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

Sunday, January 12th, 1834 through Saturday, January 18th, 1834

Sabbath, Jan. 12th. We were aroused early this morning by the Indians who came to assure us that a vessel had actually come into the Bay. On arising we found great numbers of the natives preparing to go down to the shores and therefore concluded - as it afterwards proved - that this was not a false alarm. As the object of our visit to this region seemed to be accomplished, and as we were ready to embrace the first opportunity to visit the western shores if possible, or, if not, to return to our country, we felt it our duty to go down to the vessel though it was the Sabbath. I therefore arose, mounted a horse which one of the Indians had already prepared for me, and went to the Bay. On my arrival I perceived the vessel at a distance. In company with Captain Congo and several of the petty Captains I rode up the bay some distance to gain a nearer view of the vessel. On approaching opposite us she displayed the British flag, fired a gun, hove to and sent her boat on shore. As the boat came to land I hailed the crew in the English tongue, and they were all astonished to hear their native language break from the lips of one in English garb on these dark and almost unknown shores. In the boat I found Mr. H. Penny of Liverpool, England, owner of the vessel and cargo, bound to California where he has a trading establishment. To him the Great Captain Congo presented, through me, a fine guanaco skin mantle, and received in return a box of raisins and some cigars which were soon distributed among the Indians. Mr. Penny then took me on board his Schooner "Sappho," where he introduced me to the Captain, M. M. Melward [sic - Martin Massey Milward, Ed.], of Liverpool. On learning the errand on which we came to this land the Captain was evidently much moved and said that he was happy to see us engaged in that cause, and that if he could be of any service to us it would be a pleasure to him. His whole deportment was that of a benevolent Gentleman and a Christian. I am told that he belongs to the Church of England and that he has regular worship on board his vessel on the Sabbath. When we came on board, the Schooner was again put under way and with a fine breeze was soon at her place of anchorage. Both Mr. Penny and the Captain enquired if they could not furnish us with some articles which would be of use to us, and on naming a few things by way of provisions they were readily and cheerfully prepared. Mr. Penny is a young man of pleasing address of an active and social mind, and appears to possess a large share of intelligence. These Gentlemen expressing a desire to see our situation at our tent, we took a boat and went on shore where hundreds of the Indians were already assembled. Here we took horses and rode up to the camp, attended by a full escort of Indians. Our friends spent a season with us in our little tabernacle, and we were permitted to spread our frugal table with the production - not productions - of this country, and here in a "strange land" dine with our friends of another hemisphere. The sympathies of the kind hearted Captain seemed much excited in view of our circumstances, and in a suppressed tone I heard him say to Mr. Penny "This is too hard." Again and again did he repeat his desire to help us in any way in his power. We felt under great obligation for his kind feelings and ready proffers; but assured him that our wants were few, and were satisfied with a little bread, a piece of pork and a portion of oatmeal which had been bestowed on us, and that we were happy and contented in our circumstances until the Lord should open a way and lead us up out of this wilderness. Our guests then mounted their horses to return to the Schooner, and I bade them farewell, expecting never to see them again "till the heavens are no more", but after we had closed our tent and retired for the night Mr. Penny called at our door again for admittance. On entering he informed us that when they arrived on the shore the wind was so boisterous and the sea ran so high that he feared to venture on board in the boat, but that the Captain had ventured and gained the vessel in safety, and as the sea increased its rage the boat could not return for him, so that his only alternative was, either to spend the night in the open air with the prospect of a storm before morning, or to return to our little cottage. As he had no horse at his command he made shift to obtain conveyance behind an Indian to our habitation, which he reached at 10 P.M., happy, I believe, to find even so poor a shelter from the rain which soon commenced, and continued through the night. Probably the sight of our tent gave our guest the more joy on account of a little shock of fear his nerves might have sustained from the strange manoeuvres of his Indian guide, who, on the way turned aside from the company and from the direct route, to a bunch of bushes, where he alighted and commenced feeling in Mr. P's pockets, and trying to get a pair of pistols which he carried. Mr. Penny urged him to proceed but to no effect, until he had given him his silk pocket handkerchief, when he remounted and brought hime safely to our door. Had our kind guest been as well acquainted with the habits of these savages as we are he would, probably, have had less apprehension, for his personal safety, for there is nothing more common than for them to feel in every pocket and examine every article one has about his person, if permitted to do it, and to beg, is to them, if not a first, yet emphatically, a second nature.

