Auguste Guinnard.

Three years' slavery among the Patagonians: an account of his captivity online

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The arrival of Urquiza relieved the besieged
from any danger in the future. He presented
himself at the head of an army of Entre-
Rios and Corrientinos ; supported by the
Brazilian squadron, and by an infantry corps
belonging to the same country, he brought
Oribe to capitulate without firing a shot.
His conduct was marked by consummate
skill ; he put prominently forward the patri-
otic character of his enterprise, and showed
the most conciliating disposition, earnestly
proclaiming his intention of sparing the
effusion of blood. Thousands of combat-
ants passed over to his ranks ; Oribe, aban-
doned by his troops, and unable to receive
either reinforcements or munitions, surren-
dered unconditionally.


After this striking success, Urquiza re-
tired to his province, there to prepare for
the delivery of a decisive blow at the power
of Rosas. In 1852, he recrossed the Parana
with considerable forces, and advanced with-
out meeting with any obstacle, as far as
Monte Caseros, whither the Dictator hurried
at the head of twenty thousand men. The
memorable battle of the 3rd of February,
1852, ended with the defeat and flight of
Rosas, who embarked in haste on board an
English vessel, while his conqueror entered
Buenos Ayres amid the acclamations of the
population. Urquiza established his head-
quarters at Palermo, and named as Governor
of the city Don Vincente Lopez, a man of ad-
vanced age, but generally loved and esteemed.

Named Provisional Dictator on the 14th
of May, Urquiza assembled the governors
and delegates of the fourteen provinces of
La Plata, that they might choose a political
organization. This assembly -pronounced


itself in favour of the federative system, and
decided that the provinces should name
representatives empowered to arrange a con-
stitution and establish the bases of a defini-
tive government.

Buenos Ayres refused to confirm the
powers which the assembly had conferred
on Urquiza. Governor Lopez, who re-
mained faithful to the decisions of the ma-
jority, failing to make them respected, was
obliged to resign. Urquiza was not a
man to hesitate ; he marched on Buenos
Ayres, re-established his authority, and
reinstalled its governor. After this act of
vigour, he showed himself merciful, and
confined himself to exiling five of the
principal ringleaders; as soon as he saw
order assured, he withdrew his troops from
the city, and went to Santa Fe, where the
congress assembled, which opened its sit-
tings on the 20th of August. The thirteen
provinces of Entre-Eios, Corrientes, Santa


Fe, Cordova, Mendoza, Santiago de l'Estero,
Tucuman, Salta, Jujuy, Catamarca, Hioja,
San Luiz, and San Juan, had each sent two

A fresh revolt broke out at Buenos Ayres,
fomented by former exiles who had joined
Urquiza only for the purpose of getting rid
of Rosas. As they were for the most part
natives of the city, they had no difficulty in
raising the population. Urquiza could not
suffer Buenos Ayres to dictate to the thir-
teen provinces, but he would not furnish any
pretext for a civil war, the consequences of
which he dreaded. Instead, therefore, of
employing force against the insurrection, he
preferred to allow it time for reflection, and
contented himself with publishing a proclama-
tion, in which he declared the province of
Buenos Ayres separated from the rest of the
Confederation, and abandoned it to its evil
destiny. His moderation only served to en-
courage the insurgents, who tried to propa-


gate revolution, and invaded the province of
Entre-Pios. This was braving Urquiza in
his stronghold. He marched against the
invaders, and drove them back to their own

From that time to the present (1868),
there has been between Urquiza, represent-
ing the interests of the Argentine Confedera-
tion, tending to the unification of its immense
territory, and the selfish prejudices of
Buenos Ay res, dreaming of a proud isola-
tion for its hundred thousand inhabitants,
nothing but a series of more or less open
encounters, followed by concessions, always
compulsory and insincere on the part of the
Portenos, or Buenos Ayrians, but always
voluntary on the part of Urquiza, who has
shown himself on all occasions desirous of
sparing the ancient metropolis of La Plata
the unhappy extremities of war.

