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The Voyage Of The Beagle (1839)

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Deanna Witmer
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« Reply #45 on: February 08, 2009, 11:53:22 pm »

Chapter VI: Bahia Blanca to Buenos Ayres

Set out for Buenos Ayres -- Rio Sauce -- Sierra Ventana -- Third Posta -- Driving Horses -- Bolas -- Partridges and Foxes -- Features of the Country -- Long-legged Plover -- Teru-tero -- Hail-storm -- Natural Enclosures in the Sierra Tapalguen -- Flesh of Puma -- Meat Diet -- Guardia del Monte -- Effects of Cattle on the Vegetation -- Cardoon -- Buenos Ayres -- Corral where Cattle are Slaughtered.


SEPTEMBER 18th. -- I hired a Gaucho to accompany me on my ride to Buenos Ayres, though with some difficulty, as the father of one man was afraid to let him go, and another, who seemed willing, was described to me as so fearful, that I was afraid to take him, for I was told that even if he saw an ostrich at a distance, he would mistake it for an Indian, and would fly like the wind away. The distance to Buenos Ayres is about four hundred miles, and nearly the whole way through an uninhabited country. We started early in the morning; ascending a few hundred feet from the basin of green turf on which Bahia Blanca stands, we entered on a wide desolate plain. It consists of a crumbling argillaceo-calcareous rock, which, from the dry nature of the climate, supports only scattered tufts of withered grass, without a single bush or tree to break the monotonous uniformity. The weather was fine, but the atmosphere remarkably hazy; I thought the appearance foreboded a gale, but the Gauchos said it was owing to the plain, at some great distance in the interior, being on fire. After a long gallop, having changed horses twice, we reached the Rio Sauce: it is a deep, rapid, little stream, not above twenty-five feet wide. The second posta on the road to Buenos Ayres stands on its banks, a little above there is a ford for horses, where the water does not reach to the horses' belly; but from that point, in its course to the sea, it is quite impassable, and hence makes a most useful barrier against the Indians.

Insignificant as this stream is, the Jesuit Falconer, whose information is generally so very correct, figures it as a considerable river, rising at the foot of the Cordillera. With respect to its source, I do not doubt that this is the case for the Gauchos assured me, that in the middle of the dry summer, this stream, at the same time with the Colorado has periodical floods; which can only originate in the snow melting on the Andes. It is extremely improbable that a stream so small as the Sauce then was, should traverse the entire width of the continent; and indeed, if it were the residue of a large river, its waters, as in other ascertained cases, would be saline. During the winter we must look to the springs round the Sierra Ventana as the source of its pure and limpid stream. I suspect the plains of Patagonia like those of Australia, are traversed by many water-courses which only perform their proper parts at certain periods. Probably this is the case with the water which flows into the head of Port Desire, and likewise with the Rio Chupat, on the banks of which masses of highly cellular scoriae were found by the officers employed in the survey.

As it was early in the afternoon when we arrived, we took fresh horses, and a soldier for a guide, and started for the Sierra de la Ventana. This mountain is visible from the anchorage at Bahia Blanca; and Capt. Fitz Roy calculates its height to be 3340 feet -- an altitude very remarkable on this eastern side of the continent. I am not aware that any foreigner, previous to my visit, had ascended this mountain; and indeed very few of the soldiers at Bahia Blanca knew anything about it. Hence we heard of beds of coal, of gold and silver, of caves, and of forests, all of which inflamed my curiosity, only to disappoint it. The distance from the posta was about six leagues over a level plain of the same character as before. The ride was, however, interesting, as the mountain began to show its true form. When we reached the foot of the main ridge, we had much difficulty in finding any water, and we thought we should have been obliged to have passed the night without any. At last we discovered some by looking close to the mountain, for at the distance even of a few hundred yards the streamlets were buried and entirely lost in the friable calcareous stone and loose detritus. I do not think Nature ever made a more solitary, desolate pile of rock; -- it well deserves its name of Hurtado, or separated. The mountain is steep, extremely rugged, and broken, and so entirely destitute of trees, and even bushes, that we actually could not make a skewer to stretch out our meat over the fire of thistle- stalks. [1] The strange aspect of this mountain is contrasted by the sea-like plain, which not only abuts against its steep sides, but likewise separates the parallel ranges. The uniformity of the colouring gives an extreme quietness to the view, -- the whitish grey of the quartz rock, and the light brown of the withered grass of the plain, being unrelieved by any brighter tint. From custom, one expects to see in the neighbourhood of a lofty and bold mountain, a broken country strewed over with huge fragments. Here nature shows that the last movement before the bed of the sea is changed into dry land may sometimes be one of tranquillity. Under these circumstances I was curious to observe how far from the parent rock any pebbles could be found. On the shores of Bahia Blanca, and near the settlement, there were some of quartz, which certainly must have come from this source: the distance is forty-five miles.

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Deanna Witmer
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« Reply #46 on: February 08, 2009, 11:53:46 pm »

The dew, which in the early part of the night wetted the saddle-cloths under which we slept, was in the morning frozen. The plain, though appearing horizontal, had insensibly sloped up to a height of between 800 and 900 feet above the sea. In the morning (9th of September) the guide told me to ascend the nearest ridge, which he thought would lead me to the four peaks that crown the summit. The climbing up such rough rocks was very fatiguing; the sides were so indented, that what was gained in one five minutes was often lost in the next. At last, when I reached the ridge, my disappointment was extreme in finding a precipitous valley as deep as the plain, which cut the chain transversely in two, and separated me from the four points. This valley is very narrow, but flat-bottomed, and it forms a fine horse- pass for the Indians, as it connects the plains on the northern and southern sides of the range. Having descended, and while crossing it, I saw two horses grazing: I immediately hid myself in the long grass, and began to reconnoitre; but as I could see no signs of Indians I proceeded cautiously on my second ascent. It was late in the day, and this part of the mountain, like the other, was steep and rugged. I was on the top of the second peak by two o'clock, but got there with extreme difficulty; every twenty yards I had the cramp in the upper part of both thighs, so that I was afraid I should not have been able to have got down again. It was also necessary to return by another road, as it was out of the question to pass over the saddle-back. I was therefore obliged to give up the two higher peaks. Their altitude was but little greater, and every purpose of geology had been answered; so that the attempt was not worth the hazard of any further exertion. I presume the cause of the cramp was the great change in the kind of muscular action, from that of hard riding to that of still harder climbing. It is a lesson worth. remembering, as in some cases it might cause much difficulty.

