Auguste Guinnard.

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

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for I felt in a condition to gallop for days
and nights, and to sell my life dearly in case
of pursuit; but with women — delicate women
who rarely mount on horseback, and who
would have been overcome by fatigue in the
course of a journey requiring the greatest
promptitude, it was almost certain that I
should be overtaken by the ferocious Indians,
and be the cause of death to all.

These reflections compelled me to submit
to the fate by which I was overwhelmed.
Reduced to this state of helplessness, I led


a sad and painful life, ceaselessly oppressed
by melancholy thoughts on the subject of
my beloved family, whom I more and more
thought I should never again behold. Nearly
every night my sleep was beset by horrible
dreams, in which I re-enacted, one after the
other, all the sanguinary scenes in which
I had been the witness or the victim.

So much physical and moral suffering
resulted in the wearing- out of my patience,
my courage became actual frenzy, and, one
after the other, at the risk of being mur-
dered, I made several attempts to regain my
liberty. But, alas ! every time, unforeseen
obstacles opposed my success ; I was even
very nearly paying with my life for these
fruitless attempts, for, on more than one of
those occasions I had to struggle with my
assassins. Thank God, at those solemn mo-
ments, my coolness did not desert me, but
each time subterfuges, more or less plausible,
but excusable in my position, enabled me to


escape certain death. When these difficult
moments were past, I was subject to a great
reaction ; I was seized with a restlessness
which almost drove me mad.

I nevertheless repeated these attempts,
in which I was always unsuccessful. The
suspicion of the Indians increased, and it
was many times debated whether I should
not be put to death.

At length, completely discouraged, and
not knowing what was to become of me, I
entertained the culpable thought of cutting
short my suffering by putting an end to my
existence. With this view I had carried off
a knife and the portraits of my family which
the Indians had appropriated, not wishing
to be separated from them at this solemn
moment. I then stole away, unperceived, as
I thought, towards a stony excavation in the
Pampas. I had already implored the Divine
mercy, and raised my arm to accomplish my
fatal design, when the hand raised to strike


was unexpectedly seized. It was an Indian,
my master, who rightly judging that death
appeared to me preferable to the sort of
existence to which he condemned me, saw
only in my desperate resolution an attack
upon his proprietorial rights. After having
beaten me and taken from me the portraits,
he declared that henceforth not a movement
of mine should escape his watchfulness. The
services I had rendered to him had probably
some value in his eyes, and he would not at
any price be obliged to do for himself what
he daily commanded me to do.

Some time after that, a captive, the wife
of an alcalde, full of courage and resolution,
attempted to escape. She had got away a
considerable distance during the night, when
she was overtaken. As she was young and
handsome, she was not put to death, but she
was bound hand and foot, and flogged till
two leathern thongs were worn out, then
given over to the brutality of twenty Indians.


Become insane, she sometimes fled from her
master's tent, after having broken all his
weapons, and, armed with the stem of a
lance, struck indiscriminately every one she
met on her way. The Indians, who feared
her greatly at these times, got rid of her by

How many such occurrences I could re-
late, if I were not afraid of too much exciting
the reader's feelings, and if mv own sensa-
tions on recalling these distressing remem-
brances were not too painful.

The least unfortunate of the young girls
captured by the Indians are those whom
they make their wives ; the major part of
the others are sold to distant tribes, and
finish in an earthly hell a life often com-
menced under the happiest auspices. As to
the poor children, they almost all give them-
selves up to the ignoble existence of the
nomads, often forgetting even their mother
tongue. They are, to tell the truth, tole-


rably well treated by the Indians, who, in
consideration of their extreme youth, forgive
them for having been born Christians. Hor-
rible and almost impossible as it is to be-
lieve it, I have seen several women, who
have become mothers in the midst of slavery,
and who were more to be dreaded than the
Indians themselves, showing themselves more
cruel towards other captives like themselves,
whose projects of flight they betrayed.