It is in the following terms that Com-
mander Page, entrusted by the United States



with a mission to La Plata, traced in 1857
the portrait of this remarkable man : — At
the time I saw him, TIrqniza was still young
in appearance ; his complexion brown, his
height medium, admirably proportioned, he
presented all the outward signs of an ener-
getic and vigorous nature. His head was
remarkable for its amplitude of form, solid
structure, and strongly marked features.
The ensemble spoke of intelligence, but of
intelligence fully under control. His bright,
frank eyes, shone with a look of penetration ;
his mouth was shrewd and at the same time
good-natured. His head was at once that
of a statesman and a hero, exhibiting a singu-
lar combination of strength, calmness, and
authority. Urquiza never resorted to char- '
latanism or borrowed part to inspire respect ;
there was nothing studied in his appearance,
and he conveyed the impression of being
thoroughly equal to his mission. His noble
deportment, easy manner, deliberate move-


ments, combined with his simple and earnest
language, denoted a proud and honest soul,
a clear intellect, a keen judgment. All who
came within the influence which he exercised
over everybody about him, submitted to it will-
ingly, and felt the more pleasure in recog-
nizing the rare qualities with which he was
gifted, from knowing that he owed all to
himself — his education as well as his high

A few words will now suffice to show in
what manner my deliverance was acciden-
tally connected with the profound political
calculations of this statesman.

In 1859, a fresh armed rupture with
Buenos Ayres once more compelled Urquiza
to recur to the decision of the battle-field.

The Indians foreseeing, with their bircl-
of-prey-like instinct, that the political dis-
sensions of the Argentines might afford
them some opportunities for plunder, sent
several offers of alliance to the general, and


several letters written by me were carried
by members of Calfoucour all's family.

The general was too acute a politician
not to give a good reception to these savage
messengers. Owner of one of the largest
estancias in the Parana valley, and himself a
distinguished writer on agriculture ; desirous
above all things to develop the benefits of
agriculture in the beautiful land confided to
his care; he knew too well how much the
agricultural establishments of the southern
frontier needed quiet and security, not to
seek by every means to destroy the aggres-
sive tendencies of their Indian neighbours.
He therefore sent back the ambassadors of
Calfoucourah laden with presents of all
kinds, but, above all, with barrels of brandy :
thus, their return was to the whole horde,
without exception of rank, age, or sex, the
signal of endless orgies.

Seeing them given up to wild intoxica-
tion, and estimating the length of time they


might continue in this state, I conceived the
idea of once more attempting to reach a
country whence I might effect my return tc
my own land and family.

At the moment of taking this solemn
resolution, remembering that the portraits
of my dear parents were still at the mercy
of the Indians, I resolved at all risks to
carry them off, looking on them as a talis-
man that would protect me in the midst of
the new perils I was about to face. To
carry out this daring purpose, I was obliged
to crawl on my hands and knees into the
midst of the whole drunken and raving
horde, exposed to the threats of some, and
parrying as I best could the blows of knives
aimed at me by others, who neither knew
what I was seeking nor recognized me.
When, at length, I put my hand upon the
bag in which the portraits were kept, my
heart beat wildly, and for a moment I felt
as much afraid of being detected as if I had


been engaged in some guilty act ; my blood
ran cold. I no longer knew whether I ought
to go forward or return ; bnt after remain-
ing perfectly motionless for several minutes,
and being convinced that I had not been
seen, I opened as softly as I could the
wretched horse-hide bag, the creaking dry-
ness of which nearly betrayed me. Without
loss of time I inserted a trembling hand,
and quickly seized the photographs, which I
hid under the cloak in which I was wrapped.
Emboldened by this first exploit, I was in a
moment out of the tent, and more than ever
decided on flight.

I implored the assistance of the Omni-
potent from the depths of my heart, and
taking advantage of this night, when the
whole tribe were plunged in heavy sleep, I
crawled to the place where the best horses
of the cacique were, after having provided
myself with a boleadora, to serve either for
my defence or to procure game on my jour-


ney. I also took a lasso to tie together the
three horses I carried off. These prelimi-
naries noiselessly accomplished, I gently led
my horses until I was out of sight of the
camp ; then springing on one of them, while
driving the others before me, I began, trem-
bling with emotion, my last ride, on which
depended my life or death.

