Auguste Guinnard.

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

. (page 4 of 15)
Online LibraryAuguste GuinnardThree years' slavery among the Patagonians: an account of his captivity → online text (page 4 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

The Tcheouelches are very temperate, as
compared with the majority of the other Pata-
gonians, and in spite of the great exercise
they take in hunting. It is almost needless
to say, as may be imagined, that their meals
are composed specially of raw meat, of roots,
or frequently of sea-calf flesh, for they give
themselves up to fishing many days during
the summer. Their latitudes are sterile, and
extend more than two hundred leagues from
the southern limit of the Rio NeoTo. On the
approach of winter they sensibly draw nearer
to the lesser chain of the Andes, which offers
them a surer protection from the inclemencies
of the season, and where they find quantities
of shrubs, the materials of a good fire.

Their clothes are composed of a sort of
short-sleeved shirt, made of six seal-skins
fastened upon a perfectly softened llama skin,


the warm fur of which they wear next their
bodies. This costume is generally shaped in
the back, and ornamented on the outside
with strange designs, which give it a gro-
tesque appearance. In combat these vest-
ments serve them for breast-plates ; they add
to them a sort of flat and round head-dress,
formed of two thick pieces of leather sewed
together, and firmly fixed under the chin.
The liberty enjoyed amongst each other by
these Indians is excessive, as may be seen :
in the other tribes, if a visitor is hungry,
he takes great care not to allow his hosts
to know it, and they, on their side, never
fail to press upon him more food than he
can take ; while the Tcheouelche is restrained
by no etiquette. He enters the first roukah
he comes to, blows up the fire on the hearth,
and, without saying a word, helps himself
to a piece of meat* which he roasts or eats
raw at his good pleasure ; after which he
walks away as silently as he came, without


taking any notice of the master of the house,
who, for his part, observes him with as
much indifference as if he were used to
seeing^ him.

The Tcheouelches appear to be even less
accessible to pain than the other nomads.
They dress their own wounds with the
greatest coolness, not excepting those of the
gravest kind, without uttering sound of
complaint. The women occupy themselves
with the affairs of the household, and help
the men in the making of leathern mantles
(malcounes turquets), and carpets (kilianlcoas)
differing only from the others in their
greater size. These objects are made of
guanaco and marten skins, which the women
coat with chewed liver, afterwards tanning
them by hand, by rubbing them vigorously.
That operation finished, they artistically
collect the different skins, and, suppress-
ing all their defective portions, sew them
together very neatly with fibres of flesh.


This labour sometimes lasts for entire
months ; it is a work of great patience.
When it is finished, the Indians stitch the
skins in every way, and flatten the seams
with a rough- surfaced stone, which serves
them at the same time to rub the whole, and
make it completely flexible ; they afterwards
proceed to the ornamentation of the leather,
on which they trace in red and black the
strange and capricious designs with which
they cover all the seams. These mantles,
generally sought for by the Puelche Indians,
Patagonians, and Pampeans, are not less
highly appreciated by the Spaniards. The
Tcheouelches, Poyuches, and Patagonians,
who pass the greater part of the year clad
in this sort of vestment, are able to expose
themselves to the most intense cold without
feeling its attacks.

As the Poyuches had already done, the
Puelches, out of a spirit of speculation, sold
me to the Eastern Patagonians, who proposed


to themselves to follow the same course with
regard to me. This succession of new
masters was far from being agreeable to me,
and most often I was a loser by the change.
However, this time I felt less repugnance :
my new masters seemed to me to have some-
thing more human in their manner. In
stature they appeared to me to approach six
(French) feet ; their type appeared to me to
differ little from that of the Puelches. I
found them slightly longer in the back,
perhaps, compared with their height, and,
seeing them on horseback, one might easily
have believed them to be taller than they
are in reality. Their limbs are well pro-
portioned ; their heads are large, almost
square, and flat-crowned ; their foreheads
very round and projecting, and their chins
prominent, which, with their long, thin nose,
give them singular profiles. They have pro-
jecting cheek-bones, eyes slightly horizontal ;
but their habit of pulling out their eyebrows


and of painting black the hollows of the
lower lids\ has not a little contributed to
the belief that their eyes are altogether

