Know about History
In the year 1520, Hernando de Magallanes spotted these lands for the first time, after crossing the strait that now bears his name. He encountered a rocky littoral and massive mountains, which we now know as Aysén, and which he named as “Tierras de Diciembre” (“Lands of December.”) Three decades later, the Spanish conqueror Pedro de Valdivia sent an expedition under the command of Francisco de Ulloa. He was the first navigator to disembark on these southern lands. However, what seemed like a wild, cold and virgin territory to his eyes, was actually already inhabited. Several indigenous tribes dwelt there. In the mainland, north of the Strait of Magellan, lived the Tehuelches or Patagones; great nomad hunters, of slanted eyes, robust bodies and dark skin.
They moved on foot over long distances, since they did not master horse-riding yet. With bows and arrows, and bolas made by themselves, they hunted guanacos, rheas (ñandú), and southern Andean deer (huemul) for food. In the southernmost costs of Aysen, lived the Alacalufes, who were canoeing tribes that called themselves Kaweskar. Further north, the Chonos populated the islands that we now know as Guaitecas; they were also canoeist peoples who had similar customs as the Alacalufes. Their diet was mainly based on seafood. They gathered their supplies mostly from hunting, fishing and collecting shellfish from the cold southern waters that they traveled. They navigated in rustic and primitive canoes made from tree bark, preferably from coigüe trees. They always lit a fire inside the canoes, and women were in charge of taking care of it.
In the centuries after the discovery of Aysén, its history was marked by the presence of different kinds of expeditions. First, by religious missions, such as the one led by father José García Alsué, who traveled the southern lands of Palena, between the years 1766 and 1767. Afterwards, there were scientific explorations in the area, such as the one led by the pilot José de Moraleda y Montero, who by the end of the XVIII century made the first mapping of Chiloé and Palena. Later came Robert Fitz-Roy and Charles Darwin, who between the years 1831 and 1836 explored Australia, New Zealand and the coasts of South America, from Galapagos to Tierra del Fuego. They carried out important and detailed scientific observations of the Aysén region. After Robert Fitz-Roy’s journey, the Chilean Navy conducted its first exploration in charge of Lieutenant Francisco Hudson who suffered a shipwreck and died during the expedition. In 1870 the Navy commissioned Captain Henry Simpson the mission to trace the western coast of Patagonia with the objective of finding an entrance to the inland valleys. This is how he discovered Simpson River.
During the War of the Pacific, Chile and Argentina signed a treaty fixing the binational limit in the line of the highest peaks and the continental divide of waters. Due to the complexity of the region’s geography, it became necessary to resort to arbitration by the English monarchy. To do that, the Chilean State hired the services of German scientist Hans Steffens, to conduct a thorough reconnaissance of the area during the years 1892 and 1902, and whose contributions have helped develop the mapping of this southern area, which in turn contributed to its later colonization.
After the limits were well defined, the Chilean State concessioned large tracts of land to livestock enterprises. There were three important concessions:
Sociedad Industrial de Aysén (SIA) that was established in the valleys of Aysén, Simpson and Mañihuales. This was the most successful of all companies. Aside from creating roads between its facilities, it established a trade route between Puerto Aysén and Puerto Montt.
Anglo-Chilean Pastoral Co. This company was established in the area of Cisnes River and had relative success.
Sociedad Explotadora del Baker. This company was installed in the south and due to the complexity of the terrain and other difficulties, it went bankrupt shortly thereafter.
Simultaneously, while these livestock enterprises were getting installed and beginning to work, a spontaneous colonization took place, led by Chileans and the sons and daughters of Chileans who lived in Argentina for years. The great majority of these pioneers were originally from the central south of Chile, and after the arbitral award, they moved to what is now known as the region of Aysén. Many settled in Simpson Valley (in the vicinity of Coyhaique), and in the basin of General Carrera Lake, where the village of Puerto Ingeniero Ibáñez was established in 1905 and the village of Chile Chico was established in 1919, after what was known as the “War of Chile Chico.”
The War of Chile Chico started because the pioneers occupied lands that were leased to Swedish resident Carlos Von Flack, although they had previously been inhabited by settlers. Von Flack appealed to the authorities to evict the settlers, who in turn got organized to avoid eviction. They were led by Antoín Silva Ormeño (known as “the general” by the pioneers.) Due to a court order, a troop of policemen was sent to remove the settlers, which sparked a fight that ended with three dead policemen, causing the rest to withdraw from the scene.
During that time, in 1917, the town of Balmaceda was founded. It was the most important settlement during the first quarter of the last century.
The settlers opened and cleared land routes by burning forests, which caused huge fires that lasted years and where lots of native forests were lost; all for the purpose of racing animals and planting crops. These lands were originally leased to cattle ranches, yet after the conflict between the stays and the settlers, the State decided to support the pioneers by regularizing their situations and extending their presence through diverse initiatives. In the year 1927, President Carlos Ibáñez del Campo defined the Aysén territory and named General José Luis Marchant mayor, who at the time was a colonel. After ten years, this area became another one of Chile’s provinces and the State started to dictate policies to promote and regulate the occupation of the territory. This is how the Aysén that we know today was created.