Battle of Río Bueno (1654)

Last updated
Battle of Río Bueno
Part of Arauco War
Date11 January 1654
Result Mapuche-Huilliche victory
Flag of New Spain.svg Spanish Empire


Commanders and leaders
Flag of New Spain.svg Juan de Salazar
900 Spanish soldiers [1]
1500 Indian auxiliaries [1]
3000 Mapuche-Huilliches [1]
Casualties and losses
About 100 soldiers lost [2]
200 auxiliaries lost [2]

The battle of Río Bueno (Spanish : Batalla de Río Bueno or Desastre de Río Bueno) was fought in 1654 between the Spanish Army of Arauco and indigenous Cuncos and Huilliches of Fütawillimapu in southern Chile. The battle took place against a background of a long-running enmity between the Cuncos and Spanish, dating back to the destruction of Osorno in 1603. More immediate causes were the killing of Spanish shipwreck survivors and looting of the cargo by Cuncos, which led to Spanish desires for a punishment, combined with the prospects of lucrative slave raiding.


While Cuncos and Jesuits made attempts to placate the mood of war, maestre de campo Juan de Salazar eventually convinced Governor of Chile Antonio de Acuña Cabrera to authorise and support his expedition. The battle was fought across Bueno River where Cuncos and Huilliches repelled Spanish attempts to cross the river, resulting in hundreds of Spanish troops drowned or killed. The battle contributed to the eventual Mapuche uprising of 1655, in which many Spanish settlements and haciendas were ravaged.

The Battle of Río Bueno along with the subsequent events led to a political crisis among the Spanish in Chile, which involved a risk of civil war. The severity of the crisis made Miguel Luis Amunátegui list it among the precursors to the Independence of Chile. The Cuncos and Huilliches south of Bueno River remained de facto independent until the late 18th century.


Renewed Cunco-Spanish conflict

Chile location map.svg
Legenda miejsce bitwy.svg
Battle of Río Bueno
The location of Spanish settlements and forts within the modern boundaries of Chile and Argentina. In red is the land of Cuncos.

Governor of Chile Antonio de Acuña Cabrera arranged the Parliament of Boroa in January 1651. [3] With this parliament, peace was established between the Spanish and the northern Mapuches. [4] On 21 March 1651, the Spanish ship San José was sailing to the newly re-established Spanish city of Valdivia [upper-alpha 1] when it was pushed by storms onto coasts inhabited by the Cuncos, a southern Mapuche tribe. [6] There, the ship ran aground and while most of the crew managed to survive the wreck, nearby Cuncos killed them and took possession of the valuable cargo. [6] [7] The Spanish made fruitless efforts to recover anything left in the wreck. [7] [8] Governor Acuña Cabrera was temporarily dissuaded to send a punitive expedition from Boroa by Jesuits fathers Diego de Rosales and Juan de Moscoso who argued that the murders were committed by a few Indians and warned the governor that renewing warfare would evaporate gains obtained at Boroa. [7] Punitive expeditions were finally sent against the Cunco, one from Valdivia and one from Carelmapu. [8] [9] Governor of Valdivia Diego González Montero advanced south with his forces but soon found that tribes he expected to join him as allies were indifferent and even misled him with false rumors. His troops ran out of supplies and had to return to Valdivia. [8] While González Montero was away coastal Huilliches killed twelve Spanish and sending their heads to other Mapuche groups of southern Chile "as if they wanted to create a grand uprising" according to historian Diego Barros Arana. [8] [9] Both Spanish expeditions were meant to meet each other at Bueno River but the failure of the expedition from Valdivia prevented this. [8] The expedition from Carelmapu led by Captain Ignacio Carrera Yturgoyen penetrated north to the vicinity of the ruins of Osorno where they were approached by Huilliches who handed over three "caciques", allegedly responsible for the murders. [8] The Spanish and local Huilliches exchanged words telling each other of the benefits of peace. [8] Then, the Spanish of Carelmapu executed the three, hanged them in hooks as a warning, and returned south. Spanish soldiers in Concepción, the "military capital" [10] of Chile, were dissatisfied with the results. [8] [9] Barros Arana considers that some may have pushed for war for personal benefit. [9]

