in us the very Indians [porters]we were bringing along would have killed us. Thus with simulated good spirits and after having thoroughly observed the town and the tents… we descended into the valley and entered the town of Cajamarca.”
– Migeul de Estete.
The notary for the Spanish Army under the command of Francisco Pizarro (below) is describing the first glimpse which the Spanish army caught of the @ 80,0000 man army with which they were about to contend in the Battle of Cajamarca which took place on today’s date, November 16 in 1532. The Spaniards had good reason to be fearful, as they had about 200 men in their retinue to face this native host.
Pizarro Meets the Incas
When Pizarro arrived in what is now Peru in 1531, he found the Incan empire embroiled in a civil war between Atahualpa, the younger son of the former Incan ruler Huayna Capac and Huascar, his half brother. Pizarro was determined to capture the Incan empire in the name of the Spanish King Charles V with whose blessing he had come to these lands. Hearing of the internecine fighting between the two factions, Pizarro marched his army into the interior of the country to the city of Cajamarca. The Spaniards took camp in the city square which was surrounded by a wall with only two entrances, and thus seemed the safest place to be. When no word arrived from the Inca, Pizarro sent a small contingent of 15 men under the command of Captain Hernando de Soto to invite Atahualpa to a meeting. The Incans were clearly intrigued by their visitors. None of them had ever seen horses before. But Atahualpa was under none of the illusions which had bedeviled Montazeuma before Cortez in Mexico some twelve years earlier. He did not believe these men to be divine Gods, nor representatives thereof. He intended to smash them the next day, and breed these strange animals for his own use in smashing Huascar. He accepted the invite.
Pizarro Versus Atahualpa – A Fight to the Finish!!
Arriving with his whole army the next day, November 16, Atahualpa, not fearing the handful of Spaniards who had paraded before him so arrogantly the day before, decided to enter the city with a much smaller force, some 7,000 men of his personal guard unarmed, in a show of goodwill. The rest of his men would remain outside the city. Arriving in the square amongst the Spaniards who were all carefully hidden and awaiting the orders to launch their ambush, Atahualpa called for the Spanish to come out and show themselves. Instead he was approached by Friar Vincente de Valverde. The friar invited Atahuapa to climb down off of his litter and meet privately in one of the buildings with Pizarro, thinking that this would be the easiest way to capture the heathen. Atahualpa declined, saying that he would stay there until the Spaniards returned all that they had taken from him. The friar then began delivering speeches to the effect that Atahualpa would have to accept Christianity, and the sovereignty of King Charles V. Atahualpa then asked to see the Friar’s Bible. Having never seen a book before he fumbled about with it. When the friar reached forward to show him how to handle the book, Atahualpa struck him on the arm and threw the book aside. The friar cried out and the attack was on.
Cannons were fired from around the square. Simultaneously, Spaniards came bearing down upon the surprised and frightened Inca with a ferocious cavalry charge. These proud and brave warriors, having never before seen these huge animals that were now charging towards them mounted by armored men slashing at them with swords broke into a panic. They began heading for the exits of the square, while the Spaniards hacked and cut their way through the mass of fleeing Inca. Meanwhile Pizarro lead a detachment straight for Atahualpa. According to the scribe Xerez:
“(Pizarro) armed himself with a thick cotton coat of armor, took his sword and dagger and entered into the midst of the Indians with the Spaniards who were with him…. he reached Atahualpa’s litter and fearlessly grabbed (his)left arm…But he could not pull him out of his litter which was still held high. All those who were carrying Atahualpa’s litter appeared to be important men and they all died.”
The Beginning of the End for the Incas
The result was a slaughter of those Inca who were in the square and the quick disbandment of Atahualpa’s large army outside the city in confusion without it’s leader and it’s command structure. Atahualpa was indeed taken prisoner and later murdered. Fighting between the Inca and the Spanish would continue for some time,but with the capture of their leader at Cajamarca, and his later murder, the end was already written for the Incan Empire and the beginning of full-scale European colonization of the Americas.
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“The Last Days of the Incas” by Kim MacQuarrie Simon & Schuster, New York, 2007 pp. 55 – 137.