Lautaro (toqui)

Lautaro (In Mapudungun: "Lef-Traru": Speedy Crested Caracara) was a Mapuche military leader and protagonist in the War of Arauco. Some of his tactics are currently studied in several war academies around the world.

Early life

Lautaro was the son of a mapuche "Lonko" (chief for times of peace). When young, he was captured by some Spanish colonizers, and became the personal servant of Don Pedro de Valdivia, Spanish conqueror of Chile. Lautaro learned the military ways and skills of the Spaniards' army by observing Valdivia and his peers.

Lautaro escaped from Spanish captivity and rejoined the mapuches as a young adult. With the knowledge he had acquired, he introduced use of horses to the Mapuche, and designed improved tactics for combat against the Spanish. He attracted a large number of otherwise dispersed Mapuche warriors and formed a native army that could fight successfully against the Spanish conquerors.


In 1553 the Mapuches held a parliament in which, given the growing Spanish forces and their decision to remain in the territory, it was decided that war was needed to expel them. The Toqui Caupolicán chose Lautaro as vice Toqui because he had served as an assistant for the Spanish cavalry, and knew various tactics that would allow the Mapuche infantry to defeat the mounted conquistadors.

Battle of Tucapel

With 6,000 warriors under his command, Lautaro attacked Fort Tucapel. The Spanish garrison couldn't resist the assault and retreated to Purén. Lautaro seized the fort, sure that the Spaniards would attempt to retake it. This was exactly what Valdivia tried to do with a reduced force, which was quickly surrounded and massacred by the Mapuches. The Battle of Tucapel would be Pedro de Valdivia's last, as he was captured and then killed.

After the defeat at Tucapel, the Spanish hurriedly reorganized their forces, reinforcing fort Imperial for its defence and abandoning Confines and Arauco in order to strengthen Concepción. However, Araucanian tradition dictated a lengthy victory celebration, which kept Lautaro from exploiting the weakness of the Spanish position as he desired. It was only in February of 1554 that he succeeded in putting together an army of 8,000 men, just in time to confront a punitive expedition under the command of Francisco de Villagra.

Battle of Marihueñu

Lautaro chose the hill of Marihueño to fight the Spanish, and subsequently organized his forces in four divisions: two had the mission of containing and wearing down the enemy, another would be held in reserve to launch a fresh attack as the Spanish were about to crumble, and the last would work to cut off their retreat. Additionally, a small group was sent to destroy the reed bridge the Spanish had erected across the Bío-Bío River, which would disrupt even more the attempted retreat of Villagra.

The Spanish attack broke the first Mapuche lines, but the quick action of the third group maintained the Indian position. Later, the wings of this division began to attack the Spanish flanks, and the fourth division attacked from behind. After hours of battle, only a small group of Spanish were able to retreat.

Despite this new victory, Lautaro was again unable to pursue the opportunity due to the celebrations and beliefs of his people. By the time he arrived at Concepción, it was already abandoned. After burning it, he could not continue the offensive with his remaining forces, and the campaign came to an end as the warriors demobilized.

In Santiago, Villagra reorganized his forces, and that same year of 1554, he departed again for Arauco and reinforced the strongholds of Imperial and Valdivia, without any interference from the Mapuches, who were dealing with their first epidemic of smallpox, which was brought by the Spanish.

In 1555, the Real Audiencia in Lima, ordered him to reconstruct Concepción, which was done under the command of Capitan Alvarado. Lautaro attacked Concepción when he learned that it was being rebuilt, with 4,000 warriors. He put the town under siege, which Alvarado attempted to break unsuccessfully. Only 38 Spaniards managed to escape by sea the second destruction of the city.

Peteroa and the Battle of Mataquito

After this action, Lautaro planned an assault on Santiago, for which he drew scant support from his troops, who soon dwindled to only 600. In October of 1556 he reached in his northward march the Mataquito River, where he established a fortified camp at Peteroa. In the Battle of Peteroa he repulsed attacking Spanish forces, first under the small command of Diego Cano and later held off the larger force of Pedro de Villagra. Hearing of more Spaniards approaching, Lautaro retreated towards the Maule River, with the Spaniards in hot pursuit he was forced to retire beyond the Itata River. From there he launched another campaign towards Santiago when Francisco de Villagra's army passed him on his way to the save the remaining Spanish settlements in Araucania instead of confronting them, he gave them the slip and left for the city to attack it.

Despite the stealth under which the Mapuches moved, the city leaders knew of the advance, and sent a small expedition to detain them, buying time for word to be sent to Francisco de Villagra to return to the city from the south. The Spanish forces met in the field, and by the treason of a local Picunche, found out about the disposition of Lautaro's camp. At dawn, on April 29, 1557 the conquistadors launched a surprise attack from the hills of Caune, obtaining a decisive victory in the Battle of Mataquito in which Lautaro was killed early in the fighting. After the defeat of his army, his head was cut off and displayed in the plaza of Santiago.


He is considered an icon of the War of Arauco and the first Chilean General, for his revolutionary strategies and the responsibility in uniting the dispersed Mapuche people.

His name was used by Francisco de Miranda when he founded the Logia Lautaro, an American independence society of the end of 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century. Lautaro became a key protagonist in the epic poem La Araucana by Alonso de Ercilla, a major piece of literature about the Spanish conquest of America. In addition, he is also the subject of a poem by Chilean Nobel Literature Prize laureate Pablo Neruda.He appears as an important character in the historical novel "Ines del Alma Mia" by Isabel Allende. According to Allende, Lautaro deliberately allowed himself to be captured by the Spanish in order to learn their secrets, and made no attempt to escape before he felt he had learned enough.

ee also

*Arauco War
*History of Chile
*Pedro de Valdivia

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