Le règne d'Orllie-Antoine

by Martha Gil-Montero

Seal of the Kingdom

On January 10, 1862, in the town of Los Angeles in the Republic of Chile, after having sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, the prisoner in the dock declared that his name was Prince Orelie-Antoine de Tounens; that he had been born in France, in the Department of Dordogne; that he was 36 years old; that he had been a resident of Chile or Araucania since August 22, 1858; and that he was single and had no occupation. He called himself the "King of Araucania." Five days before, in the early afternoon the Prince was resting against the trunk of a pear tree in an idyllic spot in the territory of Araucania. Suddenly, a detachment of police appeared, took his belongings, tied his wrists and legs, unceremoniously secured him on his horse and took him to a military headquarters on the Chilean side.

The judge holding the perfunctory hearing knew little of the details of the remarkable adventure that had brought Orelie-Antoine de Tounens before him. The intrepid Frenchman, as would later be revealed, had crossed the ocean alone with very little money and no weapons; he had entered a land forbidden to whites, he had established contact with wild Indian tribes whose language he could not speak; and he had succeeded in having them proclaim him their king.

A war tribunal later held a second hearing in his case. The principle witness for the prosecution was Rosales, the servant who had been with him at the time of his apprehension -- and who had set him up. Either because he had suspected that His Highness' quest was senseless or seditious, or because he expected a reward, the cunning Rosales denounced him. By sheer luck, some witnesses favorable to Orelie-Antoine's cause happened to be present -- a group of Chilean merchants, who had been selling their wares in the Indian territory and who had from a distance followed the Prince's last journey -- and saved him from being shot then and there.

During the proceedings Orelie-Antoine maintained that he was a free citizen of Araucania and protested that he was being wrongfully deprived of his freedoms. He also reaffirmed that his mission was to establish peace between the Chilean government and the peoples of Arauca. Thus began a legal proceeding that was to last nine months and three days.

After the prisoner underwent interrogation by the judge in Los Angeles, he was sent to a jail of dismal repute. There Orelie-Antoine de Tounens became very ill. For a whole month he was semiconscious. In the next four months, as the fevers gradually gave way, he lost weight and became, in his own words, a "skeleton." He also lost his long, black, beautiful hair. He could barely continue with his defense, with the writing of his diary [which he did with perfect calligraphy], and with the sending of the letters that kept him in contact with the outside world.

To the dismay of the judges in charge of doing justice in his case -- and of the physicians who had to rule on his mental capacity -- Orelie-Antoine carried out his defense with no professional help. He displayed unbelievable sagacity and judicial shrewdness. In the end, after giving lengthy explanations for his presence in Araucania -- and after effectively rebutting all the arguments used by the authorities to justify sentencing him to the most severe punishment available under the law -- Orelie-Antoine accepted the disposition that the Chilean judges offered to him in order to avoid an international uproar. He was found not guilty, but was interned in a sanitarium for the insane. From there he was rescued by the French Charge d'Affairs, who put him aboard a ship sailing for France.

In a certain way, Orelie-Antoine was emulating Cortes and Pizarro, who -- with the help of the Spanish crown -- had crossed the ocean to become white emperors in the New World. However, Orelie-Antoine's era was a different one. In 1860, the Monroe Doctrine discouraged incursions into Latin America by foreign powers. Chile and Argentina had become militarily and institutionally so strong that they could defend their territories. Orelie-Antoine's timing was unfortunate. With his strong civilizing mission, he had arrived too late in the land of his dreams.

The Making of a King

However, in the collective memory of the Araucanians, Orelie-Antoine I would remain as the foretold and hoped-for king who had vanished. The machis, Araucanian sorceresses, had predicted that a white man would come to unite the peoples of Arauca -- peerless warriors who lacked a unified government and a king -- and would help them end centuries of war and siege. This prediction fitted perfectly with Orelie-Antoine's longstanding romantic obsession with the vast and mysterious territory. This convergence of goals facilitated the foundation of the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia in November of 1860. Thanks to his good looks and princely manners, the power of his oratory and the tenacity that would lead him to organize subsequent expeditions, the lawyer from Dordogne succeeded in briefly reigning over a group of unruly Indian chiefs. What circumstances did not permit was the fruition of the Prince's civilizing enterprise. But for a moment, the salvation of the Araucanian tribes -- their conversion from fiery warriors into "good" worthy of the white man's protection and respect -- ceased to be an impossible dream.

