THE MINERAL WEALTH OF THE ANDES
At this period of the world’s
progress, when so many marvellous inventions are taking
place, one can scarcely realize the intense interest
that was awakened by the first discoveries made in
the New World. So great was the excitement that
the most improbable stories were readily believed.
There were fountains of perpetual
youth, Amazonian warriors, mighty giants, and rivers
whose beds sparkled with gems and golden pebbles.
The reports of every returning adventurer, whatever
had been his luck, were tinged with the marvellous.
In fact, a world of romance was now open to all and
the opportunities to achieve fame and fortune were
numberless. The first in the field stood the
best chance to win the choicest prizes. Stories
that outrivalled the Arabian Nights clouded the realm
So extraordinary were the accounts
that many of the cities of Spain were depleted of
their most energetic men. Every craft that could
sail the seas was called into use, and the building
of new vessels was hastened to completion in order
to provide for the needs of adventurous prospectors
and would-be explorers.
The conquest of the Aztec Empire,
with its millions of treasure, by Cortez had already
proved the valiancy of Spanish cavaliers. To add
to this, the conquest of the Incas by Pizarro and
his followers was regarded a miracle of divine interposition.
As a result, Spanish galleons laden
with treasure from the conquered countries ploughed
the seas, and untold wealth poured into private and
royal coffers. Spanish ambition and greed for
gold knew no bounds. Cunning and cruelty were
employed by the Spaniards to secure their ends.
No trials, no hardships were too great for them to
endure. No perils daunted them. Western
South America, ruled by viceroys for nearly three
centuries, brought to Spain its greatest wealth.
One-fifth of all the wealth and treasure acquired
was reserved for the crown.
When Pizarro first visited the interior
of Peru he found an empire well advanced in the arts
of civilization. Its temples within and without
were richly decorated with gold. There were thousands
of miles of excellent roads, of which two were used
for military purposes. One of these extended
along the lowlands; the other traversed the grand
plateau. These roads crossed ravines bridged with
solid masonry and were pierced by tunnels cut through
solid rock. The construction of these great roads
was a more wonderful achievement than the building
of the Egyptian pyramids.
The government was systematically
organized and to a certain extent it was both paternal
and communal. Agriculture was skilfully carried
on by means of fertilization and irrigation.
The sun was the chief deity and object
of worship of its people. Their most beautifully
adorned and renowned sanctuary was the Temple of the
Sun at Cuzco. Besides this sacred edifice there
were several hundred inferior temples and places of
worship scattered through the empire, all plentifully
ornamented with gold and silver. Every Inca ruler
was regarded as a descendant of the sun and therefore
a sacred person.
According to the popular belief, gold
consisted of tears wept by the sun and was therefore
a sacred metal suitable for beautifying the palaces
of the Incas and temples of worship. Not only
were the edifices themselves richly adorned with this
precious metal, but the sacred vessels and many of
the articles of furniture were made of the same material.
Silver, also, was much used, but was not considered
sacred. So great was the amount of the precious
metals used that each royal palace and temple was
a veritable mine.
From 1520 to 1525 reports of a rich
empire at the south were circulated among the adventurers
congregated at Panama. At length they were confirmed
in a great measure by travellers who had voyaged southward
along the coast. Francisco Pizarro, a restless
spirit who had been associated with Balboa and others
in discovery and exploration, determining to test
the truth of these reports, made several voyages south.
Finally, he landed on the shores of
Peru with an army of followers who numbered less than
two hundred. He met with but little opposition
from the natives while marching toward the interior,
and although he plundered some of the places through
which he passed, the people received him with marks
In some instances towns of several
thousand population were deserted on the approach
of the Spaniards, so great was the terror inspired
by the white men, especially by those on horseback.
At first it was the policy of the invaders to treat
the natives with kindness in order to accomplish their
purpose, namely, to conquer the Peruvian Empire in
the same manner that Cortez had conquered the Aztecs.