During the whole night I galloped with-
out resting, ceaselessly imagining that I saw
shadows in pursuit of me. Morning dis-
sipated the darkness, but without calming
my agitation, which was so intense, that
the least breath of wind seemed to me to
be filled with sinister sounds, and the
least uprising of dust caused me agonies of

I often dismounted, and, with my ear to
the ground, listened, hoping to gain a little
calmness from the silence of the Pampas ;
but, instead of doing so, my ears so tingled,
that I thought I heard the threatenino- o-al-


lop of liorses on the hard soil, and hurried
on again without reflecting on the imperious
wants of the horse I was riding, which was
unable to follow the example of his com-
panions, who snatched a few mouthfuls of
grass as they went along. I kept as nearly
as possible to the grassy parts of the desert,
so as to throw off the scent the Indians by
whom I should inevitably be followed, but
who would vainly search for my track in
grass that had sprung up afresh under the
influence of the morning dew.

Not having taken any provisions with me,
I was beginning to suffer cruelly from hunger
and thirst, when I was at length able to
bring down a young she-gama. My terror
was such that, so as not to delay my flight
in the least degree by pausing to cook my
game, I tied it round me with my lasso,
and devoured the whole of it raw while I
galloped onwards.

This wild ride had already lasted four


days, when the horse on which I was
mounted fell : it was dead.

Seasonably fearing to lose in the same
manner the two which still remained to me,
and on which my safety depended, I took
the precaution, from that t.ime, of allowing
them to rest a part of the night ; this greatly
retarded my progress, though the idea of
being pursued, which was fixed in my mind,
made me, in spite of myself, stimulate them
during the day.

In one of these resting moments, while,
with anxious eyes and quickened ears, I was
trying to pierce the darkness that sur-
rounded me, or to catch the least unfavour-
able sound, I fancied I heard the barking of
a dog, which soon became louder, and left
me no room for doubt. Seized with terror,
thinking naturally that this dog must be in
advance of the Indians, I hastily sprang
upon one of my horses, and, driving the
other before me, rode off at full gallop.


But, after going a short distance, having a
hill to ascend, these unfortunate animals,
already distressed, refused to advance be-
yond a walk. This gave the dog I had
heard time to come up with me. He had
hardly reached .me before he exhibited the
greatest joy. What was my surprise to
recognize it as a poor dog which I had
succeeded in taming, and with which I had
often shared my meals ! His attachment
was so great, that he had been accustomed
to accompany me in all my excursions. He
had, no doubt, followed me from the moment
of my setting forth, but my absorbed state
of mind and the rapidity of my flight had
prevented my noticing him sooner. Com-
pletely reassured, I again halted — this time
to allow my horses to rest longer than they
had yet done.

When they had eaten and drunk suffi-
ciently, I continued my dangerous journey,
during which my dog and I were condemned


to live solely on the produce of our hunting,
which we devoured raw.

After another space of time which I
cannot precisely determine, for all the days
and all the hours resembled each other,
fatigue and the want of water deprived me
of a second horse. I could have wished not
to have had to abandon it, and to have
tended it either until it recovered or died ;
but the disheartening nature of the soil left
me no alternative, since, by staying with it,
I also exposed myself to the loss of my last
horse, which had so far resisted all trials.

I left my poor beast with an aching
heart, decided to take the greatest care of
my horse and my dog, my last companions
in misery. I refrained from exacting any
effort from them. We were advancing very
slowly, exhausted with hunger and thirst,
when, at close of day, I remarked that, of his
own accord, my horse quickened his speed.
By the freshness of the ground he was


treading, and with the instinct natural to
all dwellers in these vast deserts, the poor
animal had felt the neighbourhood of water.

A few minutes afterwards we quenched
our common thirst in the lakes into which,
in the north of the Pampas, are collected the
streams poured down from the lower range
of the Andes to the provinces of Mendoza
and San Luiz. Around these basins, thick
and plentiful grass allowed my poor steed
to recover his strength. Thanks for this
unhoped-for provender, he was able to bear
me as far as Rio Quinto, where, less fortunate
than my dog, he sank entirely worn out ; I
also, at the end of my strength, dying of
hunger, and of physical and moral fatigue,
fell motionless and speechless.

