The Mapuche uprising of 1881 was the last major rebellion of the indigenous Mapuches of Araucanía. The uprising took place during the last phase of the Occupation of Araucanía (1861-1883) by the Chilean state.
The uprising was planned by Mapuche chiefs in March 1881 to be launched in November of the same year. Mapuche support for the uprising was not unanimous, some Mapuche factions sided with the Chileans and others declared themselves neutral.
The organisers of the uprising did however succeed in involving Mapuche factions that had not previously been at war with Chile. The 1881 uprising can be considered the climax of the Chilean-Mapuche hostilities during the Occupation of Araucanía.
In the 19th century Chile experienced a fast territorial expansion. Chile established a colony at the Strait of Magellan in 1843, settled Valdivia, Osorno and Llanquihue with German immigrants and conquered land from Peru and Bolivia. Later Chile would also annex Easter Island. In this context Araucanía began to be conquered by Chile due to two reasons.
- First, the Chilean state aimed for territorial continuity; and
- Second it remained the sole place for Chilean agriculture to expand.
Between 1861 and 1871 Chile incorporated several Mapuche territories in Araucanía. In January 1881, having decisively defeated Peru in the battles of Chorrillos and Miraflores, Chile resumed the conquest of Araucanía.
The campaigns of the Argentine Army against Mapuches in the other side of the Andes pushed in 1880 many Mapuches into Araucanía. Pehuenche chief Purrán was taken prisoner by the Argentine Army and the Argentine Army penetrated into the valley of Lonquimay which Chile considered part of its legal territory. The fast Argentine advance alarmed Chilean authorities and contributed to the Chilean-Mapuche confrontations of 1881.
Abuses against Mapuches
During the period following the war of 1871 Mapuches in the Chilean occupied parts suffered many abuses and even murder by settlers and Chilean military. One of the most notable cases was the murder of Domingo Melín in 1880 by elements of the Chilean military.
In January 1881, the Mapuches of the Malleco zone rose against the Chilean occupation. The town and forts of Traiguén, Lumaco and Collipulli were attacked. In response the Chilean state launched a massive campaign not only to defend forts and settlements but also to push the frontier all the way from Malleco River to Cautín River. Interior minister Manuel Recabarren was appointed by president Aníbal Pinto to oversee the process from the town of Angol. Colonel Gregorio Urrutia was summoned from Chilean-occupied Lima to Araucanía to take charge of the Army of the South.
Recabarren personally led a large column that established the forts of Quillem, Lautaro and Pillalelbún. In this last place Recabarren was approached by some Mapuche chiefs who asked him to not advance beyond Cautín River. Recabarren answered by telling them that the whole territory was being occupied. At the founding of Temuco in the northern shores of Cautín River Recabarren met chief Venacio Coñoepán and other chiefs from Choll-Choll who also asked him to not advance further. On 28 March, Gregorio Urrutia founded the town of Victoria at the shores of Traiguén River.
With the Chilean advance to Cautín River a small mountain range called Cadena de Ñielol remained a focus of Mapuche resistance from where warriors conducted pillaging raids or attacks against vulnerable targets. To end this activity Gregorio Urrutia established a fort in the range.
Initially Mapuches offered little resistance to Chilean advance to Cautín River. Recabarren believed that Mapuches had not reacted because they expected the foundation of new forts and towns to be preceded by parliaments with Chilean authorities. A wave of Mapuche attacks begun in late February 1881, just a few days after the founding of Temuco in the middle of Mapuche territory. The first major attack was against a caravan of carts carrying injured soldiers from Temuco to Fuerte Ñielol. The whole escort of over 40 soldiers and the 96 injured and sick soldiers were killed. In response to these attacks Gregorio Urrutia launched an attack on the Mapuche warriors of Cadena Ñielol burning in his way over 500 rukas and captured over 800 cattle and horses. On the other side of the Andes Pehuenches assaulted in March the Argentine outpost of Chos Malal killing the whole garrison of 25-30 soldiers.
