Auguste Guinnard.

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

. (page 2 of 15)
Online LibraryAuguste GuinnardThree years' slavery among the Patagonians: an account of his captivity → online text (page 2 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


feathers. At our approach we saw them
fly away simultaneously, their necks out-
stretched, their lank legs joined behind them
in the form of a rudder, flying silently and
with the lightness and swiftness of an arrow,
of which they had all the appearance. I
tried to shoot some of them, but my gun
hung fire, and I could not succeed.

Although our feet were deeply excoriated
and full of thorns, the agonies of hunger had
plunged us into such a state of delirious
excitement, that we scarcely heeded the pain-
ful contact of the frozen ground. Our bowels
were attacked by sufferings a thousand times
more horrible than death.



THREE YEARS' SLAVERY



In the short intervals of respite left us
during this long and cruel day, we eat earth,
and the first roots that came to hand, with-
out being able to allay our thirst, which
seemed to increase at the continual sight of
the salt-pools. My companion, though appa-
rently much the stronger of the two, having
sooner felt the painful effects of hunger, and
having also much sooner had recourse to the
means of which I have spoken, was the prey
of such agonies, that he rolled upon the
ground, uttering the most heart-rending
cries. Before night came, I also was suf-
fering in the same manner. We reproached
one another with the journey in the bitterest
terms ; in the brief intervals, however, when
the pain seemed to have entirely quitted us,
we were left in a state of soft beatitude, bor-
dering on ecstasy ; we then, with tears in our
eyes, reciprocally begged pardon of each
other for the harsh things we had said.

The night following brought no sleep to



AMONG THE PATAGONIANS. 23

our tortured senses ; we remained with eyes
bent upon the desert, and thoughts fixed on
our sad situation. The next day, the 3rd of
June, our suffering was still more terrible ;
we were both delirious. We threatened one
another, and even came to blows. Our march
was slow, and frequently interrupted by
fatigue. Our thirst was such that, in default
of water, we swallowed stones, and even had
recourse to the extreme and revolting means
related in so many accounts of sufferers by
shipwreck, and, when the hoar frost was wet
upon the ground, we saturated our linen with
it, and then wrung it into our mouths.
Yielding anew to the rage of hunger, we
devoured roots, of the nature of which we
knew nothing, the taste of which was re-
volting, and which made us seriously ill.

Evening succeeded to this interminable
day, and the only alleviation we could give
to our sufferings was a small fire, fed by a
few thorns gleaned here and there from the



24, THREE YEARS' SLAVERY

ground of the Pampas. Sadly seated beside
our humble hearth, we felt too weak to bear
any longer the horrible torment of hunger ;
at the end of our strength and hope, we both
felt seized by the terrible temptation to put a
period to our sufferings. While preparing
our arms with this object, we thought of our
far-off homes, of the beloved ones we were
never more to see. These recollections
served to raise our souls towards God. The
invocation of His name made us feel how
great was the cowardice by which we had
allowed ourselves to be overcome ; our cou-
rage was restored by prayer, and the deepest
despair was succeeded by a feeling of com-
plete passiveness : that night we slept. Our
waking was less painful than it had pre-
viously been ; we felt more active, though
extremely weak. Tired, strained, and exco-
riated, our legs permitted us to advance but
slowly.

We were making progress, however,



AMONG THE PATAGONIANS. 25

spurred by the want of food, when, some
hours later, we at last had the pleasure to
notice a change in the nature of the soil, now
become sandy, and planted with Generiums
argentinus, or cortaderas (in Indian, Koeny),
tall tufts of grass, generally found only on the
banks of lakes or streams. The ground be-
came less difficult to our bleeding feet, and, a
little further on, we reached a lake where we
could quench our burning thirst. But, much
as this discovery was to us, it entailed the
necessity of a further discovery of food ; for
this water, which had caused us such great
joy, and at once relieved our sufferings, soon
made the feeling of hunger still more insup-
portable. In consequence, we determined to
examine the surrounding parts of the lake,
each taking an opposite side.

A first exploration having proved fruit-
less, I was returning exhausted and discou-
raged, when a sound behind me, in the midst
of some high grass, caused me to turn my



26 THREE YEARS' SLAVERY

head, and I perceived a puma watching my
movements, and seemingly ready to spring
towards me. Though this animal does not,
either in shape or action, resemble the African
lion, after which the Americans have named
it, my first impression on seeing it was
alarm ; my second was to fire at this inha-
bitant of the desert. I struck him full in
the chest; rendered furious by his wound,
he dragged himself towards me, putting out
his claws, as if to seize me. Fortunately,
his strength failed him, and it was easy for
me to finish him with my knife. At the
report of my gun, my companion hastened
his steps. He was agreeably surprised at
the produce of my sport, and sincerely con-
gratulated me, after satisfying himself that
the blood which he saw upon my hands was
not my own.

