The Abaucanian Race

Army Sent to oppose the Progress of the Spaniards

In order to check the advance of the Spaniards, the Araucanians determined not to await an actual invasion of their own territory, but to cross the river Bio-bio, which formed the boundary of their country, and attack them in force at their quarters in the adjoining province of Penco. The great cacique or Toqui, Aillavilu, with several thou sand warriors, was commissioned for this service. The Spanish army was encountered on the banks of the Andalien, and, for the first time in the history of American conquest, experienced the power of an enemy little inferior in skill, and fully equal in courage and determination to the trained soldiery of Europe.

The Indians fought with desperate valor regardless of the murderous effect of the Spanish firearms; but their leader Aillavilu, rashly exposing himself in the hottest of the engagement, was slain, and his followers made an orderly retreat, unpursued by the Spaniards. To secure him self against future danger, Valdivia at once erected a strong fort near his newly founded city of Conception. This was in 1551, and in the following year the bold mountaineers of the south determined upon another great effort to dislodge the dangerous colony.

Lincoyan’s Campaign

One Lincoyan, an Ulmen of huge stature and imposing appearance, was created commander of the armies. In three bodies the Araucanians fell upon the Spaniards, and drove them within the fort. Hopeless of affecting any thing against this stronghold, Lincoyan drew off his forces: he is, indeed, accused by historians of a degree of irresolution and timidity unworthy of his race.

Valdivia, left in undisturbed possession of his new territories, went on with the work of building his city, and strengthening his position. In 1552 he felt sufficient confidence in the number of his followers, augmented by fresh arrivals from Peru, to undertake active operations against the Araucanians. Lincoyan was still in command, and his efforts failed to arrest the progress of the invaders, who pressed on to the river Cauten, in the heart of the hostile territory. Here Valdivia laid the first foundations of the future city Imperial, and sent Alderete, one of his officers, to commence the formation of a settlement by the lake of Lauquen.

From this point the Spanish commander made his way to the southern border of the Araucanian territory, where the river Caliacalla divided it from that of the Cunches, experiencing little opposition from the vacillating arid cautious Lincoyan. The Cunches, in great force, were prepared to oppose his entry into their domains; but according to the accounts handed down to us, they were persuaded to lay aside their purpose, by a native woman, named Recloma. Valdivia was therefore enabled to cross the river in safety, and to found a city upon its southern bank, upon which he bestowed his own family name.

On his return, in 1553, he erected forts in the provinces of Puren, Tucapel and Arauco. These operations were not carried on without hostilities with the natives; but, in consequence, as is said, of the inefficiency of the military chief at their head, all their efforts were unsuccessful, and the Spaniards were beginning to despise the power of an enemy who was in after-times to prove invincible.

Foundation of Valdivia, and Establishment of Forts in the Araucanian Territory

Valdivia retired to Conception, from which town he sent forth expeditions in various directions, forming magnificent plans for the entire occupation of the surrounding country. He anticipated little further resistance on the part of the inhabitants, but while he was indulging these hopes, and pondering new schemes of conquest, an influence was at work to counteract his efforts and restore the native independence. Colocolo, an old cacique of Arauco, set himself in earnest to rouse up the whole nation to resistance. He visited province after province, pointing out the dangers of the supine course of Lincoyan, and urging the appointment of some more capable and energetic leader.

A meeting of the Ulmenes was called, after the usual manner, in an open plain, and the merits of various rival candidates for the office of Toqui were stormily discussed. It was at last concluded to leave the decision with Colocolo, who fixed upon a chief not before brought forward; Caupolican, Ulmen of Pilmayquen.

The new general commenced operations against the Spanish fort in Arauco. Having taken prisoners a body of eighty Indians, who had been sent out by the garrison to gather forage, he put an equal number of his own warriors in charge of the supplies, with their arms concealed among the bundles of grass or hay. These were admitted without suspicion into the fort, when, grasping their weapons, they attacked the Spaniards with inconceivable fury. Caupolican did not arrive quite soon enough, with his army, to take advantage of the confusion, which ensued. As he came up, his brave company was driven out, the drawbridge was raised, and the garrison stationed to defend the walls. He therefore invested the place, and, cut ting off all supplies, compelled the Spaniards to evacuate it. This was accomplished without loss, by taking their departure under cover of night: f at midnight they mount ed their horses, and, suddenly opening the gate, rushed out at full speed, and escaped through the midst of their enemies; the Araucanians, who supposed it to be one of their customary sallies, taking no measures to obstruct their flight.”