They were accompanied by two of the natives who previously
had been taken to Spain and taught the Spanish language.
By this means the Spaniards were able to communicate
with the people.
Learning that the Inca ruler, Atahuallpa,
was encamped with his army among the mountains, Pizarro
sent an embassy to request a meeting with him.
It was agreed that they meet at Caxamalca, a strongly
fortified city among the sierras. On arriving
at the city, the Spaniards found it evacuated.
Soon after taking up their quarters there, Atahuallpa
arrived and established his camp a short distance
outside the city.
Pizarro at once sent word to Atahuallpa
to come into the city and sup with him, but asked
that, in order to show his faith in the white men
and his own good intentions, he should leave all weapons
behind. After much persuasion Atahuallpa accepted
the invitation and entered the city, with several
thousand of his followers, unarmed.
When fairly within the enclosure,
a priest approaching the Inca ruler made a harangue
about Christianity and demanded that he should submit
to the authority of the Spanish king.
“By what authority do you demand
such submission?” replied the monarch with flashing
“By this holy book which I hold
in my hand,” answered the priest.
Then snatching the volume from the
hand of the priest, Atahuallpa scornfully threw it
on the ground, saying, “What right have you in
my country? I will call you and your companions
to an account for the indignities heaped upon me.”
Picking up the book, the priest forthwith
went to Pizarro and reported the conduct of the Inca,
saying, “It is useless to talk to this dog.
At them at once; I absolve you.”
Immediately Pizarro raised his handkerchief
for the preconcerted signal, the firing of a gun.
Thereupon his soldiers, infantry and cavalry, rushed
from their places of concealment upon the defenceless
Indians, slaughtering them unmercifully right and left.
The discharge of the arquebuses
and cannon, with their smoke, and the charge of the
cavalry paralyzed the unsuspecting natives, and the
attack became a horrible massacre. Not until
thousands of the Indians had been killed and the Inca
ruler had been captured did darkness cause the Spaniards
to desist from their bloody work. So sudden and
terrible had been the onslaught that the haughty monarch
himself seemed stunned by the effect.
Realizing the irresistible power of
the white men with their wonderful weapons and horses,
the natives gave up for a time all thoughts of resistance.
In fact, they regarded the Spaniards as superior beings
endowed with preternatural gifts.
When the ruler had been kept a prisoner
several months, he desired to regain his freedom.
By this time he realized the Spaniards’ thirst
for gold, and therefore promised to fill the room
in which he was confined with it as high as he could
reach, and twice to fill an adjoining room with silver,
if they would release him.
Pizarro agreed to this proposal; Atahuallpa
thereupon sent out messengers to all parts of his
empire requesting that the metals in the shape of
utensils and ornaments be collected from the royal
palaces, temples, and elsewhere and brought to Caxamalca.
On account of the difficulty of transportation,
since all the treasure had to be carried on the backs
of the natives, many months elapsed before the collections
could be made.
When fifteen and one-half million
dollars’ worth of gold and a large amount of
silver had been delivered at Caxamalca, Pizarro excused
the imprisoned ruler from further contributions.
At this juncture of affairs Almagro, a co-partner
in the Peruvian expedition, arrived on the scene with
a strong reinforcement.
On learning of the immense amount
of gold and silver collected, the followers of both
leaders loudly clamored for its distribution among
them, and, taking out the royal fifth part, the remainder
was divided according to the rank and service rendered.
Then came rumors of an uprising among the natives
and of the collection of an army to drive out the
invaders, but on investigation these reports were found
to be false.
The question then uppermost in the
minds of the Spanish leaders was the disposition of
the royal prisoner. It was thought that, were
he released according to promise, the natives might
rally around him and demand the expulsion of the intruders.
So it was decided to make charges against him and
to have at least the form of a trial in order to give
an appearance of justice to the proceedings.
