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With the end of the conquest of Peru (1535), the Spanish continued with their expeditions aimed at finding gold and precious metals, which, according to Incan rumors, were abundant in these lands.

On July 3rd, 1535, Diego de Almagro left Cuzco accompanied by 50 men in search of said riches. The conqueror bordered lake Titicaca and one hundred soldiers that had left early (under the command of Juan de Saavedra) to get to know the land joined him as he crossed the Desaguadero river.

With an increased troop of 150 men, Almagro continued along Tupiza and Chicoana and crossed the Andes through the San Francisco pass (in front of present day Copiapo). This is the spot where the new lands that would later be known with the name of Chile began.

Cold and hunger killed hundreds of Indians that accompanied the expedition. Faced with such a scene, Almagro took part of his troops and went ahead through the Paipote ravine. Here, he was helped by the natives and supplied provisions.
Upon reaching Copiapo, Almagro and his expedition became the discoverers or Chile. However, seafarer Ferdinand Magellan had bordered our territory along the south in the year 1520.

Before his departure from Cuzco, Almagro commissioned captain Ruy Diaz to sail with reinforcements and provisions and wait along some point of the coast of Coquimbo. At this point, Almagro had already trespassed the limits of his governorate (New Toledo) and continued towards the south. In the following valleys, Huasco and Coquimbo, the Spanish faced the Indians. Almagro arrived to the valley of the Aconcagua river and from there went on to the Maipo valley.

At the same time, he had sent two of his captains to travel the nearby regions. Juan Saavedra’s expedition reached the coast, where Alonso Quintero’s ship was, who was in command of the San Pedro (only surviving vessel of Ruy Diaz’s fleet). Another detachment, commanded by Gomez de Alvarado advanced up to the confluence of the margins of the Itata river.
Faced with the resistance of the Indians and the absence of wealth, Almagro decided to go back to Peru, arriving in Cuzco in 1537.

Second expedition to Chile

Despite the Almagro’s negative comments regarding the lands to the south, years later, a new conqueror would come. In 1539, Pizarro named Valdivia lieutenant governor, authorizing him for an expedition to Chile. He joined forces with merchant Francisco Martinez and captain Alonso Monroy, having to also take in Pedro Sanchez de la Hoz. In January of 1540, Valdivia left Cuzco with a troop of 11 Spaniards (among them Ines de Suarez) and nearly one thousand yanaconas in direction to Chile. The route the conqueror decided to take was the same Almagro used when he returned to Peru (Inca road system).
This way, after bordering Atacama, he arrived to Copiapo (1540). The expedition continued their journey to the south passing through the valleys of Huasco, Coquimbo, Limari, Choapa, Aconcagua and Mapocho (December 1540). In this last valley, Valdivia found good conditions for erecting a city. This is how, on February 12th, 1541, at the foot of Huelen hill (currently Santa Lucia), the foundation of the city of Santiago del Nuevo Extremo was performed.

After erecting some basic constructions (houses of wood and straw, warehouses and a church), the next step was founding a cabildo (council) (March, 1541), which would be in charge of the city’s administration.

Continues with…

Pedro de Valdivia, Governor of Chile
The mapuche offensive
The arrival of Garcia Hurtado Mendoza
From apparent peace to losing ground in the Conquest

Pedro de Valdivia, Governor of Chile

The news that arrived from Peru regarding the possible death of Francisco Pizarro, which meant a change of lieutenant governor in Chile and the more than sure loss of the right to have encomiendas (trusteeships), alerted the cabildo of Santaigo. For this reason, it was decided to name Valdivia governor and general captain (June of 1541).

With the objective of continuing with the conquest, Valdivia had to get gold and a ship with which to travel to Peru in order to bring men and provisions. To accomplish this, he began the exploitation of the gold-bearing sands of the Marga Marga and the construction of an embarkation, which took place at the mouth of the Aconcagua river. Valdivia had left Santiago towards the Cachapoal valet with the objective of subduing the Indian rebels. But he had to return to the city (alerted of a conspiracy against him), taking a great portion of the Spanish in charge of building the boat with him, situation that was taken advantage of by the natives to attack them.

The governor then decided to head towards the Maipo river, once again leaving Santiago. Cacique Michimalonco took advantage of this and attacked the city (September 11th, 1541). The defense of Santiago was led by Alonso de Monroy. This attack meant a great step backwards in the conquest tasks, and due to this, upon his return Valdivia ordered lieutenant  (deputy) Alonso de Monroy to travel to Peru (1542) in search of reinforcements and supplies. He obtained a troop of seventy men and for his superiors to send a boat (“Santiaguillo) with provisions. Its arrival took place in Valparaiso (1543).

