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.

(c) Field Museum, CSZ5974c, photographer Carl Akeley, used with permission.
The Time Carl Akeley Killed a Leopard With His Bare Hands
(c) Field Museum, CSZ5974c, photographer Carl Akeley, used with permission.
(c) Field Museum, CSZ5974c, photographer Carl Akeley, used with permission.

Carl Akeley had plenty of close encounters with animals in his long career as a naturalist and taxidermist. There was the time a bull elephant had charged him on Mount Kenya, nearly crushing him; the time he was unarmed and charged by three rhinos who missed him, he said later, only because the animals had such poor vision; and the time the tumbling body of a silverback gorilla he'd just shot almost knocked him off a cliff. This dangerous tradition began on his very first trip to Africa, where, on an otherwise routine hunting trip, the naturalist became the prey.

It was 1896. Following stints at Ward’s Natural Science Establishment and the Milwaukee Public Museum, Akeley, 32, had just been appointed chief taxidermist for Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, and he was tasked with gathering new specimens to bolster the 3-year-old museum's fledgling collections. After more than four months of travel and numerous delays, the expedition had reached the plains of Ogaden, a region of Ethiopia, where Akeley hunted for specimens for days without success.

Then, one morning, Akeley managed to shoot a hyena shortly after he left camp. Unfortunately, “one look at his dead carcass was enough to satisfy me that he was not as desirable as I had thought, for his skin was badly diseased,” he later wrote in his autobiography, In Brightest Africa. He shot a warthog, a fine specimen, but what he really wanted was an ostrich—so he left the carcass behind, climbed a termite hill to look for the birds, then took off after a pair he saw in the tall grass.

But the ostriches eluded him at every turn, so he returned to camp and grabbed the necessary tools to cut off the head of his warthog. However, when he and a “pony boy” got to the spot where he’d left the carcass, all that remained was a bloodstain. “A crash in the bushes at one side led me in a hurry in that direction and a little later I saw my pig's head in the mouth of a hyena travelling up the slope of a ridge out of range,” Akeley wrote. “That meant that my warthog specimen was lost, and, having got no ostriches, I felt it was a pretty poor day.”

As the sun began to set, Akeley and the boy turned back to camp. “As we came near to the place where I had shot the diseased hyena in the morning, it occurred to me that perhaps there might be another hyena about the carcass, and feeling a bit ‘sore’ at the tribe for stealing my warthog, I thought I might pay off the score by getting a good specimen of a hyena for the collections,” he wrote. But that carcass was gone, too, with a drag trail in the sand leading into the bush.

Akeley heard a sound, and, irritated, “did a very foolish thing,” firing into the bush without seeing what he was shooting at. He knew, almost immediately, that he'd made a mistake: The answering snarl told him that what he’d fired at was not a hyena at all, but a leopard.

The taxidermist began thinking of all the things he knew about the big cats. A leopard, he wrote,

“... has all the qualities that gave rise to the ‘nine lives’ legend: To kill him you have got to kill him clear to the tip of his tail. Added to that, a leopard, unlike a lion, is vindictive. A wounded leopard will fight to a finish practically every time, no matter how many chances it has to escape. Once aroused, its determination is fixed on fight, and if a leopard ever gets hold, it claws and bites until its victim is in shreds. All this was in my mind, and I began looking about for the best way out of it, for I had no desire to try conclusions with a possibly wounded leopard when it was so late in the day that I could not see the sights of my rifle.”

Akeley beat a hasty retreat. He’d return the next morning, he figured, when he could see better; if he’d wounded the leopard, he could find it again then. But the leopard had other ideas. It pursued him, and Akeley fired again, even though he couldn’t see enough to aim. “I could see where the bullets struck as the sand spurted up beyond the leopard. The first two shots went above her, but the third scored. The leopard stopped and I thought she was killed.”

The leopard had not been killed. Instead, she charged—and Akeley’s magazine was empty. He reloaded the rifle, but as he spun to face the leopard, she leapt on him, knocking it out of his hands. The 80-pound cat landed on him. “Her intention was to sink her teeth into my throat and with this grip and her forepaws hang to me while with her hind claws she dug out my stomach, for this pleasant practice is the way of leopards,” Akeley wrote. “However, happily for me, she missed her aim.” The wounded cat had landed to one side; instead of Akeley’s throat in her mouth, she had his upper right arm, which had the fortuitous effect of keeping her hind legs off his stomach.

It was good luck, but the fight of Akeley’s life had just begun.

Using his left hand, he attempted to loosen the leopard’s hold. “I couldn't do it except little by little,” he wrote. “When I got grip enough on her throat to loosen her hold just a little she would catch my arm again an inch or two lower down. In this way I drew the full length of the arm through her mouth inch by inch.”

He felt no pain, he wrote, “only of the sound of the crushing of tense muscles and the choking, snarling grunts of the beast.” When his arm was nearly free, Akeley fell on the leopard. His right hand was still in her mouth, but his left hand was still on her throat. His knees were on her chest and his elbows in her armpits, “spreading her front legs apart so that the frantic clawing did nothing more than tear my shirt.”

It was a scramble. The leopard tried to twist around and gain the advantage, but couldn’t get purchase on the sand. “For the first time,” Akeley wrote, “I began to think and hope I had a chance to win this curious fight.”