Planning of the Uprising
In mid-March Venacio Coñoepán and other Mapuche chiefs met. In the meeting the establishment of new settlements was rejected and the chiefs decided to go to war. They set 05 November as the date for their uprising. Coñoepán opposed the uprising and according to Gregorio Urrutia he was unaware of date of uprising.
Course of the Uprising
During the uprising several Chilean forts and towns were attacked.
Quillem and Lumaco
A group of Arribanos attacked by mistake on wrong date, November 3, the fort of Quillem. This attack put on alert all Chilean garrisons in Araucanía, settlers took refuge in the forts. On 05 November, 400 Mapuche warriors, allegedly led by Luis Marileo Colipí, attacked the fort of Lumaco. After Chilean reinforcements arrived to Lumaco Mapuches retreated, and waited to hear news for the uprising elsewhere.
In Nueva Imperial suspicious Mapuche movements were noticed on 06 November and telegraphs were sent seeking help from Valdivia and Lebu. The town of Nueva Imperial was attacked on 07 November. Defenders fled to the hills and the settlement was effectively destroyed.
In the coastal region the mission of Puerto Saavedra was attacked. The town of Toltén was defended by the Mapuches of Budi Lake who sided with Chile. From Toltén Chile sent 50 militiamen to fight Mapuche rebels. In Toltén as well as in San José de la Mariquina most women were sent to the city of Valdivia as men prepared for hostilities. Chileans and German settlers dug defensive trenches around San José de la Mariquina. At the moment of the uprising it was even thought that rebels could reach Valdivia in the south if they succeeded in penetrating San José de la Mariquina.
Despite of having remained outside conflicts in the 19th century the Costinos of the northern coast joined the 1881 uprising. Costino warriors, after having contributed to the destruction of Imperial and the engagements at Toltén, advanced north to Arauco. Around Tirúa Costino warriors suffered heavy casualties in two engagements with a group of more than 400 armed settlers and campesinos plus some soldiers.
Ñielol and Temuco
The most important engagements were held at the fort of Ñielol and Temuco located at the heart of Araucanía. Venacio Coñoepán and 60 of his warriors were granted refuge in the fort of Ñielol as he had opposed the uprising. From there Coñoepán contributed to the defence. The uprising Mapuche succeeded in isolating the fort but were unsuccessful in their attack on 09 November. On 10 November, a reinforcement of Mapuches coming from Traigén was defeated by Chilean troops and the siege of Ñielol was lifted. After the Mapuche failure at Ñielol Chilean troops and Coñoepáns warriors were sent to Temuco that was still being under siege. Uprising Mapuches numbered 1,400 to 4,000 depending on source. In command of the Chilean forces inside the fort of Temuco was José M. Garzo. The main engagement at Temuco occurred on 10 November when part of the Chilean troops left the fort of Temuco to chase the warriors from Truf Truf and Tromell. The remaining Mapuches unsuccessfully attacked the fort, believing it was almost empty. The defenders used the only cannon in the fort to shoot explosive shells against the attacking Mapuche. About 400 Mapuches were either killed or wounded on 10 November around Temuco.
Aftermath and Legacy
Uprising Mapuche chiefs were severely punished. When Gregorio Urrutia arrived to Cholchol on 10 November he ordered the construction of a fort in the place of the ruka of chief Ancamilla who had joined the uprising. By doing this Urrutia fulfilled an old vow:
If I, your friend, knows that you Ancamilla are involved in provocations and assaults, I swear I will build a fort above your ruka. If you remain peaceful nobody will touch you (Gregorio Urrutia).
Ancamilla was taken prisoner and sent to a “dungeon with crickets” in Poblete. The fort of Cholchol begun to be built on 22 November and gave with time origin to the modern town of Cholchol. The rukas of other revolting chiefs were also razed.
Luis Marileo Colipí who had allegedly attacked Lumaco was stripped of the more than 6,000 ha land he owned near Purén and his brother was taken prisoner and killed. Luis Marileo Colipí managed to escape to Argentina. Little is known about his whereabouts there.