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Arauco War
Guerra Arauco.jpg
Illustration of the Arauco War in Jerónimo de Vivar's book Crónica y relación copiosa y verdadera de los reynos de Chile (1558).
Date1536 – Chilean War of Independence
Result Native victory – Establishment of the Bío-Bío River as frontier, Mapuches are independent until the occupation of the Araucania in 1883.
Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg Kingdom of Chile Mapuche, Huilliche Pehuenche and Picunche warriors
Commanders and leaders

Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg Pedro de Valdivia¤
Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg Francisco de Villagra
Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg García Hurtado de Mendoza
Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg Pedro de Villagra

Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg García Óñez de Loyola
Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg Alonso García de Ramón
Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg Alonso de Ribera
Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg Francisco Laso de la Vega
Lautaro flag.svg Lautaro
Casualties and losses
30,000-42,000 Spanish1
60,000 Indian auxiliaries
1 About half of the Spanish died by direct consequences of the war. Casualties as estimated in 1664 by Spanish

The Arauco War was a long-running conflict between colonial Spaniards and the Mapuche people mostly fought in the Araucanía. After many initial Spanish successes in penetrating Mapuche territory the battle of Curalaba (1598) and the following destruction of the Seven Cities marked a turning point in the war leading to the establishment of a clear frontier between the Spanish domains and the land of the free Mapuche. From the 17th to the late 18th century a series of parliaments were held between royal governors and Mapuche lonkos and the war evolved to sporadic pillaging carried out by Spanish soldiers as well as Mapuches and outlaws. The Chilean War of Independence bought new hostilities to the frontier with different factions of Spaniards, Chileans and Mapuches fighting for independence, royalism or personal gain. Mapuche independence finally ended with the Chilean occupation of Araucanía between 1861 and 1883. The modern Mapuche conflict is partially inspired in the Arauco War.


Spanish conquest

The beginning of the conflict is usually placed at the Battle of Reynogüelén, which occurred in 1536 between an expedition of Diego de Almagro and a well-organized and numerous group of Mapuche soldiers, near the confluence of the Ñuble and Itata rivers.

Campaigns of Pedro de Valdivia (1546–1553)

Pedro de Valdivia

Doña Inés de Suárez in defending the city of Santiago

During the early phase of the Conquest of Chile, the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia conducted a nine-year campaign to secure the city of Santiago, which had been destroyed on September 11, 1541 by the Mapochoes under the direction of their chief, Michimalonco. Valdivia hoped to enlarge the territory under his jurisdiction and, despite injuries from a fall from his horse, resolved to take personal command of a land expedition into Araucanía.

In 1544, sent a naval expedition comprising the barks, San Pedro and Santiaguillo, under the command of Juan Bautista Pastene, to reconnoiter the southwestern coast of South America to the Strait of Magellan. The expedition set sail from Valparaíso, entered the bay of San Pedro, and made landings at what is now known as Concepción and at Valdivia, which was later named in honor of the commander. Encountering severe storms further south, he then returned to Valparaiso.

Valdivia himself set out in 1546, with sixty horsemen plus guides and porters, and crossed the Itata River and were attacked by Mapuche warriors in the Battle of Quilacura near the Bío-Bío River. Realizing that it would be impossible to proceed in such hostile territory with so limited a force, Valdivia elected to return to Santiago after finding a site for a new city at what is now Penco and that would become the first site of Concepción.

Founding of Concepción, Imperial, and Valdivia

In 1550, a new expedition was launched, consisting of a naval force under Pastene, and a land force of two hundred Spaniards mounted and foot and a number of Mapocho auxiliaries under Valdivia. They planned to reunite on the shores of the Bay of Concepción. The expedition advanced beyond the Itata River and Laja River, to the shores of the Bío-Bío River. Along the way they had several battles with groups of Mapuches as they explored the region killing many with little loss to themselves. After spending over a week in the area and encountering increasing opposition, the Spanish marched toward the Sea through the valleys of the Laja and Bío-Bío rivers, towards the coast at Penco. On the banks of the Andalién River, they camped for two days between the river and a lake, where they were attacked on the second night by a large force of Araucanians under their toqui Ainavillo in the Battle of Andalien. The night attack was defeated in a furious battle, the Spaniards suffered one killed and many wounds to men and especially their mounts. After a day treating their wounds they continued towards their rendezvous at the Bay of Concepción.[1][2] There Valdivia began building a fort at what is now Penco. On February 23, Pastene's fleet anchored in the bay, brought supplies, reinforcements and provided materials to finish the fort.[1] On March 1 Valdivia founded here the city of Concepción del Nuevo Extremo. On March 3 of that year, the fort was completed and was attacked nine days later by the largest force of Mapuches yet seen in the Battle of Penco. This force was broken and routed despite the small size of the Spanish forces.[1][3] Despite the resulting submission of the local tribes, Valdivia sent an emissary to the Viceroy of Peru, asking for additional forces; he knew that it would not be possible to complete the conquest of Araucanía with only the forces at his disposal. After reinforcement at Concepción in 1551, he organized another expedition to establish the fort La Imperial on the banks of the Imperial River. He then returned to Concepción to prepare another expedition and await the reinforcements the Viceroy had promised to send by sea. Leaving orders that the new troops should disembark on the Tierras de Valdivia that Pastene had discovered earlier, Valdivia left with two hundred soldiers in the direction of Fort Imperial. Once he had passed it on his way south, he ordered Jerónimo de Alderete to drive inland and establish a fort, with the goal of securing his eastern flank. To this end, Alderente reached Lake Villarrica and established a fort there. Meanwhile, Valdivia's column advanced southwards and joined the reinforcements sent from Peru, under the command of Francisco de Villagra. There, the city of Santa María la Blanca de Valdivia was established. After garrisoning these new places, Valdivia returned to his base at Concepción in 1552 where rich placer gold mines were found in the Quilacoya River valley.