It was the thirteenth day of my flight !
I cannot fix the date, but it was towards the
middle of 1859.

God, who had thus far deigned to protect
me, permitted me to be discovered in that


position by a worthy Spanish family residing
in Eio Quinto, who, taking pity on my suf-
ferings, hastened to lift me up, and carried
me to their house.




Rio Quinto is not a town, but simply a small
village, situated on the river of that name,
half-way on the road from Rosario to Saint
Luiz ; that is to say, seventy-five leagues
from either place. It does not contain more
than from five to six hundred inhabitants,
for the most part sheltered in ill-built houses.
They employ themselves in the breeding and
sale of cattle. Some are tradespeople, and
kee'p jporperias or almacenas (shops), in which
are found heaped together articles of food
or clothing, from vegetables to silk dresses.
Others make exchanges with the Indians to


whom Urquiza gives permission to enter
the place.

The day after my installation in the house
of the persons who had picked me up, I was
seized with a long and painful illness, which
kept me to my bed more than six weeks,
during which time I was delirious.

In spite of all the difficulties they expe-
rienced in approaching me — for my dog, still
almost wild, would not quit me for a single
instant — my hosts lavished on me the most
anxious and touching care. Thev could not
have shown for me more solicitude if I had
been one of their relatives.

When I became convalescent, they seized
every occasion to procure amusement for me ;
but, in spite of their efforts, I remained in a
feeble condition, my so long over-excited and
tortured mind beino- unable to regain its
quiet. I was constantly, as it were, under
the influence of a terrible nightmare, in
which all the horrible circumstances of my


life of slavery, during which I had been night
and day exposed to the chance of a tragic end,
repassed before my eyes. Sometimes it was
the recollection of the many assassinations I
had seen accomplished by the Indians under
my eyes, or, oftener, of circumstances under
which I had been obliged to exercise the
greatest coolness and energy in struggling
with my murderers. When these horrible
visions left my sight, and calmness returned
to my exhausted senses, 1 felt incapable of
speech or action. My weakness was such
that the sound of mv own voice caused
me a sort of surprise and melancholy, for
the use of speech was at least as new to
me as the enJQyment of that dear liberty,
after which I had sighed and wept so

When I felt myself a little strengthened
morally and physically, I thought of how I
might, as far as I could, recognize the gene-
rosity of my hosts, and prove my gratitude


to them. As they were tradespeople, and as
I saw tli em selling a large quantity of coarse
soap of their own making, I proposed their
establishing a factory such I had seen in
the environs of Buenos Ayres, myself to
superintend the manufacture by a process
which until that time they had not em-

This offer having appeared to them infi-
nitely promising, I used the greatest activity
in its realization.

I got a native builder to construct a
large furnace, with two boilers and a tank.
The boilers with taps, which I had sent for
from Buenos Ayres, were very small; but
this defect I supplemented by having strong-
tubs made of hard wood, of the same
diameter, perfectly adjusted to each, on to
which they were cemented. Half-way down
the tank, which was constructed of bricks, I
formed a filter of open boards, covered with
a layer of straw. I caused to be brought from



Cordova the ashes of a wood the Spaniards
call pale de fume. This wood, burnt while it
is green, gives a crystalline ash, containing a
very large quantity of potash, the separation
of which is easily effected with the help of
slaked lime.

When I had these materials at my com-
mand, I placed on the filter of the tank, first
a layer of the ashes, then a layer of lime,
until it was filled, and poured over the whole
as much water as it would hold. Beneath
the tank I had had a receiver made of the
same holding capacity, into which the lique-
fied potash fell. In default of a lye-test, I
made use of an egg to try the strength of
this mixture, to which the Spaniards give
the name of lessive (lye). I put into the
boilers sufficient water to prevent the fat,
raw and in strips, with which I filled the
tubs, from sticking to the bottom. Then I
lighted a large fire. The grease, which I
stirred with a pole, melted slowly ; when it


was completely dissolved, I put out the fire,
so as to allow it to cool by the following
morning. Before again heating it, I drew
off the potash of the preceding evening,
which carried with it, in the form of dreo-s.
all the fibrous tissue from the then purified
grease. I poured into my tubs a larger
quantity of potash than on the preceding
day, and kept the mixture boiling for a
whole day. Thanks to the acid, I soon saw
the grease change in appearance, and take,
first the form of a paste, finally that of a
jelly, indicating to me that I had obtained a
successful result. I then put out the fire, and
with pails, put the soap into enormous
wooden moulds, divided in two in the inside
with zinc in the form of parallelograms.
When it was completely cooled, I cut it
into slabs of various thicknesses, which, in
turn, were divided into a certain number of

