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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, November 17th, 1833 through Saturday, November 23rd, 1833

Sabbath Nov. 17th. Spent this day in our little tent which was filled from morning to night by savages all curious to examine our luggage and even the articles of clothing on our persons. We took a little bread and pork from the vessel to serve as sustenance for a day or two. Of these articles the Indians are very fond, often gathering in crowds around us and begging them with much importunity. They appear to have little food at this time depending chiefly on mussels which they glean along the shore. What food they have appears to be distributed with hospitality. The old chief seems to look to us as members of his family and sometimes roasts a piece of the small remains of his guanaco and brings it to us. The day was spent by the Indians in sleeping, eating, smoking, talking, laughing and singing etc, very much as thousands of nominal Christians spend it.

Indolence and want of cleanliness are two strongly marked featurfgunaes in their character, and one of the most disgusting things I have yet observed in them is the habit of searching the fur of their old mantles for vermin which they eat with greediness. In hunting for these little animals, one takes a mantle into his lap and beats upon it with a stick while a little circle gathers around to catch and devour the game.

This is the first Sabbath we have spent on pagan ground, and it is truly affecting to be surrounded by these debased and benighted beings, without being able to tell them of a Saviour's love. The wind not favouring, the Mary Jane did not leave the bay today as we expected.

Nov. 18th. The wind still continues strong and is so much ahead that the Mary Jane and the Plutarch have not left the bay. Brother Arms and myself remain in our tent by the sea side where the Indians are still encamped. They have a movable tent or cabin in the form of a shanty which is constructed by driving stakes into the ground and fastening a covering of skins to their tops. This tent they carry with them wherever they encamp for a few days. They always visit the shore when a vessel arrives and are very anxious to go on board. Tobacco, rum, firearms and ammunition are the first things they seek for, as these articles, especially tobacco, have been given them by sailors in exchange for fresh meat, furs, mantles etc. I am told that they have but few guns in the tribe, one of these is in the possession of the young chief who is with us. They are also very fond of bread and will give almost any thing they have in exchange for it. I have seen no disposition to pilfer in any of them except some of the women and children. Though they throng our tent during the day, yet as soon as it grows dark they all retire and leave us to spend the night in quietude and peace. They always remain on the shore while a vessel stays in the bay, and then return again to their camp ground beyond the mountain. Their only article of dress is a square mantle of skins which they wrap around them with the fur side in. Some few of them however have little articles of clothing which were given them by sea men. In stature, form and complexion they differ very little from the North American Indians, perhaps their faces may be a little broader.

This morning the young Captain came to our tent armed with his bolas and cuchillo, knife, and told us that "Guanaco most done" by which I supposed him to mean that their meat was most gone, and gave us to understand that we should remove to the back side of the mountains 'Mañana', that is, tomorrow, at the same time asking us for some bread. Having given him some he took it and mounted his horse and left us in company with several others. We suppose they went on a hunt to procure food. The bolas, or balls, is composed of a strong […] of hide then parted from about the middle so as to form two lines at one end and one at the other. To each of these ends is attached a round ball - of lead when they obtain it - of some heavy material covered with skin. With this instrument in his hand the Indian rides after the guanaco at full speed and when near enough throws it in such a manner as to tangle his legs and prevent his running. He then dismounts and despatches his prey.

The hunting party returned at evening after an unsuccessful expedition, having taken nothing but one skunk. Towards night Captain Miner came on shore and brought us some boiled Penguin's Eggs which he gathered at the Falkland Islands. He also offered to render us any assistance in his power. Indeed the officers and crews of both vessels appear to take a lively interest in showing us favours.

Nov. 19th. On leaving our tent this morning to take a view of the schooner which had been at anchor so near us I found that they had gone. The wind had become favourable in the night and they had left us unobserved. Thus the last vestige of civilization has floated from our vision like a dream of the night. While one vessel remained wind-bound in the bay we were supplied with our daily bread from her stores but we now feel more than ever that we can look nowhere for the supply of our wants but to Him "who gives to the beast his food, and to the young ravens that cry" [Psalm 147:9, Ed.]. But we are "not anxious for our life, what we shall eat and what we shall drink," for the Master who sent us hither has assured us that our heavenly "Father knoweth that we have need of these things."

We had expected to remove with our tent and baggage today up to the head quarters of the Indians, but a constant fall of rain during the day has prevented, so we sit in our little slender tabernacle surrounded by these poor red men who crouch down in every vacant corner of our tent and watch all our movements with a curious eye. We converse with them as much as we can by signs, but are not yet able to make them understand much. The Old Chief is afflicted with sore eyes and Brother Arms has prepared a wash for them with which he is pleased.

