Auguste Guinnard.

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

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light and rich muslin, my envious gaze pene-
trated into a sumptuous interior, in which a
numerous company was assembled. I know
not how long my hungry looks wandered
from one to another in the vain hope of dis-
covering amongst them some old friend,
when skilful fingers executed on the piano
the Re'veil des Fees, a piece I had often heard
played by my beloved sister.

It produced within me, during those brief
moments, a revolution which recalled all mv
past happiness ; my strength deserted me ; I
sank down upon the ground, my eyes over-


flowing with tears, to which succeeded a
painful sleep.

When I awoke, it seemed to be from a
dream both delightful and distressing. Pro-
found darkness about me, I was lying on the
ground near the house, from which all the
visitors had departed without perceiving me.
Worn out, and not knowing whither to
direct my steps anew, I waited for daylight,
which shortly appeared. I was fortunate
enough to pass a house where French was
spoken. I entered. When I had related
part of my misfortunes, both men and women
gave me an affecting welcome, and imme-
diately supplied all my principal wants.

Many times I have said to myself in the
course of my sufferings, where is the
Frenchman in the bosom of his own country,
who would believe in the possibility of such
misfortunes as numbers of his countrymen are
exposed to in a land like South America, which
he believes to be civilized, and even used up?


The city of Mendoza was situated, as is
well known, at the foot of the Andes. It
was, like the country surrounding it, watered
by a multitude of canals, fed by the Rio
Mendoza — a river which then bounded the
western side of the city. On the eastern side
of the rapid stream commenced a small
canal or trench, of from six to eight feet
wide, s applying the whole city with water,
running alongside of the Alameda, a vast
boulevard, planted on either side with a
double row of poplars, which gave to this
public promenade a majestic and delightful
aspect. Every evening during the fine season
it was crowded by a numerous and aristo-
cratic society, dressed with equal taste and

This charming sight contrasted singu-
larly with the deserted and silent appearance
of the city during the day. Everybody, from
the richest to the poorest, gave themselves
up during the daytime to the pleasures of a


siesta, which, lasted generally from noon to
five o'clock. During those hours hardly
anybody was to be seen, besides a few
women carelessly seated at their windows in
the completest deshabille. Only towards five
o'clock, when the sun began to lose its
power, the population, as if suddenly awaking
from sleep, bestirred itself.

There were to be seen, mingling with the
crowd that thronged the streets, gauchos on
horseback, selling right and left fruit of all
kinds ; or beggars, also on horseback, stop-
ping at doors and windows, claiming public
assistance by singing psalms in nasal and
lamentable tones. Lastly, grotesque idiots
went about, with whom the children amused
themselves by showering upon them eat-
ables of all sorts, and watching their dreary
and repulsive buffooneries. All the streets
were perfectly straight, and kept extremely
clean ; the houses were very low and some-
what mean externally, but generally furnished


with great luxury. Several remarkable
churches were to be seen in the neighbour-
hood of the Place de la Victoire, in the
middle of which rose a fountain and a

But what use is there in here depict-
ing that superb city, which, after having
awakened in my mind so many pictures of
happiness, so many thoughts of blessing and
gratitude, can now evoke none but sad
images and bitter regrets.

There, in the profoundest security, lived
twenty thousand souls whose tranquil ex-
istence the rest of the world might have
envied ; it was the gentlest, the happiest,
and the most hospitable population of the
American continent. On the 19th of March,
1861, the Argentine poets still called it
Mendoza the pearl, the queen of the
flowery zone spread at the eastern foot or
the Andes ; the next day Death passed over
this paradise. "A few seconds," says one


writer, " sufficed to convert its smiling habi-
tations, its gardens, its churches, its colleges,
attended by the youth of the neighbouring-
provinces — the work of three centuries, in
short — into a dreadful necropolis, into a
hideous heap of ruins, into a chaos of rocks,
earth, bricks, and broken beams."

