Walking Hand in Hand with History -- Conquistadores
What made them take the plunge.. of a lifetime?
Some say was a need, other must add greed. But deep inside is a mix of everything, adding the pursue of Glory and fame. Spain was not a country as we know it. Back in 711 A.D., Muslin forces invaded Hispania and... in less than eight years took control of the whole Iberia. Not until 1492 that King Ferdinand I decimated the last Moorish stronghold in a city known as Granada.
By 1500, many young Spaniards wanted to emulate Columbus and Ferdinand of Magellan. Francisco Pizarro, Hernan Cortes and Hernando DeSoto were the quintessential representatives from that generation. Most were born in Badajoz Spain, or perhaps Extremadura. Those were forgotten and barren cities that in that time had nothing to offer to young and aspiring young souls anxious for new adventures.
Hernando De Soto
He was in Peru with Pizarro from 1532 until 1536. He taught the Inca Atahualpa how to play chess, while captive by the Spaniards. In 1536 he offered himself to Diego de Almagro and his forces to join forces and Conquer Chile. He was denied that privilege. By 1537 he was back in Valladolid Spain asking King Charles I a charter and permission to colonize the lands above Havana (Cardenas bay, back then). By 1538 he married Isabel de Bobadilla, daughter of another Conquistador, Pedrarias Avila. He sailed from Sanlucar de Barrameda on April, 8 1538.
He did stop in Cuba for a few months in order to get supplies of swine, Horses and livestock. Aside from history what made him take that dangerous enterprise? He was bold enough to capture Atahualpa with an army of 169 caballeros against 11,000 loyal Inca warriors. Picture three kings: Mark Wahlberg, George Clooney and Ice Cube, facing an enemy of 5,000 men...
He knew that Cortez made a name in history by storming and destroying Tenochtitlan (actual Mexico D.F.). He knew Pizarro conquered Peru, right on his own nose. Desoto Was governor of Leon-Nicaragua. He needed a name of his own. Money and gold was always a great motive, but he was hurt by Diego De Almagro's denial in accepting him on the trek toward Chile.
By 1539 North America was a target bathed in gold for Spain. San Augustine didn't happen until 1564. Jamestown was not going to happen until 1607. The fountain of youth was there for grabs! Or perhaps another Eldorado hidden beyond the Appalachian mountains?
Why did Spaniards fail on their expeditions?
Their priorities were different. The thirteen colonies were people that came to make a living with hard work... away from prosecution. People Like Desoto used a different tactic: getting Indian hostages as a norm, and kill with no remorse in the name of Christendom.
Desoto did kill the most Indians at Mabila in 1540. Quakers and protestants souls didn't go that far. When Chief Tuscaloosa met De Soto, he was kind and inviting. That could've been the first day of thanksgiving, but it never happened. Desoto 'invited' Tuscaloosa to take the long journey toward the next cacique lordship, up above Alabama and Georgia as a royal hostage. Tuscaloosa played it good until he was capable of ambushing Desoto and his men.
Desoto died of bad weather, yellow fever and wounds - physical and from the soul. He knew his enterprise was a failure by May of 1542, taking 600 Spaniards into erratic journeys that included, Mississippi, Texas and even Arkansas. He didn't want Spain to know of his regrettable mistakes.
We do not believe it was yellow fever. Why just a commander in chief would have to die so easily? We are prone to believe that it was a sexual disease. DeSoto and his men had... or asked for porters and women from the tribes they got in touch with. Cortez had a Malinche or Mariana. Pizarro had Atahualpa's sisters... so nothing stopped Hernando Desoto to have accidental concubines on mainland USA.
His wife Isabel de Bobadilla waited for him until 1543... when she died of natural causes. Most believe it was just out of loneliness. But that was a little of history that are not taught, unless you are in college.