Salazar's slave-hunting army

Acuña Cabrera and his brother in law [2] maestre de campo Juan de Salazar began to plan an expedition to the lands of the Cuncos in the spring of 1653. [11] It was thought to be a lucrative slave raiding expedition. [11] Despite a general ban on the slavery of indigenous people by the Spanish Crown, the 1598–1604 Mapuche uprising that ended with the Destruction of the Seven Cities made the King of Spain in 1608 declare slavery legal for those Mapuches caught in war. [12] Mapuches "rebels" were considered Christian apostates and could therefore be enslaved according to the church teachings of the day. [13] In reality these legal changes only formalized Mapuche slavery that was already occurring at the time, with captured Mapuches being treated as property in the way that they were bought and sold among the Spanish. [upper-alpha 2] Legalisation made Spanish slave raiding increasingly common in the Arauco War. [12] Mapuche slaves were exported north to places such as La Serena and Lima. [15]

To reinforce the expeditionary army, Acuña Cabrera attempted first to revive a practice of military service for local encomenderos, however, the encomenderos refused to obey the order. [11] Acuña Cabrera ignored this insubordination and proceeded instead to boost the expedition with the purchase of 400 horses in Santiago. [11]


The Spanish expedition started from the fort of Nacimento in La Frontera with a force of 900 soldiers and 1500 Indian auxiliaries. [1] [11]

Bueno River as seen from Chile Route 5. River near Valdivia (3144427102).jpg
Bueno River as seen from Chile Route 5.

The Spanish reached the northern shores of east-to-west flowing Bueno River on 11 January 1654. [11] To cross the river, Salazar ordered the construction of a pontoon bridge. [2] Local Mapuche-Huilliches had been warned in advance of the Spanish advance south, so they concentrated in large numbers on the opposite shore of the river. [2] The Mapuche-Huilliche had brought women and children with them, but they remained hidden in the forest, as did also most of the men, only the ones on horseback revealing themselves to the Spanish. [2] In total, Mapuche-Huilliche forces numbered about 3000 men armed primarily with lances. [1] [2]

Some veteran officers expressed their doubts about Salazar's plans, including the stability of the bridge. [2] As the pontoon bridge stood ready, Juan de Salazar sent a first force across. [2] About 200 [1] soldiers that had crossed were quickly surrounded and were being routed, so Salazar ordered the other soldiers to speed up their march across the bridge. [2] However, the bridge was not stable enough and at this point broke apart with disastrous consequences for the Spanish. [2] Altogether, the Spanish lost a hundred professional soldiers and two hundred auxiliaries in a battle where the actual fighting was very limited. [2] Despite these losses, the surviving Spanish managed to get back north to their bases without harassment from the Mapuche. [2]


When learning about the defeat, governor Acuña Cabrera ordered an investigation into any military misconduct during the campaign. [2] However, Salazar's sister Juana de Salazar, who was the wife of the governor, arranged for witnesses to justify her brother's conduct. [16] The investigation concluded by recommending that Juan de Salazar be granted the command of a larger army to chastise the Cuncos and allow Salazar to "recover his honour". [16]

The planning of a second expedition in the summer of 1655 contributed to unleashing a large Mapuche uprising that year. [16] [17]


  1. The city of Valdivia had been reestablished by the Spanish in 1645 following a 1643 Dutch attempt to establish a settlement in the location. [5]
  2. Much like the Spanish Mapuches had also captured Spanish, often women, trading their ownership among them. [14] Indeed, with the Destruction of the Seven Cities Mapuches are reported to have taken 500 Spanish women captive, holding them as slaves. [14] It was not uncommon for captive Spanish women to have changed owner several times. [14]

Related Research Articles

Huilliche people Ethnic group

The Huilliche[wi.ˈʝi.tʃe], Huiliche or Huilliche-Mapuche are the southern partiality of the Mapuche macroethnic group of Chile. The Huilliche are the principal indigenous population of Chile from Toltén River to Chiloé Archipelago. According to Ricardo E. Latcham the term Huilliche started to be used in Spanish after the second founding of Valdivia in 1645, adopting the usage of the Mapuches of Araucanía for the southern Mapuche tribes. Huilliche means 'southerners'

Slave raiding

Slave raiding is a military raid for the purpose of capturing people and bringing them from the raid area to serve as slaves. Sometimes seen as a normal part of warfare, it is nowadays widely considered a crime. Slave raiding has occurred since antiquity. Some of the earliest surviving written records of slave raiding come from Sumer.

