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The Voyage of the Beagle

Rio Negro To Bahia Blanca
Rio Negro -- Estancias attacked by the Indians -- Salt-Lakes -- Flamingoes -- R. Negro to
R. Colorado -- Sacred Tree -- Patagonian Hare -- Indian Families -- General Rosas --
Proceed to Bahia Blanca -- Sand Dunes -- Negro Lieutenant -- Bahia Blanca -- Saline
Incrustations -- Punta Alta -- Zorillo.
JULY 24th, 1833. -- The Beagle sailed from Maldonado, and on August the 3rd she
arrived off the mouth of the Rio Negro. This is the principal river on the whole line of
coast between the Strait of Magellan and the Plata. It enters the sea about three hundred
miles south of the estuary of the Plata. About fifty years ago, under the old Spanish
government, a small colony was established here; and it is still the most southern position
(lat. 41 degs.) on this eastern coast of America inhabited by civilized man.
The country near the mouth of the river is wretched in the extreme: on the south side a
long line of perpendicular cliffs commences, which exposes a section of the geological
nature of the country. The strata are of sandstone, and one layer was remarkable from
being composed of a firmly- cemented conglomerate of pumice pebbles, which must
have travelled more than four hundred miles, from the Andes. The surface is everywhere
covered up by a thick bed of gravel, which extends far and wide over the open plain.
Water is extremely scarce, and, where found, is almost invariably brackish. The
vegetation is scanty; and although there are bushes of many kinds, all are armed with
formidable thorns, which seem to warn the stranger not to enter on these inhospitable
The settlement is situated eighteen miles up the river. The road follows the foot of the
sloping cliff, which forms the northern boundary of the great valley, in which the Rio
Negro flows. On the way we passed the ruins of some fine "estancias," which a few years
since had been destroyed by the Indians. They withstood several attacks. A man present
at one gave me a very lively description of what took place. The inhabitants had
sufficient notice to drive all the cattle and horses into the "corral" [1] which surrounded
the house, and likewise to mount some small cannon. The Indians were Araucanians from
the south of Chile; several hundreds in number, and highly disciplined. They first
appeared in two bodies on a neighbouring hill; having there dismounted, and taken off
their fur mantles, they advanced naked to the charge. The only weapon of an Indian is a
very long bamboo or chuzo, ornamented with ostrich feathers, and pointed by a sharp
spearhead. My informer seemed to remember with the greatest horror the quivering of
these chuzos as they approached near. When close, the cacique Pincheira hailed the
besieged to give up their arms, or he would cut all their throats. As this would probably
have been the result of their entrance under any circumstances, the answer was given by a
volley of musketry. The Indians, with great steadiness, came to the very fence of the
corral: but to their surprise they found the posts fastened together by iron nails instead of
leather thongs, and, of course, in vain attempted to cut them with their knives. This saved
the lives of the Christians: many of the wounded Indians were carried away by their
companions, and at last, one of the under caciques being wounded, the bugle sounded a