We skinned the puma in the course of
a few minutes, and as quickly disembowelled
it, taking care to keep the carcase turned



AMONG TEE PATAGONIANS. 27

upon its back, so that we might not lose
any of its blood, which we drank out of the
flesh. In a very little time, squatted beside
a brushwood fire, over which we burned,
rather than cooked, the quarters of the puma,
we voraciously devoured this meat, which was
at once coarse and tough, but which appeared
to ns delicious.

After so much fatigue and privation, a
day or two's rest seemed to us indispensable.
The place where we were being favourable,
we stopped there. Thanks to the numerous
tufts of generium surrounding the lake, it was
easy for us to shelter ourselves, and to make
a softer bed than the frosty ground. The
fever left us, but the state of our feet grew
worse ; we could not set them to the ground
without feeling as if we had trodden on
broken glass. After binding them up as
well as we could in shreds of our linen, we
judged it prudent, nevertheless, to continue
our unfortunate journey, using our guns for



28 THREE YEARS' SLAVERY

support until our wounds were sufficiently
warmed to benumb the pain they caused us.
We set ourselves the task of beguiling the
way by forming projects for the happy day
when we should at length reach our desti-
nation.

We travelled in this manner for three
days, during which we were so lucky as
to kill a hare and a buck, which sufficed
to supply the inordinate cravings of our
stomachs, on which the keen air of the
desert operated in an almost tyrannical
fashion. Far from troubling ourselves on
this account, we, on the contrary, rejoiced
extremely, for the nature of the country
seemed by its rich appearance to promise
abundant game.

But it was written on high that all sorts

of misfortunes were by turn to overtake us,
and that we should have surmounted the ter-
rible torments of fatigue and hunger in vain.
A more cruel trial yet awaited us. Our



AMONG THE PATAGONI^WS. 29

compass, an object so precious to us, had
been damaged by immersion in the torrent in
which we had so nearly perished ; for some
time afterwards, by a strange fatality, the
sun had not been visible, and we had been
unable to remedy this serious inconvenience.
Fatigued in mind and body, we had con-
tented ourselves with a mere glance at the
instrument, the needle of which had rusted
in the setting. My plan of our route had
long ceased to be available, when, on the
return of the sun, we perceived that we had
been travelling in a wrong direction, making
for the south-west, the point diametrically
opposite to that to which our steps ought to
have been directed. Instead of skirting the
Indian territory, we had already long com-
pletely entered it.

Though the certainty of this fact was
overwhelming, we nevertheless attempted to
change the direction of our course, by ap-
proaching the mountains which we saw in the



30 THREE YEARS' SLAVERY

distance before us, where we hoped to find
ourselves in greater security. We were for-
tunate enough to recross a river which
we had crossed the evening before, and
reached them before the weather, which had
been threatening since the morning, became
bad. We were able to construct for our-
selves a little place of shelter in one of the
hollows of the soil, by the help of the
numerous flat stones scattered over the sur-
face of the ground. Here, for forty-eight
hours, besieged by a frightful tempest, we
cowered with the remains of our provisions,
without daring to venture out ; for the rain
and gusts of wind brought down perfect ava-
lanches of stones from the rocky slopes by
which we were surrounded.

When the tempest abated, we found
materials for a good fire in numerous thorns
(mamouel ceton*) with which the soil bristled,
and all of which bore traces of previous

* Note C.



AMONG THE PATAGONIANS. 31

burning. This was an evident proof of the
neighbourhood of Indians ; for we were not
ignorant of the fact that it is their habit to
burn the fields they abandon.

Before following the new route which we
had adopted after repairing our compass, it
was urgent that we should gather a stock of
provisions for our journey, and consequently
to re-enter the plain, where under our eyes
a great number of gamas gambolled in the
morning sunshine. Several of them, slightly
wounded, escaped, thanks to the distance
and their agility ; but one of them, wounded
with two shots, appeared to us unable to fly
very far, and we hastened in pursuit with as
much ardour as the weakness of our limbs
permitted. Its flight already appeared to
slacken, and our hope of making the capture
was increasing, when suddenly, at the turn of
a piece of rising ground, we saw with terror
a party of Indians, who were evidently on the
scent of some kind of prey, man or game.