First Great Mapuche Rebellion (1553)

Lautaro and the Battle of Tucapel

With the goal of securing the lines of communication with the southern forts, Valdivia launched a third expedition which established forts at Tucapel, Purén, Confines and Arauco. The Araucanians didn't offer any resistance to the conquistadors in their fort-building. In October 1553, the Quilacoya gold mine was opened and large numbers of Mapuche were forced to work in it. In 1553, the Mapuches held a council at which, because of the growth of Spanish forces in their territory, they resolved to make war. They chose as their "toqui" (wartime chief) a man called Caupolicán and as his vice toqui Lautaro, because he had served as an auxiliary to the Spanish cavalry, his experiences with the Spanish gave him insight into the best methods for fighting the conquistadors.

With six thousand warriors under his command, Lautaro attacked the fort at Tucapel. The Spanish garrison was unable to withstand the assault and retreated to Purén and Lautaro seized and burned the fort and prepared his army certain that the Spaniards would attempt to retake Tucapel. Valdivia, with a reduced force, mounted a counter-attack, but he was quickly surrounded and his army was massacred by the Mapuches in the Battle of Tucapel. This was Pedro de Valdivia's last battle; he was captured and later killed in captivity.[4]

Campaigns of Caupolicán and Lautaro (1554–1557)

Picture from Alonso de Ovalle's Historia de Chile

After the defeat at Tucapel, the Spanish hurriedly reorganized their forces, reinforcing fort Imperial for its defence and abandoning Confines and Arauco in order to strengthen Concepción. However, Araucanian tradition dictated a lengthy victory celebration, which kept Lautaro from exploiting the weakness of the Spanish position as he desired. It was only in February 1554 that he succeeded in putting together an army of 8,000 men, just in time to confront a punitive expedition under the command of Francisco de Villagra at the Battle of Marihueñu. Despite this new victory, Lautaro was again unable to pursue the opportunity due to the celebrations and beliefs of his people. By the time he arrived at Concepción, it was already abandoned. After burning it, he could not continue the offensive with his remaining forces, and the campaign came to an end as the warriors demobilized.

In Santiago, Villagra reorganized his forces, and that same year of 1554, he departed again for Arauco and reinforced the strongholds of Imperial and Valdivia, which allowed the garrisons and their Indian friends to make many raids on the surrounding Mapuche settlements, burning houses and fields and killing all they found. Resulting devastation produced a famine and an epidemic among the hostile Mapuche around those cities.[5] Meanwhile, in the north during 1554, news of the victories of Lautauro lead to uprisings by the previously subdued Promaucaes in the valley of the Mataquito River and the Picunche in the valley of the Aconcagua River but these were put down.[6]

In 1555, the Real Audiencia in Lima, ordered Villagra to reconstruct Concepción, which was accomplished by Capitan Alvarado and 75 colonists. When he learned that it was being rebuilt, Lautaro again attacked Concepción with 4,000 warriors. Alvarado attempted to defeat Lautaro's army outside the city then fled to the city pursued by Lautaro's army. Only 38 Spaniards managed to escape by sea from this second destruction of the city. Following this victory in 1556, the Promauces sent a message to the Mapuche of Arauco promising food to support their army and warriors to join it in a war against the Spanish in Santiago.[7]

Lautaro's campaigns against Santiago

After his victories in the south and the messages promising support from the north, Lautaro planned an assault on Santiago. With the ravages of the recent epidemic and the needs of the campaign against the Spanish still occupying cities within Mapuche territory still going on, he was not able to draw many troops from the main Mapuche army for his campaign to the north.[8] He had to rely on recruiting warriors among the people north of the Bio Bio River among subjugated Mapuche and the Promaucaes north of the Itata River, who were now inspired by the previous successes of Lautaro to revolt again. But when he entered the places subject to Santiago, he began taking reprisals against the Promaucaes who refused to join him, doing great damage and depopulating the land. The refugees fled to the city for aid and protection.[9] In October 1556 he reached the Mataquito River in his northward march. There he built a fortified camp near Teno in a place called Peteroa as a base of operations against Santiago. Lautaro ambushed a first probe by a small Spanish force from Santiago. A larger force under Pedro de Villagra later attacked the fortress at Peteroa over several days but were not able to take it and were forced away by flooding. However, with unfavorable losses and more Spaniards coming to Villagra's support, Lautaro retreated towards the Maule River hoping to establish himself there. However, the Spanish cavalry of Juan Godíñez pursued to the Maule River cutting down stragglers and one of Lautaro's detachments was cut to pieces. Lautaro's army gave them the slip, but was forced to fall back beyond the Itata River. Captain Gudiñez returned victorious from this pursuit and put great fear into the Promaucaes by punishing them with destruction of their herds, fields and houses and by cutting off some heads, as a lesson not to call upon the Mapuche army or give aid to them.[10]

In January 1557, Francisco de Villagra danced south to aid the remaining cities against the Mapuche army led by Caupolicán. Informed by his allies the city of Santiago was now relatively unprotected, Lautaro evaded Villagra, letting him pass to the south while he marched again toward Santiago with a new army including allies under Panigualgo.[9] However Lautaro's mistreatment of the intimidated local Indians to extract provisions had created dissension among his allies. His allies separated from him after the army reached the Mataquito River at Lora, after a dispute over his actions with an allied leader named Chillan who accused Lautaro of acting like the Spaniards.[11] He moved his remaining army over a league up river and again established a fortified camp on the Mataquito River amid a carrizal at the foot of a wooded hill. However, its location was betrayed to Francisco de Villagra by local Indians previously abused by Lautaro. Villagra sent word to Juan Godíñez near Santiago to meet him as he hurried north. The Spanish forces met without Lautaro being alerted and made a surprise night march over the hills of Caune, to the hill overlooking Lautaro's camp, on the shore of the Mataquito River. On April 29, at dawn Villagra began the Battle of Mataquito with a surprise attack on the camp in which they killed Lautaro and obtained a decisive victory, destroying his army and dispersing his allies.

