The Spanish had little respect for Indian culture. As soon as their boots hit the ground, they set about subverting and destroying every aspect of the Indian way of life. The Aztecs attempted to befriend the Spanish explorers, but when Hernan Cortez heard his capitol of Vera Cruz had been plundered, he capture and killed their leader Montezuma II. The Incas didn’t fare any better. Francisco Pizarro, driven mad with greed, kidnapped the Incan king, Atahualpa and forced his people to pay an outrageous ransom of gold before executing him. Soon after these tragic events, the Spanish set up encomienda, a system of government similar to the feudal system of the middle ages. Under this system, Spanish military commanders were granted land on which several Indian tribes lived. They forced these indigenous people to convert to Christianity, work in the gold and silver mines, and pay tribute for the protection of their homes. The natives of South America had little hope of fighting off these foreign invaders. When the Spanish arrived, they brought with them all of the technological advances of their homeland. The Aztecs and Incas had wood, stone, and bone weapons, the Spanish had steel and gunpowder. One Spanish priest said, “Gunpowder frightens the most valiant and courageous Indian and renders him slave to the white man’s command.” The only domesticated animals the Aztecs and Incas had seen was the dog.
The Spanish brought horses. A mounted warrior was something the Indians had no experience dealing with and it frightened them greatly. The Spanish plundered their way through South America, destroying every important cultural artifact they came across. Virtually nothing remains of the religious writings and histories of these rich cultures. The wealth plundered from South America by the Spanish, made them extremely rich and powerful. Shipments of gold were regularly taken back home. Some ships carried as much as $15,000,000 worth of gold at one time. This made Spanish ships a target for piracy. To combat this, the Spanish invested much of their wealth into an armada. The Spanish armada was the most feared naval unit of its time. The Spanish set up smaller colonies in North America. Most of these were situated along the East Coast and were nothing more than black markets for pirate booty. Some Spanish explorers, like Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, made it all the way to the Grand Canyon. They were most likely the first European explorers to see it. In the end, these colonies were used as a barrier of protection for Spanish gold interest in the south. Because of the enormous wealth gained from the rich natural resources of the new world, the Spanish would be very reluctant to let their territory go. As powerful as the Spanish empire became, it would soon meet with hardship and eventually disaster.
The English and French understood the value of setting up an extensive trade network with the natives. The Spanish thought converting them to Christianity was more important, and this decision would come back to haunt them. The English dispatched privateers like Francis Drake to attack Spanish ships carrying shipments of gold. While reluctant to declare war on Spain, England had no problem funding terrorist like attacks against their shipping industry. This outraged this Spanish King Phillip, and he promptly dispatched his armada to attack the English criminals. The English destroyed his armada and subsequently gained dominance in the Atlantic and eventually in the Caribbean. With their armada destroyed and no trade network in the Americas, the Spanish slowly lost their grip on their once mighty empire.