The foundation of cities

In 1544, Valdivia commissioned Juan Bohon to found a city in the north, halfway between Santiago and Copiapo. This how on November 15th, he founded the city of La Serena.

Valdivia also asked Juan Bautista Pastene to explore the coasts of the south. Upon his return to Valparaiso, he informed of the numerous indigenous population that inhabited these lands. Upon hearing of this, Valdivia immediately thought of subduing the Indians in order to use them as an encomienda (trust). But he needed to reinforce his troops, and in order to do so, he sent Monroy and Pastene to Peru (September of 1545).

Meanwhile, Valdivia began an excursion that reached the Biobio, but he ignored the warrior instinct of the mapuches. He slept in Quilicura, where he was attacked by the Indians (1546). The confrontation marked the beginning of an extensive conflict dubbed the war of Arauco.

Valdivia returned to Santiago, but before this he took an undetermined amount of mapuches prisoner. Among them was Lautaro, who later became his servant.

Valdivia travels to Peru

In mid 1547, Pastene returned to Chile and told Valdivia that in Peru, Gonzalo Pizarro (brother of Francisco) was leading an uprising and a royal envoy had been sent from Spain, Pedro de Gasca.Faced with these grave events and wanting to collaborate with De la Gasca, Valdivia left for Peru, also thinking of using his trip to obtain resources for the conquest.
Upon arrival, Valdivia collaborated with Pedro de Gasca’s troops, and together they defeated the forces of Gonzalo Pizarro (1548). For his work, Valdivia was rewarded with the title of governor of Nueva Extremadura (1549). This territory was comprised of Copiapo, at 27º, southern latitude, until 41º, and up to 100 leagues from the sea to the interior. Valdivia arrived to Valparaiso in April, 1549.

Expedition to the south

Upon returning to the country, Valdivia began to plan an expedition to reach beyond the Biobio, with the objective of incorporating these lands to the conquest and subdue the Indians. In 1549, accompanied by nearly 200 soldiers and a group of Indians that collaborated with the Spanish (commanded by Michimalonco, now an allay), Valdivia passed the Biobio river and faced the mapuches at the battle of Andalien (January 15th, 1550), where the Spanish obtained a narrow victory. Then, the Spanish headed towards the coast, and in the place the natives knew as Penco, they built a fort. Here, they received a new indigenous assault , which ended in another victory for the conquerors. Believing the territory was dominated, Valdivia founded the city of Concepcion on this spot on October 5th, 1550.

Valdivia’s troops continued their advance towards the interior of the Araucania and founded the cities of Valdivia and Villarrica, as well as fort Tucapel (1552). Next year, Los Confines de Angol and Santiago del Estero (present day Argentina) were founded, along with the erection of two forts: Arauco and Puren.

Valdivia was keeping up intense conquering activities and was determined to dominate all the way down to the straight of Magellan. In fact, in September of 1553, he sent Francisco de Ulloa in search of the straight, returning in December of that same year, failing to have found it. It is worth pointing out that the foundation of cities and forts had caused a dispersion of Spanish forces, which therefore left them weakened. This was taken advantage of by the Indians, who Valdivia had thought were subdued. During this period, young mapuche Lautaro fled the Spanish and returned to his people.

The encounter of Lautaro and Valdivia

Lautaro would convince the mapuche warriors to use the knowledge he had acquired in his contact with the Spanish, which had to do with combat techniques, the use of guns and controlling of the horse. This way, he suggested they leave aside the massive attack and face them in blocks or successive groups. With these arguments, Lautaro was chosen toqui and he began a handy preparation for his attack. Meanwhile, the Spanish began to suspect of the mapuch plans when a group of them fled the gold-bearing sands of Villarica. Due to this, Valdivia decided to split his troops and send Gabriel de Villagra to La Imperial and Diego de Maldonado towards Tucapel. However, they were both ambushed.

This way, as this went on, another group commanded by Caupolican attacked the fort at Puren. Faced with this situation, Valdivia left to defend fort Tucapel (December 15th, 1553), but was met by the fierce attack of the mapuches. The Spanish stoop up to the first charge of the natives well, but when they thought the battle was being won, another squadron of Indians appeared, weakening the Spanish troops and making Valdivia order retreat. However, Lautaro managed to take Valdivia prisoner and then killed him.

The mapuche offensive

After the death of Valdivia, the councils (cabildos) of the south, Santiago and La Serena named three governors at the same time: Francisco de Villagra, Rodrigo Quiroga and Francisco de Aguirre. This, despite the fact that Pedro de Valdivia’s will stated his successors were to be Jeronimo de Alderete or Francisco de Aguirre.

Finally, the Crown, respecting the wished of the conqueror, named Jeronimo de Alderete governor, but he died before reaching Chile. In order to put an end to this conflict, the viceroy of Peru named his own son, Garcia Hurtado de Mendoza, governor.

