Imágenes de páginas

bitter frosts form ice on the surface.

Here live the Patagonians, the fabled giants of old; but much as their size has been exaggerated, it surpasses, according to the latest explorers, in height and robust strength, that of all other nations. Among two or three hundred men, Capt. Fitzroy found only half a dozen, who measured under six feet, and even the women were tall in proportion. Huge cloaks, made of skins, and hanging not ungracefully, in ample folds, from the shoulders down to the ground, still add to the gigantic, massive impression of their whole appearance. Their rough, but straight hair, is oddly gathered in nets, made of the sinews of slain animals, and yet seems in keeping with the fantastic painting in red, black, and white, that adorns their faces, marking broad bars across the brow, and large white circles around the eyes. This contrasts strangely enough with the peculiar color of their skin-a hue between pure copper and old mahogany, but easily distinguished from that of all other natives of this continent.

Their huts resemble much the dwellings of gipsies: for posts, the stalks of gigantic thistles are rammed into the ground; other stalks of the same size and lightness are fastened on above, and the whole is covered with undressed skins, inclosing it above and on three sides, but leaving one towards the east, wide open. Within, nothing is seen but the skins on which these children of the wilderness sleep, and their weapons. Among the latter, the bolas are both the most formidable, and the most familiar to general readers. They consist of two or three round pebbles, hard clay balls or actual lead and iron, sewed up in skins and fastened to stout leather thongs of equal length, which are tied together. The Indian takes one ball in his hand, swings the other several times around his head, and then lets the whole fly at the object he wishes to seize. His intention is not, as with the lasso, to throw down his prey or his adversary, but with almost incredible skill he manages it so that one ball strikes a hard prominent part and rebounds; the other balls begin at once to swing round in all directions, and the thongs become so interlaced that every effort to unravel them and to free himself makes the poor prisoner only more and more helpless. Another powerful weapon, of like cha

racter, is a single ball fastened to a thin thong, of the length of the arm; the ball, weighing about a pound, is rapidly whirled around the head, and then, with terribly increased velocity, it strikes the enemy with a force little inferior to that of a rifle-ball; in a hand-to-hand fight, the Indian uses it as the old Swiss did their famous "Morning-star."

The food of these Indians is in keeping with their habits otherwise; they eat, generally, whatever they can reach, without regard to Savarin or Kitchener; but their main staple consists of fillies and young mares, which they stew and roast in various ways, of which even the good burghers of Copenhagen, who sell horse-flesh, regularly, in their market, are probably still unaware. Common deer and guanacos are not despised; horn-encased armadilloes and all-digesting ostriches, appear only on great occasions. Their taste, however, is strongly in favor of animal food; for, of vegetables they only know two humble roots, and, oddly enough, the epicurean's great delight, the delicate bud of the artichoke.

The Patagonians present to us, perhaps, the most striking instance of a barbarous nation combining the chase, as a national pursuit, with the raising of cattle. No tribe has, therefore, an exclusive right to any part of the immense territory; and all roam, free and unimpeded, over their vast plains. Thanks to their active life, and the good speed of their horses, they travel with amazing rapidity. Tribes that were seen in September, near the straits of Magellan, were, in February, next met with on the banks of the Rio Negro-a distance of at least 2,200 miles! They have poor and rich men among them; the latter own forty or fifty horses, and several dozens of dogs; the former, at least one dog and a couple of horses.

But the incredible number of the latter, literally counting millions, and the profusion of food, ever ready for consumption, are naturally destructive of all industry. The people know no toil, nor its sweet fruits and rich blessings. Socialists in a novel manner, the hungry wait until their rich neighbors have finished their meal; and then, without asking leave, glide up to their stores and help themselves at discretion. Like our fellow-citizens in Utah, they love expansively, and know the great

art of enjoying, both the company of many wives, and the blessings of domestic peace. Their faith hardly deserves that name, though it is superior to that of other savages. They have good gods, and bad gods; the former live in caves beneath the ground, to which the souls of the departed return after death, to dwell in happy communion. The bad deities are worshipped only to appease their anger. The dwellers upon earth were made in the subterranean caves, and their manner of accounting for the difference between themselves and the superior Spaniard is not without originality, because almost the only instance of an humble acknowledgment of such superiority. They admit that the gods made the Patagonians, and endowed them with spears, arrows, and bolas; but then sent them up to the surface to shift for themselves. The Spaniards, on the contrary, were gifted with guns and swords in addition. In like manner they account for the fact, that they had no cattle before the arrival of these formidable strangers. Animal after animal, they say, came forth from the lower regions; the smallest and prettiest, first; the later, less diminutive and less handsome. They began to fear for their safety, and when the first horned head appeared, they were seized with fright, and rolled huge stones before the opening of the caves, so as to prevent still larger and more dreadful beasts from appearing. The Spaniards, they add, were bolder, and allowed cattle and horses to issue forth from their strange birth-place.

