Wikimedia Commons // Chloe Effron
Wikimedia Commons // Chloe Effron

Galvarino, the Mapuche Warrior with Knives for Hands

Wikimedia Commons // Chloe Effron
Wikimedia Commons // Chloe Effron

For as long as there have been wars, there have been warriors who have found a second life on the battlefield. Bloodied, maimed, shot, cut open, stabbed—they are the ones who should have perished, but who nevertheless managed to stay alive and keep fighting.

Then there’s Galvarino, a warrior who not only overcame a brutal injury but who actually used it to transform himself into something straight out of your worst nightmare.

Five hundred years ago, in what were the early years of South America’s protracted Arauco War, an army of Spanish conquistadors routed several thousand Mapuche Indians in the Battle of Lagunillas, in south central Chile near the Bio Bio River. The Spanish captured 150 Mapuche prisoners, among them a young chieftain named Galvarino, and marched them back to the Spanish encampment. After a swift (and no doubt impartial) trial, Governor Garcia Hurtado de Mendoza, the Spanish leader, ordered troops to sever the right hand and nose of each warrior, and to cut off both hands of leaders like Galvarino. The gruesome act would be a message to the Mapuche: Submit, or else.

According to Mapuche legend, after Galvarino’s left hand was hacked off, he bravely offered up his right, and watched the hatchet fall without flinching. He then asked his torturers to deliver the killing blow—a request that they declined.

Galvarino and the dozens of other mutilated warriors were then freed, and ordered to tell the Mapuche general Caupolicán to surrender and prevent further bloodshed. Galvarino did no such thing. Instead, he urged Caupolicán and his people to continue to fight against the Spanish intruders. As described by Pedro Mariño de Lobera in Chronicle of the Kingdom of Chile, Galvarino went before the Mapuche, handless arms raised in the air, and told them that what had been done to him, the Spanish would do to everyone else if they gave up.

My brethren, why have you stopped fighting these Christians? The damage they have done since they entered our realm, and what they have done to me, is what they will continue to do if we are not diligent in destroying these injurious people.

Such words, Lobera noted, "are often more effective to incite war than the hands of Hercules and the industry of the Caesars." Caupolicán declared that the Mapuche would strike back against the Spaniards, and he named Galvarino as one of his commanders.

But what good would a handless fighter be against the enemy? Very little, as Galvarino knew well. What he did next made him a legend. Before the next offensive, he fastened knives to both of his wrists. There’s no record of how big the knives were, or how sharp, though we’d all no doubt like to imagine long, gleaming blades sprouting from his stumps. Historian Leslie Ray has referred to them as lances, and notes, quite practically, that the Mapuche must have had very effective cauterization techniques to even allow Galvarino to attempt such a feat.

On November 30, 1557, less than a month after his capture, Galvarino was on the frontline of what became known as the Battle of Millarapue. The plan was to ambush the Spanish encampment and overwhelm Mendoza before he could turn his artillery and horses on the warriors. But the Mapuche sprang their trap too quickly, and despite initial success at stymieing Mendoza’s cavalry, the commander managed to hit the native attackers with cannon fire, opening up a seam for his horsemen to ride through and sow chaos. In all, three thousand Mapuche were killed, compared to only minor injuries and scores of dead horses on the Spanish side. There were also several hundred Mapuche captured, Galvarino among them.

There’s little evidence relating Galvarino’s performance during the battle. Jeronimo de Vivar, a Spanish soldier who later wrote an account of the Arauco Wars titled Crónica (Chronicle), wrote that Galvarino motioned his warriors forward with his bladed arms, yelling, “Nobody is allowed to flee but to die, because you die defending your mother country!” (This, like so many other details about Galvarino, was no doubt given an extra flourish.) Vivar also noted that Galvarino went up against Mendoza’s squadron and managed to cut down the general’s second in command.

