There are several versions about the origin of Río Gallegos. According to the chronicler of Magellan's expedition, the vessel called Trinidad was the first one to land in this territory in 1520 commanded by a pilot after whom this site was named: Gallegos. On the other hand, it is also said that the place used to be called San Alfonso, to pay tribute to the fleet led by Jofré de Loayza and Sebastián Elcano in 1526.
The truth is that in 1885 (December 19, to be more precise) this city was founded by Prefectura Naval Argentina. Featuring the advantage of providing direct control on the continental end of Argentina, the foundation of Río Gallegos responds to the need to defend national sovereignty in this territory.
It is due to this privileged location that three years later, governor Ramón Lista moved the capital from Puerto Santa Cruz to Río Gallegos (though the true transfer took place in 1898), with the strong aim of watching Cabo Vírgenes and its richness from a closer distance. In 1907, the first popular election took place in Río Gallegos and in 1957, the territory of Santa Cruz was declared province, being Doctor Mario C. Paradelo its first governor.
The exploitation of gas and oil (its main resources) has always been the most outstanding economic activity in the area. Nevertheless, in 1876, a new economic opportunity (occasional, of course) emerged in this site: gold was found near Cabo Vírgenes. After a fishing boat shipwreck, a crew began to search the water and ended up finding gold nuggets. History repeated itself years later (when a new shipwreck took place in the area), though not with so much success, maybe due to the fact that the search was not very systematic but a little amateur.
Río Gallegos gradually developed as a result of its trade and slaughter-house activities. At first, the population was mostly made up by English, Chilean and German denizens and only a small percentage of Argentinians.
Undoubtedly, one of the most important tourist attractions in the city is the church cathedral, lying on San Martín Avenue, between Zapiola and Libertad Streets. Declared National Historical Monument in 1983 and recycled not long ago, this church -which dates from 1899- was the first parish in Santa Cruz and all of Patagonia, raised by natives who worked under the command of R. P. Juan Bernabé. The first mass celebrated in the parish took place on Christmas Eve that same year and in 1900 it was blessed and officially inaugurated by Monsignor Fagnano.