According to geological writers, the earth-
quake which doomed Mendoza to the fate of
Herculaneum, the shock of which was felt
along the line extending from Valparaiso to
Buenos Ayres — that is to say, over eighteen
hundred kilometres — was not, like the terrible
phenomenon of '70, brought about by the re-
opening of a long-closed volcano, but solely
by the dilation of a mass of elastic fluids
given off by the central fire, and projected
by it into the immense cavities of the earth's
crust. From whatever cause, they had
doubtless suddenly accumulated at the cross-
ing of several of these subterranean gulfs.
Above the roof of the vault, dislocated by


the pressure of the fluids, was Mendoza.
Hence its entire ruin.

How strange ! It is said that upon this
shapeless heap of debris, on this frightful
winding- sheet spread over fifteen thousand
human victims, vegetation alone has re-
mained standing, and flowers continued to
thrive and smile in the midst of the pesti-
lential emanations that arise from this im-
mense sepulchre.

The weeping-willow was the favourite
tree of the Mendozians; it was to be seen
everywhere amongst them ; it was the chosen
ornament of their gardens, their squares,
their promenades ; it shadowed the open
courts of their hospitable dwellings, always
open to the travellers. At this moment, like
the grateful remembrance of them which I
cherish, it bends and weeps over the dead.





The desire to return to my country, my
anxieties on the subject of my family, of
whom I had had no news since my departure
from France, and the bad state of my health,
which needed care I was unable to give
myself, from the complete state of poverty in
which I was plunged, suggested to me the
idea of going to Valparaiso.

Inured as I was to fatigues and priva-
tions, feeling myself still able to struggle with
new perils, I ventured without hesitation to
set forth, with hardly enough clothes to cover


me, almost shoeless and without arms, into
the defile of the Andes leading to Chili.
My only baggage consisted of a stock of

Chilene, who had already given me so
many proofs of devotion, became once more
my road-companion. Followed by this good
dog, I passed silently through Mendoza, cast-
ing to the right and left a look of eternal
farewell, while scrupulously fixing in my
memory the most enchanting objects of that
superb city. I then took my way along the
Alameda in the shade of its quadruple rank
of poplars, and finally along the road to
Uspaillate, which passes through a superb

On either side of the road magnificent
vines displayed to my admiring eyes enormous
bunches of the finest grapes ; fruit-trees
of all kinds grew in abundance amidst
waving corn, and adorned the gardens in



which European and exotic flowers were
skilfully blended.

Contemplating this luxurious picture, in
which Nature displayed all her riches, I
advanced but slowly on my way, plunged,
without knowing it, in a dream of admi-
ration that almost made me forget my past

At the end of about two leagues, the
artificial canals not extending further, fer-
tility suddenly ceased. For the next ten
leagues of my way towards the mountains I
traversed a sandy plain, completely scorched
up and unwatered, where only at intervals I
met with a few bushes withered by the sun.

Throughout this part of the journey,
made in the midst of the greatest heat and
without rest, I and my dog suffered much
from thirst. I had brought with me a haspa
(ox-horn), filled with water, but between us
we had emptied it in the course of a few hours.
Chilene lolled his tongue out horribly, and


looked up piteously at me as he lifted his
paws, aching from the incredible heat of the
fine sand over which we had been passing
since the morning. After many turnings,
we reached the first ravine of the Cor-
dilleras, which concealed a small stream of
water quickly discovered by Chilene, and
into which he did not hesitate to enter, for
the purpose of refreshing himself outwardly
as well as inwardly. I followed his example,
and then sought for a favourable spot in
which to pass the night. Once settled, I
broke off a piece of bread, which we two
ate together joyously.

However, this first meal in company with
my dog inspired me with more prudence
in those which succeeded ; for the rascal,
unused to feeding in such a manner, found it
so much to his liking that he quickly helped
himself to the remains of my share, which I
had unsuspiciously put down by my side. I
rested, but it was impossible for me to close


an eye, oppressed as I was by a thousand
thoughts and by the icy coldness of the

The next day I entered a narrow path
between two precipices, leading to the Posta
of Villa Vicencia, where I was fortunate
enough to get some milk to drink and some
boiled meat. I noticed that my dog's
appetite was not very great, and as I had
remarked that he limped, I began to feel
uneasy as to his health.