After the battle, there would be no third chance for Galvarino. He and his men were sentenced to hang. Alonso de Ercilla, a Spanish aide who would later write the epic poem “La Araucana,” claimed that he tried to intervene on Galvarino’s behalf, entreating him to join with the Spanish. To which Galvarino reportedly replied: “I would rather die than live like you, and I’m only sorry that my death will keep me from tearing you to pieces with my teeth.” Some claim Mendoza threw Galvarino to the dogs, while others say he was hanged. Still others believe Galvarino killed himself first to rob his captors of the pleasure.

The Arauco War would continue for nearly 300 years, with the Mapuche continuously resisting colonization by the Spanish. The story of Galvarino was a rallying cry for the Mapuche: “Galvarino’s story has served perhaps more than any other to perpetuate the Mapuches’ reputation for courage and tenacity,” Ray writes in Language of the Land: The Mapuche in Argentina and Chile. In 1825, Chile declared independence from Spain, although resistance against the state continues.

John MacDougall, Getty Images
Stolpersteine: One Artist's International Memorial to the Holocaust
John MacDougall, Getty Images
John MacDougall, Getty Images

The most startling memorial to victims of the Holocaust may also be the easiest to miss. Embedded in the sidewalks of more than 20 countries, more than 60,000 Stolpersteine—German for “stumbling stones”—mark the spots where victims last resided before they were forced to leave their homes. The modest, nearly 4-by-4-inch brass blocks, each the size of a single cobblestone, are planted outside the doorways of row houses, bakeries, and coffee houses. Each tells a simple yet chilling story: A person lived here. This is what happened to them.

Here lived Hugo Lippers
Born 1878
Arrested 11/9/1938 — Altstrelitzer prison
Deported 1942 Auschwitz

The project is the brainchild of the German artist Gunter Demnig, who first had the idea in the early 1990s as he studied the Nazis' deportation of Sinti and Roma people. His first installations were guerrilla artwork: According to Reuters, Demnig laid his first 41 blocks in Berlin without official approval. The city, however, soon endorsed the idea and granted him permission to install more. Today, Berlin has more than 5000.

Demnig lays a Stolpersteine.
Artist Gunter Demnig lays a Stolpersteine outside a residence in Hamburg, Germany in 2012.
Patrick Lux, Getty Images

The Stolpersteine are unique in their individuality. Too often, the millions of Holocaust victims are spoken of as a nameless mass. And while the powerful memorials and museums in places such as Berlin and Washington, D.C. are an antidote to that, the Stolpersteine are special—they are decentralized, integrated into everyday life. You can walk down a sidewalk, look down, and suddenly find yourself standing where a person's life changed. History becomes unavoidably present.

That's because, unlike gravestones, the stumbling stones mark an important date between a person’s birth and death: the day that person was forced to abandon his or her home. As a result, not every stumbling stone is dedicated to a person who was murdered. Some plaques commemorate people who fled Europe and survived. Others honor people who were deported but managed to escape. The plaques aim to memorialize the moment a person’s life was irrevocably changed—no matter how it ended.

The ordinariness of the surrounding landscape—a buzzing cafe, a quaint bookstore, a tree-lined street—only heightens that effect. As David Crew writes for Not Even Past, “[Demnig] thought the stones would encourage ordinary citizens to realize that Nazi persecution and terror had begun on their very doorsteps."

A man in a shop holding a hammer making a Stolpersteine.
Artisan Michael Friedrichs-Friedlaender hammers inscriptions into the brass plaques at the Stolpersteine manufacturing studio in Berlin.
Sean Gallup, Getty Images

While Demnig installs every single Stolpersteine himself, he does not work alone. His project, which stretches from Germany to Brazil, relies on the research of hundreds of outside volunteers. Their efforts have not only helped Demnig create a striking memorial, but have also helped historians better document the lives of individuals who will never be forgotten.

Henry Guttmann, Getty Images
14 Facts About Mathew Brady
Henry Guttmann, Getty Images
Henry Guttmann, Getty Images

When you think of the Civil War, the images you think of are most likely the work of Mathew Brady and his associates. One of the most successful early photographers in American history, Brady was responsible for bringing images of the Civil War to a nation split in two—a project that would ultimately be his undoing. Here are some camera-ready facts about Mathew Brady.


