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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 19th, 1834 through Saturday, January 25th, 1834

Lord's day Jan. 19th. This has been one of the most peaceful, uninterrupted Sabbaths we have enjoyed since we have been among these savages. Our tent has been left partly open so that the Indians could gaze in upon us, but we have admitted none of them within. Several little jobs of work were brought us, but we satisfied them by promising to attend to them tomorrow. Some of the Indians have been engaged in hunting, some in gambling, and others in gormandizing and sleeping. They gamble for wagers, and the other day a good pair of shoes were staked against three plugs of tobacco; so highly do they prize this noxious weed.

The Indian doctor has been engaged most of the day in different parts of the camp, howling, moaning, screaming, blowing, shaking his rattle bags etc. etc. Much confidence seems to be placed in his superstitious and ridiculous - not to say abominable - round of ceremonies, for he is employed by all who are ill, from the Great Captain down to the meanest individual; and not only do they suppose that he can drive disease from the human system, but he was today engaged at the tent of Captain Congo in endeavouring to cure a sick horse. The usual process was gone through, with the exception of the rattles, which were doubtless wisely omitted as they would probably have been borne less patiently by a sick horse than by a mere stupid savage. Every day brings us fresh illustrations of the dark and debased condition of these souls, and excites our fruitless sympathy on their behalf. We long to "preach Christ crucified" to them, but we have no medium of access to their understandings, and our situation among them is the more painful than that of one surrounded by drowning men, without the power to help them, as the death of the soul is more dreadful than that of the body.

Monday Jan 20th. Several of the Indians have taken their all today and removed back farther into the country, and Captain Congo informs us that himself and most of the camp will follow them tomorrow, a small party only remaining on this ground. It affords us pleasure to find that a few will stay here as my companion and myself have resolved to stay even if left alone and with the means of subsistence only for a little while. The reason of this determination is that we feel that the object of our tour in this vicinity is accomplished and we are now only awaiting the arrival of some vessel to take us to some other field, if it be the will of our Lord. Should we go back again into the country we should probably fail of seeing vessels that may soon pass and we know not how far the Indians would take us, nor how much longer we should have to wander among them.

Tuesday Jan. 21st. Our sleep was interrupted last night by the tremendous racket of the Indian doctor who continued his howling during most of the night, often breaking out in strains of unusual energy and fierceness as if he had really got the devil by his horns.

Early this morning the Indians prepared to decamp, eighteen houses only remaining. Captain Congo has gone at the head of the party, and Maria stays here. One of the Indians whom we call Captain John came in and handed me an English Testament today. This is probably one of the books which has survived the wreck, of the few that the poor American sailors brought on shore. It was truly grateful to my heart to meet this blessed history of the foundation of our holy Christian Religion in this dark part of the earth, a place where, above all others on earth, I least expected to find the Sacred Volume. But it still remains a sealed book, and a dead letter in the hands of these savages.

Had a conversation with Maria on the subject of a mission here. She seems pleased with the idea of Americans coming to live with the Indians and teach them good things, but did not favour their building a house to remain stationary. In the afternoon a thunder shower passed over us which is the first we have witnessed in this land. We have heard light and distant thunder bef[ore] but have had nothing like a regular shower till today. The thunder produced much barking among the dogs, but I perceived no unusual excitement among the Indians. The shower lasted but a few minutes, and the thunder was not severe.

After the shower the Indians killed a horse, and by their gathering in little companies in different tents, distributing, roasting and eating, attended with much apparent joy, I judged it to be a marriage feast.

Jan. 22d. Several families more have left us today, and followed the party that has removed back into the country. Those who remain have spent the day in gormandizing beyond any thing I have before witnessed. Large pots have been kept on fires from morning to night and the Indians have gathered around constantly consuming and replenishing their contents. Scarcely a piece of meat appears remaining in the camp. Intelligence was brought us today from the clan of Yamschooners under Captain Lorice - with whom we sojourned for several weeks after our landing - that two of their number have lately died and that others are sick. We were also informed that the three sailors who left this tribe some time ago viz. an Englishman, a Portugu[ese] and an America, are with the Yamschooners. As they are not far distant we expect to see them here before long.

Another thunder shower this afternoon attended with a fall of large hailstones.

Jan. 23d. Most of the Indians went out on a hunt but returned with little game, and to counterpoise the gluttony of yesterday they are now observing a season of fasting, most of the food in the camp being consumed.

