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Patagonia Bookshelf

Two American missionaries visit the Tehuelche Indians at Gregory's Bay, 1833-1834
The Daily Journal of Rev. Titus Coan [extract]

Sunday, November 10th, 1833 through Saturday, November 16th, 1833

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Lords day. Nov. 10th. Since my last date we have not seen land as the wind has kept us off from the shore. The weather being comfortable we attended worship on deck this afternoon. Brother Arms preached from Song of Solomon 2:15 "Take us the foxes" etc. The services were much interrupted by the swell of the sea which broke completely over the decks to our no little inconvenience. As we hope to land during the week this is probably the last Sabbath we shall spend on board. Though our little congregation for the most part are only nominal Christians still it is affecting to think that we shall no more be permi[tted] to worship even in such a circle for months or years; perhaps not till we en[ter] on the eternal Sabbath. Perhaps all these men with whom we have come preachi[ng] the kingdom of God will see us, and be seen by us no more till we meet them at the bar of our final Judge. God grant that we may be able to say when called to separ[ate] that we are clean from the blood of all these men, that we have not failed to decl[are] to them the whole counsel of God. Many of them are yet in their sins though they have long had the word of God preached to them and though our hearts are moved for them we must say to them "Your blood be on your own head, from henceforth we turn to the Gentiles." Where our next Sabbath will be spent is all unknown to us, but I feel no anxiety on the subject as the place and circumstances will all be arranged by that infinitely wise and gracious God who has promised to be a "little Sanctuary" to his children in all places where they wander.

Monday Nov. 11th. The day has been mild and delightful. Many whales have been seen play[ing] around our vessel. At 5 P.M. we made Cape Virgin on the north side of the entrance of Magellan's Strait, bearing west and distant about 18 miles. Should the wind fav[our] we shall probably enter the Strait tonight.

Nov 12th. Arose this morning and found that we had entered the Strait during the night and had run a considerable distance towards Gregory's Bay. We passed the first narrows about noon, beating against a strong wind. At 5 P.M. wind and tide being ahead the vessel was brought to anchor, but as she drifted it was found necessary to weigh anchor again, when it was seen that the flukes were broken. The vessel was put under way and run back through the narrows again till good anchorage was found. We are now waiting till morning for a flood tide when we hope to run up to Cape Gregory. The land on each side of the Strait this far is low and gently undulating, with here and there a hillock of some eminence. The beach is a white sand. As we passed along the Indians on either side caused a great smoke to ascend in many places. This it is said is a common signal on descrying a vessel approaching their coast.

Nov. 13th. A strong head wind has prevented our advancement today; consequently we lay at anchor until the water became so low at ebb tide that it was found necessary to drop off into deeper water. Much difficulty was encountered in again finding good holding ground, and for some time the Captain was apprehensive that we should be driven out to sea again. At length however a place was found where the anchor held and our vessel rides gently on the tide.

Nov. 14th. On arising this morning we found the Mary Jane quietly at anchor in Gregory's Bay. The morning was calm the water still and the land presented the striking contrast of green fields and snow crowned hills. Early in the morning we went on shore and made a smoke as a signal for the Indians to come down, as none of them were to be seen. Thus after our imprisonment in a small vessel for 90 days we have been permitted once more to set foot on terra firma. We found the shore a beautiful sand beach. The only wood we found was a low prickly shrub much resembling the barberry bush. This shrub is now covered with a small yellow blossom.

Not finding any of the natives, we returned on board about 9 A.M. and at 1 P.M. we again went on shore in company with the Captain with the view of travelling back into the country in search of the savages for whom we desire to labour. Taking one of the Indians' paths we pursued our way over hills and vales often meeting with spots on which the Indians had encamped, and which were strewed with the bones of the guanaco, and in one instance we saw two huge joints of a whale's spine. Horses' tracks and those of the guanacos were every where visible, one of the latter animals we descried feeding in a meadow, but on discovering us he made rapid strides over the plains till we lost sight of him. We saw many fowls of a large size among which was the Johnny Rook [caracara, Ed.], an impudent thief, the Curlew, and the Upland Goose. A variety of small birds also flitted and warbled sweetly around us. The hills over which we passed were composed of a dark sandy soil, very light, and free from stones, and covered with grass. The intervales [tract of low-lying land (New England, archaic), Ed.] presented extensive meadows of as fine looking soil as any in the valley of the Connecticut. These meadows were covered with thick grass, which appears to grow in spontaneous profusion. On our way we set fire to many of them in order to raise a smoke, as the old tore [previous season's dry grass (New England), Ed.] still remained in abundance. We found a little ravine at the head of which a small rill issued from the bank where we quenched our thirst afterwards. We also found a larger stream running through a meadow. After following our Indian trail for about 10 miles without meeting any human being, our weary frames, and the descending sun admonished us to return. Accordingly we retraced our steps and a little before sundown I found myself again on board the Mary Jane, thankful indeed to find a resting place though disappointed in the object of our tour.