They have large mouths and rather thick
lips, but not so thick as those of the Tcheo-
uelches ; their teeth are small, even, and of a
glittering whiteness, which the brown colour
of their skin makes even more intense. They
have very Avicle and square shoulders, regular
chests, and strongly-marked bosoms. Their
hands and feet are small compared with their
height, and armed with well- shaped nails,
which they wear very long. ■

Having had so many opportunities of
judging of their strength, and been witness
of their numerous exercises, I can affirm,
without fear of being taxed with exaggera-
tion, that it greatly exceeds that of Euro-
peans. I have seen these men easily catch
with the lasso an untamed horse and stop
it suddenly in its unbridled career, resisting



unaided the terrible shock of the struggling
animal, and maintaining their position until
the moment when, at point of strangulation,
it fell to the ground ; but I have never
remarked that in these exercises their
muscles were more apparent than in their
normal state. Such a result could not, it
seems to me, be set down to the account of
skill. The physical organization of the
Indians is, moreover, greatly superior to that
of civilized man ; they bear with the greatest
facility prolonged privations during the jour-
neys of two or three months which they
make almost without resting, galloping day
and night. When they go four or five hun-
dred leagues to pillage, besides from twenty
to thirty choice horses taken by each, they
provide themselves with nothing but lassos,
lances, and boleadoras, which will serve them
both to secure the means of subsistence and
for fighting. Only the greatest gluttons
amongst them place between the skins which


they use as saddles a small quantity of
angnime-liilo (meat cut into thin slices, salted,
and dried in the sun), which they eat with
yeoidne, a mixture of horse and bullock fat.
The poorest carry with them only a little
chassi-cofqiiet, a sort of loaf of salt, baked in
dung- ash after having been ground and
kneaded with sweet herbs, which they lick
only from time to time, as they experience
hunger or thirst.

The expeditions do not return in a body
as they set out. Interest obliges them to
keep at some distance from one another, so
as to be able to keep the same number of
horses ; for it frequently happens that some
of these escape from their surveillance, and
go to swell the booty of their companions,
who refuse to restore them. It is only the
indolent, or those who sink under the weight
of their fatigue, who are exposed to the loss
of their plunder; but these cases are rare,
for their activity and avarice are such that,


even long after their return into the bosom
of their respective homes, they assiduously
continue to watch their herds day and night,
those only being exempt from this additional
fatigue who have families, or who consent to
pay generously one of their neighbours for
exercising this watchfulness. Women even
undertake this kind of occupation, and gene-
rally receive a much larger remuneration
than men.

"When an animal is lost, the Indians make
an active search for it in all directions, and
they are so skilful as almost always to
recover it. Whatever may be the nature of
the land, whether covered with a heavy
growth of verdure or marked by the most
complete sterility, miry even, they recognize
the trace of its passage at a glance amid a
great number of the footprints of other
animals of the same kind. With so much
sagacity are they gifted that, in their ex-
plorations, they distinguish the traces of herds


belonging to Christians, and instantly follow
them np.

The Patagonian tribes of most importance
are nine in number. They have at their head
caciques of the first order, whose power
extends over the sub-tribes, which bear an
infinite variety of names. Among these last,
which are stationed on the Rio Negro, I can
cite several which, by their dealing with the
Hispano- Americans, have become celebrated ;
they are, it is true, very much weakened now,
and whatever interest attaches to them be-
longs to their past.