Orelie-Antoine was born of a family of landowners of remote noble origin in the Province of Perigord, Department of Dordogne, on May 12, 1825. He was the eighth child and the only one who would lift a hand to recover his family's title and the world "de" before the name Tounens. He was also the only one to go to Perigueux and finish school. "Having obtained my baccalaureate," he would write later, "and being forced to choose a career, I quickly made up my mind to study law, with the sole objective of preparing myself for my future endeavors as a king." In his law practice, Orelie-Antoine showed great equanimity, but his avid imagination and visionary instinct pushed him to try to change the face of one part of the world.
La Cheze, home the de Tounens family

His great magnetism and intellectual refinement was comparable only to his spirit of adventure. He read history and geography, and in his conversations idealized the tribes of men he would call the "Araucanian Centaurs," who defended their territories with knives and lances. Proud of France's civilizing mission, he considered the loss of his country's colonies in the Americas a great injustice.

Driven by his pursuit of a kingdom and sense of equanimity, Orelie-Antoine sold some of his properties and boarded a ship sailing for South America. The prince arrived in Chile in August 1858. He had no money nor friends in high positions, and he did not know the language spoken in his adopted country.

He spent two years in Santiago and Valparaiso, learning Spanish and establishing friendships. In the spring of 1860, Orelie-Antoine de Tounens landed in Valdivia, a Chilean settlement close to the Araucanian border. He dressed himself to fit the image of a king, with a finely woven black and white poncho, polished top boots, silver belt buckle and spurs and a long sword in a sheath inlaid with gold. He wore his abundant hair long and fastened over his brow with a red bandeau in Indian fashion. From the lavishly accoutered horse on which he sat, his bearing was majestic and impressive. As soon as he appeared, a rumor began to spread among the tribes proclaiming the arrival of a white man whose mission was to unify them and prevent the Chileans from exterminating the wild animals they hunted. The prophesy of the machis seemed on the verge of fulfillment.

The Magical Kingdom

The Araucanian Indians had settled in territories that now belong to Chile and Argentina. A few centuries later, the Incas tried to extend their empire to the south, and were repulsed by the Araucanians. Although the latter had never reached the degree of civilization other Indian peoples attained, they were too powerful to be defeated or tamed. With resourcefulness and tenacity, they resisted not only the attacks of the Incas but also three centuries of hostilities and evangelical warfare on the part of the Spanish. With time, their domain was reduced to a not-insubstantial strip of territory in southern Chile, cutting the Republic in half, with forests and fertile pampas and good passes across the Andes. They were stark and sturdy, with an almost Mongoloid cast of features. Their favorite diversions were tribal warfare, indolence, polygamy and drunken orgies.

La Araucana, by the Spanish poet Alfonso de Ercilla y Zuniga, depicts this race at the peak of its military genius and strength. Ercilla awakened in his Chilean readers a sense of awe with respect to Araucanian heroism -- and with it certain reservations about conquering them by force. The most dangerous consequence of this infatuation was that by the middle of the nineteenth century, the problem of incorporating Araucania into a civilized nation had not been solved yet, and its inhabitants, although under siege, were still independent.

Rio Bio-Bio, northern border of Araucania

As a man of the law, the dreamer from Perigueux understood that the new Republic of Chile did not have the right to claim Araucania among the territories it inherited from Spain, because the Araucanians had never been conquered by the Spanish. He thought that the natural border established by the Rio Bio-Bio between Chile and Araucania should be respected, and that the Indians' rights and lands could be protected with the sword and the laws of the new sovereign state that he himself would found.
The first Indian chief to understand and accept Orelie-Antoine de Tounens' mission was Manil, who also facilitated the Frenchman's journeys within a territory that had up to then proved deadly to whites. Together they discussed the form of government the new Araucanian state should adopt. Speaking on behalf of all the Indians, Manil opted for accepting a king.

With Manil's acquiescence, on November 17, 1860, on the farm of a French settler named F. Desfontaine, Orelie-Antoine I drew up and signed a decree creating a "constitutional and hereditary monarchy" for a nation to be called "New France," in the territory of Araucania. He also wrote its constitution and gave it a national anthem and a flag. Three days later, Orelie-Antoine met an Indian chief from Patagonia and decided to annex that territory to his domain. Immediately thereafter, the new king appointed Desfontaines as his Foreign Relations Minister. One of the minister's first tasks was to inform President Manuel Monti of Chile that Orelie-Antoine I had assumed the throne of Araucania and Patagonia. The king also sent copies of the decree and the constitution to the newspapers El Mercurio of Valparaiso, and Ferro Carril and Revista Catolica of Santiago. The text of the royal decree and a synopsis of the constitution of the kingdom of "New France" was printed in El Mercurio on December 29, 1860.