I have already said the mountain is composed of white quartz rock, and with it a little glossy clay-slate is associated. At the height of a few hundred feet above the plain patches of conglomerate adhered in several places to the solid rock. They resembled in hardness, and in the nature of the cement, the masses which may be seen daily forming on some coasts. I do not doubt these pebbles were in a similar manner aggregated, at a period when the great calcareous formation was depositing beneath the surrounding sea. We may believe that the jagged and battered forms of the hard quartz yet show the effects of the waves of an open ocean.

I was, on the whole, disappointed with this ascent. Even the view was insignificant; -- a plain like the sea, but without its beautiful colour and defined outline. The scene, however, was novel, and a little danger, like salt to meat, gave it a relish. That the danger was very little was certain, for my two companions made a good fire -- a thing which is never done when it is suspected that Indians are near. I reached the place of our bivouac by sunset, and drinking much mate, and smoking several cigaritos, soon made up my bed for the night. The wind was very strong and cold, but I never slept more comfortably.

September 10th. -- In the morning, having fairly scudded before the gale, we arrived by the middle of the day at the Sauce posta. In the road we saw great numbers of deer, and near the mountain a guanaco. The plain, which abuts against the Sierra, is traversed by some curious gullies, of which one was about twenty feet wide, and at least thirty deep; we were obliged in consequence to make a considerable circuit before we could find a pass. We stayed the night at the posta, the conversation, as was generally the case, being about the Indians. The Sierra Ventana was formerly a great place of resort; and three or four years ago there was much fighting there. My guide had been present when many Indians were killed: the women escaped to the top of the ridge, and fought most desperately with great stones; many thus saving themselves.

September 11th. -- Proceeded to the third posta in company with the lieutenant who commanded it. The distance is called fifteen leagues; but it is only guess-work, and is generally overstated. The road was uninteresting, over a dry grassy plain; and on our left hand at a greater or less distance there were some low hills; a continuation of which we crossed close to the posta. Before our arrival we met a large herd of cattle and horses, guarded by fifteen soldiers; but we were told many had been lost. It is very difficult to drive animals across the plains; for if in the night a puma, or even a fox, approaches, nothing can prevent the horses dispersing in every direction; and a storm will have the same effect. A short time since, an officer left Buenos Ayres with five hundred horses, and when he arrived at the army he had under twenty.

Soon afterwards we perceived by the cloud of dust, that a party of horsemen were coming towards us; when far distant my companions knew them to be Indians, by their long hair streaming behind their backs. The Indians generally have a fillet round their heads, but never any covering; and their black hair blowing across their swarthy faces, heightens to an uncommon degree the wildness of their appearance. They turned out to be a party of Bernantio's friendly tribe, going to a salina for salt. The Indians eat much salt, their children sucking it like sugar. This habit is very different from that of the Spanish Gauchos, who, leading the same kind of life, eat scarcely any; according to Mungo Park, [2] it is people who live on vegetable food who have an unconquerable desire for salt. The Indians gave us good-humoured nods as they passed at full gallop, driving before them a troop of horses, and followed by a train of lanky dogs.

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« Reply #47 on: February 08, 2009, 11:54:16 pm »

September 12th and 13th. -- I stayed at this posta two days, waiting for a troop of soldiers, which General Rosas had the kindness to send to inform me, would shortly travel to Buenos Ayres; and he advised me to take the opportunity of the escort. In the morning we rode to some neighbouring hills to view the country, and to examine the geology. After dinner the soldiers divided themselves into two parties for a trial of skill with the bolas. Two spears were stuck in the ground twenty-five yards apart, but they were struck and entangled only once in four or five times. The balls can be thrown fifty or sixty yards, but with little certainty. This, however, does not apply to a man on horseback; for when the speed of the horse is added to the force of the arm, it is said, that they can be whirled with effect to the distance of eighty yards. As a proof of their force, I may mention, that at the Falkland Islands, when the Spaniards murdered some of their own countrymen and all the Englishmen, a young friendly Spaniard was running away, when a great tall man, by name Luciano, came at full gallop after him, shouting to him to stop, and saying that he only wanted to speak to him. Just as the Spaniard was on the point of reaching the boat, Luciano threw the balls: they struck him on the legs with such a jerk, as to throw him down and to render him for some time insensible. The man, after Luciano had had his talk, was allowed to escape. He told us that his legs were marked by great weals, where the thong had wound round, as if he had been flogged with a whip. In the middle of the day two men arrived, who brought a parcel from the next posta to be forwarded to the general: so that besides these two, our party consisted this evening of my guide and self, the lieutenant, and his four soldiers. The latter were strange beings; the first a fine young negro; the second half Indian and negro; and the two others non- descripts; namely, an old Chilian miner, the colour of mahogany, and another partly a mulatto; but two such mongrels with such detestable expressions, I never saw before. At night, when they were sitting round the fire, and playing at cards, I retired to view such a Salvator Rosa scene. They were seated under a low cliff, so that I could look down upon them; around the party were lying dogs, arms, remnants of deer and ostriches; and their long spears were stuck in the turf. Further in the dark background, their horses were tied up, ready for any sudden danger. If the stillness of the desolate plain was broken by one of the dogs barking, a soldier, leaving the fire, would place his head close to the ground, and thus slowly scan the horizon. Even if the noisy teru-tero uttered its scream, there would be a pause in the conversation, and every head, for a moment, a little inclined.

What a life of misery these men appear to us to lead! They were at least ten leagues from the Sauce posta, and since the murder committed by the Indians, twenty from another. The Indians are supposed to have made their attack in the middle of the night; for very early in the morning after the murder, they were luckily seen approaching this posta. The whole party here, however, escaped, together with the troop of horses; each one taking a line for himself, and driving with him as many animals as he was able to manage.

