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Jun 1, 2020


History of Patagonia from Discovery to Conquest. The history of Patagonia is a dramatic account of exploration, endurance, suffering and survival, full of extraordinary characters and amazing natural settings. Covering three centuries since the Renaissance, the stories grip the imagination and invite you to explore this great virgin territory. Venice flourished through the silk and spice routes maintaining a trade monopoly. An amazing discovery made history in 1520, the Strait of Magellan in Patagonia opened the new Southern route to the lndies and the circumnavigation around the world. The trade hegemony over the lndies was fractured, thus balancing the power of commerce towards Spain. These explorations started the search for El Dorado, the golden city that tempted Europeans to explore even further the great territory of Patagonia. Charles Darwin's theory of evolution was inspired in Patagonia with the analysis of its flora and fauna, including the biggest bird on earth, the condor. The discovery of the Beagle Channel by Robert Fitz Roy in 1830 was also a historical accomplishment. Previous visitors such as Sir Francis Drake and Sir Thomas Cavendish from England, sailed the Southern ocean where the Menendez family later built an empire in Punta Arenas and Tierra del Fuego.
Jun 1, 2020

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Patagonia - James Button


Chapter I


The previous section makes clear the need for an investigation to discover a more precise delineation of Patagonia; above all, for the region of Northern Patagonia during its pre-Hispanic era, which dates from 14,200 BC.

The various aspects relating to the history and geography of Patagonia during the Spanish era are well-known. However, the borders of the republics of Argentina and Chile were established with great difficulty because this huge territory knew no frontiers in pre-colonial times and it is therefore appropriate to ask whether it is correct to establish Patagonian frontiers based on the era before or after the arrival of the Europeans.

This book explores the delineation for Patagonia from both perspectives. From the sources that I have gathered in the libraries of Madrid, Seville and Paris, one can see that until now, the main objective of the Argentine and Chilean republics has been centered on the recognition of their own frontiers and, in particular, of those related to the border between the east and west, between the Atlantic Ocean, the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.

The analysis presented here does not pretend to be an investigation or compilation of references. The challenge here is the search for knowledge in a wider prespective, looking at the subject through a different and more contemporary prism, in order to discover the original and natural frontiers of Patagonia and thus get closer to the reality of its territorial boundaries for those who lived in this vast area for over 14,200 years.

My starting point in this book is therefore a look at the indigenous territories of Patagonia as a whole, because I believe these clearly define the region, not the definitions imposed by Europeans, who exterminated the indigenous population of the southern continent, specifically during the ‘Conquest of the Desert’ carried out in the Argentine Republic under General Julio Argentino Roca. This was a military campaign against the Tehuelches (Patagons) in 1879 that resulted in the elimination of Eastern Patagonia’s largest indigenous race. Thousands of native Indians died, 13,000 were made prisoners, and another 3,000 were separated by sex and sent to Buenos Aires, where the women were distributed like slaves across the various neighborhoods of the capital city of Argentina, and the men were either conscripted into the military and the navy or forced to work in the sugar plantations. In this way, after having separated families, physical and cultural reproduction and continuity was effectively eliminated.(1) It was these atrocities carried out by the White Man against the Patagonian natives for the purpose of taking their land that effectively established Eastern Patagonia by means of the incorporation of those territories into the Republic of Argentina.

Since the geographical borders between Argentina and Chile are not the subject of analysis here, this book will focus on the question of the borders of Patagonia specifically, and other subjects that develop from that, in relation to both countries.

How far did the Patagons reach towards the south and the north? The western and eastern limits were always set by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, while the imposing Andean Mountain Range is responsible for the natural border created by its water courses and its high mountain peaks that are universally recognized as the frontier between Chile and Argentina. It only remains, therefore, to establish where exactly the northern limit of Patagonia should be within the general territory of both modern countries.

With respect to this new question on the delimits of Patagonia, this book has something new to offer by achieving a balance between pre-Hispanic sources and historic research covering the 16th Century to the present; and also by questioning modern delineations to develop a new theory based on solid foundations relating to the natural history of the inhabitants, whose roots date back to 14,200 BC, and which agree with contemporary and traditional assessments provided by historians and geographers in their day. I will say now, therefore, that I believe the configuration of the northern and southern boundaries match the natural outline of the region of Patagonia.

Among the diverse historians that defined the boundaries of Patagonia, one can quote Frederic Lacroix, from his book ‘A History of Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands,’ published in 1841:

Geographic position. General configuration and boundaries. Patagonia stretches from north to south, covering a distance of around 465 leagues, between 35° and 38° and 53° and 54° of southern latitude. Its western side begins at 38° and the eastern side at 42° latitude.