Meanwhile, Lautaro continued to organize for fighting off the invaders, and in February of 1554, he achieved an ample victory at the battle of Marihueñu. The Spanish survivors took refuge in Concepcion and the inhabitants, fearing an attack, fled. Fear spread among the Spanish settlers and Villarrica was also abandoned.

On top of this, Lautaro commanded an advance towards the north (1555), but he was stopped by a typhus epidemic before getting there. Francisco de Villagra took advantage of this opportunity to reinforce his garrisons and rebuild Concepcion.

Lautaro retook the offensive and destroyed Concepcion again, beginning his march towards Santiago. During his advance, he decided to camp near Peteroa, receiving an attack from Villagra (April of 1557), who managed to make the mapuches retreat.

Lautaro reinforced his defenses and charged once more, managing to cross the Mataquito river and camped at the foot of the Caune hills. However, in this spot the Spanish dealt a powerful blow, killinig him and defeating his troops.

The arrival of Garcia Hurtado Mendoza

The new governor arrived to the bay of Coquimbo in April of 1557. Without passing through Santiago, he headed to Concepcion and faced the mapuches (led by Caupolican) at the battles of Lagunillas and Millarapue (1557). Garcia Hurtado continued exploring the territory and founding cities. He also rebuilt Concepcion and Tucapel and erected the city of Cañete in 1558. He got to the heart of Reloncavi, also founding Osorno.

The governor also ordered a few explorations, like Juan Ladrillero’s (see box) and Pedro de Castillo’s, who founded the city of Mendoza (1561).

The mapuches on their part took the offensive as soon as they saw Garcia Hurtado was dividing his forces. This way, under the command of Caupolican, they attacked fort Tucapel, but were defeated.
The, Alonso de Reinoso surprisingly attacked Caupolican’s troops, managing to defeat them and taking their toqui prisoner, who died on a stake (to impale).

From apparent peace to losing ground in the Conquest

King Phillip II (successor of Charles V), decided to depose the viceroy of Peru and his son (1559) and named Francisco de Villagra as governor. It’s worth highlighting that at the end of Garcia Hurtado’s rule, the situation was calm between the Copiapo and Biobio rivers. However, more to the south, the struggle of the mapuche people continued and several cities and forts were under constant threat.

Francisco de Villagra couldn’t stop the mapuch rebellion. This way, the defeates at Puren, Mareguano, Cañete and Licoya proved the inefficiency of the Spanish it reaching their goal of subduing the Indians. Villagra passed away in 1563, leaving his cousin Pedro de Villagra in charge of the government.

The new governor’s military policies had a tendency to concentrate forces, reason for which he strengthened the garrisons of Angol and Concepcion, achieving several victories over the mapuches. However, he was soon removed and Rodrigo de Quiroga was put in his place, who ordered the rebuilding of Cañete and the repopulation of Arauco. He also performed the reconquest of Chiloe island (1567). However, the king, upon seeing that the mapuche resistance continued, wanted to solve the problem by providing to the government the four oidores of the Royal Assembly (Real Audiencia) of Concepcion, which had been recently created (1567). The lack of experience of these functionaries led them to make incorrect decisions, for which the Spanish suffered several defeats.

The next year, a new government led by Melchor Bravo de Saravia organized a campaign against the mapuches. But at the battle of Catiray (1569), they suffered a great defeat. After this, the king once again designated Rodrigo de Quiroga as governor (1575), whose administration was marked by several problems: an earthquake, an Indian insurrection commanded by mestizo Alonzo Diaz and the appearance of English corsairs. In 1580, De Quiroga died, temporarily followed by Martin Ruiz de Gamboa, who founded the city of Chillan that very year.

Alonso de Sotomayor succeeded Ruiz de Gamboa (1583), who thought that in order to defeat the Indians, there had to be a numerous, well-prepared army. This governor would only achieve sporadic victories in the war.

Disastrous end of the XVI century

The last governor of the conquer stage, Martin Garcia Oñez de Loyola (1592), thought that in order to defeat the Indians, first they must promote peace (making gifts or promising to free them from taxes). When faced with this situation, the mapuches supposed the Spanish were acting this way because they were weakened. So they attacked the cities founded on their territory.

In December of 1598, Pelantaro’s troops attacked Angol. The governor, upon hearing of the situation, went to defend the city. Before arriving there, the Spanish camped in Curalaba, and here, they were surprised by the mapuches (December 23rd), killing the governor and almost the entire troop. This became known as the disaster of Curalaba.
After the death of Oñez de Loyola, the mapuche insurrection spread. The cities the Spanish had erected were abandoned. Only Concepcion managed to endure.

This way, it was decided to set the border at the Biobio river. The XVI was winding down, leaving Chile in utmost disaster and misery.