32 TEHEE YEARS' SLAVERY

To regain our hut in the shelter of the
mountain was the best thing we could do :
we were fortunate enough to execute this
movement without being seen. For two long
days we crouched in our hiding-place, every
moment apprehensive of being discovered
and assailed by a savage and pitiless enemy.
It was not long before we were besieged by
hunger. Obliged, therefore, to venture out
on the third day, to recommence our hunting,
we recovered both confidence and hope on
succeeding in shooting a fine gama. I had
already lifted it on to my shoulder, when the
Indians, very numerous this time, rushed as
by enchantment from all the hollows of the
ground, and surrounded us with demonstra-
tions of ferocious joy, uttering guttural cries,
and brandishing their lances, their boleadoras,
(balls) — in Indian locayos — and their lassos.

I never saw anything more dreary and
weird-looking than the aspect of these half-
naked beings, mounted on spirited horses,



AMONG TEE PATAGONIANS. 33



which they managed with surprising dexterity.
Their robust bodies were bistre - coloured,
their thick and uncombed hair hung over their
faces, and revealed at every abrupt movement
a set of hideous features, to which the
addition of glaring colours gave an expression
of diabolical ferocity.

The result of a struggle between us and
this band could not be doubtful. We thought
ourselves hopelessly lost ; and, looking death
in the face, we shook hands and exhorted
each other to make the best possible defence.
We then fired at the most advanced of our
enemies. One of them, more severely
wounded than his companions, fell from his
horse ; but his fall did not stop his com-
panions, who rode down upon us in a body,
while we were reloading our arms. Over-
come by numbers and pierced through and
through, my comrade fell to rise no more.
On my side, hotly attacked, I had been
pierced through the left fore-arm in endea-



34 THREE YEARS' SLAVERY



vouring to guard my chest, when one of
those stone balls used equally by the gauchos
for overthrowing wild horses going at the
top of their speed, or to stun bullocks, struck
me full on the head and laid me insensible
on the ground. I received other wounds and
contusions, but I was not aware of them
until I returned to consciousness and at-
tempted in vain to rise.

The Indians who surrounded me, seeing
my convulsive movements, were preparing to
put an end to me, when one of them, judging
doubtless that a man so hard to kill would
make a useful slave, opposed their intention.
This man, after having completely stripped
me, bound my hands behind my back, then
placed me upon a horse as bare as myself,
tying me on tightly by the legs.

Then, for me, began a truly terrible
journey, and I repeated, a century and a half
later, and at the other end of the world, the
tremendous ride of Mazeppa. Owing to the



AMONG THE PATAGONIANS. 35



continual loss of blood, I endured a succes-
sion of agonies and fainting fits, during
which, I was tossed from side to side, like
an inert mass, by the galloping of a wild
horse goaded by his barbarous masters.

How long this torment endured, I know
not ; all I can recall is that, at the end
of the fifth day, I was deposited . on the
ground without my hands being unbound.
Doubtless, the Indians feared, in spite of my
sad condition, that I should make an attempt
to escape or to commit suicide. During the
whole of this long journey, which appeared
an eternity to me, I ate nothing whatever,
though the Indians from time to time offered
me roots.

Arrived at the camp of the horde, the
place of their destination, they at length
removed the tightly-bound thongs, which had
tortured my hands and feet until both had
become useless. Incapable of movement, I
lay on the ground in the midst of my cap-



36 THREE YEARS' SLAVERY



tors. Men, women, and children all looked
on me with wild curiosity, without a single
being amongst them seeking to procure me
the least alleviation of my sufferings. At the
recital of my resistance, doubtless, which my
master repeated to each of them, threaten-
ing gestures were addressed to me.

Only in the evening of this half- day of
poignant emotions, did they give me any
food ; to which I did not feel strong enough
to do honour : it was raw horse-flesh, the
principal aliment of these nomads. All
through the night which followed, a crowd of
thoughts oppressed me. In my sleeplessness,
the remembrance of my companion's death was
always present to me. I formed a thousand
conjectures as to the destiny which the In-
dians were reserving to me. What appeared
most probable to me was, that they were
reserving me for some solemn sacrifice ; how-
ever, it was nothing of the sort.

