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Chapter 2

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of Chile

Luis Galdames

translated and edited by Isaac Joslin Cox
Russell & Russell
New York 1964

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 4

 p37  Chapter III
The Conquest

The Conquering Expedition

One day when Francisco Pizarro was inspecting some of the distant parts of his territory, one of his officers, named Pedro de Valdivia, disclosed to him a desire to conquer Chile and asked to be officially named his lieutenant there. Great was Pizarro's surprise at this request. Chile had lost so much prestige after the expedition of Almagro that, according to public opinion in Peru, it could not feed fifty Spaniards. It must be understood that "to be fed" meant to make oneself rich. But Pedro de Valdivia was the most distinguished officer and the highest in rank in Pizarro's government. He was Pizarro's favorite officer and bore the title "field master" (maestro del campo), or, as we should say today, "chief officer of staff," and he owned an encomienda, or estate, with many Indians, and even a silver mine in the south of Peru — all granted to him by the governor.

But Valdivia was not merely a notable warrior. In that multitude of rude and, for the most part, illiterate adventurers, he was conspicuous for his learning and character. He regarded the men about him, and perhaps even Pizarro, as inferior to himself and he aspired to an independent position and a territory of his own. All the objections Pizarro raised against it were therefore useless. In the end he had to grant him the authority he sought and in 1539 named him his lieutenant-governor in Chile.

Born in La Serena of Extremadura, or in some neighboring village, Valdivia at this time was some forty years of age. Although very energetic in all his undertakings, what he was now going to attempt required additional qualifications — above all, money — and he possessed very little property. Since the commander of an expedition at that time had to pay all the expenses it entailed, it could be foreseen that the force which would accompany Valdivia would be very small, which really happened; there were very few soldiers who wished to follow him. If his personal prestige encouraged them to do it, his limited resources, on the other hand, and the bad reputation of the country for which he was bound, held them back. He managed to muster barely a hundred and fifty men.

All difficulties were overcome, however, and the expedition was  p38 about to depart, when there arrived in Peru a bold Spaniard named Pedro Sancho de Hoz. He bore a royal seal, by virtue of which he was authorized to make conquests in the southern extremity of the continent. On the basis of this concession he pretended to have a better right than Valdivia to lead the expedition against Chile. A conflict in interests arose between the two men. Francisco Pizarro induced them to make an agreement according to which the two would make the conquest together. Valdivia would contribute to the partner­ship the elements that he had already brought together; Hoz, other new ones — horses, equipment for the campaign, and two vessels. Since it was desirable not to delay the course of the enterprise, it was agreed that Valdivia should leave immediately and that Hoz should join him en route.

Thus it came about that in January, 1540, Valdivia's expedition was able to start southward from Cuzco. Only fifteen men composed it. The rest, to complete the one hundred and fifty enrolled, were to join the commander on the march. After passing Arequipa and Moquegua, Valdivia reached Tarapacá, at the entrance to the desert. Most of his companions had now joined him. The route selected was the same over which Almagro had returned to Peru. After four months of marching, they found themselves half way through the desert zone. Here they rested in a native settlement near the Loa River.

The encampment seemed more like a migrating settlement than an army. The expedition carried the most useful materials for colonizing the country toward which it was going — European grains, principally wheat; domestic animals, especially pigs and fowls, and a collection of tools for cultivation. Some three thousand yanaconas carried all this luggage. Women and children also went along with the expedition, but there was only one Spanish woman among them. This was Inés Suárez, who accompanied the commander.​1 While they tarried in the midst of the desert, Hoz arrived and joined Valdivia, but with the manifest purpose of assassinating him. He had complied with none of the agreements of their partner­ship, nor was he now able to achieve his fell purpose.

Advancing toward the south, they halted, one hundred and fifty strong, at Copiapó, seven months after their departure. They were in the first fertile valley of Chile. Valdivia there took possession of the country in the name of his king.

The Indians received them with displeasure. Almagro had  p39 treated them so ill that they were not disposed to receive as guests these compatriots of the men who had scourged them. They hid their provisions and appeared almost naked, in the most miserable aspect, in order to see if they could make the conquerors give up their enterprise. But Valdivia saw through their stratagem and violently took the provisions from them. All the while subject to hostilities from the natives, the host continued the march until, at the beginning of 1541, it pitched camp in the valley of the Mapocho, at the foot of a wild solitary hill which the Indians called Huelén and Valdivia called Santa Lucía.

The Founding of the First Chilean City

In contrast to Almagro's men, Valdivia and his followers formed a very good opinion of the country. The blue transparent sky, the woods and fields covered with grass and flowers, the climate mild and temperate in that transitory season from spring to summer during which they had partly surveyed it, made them think that these regions ought to be the most beautiful and fertile in the world.

A few days after his arrival on the banks of the Mapocho, Valdivia called together an assemblage of Indians, and to this body he reported that he had come to establish himself in the country in the name of God and by command of the king of Spain, just as his compatriots had done in Peru. He promised that, if they offered no resistance, he would treat them as friends; if otherwise, as enemies, and would even exterminate them. The Indians understood nothing of all this except that he wished to enslave them, but they went away apparently satisfied. They were waiting to gather their harvest in order to prepare themselves for resistance.

Valdivia then laid the foundations of a city which he called Santiago of New Extremadura in honor of the patron apostle of the Spanish army and in memory of his native province. He wished also to make people forget the bad reputation of the country by blotting out the name of Chile. But the second part of the name was soon dropped. As the limits for his government he designated Copiapó in the north, the Strait of Magellan in the south, and to the east and west both oceans. The date of the founding was February 12, 1541.

The site for the new city was admirably chosen, especially from a strategic standpoint. At that time the Mapocho was divided  p40 into two branches, a little to the east of the Huelén. One ran in the same direction as the present river, but through a much broader channel than the canal of today; the other flowed through the broad avenue which is now called Delicias. The two joined about a league to the west, leaving between them an island which at the western foot of the hill was only about five or six squares (cuadras) in breadth, but which grew larger toward the west.