with their gigantic reeds and rushes. But on the plains themselves, treeless, pathless, waterless, the strangest change takes place, during the four seasons, of which we have any record. In winter, the interminable solitude is covered with the large, creeping leaves of thistles, and with clover in richest abundance. In spring, the latter disappears, leaving no trace behind it, and in less than a month, a dense, blooming forest of gigantic thistles rises to a height of ten or twelve feet. Their stems are so close to each other that the eye cannot penetrate the mass, and the plants are so thickly covered with spines, that the miniature forest becomes impenetrable. A few paths only are made, as impenetrable as the labyrinth of the ancients, and known only to robbers and cut-throats; so that Darwin was assured of his safety in traversing these strange regions in early spring by the remark: "There are no robbers yet, the thistles are not up!" Ere summer has fairly passed away, these luxuriant weeds have lost their sap, and with it their fresh, luxuriant green; the bulky heads hang heavily down; the leaves are shrunk and shriveled; the dry, dark stems rattle in the slightest breeze, like the dry bones in the valley, and the first fierce wind of autumn snaps them, and scatters them over the plain. In a few weeks, they, also, have vanished, and are seen no more; the humble clover reappears, and, master of the soil for a season, spreads, once more, the richest verdure as far as the eye can reach.

True to that beautiful sympathy, which finds even the great kingdoms of nature in sweet dependence, one on another, we find here, also, that a scanty flora supports but a scanty fauna. Most of the native animals, moreover, are cannibals, and live not on herbs, but upon each other. The tiger and the jaguar are the tyrants of these plains; and the fierce, bloodthirsty puma preys upon all, ever followed by the vulture on high, falling with lightning speed upon the remnant left by his nobler companion. Peculiar to these steppes is also the guanaco, a reddish-brown stag, with hairy ears, and soft, smooth fur, that feeds on the coarse, wiry grass of the most sterile regions. Fleet as the gazelle, and as timid and wild, they are seen in large herds chasing the clouds on the steppe, or

The peculiar climate of these plains has its influence upon vegetation, as well as upon man. Oppressively hot in summer, few winter nights pass without hoar-frost, and the transition is commonly as sudden as it is striking. Hence, a coarse, tufted, brown grass, is the almost universal vesture of a plain, as level as the sea, and without a stone, stretching far and wide between the Atlantic and the Andes. Along the coast, mighty masses of porphyry are strewn over the solitude; further inland, a few low beeches, armed with spines, break the weary monotony, and here and there shelter a sensitive cactus, whose stamens contract at the gentlest touch. Still higher up, turf-moors and bogs at times show their dismal, dark outlines on the sterile soil, or mimic the tropical forest

rushing, with the swiftness of the wind, down from the mountain-heights to their favorite salt moors. The swiftest and keenest of scent are foremost; they examine all around, and with a peculiar, penetrating sound-a shrill, piercing neighing-they warn the herd, if threatened by any danger. But thus they only betray themselves the more readily to the wary hunter; and yet, more fatal still, to them, is their invincible curiosity. The Indians lie down, and then, with arms and legs in the air, attract the attention of their game. The poor guanacos stand still and stare, then prance and leap about in a most ridiculous manner, and again stand and stare. Some gaze at the hunter's antics, others marvel at the red rag he has fastened to his lance, and waves high overhead. They approach nearer and nearer, followed by their unwary companions, until, all of a sudden, the terrible bolas are heard ominously to whizz through the air, and the dogs open with eager barking. Nor is this the only curious habit that marks them among the strange dwellers in the desert. Day by day, they are seen to return, with unfailing precision, to the same spot, until the enormous heaps of accumulated deposits furnish the Indian with ample stores of fuel-invaluable in a land where bushes even are rare, and trees almost unknown. And when, at last, they end their short, precarious life, they crawl, with the last of their strength, to the kindly shelter of bush or rock, near the river, and there expire, strewing the ground with their bones, and, here and there, actually raising large cities of the dead.

Further to the north, the pampas of Buenos Ayres stretch in more varied forms, from the great Atlantic up to the snow-covered Andes. A large portion of this vast extent is covered with swamp and morass, broken, at times, by massive tufts of reeds and rushes, and again by still, silent pools. All the low lands are filled, for a time, by the abundant showers of the rainy season; soon, however, dry weather comes again, and when the water is evaporated, luxuriant grasses furnish excellent pasture, whilst the upper regions are burnt and withered. Here, also, the colossal thistles of the pampas raise their gorgeous flowers at a height of six or eight feet, and become useful even, in the absence of other fuel. A few peachtrees, even, are scattered here and there

by chance, or planted near the rare homesteads. But when most luxuriant, these steppes suffer under the disadvantage, that all the water is brackish and salt, especially in summer; and then, moreover, it is very scanty. This is the more remarkable, as there is no salt in the soil, and a few feet below the surface, or in wells dug for the purpose, sweet water may be found in abundance. North of the river Salado, and nearer to the Andes, a region is met with, like no other land on earth, the very image of the terrible curse, "the breeding of nettles, of salt-pits, and a perpetual desolation." It is an almost perfect plain, where—