Having fulfilled these formalities, Orelie-Antoine de Tounens went to Valparaiso to await the Chilean government's response. He spent his time writing letters to his friends and to newspapers in Perigueux requesting pecuniary support for his endeavors. He also drew up a legal code similar to France's and made plans for the future of his kingdom. Everything the king did was in the open. But the Chilean government, which had passed from the hands of Manuel Monti to those of Joaquin Perez, continued to pay no attention to the progress of "New France."

Frustrated by his neglect, Orelie-Antoine I thought that his cause could be furthered if other tribes were to elect and proclaim him their king. With this end in mind, he returned to his domain a year later in the company of his servant Juan Bautista Rosales, and two interpreters.
Araucania was about to rise up once again against the white man's army. When the visit of the king and his aides was announced, several Indian chiefs decided to invite him to their realms and listen to him. In separate ceremonies before different tribes on December 25, 26, 27, and 30, the king gave a speech in which he proclaimed, among other things, "Natural and international law empowers you to become a nation so that you can march forward toward progress at a steadier pace. . ." There was no way for the king to know whether his interpreters had correctly translated these lines into the guttural Araucanian language. But each and every time he handed the green, blue and white flag of the kingdom to one of the Indian chiefs, there were frenzied shouts of joy. The clouds of dust raised by the "Araucanian Centaurs" nearly suffocated His Highness.

Patagonian cacique Calfucura
who supported Orelie-Antoine

Taking advantage of the enthusiasm demonstrated by his subjects -- and determined to obtain a more permanent form of recognition for his accession to the throne -- the lawyer from Perigueux drafted another memorandum stating that he had been elected and acclaimed as the "King of Araucania and Patagonia."

The Araucanian kingdom threatened to demand from its monarch a considerable sacrifice. As a token of fidelity and respect, the chiefs offered him a wide selection of their dusky daughters, from whom they requested the bashful bachelor to pick out about half a dozen to be his wives. Not very eager to take on the responsibilities of marriage, Araucanian-style, at that precise moment, His Highness explained that he would wed the princesses, but requested that the nuptial ceremony be postponed -- in accordance with Araucanian custom -- until they had defeated their enemies.

Orelie-Antoine began a journey to other tribal realms in the first week of 1862. It was during that trip that Rosales, frightened by the effects of the prince's unbelievable success, denounced him to the authorities and thus put an end to his imperial endeavors.

The Steel Crown Endures

The press in France published the news of his return in disgrace and expressed more regret than admiration toward his feat. Orelie-Antoine de Tounens had to endure the journalists' sarcasm. He was called the "available king." The indifference and derision of his countrymen would be his constant complaint. But in spite of the many attacks coming from both hemispheres, he never cased to fight for the throne, and used his pen to let the world know his version of history.

In 1863 he published his memoirs telling about his 1860-1862 trip to Araucania. This book is striking in its tenderness toward the Araucanians and fills in all the details of the trial in Chile. It caused enough of a stir to allow him to find sponsors for his second expedition. It is very difficult to know whether his adventures had any impact in the court of Napoleon III, or whether the Emperor's gloved hand began to push him back to Araucania.

In 1869, the king sailed south in the Oneida and landed in Buenos Aires. On March 14, a vessel belonging to the French Navy took him to a port in Patagonia. In his wanderings through these desolate areas, he befriended a number of Indian chiefs. He also had the opportunity to meet Julian Murga, an Argentine colonel, and protest the way the Argentine Army was taking Indians hostage. Sometime later, a tribe, unaware of his identity, took him hostage, and had it not been for the fortuitous arrival of an Araucanian chief who recognized and rescued his king -- and helped him cross the Andes -- Orelie-Antoine I would never have seen Araucania again.

His return was considered miraculous because the Chileans had spread the rumor that they had shot him. The natives enthusiastically welcomed him and organized celebrations in his honor. Orelie-Antoine did not waste much time in frivolous diversions. He established something called the "Order of the Steel Crown" and chose as its first three members the Indian chiefs Quilapan, Montret, and Lemunao. He further asserted his leadership by appointing the ministers of his cabinet [Quilapan was the War Minister and other chiefs were in charge of Foreign Relations, Interior, Justice and Agriculture]. He gave away flags of the kingdom throughout the Indian territories, and by the end of the year there were reports of another Indian rebellion in Araucania. The Chilean government's reaction to this news was to set a price on the head of the king. Although in the last seven years there had been improvements in the relationship between Chile and Araucania, the Indians' response to the Chileans was to rally around their king.

