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Historical Materials from Southern Patagonia
Two months among the native peoples of southern Patagonia
North American missionaries on the Strait of Magellan, 1833-34
Report (Chapter) :    1     2     3     4  

[Continued from p.381.]

November 21, 1833. Louie invited me to accompany him on a hunt for guanacos, to which I consented. He furnished me with a horse, and gave me his gun, and, sportsman like, off we started with dogs in abundance, and soon saw plenty of game. The guanacos usually take their stand either on some hill or extensive plain, that they may command as wide a view as possible. This precaution they have learned to take by being so often surprised by their antagonists. I presume we saw more than fifty. Three were taken by the party, from which we were plentifully supplied for our suppers.

The ride to-day gave me an excellent opportunity to see the country. To a considerable distance from Gregory's Bay to this place, as far as the eye can reach each way, the country is all of deluvial origin, with here and there a spot of alluvion, which appear to rest on beds of sand and gravel. There are many marshes and small ponds, winch appear to be only basins holding the water that drains into them, though they seem to have water in them all the year round, and afford nutriment for numerous aquatic plants; and upon their surfaces are to be seen multitudes of birds, such as upland geese, ducks, gulls, etc. The alluvial plains are probably such ponds filled with earth from the hills. The hills are low, but precipitous and composed of sand, gravel, and small stones: but I have seen but two or three rocks, and those appear to be only boulders of granite. The hills are not entirely barren, though they produce but little. There is no appearance of wood, except a few stinted bushes, that are seen along the sides of the hills and about the low grounds. [Mr. Arms]

Our old mother brought us a piece of boiled meat for breakfast, though it was evidently nearly the last morsel which she had. Capt. Louie observing me in the act of shaving this morning, requested me to do the same to him. I accordingly went through with the operation, apparently much to his satisfaction, though he was as beardless as the boy of eight years old. These savages pluck out their beards, and their eyebrows, which preserve to them a youthful appearance, when they are somewhat advanced in life. — Went out to see the Indians in their tents. In some of the tents there is but one family, in others two or three. Each tent, containing more than one family, is divided into stalls according to the number that occupy it. This is done simply by hanging up skins as a partition. Most of the tents contain no furniture, except a few skins to sleep on, an old skin bag to bring water in, a piece of raw hide made into a dish to drink from, and perhaps a few small stones with which to roast meat, and a little bundle of sharp sticks which are used to confine skins to the ground for drying.

As the meat was exhausted in the camp, we expected to suffer, and also to witness suffering by hunger, but in a little time a detachment of the hunting party returned with three guanacos, and before night a piece was roasted and brought us for supper. We were also presented with an ostrich's egg, measuring fourteen inches in circumference.

22. The poor savages continue to crowd around us as usual, keeping up a continual begging for almost every thing they see in our possession. We frequently distribute small presents among them, with which they are much pleased. A sight of their poverty, their ignorance, and their degradation is truly affecting. Their only garment is a mantle of skins, in the form of a blanket, which they wrap around their bodies; except that when they ride, some of them use boots made of the skin of a horse's leg taken off whole, and drawn upon their lower limbs. Most of them use a narrow headband, some permitting their hair to hang down at full length, and others turning it up behind. Like other savages, they are excessively fond of ornaments, though they have not been able to obtain many, a few beads around the ankle and wrists, or a few jewels in the card, being all that we see. We distributed many thimbles among them, and endeavored to teach them the use of the needle, according to the custom of our country; but we soon found the thimbles suspended from their necks as ornaments, and the needles put into handles like awls; making an instrument which they call hodle, and which they employ in sewing their skins, using the tendons of animals for thread. They paint their faces with red or black, and often stripe their arms, breasts, and legs with white.

We find that the family who had taken us under their care, are not generally acknowledged as the head of the tribe, but a man by the name of Lorice is recognized as their captain and chief. We also find that a perfect cordiality of feeling does not exist between the family of Lorice and the Louie family.