Journal No. II.

Gregory's Bay  -  Nov. 15th 1833

Early on yesterday morning our vessel was brought to anchor in this bay after a voyage of 90 days, and Brother Arms and myself spent most of the day on shore in efforts to find some of the natives of Patagonia. Not succeeding however my Associate, accompanied by the Captain of the Mary Jane, set off early this morning in search of them, while I remained on board to attend to some business preparatory to leaving the vessel. About 4 P.M. one Indian was seen on the beach and shortly after three more arrived. They were all mounted on horseback, and attended by a retinue of more than twenty dogs. In a little time Brother Arms and the Captain returned, when the boat was sent on shore to fetch them off. Three of the Indians came with them, one of whom is the son of the aged chief whom they call de capata la Grande. He is a young man of more than middling stature, modest and pleasant in his manners and of a fine open countenance. He can converse a little in Spanish. We asked him if he would go with us to their head quarters and spend the night, and return in the morning. To this he assented as we understood him. Accordingly we went on shore at 6 P.M. where he selected each of us a horse, and mounting a third he led our way rapidly over the hills and valleys towards the mountain on the back side of which we were told the Tribe encamps. On the way he halted, and with his fireworks, which it seems he always carries, kindled a fire in the thick dry grass of an intervale. This spread rapidly and formed a large smoke which was a signal to the other Indians to come down. Presently several companies of savages were seen coming across the extensive plains before us. On meeting these our guide seemed disposed to return to the shore, but we still urged him to proceed and he yielded reluctantly to our request, often stopping and dismounting and lingering until near dark when we found it difficult to press him any farther. We were now about 12 miles from the shore, but we wheeled about with our guide who now led us with a more cheerful countenance and more rapid movement than before. We arrived on the beach opposite our vessel at 10 in the evening where we found about 20 savages encamped for the night in the open air. We hailed our vessel but not being heard we were obliged to spend the night on shore with the Indians. Hungry and fatigued we sat down with them by a little fire of shrubs and ate with a lively relish a piece one […] of roasted guanaco and some dry, insipid plums or rather fungi about the size of a cherry, which they gave us. After our repast we lay down on some skins which our guide spread for us and he very kindly covered each of us with a thin blanket. Thus amidst Indians and horses and dogs we composed ourselves for the night. The thought that He who made the world once traveled it as a missionary in poverty and pain, rejected by "His own" and having "no where to lay his head" not only hushed every murmuring thought in my bosom, but even made me more calm and happy in my situation than when sleeping in the palaces of the great.

The reason why we endeavoured to press onward to the Indian camp was that we m[ight] ascertain all we could of their situation and circumstances, and especially have an interv[iew] with Maria their Queen before we landed our luggage.

Saturday. Nov. 16. Arose this morning and went on board the Mary Jane, and made preparations for an interview with the Chief and his son who were both on shore. The boat was soon sent to bring them off, and we were able to communicate with them so much this […] a man on board who has been here before as to ascertain that the Queen and most of the Tribe were absent at a distance in their winter quarters, but would return in a little time and that all the Indians at this station were now here or […] beach. This explained to us the reason of the reluctance of the young Chief to proceed farther last evening after meeting several companies of Indians. On proposing to the old Chief to stop and live a while with his people he gave us to understand that we might, and that our baggage should be taken up to their tents where we could live with him until the return of their queen. This chief is a grave, venerable looking man and exhibits a frank and noble disposition. His wife appears modest and amiable. There is a kind of sweetness and benignity in her countenance which cannot fail to attract attention and interest the feelings, even of a stranger.

Having arranged our business as well as we could with the chief we took our luggage on shore and pitched our tent with the Indians to await their movements for removing to their head quarters. During the day the Schooner Plutarch, Captain Miner of Mystic, Connecticut came into the Bay and anchored near the Mary Jane.