The first of these are the Toluchets, who
traverse the space comprised between the
Rio Negro (southern limit), Lake Eozas, and
the territory of the Poyuches, my first
masters, for a distance of at least a hundred
leagues in the south-west direction, where it
joins that of the Tchetchehets, with whom
they were for a long time allied. These two
tribes had relations with the first Spaniards,


who founded the village of Carmen, or Pata-
gones, of which for a certain length of time
they made the prosperity. But Carmen,
peopled by gauchos expatriated for crime,
and speedily tired of the peaceable life to
which they were restricted, saw its impor-
tance suddenly diminished. Desiring to
return to their adventurous course of life,
the gauchos abandoned the colony for the
purpose of going amongst the Indians, and
exchanging their products for the cattle of
the latter. It resulted from this that the
Indians, deprived of their cattle and wishing
to get others, made frequent raids into the
provinces of Buenos Ayres, leading to bloody
reprisals, which they avenged on the colony
of Carmen by several times devastating and
destroying it. Thus, by turn, this port was
seen to be enriched at the expense of the
estanceros, or farmers, of the Argentine pro-
vinces, and ruined by the Indians, Calli-
Hetchets or non-speakers, so called by the


other Indians on account of the fantastic and
silent character which they have assumed
since their decadence, which dates from the
death of several chiefs considered by them

The expression of these Indians is hard
and ferocious, sometimes anxious. They
speak listlessly, and in monosyllables ; their
sole occupation is hunting, to which they
devote themselves from one end of the year
to the other. They do not appear to ppssess
much intelligence, and they are so idle that
they do not even take the trouble to plait
their harness, which is of the roughest kind.
However, this idleness, which is remarkable
also among their women, does not prevent
their being excessively ambitious, and in-
clined to coquetry. They have acquired
some, at least, of the vices of the Americans,
and it may be said of them that pride and
drunkenness are not the least of those
which they possess.


Lastly, the tliird tribe, the Langneque-
trou-tchets, whose name corresponds with
that of the cacique, by whom they were
organized, is well known in the provinces of
Buenos Ayres, and to all the nomads, with-
out exception. The Indians who compose it
were drawn from different points ; many of
them were recruited by Langnequetrou,
related to Calfoucourah (Blue-stone), under
whom he fulfilled the functions of orderly
officer, but against whom he rebelled in con-
sequence of some outbreak, which nearly
cost him his life. Spurred on by the desire
of vengeance, pride, and ambition, this
Indian fled to the shore of the Rio Negro,
where he arrived escorted by all the malcon-
tent spirits he had recruited by the way.
Under the impulse of his deep resentment,
he had no rest until he was prepared to com-
mence against other tribes a war from which
all fairness and loyalty were excluded. lie
sold himself to the Argentines, solely to con-


duct their troops into the camp of his
brothers, whom he several times caused to
be surprised in the night and massacred.
He did yet more : skilfully profiting by the
dissensions rife in the bosom of the Spanish
republics, he betrayed each party in turn,
often conducting them into ambushes, in
which he murdered every man of them for
the purpose of enriching himself with their

The skill and courage of which, on so
many occasions, this man gave proof, made
him a sort of personage whom the Spaniards
sought to attach to themselves at any price.
He received their envoys, and ratified the
treaties submitted to him. For some time he
appeared to forget that he was a child of the
desert, and led successfully several expedi-
tions, of small importance it is true, but which
gained for him the confidence of the Buenos
Ayrean government. In 1859, Langneque-
trou went to White Bay to confer with the


Argentine soldiers on the subject of the
organization of a strong expedition which
was to be directed against the Pampean
tribes and the Mamouelches owing allegiance
to Calfoucourah. Like all Indians, passion-
ately fond of alcoholic drink, he entered the
Hiina i^roperia (spirit store), to enjoy the
pleasure of drinking, but found himself face
to face with an Argentine officer, who recosf-
nized him, and reproached him with the
death of several relations, officers like him-
self, who had fallen victims of his treachery.
The insolent replies made by Langnequetrou
so irritated this officer that, suddenly draw-
ing a pistol, he blew out the chief's brains.

The Indians, amongst whom I was living
at that period as a slave, had many times
sworn the death of Langnequetrou, whom
they profoundly execrated ; but, strange to say,
on learning the news of his tragic end, they
forgot all their grievances, and thought only
of aveno-ino; in his death that of one of their


own people. With this view, they speedily
organized a formidable expedition, which
pillaged and burnt the town of White Bay,
the heroic defence of which cost them heavily
in dead and wounded.