The game which had been taken yesterday was exhausted, and we were glad to receive a piece of roasted horse beef, which was presented us by our young-friend. These savages are so supremely indolent, that they make no effort to obtain food until hunger drives them to the chase; and then, if they are unsuccessful in their first attempt to procure game, they suffer the penalty of their improvidence in a painful fast, unless a horse is dispatched, which will only supply the wants of a day. [Mr. Coan]

About noon, a horse wag brought up to the butcher. One man held the animal with a line of about a rod in length, while another, standing at about the same distance before the horse, let fly an arrow, which entered below the neck, penetrating some twelve or fifteen inches and effected its object. The horse was flayed by two men, while a dozen standing round were unable to keep off the dogs, each one coming up and getting repaid by blows on the head, which only had the effect to draw forth a few yelps; for the starving creatures, as if knowing that their time was short, were constantly watching and never suffered an opportunity to slip without seizing a mouthful of food. The whole animal being cut up, wag distributed among the whole. Louie, who appeared to own the horse, received the principal share in his own tent, together with the delicacies, such as the heart, lights, entrails, etc., even the feet, so that not a single bit remained for the poor dogs, but what blood they could lick from the ground. It was not long before several of the ribs, nicely roasted, were brought us.

We were plentifully provided with food from the horse to-day, several bringing ribs about half roasted, others a piece of broiled stake, and others that which was boiled. Nor were the luxuries withheld from us.

We dined on the ostrich's egg, which was presented to us last evening, and found it a most delicious repast, equalling the hen's egg in flavor, and a dozen of them in size. [Mr. Arms]

23. An unusual fine morning led me to ramble out on the northern hills. From the highest summit my eye surveyed an extended landscape; but like all others I have seen in Patagonia, it slept in dreary solitude. Hills and arid plains every where met and wearied the eye. No rivers or lakes, no cultivated fields or waving forests enlivened the picture. What a mournful contrast between this and the vernal loveliness of Now England landscape! The good family who have adopted us, have supplied us with horse-beef to-day, which is now our only food. A party of Indians went out on a hunt and brought home seven guanacos, about enough to supply their wants for one day. Our young friend, capt. Louie, has spent much of the day with us; and by his inquisitive, friendly, and social disposition, has rendered us happy. He is evidently feeling after the blessings of civilization. Oh that he and all this people may soon be brought to feel after God, if haply they may find him. It is painful that we have no way to convey the knowledge of a Savior intelligibly to their minds.

We have given young Louie some articles of our clothing, and it seems highly pleasing to him to wear them in our presence. He often requests us to do some little jobs for him, such as making spurs, sharpening knives, etc., and is much gratified with our ability and readiness to assist him. — Though deprived of many things in this desert land, we are rarely without music. The singing and hallooing of the Indians, the screaming of the children, and the piercing yells of the canine family, as they pass under the cudgel of their masters or fall into the cruel jaws of a stronger brother, keep the ear almost constantly ringing. The dogs here are almost innumerable, and they are reduced to mere skeletons by hunger. It is truly painful to see with what fury they will attack each other to obtain a morsel of food which is thrown out to them. The dogs, like the horses, are the private property of their masters, living and sleeping in their tents, like the children; and it is remarkable that although the Indians' tents are huddled thick together, yet each family of dogs guards a certain space around the master's tent; and if a neighboring dog, either through carelessness or design, trespasses upon the premises, he rarely escapes without a smart drubbing. When they go out to hunt, however, their unsocial rules are laid aside, and the dogs herd together like their masters. [Mr. Coan]

25. Several of the men went out to-day for guanacos, and returned with ten. One, a very young one, being considered a delicacy, was presented to the Americans, though we were plentifully supplied from their spit as usual. A little guanaco is quite pleasant after having little but horse-beef for some days. — It is pleasant to hear the sound "America" introduced into their songs, in a way which indicates they are pleased to have us with them; and we have had no reason whatever to think otherwise. With but few exceptions, they appear to possess the most amiable dispositions, constantly showing us many little kindnesses, though it is possible they expect as much in return.