It was precisely at this point that Valdivia began to locate Santiago. The hill was a fortress and the arms of the river were like walls. Parallel streets stretched from the foot of Huelén from east to west, for a distance of fourteen blocks. There were six streets at first; then three others were added to make nine in all. Some fifteen other streets cut these at right angles from north to south. Thus the original plan of the city of Santiago had an extension of fourteen squares measured from east to west.

The width of the streets was to be twelve yards (varas). As these streets were cut at right angles, the space of a square intervening between each, they formed rectangles enclosed within four streets. These plots were called "manzanas" (squares). The number of these squares exceeded 100. They measured not more than 138 yards each way, rather than 150, because from each side six yards were taken to form the street — six yards united to another six from the neighboring square to compose the twelve of the street.

Each one of the manzanas was subdivided into four lots (solares) by being cut in the middle with perpendicular lines. Having done this, Valdivia assigned to each of the soldiers and officers who were to become residents a lot on which to build his house. Half of his force was settled here.

One of the central manzanas was destined for the plaza (the Plaza de Armas of today). On the western side of this plaza was located the church and parish house, and on the north the government palace and prison. Then the first dwellings were erected, with walls of wood and mud and roofs of straw only. The Indians, of course, did the work. The first conquerors were installed in these houses, and not even the church in which Valdivia placed an image of the Virgin of Perpetual Succor, which he carried with him, contained better materials.

Before a month had passed after the founding of the city, Valdivia formed a cabildo or ayuntamiento, or as we would say today, a municipality. This corporations was composed of two alcaldes, six regidores, a procurador who represented it, and the secretary who certified its acts. The Extremaduran chief himself  p41 named the persons who were to constitute the cabildo. A short time after its establishment that body insisted that Valdivia should make himself governor of Chile, not simply as lieutenant of Pizarro but in the name of the king, and its request was granted. For this purpose Valdivia convened for the first time an open cabildo, an assembly of all townspeople, in order to deliberate on the question.

The conquering chief at once began to seek the most adequate means of exploiting and extending his dominion. He started work in the gold washings of Marga-Marga and ordered the construction of a vessel in the Bay of Concón, in order to communicate with Peru; but the work had scarcely started when the Indians showed signs of hostility. Overnight all the Indians in the entire valley of Aconcagua, headed by the cacique, Michimalonco, declared themselves in rebellion. They killed the soldiers who guarded the yanaconas working at the gold washings and on the boat. They tore to pieces what had been done on the latter and threatened to extend the movement through the valley of the Maipo and farther south.

In spite of the efforts the Spaniards to scatter the Indian bands and put down the uprising, they could not prevent an assault on the city and its complete destruction, barely seven months after its building had begun. The Indians set fire to the straw huts, killed four Spanish soldiers and a score of horses, and caused the almost total loss of baggage and provisions. Of the animals they had brought for food and propagation, the Spaniards saved only three hogs and two chickens; and of the grain, only a few handfuls of wheat. Even the records of the cabildo were burnt. It was a complete disaster. This happened in September, 1541. The Indians, on their side, had perished by thousands during the assault and had to retire in confusion to the mountain ridges of the vicinity. They had not succeeded in recovering either lands or dwellings. The city was rapidly reconstructed, however, with the aid of enslaved Indians or prisoners. Its buildings were now made of adobe and tile to prevent their burning easily; and since it was necessary for the Spaniards to live with weapon in hand day and night, it seemed much like an encampment.

In this way, the conquerors had to pass more than two years, devoting themselves to exploring the territory at no great distance from the city in order to break up the bands of Indians, seeking gold washings, and exploiting some of them, sowing small patches of grain and corn, and procuring provisions in whatever way they  p42 could. In spite of all their efforts, they suffered from hunger and nakedness until new supplies brought from Peru enabled them to renew their provisions.

The Founding of Other Cities

Hardly was the city of Santiago destroyed by the assault of the Indians, when Valdivia sent emissaries to Peru in search of more men and resources; but it was not until the end of 1543 that he succeeded in getting help. His supplies were sent in a vessel from Callao to Valparaiso and one hundred men arrived by land. These emissaries also brought reports of recent events in Peru, which were serious and had been the cause of their delay for two and a half years. The faction called "the men of Chile," whom Almagro the younger had headed, had instigated a revolution in Lima and had killed Francisco Pizarro. They then had taken control of affairs, and Almagro had refused to recognize an emissary of the king as governor of Peru. When Almagro's faction and that of the royal governor resorted to arms, the former was defeated and Almagro made a prisoner. Finally he was beheaded in the plaza of Cuzco, in the same place where years before his father had suffered death. These events suited Valdivia because they freed him from discharging his duties to his chief, Pizarro, whom he had begun to forget since his arrival in Chile, and left open the way for his aspirations to obtain from the sovereign confirmation of his title as governor.

With the new funds Valdivia thought only of consolidating the conquest. He ordered the founding of the city of La Serena in the north of the country in order to assure a road to Peru. Its founder was Juan Bohón​2 and the number of its citizens, thirteen (1544). In person Valdivia advanced through the region as far as the Biobío. Here the Indians severely assaulted him, making him realize that he was face to face with very different men from those he previously had known among the natives of America. He saw also the towns which made up those regions. Convinced that he needed still more reënforcements in order to dominate them, he returned to Santiago in order to send to Peru for them. His emissary to Callao, Juan Bautista Pastene, delayed two years in bringing them. The delay was explained as being due to the  p43 alarming situation which Peru was again going through. There had been another revolution against the viceroy, headed by Gonzalo Pizarro, a brother of Francisco. The revolution triumphed and terror kept its opponents subdued.