Most details of Brady’s early life are unknown. He was born in either 1822 or 1823 to Andrew and Julia Brady, who were Irish. On pre-war census records and 1863 draft forms Brady stated that he was born in Ireland, but some historians speculate he changed his birthplace to Johnsburg, New York, after he became famous due to anti-Irish sentiment.

Brady had no children, and though he is believed to have married a woman named Julia Handy in 1851, there is no official record of the marriage.


When he was 16 or 17, Brady followed artist William Page to New York City after Page had given him some drawing lessons. But that potential career was derailed when he got work as a clerk in the A.T. Stewart department store [PDF] and began manufacturing leather (and sometimes paper) cases for local photographers, including Samuel F.B. Morse, the inventor of Morse Code.

Morse, who had learned the early photographic method of creating Daguerreotypes from Parisian inventor Louis Daguerre in 1839, brought the method back to the United States and opened a studio in 1840. Brady was one of his early students.


Brady eventually took what he learned from Morse and opened a daguerreotype portrait studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street in New York in 1844, earning the nickname “Brady of Broadway.” His renown grew due to a mix of his knack for enticing celebrities to sit for his camera—James Knox Polk and a young Henry James (with his father, Henry James Sr.) both sat for him—as well as a flair for the dramatic: In 1856, he placed an ad in the New York Daily Tribune urging readers to sit for a portrait that warned, “You cannot tell how soon it may be too late.”

His rapidly-expanding operation forced him to open a branch of his studio at 625 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., in 1849, and then move his New York studio uptown to 785 Broadway in 1860.


In 1850, Brady published The Gallery of Illustrious Americans, a collection of lithographs based on his daguerreotypes of a dozen famous Americans (he had intended to do 24, but due to costs, that never happened). The volume, and a feature profile [PDF] in the inaugural 1851 issue of the Photographic Art-Journal that described Brady as the “fountain-head” of a new artistic movement, made him a celebrity even outside of America. “We are not aware that any man has devoted himself to [the Daguerreotype art] with so much earnestness, or expended upon its development so much time and expense," the profile opined. "He has merited the eminence he has acquired; for, from the time he first began to devote himself to it, he has adhered to his early purpose with the firmest resolution, and the most unyielding tenacity.” Later that year, at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, Brady was awarded one of three gold medals for his daguerreotypes.


The one that got away was William Henry Harrison—he died only a month after his inauguration in 1841.


When Abraham Lincoln campaigned for president in 1860, he was dismissed as an odd-looking country bumpkin. But Brady’s stately portrait of the candidate, snapped after he addressed a Republican audience at Cooper Union in New York, effectively solidified Lincoln as a legitimate candidate in the minds of the American populace. (After he was elected, Lincoln supposedly told a friend, “Brady and the Cooper Union speech made me president.”) It was one of the first times such widespread campaign photography was used to support a presidential candidate.


A researcher holding one of America's most priceless negatives, the glass plate made by famous civil war photographer Mathew Brady of Abraham Lincoln in 1865 just before he was assassinated.
Three Lions, Getty Images

On February 9, 1864, Lincoln sat for a portrait session with Anthony Berger, the manager of Brady’s Washington studio. The session yielded both images of Lincoln that would go on the modern iterations of the $5 bill.

The first, from a three-quarter length portrait featuring Lincoln seated and facing right, was used on the bill design from 1914 to 2000. When U.S. currency was redesigned that year, government officials chose another image Berger took at Brady’s studio of Lincoln. This time, the president is seen facing left with his head turned more to the left.

According to Lincoln historian Lloyd Ostendorf, when the president was sitting for portraits, “Whenever Lincoln posed, a dark melancholy settled over his features. He put on what Mrs. Lincoln called his ‘photographer’s face.’ There is no camera study which shows him laughing, for such an attitude, unfortunately, was impossible when long exposures were required.”