In 1871, however, Orelie-Antoine was running out of money, and hearing nothing from his friends, he decided to return to France. His departure from Araucania ended up being more complicated than his arrival because he had to convince each and every chief to authorize his leaving Araucanian territory. Crossing both the majestic Andes and the endless plains of Patagonia, he arrived in Bahia Blanca in June and a month later back in Buenos Aires, where he gave interviews to the most important newspapers in the Argentine capital, La Prensa, La Nacion and La Tribuna. After a brief stay in Montevideo, he continued his journey back to France. There he published a second volume of memoirs, established his journal of his kingdom La Corona de Acero [The Steel Crown]; and continued to bestow royal favors and decorations. For the first time Orelie-Antoine began to worry about providing a successor to his throne.

One April 12, 1872, he used his journal to deal with this problem. He printed an advertisement requesting a "maid who would be willing to share his destiny." The future queen of Araucania [and mother-to-be of the crown prince or princess] had to be "honest and from a respectable family, to be in excellent health, have good character, be intelligent, learned, beautiful and gay." By the beginning of 1873, he had settled in Paris and announced in a letter to one of his brothers that he was about to marry a certain Mademoiselle de Percy. There is no evidence that the wedding ever took place.

Soon Orelie-Antoine de Tounens was involved in his third expedition to Araucania. The king minteddifferent coins and bought arms and munitions with money lent by a French bank. Since he was now persona non grata in both Argentina and Chile, he decided to travel incognito. Upon his arrival in Bahia Blanca, however, his dark eyeglasses, clipped beard and mustache did not fool his old acquaintance Colonel Julian Murga. The army officer ordered his arrest on July 17, 1874, and in spite of having his false travel documents apparently in order, he found himself detained by suspicious authorities for over three months. After he regained his freedom, close surveillance by the authorities prevented him from following his plans, and he decided to return to France.

But his obsession with Araucania prevailed over his reason, and so there was a fourth expedition in early 1876. Everything went well until he reached the port of Montevideo. On his way to Patagonia things steadily deteriorated. Some settlers robbed him and afterwards had him arrested. When he was about to be allowed to settle in Patagonia, the king became very ill. He was taken to Buenos Aires in October and would have died a painful death had he not undergone surgery on November 7. This saved his life, but Orelie-Antoine de Tounens' body could not endure any further tormenting. He was put aboard the Parana and on January 26, 1877 he arrived in Bordeaux. From Bordeaux he returned to his birthplace. He died there on September 17, 1878.


The Indians of Araucania and Patagonia were finally subjugated after a number of military invasions by the Chilean and Argentine armies a few years after Orelie-Antoine's death. For a time, here and there, the green, blue and white flags of the kingdom kept flying in the wind. Then they vanished, along with most of the Araucanian traditions, such as their military genius and the courage that Ercilla and many others had greatly admired.

Since Orelie-Antoine's passing there have been several pretenders to the "Crown of Steel." Because all members of the Tounens' family renounced their rights to it, the successor was a close friend of the Prince's named Gustave-Achille Laviarde, whom Orelie-Antoine had also dubbed Prince of the Aucas and Duke of Kialeon. The pretender assumed the name Achille I and watched over his subjects from a distance. In 1885, he wrote a long letter to President Grover Cleveland requesting that the United States government recognize the autonomy of Araucania and Patagonia. After his death on March 1, 1902, the title passed to another son of Perigord, Antoine-Hippolyte Cros [Antoine II]. He was a well known physician, philosopher and man of letters. From this dynasty came the next pretender, Antoine III. In 1951, Antoine III abdicated in favor of Prince Philippe of Araucania. Prince Philippe made a speech on behalf of the rights of the Araucanian people before the United Nations in 1961 and seven years later, he succeeded in having the United States accept a representative of the kingdom of Araucania-Patagonia as a "foreign diplomatic agent." In 1989, the current pretender visited the south of Chile and Argentina, and called upon what remains of the indomitable race that had long obsessed Orelie-Antoine de Tounens. There are very few descendants of those "Araucanian Centaurs" who needed a king to unite them and lead them to victory. Some of them have heard the legend of King Orelie-Antoine I, a Frenchman who was infatuated with his sacred mission and who donned a "Steel Crown" at a time when history had already passed him by.

From Americas Volume 42, Number 5, 1990.

Royaume d'Araucanie & Patagonie