Valdivia then prepared to go himself to Peru to get orders from the viceroy and to bring forthwith the men and funds that he needed. He wanted to take the greatest possible amount of gold in order to make a favorable impression concerning the wealth of his government. Since what he had was not enough, he despoiled various of his companions of what they had succeeded in gathering, although promising to restore it when he returned. He appointed Francisco de Villagra as his lieutenant and, in the same ship in which Pastene had arrived, he embarked at Valparaiso for Peru in 1547. There were attempts at rebellion among his own soldiers and officers in Santiago. They were led by his former partner, Pedro Sancho de Hoz, who now sought to ignore Villagra's authority; but the latter seized him and hanged him with some of his accomplices; and all remained peaceful.

Once in Peru Valdivia, in order to suppress the rebellion, put himself at the service of the king's envoy, the cleric Pedro de la Gasca. He thus broke the bonds of friendship and gratitude that united him to the family of the rebellious leader, Gonzalo Pizarro, in order to embrace the cause of his king. The battle of Jaquijahuana,​3 which he directed and in which Pizarro was definitely routed, so accredited him with the royal envoy that the latter saluted him on the field of battle itself as "governor of Chile" (1548).

With Peru pacified, Valdivia easily acquired supplies of all kinds for his colony. He dispatched a company of more than one hundred men to Chile and after one and a half years' absence followed them himself, with more men and resources. The governor was now able to take a brief rest from his activity. Some five hundred Spaniards already peopled Chile. The city of La Serena had been destroyed by the Indians and Valdivia immediately ordered his captain, Francisco de Aguirre, to rebuild it in 1549. He himself went as far as the Biobío with two hundred soldiers. Reaching the banks of the river without adventure, he remained, during his explorations, in a place called by the Indians Andalién, which was covered with lagoons and was located where Concepción stands today. Here the Spaniards encountered the Araucanians  p44 a second time. These people surprised the invaders in a night attack of such energy and resolution that for the moment Valdivia and his men thought they were lost. Only after a fierce fight did they succeed in repelling the assault, and this was because of the aid which was given them by the Indian yanaconas, or auxiliaries, which they had brought with them.

Notwithstanding his triumph, Valdivia understood anew that he had to deal with Indians braver and more warlike than those he had encountered elsewhere. For this reason he resolved to found a city near the Biobío River. He selected a splendid location near the sea, on the tranquil Bay of Talcahuano, and gave the name Concepción to the new town on March 3, 1550. The present port of Penco occupies the site of the first Concepción.

Shortly after this Valdivia penetrated into the Araucanian territory. In two successive campaigns he reached the banks of the river which today bears his name and founded two other cities: Imperial, called thus in honor of Emperor Charles V, situated on the borders of the river Cautín, where Carahue is today; and Valdivia (1552), more or less on the same site which it occupies at present. From Valdivia he sent Captain Jerónimo de Alderete toward the cordillera, and the latter founded a new city which he called Villarrica, near the lake of that name and at the outlet of the Toltén River. There were now six Spanish cities in the territory of Chile.

The chief of the conquest then went to establish himself definitely at Concepción in order to carry on from there the occupation of the territory in the extreme south. He soon founded a seventh city in the center of Araucania, which he called Los Confines, or Angol, situated a little east of the place which today bears that name. Three forts now guarded the hostile territory: Arauco, near the coast; Tucapel, on the western slope of the cordillera of Nahuelbuta; and Purén, on the eastern side of this same mountain chain. The towns which now bear these names are situated very near the ruins of those encampments.

The Indians did not keep up a continuous resistance to this occupation of their soil, seeming resigned to it. Thus passed the last months of 1553. In thirteen years of exploration and strife the entire country had been conquered by the Spanish expedition, which numbered at that date about one thousand men. The greater part were engaged in exploiting the gold washings they had discovered, in sowing grain, and in rearing livestock. The governor had divided the land and the conquered Indians among them, in order that the Indians might carry on the heavy labor of farming  p45 and mining. The conquest seemed, then, definitely accomplished. But it was not.

Araucanian Resistance; the Death of Valdivia

One day in December, 1553, a soldier arrived at Concepción hurriedly seeking Valdivia. He came from the fort at Tucapel to advise the governor that the Indians in the neighborhood clearly showed signs of revolt. Valdivia was not greatly alarmed but sent word to Tucapel that he would despatch reinforcements at once. Then he learned that three Spaniards on the way to that fort from Arauco had been murdered by the Indians. At this he resolved to go himself to punish the rebels. He selected forty of his best soldiers and set out with them.

He travelled slowly and with much precaution. On December 24, 1553, he reached a point near Tucapel. The following morning he continued the march. His troops moved forward with some apprehension but nowhere saw any Indians. These, however, were hidden in the woods near by, carrying out a plan of attack arranged by their chief, Lautaro. This Indian, some twenty years old, had served as head groom to Valdivia but, months before this, had fled in order to join his rebel compatriots. The Araucanians, knowing that they would be attacked, had gathered in an assembly. Lautaro had made a fierce speech and proposed a plan which all approved. This plan consisted in forming different groups that would engage in battle, one after the other, until they wore out the Spaniards and, above all, their horses.

When Valdivia reached Tucapel he saw with much surprise that nothing remained of the fort but smoking ruins, for the Indians had destroyed and burnt it. As he found no Araucanians on the road, he believed that all had hidden themselves to escape the punishment which he was bringing upon them. But suddenly, on climbing the last little hill on the approach to the fort, a company of Indians came to meet him, brandishing their lances in defiance.

In a moment the fight was on. The first band of Indian warriors, repulsed and almost totally destroyed, cast itself down the hillside. Immediately a second band took its place, and, cut to pieces like the first, followed its example. A third band followed this; and thus the fighting continued as if it were to have no end. Finding it impossible to resist that brave rabble of barbarians, the Spaniards who were left alive decided to retire, along with their leader; but a multitude of pursuers harried them from the rear. Exhausted, covered with wounds, and with their beasts of burden hardly able to move, they were easily taken by their  p46 captors. Not one escaped. There the first governor of Chile ended his days.​4 No definite details concerning his death are given.