This clearly states the geographical boundary to the north, on the western side, which corresponds to the Chilean Province of Valdivia, on the Pacific Ocean, and to Carmen de Patagones on the eastern side, in Argentina, at the mouth of the Río Negro that empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

Likewise, one must quote the historian Raúl Rey Balmaceda, from his work Geografía Histórica de la Patagonia (The Historical Geography of Patagonia), published in 1976, in which he concludes the following, in relation to the boundaries for Patagonia:

If we look at a map of South America, we can note that the region designated with the name Patagonia covers the narrow strip on the Chilean littoral south of Valdivia, the Patagonian Mountains, and the ledges and terraces that descend from them towards the Atlantic Ocean.

It is also worth quoting the Chilean historian Enrique Campos Menéndez from his book El Alma de la Patagonia (The Soul of Patagonia), published in 2002, which refers to the boundaries of Patagonia and concludes that it is located between:

...39° and 59° of southern latitude in South America, made up by one million square meters of mainland territory and surrounded by two great oceans –the Atlantic and the Pacific– and an archipelago of channels and fjords that make up the bottom cone of the continent.

The contribution made by this last historian is that he situates the northern and southern boundaries of Patagonia with greater precision –between 39° and 59° of southern latitude–that is to say, Valdivia, Neuquén and Cape Horn.

The French professor of glaciology and geographer Luis Lliboutry wrote in his book Nieves y Glaciares de Chile published by Ediciones de la Universidad de Chile in 1956 the following: Northern Patagonia. The region of the lakes. We shall beging with Patagonia at Latitude 39° South, where the principal lakes commence with Lake Alumine. This statement of the beginning of Northern Patagonia starting at Latitude 39 South and at the lake regions of Chile, clearly validates once more the area of Valdivia and its surrounding lakes at that Latitude where the beginning of Chilean Patagonia takes place.

Defining the borders of the Patagonian region

Historically, the traditional boundaries of Patagonia are well known, but the subject continues to be debatable considering recent archaeological discoveries and the availability of a more in-depth and widely publicized investigation in modern times. Therefore, this author considers it is necessary to attempt a clarification of its traditional past and present boundaries, in order to compare them with most recent discoveries, so as to find a new delineation for Patagonia, without considering the distinct indigenous groups that have so far been classified as sub-groups, according to the parameters and standpoints imposed by Europeans and traditional historians.

Serving extraneous objectives for defining internal borders or defending frontiers or causes that are now past, or to serving religious, cultural, climatic or linguistic interests, leads some to artificially position Patagonia’s borders according to those schemes, and they are therefore not considered here. The objective is to leave a diffuse subject behind and recognize that the location of the indigenous populations that inhabited Patagonia is fundamental to recognizing its true extent. This new perspective opens a wide field of investigation for a contemporary way of seeing things.

It is generally agreed that the main rivers enabled the principal human settlements in Patagonia to emerge and that their extent was defined by those same rivers. Furthermore, human populations, flora and fauna on either side of the Andean Mountains are distinct and have clear natural boundaries that can be asserted both historically and archaeologically; and while nothing is definite with this material, an attempt at progress and an updating of history is made here by incorporating new discoveries. Without such an effort, one simply stagnates in the repetition of what is already known.

The appearance of new archaeological sources obliges us to redefine and analyse the position of Patagonia. The borders of a region as ancient as this, that dates from approximately 14,200 BC, merits a more in-depth analysis, taking into account the new sources that force us to redefine its traditional boundaries.

Current history cannot simply advance with discoveries alone, but rather their analysis must be applied to a range of situations, with reference to frontier interests and to the arbitrations that have taken place between Chile and Argentina. For this reason, Patagonia’s true nature requires us to update its history, and advances such as those made at Monte Verde near Puerto Montt and at Pilauco Bajo near Osorno create an opportunity for investigation in a serious context.

Until now, we have had difficulty studying just 500 years of history of Patagonia and have achieved only a vague understanding of its boundaries in the face of a war of maps that continue to define historic demarcations between the republics of Argentina and Chile. What we are faced with now, is a huge gap in the history that awaits discovery.

Given the above, I believe we must change our focus and become receptive to the era that is upon us, with all its technology that will allow us to discover the course of history in this great region with the aid of DNA sampling and carbon dating and other modern techniques –all to serve just one objective; namely to discover our natural history and investigate who really inhabited Patagonia and when. In this way, we will be able to continue making advances and discover this fascinating region of South America. We need to relate our knowledge to reality so we can find the original and definitive boundaries of this indomitable region christened Patagonia by Ferdinand Magellan in 1520.

