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The Araucanian Indians of Chile were the stiffest necked Indians in South America. The Spaniards never subdued them and the Chilean Government had its own troubles with them. After battling the Peruvians and Bolivians in the north in the War of the Pacific, the Chilean military turned to engaging the Araucanians in the south. The final defeat of the Mapuche in 1882 opened up the southern third of the national territory to wealthy Chileans who quickly carved out immense estates. No homestead act or legion of family farmers stood in their way, although a few middle-class and immigrant agriculturalists moved in. Some Mapuche fled over the border to Argentina. The army herded those who remained onto tribal reservations in 1884, where they would remain mired in poverty for generations. The census of 1907 gave the total number of Araucanian Indians as 49,719 men and 51,399 women. Like the far north, these southern provinces would become stalwarts of national reform movements, critical of the excessive concentration of power and wealth in and around Santiago.

Araucana is a rich and fertile province, extending from the Biobio to the Callacalla, generally very woody, full of hills, and well watered. The inhabitants are hardy, brave, and passionately fond of liberty: they have never yet been subdued, having equally resisted the armies of the Incas, and those of the Spaniards. It has been their fortune to have a poet in the person of Ercilla, among their enemies, who has done justice to their valour, and preserved the memory of their very singular customs and polity, of which he was an eye-witness, having taken a distinguished part in most of the battles he described.

The Incas of Peru, at the period of their greatest power (1450-1533), subdued a few of the northern branches of the Araucanians, but at the time of the Spanish conquest their dominion was not firmly established. At the time the Spanish arrived, a variety of Amerindian societies inhabited what is now Chile. No elaborate, centralized, sedentary civilization reigned supreme, even though the Inca Empire had penetrated the northern land of the future state. As the Spaniards would after them, the Incas encountered fierce resistance from the indigenous Araucanians, particularly the Mapuche tribe, and so did not exert control in the south. During their attempts at conquest in 1460 and 1491, the Incas established forts in the Central Valley of Chile, but they could not colonize the region. In the north, the Incas were able to collect tribute from small groups of fishermen and oasis farmers but were not able to establish a strong cultural presence.

As soon as the Incas in Peru had been overwhelmed, Almagro gathered a force for the conquest of Chile, and in 1535 started south. He spent two years and a half in the country, but, encountering little success, withdrew to Peru in 1538. In 1540 Valdivia led a second expedition into the Araucanian territory, and began the real conquest of Chile. He founded Santiago in 1541, Concepcion in 1550, and Valdivia in 1553, and thus secured, after much hard fighting, a permanent hold on the country.

Between the first foundation of Conception, 1550, and its destruction in 1554, the activity of Valdivia had founded Imperial on the river, which forms a port at the very walls of the city, which, during the short period of its existence, was the richest city in Chile; Villarica, on the banks of the lake Lauquen; Valdivia on the Callacalla which commands the most beautiful and commodious harbour of the Pacific: Angol, or the City of the Frontiers; and had built the fortresses of Puren, Tucapel, and Arauco, the two latter of which were quickly destroyed by the Cacique Caupolican, who by the assistance of Lautaro, a young hero of his nation, overcame the Spaniards in a great battle, in which Valdivia was taken and put to death.

Lautaro had been taken prisoner by Valdivia, who educated him, and made him his page. He seemed attached to his conqueror, and had never evinced a desire to join his countrymen, till, seeing them routed in battle, and flying before the Spanish artillery, he was seized with shame, stripped off his European garments, ran towards his countrymen, and calling on them in the name of their country to follow him, led them on to that victory which was confirmed by the death of Valdivia. From that day he became their principal leader. Villagran, who succeeded to Valdivia, immediately evacuated Conception, which was burned to the ground by Lautaro; but the smallpox having appeared among the Araucanians, the Spaniards took advantage of the distress occasioned by that dreadful malady, and rebuilt Conception, 1555.

Lautaro, however, immediately attacked the new colonists, once more destroyed their city, and marched directly towards Santiago. On the road, however, he was met by Villagran, whom a spy had conducted by a secret path to the sea shore, where the Araucanians had halted in a pass between a high hill and the ocean. He came upon them at day-light, and just as Lautaro, having watched during the night, had retired to rest. Lautaro, who ran to the front of his army as soon as he heard the approach of the enemy, received an arrow through his heart ere he could give directions for the fight; but his people perished to a man; and their enemies record their unshaken valour, and the virtues of the young hero, who, dying in his nineteenth year, has left a name pre-eminent in the history of patriotism.

