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Patagonia Bookshelf



Special to The Globe.

LONDON, Feb. 7.—That the modern scientific expedition is more or less of a tour of new and interesting spots on the globe's surface where there is material to be found to sell in editions de luxe is proved by the results of that of Mr. Hesketh Prichard's trip to Patagonia, under the auspices of Mr. Pearson. [British newspaper proprietor, Ed.]

Prof. Lancaster, of the British museum, announced in a lecture delivered in London some two or three years ago his belief in the existence of the prehistoric Mylodon or Giant Sloth, specimens of which he thought might still be found in the mountains of Patagonia. His assumption was based more or less on the statements made a year or two before by Dr. Moreno, a traveler and explorer who had personally investigated the Mylodon in his native haunts, at least by hearsay.

Mr. Pearson, thinking he could go his rival, Harmsworth, [British newspaper proprietor, Ed.] one better, engaged the services of Mr. Hesketh Prichard, quite a well known explorer and writer, to direct an expedition to explore Patagonia and bring back the sloth or his skin.

Mr. Prichard apparently had never read "The Message to Garcia" [an 1899 inspirational essay about 'getting the job done', using one's initiative, regardless of the perceived difficulty. Ed.] and set out in a humdrum, perfunctory way to perform a task, which if accomplished would have been second only to the capture of the Golden Fleece by Jason, of Homeric reputation.

It is a sad reflection upon the enterprise of the modern newspaper that Mr. Prichard did not bring back with him so much as a skin or a tooth of anything living in the present times which would suggest descent from the giant mammal of antiquity.

From the account given of this expedition it does not appear that Mr. Prichard penetrated as far as some travelers have done from the civilized zone although he found some regions to which the white man had not hitherto ventured. At any rate it is satisfying to know that there are some points left unexplored yet which will remain available for the exploring reporter, not only for the sake of the profession but for the sake of predatory monarchs who may have designs upon outlying points of the earth's crust to which the Monroe doctrine might not apply on the ground that they had not been discovered when that immortal precept of the spread eagle doctrine first asserted itself.

Unless our memory serves us a trick, some half a score of years ago a party of explorers in Patagonia, among whom was a distinguished attache of a German university, encountered a monster answering perfectly to the description given by scientists of the Mylodon. According as I remember the account to have been published in both American and European papers there were three scientists in the party and but one of these survived to tell the story of their adventures in Patagonia. The German, according to this report, fell a victim to the mysterious reptile or mammal which was taken for the sloth and which was encountered in some vast virgin solitude on that inhospitable plateau of the Andes described by some who have been there as being beyond the possibility of actual words to convey its desolateness. Whether it was a mirage of the pre-tertiary fossil which appeared to the travelers, for mirages are as plentiful in Patagonia as leaves in Vallambrosa, [Italian monastery, surrounded by forests. Ed.] or whether it was an actual great sloth, for these monsters might have retired to the fastness of such a remote region and even have their habitations yet in some of the vast caverns of the mountain ranges, cannot be told.

For what possibilities must there be in the direction of surviving specimens of prehistoric animals in a country which even a non-venturesome traveler like Prichard in one of his references describes as follows:

"Three great parallel divisions, running north and south, of plain, lake and mountain, each strongly marked, make up the face of the country. From the shores of the Atlantic, the pampas rise in gently graduated terraces to the range of the Andes, while between them is strung a mighty network of lakes and lagoons, some connected by rivers, others by channels, many of which shift and alter under the influence of climate and other local causes. From the sea to the Sierra Nevada stretch the pampas, all tussocky grass, thorn; guanacos and mirages. On the western rim of the pampas the Cordillera stand against the sky, a tumult of mountains climbing upward, their loftier gorges choked with glaciers, their hollows holding great lakes, ice-cold, ice-blue, and about their bases and their bastions thousands of square miles of shaggy forests, of which but the merest edges have been yet explored.'

The fact that the merest edges of the forests have been unexplored leaves us room for that delightful uncertainty upon which the imagination can play with the cheerful abandon which produces great philosophies and sometimes great romances — beyond this it remains a ponderous geographical fact.

To the kaiser it suggests in the first place a chance to obtain a foothold up on the South American continent which if he is anxious to get as his recent conferences with Columbia would suggest he would go far to secure even in that sterile and unexplored region.

By sending out an expedition to explore Patagonia he should not arouse the suspicions of the Washington authorities, as his well-known proclivities for exploring antiquities should stand him in good stead in that particular.

Unfortunately, however, there are no ruins so far discovered in Patagonia, it being a land which so far has offered no evidences as to an earlier civilization. There are no traces of ruined cities, temples, acqueducts. Nothing but the skeletons of prehistoric beasts and the rudest and most primitive utensils of savage man. Isolated bands of Indians, leaving their trails, worn by the feet of generations, roam over the pampas now, as they did centuries ago, and no more ordered life, no higher wants nor higher desires ever lived in the breath of the wind that for countless ages has sweeped down over the plains from the summits of the ice-capped mountain ranges.

Nevertheless there may be ruins there which modern travelers have overlooked as they have even passed the Giant Sloth.

Enough excuse for a great effort on the part of the kaiser to discover and annex this mysterious region so long neglected might be found in the fact that an immense tract of the globe's surface, of reasonably useful climate and possibilities of fertility—a tract of land, therefore, where the essentials for the existence of mankind are all to be found—could still lie waste in almost virgin solitude. Some parts of Patagonia have not been reached even by the most adventurous explorer, and the expedition found many a place where the absolute tameness of the wild creatures of the forest, proved their ignorance of man. Along the coasts slight attempts at colonization have been made, notably by the Welsh and Argentinians, with a few isolated adventurers of other nationality, but a vast realm still lies vacant here, waiting for the hand of labor which shall coax nature to yield up her treasures —and for the land-grabber, the advance guard of civilization.

Should, however, the German Emperor find anything to stand in the way of annexation in the shape of an established protectorate over this government or a government of any definable kind, he might, with the aid of some old news paper files, rake up the case of his lost scientist, put in a claim against the authorities for his destruction by the sloth, and in case of not getting satisfaction blockade the sloth's caverns and subsequently annex territory until the alleged damages were paid.

Source: "The Saint Paul Globe" (St. Paul, Minn.), 8 February 1903
Clipped: 21-IX-2012
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