Twelve charges were made against Atahuallpa,
nearly all of which were far-fetched and absolutely
false. He was found guilty and condemned to death
by burning; but at the last moment, when he was chained
to a stake and the torch was ready to be applied,
the priest in attendance promised that the sentence
should be commuted to the easier death by the garrote
if he would renounce his idolatry and embrace Christianity.
He assented to the proposal, and immediately the modified
sentence was carried out. It is not necessary
to add that the execution of the Peruvian monarch
was the darkest stain on the pages of Spanish colonial
history. From this time on the conduct of the
Spanish invaders was marked by a most inhuman cruelty
toward the natives.
Thinking that he could more easily
govern the empire through a native ruler subservient
to himself, Pizarro placed Manco, the true heir, on
the Peruvian throne. In the meantime, however,
parts of the empire rebelled against the new ruler
and the Spanish usurpers. Then, when the rebellious
tribes had been brought back to their former allegiance,
the Spanish leaders quarrelled and fought among themselves.
It was not long before the arrogant
and cruel conduct of the Spaniards alienated all friendship
on the part of both ruler and his subjects. Manco
broke from his masters and, aided by his people, raised
the standard of rebellion, determining to make a last
supreme effort to rid his subjects of the incubus
that was sapping the life of the country.
After many bloody encounters in which
both sides sustained severe losses, Manco was killed
and the Spanish yoke was firmly fixed on the neck
of the people, who for the greater part were consigned
to a most inhuman slavery. Thousands perished
by the brutal treatment inflicted upon them in the
In the course of time Indian slavery
was abolished in a great measure by royal proclamation;
nevertheless, Spain continued to rule this land for
three hundred years before the oppressive yoke was
cast off by a successful uprising. It is a pleasure
to know that many of the Spanish leaders who were
guilty of this heartless cruelty suffered violent
deaths in quarrels among themselves or in rebellion
against the crown of Spain.
During the period of Spanish rule
an immense revenue accrued from working the rich silver
mines. Those that filled the Spanish treasure
ships so eagerly sought by buccaneers were the mines
of Potosi. These silver lodes, extensively worked
through Indian slave labor by Hernando and Gonzalo
Pizarro, brothers of Francisco Pizarro, were discovered
So rich did the lodes prove to be
that the city of Potosi sprang up near them and was
supported by them, although the site was far from being
desirable. Its altitude is about thirteen thousand
feet, and it is, therefore, the highest city in the
world. It is situated on the bleak side of the
Andes, from whose snow-clad peaks cold, piercing winds
sweep down over the city. Towering above it is
a mountain, honeycombed with shafts, tunnels, and
drifts, from which has been taken silver to the value
of two billion dollars.
At first it was thought that a location
so high above sea level would be unhabitable, but
the immense wealth of the silver lodes required many
workmen for their development, and these laborers had
to be housed and fed.
At the zenith of its prosperity Potosi
possessed one hundred seventy thousand inhabitants,
and had the distinction of being the largest city
in the New World during the first two centuries of
its existence. A mint built in 1562, at the expense
of over a million dollars, is long since unused.
A splendid granite cathedral ornamented with beautiful
statuary still attests to the former grandeur of the
Some of the richest veins of silver
ore in the Potosi mines have been worked out and many
mines have been allowed to become filled with water.
These conditions, coupled with the low price of silver
for many years, have caused the population of the
city to dwindle until now there are scarcely more
than ten thousand inhabitants and very many of the
buildings are in ruins. These mines have produced
twenty-seven thousand tons of silver since their discovery,
and at the present day many of them are yielding large
The Bolivian plateau is one vast mineral
bed abounding in rich mines of copper, tin, silver,
and gold. In Bolivia alone there are upward of
two thousand silver mines; while some of the richest
tin mines in the world are found here. Lodes
of pure tin several feet in width have been followed
down six hundred feet. Tin mines were recently
discovered among the mountains thirteen thousand five
hundred feet above the level of the sea, near the
shores of Lake Titicaca.