According to what Patagonians in general
say, the immense desert comprised between
the chain of the Andes, the south bank of
the Rio Negro, the eastern coast and the
Straits of Magellan, is not, as it has hitherto
been said to be, completely sterile ; a third,
at least, of this extent is extremely fertile,
principally on the eastern side, and at the
extreme point of Magellan. I can, besides,
cite in support of this opinion, the several
spots in which I have lived in the neigh-
bourhood of the Andes, and in that of Los
Serranos, which have a truly charming aspect
of picturesqueness and fertility, at the sight
of which one is filled with wonder, and
readily understands how possible it is for
man to find there all he requires for his sub-


sistence. Thus, in spite of the want of
horses and cattle, the Indians live there in
the greatest carelessness, solely on the pro-
duce of the chase. The land over which they
move is divided into parts wooded with
algarrobas and chagnals, into the bosom of
which they retire during the winter, and into
valleys traversed by a great number of tor-
rents, and covered with lakes abounding in
wild clucks and other water-fowl, that would
be the delight of European sportsmen, but
which, undisturbed by the Indians, whose
only food is the raw guanaco, or ostrich flesh,
never fear the approach of man.

Painful as my slavery was, I could not
refrain at times from admiring this superb
country, the sight of which would have re-
joiced me, if it had not every instant recalled
my sad position. I might even have made
out a kind of existence with my masters if
the ill-treatment, to which I was constantly
exposed, had not rendered my sufferings


yet greater, and made me dread a tragic

I lost all hope of ever again embracing
those who were so dear to me, and of re-
turning to my country. However, the desire
to free myself from the terrible yoke that
weighed upon me was dominant, and in my
troubled mind many projects of flight were
constantly struggling. This thought of flight
alone gave me strength to bear the priva-
tions of all kinds imposed on me by my
condition as a slave. Forced to live in a
state of dumbness, not being able to make a
gesture without the reason being demanded,
or of taking a step without being imme-
diately followed, I ardently yearned to be
left, if even for an instant, alone with my
thoughts. The Indians suspected my desire,
and conceived against me the strongest dis-
trust; their hatred seemed to increase, and
I was several times nearly falling a victim
to it. Often, when I have been sleeping



near them, their minds were so disturbed
that they have waked several times and
sprung upon me, armed, and threatening,
pretending that Yitaouenetrou (God) had
informed them of my project of flight, and
ordered them to watch me closely and punish
me for this criminal thought. They then
pressed me with questions for the purpose of
sounding me ; and when at length they left
me, it was never without cruelly ill-treating
me. Many times, under these terrible cir-
cumstances, I had to arm myself with great
resignation to avoid giving way to the desire
for vengeance, with which my dignity as a
civilized man inspired me.

These frequently repeated nocturnal sur-
prises, so powerfully reacted on me as to
make me subject to fits of faintness, resulting
often in convulsive tremblings, that lasted for
more than half an hour at a time. At the
end of these attacks I was completely pros-
trated and depressed in spirits, during which


time I felt so disgusted with existence that I
would willingly have sought or faced death
as the greatest of benefits. Being, as I have
said, condemned to live in a state of dumb-
ness, even the moments that were free of
uneasiness and morbid depression, passed
slowly and painfully ; for the Indians never
admitted me into their company, and when
duty called me into their huts, I was speedily
driven out again with brutal violence. It
may readily be imagined that I never waited
for that gracious order to be repeated to me,
accompanied as it always was by threatening
gestures, or blows with a lasso belabour-
ing my back and chest. I went pensively
away and rejoined the herd confided to my
charge, installing myself with it anew, both
day and night, and that whatever the state of
the weather might be, often exposed to insup-
portable heat, my body burned by the ardent
summer sun, or enduring all the severity of
bad weather, rain, wind, and frost. In the


latter case, I suffered terribly from benumbed
hands and feet. Very often, after passing
several hours on horseback, I have been
obliged, in descending, to seize the horse's
mane with my teeth, for the purpose of
letting myself down as gently as possible,
my feet and hands being useless to me, and
on reaching the ground I have felt as if I
had fallen on broken glass. To enable my-
self to rise, I had to apply active friction to
my limbs, after which I forced myself to
walk, gradually increasing my speed into a
sharp run, and with good results.