Campaigns of Caupolicán and García Hurtado de Mendoza

García Hurtado de Mendoza, 5th Marquis of Cañete

After the death of Jerónimo de Alderete in Panama while returning to Chile, García Hurtado de Mendoza was designated the interim governor of Chile in 1557, and immediately sailed south from Peru, this time with a much stronger force than before: 600 soldiers, 6 pieces of artillery, and 1,000 horses. He landed in La Serena and had the rival contenders for the governorship, Francisco de Villagra and Francisco de Aguirre arrested and sent to Peru and put his own men in control of the province. Sending his cavalry by land he sailed south in winter and landed in early June 1557 on the island of La Quiriquina at the mouth of the Bay of Concepción. He ordered a party to land at Penco and reconstruct the fort of Concepción. A Mapuche army attempted to rape the fort but were defeated by artillery and gunfire. After his cavalry and horses arrived overland from Santiago, Mendoza began his advance to the south of the Bio-Bio and another Mapuche army including Galvarino attempted to stop them in the open field in the Battle of Lagunillas but again were defeated after hard fighting and as a result their fortress at Andalicán the gateway to Arauco was left undefended and was captured soon after the battle.

Caupolicán lead the Mapuche unsuccessfully resisting the advance of Hurtado de Mendoza by attacking him from ambush in the Battle of Millarapue. After further fighting near the site of the ruined fortress of Tucapel, Mendoza built the fort and city of Cañete de la Frontera and continued to the south. There he established the city of Osorno and explored southward to the Gulf of Ancud. Attempting to throw off the Spanish occupation Caupolicán attacked the fort of Cañete expecting the gates to be opened by the treachery of a yanacona within but he was betrayed instead and was badly defeated by Captain Alonso de Reinoso. Although he was able to escape immediately after this last battle when Spanish cavalry did not arrive in time to pursue, he was eventually betrayed and captured in the mountains by Pedro de Avendaño, sentenced to death by Alonso de Reinoso and executed by impalement in Cañete. After the death of Caupolicán, García Hurtado de Mendoza thought that they had subjugated the Mapuche. On the contrary, the manner of the death of Caupolicán inspired the Mapuches to continue the struggle with a guerrilla war in which there was no day that some yanaconas or once in a while some encomendero did not die at hands of Mapuches. When the number of missing or dead reached 400 yanaconas and 10 Spaniards, the governor was convinced that he had been mistaken. In Quiapo, the Mapuches under their new toqui Caupolicán the younger constructed a fort that was to stop the forces of Mendoza from marching into Arauco and rebuilding a fort there. Mendoza advanced from Cañete and crushed another Mapuche army at the Battle of Quiapo. After the battle, Hurtado de Mendoza had most of the captured Mapuche executed, but saved Peteguelén, son of Cuyomanque, an important cacique in the Arauco region. Through his help and that of the grateful father, he was able contact and to bring most of the leaders of Arauco and Tucapel to submit to Spanish rule following the reconstruction of the fort in Arauco.[9] Mendoza also founded the city of San Andrés de Angol or Los Infantes not far from the old fort of Confines. In February 1561, Phillip II relieved García Hurtado de Mendoza, replacing him as governor with the victor over Lautaro, Francisco de Villagra. Mendoza left Chile with the belief that he had overcome the Mapuche. He was one of the few governors who obtained a certain degree of success in the War. This success was due to the large numbers of experienced soldiers, equipment and arms that he brought which were not available to the previous conquerors and because the Mapuche did not have a strategist to equal Lautaro. The Mapuches pretended peace, but secretly continued to prepare for a new revolt. Soon after the defeat at Quiapo the surviving leaders gathered and elected Illangulién as the new toqui. With most of the nations warriors dead or wounded and the population decimated by the effects of war, starvation and disease he decided to retreat into the marshes of Lumaco and there gather their strength and train a new generation of warriors for a future revolt. The Mapuche had learned to work iron, use Spanish weapons (including firearms and cannon), ride horses captured from their conquerors and learned better strategies and tactics. The defeats inflicted by Mendoza had made the Mapuche a united people and one committed to renewing the war against the Spanish to recover their freedom.

Second Great Mapuche Rebellion (1561)

Campaigns of Francisco de Villagra

Hostilities resumed with the arrival of Francisco de Villagra to replace Mendoza. It began during the brief interim governorship of Rodrigo de Quiroga with the killing of the hated encomendero and corregidor of Cañete Pedro de Avendaño and two other Spaniards in July 1561 in the valley of Puren. Spanish punitive expeditions from Angol and La Imperial drove the insurgents into the refuge of the Lumaco marshes. However, the news of the killing was spread by the Mapuches and it initiated a new general rising greater than the previous ones. With Villagra's arrival also came its first smallpox epidemic that ravaged the native population of Chile. The toqui of the Arauco region, Millalelmo, with a local army laid siege to Arauco from May 20 to June 30, 1562.[12] At the end of 1562, the Mapuches under a leader named Meuco, had fortified a pucará in the province of Mareguano, three leagues from the city of Los Infantes.[9] Arias Pardo Maldonado destroyed the pucará but he did not gain a complete victory, since most of the Mapuches escaped. Elsewhere the corregidor of Cañete Juan Lazarte was killed at the gates of Cañete trying to recapture mounts stolen by thirty mapuches. The Mapuches reconstructed the pucará near Los Infantes in January 1563, but Pedro de Villagra was sent again to destroy it. Once again the Mapuche rebuilt it, but this time with sections readily accessible to the cavalry, despite suspicions of veteran Spaniards they attacked the location, and many fell into well-disguised pits. There the governor's son, Pedro de Villagra "el Mozo" and forty two other Spaniards died. This disastrous military defeat forced governor Francisco de Villagra to order the city of Cañete to be abandoned. News of the abandonment of Cañete spread the revolt. When Francisco de Villagra heard the news of his son's death he became ill and left for Concepcion leaving his cousin, Pedro de Villagra, in charge of the campaign. The Mapuches, now under Colocolo attacked on two fronts against the forts of Los Infantes and Arauco investing them but were unable to take them. Again Petegüelen offered peace to the Spaniards and Villagra accepted, but this peace was deceptive since the Mapuches needed to harvest their fields.