In spite of their superstitious belief in
the success of all enterprises undertaken in
company with a Christian, the Indians, whose
suspicions I had awakened to the highest
point by my various attempts at flight, re-
frained from taking me with them on their
expeditions. They even took the precaution
of placing me in the hands of friends, who
made themselves responsible for my person
during their more or less prolonged absence.
On their return, sugar, tobacco, yerba (Ame-
rican tea), the articles principally coveted


by them, often abounded. The linen and
clothes stolen by them were treasured for
use at festivals and meetings. To me, for a
very long time, they gave nothing but a
fragment of the cloak of some poor soldier
who had sunk under their blows.

An altogether unforeseen circumstance,
however, compelled them to make me take
part in one of their flights. About two
thousand five hundred Argentine soldiers,
under the guidance of Indians who had made
their submission, having unexpectedly sur-
prised some of the tribes in the neighbour-
hood of the one in which I was held in
captivity, I was obliged to accompany the
Pampeans, who, after gathering together in
haste, resolved to take the offensive, and
repulse their aggressors, making those who
had acted as their guides pay dearly for their
treachery. These had retreated behind the
Argentines, and appeared indisposed to take
part in the action. Made furious by the


sight of them, and wishing to get at them as
quickly as possible, the inhabitants of the
desert made a furions and headlong charge.
Stricken by this terrible shock, the Argentines
broke into two bands, in the midst of which,
continuing to advance, the Indians suddenly
surrounded the traitors, and engaged with
them in a special and horrible struggle, dur-
ing which other nomads, their companions,
rushed in pursuit of the scattered Argen-
tines, and put them completely to rout.

The combat did not cease till near sun-
set ; it had lasted since the morning. Left
masters of the field of battle, the Indians
pillaged the dead, and finished those who
were still living, finding amongst the latter
three of the traitors. They took care not to
kill them out of hand, as they had done with
the Christians, that kind of death appear-
ing to them too easy; but, for the purpose
of satisfying their vengeance in a more
complete and striking manner, they planted


in the ground three stakes, to which they
strongly bound these unfortunates by the ex-
tremities of their limbs ; they then stripped
from each in turn, living as they were, the
skin, as if it had been that of some ani-
mal, answering with abuse the cries wrung
from the poor creatures by the atrocious
sufferings they were made to endure, which
they terminated by driving a dagger into
their hearts. The authors of this horrible
vengeance, their hands and faces stained with
the blood of their victims, shared amongst
them the skins, which they tore into strips,
and which I afterwards saw plaited into vari-
ous articles intended to be sent as emblems of
threat and defiance to the other Indians who
had escaped their cruelty. This was an im-
memorial custom in the times when all the
nomad races lived in a continual state of
bloody warfare.

Notwithstanding their victory, the In-
dians, far from being reassured with regard


to their enemies, and, still dreading some
aggression on their part, daily changed their
residence from place to place for several
months, and always in opposite directions.
When those whom they had sent out to
explore returned in the night-time, contrary
to their usual habit, the horde, suddenly
awakened by the barking of the dogs, were
seized with such terror that every one sprang
on horseback, spreading the alarm through
the neighbourhood, and taking to flight
without daring to look behind them. In
these moments of panic, the greater part of
them took no heed of their cattle, which they
would thus have abandoned to the enemy.
However, the time came when, having become
sufficiently reassured, seeing themselves de-
prived of everything they valued, and their
flocks and herds thinned, they made other
expeditions, the success of which greatly
influenced my destiny.

Some pieces of printed paper, which had


served to wrap up a great part of the articles
composing their booty, and which they had
thrown away, fell into my hands. I read
them many times with joy; for it furnished
me with an unhoped- fojL recreation. One day,
when I had begun, for the twentieth time, to
read in secret a Buenos Ayres newspaper,
containing an account of the last and terrible
invasion they had made in this province, from
which they had carried off more than two
hundred captives, I was found thus occupied
by some Indians, who exhibited a joyful sur-
prise, and hastened to inform the chiefs
of the discovery they had made. At first,
greatly disquieted by this circumstance, it
was not long before I was reassured by the
unusual and almost friendly greeting I re-
ceived in the evening, when I came, according
to my custom, to have the animals confided
to my care examined and counted. From a
few questions put to me by my master, I
learned that he was proud of possessing a


slave of my value, and that, no doubt, I
should be called on to serve the cacique of
the tribe.

