The history of the Pantanal region actually begins with the legend of El Dorado. Portuguese settlers in the 16th century heard from many Indians about the great white king who lived in the gold kingdom beyond ‘the Great Mountains’ (the Andes). As the Spanish advanced through Central America, a few Portuguese adventurers gathered an army of Indians and in the first attempt marched through the Peabiru, an Indian road that cut through central Brazil until the Andes. This army got to the borders of the Inca’s territory and attacked many Inca border towns, sacking all the gold and silver they could. When they were returning to the central base, which today is in Uruguay, they passed through the Pantanal and were amazed by its beauty. Unfortunately on the way back they were attacked by the fierce Paraguay Indians and almost all of them got killed. A second expedition decided to try to go by boat, because they had received stories from the survivors, descriptions of a huge land full of rivers, where they could navigate and certainly avoid the terrible Paraguay Indians. By boat they could also carry more weaponry that would help them conquer the great Indian kingdom that was full of gold. This second expedition couldn’t fulfill its objective, but while navigating through the Prata River the Portuguese reached the Pantanal and started to navigate its rivers, demarcating them and drawing the first maps of the region. The region, originally inhabited by Indian tribes, was developed by Brazilian Bandeirantes, Portuguese descendants who came to the area as gold diggers and slave hunters at the beginning of the 18th century. Many Indian tribes faced extermination. After the war with Paraguay in 1864 some newcomers, impressed by the beauty of the land they had found, engaged in extensive cattle raising, small farming, fishing and hunting activities that had little effect on the region. In 1914 the northwest railroad was built to connect the area with other Brazilian states. Since it was still a remote area, not much happened until the 20th century.
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