In April 1563, the Mapuche reestablished the siege of Arauco. This lasted 42 days with the Mapuches losing 500 warriors mostly from dysentery contracted from drinking contaminated water. Finally they chose to retire and to raise the siege. Shortly afterward, Francisco de Villagra died in Concepcion on June 22, 1563, leaving his cousin Pedro de Villagra as interim governor.

Campaigns of Pedro de Villagra

Because he believed he had too few men to hold all the posts in Mapuche territory and still have a field army the new governor Pedro de Villagra ordered the abandonment of Arauco in July 1563, taking off its artillery and noncombatants by sea while garrison under Lorenzo Bernal del Mercado marched over the rain soaked mountains and flooded rivers to Angol. The Mapuche destroyed the fort shortly after the garrison left and harassed their march. Regarding the abandonment of Arauco as a victory, it inspired the Mapuche north of the Bio-bio River to revolt.

In 1564, Pedro de Villagra, took measures to protect all the towns and forts he still held and gathered a field army in Concepcion drawn from all these posts. He knew that one of the Mapuche objectives was to surround Concepcion and preparations were made to support a long siege. After a brief fight Loble defeated the troops of captain Francisco de Vaca in the Itata River valley who were coming with reinforcements from Santiago. In addition, Millalelmo ambushed Spanish reinforcements coming from Angol to the south under captain, Juan Perez de Zurita, at a crossing of the Andalién River.[13] Both defeats cut off the city and garrison of Concepcion from outside aid by land. The defeated survivors had to retreat to Santiago and were in no condition to break through the investment around Concepcion. On the other hand, encouraged by these victories in the north, Illangulién resolved to destroy Los Infantes before marching to Concepcion.

At Los Infantes the Mapuche blockade grew tighter as they moved closer and closer to the city protected in their well-sited pucaras. Its commander Lorenzo Bernal del Mercado judged them too well defended to attack until they started to build their third pucara close to the city. Then in the Battle of Angol Lorenzo Bernal drove the Mapuche army out of their pucara and pursued them down to the river and pushed them back into it killing Illangulién and a thousand of his men with many others wounded or captured and the rest of the army dispersed. Afterward Paillataru was elected as Toqui. Meanwhile the caciques Millalelmu and Loble with 20,000 warriors from the area between the Itata and Bio-Bio rivers, settled down to the Siege of Concepcion in February 1564. The Mapuche entered the city, sacking and burning it, crowding all its population within the walls of its fortress with its garrison under Pedro de Villagra. The siege lasted around two months until at the end of March two ships arrived bringing food that would permit the siege to continue for a much longer time. On the other side the Mapuche had used up local sources of food and were finding it difficult to maintain their large force. With the harvest season coming and with the news of their defeat in the Battle of Angol they were nervous that their families might starve or their undefended homes might be attacked from Angol or Santiago. They raised their siege on April 1, and dispersed to their homes for the winter.[14]

After the siege was raised Villagra became aware of an effort to replace him as governor by Martin Ruiz de Gamboa, son-in-law of Rodrigo de Quiroga. Villagra tried to arrest Gamboa who fled overland to Santiago but Villagra sailed to Valparaíso in a few days with some of his men and arrested him in Santiago when he arrived. Villagra then tried to reorganize the surviving disheartened troops of Vaca and Zurita in Santiago and take them south in October 1564. But he was delayed much longer, spending heavily from the impoverished provincial treasury and contributions exacted from the cities of Chile with difficulty, he slowly refitted and enlarged his army over the winter and spring. Villagra left the city in mid-January 1565, with 110 Spaniards and gathered 800 Indian auxiliaries from their repartimientos as he marched south to the Maule River. There he linked up with 30 Spaniards under Pedro Hernandez de Cordova who were observing the frontier with the Mapuche after the Mapuche had blocked their prior attempt to reinforce Concepcion. During the seven months Villagra was in Santiago, the Mapuche north of the Bio-Bio had built a strong pucara on the Perquilauquén River, blocking the road south to Concepcion and in the Second Battle of Reinohuelén Villagra rapidly took it and destroyed the Mapuche army holding it. Soon afterward Villagra ambushed Loble as he was bringing reinforcements and unaware of the defeat he was surprised defeated and captured. Subsequently Villagra established fort San Ildefonso in the region and was able to suppress the Mapuche revolt north of the Bio-Bio.

The War during the rule of the Real Audiencia of Chile

Shortly after the end of the campaign Pedro de Villagra was replaced at the order of the Viceroy of Peru by Rodrigo de Quiroga as the temporary governor in 1565. Quiroga launched a new campaign, organized by Lorenzo Bernal del Mercado who reconstructed Cañete, and repopulated Arauco in 1566. He accomplished the conquest of the island of Chiloé, sending Martín Ruiz de Gamboa to establish the city of Castro there, and pacify its inhabitants, the Cuncos. Quiroga returned to find he was to be replaced by the Real Audiencia of Concepcion in August 1567. In September 1567, the king named Melchor Bravo de Saravia y Sotomayor to take over the civil and military government of Chile, with the title of governor and he arrived from Lima in 1568.