The expected occasion soon presented
itself, for these degraded beings, when they
have gorged for a few days, are tempted to
continue the indulgence of their gluttony and
vanity. To satisfy these passions, they seek
all imaginable means. With this view they
at times offer at the frontier posts a pretended
submission, during which they make ex-
changes of various kinds, such as ostrich
feathers, horsehair, and skins of all sorts,
against such articles as they are eager to
possess. It was under such circumstances
that I was put to the proof as secretary to
the chief, who said to me : —

"You know how to read, you must,
therefore, know how to write ; consequently,
you must write the letter which I am going
to dictate to you. If you do not betray my
confidence, I shall hold you in consideration ;


in the opposite case, you will be put to
death. 55

I was seated on the ground, having
before me a pile of skins serving me for a
table ; white paper recently brought back
from an expedition ; for ink, indigo di-
luted with alkali ; and, for a pen, an eaglet's
feather, roughly cut with a blunt knife. Sur-
rounded by Indians who, lance and club in
hand, could have killed me at the smallest
sign from their chief, I commenced my

In spite of my ardent desire to write only
what was in accordance with my conscience,
it was impossible for me to do this. Such is
their suspicion of others, that in the course
of the dictation I was more than twenty times
made to read the letter; and, after I had
written a few sentences, they designedly, but
without appearing to do so, changed the
sense of the ideas expressed, for the purpose
of testing my truthfulness. If I had been so


unfortunate as even to invert the order of the
words addressed to me, it would have been
impossible for me to have escaped detection,
such is the fidelity of their prodigious

Though it was not possible for me to
impose on them, they threatened me from
excess of prudence, and made me give them a
copy of the missive for the purpose of getting
it verified by Argentine deserters living with
neighbouring tribes. These men are wretches
often condemned to irons, or even death, for
their numerous crimes, and who are sure of
finding an asylum amongst the Indians, who,
perfectly well informed as to the character
of their guests, receive them as people on
whom they know they may count blindly.
They find in them guides for their pillaging
expeditions, and easy-going accomplices ; thus
they put the utmost confidence in them.

This first correspondence was carried to
the frontier by Indians named by the cacique ;


one of them was my master, Some children
accompanied them to carry the articles in-
tended to be exchanged. Twelve or fifteen
clays after their departure, these children re-
turned, exhausted by fatigue, terror in their
faces, and uttering cries of distress. They
related that after the dispatch had been read,
the two envoys had been put in irons, await-
in or death, and that it was certain I had
betrayed the general confidence, and commu-
nicated some details of their recent invasions.
Naturally inclined to believe ill, these barba-
rians had no other intention than that of
killing me. It was the cacique who, ima-
Q-ininp; me to be absent, directed them not to
awaken my suspicion by raising any unusual
cries ; he advised them also to wait until the
morning of the following day to execute their
project, and to select the moment when I
should be occupied in getting the flock

Chance willed that T should be close at


hand at that moment ; thanks to the approach
of night, I overheard this conversation with-
out being seen, and was enabled to put my-
self on my guard. The next morning, when,
as usual, I went to make my round, I per-
ceived that in place of the strong steed I had
ridden the evening before, an unwieldy horse
had been substituted, but I took care not to
exhibit any surprise. I was riding slowly
along on this wretched nag, when I perceived
a party of Indians galloping towards me at
full speed, and rending the air with impre-
cations. The distance which separated me
from them was still great, and I was fortunate
enough to meet the troop of horses confided
to my care coming in my direction to quench
their thirst. Great were my joy and my
hope. I quickly dismounted from my horse,
taking off the bridle to put it on the best
horse in the troop, which, recognizing me,
allowed me to approach it without difficulty.
In an instant I was on horseback; then,


taking care to frighten the other horses, so
as to scatter them, and deprive my enemies
of all chance of coming up with me, I darted
away in the opposite direction at the utmost
speed of my horse.