About noon the Indians informed us that a vessel was coming fro the west, and shortly after we were addressed by one in our own tongue who confirmed the tidings. This was a young man by the name of William Marshall Thornham of Hull, England, who was left here about a year ago. Since then he has roamed continually with these savages until a few weeks ago, when he with an American and a Portuguese, before alluded to, separated from the tribe, and from the three Americans who lately got off in the "By-Chance", to travel along the shore in search of a canoe in which they might paddle till they found some vessel. William informed us that in following the shore they fell in with the "Sepalios," or "Yam-Schooners," by whom they had been retained ever since in a sort of vassalage, and that if they attempted to leave these savages, or talked of it, they were threatened with death, and had often had arrows pointed at them. He said that they had well nigh perished with hunger, and that for four days past he had eaten nothing but wild watery berries which he had gleaned among the hills. He further stated that a vessel had anchored near them and that his two companions had been taken on board while he was left. At this time some Indians from this tribe came where he was, and as the "Yamschooners" fear this party, they gave up William to them and he was brought to this place. His appearance is truly affecting. Bare-footed and with nothing but an old skin mantle to cover his body. Emaciated with hunger, heart-broken with grief, with feet swollen and painful by walking upon thorns, and super-added to all this, the dreadful apprehension of being left alone to still more protracted wanderings and sufferings, without even a companion to cheer him in his exile, he is surely an object calculated to excite painful sympathy. He however told us that there was still a ray of hope that he should not finally be left; that the Schooner would stop at Gregory's Bay, that the mate spoke of taking off Brother Arms and myself, and that though on account of her small store of provision he could not get a passage today he did not entirely despair of obtaining his suit[?] before she left. We gave him food and endeavoured to cheer his drooping spirits as much as possible by assuring him that we would render him all the assistance in our power in getting away from this land. William says he is only twenty years old; that he has parents in England and that he has now been from home four years.

The intelligence of a vessel coming to take us off, was very cheering and it was agreed that my companion go down to the bay immediately to ascertain if she had arrived. Accordingly he went and returned at twilight with the report that no vessel was to be seen in any direction. As there was a fair wind and tide our inference was that she had passed on without stopping and thus our hopes which had been suddenly raised were again as suddenly dashed to the ground. We however have beco[me] so much accustomed to these alternations of expectation and disappointment that it does not much affect us. We are in the hands of God, and, when we have finished the work, or endured the suffering allotted us here, he will either send us to some other part of his vineyard or take us to "a better country."

The name of the Schooner we were informed by William was the "Mac. dona", [Macdonough, Ed.] Captain Clift, Brother to the Captain Clift with whom we came out.

Jan. 24th. Early this morning some of the Indians went down to the Bay to see if the vessel had not come in during the night; but they returned with the news that she had gone on without stopping. Yesterday they told us that the whole camp would remove to Gregory's Bay today, and their horses were brought up this morning for the purpose, but on hearing that the Schooner had passed they seemed somewhat displeased and determined not to go. In the afternoon we perceived a sudden movement in the camp; the horses were taken up very suddenly and men, women and children posted off towards the Bay. On enquiring the cause of this hasty stir, we were told that the Indians were only going out on a short hunt and that they would be back at night. As however, we had never seen them go on a hunt in that direction, and as all their movements and language indicated duplicity, we suspected that they had seen a vessel coming into the Bay, and for some reason had determined to deceive us, that we might not go down. In a few minutes however the riddle was all unfolded in spite of all their effort to deceive, for casting my eyes toward a small space between the hills which opened a little vista to the Strait, I descried a Schooner that moment passing from the west into the bay. We now attempted to obtain a horse to go down to the shore, and were for the first time met with a flat denial. Heretofore the Indians had always told us immediately on the discovery of a vessel and had been ready to help us to go on board; and this sudden change in their appearance was surprising and mysterious. But we determined that nothing bur physical force should stop us, even if we were obliged to go on foot. It was not long however before a horse was obtained of a woman who had always been very kind to us, and Brother Arms set off for the shore, while I remained to make preparations for our departure, should Providence permit our hopes at this time to be realised. At evening my companion returned with the intelligence that the Schooner "Antarctic", Captain James S. Nash. of New York had anchored in the Bay and that the Captain would take us to our native land. Of our young friend, Captain Louis, who in this matter showed the same duplicity as the other Indians, we obtained the promise of horses in the morning, to take our effects down to the vessel. Things however still looked unusually dark and suspicious, the countenances of those whom we had esteemed our most tried friends were changed and we were not without apprehension of serious trials before we could get off. But the assurance that the "Lord reigns" strengthened us.