The little hovel, built of thistle-stalks, in which they slept, neither kept out the wind nor rain; indeed in the latter case the only effect the roof had, was to condense it into larger drops. They had nothing to eat excepting what they could catch, such as ostriches, deer, armadilloes, etc., and their only fuel was the dry stalks of a small plant, somewhat resembling an aloe. The sole luxury which these men enjoyed was smoking the little paper cigars, and sucking mate. I used to think that the carrion vultures, man's constant attendants on these dreary plains, while seated on the little neighbouring cliffs seemed by their very patience to say, "Ah! when the Indians come we shall have a feast."

In the morning we all sallied forth to hunt, and although we had not much success, there were some animated chases. Soon after starting the party separated, and so arranged their plans, that at a certain time of the day (in guessing which they show much skill) they should all meet from different points of the compass on a plain piece of ground, and thus drive together the wild animals. One day I went out hunting at Bahia Blanca, but the men there merely rode in a crescent, each being about a quarter of a mile apart from the other. A fine male ostrich being turned by the headmost riders, tried to escape on one side. The Gauchos pursued at a reckless pace, twisting their horses about with the most admirable command, and each man whirling the balls round his head. At length the foremost threw them, revolving through the air: in an instant the ostrich rolled over and over, its legs fairly lashed together by the thong. The plains abound with three kinds of partridge, [3] two of which are as large as hen pheasants. Their destroyer, a small and pretty fox, was also singularly numerous; in the course of the day we could not have seen less than forty or fifty. They were generally near their earths, but the dogs killed one. When we returned to the posta, we found two of the party returned who had been hunting by themselves. They had killed a puma, and had found an ostrich's nest with twenty-seven eggs in it. Each of these is said to equal in weight eleven hen's eggs; so that we obtained from this one nest as much food as 297 hen's eggs would have given.

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« Reply #48 on: February 08, 2009, 11:54:34 pm »

September 14th. -- As the soldiers belonging to the next posta meant to return, and we should together make a party of five, and all armed, I determined not to wait for the expected troops. My host, the lieutenant, pressed me much to stop. As he had been very obliging -- not only providing me with food, but lending me his private horses -- I wanted to make him some remuneration. I asked my guide whether I might do so, but he told me certainly not; that the only answer I should receive, probably would be, "We have meat for the dogs in our country, and therefore do not grudge it to a Christian." It must not be supposed that the rank of lieutenant in such an army would at all prevent the acceptance of payment: it was only the high sense of hospitality, which every traveller is bound to acknowledge as nearly universal throughout these provinces. After galloping some leagues, we came to a low swampy country, which extends for nearly eighty miles northward, as far as the Sierra Tapalguen. In some parts there were fine damp plains, covered with grass, while others had a soft, black, and peaty soil. There were also many extensive but shallow lakes, and large beds of reeds. The country on the whole resembled the better parts of the Cambridgeshire fens. At night we had some difficulty in finding amidst the swamps, a dry place for our bivouac.

September 15th. -- Rose very early in the morning and shortly after passed the posta where the Indians had murdered the five soldiers. The officer had eighteen chuzo wounds in his body. By the middle of the day, after a hard gallop, we reached the fifth posta: on account of some difficulty in procuring horses we stayed there the night. As this point was the most exposed on the whole line, twenty-one soldiers were stationed here; at sunset they returned from hunting, bringing with them seven deer, three ostriches, and many armadilloes and partridges. When riding through the country, it is a common practice to set fire to the plain; and hence at night, as on this occasion, the horizon was illuminated in several places by brilliant conflagrations. This is done partly for the sake of puzzling any stray Indians, but chiefly for improving the pasture. In grassy plains unoccupied by the larger ruminating quadrupeds, it seems necessary to remove the superfluous vegetation by fire, so as to render the new year's growth serviceable.

The rancho at this place did not boast even of a roof, but merely consisted of a ring of thistle-stalks, to break the force of the wind. It was situated on the borders of an extensive but shallow lake, swarming with wild fowl, among which the black-necked swan was conspicuous.

The kind of plover, which appears as if mounted on stilts (Himantopus nigricollis), is here common in flocks of considerable size. It has been wrongfully accused of inelegance; when wading about in shallow water, which is its favourite resort, its gait is far from awkward. These birds in a flock utter a noise, that singularly resembles the cry of a pack of small dogs in full chase: waking in the night, I have more than once been for a moment startled at the distant sound. The teru-tero (Vanellus cayanus) is another bird, which often disturbs the stillness of the night. In appearance and habits it resembles in many respects our peewits; its wings, however, are armed with sharp spurs, like those on the legs of the common ****. As our peewit takes its name from the sound of its voice, so does the teru-tero. While riding over the grassy plains, one is constantly pursued by these birds, which appear to hate mankind, and I am sure deserve to be hated for their never-ceasing, unvaried, harsh screams. To the sportsman they are most annoying, by telling every other bird and animal of his approach: to the traveller in the country, they may possibly, as Molina says, do good, by warning him of the midnight robber. During the breeding season, they attempt, like our peewits, by feigning to be wounded, to draw away from their nests dogs and other enemies. The eggs of this bird are esteemed a great delicacy.

September 16th. -- To the seventh posta at the foot of the Sierra Tapalguen. The country was quite level, with a coarse herbage and a soft peaty soil. The hovel was here remarkably neat, the posts and rafters being made of about a dozen dry thistle-stalks bound together with thongs of hide; and by the support of these Ionic-like columns, the roof and sides were thatched with reeds. We were here told a fact, which I would not have credited, if I had not had partly ocular proof of it; namely, that, during the previous night hail as large as small apples, and extremely hard, had fallen with such violence, as to kill the greater number of the wild animals. One of the men had already found thirteen deer (Cervus campestris) lying dead, and I saw their fresh hides; another of the party, a few minutes after my arrival brought in seven more. Now I well know, that one man without dogs could hardly have killed seven deer in a week. The men believed they had seen about fifteen ostriches (part of one of which we had for dinner); and they said that several were running about evidently blind in one eye. Numbers of smaller birds, as ducks, hawks, and partridges, were killed. I saw one of the latter with a black mark on its back, as if it had been struck with a paving-stone. A fence of thistle-stalks round the hovel was nearly broken down, and my informer, putting his head out to see what was the matter, received a severe cut, and now wore a bandage. The storm was said to have been of limited extent: we certainly saw from our last night's bivouac a dense cloud and lightning in this direction. It is marvellous how such strong animals as deer could thus have been killed; but I have no doubt, from the evidence I have given, that the story is not in the least exaggerated. I am glad, however, to have its credibility supported by the Jesuit Dobrizhoffen, [4] who, speaking of a country much to the northward, says, hail fell of an enormous size and killed vast numbers of cattle: the Indians hence called the place Lalegraicavalca, meaning "the little white things." Dr. Malcolmson, also, informs me that he witnessed in 1831 in India, a hail-storm, which killed numbers of large birds and much injured the cattle. These hailstones were flat, and one was ten inches in circumference, and another weighed two ounces. They ploughed up a gravel-walk like musket-balls, and passed through glass-windows, making round holes, but not cracking them.