Nov. 20th. Early this morning the Indians came to our tent and told us that they were ready to remove; accordingly we struck our tent and prepared our baggage which they lashed upon their horses with care. These beasts are rather small but very hardy and fleet. It is surprising to see what burdens they will carry. They slung our chest 3 feet by 1½ on one side of a horse with a good sized trunk to balance it on the other. On these they placed a bag of the weight of a common traveling trunk, and above all these, one of them mounted to guide the horse. This is but a specimen of the burdens which they carry on these animals. When every thing was ready, I mounted the horse assigned me and taking a sturdy Indian behind me galloped off in company with the young chief who led the van and ordered all the movements of the party. Our way led through extensive pampas perfectly level and covered with grass. These meadows or intervales were skirted at a distance on either hand with mountain ranges some of whose tops were cover[ed] with snow. Though our horses were so heavily laden, we proceeded at the rate of about 4 miles an hour. About once in 10 miles the Indians would stop by a bunch of bushes, kindle a fire [to] warm themselves for a few minutes and then proceed. Their saddles are rude pieces of wood [...] in the form of a saddle tree. Under these they place skins to prevent their chafing their horses. Their bridle reins are of rawhide, and their bits of wood without any headstall. They all wear spurs made of two pointed pieces of wood; with these they often goad their weary horses till the blood runs down their sides. On our way we saw numerous guanacos gazing upon us from the tops of the distant hills or galloping across the plains before us.

As we were proceeding onwards the young Captain suddenly halted, cast a keen look towards the hills on the left, and in a moment put spurs to his charger and bound away across the plain with the speed of an arrow. This strange and rapid movement was soon explained to us by the Indians who pointed that way and said "Gunac,Gunac." The Old Chief followed his son, accompanied by several others of the party who it seemed had reserved their horses free from baggage for the purpose. In a few minutes the young man rejoined our party which had proceeded steadily onwards and informed us that he had killed the guanaco which he pursued. The [rest?] of the hunting party remained behind to dress their game. Soon after this we came to another bush where we made a halt and kindled a fire. Presently an Indian came up with a piece of the guanaco which they had taken. This was roasted and distributed among us all, and to me it was very refreshing after a ride of 5 hours against a strong wind. When we had finished our repast, we proceeded on our way, and at 4 P.M. arrived at the head quarters of the Indians after a ride of 25 or 30 miles. We found them encamped in a narrow valley between two mountains which very much screen them from the wind. We found a large number here who had not been down to the vessel, but how many there are in all we cannot yet determine. They live in ten tents of skin like the one they erected on the sea shore. These tents are all arranged in a line facing the same way. That in which the Chief and his family reside stands at a little distance on the right and is larger and better than the rest. There is a little stream of water running through the valley which is very convenient as water in this region is extremely scarce. They have no wood except a low prickly bush, and this is not pleanty [sic]. They use it only for cooking, and then sparingly. They appear to live in distinct families, and are surrounded by numerous children whose merry gambols, and frequent screams remind me of the days of my childhood, and bring the domestic scenes of my native land vividly to my recollection. On our arrival they gathered around us at a respectful distance and apparently welcomed us with mingled surprise and joy. Our luggage even to the smallest article was brought safely and the young Captain stowed it in the back side of his own tent and took special charge of it until we had time to erect our own tabernacle. We found an iron pot in the possession of the mother of the young chief in which she boiled a piece of guanaco and some pork, given them by Captain Clift. Of these they gave us a very liberal share. When our tent was completed the young Chief came in and began to enquire the American name of many things, and in return gave us the names in his native tongue. It is very pleasing to see his inquisitive disposition and through him we hope to get an important vocabulary of the words in his language.

Nov. 21st. The young Captain Louis, as he is called, visited us this morning and seeing me shaving wished me also to take off his beard. This I did, apparently much to his satisfaction. Our breakfast of boiled meat was given us this morning by our good old mother the chief's wife, though this was evidently nearly the last morsel she had. Thus far we have not suffered much with hunger though we eat our meat without bread or salt. Our Heavenly Father has given us our daily food, and our water has been made sure. A party of ten with horses and dogs went out this morning in search of game. At the invitation of Captain Louis, Brother Arms joined the party. At 4 P.M. Brother Arms and the Captain returned exhausted with fatigue, having rode a great distance and taken nothing. As the food in the camp was all consumed we began to apprehend a hungry time but shortly after another detachment of the party returned with three fine guanacos, and before night we were presented with a piece well roasted for our supper. A large ostrich egg was also brought us measuring 14 inches in circumference one way and 11¾ inches the other. I spent the day in our little tent surrounded as usual by Indians. They appear fond of their little children and love to have us notice them, while the little naked urchins seems delighted in ha[ving] us comb their swampy heads.

