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yards wide; in summer, however, its bed becomes almost dry, and the
little remaining water nearly as salt as that of the sea. We slept
at one of the great estancias of General Rosas. It was fortified,
and of such an extent, that arriving in the dark I thought it was a
town and fortress. In the morning we saw immense herds of cattle,
the general here having seventy-four square leagues of land.
Formerly nearly three hundred men were employed about this estate,
and they defied all the attacks of the Indians.

SEPTEMBER 19, 1833.

Passed the Guardia del Monte. This is a nice scattered little town,
with many gardens, full of peach and quince trees. The plain here
looked like that around Buenos Ayres; the turf being short and
bright green, with beds of clover and thistles, and with bizcacha
holes. I was very much struck with the marked change in the aspect
of the country after having crossed the Salado. From a coarse
herbage we passed on to a carpet of fine green verdure. I at first
attributed this to some change in the nature of the soil, but the
inhabitants assured me that here, as well as in Banda Oriental,
where there is as great a difference between the country around
Monte Video and the thinly-inhabited savannahs of Colonia, the
whole was to be attributed to the manuring and grazing of the
cattle. Exactly the same fact has been observed in the prairies of
North America, where coarse grass, between five and six feet high,
when grazed by cattle, changes into common pasture land. (6/7. See
Mr. Atwater's "Account of the Prairies" in "Silliman's North
American Journal" volume 1 page 117.) I am not botanist enough to
say whether the change here is owing to the introduction of new
species, to the altered growth of the same, or to a difference in
their proportional numbers. Azara has also observed with
astonishment this change: he is likewise much perplexed by the
immediate appearance of plants not occurring in the neighbourhood,
on the borders of any track that leads to a newly-constructed
hovel. In another part he says, "Ces chevaux (sauvages) ont la
manie de preferer les chemins, et le bord des routes pour deposer
leurs excremens, dont on trouve des monceaux dans ces endroits."
(6/8. Azara's "Voyage" volume 1 page 373.) Does this not partly
explain the circumstance? We thus have lines of richly manured land
serving as channels of communication across wide districts.



Near the Guardia we find the southern limit of two European plants,
now become extraordinarily common. The fennel in great profusion
covers the ditch-banks in the neighbourhood of Buenos Ayres, Monte
Video, and other towns. But the cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) has a
far wider range: it occurs in these latitudes on both sides of the
Cordillera, across the continent. (6/9. M. A. d'Orbigny volume 1
page 474, says that the cardoon and artichoke are both found wild.
Dr. Hooker "Botanical Magazine" volume 40 page 2862, has described
a variety of the Cynara from this part of South America under the
name of inermis. He states that botanists are now generally agreed
that the cardoon and the artichoke are varieties of one plant. I
may add, that an intelligent farmer assured me that he had observed
in a deserted garden some artichokes changing into the common
cardoon. Dr. Hooker believes that Head's vivid description of the
thistle of the Pampas applies to the cardoon, but this is a
mistake. Captain Head referred to the plant which I have mentioned
a few lines lower down under the title of giant thistle. Whether it
is a true thistle, I do not know; but it is quite different from
the cardoon; and more like a thistle properly so called.) I saw it
in unfrequented spots in Chile, Entre Rios, and Banda Oriental. In
the latter country alone, very many (probably several hundred)
square miles are covered by one mass of these prickly plants, and
are impenetrable by man or beast. Over the undulating plains, where
these great beds occur, nothing else can now live. Before their
introduction, however, the surface must have supported, as in other
parts, a rank herbage. I doubt whether any case is on record of an
invasion on so grand a scale of one plant over the aborigines. As I
have already said, I nowhere saw the cardoon south of the Salado;
but it is probable that in proportion as that country becomes
inhabited, the cardoon will extend its limits. The case is
different with the giant thistle (with variegated leaves) of the
Pampas, for I met with it in the valley of the Sauce. According to
the principles so well laid down by Mr. Lyell, few countries have
undergone more remarkable changes, since the year 1535, when the
first colonist of La Plata landed with seventy-two horses. The
countless herds of horses, cattle, and sheep, not only have altered
the whole aspect of the vegetation, but they have almost banished
the guanaco, deer, and ostrich. Numberless other changes must
likewise have taken place; the wild pig in some parts probably
replaces the peccari; packs of wild dogs may be heard howling on
the wooded banks of the less-frequented streams; and the common
cat, altered into a large and fierce animal, inhabits rocky hills.
As M. d'Orbigny has remarked, the increase in numbers of the
carrion-vulture, since the introduction of the domestic animals,
must have been infinitely great; and we have given reasons for
believing that they have extended their southern range. No doubt
many plants, besides the cardoon and fennel, are naturalised; thus
the islands near the mouth of the Parana are thickly clothed with
peach and orange trees, springing from seeds carried there by the
waters of the river.