Without feeling the least pity for my sad



AMONG THE FATAGONIANS. 37

position, at which they laughed, they left me
for several days without exacting anything
from me. I could thus give some rest to my
shattered frame, and saw the state of my
wounds somewhat ameliorated, assisted only
by the aid of the Divine wall, and by the
application of certain herbs.

But the complete nudity to which I was
condemned, was not long in producing its
effects. From sleeping on the ground, with-
out shelter or covering, my restlessness in-
creased. Sharp pains attacked all my limbs ;
then, in its turn, came hunger, hunger very
like madness, during which I vainly tried to
nourish myself on herbs and roots. I was
forced to resign myself to the eating of raw
flesh, like the Indians : but every time I
made a meal so repugnant to me, my stomach
rejected it. It was not till after a long time
that I was able to overcome the horror which
this kind of food inspired me.

Many a time, a morsel of raw flesh in my



38 THREE YEARS' SLAVERY.

hand, and reduced to dispute every mouthful
of this frightful dish with the famished dogs
fighting around me, I have mentally made a
comparison between my ignoble repast and
the elegantly ornamented table, covered with
snowy linen, rich porcelain, and glittering
crystal, around which the happy ones of
Europe carelessly enjoy the most delicate
fire and the most generous wines, accom-
panied by sparkling sallies of wit and pleasant
discourse.



CHAPTER IT.

INTO WHAT HANDS I HAD FALLEN.

At tlie time when the sun never set cm the
domains of the Spanish monarchs, the vast
plains spread between Buenos Ayres and the
Strait of Magellan on the one side, and on
the other, between the Atlantic and the
Andes as far as Mendoza, were accounted part
of the vice-royalty of La Plata, though most
of the nomads, by which they were then, as
now, occupied, w r ere free of all yoke. At the
present time an irregular line, determined to
the east by the Cordilliere de Medanos and
the Rio Salado, to the north by the Rio
Quinto, the Cerro Verde, and the entire
course of the Diamante, which it follows into
the bosom of the Andes, forms the common



40 THREE YEARS' SLAVERY

limit of the Argentine Confederation and of
the independent Pampas ; to the south of the
Rio JSTeo'ro commences Patagonia.

More than three years of compulsory
sojourn in these regions has made me ac-
quainted with three distinct groups of the
population, each of which corresponds with
a natural division of the soil.

In the eastern zone, which runs from the
Rio Salado to the Rio Colorado, live the Pam-
peans, properly so-called, divided into seven
tribes. The wooded region, which extends
between Lake Bevadero and Courou-Lafquene
(Black Lake), as well as the watercourses,
which run from this lake to the Rio
Diamante, belong to the Mamouelches
(inhabitants of the woods), who form eight
important tribes, called by the Indians,
Ranquel-tchets, Angneco-tchets, Catrule -
Mamouel - tchets, Quinie - Quinie - Ouitrou-
tchets, Renangne-Cochets, Epougnam-tchets,
Motchitoue-tchets. All these tribes are



AYlONG TEE PATAGONIANS. 41

again subdivided, and eacli of the subdivi-
sions has its chief.

Finally, from the Rio Colorado to the
south of the Rio Xegro, a narrow but deep
river, the course of which is as long as that
of the Rhine or the Loire, I have counted
nine tribes of Patagonians, thus named :
the Payou-tchets, the Puel-tchets, the
Caillihe-tchets, the Tcheouel-tchets, the
Cangnecaoue-tchets, the Tchao-tchets, the
Dilma-tchets, and the Yacanah-tchets.

Every one knows that Southern America
is cited as being a country which, in the
nature of its climate, of its soil, and its pro-
ductions, presents the greatest contrast ; but
very little is known about the interior of the
lands inhabited by the Patagonians. Some
details, therefore, will not be out of place
here.

From Quequene, our starting-point, to
the Sierra Yentana (so called from a gap in
one of the mountains, which, seen from a



42 THREE YEARS' SLAVERY

certain distance, bears a close resemblance
to a window), and considerably further in
the direction of the south-west, which I and
my companion had been compelled to travel
in the first instance, the ground over which
we passed was broken, but, for the most
part, of a fertility beyond conception. It
was divided here and there by torrents, the
clear waters of which flowed rapidly over
rocky and uneven beds, till they passed into
a deep lake, the level of which never varied,
whatever might be the volume of water
thrown into it. The Indians called this lake
Gualichulafquene (The Devil's Lake).