Following up his advantage Caupolican reduced the fort at Tucapel, and encamped at that place to await the approach of the Spanish army. Valdivia, according to the expectation of the Toqui, promptly collected his forces for a grand struggle with the natives. The numbers of the respective armies are not certainly known; but it appears probable that there were several hundred Spaniards, accompanied by ten times their number of Indian auxiliaries, while the Araucanian forces are set down at nine or ten thousand. As he neared the enemies camp, the Spanish general sent forward ten mounted men under Diego del Oro, on a scout. These were surrounded and cut off by the Indians, and their heads were hung upon trees in sight of the advancing troops.

It was upon the 3d of December 1553, that the grand engagement took place. It was no ordinary Indian skirmish, in which, if the natives could be dislodged from covert, their discomfiture was certain, but a pitched battle, depending no less upon military skill in the maneuvers of the different battalions than upon individual courage and determination. The Spaniards were, it is true, greatly outnumbered, but they had, on the other hand, the immense advantage of firearms and other European weapons, with which they had so long been accustomed to scatter the hordes of rudely-equipped savages who opposed them.

The Araucanians appeared utterly reckless of life: line after line would be swept away by cannon and musketry, but fresh bodies were ready, at the word of command, to rush into the dangerous breach. Molina describes the result as follows: “Three times they retired in good order beyond the reach of the musketry, and, as often, resuming new vigor, returned to the attack. At length, after the loss of a great number of their men, they were thrown into disorder, and began to give way. Caupolican, Tucapel (one of the most distinguished of their generals), and the old, intrepid Colocolo, who was present in the action, in vain attempted to prevent there flight and reanimate their courage. The Spaniards shouted victory, and furiously pressed upon the fugitives.

“At this momentous crisis, a young Araucanian, of but sixteen years of age, called Lautaro, whom Valdivia, in one of his incursions, had taken prisoner, baptized and made his page, quitted the victorious party, began loudly to reproach his countrymen with their cowardice, and exhorted them to continue the contest, as the Spaniards, wounded and spent with fatigue, were no longer able to resist them. At the same time, grasping a lance, he turned against his late master, crying out, Follow me, my countrymen! victory courts us with open arms.

Death of Valdivia

Such resolution and courage on the part of a boy roused the fugitives to new exertions, and turned the scale of battle. The Spanish force was entirely destroyed of the whole army, it is said that only two Indians escaped. Valdivia was taken alive, and brought into the presence of the Toqui. Caupolican seemed disposed to favor the captive general, but an old officer, standing by, ” enraged to hear them talk of sparing his life, dispatched the unfortunate prisoner with a blow of his club.”

A more fanciful tale of the manner of Valdivia s death obtained some credence: Purchas makes mention of it as follows in his synopsis of Chilian conquests and colonization:

“In six and thirty degrees is that famous valley of Arauco, which defend their persons and freedom, maugre all the force and fury of the Spaniards. They have destroyed many of the Spaniards: they took the city Baldivia in the year 1599, and slew the Spaniards. Twice before, if not oftener, they had burnt and spoiled it. Yea, Baldivia himself, the first conqueror of Chili (for Almagro staid not), and of whom that city received name, was taken by these Indians, his horse being slain under him. They bid him fear nothing, he should have gold enough: and making a great banquet for him, brought in the last service, which was a cup full of molten gold, which they forced him to drink, saying, Now glut thy self with gold. This Baldivia had entered Chili with four hundred horse, and easily conquered that part which had been subject to the kings of Peru; but the other, which was the richer part, held out.”

To proceed with the more authentic narrative, Lautaro was immediately raised to the highest subordinate rank in the army, being made “lieutenant-general extraordinary,” and the whole country resounded with his praise.

Invasion of Arauco by Villagran

When news of the fatal overthrow of Valdivia reached the Spanish settlements, the inhabitants abandoned Vildivia, Puren, and other minor establishments, retreating for safety within the walls of Valdivia and Imperial. These two places were invested by Caupolican in force, while the gallant young Lautaro was in trusted with the defense of the mountain pass by which succors from the north would probably arrive.

In accordance with directions left by Valdivia for the conduct of the government in the event of his death, the office of governor devolved upon Francis Villagran-. Immediately upon assuming command, this officer made arrangements for another invasion of Arauco.

He found Lautaro with his division prepared to oppose his entrance into the province. An advanced body of natives was driven in by the Spaniards, after some hours of hard fighting, and the invaders pressed up the mountain path to the spot where the young commander was posted. “This mountain,” says Molina, “which on several occasions has proved fatal to the Spaniards, has on its summit a large plain, interspersed with shady trees. Its sides are full of clefts and precipices, on the part towards the west the sea beats, with great violence, and the east is secured by impenetrable thickets. A winding by-path on the north was the only road that led to the summit of the mountain.”