Campaigns between 1568 and 1598

Despite having founded cities and forts in Mapuche territory, all further Spanish conquest attempts failed. The Kingdom of Chile became a problematic region of continual warfare where it became increasingly difficult to get soldiers to serve. The Spaniards would possibly have abandoned it if they not feared its colonization by another European nation. Several Spanish generals and nobles were assigned posts in Chile in an attempt to finish the war with the Mapuche.

Campaigns during the governorship of Melchor Bravo de Saravia

Governor Melchor Bravo de Saravia y Sotomayor arrived from Lima in 1568 and recruited 100 new soldiers and gathered food in Santiago province and marched south to join the army near the mouth of the Tavolevo River in Catirai. Toqui Llanganabal

Battle of Catirai 1570 Concepción earthquake


Battle of Purén

Toqui Paineñamcu or Alonso Diaz

Campaigns of Rodrigo de Quiroga and Martín Ruiz de Gamboa

Governor Rodrigo de Quiroga

1575 Valdivia earthquake

Juan de Lebú

Governor Martín Ruiz de Gamboa

Tasa de Gamboa

Campaigns of Alonso de Sotomayor

Governor Alonso de Sotomayor arrived in Chile in 1583 and had to judge accusations against his predecessor, who had become extremely unpopular for the Tasa de Gamboa which had prohibited the payment of taxes by the Indians in the form of labor. Sotomayor later absolved Gamboa entirely but abolished the Tasa de Gamboa and reinstituted the Tasa de Santillán, with new provisions to humanize the old system, in an attempt to avoid the excesses of the encomenderos against the Indians.

Despite his early successful campaign when he captured Alonso Diaz in 1584, he wanted to extend the conquest of Chile by building a series of forts which would protect each other, the cities and their surrounding lands. They were also to hem in the Moluche and become the secure bases of future campaigns. In 1584, Sotomayor founded the fort of San Fabián de Conueo in Coelemu securing communications between Santiago and Concepcion. In 1585 he ordered the construction of forts around Catirai, Santo Arbol de la Cruz where the Guaqui River enters the Bio Bio River, Espíritu Santo near the mouth of the Tavolevo River with Santísima Trinidad directly across the Bio Bio River and in the upper reaches of the Culenco River, fort San Jerónimo de Millapoa. In Purén he also raised another fort, where he placed a small garrison. Opposing these moves by Sotomayor was the Toqui Cayancaru who attempted a siege of the fort at Arauco that failed, leading to his abdication of his office in favor of his son Nangoniel in 1585. Nangoniel returned to invest Arauco again, his cavalry (operating with the army for the first time) prevented the Spaniards from supplying the fort and they were forced to evacuate it. He next moved against the Santísima Trinidad but clashed with a division of Spanish troops, under Francisco Hernandez, where he was wounded and soon hunted down and killed. Cadeguala was proclaimed Toqui in his place the same day and began operations against Angol, breaking into the city, however he was repulsed by a counterattack. He followed this with a siege of Purén the following year. He drove off a relief force with his cavalry and offered the garrison terms but was refused. He next challenged the commander of the fort, Alonso García de Ramón, to single combat to decide the fate of the fortress. The two leaders fought on horseback with lances, and Cadeguala fell, killed by his opponent. His army raised the siege but after electing Guanoalca as toqui returned to successfully drive the poorly supplied Spanish from Purén and burned it in 1586. Putaén Janequeo

Fort Livén

Meanwhile Sotomayor had the distraction of an attack by English pirates under Thomas Cavendish. When they anchored in Quintero on April 9, 1587, he was defeated by the Spanish, losing 10 men and continued up the coast of South America. Sotomayor rebuilt Purén in 1589 and built a new fort on the heights of Marihueñu. Guanoalca directed his army against the new Spanish fort but finding it too strongly held, diverted his attacks against Espíritu Santo and the fort of Santísima Trinidad on the opposite shore of the Bio Bio River. Toqui Quintuguenu

Toqui Paillaeco

Toqui Paillamachu

Governor Pedro de Viscarra

Third Great Mapuche Rebellion (1598)

Campaigns of Martín García Oñez de Loyola

In September 1592, Martín García Óñez de Loyola, famous for his capture of Túpac Amaru was appointed as Captain General directly by Philip II, who thought him the most likely candidate to finish the Arauco War. Loyola insisted in penetrating Mapuche territory with an army of soldiers coming directly from Panama. He established fort Santa Cruz de Oñez on the Rele River near the confluence of the Bio-Bio and Laja Rivers in May 1594. The fort was elevated to the rank of city in 1595 giving it the name of Santa Cruz de Coya. Later, on 21 December 1598, Oñez de Loyola became the second governor of Chile to die in war with the Mapuches, surprised by Pelantaro in the Disaster of Curalaba.

Mapuche Uprising of 1598

The Disaster of Curalaba became the beginning of a general uprising that resulted in a six-year struggle called the Destruction of Seven Cities that eliminated all Spanish settlements south of the Bio-Bio River with the exception of those in Chiloé Archipelago. The viceroy of Peru hastily appointed Francisco de Quiñónez as replacement for the deceased Loyola. He was an experienced military man with great prudence but with little aptitude for the crisis that he was called upon to face. This governor discovered the terrible state of the colony and asked urgently for reinforcements. Meanwhile he tried to support those places that were possible to defend. Nevertheless, things were soon out of his control despite everything done to stabilize the situation, and he sickened and asked for his relief.