If these are the real Patagonians, the story of their enormous stature is entirely fabulous. Dressed in their mantles they appear tall. When first I saw capt. Lorice, I thought him a tall man. In his sailor suit, one would think him a small man, and yet I think him about the usual size of this people. Their mantles are generally made of young guanaco skins, cutting them to the edge of the fur, and fitting their crooked sides together. They are, however, sometimes made of the skins of the skunk, cut into square pieces, so placed that the white strips may coincide. The scent they are not careful to take out, and one is as soon reminded of their presence from their mantles, as the filth of their persons. They are fond of singing, and many of the women spend much of their time in this amusement, seldom having more than four or five words in their song, which they repeat with but little variation of tone, such as ga lu la or something like it, which can be heard almost any time of day or night. Some of them have a rattling tone, which resembles the sound of a bag-pipe at a distance. I have not seen any kind of musical instrument among them. So destitute are they, that small bits of iron, cloth, or even paper, are collected and carefully laid up as treasures; and yet so ignorant, that they value thimbles higher than almost any other thing, except tobacco, drilling holes through them and wearing them suspended from their neck, rattling together like bells.

Before the young guanaco was presented to us, our provisions were cooked for us; since then we have done our own, and arc happy to do so, as it affords us some diversion, and allows us to dress our food as we choose. At meal time, we arc sure to be visited, for nothing excites their curiosity more than our method of cooking and eating. The use of a plate, knife and fork, seems to be unknown to them.

I was much interested in a sick person we found in one of the tents. An old woman, a fit representation of one of the furies, was lying by him, with her mouth to his stomach, muttering the most doleful cry, for the purpose of driving the disease out of the sick man. [Mr. Arms]

27. The natives lounge around us from morning to night, not only exciting our pity, but testing our patience. Most of them we can manage with tolerable ease; but our patience, our meekness, our wisdom, were perhaps never more taxed than to know how to deal with a certain woman who is a diurnal, if not a perpetual visitor; and who, we learn, is the wife of the chief capt. Lorice. I suppose that even a patient man would pronounce her as vexatious a creature as was over seen in human shape. She seems to be composition of all that is disgusting in filthiness, or trying in impudence and evil passion. She begs all that she sees, and labors hard to make us open every trunk and sack, and exhibit every article in our possession; and if we refuse to gratify her insatiable cupidity, she will strike her list upon a trunk or whatever is in her way, with great indignation. She rarely fails to make her appearance during our meals, usually bringing a squad of children with her, in order to make her begging more resistless. Taking her position in full view of us, she watches all our motions, peeping into every dish; and if we do not distribute the food we have prepared for our own use among her harpies, she will sometimes dash her brawny hand into our soup, and distribute among her brood whatever she brings up in her talons. This is not occasioned by hunger, as she is just as troublesome when full fed as at other times. Her husband appears like a mild and quiet man, and is completely under her domination, which appears to be the case with most of the tribe. We are more impressively taught how much these wretched beings need the meliorating influence of civilization and the purifying effects of Christianity.

28. For the present we seem to be shut up with this little band of savages, and have no alternative but to remain with them until the return of the larger tribe from the north, when we hope to obtain horses and a guide, and travel through the country. We have determined, so soon as we can gain the necessary facilities, to make a tour to the northwest, and, if possible, to cross the Andes somewhere between the fortieth and fiftieth degrees of south latitude, and thus visit the shores of the Pacific. But we cannot go alone, as we find ourselves absolutely dependent on the natives to procure our food; and a separation from them would undoubtedly reduce us to starvation, the game here being so wild and fleet that no one but the Patagonian horseman can take it.

