Chile at the time of Spanish conquest and immediately after
At least 500,000 Indians inhabited the region that is Chile today, at the time of the Spanish conquest in the mid-16th century. Almost all of the tribes scattered around Chile were related in race and language, but still they lacked any central governmental organization. The inhabitants of northern Chile subsisted by fishing and by farming in the oases. In the 15th century they came under the influence of expanding civilizations from Peru, first the Chincha and later on the Quechua, who formed part of the extensive Inca Empire. Those attackers also attempted unsuccessfully to conquer central and southern Chile.
The Araucanian Indian groups were distributed throughout southern Chile. These mobile peoples stayed in family clusters and small villages. Some engaged in subsistence agriculture, but majority thrived from hunting, gathering, fishing, warring, and trading. The Araucanians resisted the Spanish in the same way as they had resisted the Incas, but their numbers declined by two-thirds due to fighting and disease during the first century after the Europeans arrived.
The Spanish conquest of Chile started in 1536–37, when forces under Diego de Almagro, associate and later on rival of Francisco Pizarro, invaded the expanse as far south as the Maule River in the pursuit of an “Otro Peru” (“Another Peru”). Disappointed by finding neither a high civilization nor gold, the Spaniards took the decision to return immediately to Peru. The dispiriting reports brought back by Almagro’s men stalled further tries at conquest until 1540–41, when Pizarro, after passing away of Almagro, granted license to conquer and colonize the area to Pedro de Valdivia. Valdivia, along with about 150 companions, including his mistress, Inés Suárez, the lone Spanish woman in the company, entered Chile in late 1540 and founded Santiago (February 12, 1541). For the subsequent two decades the settlers lived a perilous existence and were continually threatened by the Indians, who resisted enslavement. Land was allocated to the conquerors, and thus started the system of large estates. This was before the safety of the colony was guaranteed. Later on the estates were institutionalized through the mayorazgo.
Valdivia made no attempt to conquer the region south of the Biobío River until 1550. Concepción was founded in that year, and decision was taken to move southward. During the subsequent two years forts and settlements were established in La Frontera, but in the year 1553 the Araucanian Indians, under an accomplished military chieftain named Lautaro, revolted. This led to the capture and death of Valdivia and a costly struggle began. The Araucanians (often referred to as the Apache of South America), kept their struggle going until the 1880s. The conquest of Chile got cemented during the late 1550s under Gov. Don García Hurtado de Mendoza.