Monday Jan. 13th. The storm which commenced last evening, continuing severe during most of the day rendered it impracticable for Mr. Penny to get on board his Schooner. He therefore remained with us until 6 P.M. when the wind and rain so far abated that he proposed to return to the bay. Accordingly we procured two horses of the Indians, and my companion accompanied him back to the vessel. At dark an Indian came to the tent and brought our saddles and bridles informing me that Brother Arms had sent back the horses and would spend the night on board the "Sappho." Many of the Indians still remain on the beach in the open air day and night, notwithstanding the storm, and I have often thought that the bare hope of obtaining a plug of tobacco or a glass of rum would induce one of these poor infatuated Savages to watch a vessel until he well nigh perished with cold and hunger.

In addition to the other stores which we have obtained from the "Sappho", Mr. Penny kindly offers us a box of Raisins which my companion is to bring with him on his return. Captain Congo returned from the vessel this evening, having remained on board last night and most of today. He was severely sea sick on board, and still complains of the effects of his visit.

Tuesday Jan 14th. The rain continued to fall during the last night, and for some time this morning. This has been altogether the greatest rain which has fallen since we landed, and though it was not so severe as storms often are in the U. S. yet it rendered our fragile habitation somewhat uncomfortable. Saw the "Sappho" beating out of the Bay this morning and near noon Brother Arms returned having obtained the box of raisins which Mr. Penny presented. On his arrival he told me that in going down to the Bay last evening they were met by Captain Congo who stopped Mr. Penny by holding the reins of his horse and refused to let him proceed until he had promised to return the mantle which he had presented him. This base conduct of Congo was occasioned by a dissatisfaction which he imbibed on account of not receiving the supply of tobacco he wanted, for although he would be understood to make a present of the mantle, yet he afterwards took care to be understood that he wished a liberal present of tobacco in return. It so happened that Mr. Penny had no tobacco except in cigars of which he gave him some, together with a box of raisins; but this would not do! nothing would satisfy him but some tobacco in plugs, or the mantle again. Mr. Penny therefore promised to send back the mantle, and was permitted to return to the vessel. But as we had two or three mantles on hand, Bother Arms refused to take back the one from Mr. Penny and agreed to give Congo one of equal value. This he attempted to do on his return, but the Captain was sullen and dissatisfied still, and no explanation would conciliate his feelings. He utterly refused to take the mantle or any thing else as an equivalent, and complained of the Schooner as "malo", and of the English as liars. As the Indians gathered round, and became a little noisy on the subject, some for, and some against Captain Congo, we thought it best to retire and remain in silence, committing the disposal of the matter into the hands of Him who restrains the wrath of man. Before night the Captain came to see us with his feelings evidently much softened. He now entered into a familiar and pleasant conversation as usual, and finally listened to an explanation of the whole matter with calmness, and quietly received the mantle which had been offered him. We found that his temper had been much irritated against the vessel on account of her rolling in the sea and making him sick; and when we told him that the schooner was not in fault, but that the wind agitated the water and caused her motion, he then said that the wind was "much malo," and here the subject rested. This is but one exhibition of the darkness of these pagans' minds in relation to an all pervading, all controlling Supreme. So ignorant, and so infatuated are these sons of nature that, when the wind blows contrary to their wishes they will take swords or knives and go out to fight it.

Just at dark our young friend, Captain Louis, came to caution us to make our tent as secure as possible, and to remove our effects to the centre, as he said that some of the Indians "hablao malo", i.e. talk bad, and say they will cut through it in the night with their knives and steal our goods. This however does not excite our fears as we know we are in the hands of God who will by no means suffer any thing really to harm us. We know that the cupidity of this people is very strong and that we are the objects of envy to many of them on account of the articles in our possession, but we believe there are few if any who would have the courage to disturb our nocturnal repose.

Jan. 15th. The rain continued last night and till late this morning when the clouds cleared away, and the Sun broke forth to cheer us again. The wind however has been high and piercing. Brother Arms and myself have been indisposed so that we have kept our tent closed, and have done little during most of the day.