At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Brady decided to use his many employees and his own money to attempt to make a complete photographic record of the conflict, dispatching 20 photographers to capture images in different war zones. Alexander Gardner and Timothy H. O’Sullivan were both in the field for Brady. Both of them eventually quit because Brady didn’t give individual credit.

Brady likely did take photos himself on battlefields like Bull Run and Gettysburg (although not necessarily during the actual battle). The photographer later boasted, “I had men in all parts of the army, like a rich newspaper.”


Brady's eyes had plagued him since childhood—in his youth, he was reportedly nearly blind, and he wore thick, blue-tinted glasses as an adult. Brady's real reason for relying less and less on his own expertise might have been because of his failing eyesight, which had started to deteriorate in the 1850s.


War photographer Mathew Brady's buggy was converted into a mobile darkroom and travelling studio, or, Whatizzit Wagon, during the American Civil War.
Mathew B Brady, Getty Images

The group of Brady photographers that scoured the American north and south to capture images of the Civil War traveled in what became known as “Whatizzit Wagons,” which were horse-drawn wagons filled with chemicals and mobile darkrooms so they could get close to battles and develop photographs as quickly as possible.

Brady’s 1862 New York gallery exhibit, "The Dead of Antietam,” featured then-unseen photographs of some of the 23,000 victims of the war’s bloodiest day, which shocked American society. “Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war," a New York Times reviewer wrote. "If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our door-yards and along the streets, he has done something very like it.”


Brady and his associates couldn't just wander out onto the battlefield with cameras—the photographer needed to obtain permission. So he set up a portrait session with Winfield Scott, the Union general in charge of the Army. The story goes that as he photographed the general—who was posed shirtless as a Roman warrior—Brady laid out his plan to send his fleet of photographers to tell the visual story of the war unlike any previous attempts in history. Then the photographer gifted the general some ducks. Scott was finally convinced, and he approved Brady’s plan in a letter to General Irvin McDowell. (Scott's Roman warrior portrait is, unfortunately, now lost.)


Brady’s first foray into documenting the Civil War was the First Battle of Bull Run. Though he had approved of Brady's plan, General McDowell did not appreciate the photographers' presence during the battle.

Brady himself was supposedly near the front lines when the fighting began, and quickly became separated from his companions. During the battle, he was forced to take shelter in nearby woods, and slept there overnight on a bag of oats. He eventually met back up with the Army and made his way to Washington, where rumors swelled that his equipment caused a panic that was responsible for the Union’s defeat at the battle. “Some pretend, indeed, that it was the mysterious and formidable-looking instrument that produced the panic!” one observer noted. “The runaways, it is said, mistook it for the great steam gun discharging 500 balls a minute, and took to their heels when they got within its focus!”


Before, after, and occasionally during the Civil War, Brady and Co. also photographed members of the Confederate side, such as Jefferson Davis, P. G. T. Beauregard, Stonewall Jackson, Albert Pike, James Longstreet, James Henry Hammond, and Robert E. Lee after he returned to Richmond following his surrender at Appomattox Court House. “It was supposed that after his defeat it would be preposterous to ask him to sit,” Brady said later. “I thought that to be the time for the historical picture.”


Union troops with a field gun during the American Civil War.
Mathew Brady, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“My wife and my most conservative friends had looked unfavorably upon this departure from commercial business to pictorial war correspondence,” Brady told an interviewer in 1891. Their instincts were right.

Brady invested nearly $100,000 of his own money in the Civil War project in hopes that the government would buy his photo record of the war after it was all said and done. But once the Union prevailed, a public reeling from years of grueling conflict showed no interest in Brady's grim photos.

After the financial panic of 1873 he declared bankruptcy, and he lost his New York studio. The War Department eventually bought over 6000 negatives from Brady’s collection—which are now housed in the National Archives—for only $2840 total.

Despite being responsible for some of the most iconic images of the era, Brady never regained his financial footing, and he died alone in New York Presbyterian Hospital in 1896 after being hit by a streetcar.


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