Our Own Thoughts
Sometimes, we look into search engines and read lots of information about just anything. I mean, manuscripts and books from a distant past that are virtually in front of our eyes and inquisitive minds. We love history... and immersed ourselves (literally) for several weeks into chronicles and books written by the original witnesses on a first hand basis. We were amazed and interested in their own lives. The lives of those conquistadores and their own drive to sail into new worlds... we felt their particular need or drive to travel to remote places that Columbus and others brought to the feet of the king of Castile and Aragon.
Starting within the edges of unknown oceans with dragons, leviathans and gigantic sea monsters that tortured their own imaginations, we were captivated by their own experiences... but let's take...
OUR JOURNEY WITHIN THEIR MINDS
Thanks to our memory and research we have come to know these Hidalgos from the past. We know that Francisco Pizarro never knew how to write. He left Castile - Spain was not even a country yet- to explore a new world beyond La Hispaniola (Cuba) and Santo Domingo. By 1528 he associated himself with colleague Diego de Almagro and Friar Hernando de Luque.
The main reason behind his enterprise was his need to be someone among the nobles. Only gold could get him that status and Glory. Actors today have an Oscar. Back then, was an honor to belong to the Order of Santiago. Francisco Pizarro was loyal and giving, but never forgiving. It was the norm of the time. He would punish any commander's wrongdoing with death. His upbringing was harsh and to say the least, he never had a break in life. let's take a quick moment and have a moment with him. For instance, how did he die?
On June 26th, 1541 he was caught off guard by Diego de Almagro's son and "almagristas."
Like an scene from a movie...Pizarro struggled to buckle on his breastplate, his defenders, including his half-brother Alcántara, were killed. For his part Pizarro killed two attackers and ran through a third. While trying to pull out his sword. That's the split of a second needed by his assassins to take his life... they aimed for his throat and instinctively he kneeled down in pain.
At that moment he made the sign of the cross with his own blood mumbling words of forgiveness to his Lord in heaven.
How About Hernan Cortez?
He was lucky as Pizarro to land on an area that hated the Aztec rulers. Tlaxcala and Tabasco are the names to remember. They thought the Spaniards and their armors were God sent. Never in their lives saw those horses, that captivated Atahualpa admired as well.
What History Don't Tell us
By 1519 his enmity with the Governor of Cuba, Diego Velazquez de Cuellar, resulted in the recall of the expedition at the last moment, an order which Cortés ignored... and order that was an insult to Velazquez and young King Charles I and regent mom Joanna the mad. Cortez had no other choice but direct himself toward Mexico capital and face Aztec emperor Moctezuma and storm the famous Tenochtitlan.
Cortez asked the king for recognition and had a hard time getting them. He died in 1547 in poverty like Columbus. Both were condemned by their brutality against the natives from that time. Franciscan Father De Las Casas came back to Spain horrified by their actions and the King felt betrayed.
Cases of Indians thrown to the dogs, kids killed like animals. That was worst than the Jewish genocide, to say the least.
Lessons that we never learn from...
Before Hitler and Mussolini... or even Kaddafi and Sadam Hussein, these Conquistadors died terrible deaths: Cortez died supposedly of Dysentery. His bones were moved several times through New Spain (Mexico) in order to avoid being desecrated. Pizarro's bones were hidden for several centuries at Lima-Peru's Cathedral. They were found again in 1977. Hernando Desoto's body ended in a wooden log and ceremoniously sank on the Mississippi river on May 21, 1542. As we said before, Pizarro's enemies stabbed him to death with no mercy. Here we can apply the saying...
"He who lives by the sword will die by the sword"
"as you judge, shall you be judged."
Lastly, can we be like the devil's advocate and be on their side? Not for a bit. Their DNA was set for adventure and glory. Their past came to terms with them. They knew about the "mio Cid Campeador's chivalry; their great great great grandparents were subjugated by the moors and Columbus epic sail was as fresh as the first man on the moon for our own times. In few words, they lived their own times and became immortals as Alexander or King Tutankhamen did.