Over the next few years, the Mapuche were able to destroy or force the abandonment of many cities and minor settlements including all the seven Spanish cities in Mapuche territory south of the Bio Bio River: Santa Cruz de Coya (1599), Santa María la Blanca de Valdivia (1599), San Andrés de Los Infantes (1599), La Imperial (1600), Santa María Magdalena de Villa Rica (1602), San Mateo de Osorno (1603), and San Felipe de Araucan (1604).

In September 1600, Alonso García de Ramón the old maestro de campo of Alonso de Sotomayor, arrived as the interim governor of Chile. Using extraordinary measures he organized an army of 400 men and relieved the cities of Chillán and Concepcion and attempted to advance to relieve Villarica but turned back when the Mapuche besieged Arauco.

Alonso de Ribera and the creation of the Army of Chile

The new governor Alonso de Ribera arrived in Concepción in February 1601.

Toqui Huenecura

17th century

Campaigns of Alonso García de Ramón

Alonso García de Ramón replaced Alonso de Ribera as governor for the second time in 1605.

Battle of Boroa

Toqui Aillavilu Toqui Anganamón

Luis Merlo de la Fuente

Juan de la Jaraquemada

Defensive War

Alonso de Rivera returned as governor in 1612 appointed by King Philip III at the specific request of Father Luis de Valdivia. Valdivia was the originator of a new system of defensive warfare in Chile. He planned a static frontier separating the Spanish zone from the Indigenous zone, permitting none but missionaries to enter the south from the Spanish side. The king was in agreement, and although Ribera himself did not totally agree, he followed the royal orders and established the defensive system. Luis de Valdivia arraigned the Parliament of Catirai in May 1612 to make a peace with the Mapuche of the region. The terms of the peace were that the two sides would not make war on each other and captives would be returned by both sides. The Spanish were to dismantle the Fort of San Jerónimo, and the Mapuche would warn the Spaniards of the arrival of pirate ships on their coast. Spanish missionaries and messengers were to be permitted in Mapuche territory. In November of the same year the Parliament of Paicaví was held to make a similar peace with the regions of Elicura and Purén and the Spanish promised the destruction of the fort of Santa Fe. However the peace collapsed when a Spanish woman the Toqui Anganamón held captive and some of his wives left him to take refuge with the Spanish. When the Spanish would not send them back he attacked and killed the priests Valdivia sent into Mapuche territory and their Mapuche escorts in the Martyrdom of Elicura on December 14. Hostilities then resumed as before. Toqui Loncothegua


Resumption of Offensive War

Pedro Osores de Ulloa

Catalina de Erauso

Luis Fernández de Córdoba y Arce

Toqui Butapichón

Battle of Las Cangrejeras

Francisco Núñez de Pineda y Bascuñán

Francisco Laso de la Vega

Ambush of Picolhué

Battle of Los Robles

Toqui Quepuantú

Battle of La Albarrada

Toqui Huenucalquin Toqui Curanteo

Toqui Curimilla

Parliament of Quillin and the First Peace Treaty

Francisco López de Zúñiga

Toqui Lincopinchon

Parliament of Quillin (1641)

Martín de Mujica y Buitrón 1647 Santiago earthquake

Parliament of Quilín (1647) Alonso de Figueroa y Córdoba

Francisco Antonio de Acuña Cabrera y Bayona

Mapuche Insurrection of 1655

The last major uprising came in 1655 when Mapuche armies under Clentaru overwhelmed the Spaniards and came to the shores of the Maule River. After that, the Spanish tactics varied from a "defensive war" proposed by Jesuit missionaries, and parliaments with loncos to make agreements with the Mapuche in so called parliaments. This allowed the growth of commerce and increased the mestization.

Campaigns of the Mestizo Alejo and Misqui

The later 17th century

Marcos José de Garro who was Royal Governor of Chile from 1682 to 1692, had proposed to embark on a major campaign against the Mapuches to the viceroy of Peru, Melchor de Navarra y Rocafull Duke of La Plata, and the King of Spain. He planned that the Mapuche chiefs and elders be invited to a conference where they were to be imprisoned so that Araucanía could be pacified relatively bloodlessly. However, in 1686, King Charles II of Spain rejected the plan as deceitful.[15] In 1685, Garro decreed the depopulation of the Isla Mocha, with the goal of denying resources to pirates who were then ravaging the Pacific coast of Chile. The islands Mapuche natives were settled in a reducción on what is now the modern site of Concepcion. The government of Tomás Marín de Poveda of was marked by the brief flare up of the War of Arauco in 1694, with the Toqui Millapán when the Mapuche were incited by the unauthorized activities of Antonio Pedreros against the machis of the Mapuche. Pedreros died of wounds when his force tried to cross the Quepe River to attack the army of Millapán. The Spanish army of the Kingdom of Chile was then sent against Millapán under Maestre de Campo Alonso de Cordova y Figueroa and the Sargento Mayor Alonso Cobarrubias. It was impossible for Millapán to resist and he had to capitulate. The governor then held the 1694 Parliament of Choque-Choque with the Mapuche, realizing Pedreros had been the source of the dispute and made a peace that lasted for nearly thirty years.

