Conquest of the Desert

Conquest of the Desert, by Juan Manuel Blanes (fragment showing Julio Argentino Roca, at the front)
Mapuches during a malón raid
Map of the advance of the Argentina frontier until the establishment of zanja de Alsina
The changing state of Argentina

Argentine military campaign directed mainly by General Julio Argentino Roca in the 1870s with the intention of establishing dominance over the Patagonian Desert, inhabited primarily by indigenous peoples.

- Conquest of the Desert

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Occupation of Araucanía

Series of military campaigns, agreements and penetrations by the Chilean army and settlers into Mapuche territory which led to the incorporation of Araucanía into Chilean national territory.

View of a modern reconstruction of the Fort of Purén built during the occupation.
Mapuche groups in Araucanía around 1850. De facto Chilean territory in blue.
Painting showing Elisa Bravo Jaramillo who was said to have survived the wreck of Joven Daniel to be then kidnapped by Mapuches.
Photo of Cornelio Saavedra Rodríguez, the planner and military leader of the occupation until 1871.
Map showing the "old" and the "new" frontier established by 1870
Painting of the Mapuche cavalry charge at Quecherehuas.
Cornelio Saavedra Rodríguez in a meeting with some of the main lonkos of Araucania in 1869
Portrait of Quilapán c. 1870.
Communes grouped by dates in which they were founded, 19th century communes were founded as forts. And those of Curarrehue and Teodoro Schmidt were organized from previous populations as early as 1981.
Chilean army during the Occupation of Araucanía.
Map of land ownership in western Araucanía in 1916.
Photo of an Italian immigrant family in Capitán Pastene, Araucanía.

The conflict was concurrent with Argentine campaigns against the Mapuche (1878–1885) and Chile's wars with Spain (1865–1866) and with Peru and Bolivia (1879–1883).

Julio Argentino Roca

Army general and statesman who served as President of Argentina from 1880 to 1886 and from 1898 to 1904.

Julio Argentino Roca with the presidential band, in his first term (1880-1886).
Julio Argentino Roca, in his youth.
Military occupation in Rio Negro territory.
Julio Argentina Roca with Miguel Juarez Celman.
Julio Argentino Roca and his allies.
Julio Argentina with the presidential band.
Tomb of Julio Argentino Roca, Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires.
Monument to Julio Argentino Roca in Buenos Aires.

Roca is the most important representative of the Generation of '80 and is known for directing the Conquest of the Desert, a series of military campaigns against the indigenous peoples of Patagonia sometimes considered a genocide.


The Mapuche ( (Mapuche & Spanish: )) are a group of indigenous inhabitants of present-day south-central Chile and southwestern Argentina, including parts of present-day Patagonia.

Lautaro, hero of the Arauco war; Rayén Quitral outstanding soprano; Current Mapuche woman; Ceferino Namuncura blessed of the Catholic Church.
Map of Mapuche territories according to Miguel Melin, Pablo Mansilla and Manuela Royo in MAPU CHILLKANTUKUN ZUGU: Descolonizando el Mapa del Wallmapu, Construyendo Cartografía Cultural en Territorio Mapuche.
Euler diagram of Mapuche ethicities. Historical denominations no longer in use are shown with white fields. Groups that adopted Mapuche language and culture or that have partial Mapuche descent are shown in the periphery of the main magenta-coloured field.
Huamán Poma de Ayala's picture of the confrontation between the Mapuches (left) and the Incas (right)
Painting El joven Lautaro of P. Subercaseaux, shows the military genius and expertise of his people.
Caupolican by Nicanor Plaza
Cornelio Saavedra Rodríguez in meeting with the main lonkos of Araucania in 1869
Ancient flag of the Mapuche on the Arauco War.
Mapuche activists killed in confrontations with the Chilean police in the 2000s.
Wenufoye flag created in 1992 by the indigenist organization "Consejo de Todas las Tierras".
Familia Mapuche, by Claudio Gay, 1848.
A council of Araucanian philosophers, 1904
The daughter of lonko Quilapán
Height of a chemamull (Mapuche funeral statue) compared to a person.
Traditional Mapuche poncho exhibited in Museo Artesanía Chilena.
Monument in the form of a gigantic clava mere okewa, located in Avenida Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva, Cañete, Chile
Drawing of a trapelacucha, a silver finery piece.
Painting by Raymond Monvoisin showing Elisa Bravo Jaramillo who was said to have survived the 1849 wreck of Joven Daniel to be then kidnapped by Mapuches.
Flag of Argentinian Tehuelche-Mapuche

But Mapuche society in Araucanía and Patagonia remained independent until the late nineteenth century, when Chile occupied Araucanía and Argentina conquered Puelmapu.