While changing horses at the Guardia several people questioned us
much about the army, - I never saw anything like the enthusiasm for
Rosas, and for the success of the "most just of all wars, because
against barbarians." This expression, it must be confessed, is very
natural, for till lately, neither man, woman, nor horse was safe
from the attacks of the Indians. We had a long day's ride over the
same rich green plain, abounding with various flocks, and with here
and there a solitary estancia, and its one ombu tree. In the
evening it rained heavily: on arriving at a post-house we were told
by the owner that if we had not a regular passport we must pass on,
for there were so many robbers he would trust no one. When he read,
however, my passport, which began with "El Naturalista Don Carlos,"
his respect and civility were as unbounded as his suspicions had
been before. What a naturalist might be, neither he nor his
countrymen, I suspect, had any idea; but probably my title lost
nothing of its value from that cause.

SEPTEMBER 20, 1833.

We arrived by the middle of the day at Buenos Ayres. The outskirts
of the city looked quite pretty, with the agave hedges, and groves
of olive, peach and willow trees, all just throwing out their fresh
green leaves. I rode to the house of Mr. Lumb, an English merchant,
to whose kindness and hospitality, during my stay in the country, I
was greatly indebted.

The city of Buenos Ayres is large; and I should think one of the
most regular in the world. (6/10. It is said to contain 60,000
inhabitants. Monte Video, the second town of importance on the
banks of the Plata, has 15,000.) Every street is at right angles to
the one it crosses, and the parallel ones being equidistant, the
houses are collected into solid squares of equal dimensions, which
are called quadras. On the other hand, the houses themselves are
hollow squares; all the rooms opening into a neat little courtyard.
They are generally only one story high, with flat roofs, which are
fitted with seats, and are much frequented by the inhabitants in
summer. In the centre of the town is the Plaza, where the public
offices, fortress, cathedral, etc., stand. Here also, the old
viceroys, before the revolution, had their palaces. The general
assemblage of buildings possesses considerable architectural
beauty, although none individually can boast of any.

The great corral, where the animals are kept for slaughter to
supply food to this beef-eating population, is one of the
spectacles best worth seeing. The strength of the horse as compared
to that of the bullock is quite astonishing: a man on horseback
having thrown his lazo round the horns of a beast, can drag it
anywhere he chooses. The animal ploughing up the ground with
outstretched legs, in vain efforts to resist the force, generally
dashes at full speed to one side; but the horse, immediately
turning to receive the shock, stands so firmly that the bullock is
almost thrown down, and it is surprising that their necks are not
broken. The struggle is not, however, one of fair strength; the
horse's girth being matched against the bullock's extended neck. In
a similar manner a man can hold the wildest horse, if caught with
the lazo, just behind the ears. When the bullock has been dragged
to the spot where it is to be slaughtered, the matador with great
caution cuts the hamstrings. Then is given the death bellow; a
noise more expressive of fierce agony than any I know. I have often
distinguished it from a long distance, and have always known that
the struggle was then drawing to a close. The whole sight is
horrible and revolting: the ground is almost made of bones; and the
horses and riders are drenched with gore.




Excursion to St. Fe.
Thistle Beds.
Habits of the Bizcacha.
Little Owl.
Saline Streams.
Level Plains.
St. Fe.
Change in Landscape.
Tooth of extinct Horse.
Relation of the Fossil and recent Quadrupeds of North and South
Effects of a great Drought.
Habits of the Jaguar.
Kingfisher, Parrot, and Scissor-tail.
Buenos Ayres.
State of Government.