Archaeological delimits of Patagonia

The initial human habitation of Patagonia indicates a history of around 14,000 years and is characterized by a slow process resulting from the displacement of groups of people looking for new hunting territories for large mammals, such as the mylodon (giant ground sloth), which has been extinct for 10,000 years. In Chile, the presence of early mankind and an organized civilization has been discovered from Punta Arenas to Osorno, where sites such as Pilauco Bajo near Osorno and Monte Verde near Puerto Montt provide us with ample testimony to the facts.

There is a concensus regarding the importance of river courses in determining the location of settlements and the spread of human populations in Patagonia during the pre-Hispanic era, covering the Río Calle-Calle, Río Limay and Río Negro, up to the environs of the Río Chubut and the Río Santa Cruz. Given the above, it is therefore necessary to consider rivers and their waterways that flow from east to west, from the Andes to the sea, as the natural borders of the region under review.

Ethnic delimits of Patagonia

"Equally, it should be made clear that the denomination of Araucania that was given to the region beyond the Andes and comprised the area between the Río Bío-Bío and Río Toltén originates with the Spanish and derives from the word ‘raucos,’ by which they knew the native Indians who lived to the south of Concepción, and who were famous for their resistance to Spanish rule...

It is very important, therefore, to keep in mind, especially, the difficulty of labeling ethnic groups –such as the Tehuelches, Poya, Puelches, etc.– who possibly never existed in reality, but rather were a creation of definitions imposed by others, in this case, the Spanish."

Susana Bandieri, ‘Historia de la Patagonia’, second edition,

Editorial Sudamericana, Buenos Aires, 2009, pp 44.

In this quote, the historian Susana Bandieri defines the boundaries of Araucania according to ethnic settlements located in Chile between the Río Bío-Bío (Concepción) and the Río Toltén (Villarrica), locations that are generally agreed upon in Chile. Given that the concensus among historians is that waterways played an important role in the expansion of human settlements characteristic of the pre-Hispanic era in Patagonia, this is a different viewpoint. Therefore, the main rivers that empty into the Pacific or Atlantic Ocean constitute important ethnic boundaries, such as in this case, where the Río Toltén empties into the Pacific at Punta Nihue, to the north of the city of Valdivia. Furthermore, this coincides with the boundaries indicated by the French historian Frederic Lacroix in 1841, who stated that the northern limit of Chilean West Patagonia is to be found between the southern latitudes of 35° and 38°. Valdivia is actually positioned at the southern latitude of 39°, but this inconsistency can be explained by the fact that when Frederic Lacroix studied the strip of Araucania, he considered it an indefinite stretch, nominating it as the northern border of Patagonia reaching from 35° southern latitude, which corresponds to the north of the Río Bío-Bío, and 38° southern latitude, which corresponds to the north of the Río Calle-Calle at Valdivia.

This corridor defined by Lacroix in his writings on the boundaries of Western Patagonia is not precise, given the nature of cartography during his lifetime, but it gives us a useful approximation, and states that the northern limit of Patagonia should be positioned between the southern latitudes of 36° and 39°. That is to say, Lacroix’s first measurement for delineating the territory of Northern Patagonia, taken in 1841, was only out by one degree and his estimate is therefore quite exact, if we consider it as a first attempt.

In any case, the southern border of Araucania I state as being at 39° southern latitude, extends one degree further, as regards to Lacroix, and could be located 60 miles further north, thus coinciding with him. That is to say, around 96 km further north than the Río Calle-Calle, which would be near the mouths of the rivers that empty into the sea in the Los Ríos Region in Chile, and coincides with the ethnic context put forward by the Argentinean historian Susana Bandieri when she refers to the mouth of the Río Toltén.

Given all the supporting statements above, provided by Raúl Rey Balmaceda, Hans Steffen Hoffmann, Enrique Campos Menéndez, Frederic Lacroix, Luis Lliboutry and Susana Bandieri, as well as the archaeological and anthropological considerations, we shall therefore state in this work that the northern boundary for Chilean Patagonia is to be found within the Region of Los Ríos in Chile, whose provincial capital is Valdivia. And on the northern Argentine side, we shall claim concensus for the northern limit at the level of Neuquén Province, along the Río Colorado that empties into the Atlantic Ocean, together with the Río Negro, at Carmen de Patagones.

Furthermore, the discovery of Monte Verde in 1976, 30 km west of Puerto Montt, in Chile’s Region XIV, dates from 14,200 BC, and is widely acknowledged as the most important historical find relating to the earliest evidence of Patagon settlement in South America. The site is located near the Chinchiguapi stream, on the edge of the American Continental Shelf and at the beginning of the Patagonian insular plate of Chilean West Patagonia.