Two railroads now reach this high
plateau, one from the seaport town of Antofagasta,
Chile, to Oruro, Bolivia; the other from Molendo, Peru,
to Puño, on Lake Titicaca. The most wonderful
railroad in the world and the most costly in its construction,
the Oroya Railroad is about one hundred fifty
miles long. It begins at Callao, Peru, and ends
at Oroya. The highest point reached by it
in crossing the Andes is fifteen thousand six hundred
and sixty-five feet. It is said that seven thousand
lives were lost in its construction. Much of
the road-bed was blasted through solid rock on the
sides of the mountains. The cost of construction
was about three hundred thousand dollars per mile.
It has seventy-eight tunnels, the longest being the
Gallera tunnel, which pierces Mount Meiggs at the
altitude of fifteen thousand six hundred and sixty-five
feet. This is the highest place in the world where
steam is used as a motive power. Ultimately the
road is to be extended to the celebrated mines of
Cerro de Pasco, fifty-one miles beyond its present
The chief business of these railroads
extending into the Andes is carrying ore, bullion,
and wool. Their construction marks the acme of
engineering skill; the scenery along them surpasses
that of all other regions in its wild ruggedness,
grandeur, and sublimity.
In ascending to such great heights
quickly one not accustomed to high elevations is apt
to experience dizziness, headache, and nausea.
At first even the effort to talk on reaching these
lofty places by train is laborious. Dogs taken
from the lowlands to these elevations are unable to
run with speed for a long time, but those which are
born and reared in this region easily pursue wild
When the New World was discovered
the llama was the only animal used there as a beast
of burden. Thousands of these diminutive creatures
are still used for transporting ore and bullion in
the Andes. Each animal can carry a load of seventy-five
pounds or more. This sure-footed animal can travel
with its load about fourteen miles a day.
Lake Titicaca is one of the famous
lakes of the world. Its name means tin-stone
and was doubtless derived from the tin ore found in
the vicinity. The lake has an elevation of twelve
thousand five hundred and fifty feet, and although
nine streams run into it, only one, the Desaguadero,
flows out, carrying its waters to Lake Poopo, a small
body of salt water nearly three hundred miles south.
Lake Titicaca has the same surface level both summer
and winter. The outflow never reaches the sea;
it is lost by evaporation mainly in Lake Poopo, but
the latter frequently overflows into the salt marshes
lying to the southward.
Though thin ice may be found in the
quiet bays and inlets nearly every morning during
the year, the expanse of the lake is never frozen even
in the severest weather. A peculiarity about
the lake is that not only will iron not rust when
left in its waters, but that which was before rusted
soon loses its scales of rust after being immersed
a few days.
Several steamers ply on the lake carrying
chiefly ore and wool. Some of the islands in
the lake are inhabited by Indians who eke out a precarious
A civilization antedating that of
the Incas formerly occupied the region about the lake,
as is proved by the remarkable ruins along the shores
concerning which the natives told the early Spaniards
that they had no record. Three square miles are
covered by these ruins, whose walls were made of immense
blocks of stone most accurately fitted together, thus
giving evidence of the great skill in stone-cutting
possessed by the pre-Inca people.
The Inca rulers had beautiful palaces
and other edifices on some of the islands. Titicaca
Island was regarded as sacred, and at the time of the
Spanish conquest was the site of a large temple richly
ornamented with gold and silver.
Prospecting in the Andes is attended
with great hardships. Few wild animals can be
found to furnish food. Food and utensils must
be carried on the backs of men, and the greatest difficulty
is experienced in traversing the almost inaccessible
steeps and deep ravines.
Coal of inferior quality has been
found near the shores of Lake Titicaca and is used
by the steamers sailing on its waters. Many rich
mineral lodes yet remain undiscovered, and a vast
number of valuable mines languish for lack of capital
to develop them. Frequent revolutions and the
insecurity of private property prevent the investment
of foreign capital.
