H. M. (Henry Marie) Brackenridge.

Voyage to South America, performed by order of the American Government in the years 1817 and 1818, in the frigate Congress (Volume v.1) online

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Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeVoyage to South America, performed by order of the American Government in the years 1817 and 1818, in the frigate Congress (Volume v.1) → online text (page 16 of 29)
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miatter of sport, than of profit ; for horses are so abun-
dant and cheap, that the best can be had for a few dol-
lars ; and the owner even sometimes turns his horse
loose, to get rid of the expense and trouble of keeping
him. The loss of horses however, will probably be felt
by the Portuguese, who are confined to a narrow space,
which hardly furnishes sufficient pasturage to sustain
those they have. We observed them busily engaged in
driving in their cattle, so as to be under the protection
of the troops stationed at intervals along the line. Within
a few hundred yards of us, there appeared to be a
body of forty or fifty in a redoubt, who did nothing but
gaze on the exploits of the gauchos. None went in
pursuit of them ; a few long shots were fired in hopes
to scare them ofi*; such is the sort of siege carried on
by what may almost be considered an invisible force.
It is a kind of anomaly in military history. The whole
number stationed here for the purpose, does not, it is
supposed, amount to more than three hundred men,
under the command of a chief named Otorguese, ap-
pearing and disappearing like the wolves of the plain,
and accomplishing their purpose as effectually as if
their numbers amounted to five thousand. Thinking
ourselves sufficiently near this scene of action, we
thought it prudent to turn our horses and ride towards
the city.

On our way we passed about a hundred troopers,
who were on their return from a foraging party outside
of the lines, each one carrying a load of grass on his


horse. These parties have been frequently attacked,
and in some instances entirely cut off. The boundless
plains of this province, with the dexterity of the native
horsemen, the woods on the borders of the rivers, and
the peculiarities of the country, render pursuit entirely
out of the question. This is in fact the reason why the
Portuguese have made little or no progress in its sub-
jugation. No kind of force can be better adapted to
defend this country against the present invaders, though
otherwise of no great importance, as it cannot be sub-
jected to regular discipline, or be kept any length of
time embodied.

The Portuguese have been known to march a body
of one or two thousand men, to some inconsiderable
village in the interior, but their communication with
the main body, in the mean time entirely intercepted,
dreadfully harrassed, at every moment losing their cat-
tle and supplies, and on their return, scarcely any traces
were left of the track which they pursued. The herds-
man's abode has generally been protected by poverty,
having no dwelling for the greater part, but a hut built
of clay, or formed of raw hides. The population of
the country, may be said to live in the plains and on
horseback. A Gaucho, with a piece of roasted beef,
(which is almost the only food,) tied to his saddle skirt,
is amply provided for several days. Here is a singular
contrast, with the vast expense at which the Portuguese
are compelled to maintain their armies, while Artigas
is able to purchase, with a few hides collected from the
people, the arms and ammunition which he may require.

I cannot see how it is possible for the Portuguese
to make any further progress in the conquest of this
country. What diflerence is there between a march of
fifty thousand men and one thousand, over this desert
waste ? The mildness of the climate is such, that the

Vol. I. O


natives can live in the open air the whole year round ;
and the immense herds which roam through the country,
furnish them with ample means of subsistence ; at the
same time that the parties which continually hover
round the march of their enemies, deprive them of this
resource ; they may succeed in breaking up the towns
on the river la Plata, such as Maldonado, Monte
Video, Colonia, together with villages on the Uruguay,
Rio Negro, &c. but many years must roll away before
they become peaceably possessed of this country so as
to establish colonies .

To those who have lived on the borders of New
Spain, and have seen the Wachinangos, a description
of the Gauchos is scarcely necessary, except that they
are one degree further removed from civilization. Their
mode of life is something like that of the Arab or Tar-
tar. They are either of a mixed breed, or full blooded
Indians, and are remarkably stout and athletic. Those
I saw had a most imcouth appearance ; their coarse
black and bushy hair, caused the head to look three
times as big as itself. The missions established on the
Parana, especially those of the Jesuits, have contributed
to supply the plains with this singular population.
The neglect of schools, and the absence of all religious
instruction, must prepare the way for their final destruc-
tion ; like all savages, they must, in the end, yield to the
more civilized and enlightened, just as the savage tribes
have invariably yielded to the homo sapiens Europii.
Under the Spanish government, the contiol over them
was very little gieater than that which they themselves
hold over their roaming herds.