Map of Patagonia

Santiago, Friday November 10th, 2006

Patagonia is what we call the territorial extension that is located between latitude 39 through 59 South of the American continent, surrounded by the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean, forming a CONE that is interrupted by the Strait of Magellan. Then it continues in Tierra del Fuego, ending in the dreaded Cape Horn, bathed by the Drake Passage. Further South is the Antarctic continent which extends its territory to the Southern Pole.

Enrique Campos Menéndez

Letter written by Enrique Campos Menéndez (RIP) on the borders for Patagonia.

In conclusion, further investigation is required since, up to 1976, it was believed that the region of Patagonia began to the south of Puerto Montt. But the historical, ethnological –and, much less, archaeological– sources that can truly and precisely confirm the northern boundary have yet to be unified into a single concensus.

Susana Bandieri’s work Historia de la Patagonia (History of Patagonia) permits us to relate her research to recent discoveries made by Chilean scientists at Monte Verde and add them to the studies made by historians and geographers already cited, whose work has been confirmed by other reliable sources, which I also confirmed during my own research in European libraries and at Monte Verde, as well as in northern Patagonia on both sides of the frontier. In this way, I was able to understand the delineation of Patagonia from a modern point of view, incorporating the technological, digital and satellite advances that allow us to establish each point of longitude and latitude with greater speed and accuracy, and thus reach a precise conclusion on location. This is also made possible thanks to the information on every topic that is now available via universal access to the internet, enabling us to continually update this history of Patagonia, along with its geographical boundaries.

General borders of Patagonia

Patagonia is a territory located in the southern cone of the American Continent, whose human population dates from approximately 14,000 BC, and which begins at 39° southern latitude to the north, on territory belonging to the Republic of Chile, in a region known as Western Patagonia. This sector is defined by the mouth of the Río Calle-Calle that empties into the Pacific Ocean by the city of Valdivia and whose water course can be followed from north-east direction, as far as the Andean Mountain Range and the highest snow-capped mountains.

From its headwaters and via the highest peaks of the cordillera, heading south-east, the Patagonian region spreads into Argentinean territory and becomes known as Eastern Patagonia, where it is in the Province of Neuquén, and its border is commonly accepted to be the Río Negro that empties into the Atlantic Ocean at Carmen de Patagones. At the southern extreme of the American Continent, the Patagonian region is embraced to the east and west by the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean respectively, up to where those oceans meet in the region of the Straits of Magellan and Cape Horn, a territory belonging to the Republic of Chile, although the large island of Tierra del Fuego is currently divided between the Republics of Chile and Argentina.

(1)  Quote from Susana Bandieri, ‘Historia de la Patagonia’ (A History of Patagonia), second edition, Editorial Sudamericana, Buenos Aires, 2009. pp. 51

Chapter II


Charles Darwin in Patagonia

Fossil with petrified flower

Patagonian flora and fauna

During the five-year voyage around the world on bord the HMS Beagle and, in particular, during the time of his stay on the American Continent between 1832 and 1835, Charles Darwin explored the coasts and mountains of Patagonia, while the captain and cartographer Robert Fitzroy remained near the coastline to measure the depths of the seas, explore navigable channels, and study the strong currents of the southern ocean. Darwin took advantage of those long periods the HMS Beagle remained in the southern channels to explore the Patagonian region by land, which enabled him to gather useful anthropological and geological material, as well as zoological information in the shape of a collection of animal species, while also undertaking paleontological scientific research.

He studied the ‘Falkland Islands Wolf,’ which was apparently twice the size of an English fox, and was also variously known as the ‘Falkland Island Dog,’ ‘Falkland Island Fox,’ ‘Antarctic Fox’ or ‘Warrah.’ Darwin also studied Toxodon fossils from an extinct herbivore very similar to a rhinoceros and found skeletal remains for a Macrauchenia (a three-toed South American ungulate mammal), and a Mastodon (which had a similar weight to elephants), as well as horse fossils with shorter and wider legs. His research also makes reference to his discovery of a Glyptodont, a Megatherium and a Mylodon. His observations regarding climate and the glaciers led him to measure and relate these formations to the glaciers that existed in Europe.

According to Darwin, the southern-most glacier moving towards the sea in the Northern Hemisphere was located on the coast of Norway, at the northern latitude of 67° and was twenty degrees closer to the North Pole than the glacier of Lake San Rafael in Chilean Patagonia in relation to the South Pole. This is a difference of 1,980 km between the two hemispheres, from which one can deduce that, already, during the time of the voyage of the HMS Beagle in 1834, the phenomenon of global warming was being observed occurring naturally for the first time. The northern hemisphere demonstrated this symptomatic decline and Darwin noted that the

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