After examining his paws, from which I
extracted several sharp and long thorns, I
greased them for him and bound them up
carefully in pieces of rag, which he had
sufficient instinct and patience to keep on.
A great part of the day that followed was
devoted to the rest that was so necessary
to us both. The Posta of Villa Vicencia
was then a spacious and convenient habita-
tion, where travellers preparing to cross
the Cordilleras could, without difficulty,


complete or renew their provisions ; those
coming: from Chili, and whom the ten or
twelve clays' march had exhausted, could also
recruit themselves and restore the strength
of their mules before going on to Men-
doza; I was therefore able to procure food
for myself and to nurse my unfortunate

The proprietors of this establishment,
where, the season being not yet sufficiently
propitious, I met with no other travellers,
were most obliging and hospitable in their
treatment of me. They were greatly sur-
prised to see me undertaking, alone a|.d on
foot, a journey so perilous as that of cross-
ing the Andes. The distressing condition in
which I evidently was, piqued their curiosity,
at the same time that it moved me to pour
out my heart to them.

In answer to their questions, and hardly
aware of what I was doing, I drew an
almost complete picture of my misfortunes.


One confidence leading to another, they gra-
dually came to know that I had in my purse
but five piastres and four reals (about twenty-
seven francs), and they refused to receive the
least remuneration for their good offices ; they
even forced me to accept some provisions to
help me on my way to the Uspaillate. I
learned from them that I was close to the
thermal springs of Villa Yicencia, well known
to, and highly esteemed by, South Americans,
for their great efficacy in rheumatic affections,
and to which every year a large number of
visitors of both sexes resort. In spite of the
earnest desire I felt to visit them, I gave up
the idea, for Chilene, fatigued and suffering
as he was, would probably have insisted
on accompanying me, and I preferred his
profiting by the rest I had determined he
should take.

At the end of two days, his condition
having sensibly improved, I took leave of
my excellent hosts, expressing to them, as


warmly as I could, my deep gratitude. Their
delicacy, however, was so great that they
would listen to no thanks, hurriedly giving
me directions as to the road I had to follow
before reaching Uspaillate. On parting with
them I began to mount the steep road which
leads to Paramillo and to one of the numerous
turnings of this difficult road. On my way
I saw the Serro Dorado — gilded mountain —
so called on account of the golden hue given
to it by an innumerable quantity of small
yellow plants, with which it is covered from
the base to the summit.

Chilene closely followed me somehow
all the day, which was unfortunately very
fatiguing for both of us. After a very diffi-
cult and almost continual ascent, we at length
reached the picturesque and striking crest of
the Paramillo, at once surrounded and over-
topped on all sides by immeasurable rocky
peaks, full of fissures, and on most of which
were immense loose blocks loosely balanced,


threatening to crush the traveller should

they fall.

Too quickly overtaken by the darkness of
night, it was impossible for me to venture
further. I took up my quarters, therefore,
by the side of a small stream, which had
served to guide me since my departure from
Villa Yicencia, and the source of which was
in this locality.

I had spread my poncho, on which I was
preparing to sleep, when, with extreme sur-
prise, I saw a feeble and flickering light,
which at first I could have sworn came
from the bosom of a neighbouring moun-
tain. Incited by curiosity, and guided by
the light, I went forward towards it. What
was my astonishment to find, in a spot
so deserted and arid, two rude huts,
constructed of fragments of rock piled
one upon another, and covered only with
branches quite insufficient to ward off the
enormous stones which the winds de-


tached and brought down in a continual

One, the smaller of the two, was not more
than two metres square. It was inhabited
by a whole family, consisting of the father, a
working miner, a man already in the decline
of life ; of his wife, younger than himself by
at least fifteen years ; and lastly, of two chil-
dren, one about seven or eight years old, the
other only two or three, both born on the
spot, where, in spite of the dreariness of the
place, and the incessant dangers by which
these worthy people were surrounded, they
led a tranquil life. I easily obtained from
this poor man, the proprietor of the two
huts, permission to pass the night in the one
he was not inhabiting, and which he told
me, with touching simplicity, he had built
entirely for the use of travellers, from whom,
in spite of his poverty, he would accept no-
thing but thanks. On entering this cabin,
several bats, frightened by my sudden appear-


ance, and that of Chilene, darted out,
striking me in the face as they flew away,
but they soon returned to share my shelter
from the intensity of the cold. Though
stretched upon the bare ground, I, as well as
my dog, passed an excellent night.