Lorice and his wife spent a long time in our tent. They appeared very friendly, and informed us that the camp would be removed to-morrow, at the same time repeating their invitation for us to go with them. They also exhibited envious and bitter feelings towards our young friend Louie, and urged us to abandon him, and put ourselves and our effects under their care. They even pointed towards Louie's tent, and with a dark frown and threatening tone, exclaimed in broken Spanish, Malo! Malo! Mañana! i. e. bad, bad, to-morrow. We have reason to apprehend a gathering storm. And though our young friend has disclosed nothing to us, yet a settled thoughtfulness marks his countenance and gives evident indication that something presses heavily upon his heart. His constant fidelity to us has given us more confidence in him than any other Indian, and to withdraw ourselves from his care, appears not only impolite but ungrateful and unjust. We know not what shall be on the morrow, but it is safe to trust in Him who has the king's heart in his hand, and, as the rivers of water, turneth it whithersoever he will.

29. Capt. Lorice and wife visited us again this morning, and requested us to strike our tent immediately and prepare to decamp with them. Perceiving the whole camp in motion, taking down their tents and packing their little all upon their horses, we also made ready our baggage for removing. We soon found, however, that our fears of yesterday were about to be realized, as a warm dispute had already commenced between the two parties. This originated with the wife of Lorice, whose impositions and insolent qualities have already been mentioned. She commenced by pouring a torrent of invection upon the family under whose care we had placed ourselves, when she perceived them making arrangement to carry us and our baggage on their horses. Of the cause of this altercation we were not able definitely to inform ourselves, though we have little doubt that the contention arose from the envy and cupidity of Lorice's wife, who seemed to fear that all our attention and presents would not be bestowed on her family. After a time of angry dispute, matters seemed to be compromised, and a part of the horses to carry ns and our effects were assigned us by one party, and part by another. Every thing was now in readiness to set out, and some of the Indians had commenced their march, when our modern Jezebel, whose feelings had been hushed for a moment, like a slumbering volcano, now burst forth with redoubled vehemence. A trunk of medicine, which she had taken upon her horse to carry for us, was violently dashed to the ground with some injury, and another storm of rage was poured upon the heads of Louie and his family. Soon the hag dashed into the face and eyes of our young friend, and commenced a combat, by striking, scratching, pulling hair, tearing out jewels, etc. This excited the friends of the parties to defend their respective favorites. And now came on the tug of strife, the combatants continually increasing by new accessions, and becoming more and more enraged as the struggle continued. Happily they did not resort to knives or any deadly weapons, as we feared they would, but contented themselves by tearing each other's hair and faces, until their dark visages were besmeared with blood. Their rage was now remitted for a few moments to take breath, when the contest again commenced with maddening energy. The party of Lorice were the most numerous and powerful, and our young friend and his family were severely handled. Some of our baggage became matter of contention in the affray—the Lorice party endeavoring to drag it over to their side, while Louie and his family struggled to defend it. At length the combat ceased, and the parties sat down upon the ground in sullen silence. During the heat of the contest, we deemed it imprudent to interfere, as there was no hope of being heard, but when the rage had subsided, we labored to convince them that such conduct was bad, and by signs and gestures, gave them to understand that it exceedingly grieved and distressed us. This seemed to have somewhat of a softening effect upon them. We made signs to them to reload their horses, and go on peacefully together, but capt. Lorice shook his head with an indignant air, and seemed utterly irreconcilable in his feelings towards Louie. He, however, exhibited no hostility towards us; but by frequent beckoning and expressions of friendship, tried to persuade us to cleave to him, while our young friend, Louie, intimated that he should separate from the tribe, and take another direction, at the same time desiring us to remain until others had left, and then go with them. It was a time of trial. To show a preference for one party might expose us to the jealousy and resentment of the other: and. in case they should separate, as now appeared probable, not to show preference would leave us only the wretched alternative of being abandoned by both. All our prepossessions were on the side of Louie, whose generous hospitality had supplied us with food, and whose care and fidelity had secured our confidence. But the Lord in mercy decided the question for us, and delivered us from this painful emergency: for while we treated both parties with kindness, and endeavored to conciliate their feelings, they at length, by a kind of silent assent, arose from the ground and began to repack their horses, I cannot forbear to mention in this place, a speech by one of the natives, to which all listened with deep attention. While the Indians were sitting in moody silence upon the ground, the stillness was suddenly broken by a man, who commenced an impassioned harangue, and for about fifteen minutes spoke with profound native eloquence. He displayed energy, animation, and pathos, with varied and melodious intonations of the voice and impressive gestures. I exceedingly regretted that I could not understand his language, nor learn the nature and object of his address.