SEPTEMBER 27, 1833.

In the evening I set out on an excursion to St. Fe, which is
situated nearly three hundred English miles from Buenos Ayres, on
the banks of the Parana. The roads in the neighbourhood of the
city, after the rainy weather, were extraordinarily bad. I should
never have thought it possible for a bullock waggon to have crawled
along: as it was, they scarcely went at the rate of a mile an hour,
and a man was kept ahead, to survey the best line for making the
attempt. The bullocks were terribly jaded: it is a great mistake to
suppose that with improved roads, and an accelerated rate of
travelling, the sufferings of the animals increase in the same
proportion. We passed a train of waggons and a troop of beasts on
their road to Mendoza. The distance is about 580 geographical
miles, and the journey is generally performed in fifty days. These
waggons are very long, narrow, and thatched with reeds; they have
only two wheels, the diameter of which in some cases is as much as
ten feet. Each is drawn by six bullocks, which are urged on by a
goad at least twenty feet long: this is suspended from within the
roof; for the wheel bullocks a smaller one is kept; and for the
intermediate pair, a point projects at right angles from the middle
of the long one. The whole apparatus looked like some implement of

SEPTEMBER 28, 1833.

We passed the small town of Luxan, where there is a wooden bridge
over the river - a most unusual convenience in this country. We
passed also Areco. The plains appeared level, but were not so in
fact; for in various places the horizon was distant. The estancias
are here wide apart; for there is little good pasture, owing to the
land being covered by beds either of an acrid clover, or of the
great thistle. The latter, well known from the animated description
given by Sir F. Head, were at this time of the year two-thirds
grown; in some parts they were as high as the horse's back, but in
others they had not yet sprung up, and the ground was bare and
dusty as on a turnpike-road. The clumps were of the most brilliant
green, and they made a pleasing miniature-likeness of broken forest
land. When the thistles are full grown, the great beds are
impenetrable, except by a few tracks, as intricate as those in a
labyrinth. These are only known to the robbers, who at this season
inhabit them, and sally forth at night to rob and cut throats with
impunity. Upon asking at a house whether robbers were numerous, I
was answered, "The thistles are not up yet;" - the meaning of which
reply was not at first very obvious. There is little interest in
passing over these tracts, for they are inhabited by few animals or
birds, excepting the bizcacha and its friend the little owl.

The bizcacha is well known to form a prominent feature in the
zoology of the Pampas. (7/1. The bizcacha (Lagostomus
trichodactylus) somewhat resembles a large rabbit, but with bigger
gnawing teeth and a long tail; it has, however, only three toes
behind, like the agouti. During the last three or four years the
skins of these animals have been sent to England for the sake of
the fur.) It is found as far south as the Rio Negro, in latitude 41
degrees, but not beyond. It cannot, like the agouti, subsist on the
gravelly and desert plains of Patagonia, but prefers a clayey or
sandy soil, which produces a different and more abundant
vegetation. Near Mendoza, at the foot of the Cordillera, it occurs
in close neighbourhood with the allied alpine species. It is a very
curious circumstance in its geographical distribution, that it has
never been seen, fortunately for the inhabitants of Banda Oriental,
to the eastward of the river Uruguay: yet in this province there
are plains which appear admirably adapted to its habits. The
Uruguay has formed an insuperable obstacle to its migration:
although the broader barrier of the Parana has been passed, and the
bizcacha is common in Entre Rios, the province between these two
great rivers. Near Buenos Ayres these animals are exceedingly
common. Their most favourite resort appears to be those parts of
the plain which during one-half of the year are covered with giant
thistles, to the exclusion of other plants. The Gauchos affirm that
it lives on roots; which, from the great strength of its gnawing
teeth, and the kind of places frequented by it, seems probable. In
the evening the bizcachas come out in numbers, and quietly sit at
the mouths of their burrows on their haunches. At such times they
are very tame, and a man on horseback passing by seems only to
present an object for their grave contemplation. They run very
awkwardly, and when running out of danger, from their elevated
tails and short front legs, much resemble great rats. Their flesh,
when cooked, is very white and good, but it is seldom used.