Valdivian Fort System

The Fort System of Valdivia are a series of Spanish colonial fortifications at Corral Bay, Valdivia and Cruces River established to protect the city of Valdivia, in southern Chile. During the period of Spanish rule (1645–1820), it was one of the biggest systems of fortification in the Americas. It was also a major supply source for Spanish ships that crossed the Strait of Magellan.

Bueno River

Bueno River is a river in southern Chile. It originates in Ranco Lake and like most of Chile rivers it drains into the Pacific Ocean at the southern boundary of the Valdivian Coastal Reserve. Its lower flow forms the border between Osorno Province and Ranco Province. Traditionally it marks also the northern boundary of the indigenous Huilliche territory known as Futahuillimapu. The river passes through Río Bueno commune and city that takes name from the river.

Destruction of the Seven Cities Destruction of Spanish settlements by an indigenous uprising

The Destruction of the Seven Cities is a term used in Chilean historiography to refer to the destruction or abandonment of seven major Spanish outposts in southern Chile around 1600 caused by the Mapuche and Huilliche uprising of 1598. The Destruction of the Seven Cities is in traditional historiography the defining event that marks the end of the Conquest period and the beginning of the proper colonial period.

Cuncos or Juncos is a poorly known subgroup of Huilliche people native to coastal areas of southern Chile and the nearby inland. Mostly a historic term, Cuncos are chiefly known for their long-running conflict with the Spanish.

Aillarehue or Ayllarehue ; a confederation of rehues or family-based units (lof) that dominated a region or province. It was the old administrative and territorial division of the Mapuche, Huilliche and the extinct Picunche people. Aillarehue acted as a unit only on special festive, religious, political and especial military occasions. Several aillarehues formed the Butalmapu, the largest military and political organization of the Mapuche.

Alonso de Figueroa y Cordova was a Spanish soldier who, in the days of the reign of Philip IV of Spain, temporarily carried out the position of Captain General and Royal Governor of Chile, besides president of its Real Audiencia of Chile. His government lasted for 13 months, between April 1649 and May 1650. He was the grandfather of the Chilean historian Pedro de Cordoba y Figueroa.

Francisco Antonio de Acuña Cabrera y Bayona was a Spanish soldier and governor of the Captaincy General of Chile between 1650 and 1656. He was son of Antonio de Cabrera y Acuña y de Agueda de Bayona, who was a knight of the Order of Santiago and a professional military man. After serving in Flanders and France, he went to Peru as Maestre de Campo of El Callao and a general, being designated later Royal Governor of Chile. He was married to Juana de Salazar.

Dutch expedition to Valdivia

The Dutch expedition to Valdivia was a naval expedition, commanded by Hendrik Brouwer, sent by the Dutch Republic in 1643 to establish a base of operations and a trading post on the southern coast of Chile. With Spain and the Dutch Republic at war, the Dutch wished to take over the ruins of the abandoned Spanish city of Valdivia. The expedition sacked the Spanish settlements of Carelmapu and Castro in the Chiloé Archipelago before sailing to Valdivia, having the initial support of the local natives. The Dutch arrived in Valdivia on 24 August 1643 and named the colony Brouwershaven after Brouwer, who had died several weeks earlier. The short-lived colony was abandoned on 28 October 1643. Nevertheless, the occupation caused great alarm among Spanish authorities. The Spanish resettled Valdivia and began the construction of an extensive network of fortifications in 1645 to prevent a similar intrusion. Although contemporaries considered the possibility of a new incursion, the expedition was the last one undertaken by the Dutch on the west coast of the Americas.

The Parliament of Las Canoas was a diplomatic meeting between Mapuche-Huilliches and Spanish authorities in 1793 held at the confluence of Rahue River and Damas River near what is today the city of Osorno. The parliament was summoned by the Royal Governor of Chile Ambrosio O'Higgins after the Spanish had suppressed an uprising by the Mapuche-Huilliches of Ranco and Río Bueno in 1792. The parliament is historically relevant since the treaty signed at the end of the meeting allowed the Spanish to reestablish the city of Osorno and secure the transit rights between Valdivia and the Spanish mainland settlements near Chiloé Archipelago. The indigenous signatories recognized the king of Spain as their sovereign but they kept considerable autonomy in the lands they did not ceded. The treaty is unique in that it was the first time Mapuches formally ceded territory to the Spanish.

