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.

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."

The Voyage of the Beagle Page 56

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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