Patagonia comes from the fabled giants known as Patagones, who were thought to live in the area at the time of explorer Ferdinand Magellan in the 16th century. Because the indigenous people of Patagonia, the Tehuelche, were significantly taller than Europeans at the time, it’s conceivable they were referring to them.
Before European conquerors arrived, the Tehuelche lived in the area for at least 14,500 years. They were nomadic hunter-gatherers who lived in the grasslands and hunted using boleadoras, also used to catch birds by gauchos (Patagonian cowboys).
The Spanish never attempted to colonize Tehuelche territory. The first European settlers in Patagonia were a group of Welsh individuals who arrived on Argentina’s southern Atlantic coast in 1865. They founded towns such as Trelew and Gaiman, where Welsh is still spoken today.
More immigrants arrived from Lebanon, Italy, Spain, England, and other countries after the Welsh arrived, and word spread that life in Patagonia was excellent and land plentiful. These families established cattle ranches (known as estancias in the region), farms, and trade stations while coexisting peacefully with the Tehuelche, who taught them survival techniques.
The recent independent governments of Chile and Argentina began extending to the south at the turn of the century. They fought and eventually conquered the region’s indigenous people, who were subsequently forced to serve as manual laborers on European-owned estancias.
Estancias and gaucho life became nearly associated with Patagonia throughout time, especially on the Argentinian side of the area. Because Patagonia was sparsely populated, many estancias expanded to enormous proportions and were self-sufficient. Gauchos were nomadic cowboys that went from ranch to ranch throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, most of whom were mestizos (people of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry).