15 Brutal Ways Conquistadors Killed Native People

Spanish conquistadors fought and explored their way through the Americas in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. In their wake, they left destroyed empires and millions of lives lost. But beyond the pure number of people slain, what is most disturbing are the horrific ways conquistadors murdered the native population. 

While the ways conquistadors killed people were no doubt brutal, many historians argue that some of the most extreme elements may have been exaggerated as part of an anti-Spanish smear campaign known as the Black Legend. Nonetheless, there is no doubt among historians that the Spanish conquistadors ruthlessly slaughtered millions of native people.


  • They Vowed To Spare An Inca Ruler For Converting To Christianity, Then Ended Him Anyway

    In 1533, Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro captured the Inca leader Atahualpa. In order to save his own life, Atahualpa promised to fill a 24-foot-long, 18-foot-wide, and 8-foot-tall room with gold (and then double that amount in silver). Pizarro quickly accepted the deal. 

    But as the riches were slowly delivered over the next two months, the Spanish conquistadors grew paranoid that it was a trick, so Pizarro sentenced Atahualpa to be burned alive.

    But Atahualpa knew Pizarro would never burn a Christian, so he converted. This worked - and the conquistadors garroted him instead. 

  • They Gathered Aztec Nobles In A Courtyard, Then Ended Them All

    In 1519, Aztec nobles, priests, and leaders were led into a courtyard in the city of Cholula. Then conquistadors, under the orders of Hernan Cortes, attacked and slaughtered the unarmed crowd

    Soon thereafter, the city itself was attacked by Tlaxcalan soldiers. The Tlaxcalans were longtime enemies of the Aztecs, and allied with the Spanish against them. 

    In the end, thousands of Cholulans were ended, and Cholula, one of the key cities of the Aztec Empire, was left in ruins. 

  • They Fed Native People To Dogs

    They Fed Native People To Dogs
    Photo: Johannes Gysius 1620 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In his book Devastation of the Indies, Fray Bartolome de Las Casas wrote about conquistadors training dogs to attack natives: 

    The Spaniards train their fierce dogs to attack, kill and tear to pieces the Indians... The Spaniards keep alive their dogs' appetite for human beings in this way. They have Indians brought to them in chains, then unleash the dogs. The Indians come meekly down the roads and are killed. And the Spaniards have butcher shops where the corpses of Indians are hung up, on display, and someone will come in and say, more or less,"Give me a quarter of that rascal hanging there, to feed my dogs until I can kill another one for them."

  • They Devised A Way To Hang Natives And Burn Them Alive Simultaneously

    They Devised A Way To Hang Natives And Burn Them Alive Simultaneously
    Photo: Joos van Winghe/Theodor de Bry / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The conquistadors often devised ways to make the demise of native peoples as elaborate and painful as possible. In the book American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World, Las Casas is quoted as saying: 

    They built a long gibbet, low enough for the toes to touch the ground and prevent strangling, and hanged thirteen [natives] at a time in honor of Christ Our Saviour and the twelve Apostles... 

    Then, once the natives were near their end, "straw was wrapped around their torn bodies and they were burned alive."