Francisco de Orellana

Spanish Soldier & Explorer

Born: c. 1490

Died: 1546

Orellana assisted Francisco Pizarro in the conquest of Peru in 1535. In 1540-41, he was lieutenant to Gonzalo Pizarro in an expedition into the unknown regions East of Quito across the Andes Mountains to look for gold, silver, and cinnamon. After a long and difficult crossing of the Andes in 1541, the expedition spent six weeks crossing the vast dense jungle to reach the Napo River. The men were starving and weak, so Gonzalo sent Orellana down the river with a few men to look for provisions.

The Napo river led them to the Amazon River, through present day Ecuador and Peru. Orellana, claiming that he was unable to return upstream to Gonzao and the rest of the waiting men, then proceeded to navigate the entire Amazon River. For eight months, and with only 50 men in a fragile boat they had constructed themselves, they sailed down the great river, al the while enduring heavy attacks from the indigenous tribes. Orellana and his men finally reached the mouth of the Amazon at the Atlantic Ocean. It is said that Orellana named the river after an attack by a tribe in which women, like the Amazon warriors of Greek mythology, were fighting alongside men.

After reaching the Atlantic Ocean, Orellana traveled north up the South American coast and eventually sailed back to Spain. He reported of the female warriors and the great hoards of gold and cinnamon that he had found in South America. He was given permission to exploit the lands that he had helped to discover, but his return trip to the Amazon in 1544 was a complete and total disaster. Men and ships were lost on the passage to South America and Orellana himself was drowned when his own vessel capsized near the mouth of the Amazon.

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