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« Reply #49 on: February 08, 2009, 11:55:01 pm »

Having finished our dinner, of hail-stricken meat, we crossed the Sierra Tapalguen; a low range of hills, a few hundred feet in height, which commences at Cape Corrientes. The rock in this part is pure quartz; further eastward I understand it is granitic. The hills are of a remarkable form; they consist of flat patches of table-land, surrounded by low perpendicular cliffs, like the outliers of a sedimentary deposit. The hill which I ascended was very small, not above a couple of hundred yards in diameter; but I saw others larger. One which goes by the name of the "Corral," is said to be two or three miles in diameter, and encompassed by perpendicular cliffs, between thirty and forty feet high, excepting at one spot, where the entrance lies. Falconer [5] gives a curious account of the Indians driving troops of wild horses into it, and then by guarding the entrance, keeping them secure. I have never heard of any other instance of table-land in a formation of quartz, and which, in the hill I examined, had neither cleavage nor stratification. I was told that the rock of the "Corral" was white, and would strike fire.

We did not reach the posta on the Rio Tapalguen till after it was dark. At supper, from something which was said, I was suddenly struck with horror at thinking that I was eating one of the favourite dishes of the country namely, a half-formed calf, long before its proper time of birth. It turned out to be Puma; the meat is very white and remarkably like veal in taste. Dr. Shaw was laughed at for stating that "the flesh of the lion is in great esteem having no small affinity with veal, both in colour, taste, and flavour." Such certainly is the case with the Puma. The Gauchos differ in their opinion, whether the Jaguar is good eating, but are unanimous in saying that cat is excellent.

September 17th. -- We followed the course of the Rio Tapalguen, through a very fertile country, to the ninth posta. Tapalguen, itself, or the town of Tapalguen, if it may be so called, consists of a perfectly level plain, studded over, as far as the eye can reach, with the toldos or oven-shaped huts of the Indians. The families of the friendly Indians, who were fighting on the side of Rosas, resided here. We met and passed many young Indian women, riding by two or three together on the same horse: they, as well as many of the young men, were strikingly handsome, -- their fine ruddy complexions being the picture of health. Besides the toldos, there were three ranchos; one inhabited by the Commandant, and the two others by Spaniards with small shops.

We were here able to buy some biscuit. I had now been several days without tasting anything besides meat: I did not at all dislike this new regimen; but I felt as if it would only have agreed with me with hard exercise. I have heard that patients in England, when desired to confine themselves exclusively to an animal diet, even with the hope of life before their eyes, have hardly been able to endure it. Yet the Gaucho in the Pampas, for months together, touches nothing but beef. But they eat, I observe, a very large proportion of fat, which is of a less animalized nature; and they particularly dislike dry meat, such as that of the Agouti. Dr. Richardson [6] also, has remarked, "that when people have fed for a long time solely upon lean animal food, the desire for fat becomes so insatiable, that they can consume a large quantity of unmixed and even oily fat without nausea:" this appears to me a curious physiological fact. It is, perhaps, from their meat regimen that the Gauchos, like other carnivorous animals, can abstain long from food. I was told that at Tandeel, some troops voluntarily pursued a party of Indians for three days, without eating or drinking.

We saw in the shops many articles, such as horsecloths, belts, and garters, woven by the Indian women. The patterns were very pretty, and the colours brilliant; the workmanship of the garters was so good that an English merchant at Buenos Ayres maintained they must have been manufactured in England, till he found the tassels had been fastened by split sinew.

September 18th. -- We had a very long ride this day. At the twelfth posta, which is seven leagues south of the Rio Salado, we came to the first estancia with cattle and white women. Afterwards we had to ride for many miles through a country flooded with water above our horses' knees. By crossing the stirrups, and riding Arab-like with our legs bent up, we contrived to keep tolerably dry. It was nearly dark when we arrived at the Salado; the stream was deep, and about forty 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 19th. -- 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 round 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 [7] of North America, where coarse grass, between five and six feet high, when grazed by cattle, changes into common pasture land. 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, [8] "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." Does this not partly explain the circumstance? We thus have lines of richly manured land serving as channels of communication across wide districts.

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« Reply #50 on: February 08, 2009, 11:55:33 pm »

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: [9] it occurs in these latitudes on both sides of the, Cordillera, across the continent. 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 naturalized; 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 posthouse 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 20th. -- 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; [10] and I should think one of the most regular in the world. 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.
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« Reply #51 on: February 08, 2009, 11:55:51 pm »

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.

Endnotes

[1] I call these thistle-stalks for the want of a more correct name. I believe it is a species of Eryngium.

[2] Travels in Africa, p. 233.

[3] Two species of Tinamus and Eudromia elegans of A. d'Orbigny, which can only be called a partridge with regard to its habits.

[4] History of the Abipones, vol. ii. p. 6.

[5] Falconer's Patagonia, p. 70.

[6] Fauna Boreali-Americana, vol. i. p. 35.

[7] See Mr. Atwater's account of the Prairies, in Silliman's N. A. Journal, vol. i. p. 117.

[8] Azara's Voyages, vol. i. p. 373.

[9] M. A. d'Orbigny (vol. i. p. 474) says that the cardoon and artichoke are both found wild. Dr. **** (Botanical Magazine, vol. lv. p. 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. **** 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.

[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.


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« Reply #52 on: February 08, 2009, 11:56:38 pm »

Chapter VII: Buenos Ayres and St. Fe

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


SEPTEMBER 27th. -- 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 war.