The bizcacha has one very singular habit; namely, dragging every
hard object to the mouth of its burrow: around each group of holes
many bones of cattle, stones, thistle-stalks, hard lumps of earth,
dry dung, etc., are collected into an irregular heap, which
frequently amounts to as much as a wheelbarrow would contain. I was
credibly informed that a gentleman, when riding on a dark night,
dropped his watch; he returned in the morning, and by searching the
neighbourhood of every bizcacha hole on the line of road, as he
expected, he soon found it. This habit of picking up whatever may
be lying on the ground anywhere near its habitation must cost much
trouble. For what purpose it is done, I am quite unable to form
even the most remote conjecture: it cannot be for defence, because
the rubbish is chiefly placed above the mouth of the burrow, which
enters the ground at a very small inclination. No doubt there must
exist some good reason; but the inhabitants of the country are
quite ignorant of it. The only fact which I know analogous to it,
is the habit of that extraordinary Australian bird, the Calodera
maculata, which makes an elegant vaulted passage of twigs for
playing in, and which collects near the spot land and sea-shells,
bones, and the feathers of birds, especially brightly coloured
ones. Mr. Gould, who has described these facts, informs me, that
the natives, when they lose any hard object, search the playing
passages, and he has known a tobacco-pipe thus recovered.

The little owl (Athene cunicularia), which has been so often
mentioned, on the plains of Buenos Ayres exclusively inhabits the
holes of the bizcacha; but in Banda Oriental it is its own workman.
During the open day, but more especially in the evening, these
birds may be seen in every direction standing frequently by pairs
on the hillock near their burrows. If disturbed they either enter
the hole, or, uttering a shrill harsh cry, move with a remarkably
undulatory flight to a short distance, and then turning round,
steadily gaze at their pursuer. Occasionally in the evening they
may be heard hooting. I found in the stomachs of two which I opened
the remains of mice, and I one day saw a small snake killed and
carried away. It is said that snakes are their common prey during
the daytime. I may here mention, as showing on what various kinds
of food owls subsist, that a species killed among the islets of the
Chonos Archipelago had its stomach full of good-sized crabs. In
India there is a fishing genus of owls, which likewise catches
crabs. (7/2. "Journal of Asiatic Soc." volume 5 page 363.)

In the evening we crossed the Rio Arrecife on a simple raft made of
barrels lashed together, and slept at the post-house on the other
side. I this day paid horse-hire for thirty-one leagues; and
although the sun was glaring hot I was but little fatigued. When
Captain Head talks of riding fifty leagues a day, I do not imagine
the distance is equal to 150 English miles. At all events, the
thirty-one leagues was only 76 miles in a straight line, and in an
open country I should think four additional miles for turnings
would be a sufficient allowance.

SEPTEMBER 29 AND 30, 1833.


We continued to ride over plains of the same character. At San
Nicolas I first saw the noble river of the Parana. At the foot of
the cliff on which the town stands, some large vessels were at
anchor. Before arriving at Rozario, we crossed the Saladillo, a
stream of fine clear running water, but too saline to drink.
Rozario is a large town built on a dead level plain, which forms a
cliff about sixty feet high over the Parana. The river here is very
broad, with many islands, which are low and wooded, as is also the
opposite shore. The view would resemble that of a great lake, if it
were not for the linear-shaped islets, which alone give the idea of
running water. The cliffs are the most picturesque part; sometimes
they are absolutely perpendicular, and of a red colour; at other
times in large broken masses, covered with cacti and mimosa-trees.
The real grandeur, however, of an immense river like this is
derived from reflecting how important a means of communication and
commerce it forms between one nation and another; to what a
distance it travels, and from how vast a territory it drains the
great body of fresh water which flows past your feet.

For many leagues north and south of San Nicolas and Rozario, the
country is really level. Scarcely anything which travellers have
written about its extreme flatness can be considered as
exaggeration. Yet I could never find a spot where, by slowly
turning round, objects were not seen at greater distances in some
directions than in others; and this manifestly proves inequality in
the plain. At sea, a person's eye being six feet above the surface
of the water, his horizon is two miles and four-fifths distant. In
like manner, the more level the plain, the more nearly does the
horizon approach within these narrow limits; and this, in my
opinion, entirely destroys that grandeur which one would have
imagined that a vast level plain would have possessed.