The character of these people given by Azara, with
some deductions for the disposition which he seems to
i^anifest, of making rather an unfavourable representa-
tion of all classes of Americans, is in the main correct.


He relates a number of anecdotes, which exhibit them
in a cm-ious light ; and differing, in many respects, very
materially, from the herdsmen in other parts of South
America. These accounts are confinned by Mawe,
who resided six months amongst them, and had there-
fore a fair opportunity of forming a correct opinion.
It is true, he begins by representing them, for the most
part, as " an honest and harmless race, though equally
as liable, from the circumstances of their condition, to
acquire habits of gambling and intoxication, as the
higher classes of the people, numbers of whom fall
victims to those seductive vices ;" but he afterwards
proceeds to give them a very different character, and
in a note, relates the following anecdote: " I once ob-
served a party playing in the neighbourhood of a chapel,
after mass had been said, when the clergyman came
and kicked away the cards, in order to put an end to
tbe game. On this, one of the peons rose up, and re-
tiring a few paces, thus accosted the intruder: Father, f
will obey you, as a priest, but (drawing his knife) you
must beware how you molest our diversions. The
clergyman knew the desperate character of these men
too well to remonstrate, and retired very hastily, not a
little chagrined." He observes again, that the state
of society among them, weakens those ties which natu-
rally attach men to the soil on which they are accuse-
tomed to subsist. He also relates a plan which had
been concerted between two of the peons, to rob and
murder him, under a pretext of assisting him to make
his escape, but the plan was fortunately discovered by
the person under whose charge and protection he had
been placed. In fact, from all the information I could
collect, from persons who had a perfect acquaintance
with the peons or gauchos, there seemed to be no
difference of opinion, as to their leading characteristics.

O 2


And when we consider their origin, and mode of life, it
would only be surprising that they should be otherwise.
We must reflect; that this is a vast country, almost as
thinly inhabited as the extensive plains of the Missouri,
in which criminals and fugitives from justice, and deser-
ters from the service, were considered so perfectly safe,
tliat it was thought almost useless to make any attempt
to arrest them. The writer just quoted, informs us,
" that even in case of murder, the criminal has little
to fear, if he can escape to the distance of twenty or
thirty leagues ; he there lives in obscurity probably for
the remainder of his life, without ever being brought to
justice." Tlie gauchos are, for the greater part, loose
fish who have w andered from the missions, and espe-
cially from those of the Jesuits. After the expulsion
of the society, their neophytes, who had been placed
under the direction of tha Franciscans, gradually re-
lapsed towards their former state, and rapidly diminished
in numbers. Many withdrew to the neighbourmg mis-
sions and Spanish settlements, while their intercourse
with the Spaniards, introduced amongst them all the
vulgar vices. Many of them wandered into the plains,
where they could enjoy unbounded liberty, and indulge
their propensities. When they chose to engage in any
honest occupation, it was that of peons, or herdsmen,
whose chief employment was to attend the cattle, and
to slaughter them. There were numbers, however, who
would engage in no regular occupation, or hire them-
selves to any one. These sometimes formed themselves
into bands, and infested the country, or were employed
to assist in smuggling. Some writers speak of a people
resembling gypsies, in this coimtry ; an idea, which
originated, no doubt, from some imperfect account of
the gauchos.

