Punta Arenas History and Legends


The area today called XII Región was originally inhabited by four different groups of people who spoke different languages and settled in different areas.
The tall Aonikenk or Tehuelches were nomad and terrestrial hunters. It is said that their high stature and their pronounced plantar footprint gave origin to the name Patagonia. They devoted to cattle grazing and hunting guanacos and ñandúes in the valleys of the precordillera. They had learned to domesticate horses in the XVIII century, what gave them more mobility and a wider action radio, and could travel to the Atlantic Ocean along the rivers.
The Onas or Selknam were terrestrial hunters who lived in the pampa of Tierra del Fuego, and sometimes travelled to other regions to barter with the Aonikenk.
It is estimated that they entered the island some 10.000 years ago, when the island was joined to the continent. Their habits were similar to those of the Aonikenk, with the logical variants imposed by the rigorous weather. They had a strong build, and were nomad, skillful with bows and arrows they used to hunt guanacos and birds. They were hostile to any conquering incursion, and in their hoage the bay was called Gente Grande (big people).
The Yamanas or Yaganes lived aroung the Beagle Channel, from Isla Clarence to Cape Horn. They were sea hunters, and their extintion was due to diseases and pests, alcoholism, and venerial diseases introduced by whales and sea lions hunters who came during the last decades of the XIX century.
The Qawasqar or Alakalufes were nomad connected to the sea. They travelled around the Golfo de Penas to the north of the region up to the Strait. They underwent a very rigorous weather with abundant precipitations and hurricanes. At present, there is only a small community in Puerto Edén, who survived diseases and alcoholism.
Magellan Strait was discovered in 1520, and years later it would become the main navigation route between Europe and the coasts of the Pacific. The name was given in honor to the Portuguese sailor who discovered it, Hernando de Magallanes.
In 1843, the Chilean government sent a colonizing expedition to the region, which founded Fuerte Bulnes on a rock in the Magellanic forest. With time, the place became improper for the arising city, and in 1848, Governor José Santos Mardones transferred the facilities and the population and founded the city in its present location.
The city grew and developed slowly as a penitentiary colony for relapsing criminals and relegated military, who caused disturbances like the bloody mutiny of Cambiaso in 1851, that ened up in the destruction and fire of the church, the hospital, and the government see after sacking the buildings and assasinating governor Muñoz Gamero and his loyals, the priest, and the recruiters and sailors in the ports taken by assault.
In 1852 the new governor sent by the Chilean government, Mr. Bernardo E. Philippi, brought some sheep from Chile, and in 1877, another governor, Don Diego Dublé Almeyda, authorized by the government, travelled to the Falkland Islands in the cravette Chacabuco of the Chilean Navy, where he acquired 300 sheep that he sold in Punta Arenas, and later constituted the core of what later would be the main richness of Magella, the so-called white gold of Magellan, sheep.
The penitentiary profile of the city subsisted until 1867, when president José Joaquín Pérez promoted a colonizing policy for foreign immigrants and declared Punta Arenas a "free port". This marked the initial growth of Magellan, specially the arrival of foreign colonists who founded all types of commercial establishments. Steam navigation, while avoiding the inconveniences of sailing through the strait, caused an increase in the traffic through this route, as well as in the interest of the central government for this region. In addition to this, they feared that foreign powers took possession of an area of world strategic importance that seemed abandoned from the times of the Spanish colony.
We can travel through the economical history of the area with some of its characters, like José Nogueira, who was born in 1845 in Villa Nova de Gala, in Portugal, and grew up in the bosom of a big and humble family. When he is twelve, he travels around the world as a shipboy, leaving traces of his trips in Río de Janeiro, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, El Callao, and some day in 1886, in Punta Arenas, which was but a village with only 200 inhabitants, where he finally landed. José Nogueira carried only his sailor skills. He had no instruction, no capital, but enough courage to sail the waters of the southern sea. The most important activity was sea lions hunting, and Nogueira´s instructor and partner was Luis Piedrabuena, who knew the spot very well.
Some other important characters are José Menéndez from Spain, who became an important merchant, Mauricio Braun de Telsen, from Lituania, a merchant and cattle breeder.
On 23rd July 1881, Argentina and Chile sign an agreement on limits to settle the differences. Before the end of the century, the square, the cementery, the opera theatre and the big mansions of the estancias in Punta Arenas had been embelished. Successive waves of immigrants arrive with the gold fever in 1910, and then during World War One. Slaughterhouses and cold-storage plants were installed, and the big livestock societies formed by shares, as well as navy and insurance companies extended throughout Patagonia.
At the end of the nineties, the relations between Argentina and Chile become difficult as a result of the differences held by the experts Moreno and Barros Arana. After different alternatives, presidents Roca and Errázuris come to an agreement, and the regional economy returns to normal.
In 1899, Colón theatre is inaugurated.
In 1905, Menéndez acquired the mine Loreto, in Magallanes, and they start the exploitation of the coal deposit.
La Anónima, the biggest company in Patagonia, and Argensud, compete during sixty years in the most important cities of the south.
By 1910, La Anónima had in Punta Arenas its own pier, a railway, naval workshops, and a fleet of tugboats.
In August 1914, the traffic through Panamá channel is liberated, and so the route through Punta Arenas becomes the cheapest, shortest, and safest voyage through the south of the continent.

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