All this part of the American desert, as
far as the Rio Colorado, wears the most smiling
aspect; cultivated by an active and intelli-
gent nation, this country would be a source
of great riches, for the soil is everywhere
black and virgin, and would easily return a
hundredfold the seed sown in it. Under a
layer of tall and heavy grass, scarcely pene-



AMONG THE PATAGONIANS. 43

trated by the frost, we could, without
difficulty, distinguish the growth of the
previous year, only inferior to it in colour,
and under this last a third growth, the
decomposition of which was not yet com-
pleted. In these parts we found abundant
and varied game — gamas, llamas, nandous
(the ostriches of Patagonia), and partridges
of the largest size. We found there, also, a
number of small pools of soft and agreeable
water.

From the Colorado, everywhere in the
direction of the south-west and south, this
fertility becomes irregular and sensibly dimin-
ishes, appearing only at intervals, the soil
being here sandy, there rocky, or, oftener
still, saltpetrous, and covered with salt and
stagnant pools of deceptive clearness. Pools
of this kind, extremely common in the north
and north-west latitudes, are often found, in
the south and south-west, in the midst of
other salt-pools, generally deep, of great



44 THREE YEARS' SLAVERY

extent, the levels of which frequently vary,
and the waters of which are warm in winter
and icy in summer. These pools furnish a
magnificent salt, of which the Indians make
ample provision, both for their own con-
sumption and that of other tribes, to whom
they sell it at a very low price.

The margins of these pools are generally,
during winter, entirely bare of verdure ; but
their blue waters, imprisoned between deep
banks of a chalky nature, form an admirable
contrast, and, on a fine day, one might
almost imagine oneself transported on to the
bosom of an icy sea.

During the summer, on the top of the
banks of these pools, grow a great quantity
of thick bushes, called by the Indians Tchilpet,
the leaves of which are of great use to them
in curing their wounded cattle. The lower
parts are abundantly supplied with a sort of
vegetation composed of little round thin
stalks, ending in a point, without any leaves,



AMONG THE PATAG0NIAN8. 45

and not exceeding twenty-five centimetres in
height. The interior conformation of this
grass exactly resembles that of the common
rush, but its thickness does not exceed that
of a knitting-needle. Horses and oxen some-
times eat it, but its toughness and sourness
make it indigestible. Finally, at a consider-
able distance, this singular meeting of
fertility and barrenness ends suddenly;
mountains of black granite, varying but
slightly in form, of severe aspect, insur-
mountable and isolated one from another
complete the strange picture of wild and silent
nature, at once superb and melancholy.

Beyond appear the shores of the Eio
Colorado, which are very uneven towards its
source. This river flows from a moun-
tainous country, intersected by deep valleys,
through which run other streams, also issuing
from the bosom of the Andes. Some come
from the west-north-east, others from the
west-south-east, but these various affluents



46 THREE YEARS' SLAVERY

only join with the Colorado much further
off.* At the part where, so to speak,
commences the vast enamelled plain of ver-
dure, stretching away to the eastern coast,
and most generally inhabited by the Puelches,
arranged in order on both sides of the river,
a great quantity of Generiums argentinus are
met with, the prodigious height of which
conceal the roukahs (native houses) from the
view of travellers, who thus fall unsuspect-
ingly into the hands of the Indians. These
tufted grasses serve also as the lurking-places
of pumas and jaguars, on the watch for
passing gamas.

To the Rio Colorado, which I had crossed
before the commencement of my captivity,
attaches one of my most striking recol-
lections. It was on the left bank that I and
my companion enjoyed the only pleasure we
were permitted to taste during our painful
and adventurous peregrination. This plea-

* Note D.



AMONG THE PATAGONIANS. 47

sure, which, we then thought so great, was
the finding of some turnips of monstrous
size, as perfectly grown and exquisite in
flavour as if they had been cultivated by the
hand of a skilful gardener. While taking
complete advantage of our good fortune, for
which we sincerely thanked Heaven, we
bewildered ourselves with conjectures as to
how this vegetable could have grown, in
regions much colder than Chili, and so far
removed from all people that, doubtless, no
human being had yet come upon them. It
was not until I had lived some time in the
midst of the Indians, that I found an ex-
planation of the mystery. I attributed the
springing up of this vegetable to some ex-
cursion of these savages, knowing their habit
of carrying off indiscriminately all they can


2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryAuguste GuinnardThree years' slavery among the Patagonians: an account of his captivity → online text (page 2 of 15)