Villagran had six pieces of artillery, which he succeeded in bringing to bear, with effect, upon the Indians, while his musketeers poured continual volleys among their crowded ranks. By the orders of Lautaro, a select body of warriors charged the battery, and took possession of every cannon. This decided the fortune of the day; the Spaniards and their allies were driven down the mountain in hopeless confusion, pursued by the victorious natives. To add to their difficulties, they found their retreat cut off by a barricade of logs. But a handful of the number survived to carry the heavy news to Conception.

The city was immediately deserted, as incapable of defense; the women, children, and old men, were shipped on board the vessels in the harbor, to be carried to Valparaiso and Imperial, while Villagran, with the able-bodied men, took up his march for Santiago.

The Araucanians plundered and destroyed the abandoned city without opposition. The hurried departure of the Spaniards, and their insufficient means of conveyance, prevented the removal of much accumulated treasure, which consequently fell into the hands of the Indians.

Villagran, as soon as practicable, sent reinforcements to the besieged cities of Valdivia and Imperial, upon which Caupolican drew off his forces, leaving the Spaniards to lay waste the surrounding country. A worse enemy than the European invaders, at this time, desolated the Indian territories: that terrible disease the small-pox was communicated to the natives by some infected Spanish soldiers, and, as usual among a people unacquainted with its peculiarities, spread far and wide, producing a fearful mortality.

In the year 1555, the Court of the Royal Audience, at Lima, in settling various disputed questions connected with Spanish government in Chili, directed Villagran to rebuild the city of Conception. A colony was accordingly transported thither, and a strong fort was erected. This spot, it will be remembered, was to be northward of the Bio-bio, and without the Araucanian territory; but, at the request of the native inhabitants, an army of about two thousand men, under Lautaro, was sent to annihilate the growing settlement.

The young chieftain was a second time completely successful. The Spaniards were slain, or driven to seek safety in their vessels, or by flight through the wilderness, and the buildings were again plundered and razed.

Lautaro’s Fatal Expedition Against Santiago

Flushed with success, Lautaro now determined, with only six hundred warriors, to march a distance of some three hundred miles, and attack the town of Santiago. At the same time, Caupolican again laid siege to Valdivia and Imperial. Lautaro pursued his march peaceably until he reached Promaucia, where he revenged his country upon the treacherous allies of the Spaniards by ravaging and laying waste the district. This course of proceeding has been pronounced grossly impolitic, as by conciliation and kindness he might have secured friends where he now left behind him implacable enemies.

Instead of making an instantaneous attack upon the city, Lautaro deemed it more prudent to erect a fort to which he might retreat, and where he might, at his leisure, reconnoiter the enemy s strongholds, and choose his own time for assault or surprise. He therefore posted himself on the banks of the Claro. Repeated attempts were made by the Spaniards to dislodge him, but again and again they were repulsed with heavy loss. The conduct of these sorties were entrusted to Pedro Villagran, son of the governor, the old chief himself being at the time disabled by sickness.

Upon his recovery, the veteran took with him an army of about two hundred Spaniards, with a thousand Indians, and marched, with great secrecy and caution, for Lautaro’s camp. He succeeded in surprising the enemy, and gained a complete victory. The attack was made just at the dawn of day, when the Indians were totally unprepared: they fought with their usual desperation, and, after all hope of resistance was at an end, sternly refused to surrender. “In vain,” says Molina, “the Spanish commander repeatedly offered them quarter. The Araucanians perished to the last man, and fought with such obstinacy that they sought for death by throwing themselves on the lances of their enemies.”

Lautaro was slain by a dart in the very first of the melee. This was in 1556, and the brave and celebrated chief was consequently but nineteen years of age. His death was universally lamented; even the Spaniards, while exulting in the prospect of future safety, opened to them by his death, both felt and expressed the most enthusiastic admiration for his noble character and distinguished talents. Caupolican, hearing of the melancholy issue of Lautaro s expedition, raised the siege of Imperial, and repaired to the northern frontiers.

Brownell, Charles De Wolf. Indian Races of North and South America: Comprising an account of the principal aboriginal races; a description of their national customs, mythology, and religious ceremonies, the history of their most powerful tribes, and of their most celebrated chiefs and warriors; their intercourse and wars with the European settlers; and a great variety of anecdote and description, illustrative of personal and national character. Hartford, Conn., Chicago,E. B. & R.C. Treat; [etc., etc.]: Hurlbut, Scranton & Co. 1864.

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