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Occupation of the Araucania

The Occupation of the Araucania (18611883) were a series of military campaigns, agreements and penetrations by the Chilean army and settlers which led to the incorporation of the Araucania into the Chilean national territory. "Pacification of the Araucania" was the name used by the Chilean authorities.



The indigenous inhabitants of the Araucania, the Mapuches, had resisted for more than three hundred years the Spanish attempt at conquest during the Arauco War. They had also previously defeated the Incas. Whilst the frontier with the Inca empire was in the Maule River, the Spaniards had succeeded in establishing the Bio-Bio River as the frontier with the Mapuches. When the Arauco Wars faded in the 18th and 19th centuries, commercial relations began to grow and mestization increased in the lands near Bio-Bio, the so called "frontier". Ambrose O'Higgins and other governors of Chile made agreements with several chiefs to end the hostilities on both sides.

From the beginning of the 19th century it was obvious that the Mapuche society had stagnated while the new Chilean Republic started a period of economic prosperity and successful wars against Spain, Peru and Bolivia. The idea of doing what the Spaniards could not achieve in three-hundred years gained support, reinforced by the fact that Argentina was already fighting the Patagonic tribes in what would become the "Conquest of the Desert". The Chilean population was growing fast, and more land was required for Chilean and European immigrants who had already settled south of the Araucania in the surroundings of Valdivia, Osorno and Llanquihue. The Chilean army had earlier developed the forces with which to occupy the Araucania, which became evident after the War of the Confederation in 1839, but the fresh memory of Mapuche uprisings and the War of Arauco forced the government to appreciate the period of peace which had begun in the late 18th century.

Manuel Montt, as president of Chile, laid the institutional base of the coming occupation by creating, in 1852, the province of Arauco, which was meant to administer all of the territories south of the Bio-Bio River and north of Tolten River .

The plan

In 1860, Chilean president Jose Joaquin Perez Mascayano decided to incorporate the Araucania. With the proclamation of "the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia" by a French lawyer, Orelie-Antoine de Tounens, it became a priority and a pretext to incorporate the Araucania even though the "Kingdom" never, in fact, became a serious threat to the Chilean (or Argentine) state.

The Chilean authorities decided to apply the plan proposed by General Cornelio Saavedra Rodriguez, which included a mix of military and cultural penetration concurrent with agreements with the local chiefs. The plan also included the foundation of cities and the construction of roads and other public infrastructure .


Gen. Saavedra advanced in relatively short time to the Malleco River and there founded the city of Angol, together with the forts of Mulchen and Lebu, in the year 1862. From Valdivia in the south, the troops also succeeded in advancing along the coast into the Tolten River area. This first phase of the occupation was carried out with relatively low levels of resistance, but soon after the lonco Quilapan began to revolt near the Malleco River. Despite of the nascent insurgency, Puren was founded in the densest Mapuche population centre in 1869 and allowed for communications between Angol and the coast.

From 1871 to 1879, Basilio Urrutia was left in charge of the occupation, which had by then been consolidated up to the Malleco River. On the north side of the River the army had established a defensive line in the year 1871 and had in place communications from Angol to Collipulli by telegraph.

With the beginning of the War of the Pacific in 1879, many of the troops in the south of Chile were moved to the north (to fight Peru and Bolivia). In 1880, several Mapuche tribes took advantage of this situation and launched a series of spontaneous attacks on the Chilean forts which had been established in the frontier. The attacks did not inflict any serious defeats upon the Chilean garrisons and turned out simply to have been pillaging raids.

With a victorious Chilean army returning from the War of the Pacific, the government of Domingo Santa Maria launched into a final campaign to incorporate the heartland of the Mapuches into Chile. The colonel, Gregorio Urrutia, was chosen for this task. The old Spanish town of Villarrica was founded anew and the forts of Carahue, Lautaro, Pillanlelbu, Temuco, Nueva Imperial and Pucon established. The tribes living close to these forts lost their territory, and about ten-thousand Mapuche Indians were killed in skirmishes with the Chilean army. Many of the survivors escaped to the mountains wherein they joined with the Pehuenches and the other tribes which were in flight from the Argentine territory to the east. Some indigenous remnants were placed into reductions and their land given to both Chilean and other settlers of foreign nationality. Some historians consider the occupation of the Araucania to be the end of a 300-years long War of Arauco.


Araucania was not fully "pacified" after the close of the military campaigns, and it remained an insecure land, despite the efforts of the central government in Santiago. Even now, some Mapuche groups continue to pillage haciendas located in what they consider to be their ancestral lands. With the construction of the Malleco viaduct in the 1890s, the region became more accessible and colonization into southern Chile increased ever more. The last areas to be occupied were the heights of the Bio-Bio River and the coast (near Budi Lake). By the year 1929, the Chilean government had given nearly 5,000 km of land in more than three-thousand legal titles to settlers in the Araucania . In 1934, 477 workers and Mapuches were killed during the Ranquil Massacre in the upper Bio-Bio River .

The Army of Argentina also led their own campaign of pacification in Patagonia, "the Conquest of the Desert", which led to the cessation (in large scale migration ...) of Patagonian Mapuches to Chile. In Argentina, the remaining indigenous peoples perished. In Chile, the remaining Indian groups were forcefully assimilated into Chilean society.


Villalobos, Sergio. Historia de Chile Tomo 4. Editorial universitaria, 1982.

See also



Conquest of the Desert

The Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia


The War of Arauco

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