Christopher Columbus discovered previously unknown lands far to the west of Europe in 1492, and soon the New World filled with explorers and adventurers looking to strike it rich. The Americas were full of fierce native warriors who defended their homelands courageously, but they had gold and other valuable treasures, which were irresistible to the pillagers.
The men who ravaged the native peoples of the New World were known as the conquistadors, a Spanish word meaning ‘those who conquer.’
The Mapuche are a group of American Indians who are from Chile, and there are some that live in Argentina as well. The Mapuche Indians are a very important tribe to remember in the Americas since they are one of the few tribes who have survived almost totally unchanged in their traditions.
Around 500 years ago, in the early years of South America’s protracted Arauco War, Spanish conquistadors routed several thousand Mapuche Indians in the Battle of Lagunillas, near the Bio Bio River in south-central Chile.
The Spanish conquistadors managed to capture 150 Mapuche prisoners. Among those 150 Mapuche prisoners was a man named Galvarino who led a division of Mapuche soldiers.
All of the 150 Mapuche prisoners were taken to a Spanish encampment. The Mapuche prisoners were convicted of insurrection and the Spanish governor, Garcia Hurtado de Mendoza, ordered troops to sever the right hand and nose of each warrior.
When it came to Galvarino, the Spanish governor decreed that Galvarino was to have his both the left and the right hand chopped off with an axe.
Galvarino, together with other Mapuche soldiers, were ordered to tell their general Caupolican to simply surrender without further bloodshed.
Letting Galvarino leave the Spanish encampment alive was the biggest mistake they could make.
He didn’t tell his general Caupolican to surrender; instead, he told him to continue fighting against the Spanish conquistadors and he assured him that he would help him even without his hands.
But how could a handless man help his tribe in the war against the Spanish conquistadors? What Galvarino did was totally unimaginable. He fastened knives to both of his wrists just before the next offensive.
On November 30, 1557, about one month after he was captured he led an army of 3,000 Mapuche soldiers against 1,500 Spaniards in the Battle of Millarapue.
Their plan was to ambush the Spanish encampment but it didn’t go well despite the fact that the Mapuche warriors outnumbered the Spanish conquistadors by two-to-one.
The Spaniards were professional soldiers with steel armor, crossbows, and rifles and they managed to win the battle easily.
All three thousand Mapuche were killed and the Spanish conquistadors suffered only minor injuries.
Most of the Galvarino’s men were sentenced to hang. And he was offered leniency but he refused it and told them:
“I would rather die than live like you, and I’m only sorry that my death will keep me from tearing you to pieces with my teeth.”
What happened to Galvarino after he said this to his enemies is not known for sure.
Some say that he was hanged, others claim that Mendoza threw Galvarino to the dogs and there another claim that he managed to kill himself.