The Mapuche uprising of 1655 was series of coordinated Mapuche attacks against Spanish settlements and forts in colonial Chile. It was the worst military crisis in Chile in decades, and contemporaries even considered the possibility of a civil war among the Spanish. The uprising marks the beginning of a ten-year period of warfare between the Spanish and the Mapuche.

The Salazar brothers were Spanish criollos who played important roles in mid-17th century affairs in the Captaincy General of Chile. They became infamous for their slave hunting expeditions, corruption and role in unleashing the Mapuche uprising of 1655.

The Parliament of Boroa was a diplomatic meeting held on January 24, 1651, between various Mapuche groups and Spanish authorities held in the fields of Boroa. The parliament was attended by the Governor of Chile Antonio Acuña Cabrera who travelled to Boroa incognito from the fortress of Nacimiento in the north accompanied only by six men. This riskful crossing of Mapuche territory was considered valiant but reckless stunt by Spanish subordinates.

Juan Moscoso was a Chilean criollo Jesuit. He was fluent in Spanish and Mapudungun. Together with fellow Jesuit Diego de Rosales Moscoso dissuaded governor Governor of Chile Antonio de Acuña Cabrera to launch new punitive expeditions against the Cunco in 1653. They argued that the murders were committed by a few Indians and warned the governor that renewing warfare would evaporate gains obtained at Boroa.

Slavery of Mapuches was commonplace in 17th-century Chile and a direct consequence of the Arauco War. When Spanish conquistadors initially subdued indigenous inhabitants of Chile there was no slavery but a form servitude called encomienda. However, this form of forced labour was harsh and many Mapuche would end up dying in the Spanish gold mines in the 16th century.

The Huilliche uprising of 1792 was an indigenous uprising against the Spanish penetration into Futahuillimapu, territory in southern Chile that had been de facto free of Spanish rule since 1602. The first part of the conflict was a series of Huilliche attacks on Spanish settlers and the mission in the frontier next to Bueno River. Following this a militia in charge of Tomás de Figueroa departed from Valdivia ravaging Huilliche territory in a quest to punish those involved in the attacks.


Futahuillimapu or Fütawillimapu is a traditional territory of the Huilliche people. Futahuillimapu spans the land between Bueno River and Reloncaví Sound. Futahuillimapu means "great land of the south."

The Mission of Río Bueno was a Franciscan mission in the Huilliche lands in Río Bueno, next to Bueno River, southern Chile.

The 1651 wreckage of San José and the subsequent killings and looting carried out by indigenous Cuncos was a defining event in Colonial Chile contributing to usher the Battle of Río Bueno and the Mapuche uprising of 1655.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Pinochet et al., 1997, p. 79.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Barros Arana 2000, p. 347.
  3. Barros Arana 2000, p. 339.
  4. Pinochet et al., 1997, p. 83.
  5. Montt 1972, p. 23.
  6. 1 2 Barros Arana 2000, p. 340.
  7. 1 2 3 Barros Arana 2000, p. 341.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Barros Arana 2000, p. 342.
  9. 1 2 3 4 Barros Arana 2000, p. 343.
  10. Enciclopedia regional del Bío Bío (in Spanish). Pehuén Editores. 2006. p. 44. ISBN   956-16-0404-3.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Barros Arana 2000, p. 346.
  12. 1 2 Valenzuela Márquez 2009, pp. 231–233
  13. Foerster, Rolf (1993). Introducción a la religiosidad mapuche (in Spanish). Editorial universitaria. p. 21.
  14. Guzmán, Carmen Luz (2013). "Las cautivas de las Siete Ciudades: El cautiverio de mujeres hispanocriollas durante la Guerra de Arauco, en la perspectiva de cuatro cronistas (s. XVII)" [The captives of the Seven Cities: The captivity of hispanic-creole women during the Arauco's War, from the insight of four chroniclers (17th century)]. Intus-Legere Historia (in Spanish). 7 (1): 77–97. doi:10.15691/07176864.2014.0.94 (inactive 2021-01-10).CS1 maint: DOI inactive as of January 2021 (link)
  15. Valenzuela Márquez 2009, pp. 234–236
  16. 1 2 3 Barros Arana 2000, p. 348.
  17. Barros Arana 2000, p. 349.