One circumstance miLst have had an important in-<


fluence on their characters, which is, the number of
males in proportion to that of females, not less than ten
to one ; few of them having any families, it is natural
to expect that they should be in some measure insen-
sible to the softer affections.* Azara relates curious
anecdotes of their stealing women, and Mawe tells us,
" that a person may travel in these parts for days
together, without seeing or hearing of a single female in
the course of his journey. To this circumstance may be
attributed, the total absence of comfort in the dwellings
of these wretched men, and the gloomy apathy ob-
served in their dispositions and habits. It is true,
that the mistress of an estate, may occasionally visit it
for a few months, but she is obliged during her stay, to
live in great seclusion, on account of the dreadful conse-
quences to be apprehended from being so exposed.**
As to religion, if it possesses any influence over them
at all, it is probably more injurious than useful. At
present they are freed from all restraints, excepting
such as are imposed by their leaders, whose inclina-
tions and habits are pretty much the same. Their
ideas beyond what relates to their immediate wants
and employments are few ; and these are a passion for
liberty, as it is understood by them, that is an un-
bounded licentiousness, with the most absolute sub-
mission to their chiefs, and which, contradictory as it
may seem, depends on popularity. The qualifications
necessary for the leader of a banditti, are by no means

* See an interesting narrative of a shipwreck in the Boston
Athaeneum, No. 42. I do not recollect having ever met with a
more horrible and inhuman ferocity, than was exhibited by the
gauchos on this occasion. A consohitary contrast is there exhibited,
between the kindness and charity of the agricultural peasantry and
these monsters.



common. But without a leader of this description,
the banditti must soon disperse. That there should
have been such a leader as Artigas, is probably the
greatest misfortune that could have happened. Such
is the people, against whom the Portuguese and the
government of Buenos Ayres is at war. Possessing this
effective force at his command, he is enabled to set at
defiance the wishes of the sober and settled inhabi-
tants residing in villages, or cultivating the soil, who
are far from being satisfied wdth the prostration of all
law and government, excepting that which emanates
from the will of this despot. When it is said, that the
people are unanimous in support of Artigas, it is to be
understood, the people called ganchos, for on turning
to the documents which accompany the Report of Mr.
Rodney, it will be perceived that the respectable part
of the community, are far from being unanimous in his
support. And the expeditions sent by Buenos Ayres
against Artigas, would indeed have deserved the im-
putation of folly, if they had not been founded upon
a belief that their presence was all that was neces-
sary, to enable them to throw off the yoke of this

As we approached the town, we met a number of
countiy people, chiefly women and boys, with a few
men, who appeared as if returning from market. I
was a little surprised at this, as I understood that all
intercourse had been prohibited by Artigas, but Ge-
neral Carrera informed us, that this does not extend
beyond the prohibition of the supply of homed cattle,
and tliat some of those we saw, w^ere in all likelihood of
the besieging force, but that such w^as the situation of
things, it was winked at. The hatred to the Portu-
guese, pervades every class of natives, the commoner
of the plains, as well as the tenant of the humble


cottage, and appears to increase in the rising ge-
neration. The present inhabitants can never be good
Portuguese subjects.

About noon we had a visit from General Lecor and
suit. His officers generally spoke good English, pro-
bably from having served with them against the
French. This was intended as a visit of ceremony.
At three o'clock, we proceeded to his quarters, accord-
ing to invitation. Commodore Sinclair had at first
declined, but afterwards, on a pressing invitation being
sent by the general, he was induced to come. Mr.
Rodney declined coming on shore at all ; under all cir-
cumstances, not considering it proper for him to do so,
until his return from Buenos Ayres. We found a great
number of persons assembled, all of them Portuguese
officers of the land and naval service, excepting a gen-
tleman in a citizen's dress, who, we were informed was an
agent from Buenos Ayres, on some special business;
he was a keen, intelligent looking man, and his plain
suit of black formed a singular contrast with the
splendid uniforms, and crosses, and medals of the
Portuguese officers. The entertainment was the most
sumptuous. It was indeed a banquet, composed
of every thing in the way of fish, fiesh, and fowl,
that can well be imagined, and was succeeded by
all the variety of fruits which this market and
that of Buenos Ayres could aiford. Our ears were
at the same time regaled with the sweetest music
from the general's band. Several of these officers,
particularly the general's aids, were remarkably hand-
some men ; I happened to be seated near one of them,
and had a good deal of conversation with him. He
expressed a high admiration of our political institu-
tions, and national character, part of which, I of course
considered only complimentary. He spoke of the


