The Valiant Ladies of Potosí

Mining in Potosí, an engraving from Theodoor de Bry in Historia Americae sive Novi Orbis, 1596

When the Spanish “discovered” South America, they were thrilled to find a plethora of precious metals to take.  The heart of the silver boom was the town of Potosí, in what is now Bolivia.  At the time it was part of the Viceroyalty of Peru and was known as Alto Peru.  There was so much money there that the theory is that the mint mark of Potosí, which was the letters “PTSI” all written over each other, is the origin of the dollar sign.  The very name meant money, and a common Spanish expression is “vale un Potosí”, which is literally translated to “to be worth a Potosí” and means “to be of great value”.  However, with great wealth comes opportunity and unfortunately opportunistic people.  Native South Americans were used as forced labor in the mines for Spanish robber barons who came for the money.  Miners, who actually go paid, blew what salary they had on drinks, loose women and carousing.  Bandits were everywhere and crime was rampant.  It was so bad that the town council wouldn’t meet unless they had chain mail shirts on.  Enter in the mix of obscene wealth, screaming poverty and rank crime, Ana Lezama de Urinza and Dona Eustaquia de Sonza.

The two women were as different as they could be.  Ana was born on the streets and grew up as an orphan.  The fact she lived meant she was tough as nails.  Eustaquia lived in a beautiful villa overlooking the city with every possible comfort.  It’s not recorded how they met, but they became unlikely friends.  So close that Ana was adopted into Eustaquia’s family at the age of 12.  They were taught the skills needed for young noble women at the time-  dancing, needlework, cooking and running of a great household.  However, these two little Arya Starks were completely uninterested in all of this.  They paid much more attention to Eustaquia’s brother’s fencing lessons.  No matter what they were doing, the made sure to observe his lessons and try out the moves when no one was looking.  Sadly, Eustaquia’s brother died young, but the two girls had shown so much promise they received their own tutor and were working on swordplay, riding and firearms training.  Beats the heck out of needlepoint.

“Chronica del Peru” by Pedro de Lieca

Despite their training, Ana and Eustaquia were extremely sheltered.  It was no proper for a lady to be roaming the streets let alone in a town as dangerous as Potosí.  However, they were bored with their secluded life and came up with a plan to sneak out.  Disguising themselves as caballeros, they induced a servant to help them sneak out.  This became a habit, and the two young women got into the inevitable scrap.  In one of their most famous street duels, it was the two of them against four bandits.  Ana had fallen from a wound, and Eustaquia was guarding her from all comers.  Then Ana “rose to her feet like a lioness and, recognizing the man who had wounded her, said, ‘Monster, now I will revenge myself!”  The proceeded to open a can of whipass on him.  At the end of the fight, both women were wounded but made it home.  By this time, the women had found that their friendship had deepened into a romantic relationship.  The two lovers quit searching for fights and went full on vigilante on the mean streets of Potosí and beyond.  They spent five years touring Peru drinking, fighting bulls, playing cards and handing out their own brand of justice at the point of a sword.  They were known as “The Valiant Peruvian Ladies of Potosí”.

Eventually, they returned to Potosí as Eustaquia’s father died leaving her as sole heir.  They settled into the cushy villa, but did not give up their wild life.  Unfortunately, their life together ended a few years later when Ana succumbed to wounds she received in a bullfight.  Eustaquia did not live much longer, dying of a broken heart four months later.

Although their life was short, their legend lives on.

ER