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Patagonia Bookshelf

Ostrich Tales — an Anthology
Observations of Darwin's rhea in southern Patagonia

"At Home with the Patagonians", George C. Musters,
London 1873
In 1869, George Musters joined a group of Tehuelches which included the caciques Orkeke and Casimiro Biguá, living as one of them. The first four months were spent at Piedrabuena's trading post at Isla Pavón on the River Santa Cruz, a favourite winter quarters of the Tehuelches: here Musters learned the native language. In this excerpt, he describes the layout and operation of the trading post, and mentions some of the items traded.

[emphasis added]

The settlement or trading station of Santa Cruz consists of only three houses, built on an island called 'Pabon,' [modern Pavón, Ed.] marked as Middle Island, in Islet Reach, in Fitzroy's chart. It is owned by Don Luiz P. Buena, [Luis Piedrabuena, Ed.] who holds by virtue of a grant from the Argentine Government, which has also conferred on him the commission of captain in the navy, with power to prevent all foreign sealers from trespassing on the valuable seal fisheries on the coast. The island is about a mile and a half long, and has an average breadth cf some 350 yards. Access is obtained from the south shore by a ford, about fifty yards across, only passable at low water. The northern channel is wider and deeper, and the swiftness of the current renders it impassable save by a boat, which is moored ready to ferry over Indians desirous of trading, and is also useful for bringing wood for fuel, which is not obtainable on the island. About a hundred yards from the ford stands the principal house, substantially built of bricks, with tiled roof, containing three rooms, and a sort of porch to shelter a nine-pounder, commanding the entrance. It is further defended by a stockade, over which floats the Argentine flag, and beyond it a fosse, which is filled with water by the spring tides. The object of these fortifications is to afford protection in the case of the Indians proving troublesome when under the influence of rum. Though Mr. Clarke narrated some queer scenes he had witnessed, his excellent management had hitherto obviated any danger, and the fairness of his dealings with them had secured their friendship, a regular tariff with equitable prices having been fixed, and scrupulously adhered to, by which their barter of ostrich feathers and peltries was regulated; and although they are keen bargainers, often spending two or three hours in debating the price to be given, they appreciated the fairness with which they were treated.

[...] As already mentioned, the station existed as a depot for sealing, and as a trading post, to which the Tehuelches resorted to exchange their ostrich feathers, and puma, guanaco and ostrich skins, for tobacco, sugar, ammunition, and above all, rum. There was little or no trade going on during the absence of the schooner, as all the stores had been exhausted; but after the summer campaign some of the Tehuelches invariably resort thither, and the vicinity has always been a favourite winter quarters.

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