When I quitted this hospitable place, I re-
turned thanks to the kind-hearted man, who,
although his own lot was so hard a one, still
sought to be of service to his fellow-creatures.

Before crossing the Paramillo, the last
point from which a complete view can be
obtained of the space between it and Men-
doza, I could not resist the desire to con-
template once more the varied aspect of that
beautiful province, with which so many of
my remembrances were linked. After ad-
dressing: to it one of those mental farewells
which are never effaced from the memory, I
pushed forward with quickened pace along a
steep and winding road that ends at Uspail-
late, the last Mendozian establishment, and


the last trace of civilization. Prom that
point, during eight or ten days, travellers
see nothing but the sky — now cloudy,
now intensely blue — mountains, and terrible

Chilene, already greatly fatigued on the
previous day, suffered more than ever, for
we were without water during the whole of
the day; his paws became so swollen and
painful, that, being unable any longer to bear
the rags in which I had bound them up, he
tore them off in a sort of fury. It was with
the greatest difficulty that he followed me to
TJspaillate. I dreaded being obliged to sepa-
rate myself from this faithful companion,
whose company had so often cheered the
long hours of my dreary slavery. My dis-
tress was the greater because, by abandoning
him, I exposed him to die of hunger, or to
be devoured by wild beasts. If I had not
myself been so exhausted, I should have tried
to carry him now and then; but having


lifted him, I felt how completely impossible
was the accomplishment of my desire.

"Poor Chilene ! " I thought, "will this be
the reward of all your devotion, — you who
have given me such proofs of it as few men
would have been capable of giving, and
who, in spite of all your sufferings, doubly
exert yourself to accompany me on this
painful journey ? "

The heat was overpowering; no spring
to refresh us ; nothing to be seen but unfor-
tunate horses and mules abandoned in the
most piteous condition; some lame, others
half raw, and dying of hunger and thirst ;
principally of thirst, for these poor animals
are so accustomed to be without food in the
Cordilleras, as to content themselves, for the
most part of the time, with eating one
another's dung. Everywhere about them lay
an incredible number of skeletons of animals
of the same race, some retaining their skins,
others totally flayed, their sad remains crying


aloud to the poor starving creatures of the
fate that awaited them.

Arrived at a wide open space, where
the road from San Juan joins that from
Mencloza, our march became still more diffi-
cult. The soil of this plateau, surrounded
by rifted mountains of various colours, was
composed of a thick burning dust, sometimes
red, sometimes yellow or green, formed of
the debris of the encircling rocks, on which
the sun produced a curious and magnificent
effect, but into which I sank up to my

Dying with hunger and want, I was
fortunate enough to be received at the post-
house of Uspaillate by excellent people,
perfectly willing to procure for me every-
thing in their power. I made a hearty meal,
as did my poor Chilene, whose sufferings
were the subject of a long conversation, in
which I related how I had attached him to
me among the Indians, and with what faith-


fulness lie had since followed me. These
worthy people, understanding the distress
I felt at the impossibility of his accom-
panying me to the end of my journey, and
touched by my regrets as well as by the sad
condition of my poor companion, offered to
keep him. I gladly accepted this offer. It
was not without sorrow, however, that I left
him the next morning, never expecting to
see him again.

Before reaching the first mountains, which
had appeared to me to be a very little dis-
tance off, I traversed for five or six hours
a plain as bare as that on the other side
of Uspaillate. I then crossed two rapid
torrents ; following the winding bank of the
second, I found myself positively climbing
the Cordilleras.