Jan. 25th. Arose early and called for our horses, but it was two hours before they were brought up, and then they were suffered to stray again for several successive times before the young man would commence loading them. We presented him with a saddle and bridle, a chest, an ax and hatchet, and many other things of considerable value. We also made presents to all the Indians who gathered around us and in a short time they seemed much pleased and restored to their usual good humor. When every thing we were to leave was distributed, our horses were laden and we were permitted to bid the gazing savages farewell and depart in peace. A larger part of the Indians had remained on the beach during the night, and of those who were in the camp, many accompanied us to the shore. On our way we met the mate of the Schooner, Mr. Joseph Nash, and Charles Palmer, a young man who came out in the "Mary Jane" with us and who returns to New York on account of ill health. Mr. Nash informed us that Maria and several of the Indians were on board, and would be retained by the Captain until we and our effects were safely shipped, and that he had set out to […] up to our camp to ascertain the reason of our delay, fearing that we might be in trouble. When we came to the shore, to our surprise we found the Indians who were with us very […t] and pleasant, and after distributing a few presents among them we were permitted to go on board in peace. When the Captain perceived from the deck of the vessel that we were in the boat, and safely under way for the schooner, he sent out another boat to convey Maria and the Indians on shore. As this boat passed us an Indian held up a tract and called to us to look on while he dashed it into the sea. This token of contempt was instantly imitated by Maria who raised a bundle of tracts in the air and in a very spiteful manner threw them overboard exclaiming "Malo! Malo!" When we came on board the "Antarctic" the Captain informed us that these tracts were stolen from his cabin, that Maria said we had a chest full of them; that they were very bad, that by means of our paper we prevented the Indians from getting rum and tobacco, that Brother Arms was vey bad, and that as soon as she went on shore she would tear up the papers before his eyes and then stab him with a knife which she drew from her bosom and showed to the Captain. These threats induced the Captain to take the precaution of sending her ashore in one boat while we were coming off in another, that thus a contact might be avoided, as he said he had no doubt she would have executed her threat the moment she could have found opportunity. During the whole of the affair the Captain manifested much kindness and sympathy for us, and conducted with much firmness and discretion, determining to take us off at any hazard. He treated the Indians with much kindness, gave them large quantities of bread etc.; but still some of them told him that he was bad for taking us away and that if he went on shore he would be stabbed. One cause of this sudden dissatisfaction among the Indians was an unwillingness that we should leave them; and a second, was that they were suspicious that by our writing and conversation we exerted an influence against them, often preventing vessels from stopping, or persuading them to let the Indians have no rum and tobacco, two articles which they seem determined to obtain if possible even though at the expense of their heart's blood.

Captain Nash tells us that our influence in endeavouring to suppress the vices of this people is entirely counteracted by the sailors who stop here, and who tell the savages that we came among them only to prevent their getting such things as they want from vessels; that we are very bad etc. and even advise them to destroy us. He assured us that he had men on board his own vessel who would do all this, and that one of them had been heard to tell the Indians, in Spanish, to knock us down and throw us overboard. We have no doubt that these are facts, as we always find the Indians worse on returning from a vessel. In coming through the Strait, the Captain informed us that he spoke the "Peruvian" and the "By-Chance", two American schooners who stopped here about two weeks ago. By them he was told that the second mate of the "By-Chance" was forcibly detained on shore by these savages, and was ransomed only by giving a barrel of bread and 500 plugs of tobacco. This was done after I had left the "By-Chance" and was unknown to me until informed of it by Captain Nash. Of the truth of the statement however I have no doubt as I saw the barrel which contained the bread brought up to the Camp, and was much surprised to find such quantities of bread among the Indians. Captain Nash also spoke the English Schooner "Sappho", Captain Milward, who informed him of our situation with the Indians, and of our desire to get a passage to the U. S.

There being a strong head tide and no wind the "Antarctic" remained at anchor for several hours after we came on board, during which time several boat loads of Indians came on board to sell their mantles etc. They appeared glad to see us conducted with considerable civility, and when they went on shore, some of them enquired of me with much apparent interest how soon we would return. It is doubtless true that most of the influential men, and the great body of the Indians, have no little respect and friendship for us; but they are capricious, and so under the influence of jealousy and superstition that we can never tell how they will feel or conduct towards us on the morrow.

Gave the poor English exile William Thornham a suit of clothes, and he was taken on board the "Antarctic" to be carried to the Falkland Islands, where he hopes to obtain a berth in some vessel.

At half past 4 P.M. a light wind sprung up and our vessel was got under way and moved slowly out of the harbour. Thus after a residence of nearly two months and a half among these strange savages, the gracious Lord has permitted me to embark safely for my native land, but as these dark shores and these still darker souls fade from my sight, unnumbered associations rush upon my mind, and commingled emotions move my heart. A remembrance of their abominations pains and sickens my soul; their wretchedness excites my sympathy; their kindness awakens my gratitude, and their immortal souls enkindle my love. Oh! when will the day dawn, and the day star arise upon them?

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