Ushuaia History and Legends


The aboriginal population was formed by Onas or Selknam and Yaganes or Yamanas and only at the end of the XIX century, European sailors started raising cattle in the area.
The Selknam were essentially terrestrial hunters and nomad fruit gatherers who lived on the island of Tierra del Fuego from the plains near the Strait of Magellan to the area betwen the river Grande and the Beagle Channel. They called their land Karukinka.
At the beginning of the XX century there were only some survivors scattered around the forests, or sheltered by Salesian Missions and by the Bridges family.
In the first decade of the century, Salesian priests estimated there were no more than 350 Selk´nam. On 9th October 1966 died Lola Kiepia, and Angela Loij, one of the last Onas who kept speaking the language, in 1974.
The Selk´nam ate guanacos and coruros, a kind of rodent, as well as foxes, birds, wild berries, and sea products. They lived in tents or in conical huts.
The Yámanas or Yaganes lived on both sides of the Beagle Channel and the adjacent channels up to Cape Horn, near the sea. They hunted sea wolves, one of their main food sources. Their body was long and wide in contrast to their inferior limbs.
During the incursions of European sailors in the XIX century, The Yamanas were taken by surprise by the brigantine Beagle, after which the channel was later called. Thus were initiated the first contacts with white men.
After more than 6000 years of living in the area, the inhabitants farthest south on the planet started receiving European explorers, a moment when there were shipwrecks, combats, sea lions hunting, factors that contributed to deteriorate their life style.
In 1881 started the exploitation of gold in the territory. Miners settled in the north of the island got in contact with the Selk´nam and ill-treated them, what caused their violent reaction.
The Rumanian Julio Popper arrived to Argentina in 1885 and settled in El Páramo, in Tierra del Fuego in 1888. He exploited gold, and achieved power, success, and influence in the area. He even coined his own currency, a postage stamp, and created a small private army .
In 1871, the Anglican mission in charge of reverend Thomas Bridges settled in the peninsula where the airport is today.
On 18th June 1872, Tomás Despard Bridges was born on the island, the first white Fuegian baby.
In September 1884 the expeditionary division to the South Atlantic of the Armada Argentina commanded by Comodore Augusto Laserre landed in Ushuaia, and on the 12th October they raised the Argentine flag in the newly built subprefecture. Every year that date is celebrated as the birth of the city.
By presidential decree, the 27th June 1885, Ushuaia was appointed capital and see of the government of Tierra del Fuego.

Pioneers arrived attracted by commentaries on the existence of gold in the area. But the central government was interested in permanent residents, and so took as an example the policy of countries like France and Britain to build a prison in the archipielago. It was first built in States Island, and then in Bahía Golondrina, near Ushuaia, in 1902. It marked the characteristics of the city during the first half of the century.
Since the main supply center was very distant, they had a press, a photography lab, shoe makers, bakers, medical service, and chemistry to cover the needs of the population.
At the beginning of the century, many Lituanian, Libanese, Spanish, and Croatian families came to Tierra del Fuego for different reasons. Once they finished their work, many of them decided to stay.
In 1947 the central government closed the prison, and the building was acquired by the Ministery Of Marine to create in 1950 the Base Naval Ushuaia Almirante Berisso.
The seventies marked another moment in the history of the city. Law 19.640 of industrial promotion was passed and many Argentinians from different provinces were attracted by the possibility of working and saving. Since then, Ushuaia´s population has been constantly increasing.

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