When the news of the disaster of Tucapel reached Concepción, the cabildo of the city hastily called on Francisco de Villagra to take command of the country and organize resistance. Villagra was in the south near the present city of Osorno, taking the necessary steps to found a new city. When he arrived at Concepción and learned all that had happened, he ordered Villarrica and Angol to be evacuated and their citizens to be transferred to Valdivia and Imperial, because of the difficulty he would have in defending the former cities. He then prepared a company of more than one hundred and fifty men and with it crossed to Araucania to avenge the death of the governor and to quiet the revolt.

After passing the Biobío, the expedition went south over the ridges nearest the coast until, on a height called Marihuenu, the enemy appeared suddenly as at Tucapel, led by the same Lautaro. Great was the surprise. The broken condition of the ground and the lack of knowledge of it prevented the Spaniards from maneuvering with certainty. After some hours of fighting, Villagra's men were defeated and about ninety of them were left lying on the field. Since then the height of Marihuenu has been named after Villagra.

The fugitives who arrived at Concepción caused so much alarm that no one thought of resisting. Someone reported that Lautaro was passing the Biobío, and everyone hurried to remove his possessions from his home and load himself with all that he could in order to emigrate to Santiago. The alarm, however, was false, but after some days Lautaro and his victorious troops actually entered the abandoned city, sacked the houses, and set fire to them. Of the five cities founded in the south of the country by the first conqueror of Chile only the two near the coast, Imperial and Valdivia, remained standing, and, of the three forts of Araucania, not one remained.

After a long march the citizens of Concepción arrived at Santiago, with them Governor Villagra himself. He equipped a new army and once more started for Araucania to help the cities of Imperial and Valdivia and to fight the Indians, who were so weakened after their triumphs that they did not even try to fight. Since they had not cultivated their fields, so that the enemy would find no provisions in them, they suffered from starvation,  p47 and to this another calamity was added — an epidemic of typhus fever, which took thousands of lives.

Therefore, Villagra did not have much to do in Valdivia and Imperial. He then tried to rebuild Concepción; but the indefatigable Lautaro reorganized as many of his bands as he could, fell on the hardly begun buildings, and a third time completely routed the Spaniards. The citizens of that city who had come to settle in it anew had to flee in confusion to Santiago in 1555. Here the panic that seized the population was indescribable. The colony was believed lost; and, when it was reported that the intrepid Araucanian chieftain was advancing northward to take the capital, dragging along all the Indians he found en route, a retreat to La Serena or a return to Peru was considered.

Lautaro really did not stay in Concepción. The greater part of his army refused to follow him on his campaign against the central country because it judged it had done its duty with the maintenance of the line of the Biobío and aspired only to take the two southern cities that were left standing. But he was not disheartened by this opposition. With only a few companions helping him, he won, by his speeches, the Indians of the region between the Biobío and the Maule and, improvising a new army, he passed the Maule with his men. There was no doubt as to his purpose: he was about to aim his offensive at the heart of the Spanish colony.

Triumphant in several battles, he reached the banks of the Mataquito and crossed it. Here, for the first and last time, his natural skill as a warrior failed him. He stopped when he could have advanced much farther and perhaps crushed all resistance from Santiago. He stopped, no one knows why, and fortified himself on the northern bank of that river in a place which seemed impregnable. On the south, the river defended him; on the west, the high ridges of the Caune; and on the north and east, besides the thick woods which covered the land, were deep ditches and formidable stockades of tree trunks which he had constructed.

Villagra made a surprise attack on Lautaro's encampment. A certain Indian traitor pointed out to him the unknown road behind the hills. He led his troops up toward the west; they passed over the road and, at the dawn of an April day in 1557, fell on the native camp. The contest was desperate. Lautaro made a supreme effort to organize resistance, but he soon fell wounded and died among his men. The battle became more bloody still because the Indians did not give way in spite of the loss of their  p48 chief. All was useless; the Spanish horsemen and the yanaconas whom they carried with them inflicted terrible slaughter and inevitably dispersed the Indians.

With the surprise at Mataquito the reconquest of Chile by the Araucanians was frustrated. With Lautaro, who was its very spirit, gone, the attempt was never renewed.

The Last Campaigns of the Conquest

Francisco de Villagra had hoped that his sovereign would confirm his appointment as governor of Chile as a reward for his valiant services, but he was mistaken. The viceroy of Peru named his own son to the governor­ship of that colony. This son was Don García Hurtado de Mendoza, a young man of twenty-two years, whose family belonged to the highest Spanish nobility. Because of his youth and his family he was a strange contrast to the fighting captains of the colony. He knew Chile only as a name and had never served in any of the armies that fought in America. He was already, however, a distinguished officer. He brought an army of more than four hundred men, powerful war material, great quantities of provisions, and three vessels.

In the winter of 1557, Hurtado de Mendoza landed with his army on the island of Quiriquina, before ruined Concepción. He did not yet dare touch the continent because he was waiting for his cavalry, which was marching from Santiago, and remained on the island some months before he decided to land. He then erected a fort at a site somewhat farther south than the one occupied by the ruined city, on a hill over­looking the plains, and established his camp in it. The fort was very well constructed, having solid walls and broad ditches. The Indians had not shown signs of alarm until then; but, when they saw him proceed to land his troops and noted that the powerful invading army was trying to open a new campaign, they attacked the fort vigorously, under command of another chieftain called Caupolicán. The attackers marched forward over the trenches with desperate courage. They leaped over the ditches with breasts bared to the lances and shots of the defenders. They fell by hundreds; but, driven by heroic temerity, they persisted in the attack. They went so far as to seize the muzzles of the cannon by hand in order to overturn them. Mowed down by shot and blown into a thousand pieces, they finally were defeated and had to retreat in the greatest disorder.

After this triumph, Don García Hurtado de Mendoza made preparations to take possession of all the territory of Chile. He began without delay his great campaign into the interior of  p49 Araucania. The Spaniards had hardly passed the Biobío when Caupolicán again attacked them. They engaged in a pitched battle in the middle of a swamp area called Lagunillas, on the present road from Concepción to Coronel. The rout of the natives was complete.