September 28th. -- 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 tracts, 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 [1] is well known to form a prominent feature in the zoology of the Pampas. It is found as far south as the Rio Negro, in lat. 41°, 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.

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« Reply #53 on: February 08, 2009, 11:57:03 pm »

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 [2] there is a fishing genus of owls, which likewise catches crabs.

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.

29th and 30th. -- 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 1st. - We started by moonlight and arrived at the Rio Tercero by sunrise. The 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.

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« Reply #54 on: February 08, 2009, 11:57:24 pm »

October 2nd. -- 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 expected.

October 3rd and 4th. -- 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 5th. -- 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 Plata. The soil is varied and productive; and its almost insular form gives it two grand lines of communication by the rivers Parana and Uruguay.


I was delayed here five days, and employed myself in examining the geology of the surrounding country, which was very interesting. We here see at the bottom of the cliffs, beds containing sharks' teeth and sea-shells of extinct species, passing above into an indurated marl, and from that into the red clayey earth of the Pampas, with its calcareous concretions and the bones of terrestrial quadrupeds. This vertical section clearly tells us of a large bay of pure salt- water, gradually encroached on, and at last converted into the bed of a muddy estuary, into which floating carcasses were swept. At Punta Gorda, in Banda Oriental, I found an alternation of the Pampaean estuary deposit, with a limestone containing some of the same extinct sea-shells; and this shows either a change in the former currents, or more probably an oscillation of level in the bottom of the ancient estuary. Until lately, my reasons for considering the Pampaean formation to be an estuary deposit were, its general appearance, its position at the mouth of the existing great river the Plata, and the presence of so many bones of terrestrial quadrupeds: but now Professor Ehrenberg has had the kindness to examine for me a little of the red earth, taken from low down in the deposit, close to the skeletons of the mastodon, and he finds in it many infusoria, partly salt-water and partly fresh-water forms, with the latter rather preponderating; and therefore, as he remarks, the water must have been brackish. M. A. d'Orbigny found on the banks of the Parana, at the height of a hundred feet, great beds of an estuary shell, now living a hundred miles lower down nearer the sea; and I found similar shells at a less height on the banks of the Uruguay; this shows that just before the Pampas was slowly elevated into dry land, the water covering it was brackish. Below Buenos Ayres there are upraised beds of sea-shells of existing species, which also proves that the period of elevation of the Pampas was within the recent period.

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« Reply #55 on: February 08, 2009, 11:57:43 pm »

In the Pampaean deposit at the Bajada I found the osseous armour of a gigantic armadillo-like animal, the inside of which, when the earth was removed, was like a great cauldron; I found also teeth of the Toxodon and Mastodon, and one tooth of a Horse, in the same stained and decayed state. This latter tooth greatly interested me, [3] and I took scrupulous care in ascertaining that it had been embedded contemporaneously with the other remains; for I was not then aware that amongst the fossils from Bahia Blanca there was a horse's tooth hidden in the matrix: nor was it then known with certainty that the remains of horses are common in North America. Mr. Lyell has lately brought from the United States a tooth of a horse; and it is an interesting fact, that Professor Owen could find in no species, either fossil or recent, a slight but peculiar curvature characterizing it, until he thought of comparing it with my specimen found here: he has named this American horse Equus curvidens. Certainly it is a marvellous fact in the history of the Mammalia, that in South America a native horse should have lived and disappeared, to be succeeded in after- ages by the countless herds descended from the few introduced with the Spanish colonists!

The existence in South America of a fossil horse, of the mastodon, possibly of an elephant, [4] and of a hollow-horned ruminant, discovered by MM. Lund and Clausen in the caves of Brazil, are highly interesting facts with respect to the geographical distribution of animals. At the present time, if we divide America, not by the Isthmus of Panama, but by the southern part of Mexico [5] in lat. 20°, where the great table-land presents an obstacle to the migration of species, by affecting the climate, and by forming, with the exception of some valleys and of a fringe of low land on the coast, a broad barrier; we shall then have the two zoological provinces of North and South America strongly contrasted with each other. Some few species alone have passed the barrier, and may be considered as wanderers from the south, such as the puma, opossum, kinkajou, and peccari. South America is characterized by possessing many peculiar gnawers, a family of monkeys, the llama, peccari, tapir, opossums, and, especially, several genera of Edentata, the order which includes the sloths, ant-eaters, and armadilloes. North America, on the other hand, is characterized (putting on one side a few wandering species) by numerous peculiar gnawers, and by four genera (the ox, sheep, goat, and antelope) of hollow-horned ruminants, of which great division South America is not known to possess a single species. Formerly, but within the period when most of the now existing shells were living, North America possessed, besides hollow-horned ruminants, the elephant, mastodon, horse, and three genera of Edentata, namely, the Megatherium, Megalonyx, and Mylodon. Within nearly this same period (as proved by the shells at Bahia Blanca) South America possessed, as we have just seen, a mastodon, horse, hollow- horned ruminant, and the same three genera (as well as several others) of the Edentata. Hence it is evident that North and South America, in having within a late geological period these several genera in common, were much more closely related in the character of their terrestrial inhabitants than they now are. The more I reflect on this case, the more interesting it appears: I know of no other instance where we can almost mark the period and manner of the splitting up of one great region into two well- characterized zoological provinces. The geologist, who is fully impressed with the vast oscillations of level which have affected the earth's crust within late periods, will not fear to speculate on the recent elevation of the Mexican platform, or, more probably, on the recent submergence of land in the West Indian Archipelago, as the cause of the present zoological separation of North and South America. The South American character of the West Indian mammals [6] seems to indicate that this archipelago was formerly united to the southern continent, and that it has subsequently been an area of subsidence.

When America, and especially North America, possessed its elephants, mastodons, horse, and hollow-horned ruminants, it was much more closely related in its zoological characters to the temperate parts of Europe and Asia than it now is. As the remains of these genera are found on both sides of Behring's Straits [7] and on the plains of Siberia, we are led to look to the north-western side of North America as the former point of communication between the Old and so-called New World. And as so many species, both living and extinct, of these same genera inhabit and have inhabited the Old World, it seems most probable that the North American elephants, mastodons, horse, and hollow- horned ruminants migrated, on land since submerged near Behring's Straits, from Siberia into North America, and thence, on land since submerged in the West Indies, into South America, where for a time they mingled with the forms characteristic of that southern continent, and have since become extinct.

