With Machetes Rifles & Tobacco: the 1883 expedition of Daniel Campos through the Chaco region.



From the earliest days of the public of Bolivia (1825) well into the third decade of the 20th century, the Bolivian government was seeking to establish jurisdiction over what it called the "lowlands," including parts of the Amazonia and the northern Chaco. It hoped to establish new trade routes on the Madeira, Paraguay, and Pilcomayo rivers and to take stock of the animal, mineral, and plant wealth of these inhospitable places. This desire led to a number of expeditions by adventurers, military men, priests, and scientists, who all attempted to explore and colonize the area.

Author José Paravicini described such expeditions in his work, Conferencia leida por el fundador de Puerto Alonso . "[Many men] have marched off into the unknown fearlessly, without a thought for the immense sacrifices that would have to be made for such a legendary campaign," he wrote. "They hiked over treacherous high mountains and through lonely jungles. They travelled on rushing rivers full of obstacles, fighting off wild animals and poisonous insects in a deadly climate, against all of the indomitable forces of nature. But they went with a smile on their lips because they carried in their minds and hearts the beautiful image of the fatherland."

Indeed, many attempts were made to conquer these regions. The most significant expeditions in the Northern Chaco (or Chaco Boreal) were the following: Manuel Luis de Oliden (1832), Francis de la Porte Castelnau (1843-47), Manuel Rodriguez Magariños (1843-44), Enrique van Nivel (1844), Father José Gianelli (1863), Andrés Rivas (1864), José Domingo Vargas (1868), Jules Crevaux (1882), Daniel Campos (1883), Arthur Thouar (1886), Henry Bolland (1901), Percy H. Fawcett (1908) and Victor Ustariz (1923-32). The region they were exploring was a jurisdictionally undefined space between Paraguay and Bolivia in the geographic center of South America. It contained both dry desert-like expanses and dense forest.

This article will focus on the 1883 expedition of Daniel Campos. At the time of the Campos expedition, Bolivia had just emerged from a disastrous war against Chile (1879-1881) in which it had lost its coastal territories and its access to the sea. In this situation, Antonio Quijarro--Bolivia's Special Envoy to Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay--proposed that the Bolivian government "open a passage through the deserted areas of the Chaco in search of a route that would use the Paraguay River." Thus two...

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