OCTOBER 1, 1833.

We started by moonlight and arrived at the Rio Tercero by sunrise.
This river is also called the Saladillo, and it deserves the name,
for the water is brackish. I stayed here the greater part of the
day, searching for fossil bones. Besides a perfect tooth of the
Toxodon, and many scattered bones, I found two immense skeletons
near each other, projecting in bold relief from the perpendicular
cliff of the Parana. They were, however, so completely decayed,
that I could only bring away small fragments of one of the great
molar teeth; but these are sufficient to show that the remains
belonged to a Mastodon, probably to the same species with that
which formerly must have inhabited the Cordillera in Upper Peru in
such great numbers. The men who took me in the canoe said they had
long known of these skeletons, and had often wondered how they had
got there: the necessity of a theory being felt, they came to the
conclusion that, like the bizcacha, the mastodon was formerly a
burrowing animal! In the evening we rode another stage, and crossed
the Monge, another brackish stream, bearing the dregs of the
washings of the Pampas.

OCTOBER 2, 1833.

We passed through Corunda, which, from the luxuriance of its
gardens, was one of the prettiest villages I saw. From this point
to St. Fe the road is not very safe. The western side of the Parana
northward ceases to be inhabited; and hence the Indians sometimes
come down thus far, and waylay travellers. The nature of the
country also favours this, for instead of a grassy plain, there is
an open woodland, composed of low prickly mimosas. We passed some
houses that had been ransacked and since deserted; we saw also a
spectacle, which my guides viewed with high satisfaction; it was
the skeleton of an Indian with the dried skin hanging on the bones,
suspended to the branch of a tree.

In the morning we arrived at St. Fe. I was surprised to observe how
great a change of climate a difference of only three degrees of
latitude between this place and Buenos Ayres had caused. This was
evident from the dress and complexion of the men - from the
increased size of the ombu-trees - the number of new cacti and other
plants - and especially from the birds. In the course of an hour I
remarked half-a-dozen birds, which I had never seen at Buenos
Ayres. Considering that there is no natural boundary between the
two places, and that the character of the country is nearly
similar, the difference was much greater than I should have

OCTOBER 3 AND 4, 1833.

I was confined for these two days to my bed by a headache. A
good-natured old woman, who attended me, wished me to try many odd
remedies. A common practice is, to bind an orange-leaf or a bit of
black plaster to each temple: and a still more general plan is, to
split a bean into halves, moisten them, and place one on each
temple, where they will easily adhere. It is not thought proper
ever to remove the beans or plaster, but to allow them to drop off,
and sometimes, if a man, with patches on his head, is asked, what
is the matter? he will answer, "I had a headache the day before
yesterday." Many of the remedies used by the people of the country
are ludicrously strange, but too disgusting to be mentioned. One of
the least nasty is to kill and cut open two puppies and bind them
on each side of a broken limb. Little hairless dogs are in great
request to sleep at the feet of invalids.

St. Fe is a quiet little town, and is kept clean and in good order.
The governor, Lopez, was a common soldier at the time of the
revolution; but has now been seventeen years in power. This
stability of government is owing to his tyrannical habits; for
tyranny seems as yet better adapted to these countries than
republicanism. The governor's favourite occupation is hunting
Indians: a short time since he slaughtered forty-eight, and sold
the children at the rate of three or four pounds apiece.

OCTOBER 5, 1833.

We crossed the Parana to St. Fe Bajada, a town on the opposite
shore. The passage took some hours, as the river here consisted of
a labyrinth of small streams, separated by low wooded islands. I
had a letter of introduction to an old Catalonian Spaniard, who
treated me with the most uncommon hospitality. The Bajada is the
capital of Entre Rios. In 1825 the town contained 6000 inhabitants,
and the province 30,000; yet, few as the inhabitants are, no
province has suffered more from bloody and desperate revolutions.
They boast here of representatives, ministers, a standing army, and
governors: so it is no wonder that they have their revolutions. At
some future day this must be one of the richest countries of La

Online LibraryCharles DarwinThe Voyage of the Beagle → online text (page 13 of 51)