After the death of Lautaro, Conception was rebuilt, Canete founded, and the Archipelago of Chiloe discovered by the Spaniards. Ercilla accompanied the discoverers, and inscribed some verses on a tree, recording his name and the date of the discovery, January 31st, 1558; and on the return from Chiloe, the city of Osorno was built.

At this period the Araucana of Ercilla closes; the poem having extended to the events of nine years, the time of the poet's service in the South American army. He then returned to Spain, and was employed in the European wars of Philip II. The continuation of the poem by Osorio is far from possessing equal merit with that of Ercilla: it extends no farther than the death of the second cacique (called Caupolican), the temporary subjugation of Araucana, and the disappearance of its chiefs.

The news of a threatened attack by the chiefs Lientur and Putapichion drew the governor Laso de la Vega to Arauco. Upon a little hill called Petaco, he reviewed the Spanish army, which consisted of 800 Spaniards and 600 Friendlies. These latter, who carried pikes, were dismounted so as to support the Spanish infantry. As the Araucanian masses, 2,000 infantry and 6,000 horsemen, came on in all the majesty of graceful nodding plumes and lances, 40 palms in length, they were charged by the Spanish cavalry. Although the arquebusmen were at the same time firing heavily upon the Indians, this charge produced no impression and the Spanish cavalry retired. At this critical moment, the governor put himself at the head of his reserve, some 150 men, and suddenly attacked the enemy. The Spanish cavalry again charged with fresh vigour and enthusiasm. The Indian masses hesitated, attempted to retire, were thrown into confusion by some small marshes in their rear, and finally broke and fled in all directions. The cavalry pursued and pitilessly cut down the fugitives. Of these 812 are said to have been killed, and 580 taken prisoners. This battle of Albarrada (13th January 1631) re-established Spanish prestige, and for some years kept the Araucanians in comparative tranquillity. During the few years that followed, incessant attempts were made by the governor or his officers to subdue the Indians. In each of them a few Indians were killed; numbers of women and children were captured, and made slaves, quantities of cattle and horses were taken, and the crops were destroyed, but no permanent subjugation of the country was effected.

While the Spanish governors were engaged in invading Tucuman, and building the towns of Mendoza and San Juan, beyond the Andes, the Araucanians were silently preparing for new wars, and, ere they were expected, sallied from their woods and destroyed the flourishing town of Caiiete, which was however rebuilt (1665) by the younger Villagran, who had succeeded his father in the government. The next year Ruiz Gamboa was sent to take possession of Chiloe, and founded the city of Castro and the port of Chacao.

Meantime, the long continuance of the war in so important a province as Chile, and the consideration of the great inconvenience of applying to Peru in all cases of civil and criminal jurisdiction, induced Philip II to establish a court of audience at Conception; but the court, arrogating to itself military as well as civil authority, was soon discovered to be worse than useless, and was therefore suppressed in 1575. There had been a suspension of hostilities between the Spaniards and Chilenos for nearly four years, owing, in great measure, to the effects of an earthquake, which had laid waste a great part of the country; but the Araucanians had employed the interval in diligently seeking allies among the neighbouring Indians, and had engaged the Pehuenches, a mountain nation, and the Chequillans, the most savage of the Indians, to assist them in resisting the Spaniards; and he same harassing and continued warfare took place which had marked the government of each successive captaingeneral from the time of Valdivia.

The Araucanians were the most important of the Indian tribes living in what is now Chile and the history of the country before 1800 is mainly concerned with the continuous efforts of the Spanish to subjugate this fierce and intelligent nation. The survivors of the pure native stock who maintained their virtual independence are few; in general, the mixture of Araueanian blood with that of the Spanish conquerors gave to the Chilean people its remarkable efficiency in war.

For two hundred and fifty years the history of Chile was the record of slow expansion, through the development of mines and farms, and of almost constant wars with the natives. These were finally forced to sign a treaty in 1773, which, in their weakened condition, they continued to respect.

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Page last modified: 04-12-2012 19:01:41 ZULU