After galloping the entire day, I arrived
at nightfall at the dwelling-place of Calfoiir
courah (Blue-stone), the Grand Cacique of the
Indian Federation, of which the tribe of my
persecutors formed part, but who, however,
did not yet know me. On my arrival I could
discover among the Indians before me no sign
bv which to distinguish the chief from his
subjects. It was only when he spoke to the
others, to give them orders, that I recognized
this chief by his imperious manner.

He was a man alreadv more than a hun-
dred years of age, though appearing to be
sixty at most ; his still black hair covered a
vast unwrinkled forehead, which bright and
scrutinizing eyes rendered highly intelligent.
The entire physiognomy of this chief, though


stamped with a certain dignity, nevertheless
perfectly recalled the type of the Western
Fatagonians, to whom he owed his origin.
Like them he was of high stature ; he had
very wide shoulders, and a protruding chest ;
his back was slightly bowed, his walk heavy,
almost difficult, but he still enjoyed all his
faculties ; with the exception of two, lost in a
combat in which he had the lower lip cut
through, this old man possessed the whole
of his teeth intact.

Astonished to see me, as he well might
be, this man demanded of me what I
wanted with him, and what motive had
made me so rash as to come alone to visit

"El - mey - ouignecae - tcheota-conne-pa-
emy - tchoumetchy - kissouh - conne - pa-emy-
tchoumbe-emy-nay-pofso-lagane a ney-tchou-
malo-kissouh-passian-intchin-meoh ?"

(But, Christian, where do you come
from ? How is it that you come alone ?


Who do you want ? You are mad, I think.
Why do you come to me alone ?)

I made myself understood by him. I
explained to him, in a few words, what had
happened on the night before and in the
morning, begging him to take into considera-
tion the truthfulness of my statement. I
ended by showing him, that if I had deceived
the Indians I should infallibly have tried to
escape in the interval by some means ; that,
on the contrary, having nothing to reproach
myself with, I had come to crave his protec-
tion, and confided myself to his generosity,
until he should have received some unquestion-
able proof either of my honesty or of my trea-
chery ; so that by this means, if I were inno-
cent, he would not have to reproach himself
with the death of a faithful servant whose
services might still be of some use to him.

Flattered by my confidence, as well as
by a few words addressed to his vanity, this
man, really more human than his fellow-


savages, treated me almost with friendliness,
and promised me his protection : only, he
added, I should never have horses at my

The next day, a party of the tribe I had
quitted came, its chief at its head, to re-
quest an audience of Calfoncourah, and to
demand my instant execution as a thing
due. Throughout the debate I was present,
at first with closed lips ; but, at last,
nervous at seeing the horde so hungry for
my blood, and perceiving that their solicita-
tions were beginning to impress the chief, I
saw that I could no longer remain silent,
and rose. Reminding the Grand Cacique that
he had promised me his protection, I strove
to make my innocence understood by all, by
repeating exactly the statement I had made
on the preceding evening, taking great care
not to hurt the self-love of any of the per-
sons present. Calfoucourah declared himself
in my favour, recognizing, he said, that it


was impossible for any guilty man to speak
as I had done. He forbade every one to
ill treat me ; and then, turning towards me,
reassured me by saying that I should not
quit him, and ended by telling my old
chief that, when he produced incontestable
proofs of my disloyalty, 1 should be given
back into his hands, to be disposed of as
he pleased. This judgment pronounced, the
meeting broke up, and the horde went away
darting angry looks at me.