The Andes will continue to be a great
storehouse of minerals for many years to come.
Muffling the feet of the Peruvian
Andes is a long narrow strip drifting dunes
of rock waste known as the Atacama Desert.
In comparison with this awful desert, the Sahara is
said to be a botanical garden. Here during a
part of the year a fierce, relentless sun pours down
its burning rays on the shifting sands, keeping the
air at a scorching heat both day and night. Formerly
the region belonged to Bolivia, but it was annexed
to Chile as a result of the war of 1881.
For miles and miles not a blade of
grass, not a tree, not a shrub is to be seen.
All around is a bleak, barren waste destitute of water.
Yet underneath these sands lie concealed immense deposits
of “nitrates” of untold wealth.
Although small quantities of the nitrates
had been sent to Europe for chemical purposes chiefly
the manufacture of gunpowder no considerable
amount was exported until a fortuitous discovery was
made by a Scotchman named George Smith. After
wandering over the world for some time Smith settled
down in a little village near Iquique, where he had
a small garden containing fruit-trees and flowers.
In one part of his garden he noticed that the plants
grew best where the soil contained a white substance.
He then proceeded to gather a quantity
of the material and to experiment with it. To
his surprise he found that a mere handful of it greatly
stimulated the growth of plants. He told a member
of his family in Scotland who was engaged in fruit-growing
about the wonderful effects of the material as a fertilizer.
As a result several bags of nitrates were distributed
among Scottish farmers and fruit-growers. So satisfactory
did the fertilizer prove that an immediate call was
made for more of it. Thus began a business which
now yields the owners of the beds one hundred million
It was soon found out that the nitrate
in its raw state contained properties that were injurious
to plants and that these should be first eliminated.
Forthwith reduction works were established to extract
the deleterious substances. These substances
were mainly iodine and bromine, two chemical elements
that are of greater value than the nitrates themselves.
Within a few years railroads were built to transport
the nitrates from the beds to the various ports where
the reduction factories were erected.
Many men who had large interests in
the nitrate beds became immensely wealthy in a short
time. The great value of the deposits caused towns
and cities to spring up along the coast in the most
inhospitable places, to some of which water was piped
a distance of more than two hundred miles and at the
cost of many millions of dollars.
The principal nitrate beds are in
a shallow valley, four or five thousand feet above
sea level, lying between a long range of hills and
the base of the Andes. Just how these mineral
deposits were formed it is difficult to explain, the
most plausible theory being that this desert was once
the bottom of an inland sea having vast quantities
of seaweed covered with sand. In the gradual
decay of this substance the nitrate of soda, or “Chile
saltpetre,” was formed.
To obtain the nitrates it is necessary
first to remove the top layer of sand and then a layer
of clay. Underneath this is found a layer of soft,
whitish material called “nitrate.”
The crude nitrate is sent to the nitrate ports to
be crushed and boiled in sea-water. After boiling,
the solution is drawn off into shallow vessels and
exposed to the heat of the sun to evaporate.
When nearly all has been evaporated
and the remaining liquid drawn off, the bottom and
sides of the vessels are found to be covered with
sparkling white crystals. This is the saltpetre
of commerce, the highest grade of which is used in
the manufacture of gunpowder, the second grade for
chemical purposes, and the third grade, the great bulk,
for fertilizing the exhausted soils of Europe.
The liquid drawn off is crystallized
by chemical treatment and further evaporation, and
from it is obtained iodine, an ounce of which is worth
as much as one hundred pounds of saltpetre. From
eighty to one hundred million dollars’ worth
of these nitrates are dug out and sold each year.
Great Britain takes about one-third of the entire product
and Germany one-fifth.
Iquique has the largest shipping trade.
From this port about fifty million dollars’
worth of nitrates and three million dollars’
worth of iodine are exported yearly.