My first trial surpassed the expectation


of Juan Jose, my host, and that of his
family, who readily disposed of this product,
the success of which was very great.

After a time, delighted with the service I
had rendered him, my dear and generous
host, seeing that it would be easy for him
to increase his fortune by this new manu-
facture, warmly pressed me to retain the
management, and to enter into partnership
with him. In spite of the agreeable prospect
which this offer held out to me, I was
obliged to decline it. During the whole time
of my residence at Rio Quinto, I was con-
stantly and evidently watched by Indians,
who succeeded each other without cessation,
and whose object was to sacrifice me to their
vengeance. I often met them during the
day ; they never addressed me but to threaten
me with death. It was true they dare not
attempt to put their threats into execution
in the open day, but often during the night
they climbed the walls behind which I was


sheltered. On one or two occasions I owed
my life to the barking of my faithful dog, for
they were breaking open my door.

To have stayed longer at Rio Quint o
would have been to sacrifice my existence.
Thus I was compelled definitively to re-
nounce all idea of fortune, and, in spite of
my sorrow, to depart abruptly from my
benefactors, whose persuasion might have
overcome my resolution. Two days after
my departure, I sent them a letter of fare-
well, dated from Atchiras. I assured them
of my profound gratitude, and explained the
powerful motive which obliged me to sepa-
rate myself from them ; for the extreme
kindness of these foreigners made me feel for
Don Juan and all his family a warm grati-
tude which will never be effaced from my
memory, and I shall be happy if these
humble lines should reach them across the

I started, almost without resources and


on foot, in company with Chilene, my dog.
I had to travel one hundred and thirty-two
leagues before reaching the capital of the
Andes, and had still innumerable dangers to
face; and, moreover, ran the risk of being
retaken by the Indians, from whose hands I
had escaped with so much difficulty.

As a measure of precaution, I travelled
during the night only, hiding by day in tbe
burrows of viscachas or amongst rocks. I
suffered greatly from fatigue, thirst, and
hunger throughout the journey, which, doubt-
less, I should not have been able to accom-
plish if I had not had the good fortune to
find on my road several hamlets and the
town of San Luiz, the inhabitants of which
treated me with the most cordial hospitality.
I had still a great deal to suffer on the long
journey from San Luiz to Mendoza, in the
course of which I found hardly sufficient
water to slake my thirst, and during which I
did not meet a single living soul.


At length, after a difficult walk of sixteen
days, I came in sight of Mendoza.

It was time that I reached the end of my
journey, for my shoes and clothes, more than
half- worn out at my departure, threatened to
fall from me bit by bit.



How shall I describe the various emotions
that assailed me when, exhausted by fatigue
and want, I one evening entered Mendoza ?

It was about eight o'clock. The greatest
quiet reigned in all the streets, along which
I wandered at hazard. I walked with slow
and tottering steps. From my appearance
and miserable dress, many Europeans would
have looked on me as a despicable being,
sinking under the effects of some low de-
bauchery. My strength was nearly used
up ; courage only, and the hope of finding
some one of whom I might ask assistance,
still sustained me.


Wandering from street to street, I
reached the most aristocratic, in which the
light shining from richly-curtained windows
guided my feeble steps. Sounds of merry
voices fell on my ears and, profoundly pene-
trating my heart, awakened all my recollec-
tions. Led by an irresistible longing, I
approached the house whence these sounds
appeared to proceed. Through curtains of

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Online LibraryAuguste GuinnardThree years' slavery among the Patagonians: an account of his captivity → online text (page 12 of 15)