In spite of this series of continual suffer-
ings, and of the daily threats of the Indians,
at the sight of whom I could not repress a
certain feeling of alarm, I never tired of
seriously thinking of making my escape.
Whatever good-will I showed, and whatever
desire I had to familiarize myself with all
the exercises of the Pataq;onians. it was im-
possible for me to succeed so quickly as I


wished, or as they thought necessary. Find-
ing they could turn me but to small profit,
they sold me to the Pampeans who came to
yisit them, after having effected several in-
vasions of the territory of Buenos Ayres.
These savages gave them in exchange for my
person some horses and a few pilJcenes, pieces
of common red or black cloth.

From the moment this sale was in
question, the behaviour of the Patagonians
towards me became entirely changed ; they
affected attachment for me, doubtless with
the view of raising themselves in the opinion
of their visitors, whose manners and bearing
inspired me with more confidence. At the
end of a few days, which I passed almost in
inactivity, and during which I was, in some
respects, as well treated as the Pampean
visitors, came at length the moment of

I could not, in spite of all the hardships
I had endured among the Patagonians, help


feeling somewhat sad at contemplating for
the last time those picturesque spots, so
often witnesses of my tears and sufferings.
I rode downcast and silent between two
Pampeans, to whom my habitual dumbness
appeared to be displeasing, for they addressed
me in bad Spanish, overwhelming me with
questions, translating and considerably am-
plifying my answers to the rest of the band,
who amused themselves greatly at my ex-
pense, and having not the least idea that
their language was familiar to me, thus
enabled me to judge them better than they
could judge me. In this way the time
passed on the journey to their place of resi-
dence. They inquired where my country
was ; if it was far off; how long I had taken
in coming from one continent to the other ;
what men lived on on board a ship; how they
procured fresh water sufficient to quench
their thirst during so long and perilous a


At the answers I gave them they exhi-
bited as much astonishment as incredulity,
and trying to read in my eyes the expression
of truth, probably believed that I was trick-
ing them. They further demanded what
motives could have been so strong as to
induce me to separate myself from my
family, for whom they saw that I felt so
pTeat an affection; for at the sight of the
portraits of my dear parents, now in their
possession, I could not restrain my tears,
nor refrain from making an aggressive move-
ment towards the man who held them.
However, involuntary as was my action, it
was foreseen by the Indian, who hastened to
hide them from my longing gaze, and put
himself on the defensive, while his companions
bound me more tightly.

Prudence came to my aid ; I became
again master of myself; and it was with the
greatest calmness that I answered the further
questions put to me by the interpreter, whose


tone and countenance were those of a man
determined to be obeyed. I told them that I
had quitted Europe because I was ambitious,
and that in my country the extent of ter-
ritory is so restricted, compared with its
numerous population, as to make it extremely
difficult for even a few individuals there to
gain the means of living independent and
in tolerable comfort ; that money was the
motive principle in all things in civilized
countries, every one following some kind of
industry for the purpose of amassing it as
quickly as possible ; that in like manner with
myself hundreds of thousands of other Eu-
ropeans voluntarily exiled themselves every
year, in the hope of realizing wealth in a
short time^some to secure themselves against
want, others with the sole view of lead-
ing a life of gaiety and pleasure. Lastly
I added that the hope of seeing for-
tune smile on me, and the ardent desire

to be of service to my parents, had



been enough to make me quit the mother

After communicating my response to his
companions, who burst out laughing and
shrugged their shoulders with an air of dis-
dainful commiseration, he replied that since
fate had thrown me amongst them, ell
anxiety as to the future would be super-
fluous on my part ; that there would be no
necessity for me to work to eat, and that my
family would have to do without me, as I
should never return to them ; that I should
be happy in the midst of them, though, to
tell the truth, they would not promise me
either clothes or dwelling-place to protect

1 2 4 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 4 of 15)