patriots at Buenos Ayres, as a factious set, incapable
of establishing any sober government ; their leaders all
corrupt, and desirous only of acquiring some little self
importance; the people ignorant, and at the mercy of
ambitious demagogues : he contrasted their character
with the virtues and intelligence of the people of the
United States. He spoke of Artigas, as an atrocious
savage, and stated a recent instance of cruel treatment
to his prisoners ; that his people were like all other
savages, entirely insensible to the feelings of humanity.
He spoke in a manner, not very complimentary to the
English, and held out the idea, that some useless attempts
had lately been made on their part, to induce the king
of Portugal to return to Lisbon.

The Buenos Ayrean agent, in the course of the enter-
tainment sought a conversation with me, and pronounced
a hasty but fervid eulogy on his government, and then
on the character of his countrymen. His eagerness to
communicate his thoughts, seemed to arise from ap-
prehensions that unfavourable impressions would be
made on our minds. He spoke of General Carrera, at
the same time requesting to be forgiven for the liberty
he was taking, and observed that he had perceived
him very intimate with us, and had understood he
was highly esteemed in tlie United States, but he hoped
we would not permit our minds to be swayed by
his statements, as he entertained a deadly enmity to
the government of Buenos Ayres, and even to the people
of that place; that he was actuated by disappointed
ambition, and for the sake of revenge, would go any
length. " If he be the real patriot,' said he, *' why
does he live under the protection of this government ?
Can he not go to the United States, or any where else ?
No, he is waiting his opportunity until the liberties of
Chili shall be won from Spain, through the aid of our


arms, in order to kindle up the same civil broils and
factions, by which that country has been once lost
already. In the mean time, he loses no opportunity of
harrassing us, as far as lies in his power. We attribute
to him, much of the abuse that has appeared against our
leading men in your newspapers, and which has occa-
sioned deep regret to the people of Buenos Ay res.
The idea has been held out, that the Chilians were
conquered by their brethren of Buenos Ayres, an idea
the most absurd that can be imagined; but it is ne-
cessary that he should hold out this pretence, for if his
country accepts our assistance, what right has he to
object? No," said he, " his anger has no other founda-
tion than disappointed ambition. But," said he, " you
will judge for yourselves. Does his country require his
services ? Can any one deny the fact, that she has
done better without him than with him ? Let him at
least remain quiet as a private citizen, until the liber-
ties of his country are settled on a solid basis, and not
be continually engaged as he is, in trying to bring
us into disrepute with our friends abroad." My busi-
ness was that of a listener — I could only answer,
that I thought his observations worthy of being at-
tended to.

During our short stay at Monte Video, 1 became ac-
quainted with several English gentlemen, from whom
I collected a good deal of information respecting the
state of the country. With a young Irish merchant,
who possessed all that generosity of heart, and ge-
nuine hospitality which characterizes his countrymen,
I was highly pleased. I could not divest my mind of
the idea, that he was a countrj^man of my own,
although he informed me that he had never been in
the United States. I was not aware of our enter-
taining this feeling towards the Irish when abroad.


but it no doubt arises from the circumstance of our con-
sidering them as a distinct people from the English,
and oppressed by them, as well as from a conscious-
ness that the hearts of Irishmen, have generally been
with us in our times of trial. Their accounts were, in
most respects, very much at variance with some that
I had heard from General Carrera, and his friend
White ; and knowing that so much depends upon the
situations, motives, and interests of men, I thought
well to give them due weight and consideration, as
they were not so obviously disqualified from giving
unbiassed testimony, as the two persons just men-
tioned. It would certainly be improper on these oc-
casions, to adopt those rules of evidence established
by the experience of judicial tribunals, but they are
not entirely to be despised. Having from earliest in-
fancy, in a life replete with incident, been often cast
among strangers, the habit of circumspection has
grown upon me. To distrust or doubt is one thing,
to decide after mature and cautious examination, is