"Nor bird would sing, nor lamb would bleat, Nor any cloud would cross the vault, But day increased from heat to heat,

On stony drought and steaming salt." There the amazed wanderer meets enormous salt-swamps, and sees, with increased marvel, the salt itself bloom

out "in oddest crystals." Not a spring refreshes the sultry air, producing the cheerful green of healthy plants; even the boldest of rivers, swollen in time of violent rains, and rushing in headlong fury from the Andes upon the desolate plain, meet with an ignominous end, and are slowly swallowed up by the thirsty sands! Not a tree rises to break the intolerable level, and to relieve the weary eye; at best, where the salt disappears, the ground is covered with pale, grayish globes of spring cactus, and their long, low rows, broken here and there by the serious and solemn old man's plant, covered with long gray hair, that gives it an indescribably sad and mournful expression. But these opuntias are the very blessings of the pampas; they are not in vain called the "Springs of the Desert." Growing in the poorest and driest of soils, ever exposed to the pitiless rays of a burning sun, they still hide, under a thorny outside, rich stores of refreshing, well-flavored juice. And here again, as in the Sahara, we learn how the kindness of our great mother, nature, instills like kindness even into the hearts of the wild children of the desert; for charity makes it a rule in the pampas that each traveler, as he passes a cactus, shall draw his knife and cut from it the thorns and branches, to allow the perishing beasts of the wilderness free access to the well-guarded storehouse.

Many are the strange sights, and wondrous are the changes that strike the traveler on these steppes, from the boundless fields of snow-white salt to the "phantom of the wilderness”—the visionary rainbow that flees before his hope-sick eyes across the interminable solitude. But of all, the most dreadful is the pampero, a hurricane of the pampas, like the simoom of the Sahara. There are seasons in summer, when

"There is no motion in the dumb, dead air, Nor any song of bird or sound of rill; Gross darkness of the inner sepulchre

Is not so deadly still."

Of a sudden, fleecy white clouds are seen rising in the south-west, changing now into quaint, queer shapes, and now into dismal hangings of deepest black. Dust rises and gathers from south and north, into huge, aërial draperies, hanging in mighty volumes between heaven and earth; the cloudy pall sinks slowly lower and lower, fitful eddies lift, at times, the pendulous skirts of these most mournful curtains, and rend them into strange arches, portals, and windows, through which lurid lights glow and glimmer in ever-changing, fearful flashes. Hot, hissing puffs of wind are felt, and then, in a moment, the storm comes raging down from the snowy caps of the Andes, sweeps with indescribable fury across the pampas, and swells into a resistless, fatal hurricane. Huge, dense clouds of dust and sand hide the sun, and, even at noon, deep darkness covers the earth; lightning and thunder, loud and fearful, such as are known only to the tropics, add to the terror, and whatever has life and breath is at the mercy of the God that "is in the whirlwind and the storm." The cattle flee in despair, and thousands perish on the open steppe; others crowd into river and swamp, and are drowned, unable to find, in the profound darkness, the way back to the shore; while men lie prostrate on their faces, and wait for the passing of the tempest.

When the Spaniards first saw these wide plains, they were covered with countless herds of guanacos and lamas; now, as the original plants have been driven out by the invaders, the thistle and lucern, so the first lords of the soil in the animal kingdom have also had to give way to the horses and cattle of Europe. The emu alone, the South American ostrich, retains a part of his

ancient dominions, and still is hunted by the Gaucho for the sake of his magnificent feathers. Half-hid in the ground, the rabbit-like bizcacho also survives the general destruction, and undermining the pampas all over with endless passages and holes, he avenges himself on the proud invaders by many a dangerous fall. Even the true masters of the land, the Indians, could not resist the merciless tide that swept them westward; and when the Spaniards obtained full possession of the noble lands along the La Plata, the poor native tribes, who had no settled homes, and were restless wanderers on the steppes, vanished, like the ghosts of olden times, into the night of adjoining forests, beyond the gray, grim rocks that are scattered in wild confusion at the foot of the colossal mountains. Spaniards spread over the plain, and the old Arab blood seems to have coursed once more through their veins, and to have risen and rejoiced when they roved over the wide prairies in unfettered freedom, like their brethren, the Bedouins of the Great Desert. These are the Gauchos of our days-a race more nearly resembling the Centaurs of old than any other people on earth. Sons of the bold conquerors of these happy lands, and mindful of the noble services rendered their fathers by their faithful horses, they carry the new-born child on " horse-back to the distant priest who is to baptize it; and, when his race is run, his corpse is again, in the same way, borne to his last resting-place! The Gaucho stirs not from home without mounting his horse, which is ever ready saddled at the door of his hut, to carry him to feast or foray. Covered with his poncho, that leaves his arms perfectly free, and yet protects him against wind and weather, and armed with bolas or lasso, and an enormous knife by his side, he looks from his proud, prancing horse, with keen eye, far over the plain; and as far as sight can carry his thought, he is master of all he surveys. He is not bound to the soil; he does not obey a superior, and is contented because he has but few wants, and these most easily satisfied. With head erect, and a carriage full of conscious strength and natural grace, guiding his well-trained horse with surprising ease and skill, he looks a true independent man, and reminds the traveler more of the bold Tuaric of the Sahara than of his father,

