the less successful pizarro -- 8/31/21

Today's selection -- from River of Darkness by Buddy Levy. Francisco Pizzaro conquered the Incas. His half-brother Gonzalo Pizarro almost perished in his own pursuit of fame and wealth. He survived, in part, by the gruesome practice of slicing slabs off the horses' sides as the animals clomped along; eating the meat and then dressing the horses' wounds with mud and river clay:
"Gonzalo Pizarro, meanwhile, continued his death march up the Aguarico. The expeditionary corps of friends and countrymen, com­rades in arms, men with wives and families back in Quito or the Indies or the mother country, courageous Spaniards who had dreamed of encomiendas of their own, working mines, crates filled with gold borne to their loved ones in treasure-laden ships -- these men were now barely and jaundiced and skeletal, many simply dropped dead in their tracks. When they had marched proudly and gallantly out of Quito more than a year ago, they had had more than two thousand strong and snarling war hounds at their heels; by now they had eaten all but two, Gonzalo Pizarro's own personal dog and the one brought along by the original campmaster, Antonio de Ribera.

Drawing by Guaman Poma de Ayala, representing Gonzalo Pizarro (center) receiving Francisco de Carvajal (right).

"The rains had drenched the men and reduced what clothes they had left to tattered rags that hung from their bodies like torn bandages. Many of the men were so weakened by famine that they could walk for only a few minutes at a time before slumping again to the forest floor, some­times crawling along on their hands and knees like wounded animals. During the interminable nights they could hear the padding footfalls of tapirs and capybaras and agoutis and deer feeding in the forest, but these animals could only be slain by skilled and patient hunters trained to stalk them. The Spaniards were reduced to fantasizing about eating them as they starved.

"Only a few horses now remained alive, and these poor animals were subjected to a most gruesome survival tactic. The men had begun slicing slabs off the horses' sides as the animals clomped along; they would eat the meat and then dress the horses' wounds with mud and river clay, pack­ing it on thick to stanch the flow of blood. Later, when hunger overtook them, the men would remove the mud and clay plasters, letting the blood flow again and draining the thick red liquid into their helmets, to boil and then season with herbs and peppers, making a ghastly blood soup.

"Gonzalo Pizarro was himself barely hanging on. He would write of this anguished march, which included wading through leech-filled swamps and creeks for miles, in water and mud that was sometimes knee-deep, often armpit-deep:

All the remaining horses, more than eighty in number, were finally eaten; and in this uninhabited stretch were found many rivers and creeks of considerable size ... and there were many days when there were built in the course of advancing two leagues [about five miles] twelve, thirteen, fifteen and even more bridges to take the expeditionary force across."



Buddy Levy


River of Darkness




Copyright 2011 by Buddy Levy


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