From Lagunillas on, the conquering army encountered no appreciable resistance. Don García ordered the fort of Tucapel rebuilt and Concepción resettled. He also founded a new city, Cañete, somewhat south of Tucapel. Then he marched as far as Imperial and Valdivia, and from there he went to Villarrica, which its former inhabitants were just beginning to resettle. He continued the march from Villarrica, keeping near the ridges of the cordillera of the Andes and always going toward the south.

Impenetrable forests and very dense thickets often compelled the Spanish host to spend the greater part of the day in opening a passage. Deep ravines succeeded the plains, and there were great lakes, small rivers, and muddy places, in which with the horses were buried up to their breasts. The rain and cold and the cloudy and stormy days filled the souls of the explorers with despair. The Indian guides fled, leaving them lost in these solitudes; the yanaconas did the same; they were incapable of resisting nature in a form which, though magnificent, was so repellent.

But none of these obstacles, not even hunger or the exhaustion of the animals, could make these strong fighting men retreat. At the end of some weeks of such difficult travel, they reached the Gulf of Reloncaví and the ocean. They visited the numerous islands which extend southward and form the archipelago of Chiloé. Don García ordered an exploring company to cross the Channel of Chacao to the large island of that archipelago. Some ten Spaniards did it in an Indian canoe and then returned to rejoin their comrades. Among the ten was the poet, Alonso de Ercilla, who had already begun to compose the cantos of his celebrated poem La Araucana. From the shores of the Gulf of Reloncaví the expedition decided to return, and this was done through the center of the longitudinal valley. As the governor did not wish to leave those rich territories unclaimed, he founded the city of Osorno. The march northward presented no difficulties of importance; the Indians did not disturb them. As the winter of 1558 approached, the expedition stopped in Imperial. Don García now believed that the Araucanians were subdued and that, in consequence, all Chile was definitely conquered. This belief was strengthened when he received news in Imperial of the execution in Cañete of Caupolicán.

As military governor in that city Don García had left Captain  p50 Alonso de Reinoso, a veteran of the native wars from the time of Valdivia. It was the duty of this chief to fight continually with the neighboring Indians, while Don García travelled through the south. At one time it was known that these Indians were meeting in a neighboring ravine for the purpose of combining in a new attack against Cañete. Reinoso at once ordered one of his officers to leave for that ravine with fifty soldiers. It was a harsh season of intense cold and torrential rains, and the Spaniards had to cross open prairies and marshes; but these men were not deterred by any obstacles.

The Indians, meanwhile, were unprepared. They believed a surprise impossible, both because of the hidden nature of the place where they were assembled and because of the state of the weather. The Spanish assault was completely successful. The Indians who did not take to flight were killed; only a few were carried as prisoners to Cañete. Among them was Caupolicán.

In Cañete Reinoso prepared a horrible death for the Araucanian chieftain. He had a stage resembling a theater raised in the public plaza and on it placed a sharp pointed stick. Then he ordered the victim to be brought in, and Caupolicán came, loaded with chains and with a rope about his neck. In the midst of the general anticipation, the Indian was seated upon the sharpened point of the wood so that it passed through his entrails. As a greater insult a group of archers, natives like himself, shot at his body until he died.

Don García returned to Concepción in January, 1559. The campaign had lasted fifteen months. In that space of time he had reconnoitered the country as far as the region of the islands; he had ordered the abandoned cities repeopled and had rebuilt the destroyed forts; he had also personally founded two more cities (Cañete and Osorno). Thus seven settlements arose in the previously rebellious territory from Concepción to Osorno. He had the right to hope for a reward from his sovereign for such activity. The king, however, had disapproved of his appointment and had decreed his dismissal in order to designate Francisco de Villagra as governor of Chile in his place.

Villagra had served from the beginning of the conquest at the side of Valdivia as one of his most forceful captains. He had been his lieutenant general much of the time until the last days of the conqueror. And it was the opinion among all his companions that he should definitely replace Valdivia, both because Valdivia himself had so declared on different occasions and because of Villagra's positive merits. But Don García, when he came to take charge of his government and found Villagra temporarily filling it, had  p51 treated him most contemptuously. He had afterward arrested him and sent him to Lima to be tried there for supposed crimes. So now, in his turn, Don García was promptly subjected to the humiliation of giving Villagra his post.

For the first time Don García hurried to install himself in Santiago in order to bring about order in an administration in which, during the campaigns in the south, he had used arbitrary and unjustifiable violence, especially in the division of the Indians and lands. He had deprived the greater part of the settlers of the cities of Concepción, Imperial, and Valdivia of their concessions, as he had done in the other cities that were depopulated and afterward repopulated in the interior of Araucania, to grant them to the men of his expedition, who had run no risks and had not undergone the suffering of the previous campaigns. He had imposed punishment and ordered capital executions without any process of law and for insignificant causes. Neither had his father, the viceroy of Peru, Andrés Hurtado de Mendoza, respected the rights or the lives of the early conquerors of that country. Therefore, the king of Spain, doing full justice on this occasion, had removed father and son from their posts and, in replacing the latter, had named the most meritorious among the associates of the first leader in the Chilean conquest.

Don García returned to Peru at the beginning of 1561, after the death of his father in Lima. He went from there to Spain in order to present to the court the merits of his services in the colony of Chile. He conveyed the belief that he had definitely consummated the conquest of this country by means of his campaigns and measures of internal administration; and, although those who were prejudiced by his acts as governor started a long suit which finally ended in severe penalties being imposed on him, it is certain that the sentence was never executed. Through his influence at court he made the services he had rendered weigh more than the errors he had committed; and in the course of years he became, like his father, viceroy of Peru.