The day after our dinner with Lecor, Mr. Bland
came on board, in company with General Carrera and
White ; and in the evening, as a considerable sea had
been raised by the north-east wind, which blows al-
most continually during the summer season, the two
strangers were invited to partake of the hospitality of
the ship, and to remain all night. As the fortimes and
character of General Canera had excited considerable
interest in the United States, I was induced to observe
him closely, in order that I might form an opinion for
myself. I had been highly prepossessed in his favour,
on account of the generosity of himself and family to-
wards Commodore Porter, after his desperate battle
on the coast of Chili. 1 had seen him in the United


States, and was much pleased with his modest unas-
suming deportment. But doubts had been raised in
my mind as to the true character of his patriotism.
" The outline of the revolutions in South America," a
work which bears the character of impartiality, and
which certainly evinces abilities, represents his con-
duct, in the political transactions of Chili, as actuated
by an inordinate ambition to secure power in his own
hands, to which the misfortunes of his country are
chiefly attributed. The accounts published in our
newspapers, tending to bring the patriot cause into
disrepute, though apparently designed merely to dis-
credit those who had the management of affairs, I had
reason to believe, were principally derived from him,
and looked as if resentment against those who had re-
cently directed the contest with so much success, wa^
in his breast the predominating passion. This might
be expected in ordinary men, in the middle and mixed
character, but not in heroes such as Plutarch holds up
as models. Without saying any thing of his abilities,
which I did not think very extraordinary, I judged
from the sentiments which he expressed, that he was
more of a Coriolanus than a Themistocles. That is,
more likely to turn his sword against his country for
the gratification of revenge, than to destroy himself,
rather than take sides with her enemies against her.
He seemed to me one of those we should, call in pros-
perity a fine fellow, possessing popular and pleasing
manners, but without the extraordinary talents or lofty
sentiments, which render men respected in adversity.
It is possible, if he had been permitted to continue at
the head of affairs in Chili, he would have been an
ornament to his country ; but when denied this, he
was not possessed of sufficient greatness of mind to
despise the dictates of narrow and selfish passions;


and instead of giving up his whole thoughts to what
might tend to the ultimate good and advantage of his
country, his personal wrongs seemed to engross his
attention. He could much more easily forgive the de-
feats of his rivals by the common enemy, than their vic-
tories. Of an ancient and aristocratic family, in being
excluded from power, he seemed to think himself de-
prived of his birth-right. Such, at least, was the im-
pression made on my mind, for the circumstance of his
being out of authority was continually uppermost in his
discourse. He spoke at the same time, enthusiastically
and feelingly, of the charms of his native country, but
his language was more that of a banished prince than of
a citizen.*

The accounts which he gave of the state of the pa-
triot cause, were in every particular extravagantly ex-
aggerated. According to him, every thing had gone
to ruin ; the Buenos Ayreans were defeated every
where ; Belgrano would be compelled to withdraw
from Peru; the Spaniards had got possession of Con-

* I had intended to have given an explanation of many of those
personal affairs^ which at one time attracted a good deal of public
attention ; but on reflection, I did not think them of sufficient im-
portance. An effort was made to enlist the American public in these
private quarrels and bickerings, but there was too much good sense
here for it to succeed, and 1 should be sorry to revive the recollec-
tion. We neither know nor care who is the best patriot ; all we look
to, is tho great contest between South America and Spain. A year
ago, it might have been necessary to have explained those things, but
it is no longer so. To the one-sided^ and partial stiitements of these
afl'airs, I might have said,

" There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than were ever dreamt of in our philosophy."


ception, in Chili, and were joined by the inhabitants ;
the people of Buenos Ayres were distracted by fac-
tions, and on the eve of another revolution, while the
greatest cruelty had been manifested by the present,
leaders to his family, in consequence of the attachment
of the people, and their wish to have them as their
chiefs. When we first saw him, he spoke of Puerrydon
with an apparent candour and generosity, which excited
surprise ; he declared him to be the fittest man in the
country to be at the head of the government, and ob-
served, with respect to the charge of oppression, for
having deposed some of the citizens of Buenos Ayres,

Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeVoyage to South America, performed by order of the American Government in the years 1817 and 1818, in the frigate Congress (Volume v.1) → online text (page 16 of 29)