He called for the boy, hoping he’d bring a knife, but received no response. So he held on to the animal and “continued to shove the hand down her throat so hard she could not close her mouth and with the other I gripped her throat in a stranglehold.” He bore down with his full weight on her chest, and felt a rib crack. He did it again—another crack. “I felt her relax, a sort of letting go, although she was still struggling. At the same time I felt myself weakening similarly, and then it became a question as to which would give up first.”

Slowly, her struggle ceased. Akeley had won. He lay there for a long time, keeping the leopard in his death grip. “After what seemed an interminable passage of time I let go and tried to stand, calling to the pony boy that it was finished.” The leopard, he later told Popular Science Monthly, had then shown signs of life; Akeley used the boy’s knife to make sure it was really, truly dead.

Akeley’s arm was shredded, and he was weak—so weak that he couldn’t carry the leopard back to camp. “And then a thought struck me that made me waste no time,” he told Popular Science. “That leopard has been eating the horrible diseased hyena I had killed. Any leopard bite is liable to give one blood poison, but this particular leopard’s mouth must have been exceptionally foul.”

He and the boy must have been quite the sight when they finally made it back to camp. His companions had heard the shots, and figured Akeley had either faced off with a lion or the natives; whatever the scenario, they figured Akeley would prevail or be defeated before they could get to him, so they kept on eating dinner. But when Akeley appeared, with “my clothes ... all ripped, my arm ... chewed into an unpleasant sight, [with] blood and dirt all over me,” he wrote in In Brightest Africa, “my appearance was quite sufficient to arrest attention.”

He demanded all the antiseptics the camp had to offer. After he'd been washed with cold water, “the antiseptic was pumped into every one of the innumerable tooth wounds until my arm was so full of the liquid that an injection in one drove it out of another,” he wrote. “During the process I nearly regretted that the leopard had not won.”

When that was done, Akeley was taken to his tent, and the dead leopard was brought in and laid out next to his cot. Her right hind leg was wounded—which, he surmised, had come from his first shot into the brush, and was what had thrown off her pounce—and she had a flesh wound in the back of her neck where his last shot had hit her, “from the shock of which she had instantly recovered.”

Not long after his close encounter with the leopard, the African expedition was cut short when its leader contracted malaria, and Akeley returned to Chicago. The whole experience, he wrote to a friend later, transported him back to a particular moment at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, which he’d visited after creating taxidermy mounts for the event. “As I struggled to wrest my arm from the mouth of the leopard I recalled vividly a bronze at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, depicting the struggle between a man and bear, the man’s arm in the mouth of the bear,” he wrote. “I had stood in front of this bronze one afternoon with a doctor friend and we discussed the probable sensations of a man in this predicament, wondering whether or not the man would be sensible to the pain of the chewing and the rending of his flesh by the bear. I was thinking as the leopard tore at me that now I knew exactly what the sensations were, but that unfortunately I would not live to tell my doctor friend.”

In the moment, though, there had been no pain, “just the joy of a good fight,” Akeley wrote, “and I did live to tell my [doctor] friend all about it.”

Additional source: Kingdom Under Glass: A Tale of Obsession, Adventure, and One Man's Quest to Preserve the World's Great Animals

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons // Nigel Parry, USA Network
Meghan Markle Is Related to H.H. Holmes, America’s First Serial Killer, According to New Documentary
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons // Nigel Parry, USA Network
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons // Nigel Parry, USA Network

Between staging paparazzi photos and writing open letters to Prince Harry advising him to call off his wedding, Meghan Markle’s family has been keeping the media pretty busy lately. But it turns out that her bloodline's talent for grabbing headlines dates back much further than the announcement that Markle and Prince Harry were getting hitched—and for much more sinister reasons. According to Meet the Markles, a new television documentary produced for England’s Channel Four, the former Suits star has a distant relation to H.H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer.

The claim comes from Holmes’s great-great-grandson, American lawyer Jeff Mudgett, who recently discovered that he and Markle are eighth cousins. If that connection is correct, then it would mean that Markle, too, is related to Holmes.

While finding out that you’re related—however distantly—to a man believed to have murdered 27 people isn’t something you’d probably want to share with Queen Elizabeth II when asking her to pass the Yorkshire pudding over Christmas dinner, what makes the story even more interesting is that Mudgett believes that his great-great-grandpa was also Jack the Ripper!

Mudgett came to this conclusion based on Holmes’s personal diaries, which he inherited. In 2017, American Ripper—an eight-part History Channel series—investigated Mudgett’s belief that Holmes and Jack were indeed one in the same.

When asked about his connection to Markle, and their shared connection to Holmes—and, possibly, Jack the Ripper—Mudgett replied:

“We did a study with the FBI and CIA and Scotland Yard regarding handwriting analysis. It turns out [H. H. Holmes] was Jack the Ripper. This means Meghan is related to Jack the Ripper. I don’t think the Queen knows. I am not proud he is my ancestor. Meghan won’t be either.”

Shortly thereafter he clarified his comments via his personal Facebook page:

In the 130 years since Jack the Ripper terrorized London’s Whitechapel neighborhood, hundreds of names have been put forth as possible suspects, but authorities have never been able to definitively conclude who committed the infamous murders. So if Alice's Adventures in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll could have done it, why not the distant relative of the royal family's newest member?

[h/t: ID CrimeFeed]


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