The Mapuche Tribes of what is today Chile and Argentina banded together to fight the Spanish colonizers of South America. During the Arauco War in 1557, the natives were fighting the forces of governor García Hurtado de Mendoza but were ultimately unsuccessful. That did not end the fighting.
But at the Battle of Lagunillas, the Spanish captured more than 150 warriors. As a punishment for their uprising, the governor ordered that some of the warriors should lose their right hand and nose, while leaders like one young man named Galvarino would lose both hands. The amputee POWs were then released as a warning to other natives. That’s not what happened.
Galvarino let the Spaniards take both of his hands without flinching or saying a word. He even asked the Spanish to kill him but they would not. When he was released, he returned to his army and urged the the Mapuche general Caupolicán to continue to fight the good fight.
Once back in camp, he raised his handless arms in the air and warned his fellow warriors this was the fate that awaited them if they didn’t win the war. Caupolicán appointed Galvarino to command a new unit, but the warrior could no longer carry a weapon.
No problem: Galvarino attached knives to both his cauterized wrists, knives which historians describe as being as big as lances.
Less than a month after his initial capture, Galvarino was back in combat, this time at the Battle of Millarapue. The plan was to surprise a Spanish encampment and destroy the army before its superior firepower could be brought to bear. The natives didn’t knock out the Spanish cannons, however, the ambush failed, and the colonizers would kill 3,000 native fighters.
In a Spanish account of the Arauco Wars titled Crónica, Galvarino is said to have waved his men forward with his knife hands, saying “Nobody is allowed to flee but to die, because you die defending your mother country!”
Galvarino was captured during the battle and subsequently hanged, but not before he was able to kill the opposing army’s vice-commander. The Arauco War lasted a total of 300 years and the Mapuche still resist governments to this day.