I could no longer see any trace of verdure,
for I found myself surrounded by nothing
but rocks, between which, at rare intervals
only, I perceived a few stunted shrubs, giving


a complete idea of the arid nature of the
soil, and of the severity of the seasons.
Notwithstanding the numerous difficulties of
the road, strewn for the greater part of the
way with stones which wrung and fatigued
my feet horribly, and the state of melancholy
in which I was plunged, I could not help
often admiring the strange effect of all these
mountains ranged one above the other, and
infinitely varied in aspect, their summits
hidden in the clouds. The stunning roar of
a rushing torrent, into which, to an immense
depth, rolled monstrous blocks of rock, and
• the violent whistling of the wind, repeated
in sighs by the distant echoes, were the only
sounds to be heard in that wild solitude.

After having pushed forward all day,
almost without stopping, I retired at night-
fall into a cleft in the rock, which served me
for a bed. In the midst of the imposing and
icy solitude by which I was surrounded, a
thousand thoughts assailed me, taking the


form of feverish dreams. I had awoke long
before daylight, tormented by the cutting
coldness of the air, against which my only
protection were a thin cotton poncho, a
pair of canvas trousers, and a shirt partly
worn out, — my sole articles of dress. Not
being able, before daybreak, to continue
my journey on that perilous road, to shorten
the time I satisfied the craving of my stomach
with some dry bread, which I felt inclined
to moisten with my tears, on thinking of
my absent faithful dog, to whose company
and caresses I had become so used, that
my eyes constantly turned in search of him
in the darkness.

What then was my surprise, my delight,
and my admiration, when, at the first faint
tinge of light, at the moment I was preparing
to start, I perceived my poor Chilene hobbling
towards me !

In spite of the necessity for continuing
my journey diligently, I could not refuse to


give liini some rest, of winch he at once took
advantage. But the lively satisfaction which
the sight of him had given me was imme-
diately succeeded by keen regret, persuaded
as I was that the poor brute would not be
able to continue the journey.

For a moment the idea crossed my mind
of taking him back to Uspaillate, but I was
already greatly fatigued by the preceding
days ; and besides, the moments were be-
coming so precious, that the loss of a day
might have exposed me to be overtaken
by bad weather, and to perish in the Cor-

I was compelled, therefore, to pursue
my way aloug the narrow and tortuous
path cut in the peaked mountain- side, some-
times passing over them almost at a right
angle, at others descending them by steep
inclines, having on my right their rocky
flanks, and on my left a yawning precipice,
at the foot of which bounded a noisy and



frothing torrent, into which a false step,
or the least giddiness, might have precipi-
tated me.

At every step the number of dead mules,
with which the road from Mendoza to
Aconcagua is strewn, appeared to increase.
In several places I saw on the abrupt
slopes of the mountain, the remains of boxes
of linen and of clothes, together with skele-
tons of mules stopped in their descent by the
jutting rocks.

More than anywhere, it is in proximity
with del ladera de las vacas that are found
the tell-tale remains of these terrible dramas
of the Cordilleras.

At this point the mountain rises almost
perpendicularly, while on the other side it
descends sheer down to the rapid torrent that
flows at its base. It was with the greatest
difficulty imaginable I climbed and descended
this dreaded path, and I could not help
sincerely pitying the mules which, laden to


the utmost, are called upon to pass over
it, after having already endured days of
privation and fatiue .

Further on I reached a casacha in which
I passed the night. There also I saw an in-
credible number of scattered bones, proving,
no doubt, that some entire troop had fallen
victims to a storm, as often happens.

I found myself in the most piteous con-
dition, and at the end of my provisions. I
had not yet met with any muleteers, and
I was almost despairing of getting food,
when at length I saw a troop of mules
encamped at the foot of the Cambre. I has-
tened to the arrieros, who gave me a hearty
welcome, invited me to take some South
American tea, and to dine with them. I ac-
cepted with the greater delight that my own
small store of provisions had only enabled
me to take off the edge of my appetite,
sharpened as it was by the keen mountain air.
I seated myself beside the leader of the troop,


near a good fire, before which was boiling the
casuela — the South American fot au feu, or

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Online LibraryAuguste GuinnardThree years' slavery among the Patagonians: an account of his captivity → online text (page 13 of 15)