Political and geographical area near or beyond a boundary.

A restored pioneer house at the National Ranching Heritage Center in Lubbock, Texas, US.
Australian bushman with his dog and horse, c. 1910
De facto Spanish territories and indigenous territories around 1800. Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata is shown in blue while the Captaincy General of Chile is shown in green.
Mapuche groups in Araucanía around 1850. De facto Chilean territory in blue.
Carlos Morel, Indios pampas (Serie Ibarra). Siglo XIX. Visible: 25 x 28 cm Llitografía: 21 x 26,5 cm, litografía sobre papel
French-Canadian Voyageurs passing a waterfall
Swiss immigrants camped on the shores of Lake Winnipeg in the autumn of 1821
The first Fort Laramie as it looked prior to 1840. Painting from memory by Alfred Jacob Miller

Under General Julio Argentino Roca, the Conquest of the Desert extended Argentine power into Patagonia.

Patagonian Desert

Largest desert in Argentina and is the 8th largest desert in the world by area, occupying 673,000 square kilometers .

Patagonian Steppe landscape
A satellite image of the Patagonian Desert by NASA World Wind
Astronaut photography of the Patagonian Desert (most of the view) contrasted with the Limay River, seen flowing eastward from the Andes.
Barren Patagonian Desert at the Bosques Petrificados National Park
Like Rada Tilly, on the Atlantic Ocean, most of the larger settlements in the steppe are located along the coast.

Inhabited by hunter-gatherers since Pre-Hispanic times, the desert faced migration in the 19th century of Argentines, Welsh, and other European peoples, transforming it from a conflictive borderland zone to an integral part of Argentina, with cattle, sheep and horse husbandry being the primary land uses.

Nicolás Avellaneda

Argentine politician and journalist, and President of Argentina from 1874 to 1880.

The most important events of his government were the Conquest of the Desert and the transformation of the Buenos Aires into a federal district.

La Pampa Province

Sparsely populated province of Argentina, located in the Pampas in the center of the country.

Stables at the former Roca-Luro Estate, now the Luro Prairie Preserve.
Landscape near Winifreda, La Pampa.
Köppen climate map of La Pampa
Parque Luro Natural Prairie Preserve.
Civic Center and governor's offices, Santa Rosa.

It did not cease until Julio Roca's conquest of the desert in the 19th century.

Neuquén Province

Province of Argentina, located in the west of the country, at the northern end of Patagonia.

Reconstructed skeleton of the sauropod Argentinosaurus. It is among the largest known dinosaurs found in Neuquén.
Lanín a large stratovolcano in Neuquén
Victoria Island (Argentina)
Köppen climate map of Neuquén
El Chocón Dam, the third most important in Argentina.
A snowboarder in San Martín de los Andes.
Quina Quina dock.
Villa la Angostura.
The Flagstones.
Lake Huechulaufquen.
Aerial view of the town of San Martín de los Andes.

In 1879 Julio Argentino Roca started the Conquest of the Desert (Conquista del Desierto) that finally broke the aboriginal resistance.

Chubut Province

Province in southern Argentina, situated between the 42nd parallel south (the border with Río Negro Province), the 46th parallel south (bordering Santa Cruz Province), the Andes range to the west, and the Atlantic ocean to the east.

Argentine Geological Society founder Dr. Victorio Angelelli (2nd from right), ca. 1950, whose study of Chubut's mineral wealth identified resources for economic development.
Government House.
Köppen climate map of Chubut, Argentina
Cholila Lake.
Los Altares.
The town of Esquel.
Rada Tilly, on the Atlantic Ocean.
Southern right whale in Península Valdés, its preferred sanctuary.
Departments of the Province of Chubut.

As part of the Conquista del Desierto (Conquest of the Desert), Argentina organized the National Territory of Chubut in 1884, after the last indigenous cacique, Inacayal, surrendered to government forces.

Río Negro (Argentina)

Most important river of the Argentine province of Río Negro, and Patagonia in relation to its flow rate.

Spectacular meander scars, oxbow lakes and abandoned meanders in the broad flood plain of the Río Negro near Colonia Josefa. 2010 photo from ISS

The river served as natural demarcation between "civilization" and the aboriginal territories during the Conquest of the Desert of late 19th century.