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Early writings from Southern Patagonia
Title: The Gold Diggings of Cape Horn
Sub-title: A study of life in Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia
Author: John R. Spears
Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1895


I am impelled to say, by way of preface, that the readers will find herein such a collection of facts about the coasts of Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia as an ordinary newspaper reporter might be expected to gather while on the wing, and write when the journey was ended. It was as a reporter of The Sun, of New York, that I visited the region described. And instead of giving these facts in the geographical sequence in which they were gathered, I have grouped them according to the subjects to which they relate. So it happens that the work is what may be properly called a collection of newspaper sketches rather than the conventional story of a traveller. I make this explanation the more freely for the reason that bookbuyers as a rule, so book publishers have repeatedly told me, do not take kindly to newspaper sketches bound in book form. They resent as an attempted imposition, it is said, the masking of such writings in the garb that belongs to literature, just as they would resent the sale of cotton-seed oil under the name of lard. However this may be I am bound to avoid even the appearance of any such deceitful intent.

On the other hand there are people who depend almost entirely on the newspapers for their reading matter. They seem to prefer the style of the newspaper writers. Perhaps a book that is avowedly the work of a reporter will meet their approval. At any rate I should be particularly sorry to have any of them think, when the book is offered to them by the bookseller, that it is anything different from what it is.

Then there is the pleading of the baby act in literature – the offering of apologies for shortcomings and asking for the leniency of the reader. I do not think I ought to do it. It is as if a dairy farmer, while asking full price for his butter, should say: "I've a realizin' sense that the smell haint just right. The dinged cows was eatin' leeks afore I know'd it, but I done my best at the churnin' an' I hope ye'll make allowances." If a buyer is looking for a book with the odor of flowers and new-mown hay in it I do not think it is becoming to ask him to take one flavored with garlic instead. Save for the matter manifestly from books and records I obtained the facts herein by observation and interviews; and I am willing to abide by the press law that a blunder is inexcusable. It is, of course, the honest intent of the news-gatherer to write his facts so that they will not be ignored or misunderstood or forgotten, but when he fails to reach that standard he loses his market, and he ought to lose it. And the man who essays the creation of something permanent ought not to ask that he be judged by a lower standard than that of the writers for "ephemeral publications."

I am under great obligations to many of the people whom I met in the course of the journey, for assistance in gathering facts, but of the whole number Mr. E. L. Baker, the American Consul at Buenos Ayres; Herr Bruno Ansorge, of the Paramo Mining Company; Mr. Adolph Fique, a merchant at Ushuaia; and Revs. John Lawrence and Thomas Bridges, missionaries, were at especial pains to help me. I should like to thank them again for what they did. And were I not prohibited from doing so I would include one other name – that of the runaway sailor boy from New York whom I found in the desolate harbor at the east end of La Isla de Los Estados.

Having said this much I can very cheerfully face the inevitable – the fact that the work will be judged by its merits. If it succeeds I shall be glad of course; if it fails I shall know better what to do next time.

J. R. S.