As a matter of fact he was not wrong about the consummation of the conquest in Chile. This period of twenty years of exploration, fighting, and of extraordinary fighting, during which the efforts of the Spaniards reached heroic heights in comparison with the no less admirable heroism of the natives of Arauco, is a period which closed with the rule of Don García Hurtado de Mendoza, for from that time the Spanish domination was unalterably fixed in all the country and a new epoch opened in the development of civilization in this extremity of the world.

 p52  The First boundaries of Chile; Geographical Explorations

The first boundaries of Chile were very different from the present ones. La Gasca, when naming Valdivia its governor, fixed the extent of the country that the conqueror was to command. Chile, according to this document, extended between twenty-seven and forty-one degrees south latitude (bays of Caldera and San Pedro) and embraced one hundred leagues from west to east, measured from the coast and following all its curves. Formerly a hundred leagues was longer than it is today; it was equivalent to one hundred and fifteen of the modern leagues. If we compare the area within such lines with that which Chile actually has, we shall find that the difference between them is not very considerable; what the country has gained in length it has lost in width.

Valdivia, however, always entertained the hope that his territory would extend to the lands of the strait. He insistently asked the king for it, and the king agreed, but not till after Valdivia had died. During the rule of Hurtado de Mendoza, the southern limit of this colony was effectively extended to the Strait of Magellan and, as it preserved a hundred leagues breadth on the east, the result was that Chile at that time possessed a great part of what is now the Republic of Argentina, and its extent was about double the present area. Almost all of Patagonia was included in it; in the Gulf of St. George it extended to the Atlantic, and from there south all the extremity of America belonged to it, comprising 1,400,000 square kilos,º more or less.

The governor of Chile did not take possession, however, of the Atlantic coast, nor did he found any settlement in the Patagonian zone of the Pacific. Only the region of Cuyo, north of Patagonia, from which the Río Negro separated it, and the region of Tucumán, north of Cuyo, as far as the twenty-seventh degree were really governed by him, and then constituted the trans-andine provinces of Chile. The first to take possession of the eastern and southern regions was Francisco de Villagra, in the name of Valdivia.

On his return from a journey to Peru, where he had gone in search of resources (1550‑1551), Villagra travelled through the Bolivian tableland by the route Almagro had followed in his campaign to discover Chile. He continued through the territory of the present Argentinian province of Salta and, as he knew the eastern boundary of his chief's territory, he went toward a city called El Barco, recently founded by Spaniards from Peru. Villagra obliged them to recognize the authority of Valdivia and advanced toward  p53 the south. After exploring a great part of the region of Cuyo, he and his soldiers crossed the Andes opposite Santiago, through the Uspallata Pass, and joined the governor.

A year later Valdivia sent Francisco de Aguirre from La Serena to Tucumán because he received word that his authority had not been recognized there. Aguirre arrived at El Barco, moved the city a little more to the east, to the banks of the river Dulce, and called it Santiago del Estero (1553); but ten years later the province of Tucumán became part of the viceroyalty of Peru.

García Hurtado de Mendoza also sent an expedition to the eastern side of the Andes. This expedition left Santiago, crossed the cordillera through Uspallata Pass, and descended into the region of Cuyo. Pedro del Castillo,​5 who had reached Santiago a short time before, commanded it and in 1561 founded a city which he called Mendoza, in the name of and in honor of his chief.

In the twenty years of the conquest, then, the Spaniards became acquainted with the greater part of the country, even the regions on the other side of the Andes — not thoroughly, to be sure, but at least in their general outlines. A double impulse drew the conquerors to the different zones of Chile: the desire to find gold, Indians, and fields for cultivation; and the satisfaction of presenting to the king the whole country occupied by their efforts as an expression of their loyalty.

Nor were they less eager in exploration by sea. After the Almagro expedition, whose single vessel reached the Bay of Valparaiso, the ships that travelled the route between the colony and the viceroyalty surveyed the greater number of the ports and inlets of northern Chile. They sailed near the coast, fearful of being lost at sea. The voyage from Valparaiso to Callao lasted at least a month, but the return took much longer — at least three months. The cause of this disparity is easily explained. The Humboldt Current, which passes near the coast of Chile, runs toward the north; aided by it, the vessels which went from Chilean ports to Peru made the journey in much less time than those which came from Peru, because the latter had to sail against the same current.

The most celebrated pilot of those voyages during the conquest was the Genoese, Juan Bautista Pastene, who also, by Valdivia's orders, extended the survey of the Chilean coast as far as the  p54 Channel of Chacao. He accomplished this exploration from Valparaiso in the course of a year (1544‑1545) spent in going and coming. Landing at the various bays and river mouths he accomplished the survey in some detail. The roughest part of the coast, the insular zone, remained to be surveyed. Valdivia also sent an expedition in charge of Francisco de Ulloa​6 to explore as far as the strait. Ulloa fulfilled his task, but his voyage did not have the desired result because, when he returned in 1554, Valdivia had just died and no one thought of anything except the suppressing of the Indian uprising. The immediate practical end pursued in these explorations was to establish direct communication by sea from Peru and Chile to Spain. The idea was held that the strait could not be navigated from west to east, but only in the same direction in which its discoverer navigated it — from east to west — because of the supposed existence of a very heavy current from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

García Hurtado de Mendoza later entrusted exploration of the strait and adjacent territories to the pilot, Juan de Ladrillero, who took with him as second in command another mariner called Francisco Cortés Ojea,​7 who was familiar with these regions through having formerly accompanied Ulloa. In 1557 they left Valdivia in two vessels. At first navigation was easy; the north winds bore the bark along with relative ease. They visited the archipelagoes of Chiloé and Guaitecas, somewhat distant from the coast but, after several days of sailing, a tempest surprised them in the Gulf of Peñas, south of the peninsula of Taitao. This obliged them to enter the Channel of Fallos, which separates the islands of Serrano and Prat from the island of Campaña, and to anchor in a cove of the latter. On continuing the voyage, the flagship of Ladrillero was separated from that of Cortés Ojea because of another storm, and they did not again come together. In spite of having no news of his chief, Cortés Ojea kept on toward the south.  p55 Innumerable were the dangers and the suffering that he ran. Among the intricate labyrinth of islands and channels he often seemed completely lost. Finally, in the spring of 1558, he returned to Valdivia. His voyage had lasted a year.