Jan. 16th. By the aid of Captain Santo Rio we endeavoured to get the census of the whole tribe of the Saint Croixes and find the number to be only about 700. There is a want of harmony between the two clans which have lately met. Captain Congo says that Maria is "much malo", and endeavours to prejudice us against her, and Maria says that Congo is a great liar. Thus mutual envies and jealousies exist between the leaders of these parties; but what the result will be is uncertain. Probably open contention or separation. Jealousy and ambition are very prominent features in the characters of this people, and those who are dressed with a little "brief authority", often labour hard to show their importance and appear to strive to have all acknowledge them as supreme. Congo appears to be an artful insinuating flatterer and I should think that his influence is increasing, while that of Maria is diminishing. The fact however is, that the minds of these Savages are fickle and inconstant as the winds and he whom their capricious dotage exalts to the skies one day may be execrated and abandoned the next.

Went to one of the Indian huts and found a company collected and playing at cards. They appeared to have a full pack of English cards, and to play a regular game. This diversion, with several other species of gambling, was introduced among them by seamen from Christian lands. It has been remarked that we cannot ascertain that these wretched beings have any notions of a Supreme Being, yet notwithstanding this, our ears are often shocked by hearing the high and holy name of Jehovah falling from their lips in connection with the imprecation of damnation upon the head of some one. The first English sentence which I heard these savages use was a full framed oath, and I blush for my country and for the christian name, which instead of first teaching these pagans to reverence, has first taught them to blaspheme the christian's God!

Jan. 17th. Most of the Indians went off this morning on a grand hunt, accompanied as usual on such special occasions by women and children who carry small tents for their shelter by night, and take care of the game. Went out to see the process of weaving among this people. Saw a piece designed for a blanket in the loom and the ingenious weaver plying her trade. The Loom consists of two poles secured one above the other in a horizontal position, and so far apart as the length of the blanket which was about a yard and a half. To these poles the warp is tied at each end. Then comes the process of weaving which is slow and tedious. The filling is wound upon a stick for a bobbin, the weaver seats herself on the ground in front of the loom, and with another stick separates the threads of the warp for about half a foot, and then with the filling tied to an ostrich's quill, as a shuttle, she passes it through this space. The stick is then drawn out after serving the purpose of a lathe, and another portion of the warp is separated as before, and thus on until the thread of filling is extended across the piece. This process is continued until the blanket is completed, which is not till after many long days, the artist framing less inches in a day than our common hand weavers would yards. But though the process is slow, yet the workmanship is equal to any I have seen, all colours, and a great variety of neat and tasty figures show the work to be the production of a mind possessed of no ordinary share of genius, though cramped and suppressed in its operations for the want of felicitous circumstances to assist in developing its energies. The yarn of which these blankets are made is spun from the wool of the guanaco which is drawn out with the fingers and twisted by means of a reed held in one hand. It is coloured with ocher which is procured back in the country.

Maria made us a long visit today, and when she left us she went into a tent not far distant. Shortly after this we heard loud talk among the women in that tent. This attracted attention, and the women came rushing in squads from all quarters of the camp, either to look on or to take part in the strife. And now the welkin rang with angry words which were followed by the tug of fight, if I might judge from the reeling and rocking of the tent in which the parties were. As the rear of the tent was towards me, and as I did not feel disposed to go out and be a spectator of the wretched scene, I do not know who the combatants were, nor did I learn the occasion of this strife.

Two or three pleasant Indian boys have, for several days, supplied us liberally with the mountain berries which they call "Yamker and Porton". With these little presents they plead eloquently and almost irresistibly for admittance into our tent, a privilege which we are generally obliged to deny the children on account of the great number of Indians who are continually thronging us.

Jan. 18th. The Indians returned late last evening with much game, and a great part of the night was spent in roasting, eating, singing, hallowing etc. After we had retired a large body of them came rushing like a tempest, and surrounded our tent where they stood still for some minutes, and then with as sudden and noisy a rush, left us. What their object was in paying us this nocturnal visit we do not know; but committing ourselves into the care of our great Shepherd we composed ourselves to rest and slept quietly till morning. The Indians, as usual, have kept us busy much of the time in making spurs and hodles and in sharpening knives etc.