18th century

The Mapuche Uprising of 1723

After 30 years of peace the War of Arauco continued with the Mapuche Uprising of 1723.[16]

Toqui Vilumilla

Gabriel Cano de Aponte

Parliament of Negrete (1726)

1751 Concepción earthquake

The Mapuche Rebellions of 1759, 1766 and 1769

Manuel de Amat y Juniet

Mapuche Uprising of 1759 Antonio de Guill y Gonzaga

Parliament of Nacimiento 1764


Mapuche Uprising of 1766 Juan de Balmaseda y Censano Beltrán


Francisco Javier de Morales y Castejón de Arrollo


Parliament of Negrete (1771)

Agustín de Jáuregui y Aldecoa

Parliament of Tapihue (1774)

Ambrosio de Benavides

Treaty of Lonquilmo (1784)

The Huilliche Rebellion of 1792 and the parliaments of 1793

In 1784, the Governor of Chiloé, Francisco Hurtado, and the Royal Governor of Chile, Ambrosio O'Higgins were ordered by the Spanish King to open a way between Maullín and Valdivia over Huilliche territory. This caused alarm among the Huilliche of the Llanos of Osorno (flatlands of Osorno) who decided to ally with the Huilliche Aillarehues of the Río Bueno Valley and around Lake Ranco in the north to ask for the intervention of the Governor of Valdivia, Mariano Pusterla. Mariano Pusterla had good relations with the Huilliches of Río Bueno and Ranco because of his support for pacific contact and missionary campaign, refusing establishing any new fort in their territory. The Governor of Chiloé, Francisco Hurtado, supported instead a hard line against the Huilliches and threatened with a military invasion.

In February 1789, the Peace Treaty of Río Bueno was signed between Huilliche chiefs and colonial authorities. This treaty diverted a possible invasion from Chiloé and gave the Huilliches of Osorno support against the malónes of the Aillarehue of Quilacahuín from the authorities of Valdivia. At that point the Huilliches offered to facilitate the opening of the new Camino Real and to allow Spaniards occupy Osorno, a city that had been abandoned in 1602. The treaty also allowed Spaniards to settle and form haciendas north of Bueno River.

Abuses from the Spanish and the fast advance of them in establishing new haciendas made several chiefs change mind and form an alliance of the following caciques; Tangol from Río Bueno, Queipul and Catrihuala. The Huilliche Rebellion of 1792 began with this event, and they soon started to pillage haciendas, missions with the ultimate aim of assaulting Valdivia, which despite being well defended from north and west, seemed vulnerable for a land attack by the southeast. Despite the limited extent of the rebellion, that never really menaced Valdivia, the Spanish authorities responded to it with rigour. Governor O'Higgins choose the captain Tomás de Figueroa to lead the reprisal. Figueroa set fire to rucas and croplands where his troops passed and arrested a large number of male Huilliches as suspected rebels. After that, the Spanish considered it convenient to sign a new treaty with the Huilliche leaders, for which a parliament was held in Las Canoas, in what is now Osorno, in 1793. While in the treaty of Río Bueno the Spanish had been allowed to form haciendas north of Bueno River, establishing that watercourse as a de facto frontier, the Spanish now went on to set up haciendas south of it. The same year, 1793, a new parliament was held in Negrete on the northern frontier with the aim of ratifying and renewing the older Treaty of Lonquilmo from 1783. Copying older treaties, the King of Spain was confirmed as the sovereign of the Araucanía, while the possession of the land was reserved for the Mapuches, which resulted in a de jure sovereignty of the King of Spain but in a de facto independence of the Mapuche-controlled lands. The treaty was held from March 4 to March 7, with many banquets of wine and meat being held for the numerous participants. The whole treaty cost 10.897 pesos, which was, according to Diego Barros Arana, an enormous amount of money, considering the size of Chile's treasury.

Relations at the end of the 18th century

Although the Mapuches did not allow the free transit of huincas (whites) into the zones that they considered their own land, from about 1780, the associated Mapuche peoples began to accept the limited presence of Spaniards and Creoles in their territories. Also, with the passage of time the Mapuches slowly entered into more frequent interaction with the Hispanic-Creole culture. Thus they would adopt many of their customs and form of life, thanks to the schools for natives, ambassadors, fairs and the parliaments. The Parliament of Negrete of 1803 was the last great parliament of the colonial period of Chile, in which both sides solemnized their peace and alliances. The commerce and unions between Spaniards and Mapuche, generated in addition a mestization that acted like a bridge between both cultures. Thus a coexistence was established between the Spanish, Creoles, and Mapuches, in which things remained nearly the same over most of the next century. Risings and malons were less and less frequent, but among the Mapuches opposition understandably remained towards total integration.

Chilean War of Independence and Guerra a muerte

The painting depicts a woman being kidnapped during a malón.

During the Chilean War of Independence many Mapuche chiefs allied with the Royalist Spanish that fought for reestablishing the old colonial order in Chile. The Royalist brigadier Gabino Gaínza negotiated with Mapuche chiefs during the Parliament of Quilín in 1814 and gained their support against the Chilean patriots.

In 1817 and 1818, the royalists had suffered many defeats, but continued resistance in south Central Chile together with the aid of some Mapuches. José de San Martín who had liberated north-central Chile with Bernardo O'Higgins launched a series of actions against armed bands in the mountains, consisting of assorted outlaws, royalists, and Indians who had taken advantage of the chaos of military expeditions and forced recruitments to pillage and sack the countryside. This time of irregular warfare was later called the Guerra a muerte (Fight to the death) for its merciless tactics, as neither the guerillas nor the government soldiers took prisoners. Only after the band of Vicente Benavides was liquidated in 1822 was the region around Concepcion finally pacified. Peace was fully established only on January 7, 1825, during the rule of Ramon Freire, the Parliament of Tapihue was held, between Chile and the Mapuches south of the Bio Bio River, which fixed that river as the border between Chile and Araucanía, ending the state of war which had lasted fourteen years, with the Republic of Chile.

Occupation of Araucanía


In 1860, Chilean president José Joaquín Pérez Mascayano decided to incorporate the territory between the Bío-Bío River and Toltén River (Araucanía). With the proclamation of the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia by Orélie-Antoine de Tounens it became a priority to incorporate the Araucanía even if Orélie Antonie never was a serious threat. The authorities decided to apply the plan proposed by General Cornelio Saavedra Rodríguez which included a mix of military and cultural penetration together with agreements with local chiefs. The plan also included the foundation of cities, building of roads and other public infrastructure such as schools and hospitals.