the Spaniard of Castile. Thus we see how even man's God-like nature is, in nations, as in individuals, affected and changed by soil and climate.

His hut is small and square; a few upright posts, with wickerwork between them, and clay cast upon it, occasionally covered with skins, while the roof, made mostly of reeds or of straw, leaves in the centre free egress to smoke. A few stones or skulls of horses are his seats; a small table serves, not for his meals, but for his gambling; and a crucifix and a saint's image complete his whole, simple furniture. He counts it a luxury if he has a few sheep-skins for wife and children, and even a fire is not one of his daily wants. Meat is his only food; it is roasted, in gigantic pieces, on a huge spit, and each guest cuts his piece as he likes; peaches and pumpkins are the only vegetables he knows, and bread many never see during a whole, long life. At home they spend their time in sleeping and gambling; but, as in all southern races, here, also, long periods of utter indolence give way to sudden and furious out-bursts of intense activity. Close by his hut is his corral, an inclosure of strong posts, on which vultures and hawks sit gravely, waiting in patience for the neverfailing feast, of which the immense heaps of horns and bones, that are scattered around, give abundant evidence. Abroad, the Gaucho is ever chasing and coursing through the unbounded steppe; and a most noble sight it is to watch those thousands of graceful, active horses, in all the beauty of freedom, sport merrily over the plain. It is a mournful sight, on the other hand, few others on earth are so sad, to see them race up and down the vast, parched prairie, maddened by fierce, implacable thirst, and treading under foot, in their wild, uncontrollable fury, their own companions and offspring. And when, at last, they have scented a pool, with what terrible eagerness they fly to the coveted waters, until, in their maniac haste, the foremost are borne down and crushed by those that follow-corpses are heaped upon corpses, and a huge, high pile of dead bodies alone marks the place where they sought in vain to recover sweet life! Some of the smaller streams in the pampas are literally paved with the bones of these noble creatures, which have there found a miserable death in times of such terrible suffering.

The smallest, but, probably, the most remarkable, of these pampas, are the northernmost plains, reaching up to the very foot of the Andes. Here the soil is loose and sandy, covered with salt, and utterly unfit for the growth of any plant, however frugal and humble; nay, in some parts, it presents a picture of utter desolation, the effect of which is heightened by its contrast with the luxuriant vegetation that surrounds it on all sides. The eastern portion has, fortunately, large rivers, and can be made very fertile by irrigation. These rivers are, however, themselves one of the most remarkable curiosities of the continent; for they form a system of their own, not connected with either oceanthe Atlantic or the Pacific-and not even with a large stream falling into the ocean! Such a secluded and separate system occurs only once beside, on a large scale, on the whole globe, in the centre of Asia. The rivers of the pampas, rising in the Andes, flow eastward, and unite their waters, after having passed over a large portion of the steppe, in three great groups of lakes, which lie one above the other, so that the rivers fall from the highest lakes into the lower, and thence into the lowest. All these lakes are, moreover, of salt-water; and, in winter and spring, their shores are covered with crusts of white, shining salt! A few pools of brackish, sometimes even of sweet water are, however, found at no great distance, and to them the adjoining regions owe their fertility and abundant crops. This is mainly due to a small group of low mountains, that swell gently upward in the southern part of these pampas; they are, for some two months in the year, covered with snow, which feeds, in melting, the streams at their base, and thus produces a vegetation, without which neither man nor cattle could live in those inhospitable regions.

Still further north, we are told by the only traveler who ever ventured so high up, lie the salinas, the saddest sight of the globe. The air is dark and dismal; dense fogs rest, layer above layer, on the sterile soil; no air breathes here; no wind ever dispels the sad, solemn silence. The ground is covered with salt, as with newly-fallen snow; here and there crouching, crippled saltplants, without leaves or flowers, mark their stunted growth, by their blackened branches, on the glaring white salt.

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