Cortés Ojea's news of the separation from Ladrillero created the impression that that mariner and his companions were definitely lost. It was not until another year had passed that it became known that the audacious enterprise had achieved success. In the middle of 1559 Ladrillero and his companions entered Concepción on their return.

Ladrillero had sailed from the Channel of Fallos to the south and crossed the strait which today bears his name, between the Esmeralda and Angamos Islands. Running from isle to isle and channel to channel, he finally penetrated into the strait and after several months arrived at Primera Angostura, its eastern mouth. He passed through the full length of the strait in both directions and also explored the maritime contours of the extreme south of the country.

Taking Possession of the Soil; The System of Encomiendas.

Because of their distance, the trans-andine provinces remained a government apart and Chile proper, the Chile of today, was populated and occupied by the conquerors only in the territory that extends from the valley of Copiapó to the Gulf of Reloncaví. However, this narrow strip of land which some have said could not feed fifty Spaniards, now at the end of the conquest harbored more than a thousand of them and fed them all. Nine cities had arisen in it, and beautiful cultivated fields yielded abundantly throughout its entire extent.

The Spaniards had to cultivate the soil and breed animals in order to live, and to work the mines in order to make themselves rich. As they were not accustomed to these occupations, since they were, above all, military men, they made the enslaved Indians work for them. Each of the conquerors wished to own his portion of soil and enough Indians to work it. The land which was assigned to a conqueror was called repartimiento and the Indians who lived on it and who were also assigned to him, encomienda because he had them in his care ("commended" to him, according to the language at the time), and he made them work.8

The governors were authorized to give these concessions to their  p56 more deserving companions, but only provisionally; the king reserved the right to approve them or not. The king of Spain was master of all the territories and conquered inhabitants, the only and absolute master, in virtue of the authorization given him by the pope to discover and occupy lands in the western part of the world. But, if his faithful vassals went to such distant and unknown regions and conquered nature and men at the cost of heroic sacrifices, it was because they were in pursuit also of their share of immediate benefits. As the sovereign possessed no other means than the conquest themselves with which to remunerate their services, scarcely any part of the territory was occupied before the chief of the conquering enterprise divided the lands and Indians among his men in order to ease His Majesty's conscience of such debts.

The concessions approved by the king gave the recipient the right to enjoy the repartimiento and encomienda during his life time, and at his death this right descended to his oldest son, who enjoyed it also while he lived. After the completion of these two lives, the territory and Indians assigned returned to the power of the sovereign, and he, or his governors for him, disposed of them in favor of another person.

It must not be understood that all the conquerors received this grant. It was attainable only by the strongest; but, under the protection of these, the rest made their fortune. It must also be taken into account that the "two lifetimes" were almost always nominal, because the heirs gave proof of services which made them eligible to the same concession, and thus this concession was converted into an indefinite heritage.

For the first time, in 1544, Pedro de Valdivia made the division of Chilean land and Indians in the conquered section from Aconcagua to Biobío, forming sixty portions, usually separated from each other by some river or range of mountains. In this way some of the captains fell heir to whole valleys, extending from the sea to the cordillera, with their corresponding Indians. Valdivia's own allotment was assigned the same way. It was situated between Valparaiso and Quillota and, fronting on the sea, contained the mines of Marga-Marga.

But two years later Valdivia modified these concessions. He reduced the sixty allotments to thirty-two, because the Indians were constantly becoming scarcer. While the governor was in Peru, those who had been dispossessed by this reform accused him before La Gasca and asked for the return of their allotments. La Gasca ordered Valdivia to give the repartimientos and encomiendas not  p57 to his friends but to the most meritorious, but Valdivia made no change.

Later, when the Extremaduran conqueror extended his dominion to the banks of the Bueno River, the concessions of land and Indians were much more numerous and the number of discontented was considerably lessened. Then Don García came and gave and took away the repartimientos at will. This drew on him the hottest wrath of those affected, but the system remained as established and served as the foundation for the acquisition of agrarian property rights in Chile.

The conquerors thus provided with lands to be cultivated and Indians to work them, devoted their efforts first of all to working the mines. Gold was what they coveted most, because with it they enriched themselves at once and because 20 per cent of the production of the mines went to the king (the royal fifth). The more fifths the governor sent to the court, the more he, as well as the country from which they were taken, was appreciated.

At first little gold was found in Chile. A few streams contained it, and in these "washings" were established, but the return was not abundant. Valdivia received regular returns from the washings of Marga-Marga, already mentioned, and of Quilacoya, near Concepción, which he had taken as his share. But not all possessed the facilities that he had for exploiting mines, the innumerable Indians for the tasks, and the many soldiers to guard them. Only at the end of Don García's government were other gold mines discovered — in Choapa toward the north and near Valdivia toward the south. Silver and copper, especially the latter — metals so abundant in Chile — were not found by the conquerors, nor were they yet sought with interest.

Busied with the exploitation of gold, they did not spend much time on the tasks of agriculture and cattle raising, whose products, however, they needed daily; but they soon made a beginning in these labors. When the Spaniards first came, the Indians were harvesting potatoes, corn, beans, and squashes. The principal grain added to those already known was wheat. The Spaniards also introduced grapevines and at that time made wines. A great impulse was given to the indigenous crops, as well as to the cultivation of those recently introduced, by the opening of new ditches in which water was easily drawn from the rivers. Since all the central zone of Chile was a great forest, it had to be cleared to a great extent, above all in the vicinity of the cities, where fields for cultivation, called chacras, were situated; and these lands, never sown before, were of a luxuriant fertility. Fowls, pigs, goats, sheep, horses, and  p58 cattle were propagated with the greatest rapidity, to such an extent that, during the years of Don García's government, the cattle were counted in herds.