The occupation

Cornelio Saavedra Rodríguez in meeting with the main loncos of Araucanía in 1869

Cornelio Saavedra advanced in relatively short time to the Malleco River and founded the city of Angol, together with the forts of Mulchén and Lebu in 1862. From Valdivia in the south the troops also succeeded in advancing along the coast into the Toltén River. This first phase of occupation was carried out with relatively low levels of resistance, but soon after the lonco Quilapán started a revolt near Malleco River. When the War of the Pacific started in 1879 much of the troops in the south of Chile were moved north to fight Peru and Bolivia. In 1880 several Mapuche tribes took advantage of this situation and launched a series of spontaneous attacks on to the Chilean forts established in the frontier.

With a victorious Chilean army returning from the War of the Pacific, the government of Domingo Santa María launched the final campaign to incorporate the heartland of the Mapuches into Chile. Colonel Gregorio Urrutia was chosen for this task. The old Spanish town of Villarrica was refounded and the forts of Carahue, Lautaro, Pillánlelbu, Temuco, Nueva Imperial and Pucón where founded. The tribes living close to this forts their territory, and about 10,000 Mapuche Indians were killed in skirmishes by the Chilean army. Many of the survivors escaped to mountains where they joined with the Pehuenches and other tribes escaping from Argentine territory. Some indigenous remnants were placed into reductions and their land was given to Chilean and foreign settlers. Some historians consider the occupation of the Araucanía to be the end of a 300-years long War of Arauco.

Aftermath and present-day conflicts

Staunch resistance to a perceived oppression remains an important part of modern Mapuche social movements. Today numerous groups have engaged the Chilean state in legal and political battles over usurped territory. The ownership of land in Araucanía has been the most visible conflict point. Chileans and descendants of European immigrants have had ownership of estates in the area since the 19th century, some of which were given or sold to them by the government while other lands were purchased from indigenous leaders, while in some cases did settlers drove away Mapuches from the better lands. Another modern conflict has been the fight against foreign transnational forest companies that substituted (when it was legal) native forest with Douglas Fir, Pinus radiata and eucalyptus globulus plantations. More militant, yet controversial groups, such as the Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco have re-initiated decades long disputes over land. Today many of these movements are isolated and have lost significant popular backing due to accusations of government infiltration and sabotage.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Pedro de Valdivia, Carta 15 de octubre de 1550
  2. Jerónimo de Vivar, Crónica y relación copiosa y verdadera de los reinos de Chile, Capítulo XCIV and XCV; Alonso de Góngora Marmolejo, Historia Capítulo X; Pedro Mariño de Lobera, Crónica del Reino de Chile, Capítulo XXXI
  3. Vivar, Crónica Capítulo XCVII; Marmolejo, Historia Capítulo XI; Lobera, Crónica Capítulo XXXIII
  4. Vivar, Jerónimo de. "CXVI" (in Spanish). Crónica y relación copiosa y verdadera de los reinos de Chile. "...ayer mataron al apo y todos los cristianos que con él venían, que no escapó ninguno, y todos los yanaconas de servicio, si no eran los que se habían escondido" 
  5. According to Vivar, Cap. CXXVI, up to two thirds of the populations died between the famine and pestilencia. Marmolejo, Historia, Capítulo XX, says deaths were somewhat less around Valdivia because the Mapuche took refuge in the mountains. Lobera, Chronica, Capítulo LI, says the famine lasted from 1554 into 1555 and some Indians resorted to cannibalism. Marmolejo says that in spring there was an "pestilencia" that the Mapuche called chavalongo and that the Spanish called dolor de cabeza identified as (Revista chilena de infectología). Vivar claims the pestilencia was caused by the cannibalism. Lobera makes no mention of an epidemic.
  6. Vivar, Jerónimo de. "CXXVIII" (in Spanish). Crónica y relación copiosa y verdadera de los reinos de Chile. "Juan Jufré led a small band of horsemen from Santiago in crushing the revolt in Gualemo on the Lontué River" 
  7. Vivar, Jerónimo de. "CXXVIII" (in Spanish). Crónica y relación copiosa y verdadera de los reinos de Chile. 
  8. Contemporary sources have various numbers in his army: 3,000 men, Vivar, Crónica... , Cap. CXXVIII; 300 men, Marmolejo, Historia... , Cap. XXII; 8,000 men, Lobera, Crónica..., Cap. LIV.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Mariño de Lobera, Pedro. "LIV" (in Spanish). Crónica del Reino de Chile.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Mariño" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Mariño" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Mariño" defined multiple times with different content
  10. Rosales, Diego de. "B.II Ch. VIII" (in Spanish). Historia general de el Reyno de Chile: Flandes Indiano (1554-1625). 
  11. Rosales, Diego de. "B.II Ch. X" (in Spanish). Historia general de el Reyno de Chile: Flandes Indiano (1554-1625). "It is not known if the leader called Chillan by Rosales was Lobera's Panigualgo" 
  12. Góngora Marmolejo, Alonso de. "XL" (in Spanish). Historia de Chile desde su descubrimiento hasta el año 1575. 
  13. Marmolejo, Historia..., Capítulo XLV, located just two leagues south of the city. Lobera, Crónica..., Libro segundo, Parte segunda, Capítulo XXIII, calls the place Levocatal.
  14. Diego Barros Arana, Historia General De Chile, Tomo Segundo, Parte Tercera La Colonia desde 1561 hasta 1610, Capitulo Segundo Sec. 4
  15. Korth, Eugene E (in Spanish). Spanish Policy in Colonial Chile. pp. 202–204. 
  16. Vicente Carvallo y Goyeneche, Descripcion Histórico Geografía del Reino de Chile, Tomo II, Capítulo LXXV, LXXVI and LXXVII


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