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« Reply #56 on: February 08, 2009, 11:58:22 pm »

While travelling through the country, I received several vivid descriptions of the effects of a late great drought; and the account of this may throw some light on the cases where vast numbers of animals of all kinds have been embedded together. The period included between the years 1827 and 1830 is called the "gran seco," or the great drought. During this time so little rain fell, that the vegetation, even to the thistles, failed; the brooks were dried up, and the whole country assumed the appearance of a dusty high road. This was especially the case in the northern part of the province of Buenos Ayres and the southern part of St. Fe. Very great numbers of birds, wild animals, cattle, and horses perished from the want of food and water. A man told me that the deer [8] used to come into his courtyard to the well, which he had been obliged to dig to supply his own family with water; and that the partridges had hardly strength to fly away when pursued. The lowest estimation of the loss of cattle in the province of Buenos Ayres alone, was taken at one million head. A proprietor at San Pedro had previously to these years 20,000 cattle; at the end not one remained. San Pedro is situated in the middle of the finest country; and even now abounds again with animals; yet during the latter part of the "gran seco," live cattle were brought in vessels for the consumption of the inhabitants. The animals roamed from their estancias, and, wandering far southward, were mingled together in such multitudes, that a government commission was sent from Buenos Ayres to settle the disputes of the owners. Sir Woodbine Parish informed me of another and very curious source of dispute; the ground being so long dry, such quantities of dust were blown about, that in this open country the landmarks became obliterated, and people could not tell the limits of their estates.

I was informed by an eye-witness that the cattle in herds of thousands rushed into the Parana, and being exhausted by hunger they were unable to crawl up the muddy banks, and thus were drowned. The arm of the river which runs by San Pedro was so full of putrid carcasses, that the master of a vessel told me that the smell rendered it quite impassable. Without doubt several hundred thousand animals thus perished in the river: their bodies when putrid were seen floating down the stream; and many in all probability were deposited in the estuary of the Plata. All the small rivers became highly saline, and this caused the death of vast numbers in particular spots; for when an animal drinks of such water it does not recover. Azara describes [9] the fury of the wild horses on a similar occasion, rushing into the marshes, those which arrived first being overwhelmed and crushed by those which followed. He adds that more than once he has seen the carcasses of upwards of a thousand wild horses thus destroyed. I noticed that the smaller streams in the Pampas were paved with a breccia of bones but this probably is the effect of a gradual increase, rather than of the destruction at any one period. Subsequently to the drought of 1827 to 1832, a very rainy season followed which caused great floods. Hence it is almost certain that some thousands of the skeletons were buried by the deposits of the very next year. What would be the opinion of a geologist, viewing such an enormous collection of bones, of all kinds of animals and of all ages, thus embedded in one thick earthy mass? Would he not attribute it to a flood having swept over the surface of the land, rather than to the common order of things? [10]

October 12th. -- I had intended to push my excursion further, but not being quite well, I was compelled to return by a balandra, or one-masted vessel of about a hundred tons' burden, which was bound to Buenos Ayres. As the weather was not fair, we moored early in the day to a branch of a tree on one of the islands. The Parana is full of islands, which undergo a constant round of decay and renovation. In the memory of the master several large ones had disappeared, and others again had been formed and protected by vegetation. They are composed of muddy sand, without even the smallest pebble, and were then about four feet above the level of the river; but during the periodical floods they are inundated. They all present one character; numerous willows and a few other trees are bound together by a great variety of creeping plants, thus forming a thick jungle. These thickets afford a retreat for capybaras and jaguars. The fear of the latter animal quite destroyed all pleasure in scrambling through the woods. This evening I had not proceeded a hundred yards, before finding indubitable signs of the recent presence of the tiger, I was obliged to come back. On every island there were tracks; and as on the former excursion "el rastro de los Indios" had been the subject of conversation, so in this was "el rastro del tigre." The wooded banks of the great rivers appear to be the favourite haunts of the jaguar; but south of the Plata, I was told that they frequented the reeds bordering lakes: wherever they are, they seem to require water. Their common prey is the capybara, so that it is generally said, where capybaras are numerous there is little danger from the jaguar. Falconer states that near the southern side of the mouth of the Plata there are many jaguars, and that they chiefly live on fish; this account I have heard repeated. On the Parana they have killed many wood-cutters, and have even entered vessels at night. There is a man now living in the Bajada, who, coming up from below when it was dark, was seized on the deck; he escaped, however, with the loss of the use of one arm. When the floods drive these animals from the islands, they are most dangerous. I was told that a few years since a very large one found its way into a church at St. Fe: two padres entering one after the other were killed, and a third, who came to see what was the matter, escaped with difficulty. The beast was destroyed by being shot from a corner of the building which was unroofed. They commit also at these times great ravages among cattle and horses. It is said that they kill their prey by breaking their necks. If driven from the carcass, they seldom return to it. The Gauchos say that the jaguar, when wandering about at night, is much tormented by the foxes yelping as they follow him. This is a curious coincidence with the fact which is generally affirmed of the jackals accompanying, in a similarly officious manner, the East Indian tiger. The jaguar is a noisy animal, roaring much by night, and especially before bad weather.

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« Reply #57 on: February 08, 2009, 11:59:02 pm »

One day, when hunting on the banks of the Uruguay, I was shown certain trees, to which these animals constantly recur for the purpose, as it is said, of sharpening their claws. I saw three well-known trees; in front, the bark was worn smooth, as if by the breast of the animal, and on each side there were deep scratches, or rather grooves, extending in an oblique line, nearly a yard in length. The scars were of different ages. A common method of ascertaining whether a jaguar is in the neighbourhood is to examine these trees. I imagine this habit of the jaguar is exactly similar to one which may any day be seen in the common cat, as with outstretched legs and exserted claws it scrapes the leg of a chair; and I have heard of young fruit- trees in an orchard in England having been thus much injured. Some such habit must also be common to the puma, for on the bare hard soil of Patagonia I have frequently seen scores so deep that no other animal could have made them. The object of this practice is, I believe, to tear off the ragged points of their claws, and not, as the Gauchos think, to sharpen them. The jaguar is killed, without much difficulty, by the aid of dogs baying and driving him up a tree, where he is despatched with bullets.