The Indians in Servitude

In cattle raising, as well as in mining and agriculture, the Indian was the most indispensable element. He had to do everything, closely watched by his master. And as the latter's interest depended on drawing the greatest profit possible from the earth, the conquered race was reduced to the most cruel and severe slavery. The condition of the subjected Indians was, then, equivalent to that of the slave of olden times and the serf of the Middle Ages. They were exempt from no kind of labor, from domestic service to mining. The latter was the hardest for them because they had to pass a great part of the day in the washings with their legs in water. Neither women nor children nor the aged were exempt. All were obliged to devote their personal service to their masters. Overseers armed with hips watched and directed them in their labors. At the least sign of languishing the lash fell on their shoulders. Blood reddened the streams. A niggardly ratio of parched corn was their whole food supply. Not a single farthing did they receive for the day's wages. At times during the campaigns in which they had to serve as beasts of burden to carry the provisions, hundreds of these unfortunates, weakened by weariness and hunger, fell dead along the road.

It was natural that, as they were accustomed to a free life, they should try to escape the suffering imposed by such severe treatment. They did try, but almost always without success, because it was with difficulty that they could change masters; from one encomienda they passed to another. The masters would then be involved in litigation over the owner­ship of the Indians because the latter were not easily distinguishable from one another. For that reason, and to escape vexation, they undertook the task of marking their slaves with a red-hot iron, like any beast. Each owner stamped his sign on the shoulder, cheek, or forehead of the Indians, where it could best be seen, and from that moment he could say "my Indians." The least fault of any of them was punished with one or two hundred lashes. If anyone stole an animal, his hand was cut off, and such were the punishments applied for other crimes, even of less weight. One can understand that the native race would diminish rapidly.

It was the general belief among the Spaniards that the Indian  p59 did not belong to the human race, that they were not worth more than a horse or a dog. Nevertheless, they ruled them in the name of religion and under the title of heretics. But generous voices were raised in Spain to condemn the idea that the Indians were beasts and to ask consideration for them. Public authorities were moved, and the king himself was disposed to protect the American race, which was, however, in his own interest, since the Indians worked the mines and from them was taken the fifth part for his treasury. If the Indians diminished, the king's fifths diminished also.

García Hurtado de Mendoza, obeying the instructions of the court, charged his legal adviser, Licentiate Hernando de Santillán, to devise measures to prevent the extinction of the enslaved natives. The legal adviser logically found the only means to be the suppression of the causes which began the evil, which could be reduced to two: excess of work, and very bad treatment. He elaborated an ordinance which Don García ordered to be carried out, which was called the "measure of Santillán" (1559).​9 It contained the decision that all Indians need not give personal services to the Spaniards, but that the head of each encomienda should deliver to the encomendero one Indian for every six of his tribe for work in the mines, and one for every five, for the fields. This personal tribute was called mita. It also was settled that the Indians should enjoy remuneration equivalent to a sixth of the production of his labors, that the encomendero should feed him with meat at least three times a week, and that he should give him the needed tools. He should excuse the women, the males less than eighteen years of age, and the aged over fifty from all obligation to work and should forbid the Indian to be treated like an animal.

The encomendero was obligated to sow lands sufficient for the feeding of his workers; to minister to them in sickness; to teach them the Catholic religion; and, lastly, to protect them on all occasions and to treat them with gentleness. This law for the protection of the Indians displeased the encomenderos, even if it did please the king as well as the Indians, because, in lowering the number of workers, it lessened the production of the fields and mines. Therefore, they were not disposed to comply with it. The Indians, for their part, were as little disposed to labor willingly for their masters. Accustomed to liberty, they fled to the woods  p60 in order to escape the mita. In this way the Spaniards, by their greed, and the Indians, by their indolence, brought about the failure of the measure of Santillán. It was never applied and did not alter the status of slavery in which the native race was held.10

The Author's Notes:

1 See Stella May Burke, The Conqueror's Lady (London, 1930).

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2 Bohón, a native of Rioseco, Spain, appeared in Lima in 1536, accompanied Valdivia to Chile, and returned to Peru with that leader. After the founding of La Serena he was put to death by Indians in the valley of Copiapó. See José Toribio Medina, Diccionario biográfico colonial de Chile, p135; Diego Barros Arana, Historia jeneral de Chile, I, 213‑214.

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3 This battle was fought near Cuzco. See W. H. Prescott, Conquest of Peru (2 vols. New York, 1848), II, 415‑432.

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4 For a detailed account of the tortures to which Valdivia supposedly was subjected, see Barros Arana, Historia jeneral, I, 434‑437.

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5 Castillo escaped from the forces of Gonzalo Pizarro, joined the enemies of the latter, and helped to overthrow that rebel. He came to Chile with Hurtado de Mendoza and under the latter's orders founded the city named after his leader. See Medina, Diccionario biográfico colonial de Chile, pp192‑193.

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6 Ulloa returned to Chile with Hurtado de Mendoza and later settled in Concepción. At the time of the exploit mentioned in the text he was about fifty years of age. One of that name in 1539‑1540 assisted Cortés in exploring the Gulf of California and another accompanied Orellana on the Amazon. It is impossible to determine any relation­ship among the three. See Medina, Diccionario biográfico, p880. For a different point of view see Barros Arana, Historia jeneral, I, 328, 417.

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7 Ojea, an experienced cosmographer, prepared a formal report of his voyage during which he encountered greater difficulty than his chief. In 1594 he appears as an encomendero of Indians in Osorno. See Medina, Diccionario biográfico, p220.

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8 See Helen Douglas-Irvine, "The Landholding System of Colonial Chile," in Hispanic American Historical Review, VIII (November, 1928), 449‑495.

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9 This ordinance does not exist in its original form but in summaries given by the chroniclers Diego de Rosales and Suárez de Figueroa. See Barros Arana, Historia jeneral, II, 223, n. 19. See also Lesley Byrd Simpson, The Encomienda in New Spain (Berkeley, 1929).

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10 Many additional details regarding the system of encomiendas and the general relations between the Spanish and Creole proprietors of Chile and its Indian population will be found in Douglas-Irvine, op. cit.

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