History is full of great generals, rulers, and warriors who change the world. People like Napoleon, Ghengis Khan, Alexander the Great, and Joan of Arc led nations and armies that changed history.
And then there are stories of warriors that are just insane pieces for trivia. Individuals who may not have changed the world but stand out for their acts of bravery, heroics, or sheer insanity. One of those figures was Galvarino.
Not much is known about Galvarino’s early life. He was born sometime in the mid-1500s in the land of the Mapuche people. These people lived in parts of modern-day Chile and Argentina. This was during the peak of the Spanish conquests of Central and South America.
Galvarino took part in the Arauco War between the Mapuche and the Spaniards. The conflict began due to the Spanish attempting to build cities on Mapuche land and native people into slavery. The Mapuche were able to put up fierce resistance due to the utilization of guerrilla tactics.
Galvarino was one of one-hundred, and fifty Mapuche was taken captive following their defeat at the Battle of Lagunillas.
As punishment for the revolt, governor Garcia Hurtado de Mendoza had the captives had their right hands and noses cut off. Some, like Galvarino, had both hands amputated. The men were then released to serve as a warning and scare tactic to the local leaders.
However, when he came before the Mapuche leader Caupolican, Galvarino showed the leading council his wounds and cried for vengeance and justice. He called for a greater uprising of the people against the Spanish. The leadership agreed and put a large force was together.
Galvarino was placed in charge of a squadron of men and had knives attached to his hands.
That’s right. Knives.For.Hands.
Unable to hold a weapon or even feed himself, Galvarino became a weapon himself. With his new hand-blades, he would strike fear into the Spanish forces.
Galvarino became Caupolican’s second-in-command. He bravely led his men until the Battle of Millarapue on November 30, 1557. There the Mapuche once again fought the forces of governor Mendoza. The planned Mapuche ambush failed and led to a Spanish victory.
In an attempt to rally his men, Jeronimo de Vivar wrote in his Cronica that the warrior called out:
“Ea, my brothers, see that you all fight very well; you do not want to be as I am without hands so that you will not be able to work nor to eat if you do not give it to them!”
After the end of the battle, three thousand Mapuche were dead, and eight hundred were captured, including Galvarino. The Spanish hung thirty of his most trusted warriors. Some sources say that there were those in the Spanish force who wanted to give the handless man leniency. However, Galvarino made it clear that he would continue fighting, even if he had to use his teeth.
Galvarino’s ultimate fate is debated — he was either devoured by dogs or hung — yet he died a hero to his people. His death inspired the Mapuche people to continue fighting against Spanish domination. They would maintain their independence until becoming part of the country of Chile in the 1800s. The city of Galvarion is named after him.
While you will likely not find Galvarion’s name in your history textbook, he was an important part of the Mapuche people's history. Thanks to his bravery, he inspired his people to resist Spanish domination and was one of the few.