Owing to bad weather we remained two days at our moorings. Our only amusement was catching fish for our dinner: there were several kinds, and all good eating. A fish called the "armado" (a Silurus) is remarkable from a harsh grating noise which it makes when caught by hook and line, and which can be distinctly heard when the fish is beneath the water. This same fish has the power of firmly catching hold of any object, such as the blade of an oar or the fishing- line, with the strong spine both of its pectoral and dorsal fin. In the evening the weather was quite tropical, the thermometer standing at 79° Numbers of fireflies were hovering about, and the musquitoes were very troublesome. I exposed my hand for five minutes, and it was soon black with them; I do not suppose there could have been less than fifty, all busy sucking.

October 15th. -- We got under way and passed Punta Gorda, where there is a colony of tame Indians from the province of Missiones. We sailed rapidly down the current, but before sunset, from a silly fear of bad weather, we brought-to in a narrow arm of the river. I took the boat and rowed some distance up this creek. It was very narrow, winding, and deep; on each side a wall thirty or forty feet high, formed by trees intwined with creepers, gave to the canal a singularly gloomy appearance. I here saw a very extraordinary bird, called the Scissor-beak (Rhynchops nigra). It has short legs, web feet, extremely long-pointed wings, and is of about the size of a tern. The beak is flattened laterally, that is, in a plane at right angles to that of a spoonbill or duck. It is as flat and elastic as an ivory paper-cutter, and the lower mandible, differing from every other bird, is an inch and a half longer than the upper. In a lake near Maldonado, from which the water had been nearly drained, and which, in consequence, swarmed with small fry, I saw several of these birds, generally in small flocks, flying rapidly backwards and forwards close to the surface of the lake. They kept their bills wide open, and the lower mandible half buried in the water. Thus skimming the surface, they ploughed it in their course: the water was quite smooth, and it formed a most curious spectacle to behold a flock, each bird leaving its narrow wake on the mirror-like surface. In their flight they frequently twist about with extreme quickness, and dexterously manage with their projecting lower mandible to plough up small fish, which are secured by the upper and shorter half of their scissor-like


[picture]


bills. This fact I repeatedly saw, as, like swallows, they continued to fly backwards and forwards close before me. Occasionally when leaving the surface of the water their flight was wild, irregular, and rapid; they then uttered loud harsh cries. When these birds are fishing, the advantage of the long primary feathers of their wings, in keeping them dry, is very evident. When thus employed, their forms resemble the symbol by which many artists represent marine birds. Their tails are much used in steering their irregular course.

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« Reply #58 on: February 08, 2009, 11:59:40 pm »

These birds are common far inland along the course of the Rio Parana; it is said that they remain here during the whole year, and breed in the marshes. During the day they rest in flocks on the grassy plains at some distance from the water. Being at anchor, as I have said, in one of the deep creeks between the islands of the Parana, as the evening drew to a close, one of these scissor-beaks suddenly appeared. The water was quite still, and many little fish were rising. The bird continued for a long time to skim the surface, flying in its wild and irregular manner up and down the narrow canal, now dark with the growing night and the shadows of the overhanging trees. At Monte Video, I observed that some large flocks during the day remained on the mud-banks at the head of the harbour, in the same manner as on the grassy plains near the Parana; and every evening they took flight seaward. From these facts I suspect that the Rhynchops generally fishes by night, at which time many of the lower animals come most abundantly to the surface. M. Lesson states that he has seen these birds opening the shells of the mactrae buried in the sand-banks on the coast of Chile: from their weak bills, with the lower mandible so much projecting, their short legs and long wings, it is very improbable that this can be a general habit.

In our course down the Parana, I observed only three other birds, whose habits are worth mentioning. One is a small kingfisher (Ceryle Americana); it has a longer tail than the European species, and hence does not sit in so stiff and upright a position. Its flight also, instead of being direct and rapid, like the course of an arrow, is weak and undulatory, as among the soft-billed birds. It utters a low note, like the clicking together of two small stones. A small green parrot (Conurus murinus), with a grey breast, appears to prefer the tall trees on the islands to any other situation for its building-place. A number of nests are placed so close together as to form one great mass of sticks. These parrots always live in flocks, and commit great ravages on the corn-fields. I was told, that near Colonia 2500 were killed in the course of one year. A bird with a forked tail, terminated by two long feathers (Tyrannus savana), and named by the Spaniards scissor-tail, is very common near Buenos Ayres: it commonly sits on a branch of the ombu tree, near a house, and thence takes a short flight in pursuit of insects, and returns to the same spot. When on the wing it presents in its manner of flight and general appearance a caricature-likeness of the common swallow. It has the power of turning very shortly in the air, and in so doing opens and shuts its tail, sometimes in a horizontal or lateral and sometimes in a vertical direction, just like a pair of scissors.

October 16th. -- Some leagues below Rozario, the western shore of the Parana is bounded by perpendicular cliffs, which extend in a long line to below San Nicolas; hence it more resembles a sea-coast than that of a fresh-water river. It is a great drawback to the scenery of the Parana, that, from the soft nature of its banks, the water is very muddy. The Uruguay, flowing through a granitic country, is much clearer; and where the two channels unite at the head of the Plata, the waters may for a long distance be distinguished by their black and red colours. In the evening, the wind being not quite fair, as usual we immediately moored, and the next day, as it blew rather freshly, though with a favouring current, the master was much too indolent to think of starting. At Bajada, he was described to me as "hombre muy aflicto" -- a man always miserable to get on; but certainly he bore all delays with admirable resignation. He was an old Spaniard, and had been many years in this country. He professed a great liking to the English, but stoutly maintained that the battle of Trafalgar was merely won by the Spanish captains having been all bought over; and that the only really gallant action on either side was performed by the Spanish admiral. It struck me as rather characteristic, that this man should prefer his countrymen being thought the worst of traitors, rather than unskilful or cowardly.