Dec. 1. My companion has been so indisposed as to keep his bed during the day, and our old Indian mother has been in several times to sympathize, with much apparent kindness. There is something so noble and generous in the appearance of this aged woman and her husband, that my feelings are drawn out towards them, and I ardently long to tell them of a Savior before they go hence to be here no more. It sometimes appears to me, that while the mass of youth in Christian lands reject the Lamb of God, this aged pair would receive him as little children.

2. The Indians were much amused on seeing us wash our clothes. This was probably a new and strange thing to them. — Closed our tent before night and observed the monthly concert. It was a season of new and peculiar interest. I had prayed for the missionary on such occasions before, but never with such a knowledge of the wants of a missionary; I had prayed for the heathen on such occasions before, but never surrounded by the heathen, within the sound of my voice. [Mr. Coan]

3. It is amusing to see the men and children engaged in their sports. We often see a dozen men in one group, nearly naked, playing ball, and as many boys in another, chasing their dogs, by throwing nooses over them, or engaged in some other childish play. In these sports are exhibited vivacity and kindness to each other; though, as might be expected, their tender mercies to birds and other animals is often most wantonly cruel. This, however, is to be attributed to education, more than to the natural disposition. The children exhibit a docility which would do honor to a civilized land. It is also encouraging to witness their desire to conform to American customs, often borrowing our pan to cook after our manner; thus showing that they have not that deep-rooted prejudice, so observable in many pagan nations. [Mr. Arms]

6. Found a few small edible roots, which are very grateful in this land where flesh is the only food. — It being intimated to the family that we needed more covering at night, they immediately set about making us a guanaco mantle. We have only to reveal our wants to this family, and they are supplied to the utmost of their ability. Our Indian mother is still unremitting in her kindness, and labors to prevent any thing from annoying us. If the dogs trouble us, while preparing our food, she often comes with her rod to chastise them, and to teach them good manners. The children of this family are quiet, affectionate and obedient. When they visit us, they are never troublesome, like many of the Indian children, and their sprightliness and pleasantry are often very exhilarating.

10. Having selected a spot of ground, my companion and myself planted a variety of garden and fruit seeds; but we have little hope of remaining here long enough for them to germinate. The natives looked upon our operations with evident wonder, and we endeavored to explain to them, by signs, the object of our labor, the process of germination, etc., and the final result in the production of nutritious food. [Mr. Coan]

11. The guanacos are very abundant here, often coming within rifle shot of the tent, notwithstanding the dogs are so numerous. This animal has a hump on the back, a long neck, and in other respects somewhat resembles the camel in form. It is probably the lama of Chili and Peru. It is covered with a fleece of long fine wool, through which there are projecting hairs still longer. I apprehend it might be manufactured to good advantage. Its flesh is excellent. Could the animal be domesticated, it would equal the cow in utility, giving its milk and flesh for food, its fleece and skin for clothing, tents, etc. [Mr. Arms]

[To be continued.]

Source: The Missionary Herald, vol. XXX No. 11 (November 1834), published by The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, Boston, USA.

Originals: Titus Coan Family Papers, Library of Congress, Washington DC

Copied and transcribed: December 2006