The gold rush in Chile

We all have images of the gold rush in our minds from films shot in the Klondike region, the Yukon Territory in Canada or California, yet the Great South of Patagonia has also experienced gold fever.

Julio Popper, this mysterious character born in Bucharest in 1857, is the symbol of this.

A Romanian Jewish engineer and adventurous traveler, he crossed the world from the Middle East to Japan and from Alaska to Brazil.

But it was his adventure in Tierra del Fuego that made him famous. Indeed, in 1885, when he learned of the discovery of gold in the Chilean province of Santa Cruz, he immediately went to Buenos Aires and then decided to go further south, across the Strait of Magellan to excavate the still unexplored Isla Grande in Tierra del Fuego. His search bore fruit as he discovered important gold deposits near the Bahía San Sebastián in Argentina, about 140 km east of present-day Porvenir.

His invention, the "gold harvester", quickly made him very rich.

Thanks to a system of tunnels, locks and mechanisms that he installed 7 meters below the high tide level, he managed to clean the gold sands on a large scale. It is thus partly through this mining activity that the southern tip of the continent developed.

Having become powerful, he founded several mining prospecting sites and gradually imposed his law in this uninhabited region, essentially attracting gold seekers.

Julio Popper ends up worrying because he goes so far as to mint his own currency, creates his own stamps which he imposes the use of, and enforces his own laws through his personal militia.

Poppers and his men remained sadly known as "Indian hunters", responsible for the genocide of the Onas (or Selknam) Indians in Tierra del Fuego.

Suspected of being an English spy, he died mysteriously in his room during his trial in 1893, at the age of 36.

To learn more about this strange and ambivalent character, read and see :

Cavalier seul, the novel by Patricio Manns, Tierra del fuego, the collection of short stories by the great Francisco Coloane and the film by Miguel Littín inspired by this collection and the chronicles of Popper himself.

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