18th and 19th. -- We continued slowly to sail down the noble stream: the current helped us but little. We met, during our descent, very few vessels. One of the best gifts of nature, in so grand a channel of communication, seems here wilfully thrown away -- a river in which ships might navigate from a temperate country, as surprisingly abundant in certain productions as destitute of others, to another possessing a tropical climate, and a soil which, according to the best of judges, M. Bonpland, is perhaps unequalled in fertility in any part of the world. How different would have been the aspect of this river if English colonists had by good fortune first sailed up the Plata! What noble towns would now have occupied its shores! Till the death of Francia, the Dictator of Paraguay, these two countries must remain distinct, as if placed on opposite sides of the globe. And when the old bloody-minded tyrant is gone to his long account, Paraguay will be torn by revolutions, violent in proportion to the previous unnatural calm. That country will have to learn, like every other South American state, that a republic cannot succeed till it contains a certain body of men imbued with the principles of justice and honour.

October 20th. -- Being arrived at the mouth of the Parana, and as I was very anxious to reach Buenos Ayres, I went on shore at Las Conchas, with the intention of riding there. Upon landing, I found to my great surprise that I was to a certain degree a prisoner. A violent revolution having broken out, all the ports were laid under an embargo. I could not return to my vessel, and as for going by land to the city, it was out of the question. After a long conversation with the commandant, I obtained permission to go the next day to General Rolor, who commanded a division of the rebels on this side the capital. In the morning I rode to the encampment. The general, officers, and soldiers, all appeared, and I believe really were, great villains. The general, the very evening before he left the city, voluntarily went to the Governor, and with his hand to his heart, pledged his word of honour that he at least would remain faithful to the last. The general told me that the city was in a state of close blockade, and that all he could do was to give me a passport to the commander-in-chief of the rebels at Quilmes. We had therefore to take a great sweep round the city, and it was with much difficulty that we procured horses. My reception at the encampment was quite civil, but I was told it was impossible that I could be allowed to enter the city. I was very anxious about this, as I anticipated the Beagle's departure from the Rio Plata earlier than it took place. Having mentioned, however, General Rosas's obliging kindness to me when at the Colorado, magic itself could not have altered circumstances quicker than did this conversation. I was instantly told that though they could not give me a passport, if I chose to leave my guide and horses, I might pass their sentinels. I was too glad to accept of this, and an officer was sent with me to give directions that I should not be stopped at the bridge. The road for the space of a league was quite deserted. I met one party of soldiers, who were satisfied by gravely looking at an old passport: and at length I was not a little pleased to find myself within the city.

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« Reply #59 on: February 09, 2009, 12:00:01 am »

This revolution was supported by scarcely any pretext of grievances: but in a state which, in the course of nine months (from February to October, 1820), underwent fifteen changes in its government -- each governor, according to the constitution, being elected for three years -- it would be very unreasonable to ask for pretexts. In this case, a party of men -- who, being attached to Rosas, were disgusted with the governor Balcarce -- to the number of seventy left the city, and with the cry of Rosas the whole country took arms. The city was then blockaded, no provisions, cattle or horses, were allowed to enter; besides this, there was only a little skirmishing, and a few men daily killed. The outside party well knew that by stopping the supply of meat they would certainly be victorious. General Rosas could not have known of this rising; but it appears to be quite consonant with the plans of his party. A year ago he was elected governor, but he refused it, unless the Sala would also confer on him extraordinary powers. This was refused, and since then his party have shown that no other governor can keep his place. The warfare on both sides was avowedly protracted till it was possible to hear from Rosas. A note arrived a few days after I left Buenos Ayres, which stated that the General disapproved of peace having been broken, but that he thought the outside party had justice on their side. On the bare reception of this, the Governor, ministers, and part of the military, to the number of some hundreds, fled from the city. The rebels entered, elected a new governor, and were paid for their services to the number of 5500 men. From these proceedings, it was clear that Rosas ultimately would become the dictator: to the term king, the people in this, as in other republics, have a particular dislike. Since leaving South America, we have heard that Rosas has been elected, with powers and for a time altogether opposed to the constitutional principles of the republic.

Endnotes

[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.

[2] Journal of Asiatic Soc., vol. v. p. 363.

[3] I need hardly state here that there is good evidence against any horse living in America at the time of Columbus.

[4] Cuvier. Ossemens Fossils, tom. i. p. 158.

[5] This is the geographical division followed by Lichtenstein, Swainson, Erichson, and Richardson. The section from Vera Cruz to Acapulco, given by Humboldt in the Polit. Essay on Kingdom of N. Spain will show how immense a barrier the Mexican table-land forms. Dr. Richardson, in his admirable Report on the Zoology of N. America read before the Brit. Assoc. 1836 (p. 157), talking of the identification of a Mexican animal with the Synetheres prehensilis, says, "We do not know with what propriety, but if correct, it is, if not a solitary instance, at least very nearly so, of a rodent animal being common to North and South America."

[6] See Dr. Richardson's Report, p. 157; also L'Institut, 1837, p. 253. Cuvier says the kinkajou is found in the larger Antilles, but this is doubtful. M. Gervais states that the Didelphis crancrivora is found there. It is certain that the West Indies possess some mammifers peculiar to themselves. A tooth of a mastadon has been brought from Bahama; Edin. New Phil. Journ., 1826, p. 395.

[7] See the admirable Appendix by Dr. Buckland to Beechey's Voyage; also the writings of Chamisso in Kotzebue's Voyage.

[8] In Captain Owen's Surveying Voyage (vol. ii. p. 274) there is a curious account of the effects of a drought on the elephants, at Benguela (west coast of Africa). "A number of these animals had some time since entered the town, in a body, to possess themselves of the wells, not being able to procure any water in the country. The inhabitants mustered, when a desperate conflict ensued, which terminated in the ultimate discomfiture of the invaders, but not until they had killed one man, and wounded several others." The town is said to have a population of nearly three thousand! Dr. Malcolmson informs me that, during a great drought in India, the wild animals entered the tents of some troops at Ellore, and that a hare drank out of a vessel held by the adjutant of the regiment.

[9] Travels, vol. i. p. 374.

[10] These droughts to a certain degree seem to be almost periodical; I was told the dates of several others, and the intervals were about fifteen years.


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