One of the most daring of the Spanish explorers was Hernando Cortes. In 1519, with a force of about five hundred Spaniards, nearly three hundred Indians, and sixteen horses, he set out from Cuba for the conquest of Mexico. Reports had reached him of a civilized Aztec nation possessed of great wealth, especially gold and silver.
Cortes landed near Veracruz, and traveled toward the Aztec city of Mexico. Since he had come from the ocean with the aid of “white wings” (the ship’s sails) the Aztecs at first considered him a god. He proceeded inland toward Mexico city and gained entrance to the capital, where Montezuma ruled as “emperor.”
Even though Cortes received great quantities of gold and silver, he imprisoned Montezuma, and after desperate fighting, subdued the Aztecs and made Mexico a Spanish province.
The successful conquest of Mexico, with its rich reward, stirred other adventurers to similar undertakings. Pizarro had accompanied Balboa across the isthmus to the Pacific Ocean and had learned of the great wealth of the Indians to the south. After much delay and many disappointments, Pizarro in 1532 led an expedition southward along the west coast of South America. He traveled hundreds of miles through the Andes Mountains to the settlements of the Peruvian Indians called the Incas.
The Inca, as the ruler of these Indians was known, was taken prisoner and cruelly murdered, even though he paid as ransom for his freedom a roomful of gold worth about $15,000,000; and Peru, like Mexico, became a part of the Spanish colonial empire.