Several months passed without anything
occurring to enlighten the Indians as to the
position of the two captives held by the
Argentines. Their animosity against me
became all the stronger. They never ceased
visiting the grand cacique, who, himself,
sometimes influenced by their various con-
jectures, appeared to waver in his belief in
me, now treating me with ill-temper, now
appearing to place the greatest confidence in
me. He often questioned me ; and as my



answers always accorded with those given in
my first interrogation, it always ended by my
preserving his protection. During the whole of
the five months through which this state of
things lasted, however, I was the constant
object of an ever-increasing watchfulness.
Indian troops went frequently to prowl in
the neighbourhood of the haciendas, for the
purpose of learning news of their captured
companions ; but horses and men were fa-
tigued uselessly : they came back without
bringing the smallest intelligence. Weary of
these fruitless attempts, they resolved to
allow some time to pass before renewing

It was during this very period of rest
and apparent neglect that the two men sup-
posed to have been for ever lost, reappeared.
A meeting of all the tribes interested in
the event followed, and my innocence was
solemnly proclaimed by the returned men :
they stated that, having been recognized as


having taken part in a preceding razzia on
the Eio- Que queue, they had been held cap-
tive until the Government of Buenos Ayres,
to whom the matter was referred, had de-
cided on their fate ; that a formal order had
arrived from the capital to hold them pri-
soners and make them work ; that it had
even been a question of putting them to
death, but that the offers of peace contained
in the despatch of which they were the
bearers had been taken into account, and
that it was to this missive they owed their
lives. Their liberty they had regained through
the negligence of their guards.

From that time a complete change in
my favour took place in the minds of all.
Even my greatest enemies had nothing but
praises to address to me. All suspicion va-
nished in a moment ; they appeared even to
forget my attempts to escape. I was allowed
to mount on horseback, and accompany them
on all occasions. Considered worthy of the


general confidence, I was replaced in my
office of writer to the nomad confederation.

The chief of the tribe to which I be-
longed before the occurrence of the difficult
circumstances I have related, tried many
times to regain possession of me. Calfou-
courah, superior to him both in rank and
in generosity, did not in any way seek to
oppose his wishes ; but, nevertheless, he
would not act without first consulting me.
Being still under the impression of the
dangers I had run, and of the ill-treatment
I had received amongst my old masters, my
answer was dictated by the gratitude which
I felt towards this generous man to whom I
owed my life, and near whom I was almost
as free as an Indian himself. I expressed to
him the sincere and eager desire I felt not
to leave him.

Touched by this proceeding, he held out
to me his hand, saying —



tali emy tefa incliine-ni mapo quinie-ouetchet
mouleane-emy kah-anneteux-houla-houe-sah-
dsomo-tchipalane intchine-ni houne."

(Good man, you are a good heart. You
shall remain a young inhabitant of my
country ; and more, there shall never be
a day when towards you an ill word shall
escape from our mouths.)

I belonged from that time definitively to
the tribe of the Mamouelches, called the
Calfoucouratchets. The Indians composing
it are much less nomadic than the other
tribes of which I have spoken to the reader ;
they form for the most part a sort of court
about Calfoucourah, the high chief, or kind
of king, whose power extends, as I have
already said, over all the other tribes, the
Pampeans, Mamouelches, Puelches, and Pa-

The country they inhabit is most wild and
picturesque ; it is divided into dense forests,
plains, and naturally-formed sandhills, in the


funnel- shaped hollows of which lakes of soft
and limpid water are enclosed, about which
the Indians construct their tents. In the
woods or on the plain any water besides that
of the salt-pools is vainly sought. The soil,
almost always chalky and saltpetrous, rarely
offers a vegetation comparable with that of
the Pampas ; but, on the other hand, the
woods so abound in algarrobas that the fruits
of these trees almost suffice for the needs of
the flocks with which they swarm.

Besides a few animals straying here and
there on the plain, nothing indicates to the
belated traveller the presence of Indians, for
such of these as do not inhabit the interior
of the sandhills, build their tents on the out-
skirts 6f the surrounding woods.

The character of the Calfoucouratchets is
more sociable than that of the other nomads.
I have found amongst them some tendency to
compassion ; they treated me more humanely.
Tlieir sympathy appeared to me to have


wholly resulted from the fortunate event
which had fixed me amongst them. Thanks
to the special consideration exhibited towards

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Online LibraryAuguste GuinnardThree years' slavery among the Patagonians: an account of his captivity → online text (page 9 of 15)