Nov. 22d. Besides the young Captain who has been so attentive to us we learn that there is another whom they call Captain Lorice and who appears to be second in command. This man has a pleasant open countenance and is very friendly to us, often coming to our tent with a piece of roasted meat. When either of these Captains is in our tent we have little trouble from other visitors, but in their absence we are much annoyed by the women and children who try to examine all our baggage, begging continually, and often pilfering such little articles as they can lay their hands upon. Twelve of the Indians diverted themselves for a long time today by playing a game of ball. In this exercise they threw off their mantles and exerted themselves in a state of nudity except a little piece of cloth or skin around the waist. Their ball is nothing but s round knot of wood, and their bat is a stick two feet long and crooked at one end like the handle of a pistol. With this they drive the ball along on the ground apparently without order or system. About noon the young Captain led up one of their horses in front of his cabin when another Indian shot an arrow into his breast which entered about 18 inches, and probably penetrated his heart. In a few minutes the horse staggered and fell and expired. This movement was soon explained to us as the horse was in a short time dressed and prepared for cooking, with head, feet, entrails and all; no part was thrown away. Shortly after several pieces were brought roasted to us, on which we dined. As these Indians find their game so wild that it cannot be procured without vigorous effort, and as they are supremely indolent, they are in the habit of eating horse flesh when other food fails them. Though they caught three guanacos yesterday which were as large as calves yet I see no remains of them today; they furnished but a pittance to an individual when divided among a hundred hungry savages.

This afternoon we found that a cord belonging to our tent was missing. Of this we informed Captain Louis who immediately went from our cabin to another in search of it until he found and brought it to us. He seemed to feel bad on account of the affair, and so did many of the Indians who came to our tent to profess their innocence. We were [loth?] to complain of such petty thefts, but as it was obvious that these savages have a notion of right and wrong, and as we feared a neglect of this would only embolden them to commit still greater depredations we determined to be decided and, if possible, check the evil in the bud, trusting the issue with Him in whose hands we have trusted our lives and our all. The effect as yet seems to be favourable.

The Captains have intima[ted] to us that they shall soon remove to another place where guanacos are more pleanty [sic] and wish to know whether we will take our things and go with them. How far they are going, or to what place I know not, but we have no other alternative at present but to go where they do, as we feel it important to remain with them until the return of their Queen with the rest of the tribe.

We had intended to have planted some seeds on our arrival at this place, but we find the soil here sandy and barren, and besides there is neither wood or stone or any other material for enclosing a plat of ground. Many of the meadows over which we passed on our way to this place exhibited a fine soil, well fitted I should think for cultivation, especially those near the sea shore. As we advanced back into the country the land was more mountainous, and sterile.

Nov. 23d. The weather has been fine today, and indeed we have had but one day of constant rain since we landed. Gentle spring showers are frequent, and the air is mild and salubrious. Invited by the beams of the morning I rambled out and ascended one of the highest peaks of the northern range of mountains under which we are encamped. It is covered with grass to its top, and I saw three guanacos feeding on its side. On my way I started a grey fox, an animal common in this country. From the summit I had an extensive view of the surrounding country, which consists of vast plains studded here and there with isolated conical hills, and skirted by mountain ranges. We have been little annoyed today by impudent women and children as a large party of them have been away at a distance to gather a kind of excrescence somewhat of the quality of a mushroom which they call Chonet. This they find, if I understand them, on the stems of bushes, and they use it as food though it appears to possess little nutriment. We have been liberally supplied with horse beef today which the Indians roast or boil, and bring to us at the time of their meals. The family of the Old Captain have an iron pot which they obtained from some vessel, but the others appear to have no cooking utensils or dishes except some made of rawhide or horn. Several of the Indians have been out on a hunt today and returned with 7 guanacos. Captain Louis brought in a pair of pantaloons which were given him on board the vessel and requested me to piece them as they were too small. He often brings little jobs for us to do and seems to be much pleased with our ability and readiness to gratify him. He has spent much of the day with us, and still exhibits the same inquiring disposition, often asking us the names of things in our language and then giving them in his. We are more and more pleased with his amiable and generous disposition and feel a pleasure in having him with us. He is fond of imitating the Americans and often wears a full suit of english clothes which have been presented him by seamen. While we see so much that is admirable in this young man we cannot but long for the day when the Gospel of salvation shall find its way to his understanding and his heart.

We receive visitors as usual from morning to night, and endeavour to converse with them by signs, but it is hard to understand much that they say. The Old Captain is groaning with pain and we apprehend that he may have a severe illness. Brother Arms has administered some medicine to him. The principle [sic] music that we hear is the constant noise of children and the barking and yelling of dogs. These animals are extremely poor, and whenever any food comes in their way there is a squabble perhaps of some 15 or 20 of them, and the weaker escape from the rapacious jaws of the stronger with yells which are truly piercing. Besides this the Indians are constantly beating them unmercifully with their clubs which keeps up an incessant outcry among these canine animals.

These savages are in the habit of painting their faces, sometimes with red and sometimes with black, and in various figures, never covering the whole face. I have never seen any paint on the Old Captain nor on the young man until today. The women use this artificial ornament as they esteem it more than the men.