Through the Brazilian Wilderness/With a Mule-Train Across Nhambiquara Land
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With a Mule-Train Across Nhambiquara Land
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FROM this point we were to enter a still wilder region, the land of the naked Nhambiquaras. On February 3 the weather cleared and we started with the mule-train and two ox-carts. Fiala and Lieutenant Lauriadó stayed at Utiarity to take canoes and go down the Papagaio, which had not been descended by any scientific party, and perhaps by no one. They were then to descend the Juruena and Tapajos, thereby performing a necessary part of the work of the expedition. Our remaining party consisted of Colonel Rondon, Lieutenant Lyra, the doctor, Oliveira, Cherrie, Miller, Kermit, and myself. On the Juruena we expected to meet the pack ox-train with Captain Amilcar and Lieutenant Mello; the other Brazilian members of the party had returned. We had now begun the difficult part of the expedition. The pium flies were becoming a pest. There was much fever and beriberi in the country we were entering. The feed for the animals was poor; the rains had made the trails slippery and difficult; and many, both of the mules and the oxen, were already week, and some had to be abandoned. We left the canoe, the motor, and the gasolene; we had hoped to try them on the Amazonian zonian rivers, but we were obliged to cut down everything that was not absolutely indispensable.
Before leaving we prepared for shipment back to the museum some of the bigger skins, and also some of the weapons and utensils of the Indians, which Kermit had collected. These included woven fillets, and fillets made of macaw feathers, for use in the dances; woven belts; a gourd in which the sacred drink is offered to the god Enoerey; wickerwork baskets; flutes or pipes; anklet ratles; hammocks; a belt of the kind used by the women in carrying the babies, with the weaving-frame. All these were Parecís articles. He also secured from the Nhambiquaras wickerwork baskets of a different type and bows and arrows. The bows were seven feet long and the arrows five feet. There were blunt-headed arrows for birds, arrows with long, sharp wooden blades for tapir, deer, and other mammals; and the poisoned wararrows, with sharp barbs, poison-coated and bound on by fine thongs, and with a long, hollow wooden guard to slip over the entire point and protect it until the time came to use it. When people talk glibly of “idle” savages they ignore the immense labor entailed by many of their industries, and the really extraordinary amount of work they accomplish by the skilful use of their primitive and ineffective tools.
It was not until early in the afternoon that we started into the “sertão,”  as Brazilians call the wilderness. We drove with us a herd of oxen for food. After going about fifteen miles we camped beside the swampy headwaters of a little brook. It was at the spot where nearly seven years previously Rondon and Lyra had camped on the trip when they discovered Utiarity Falls and penetrated to the Juruena. When they reached this place they had been thirty-six hours without food. They killed a bush deer—a small deer—and ate literally every particle. The dogs devoured the entire skin. For much of the time on this trip they lived on wild fruit, and the two dogs that remained alive would wait eagerly under the trees and eat the fruit that was shaken down.
In the late afternoon the piums were rather bad at this camp, but we had gloves and head-nets, and were not bothered; and although there were some mosquitoes we slept well under our mosquito-nets. The frogs in the swamp uttered a peculiar, loud shout. Miller told of a little tree-frog in Colombia which swalled itself out with air until it looked like the frog in Æsop’s fables, and then brayed like a mule; and Cherrie told of a huge frog in Guiana that uttered a short, loud roar.
Next day the weather was still fair. Our march lay through country like that which we had been traversing for ten days. Skeletons of mules and oxen were more frequent; and once or twice by the wayside we passed the graves of officers or men who had died on the road. Barbed wire encircled the desolate little mounds. We camped on the west bank of the Burity River. Here there is a balsa, or ferry, run by two Parecís Indians, as employees of the Telegraphic Commission, under the colonel. Each had a thatched house, and each had two wives—all these Indians are pagans. All were dressed much like the poorer peasants of the Brazilian back country, and all were pleasant and well-behaved. The women ran the ferry about as well as the men. They had no cultivated fields, and for weeks they had been living only on game and honey; and they hailed with joy our advent and the quantities of beans and rice which, together with some beef, the colonel left with them. They feasted most of the night. Their houses contained their hammocks, baskets, and other belongings, and they owned some poultry. In one house was a tiny parakeet, very much at home, and familiar, but by no means friendly, with strangers. There are wild Nhambiquaras in the neighborhood, and recently several of these had menaced the two ferrymen with an attack, even shooting arrows at them. The ferrymen had driven them off by firing their rifles in the air; and they expected and received the colonel’s praise for their self-restraint; for the colonel is doing all he can to persuade the Indians to stop their blood feuds. The rifles were short and light Winchester carbines, of the kind so universally used by the rubbergatherers and other adventurous wanderers in the forest wilderness of Brazil. There were a number of rubbertrees in the neighborhood, by the way.
We enjoyed a good bath in the Burity, although it was impossible to make headway by swimming against the racing current. There were few mosquitoes. On the other hand, various kinds of piums were a little too abundant; they vary from things like small gnats to things like black flies. The small stingless bees have no fear and can hardly be frightened away when they light on the hands or face; but they never bite, and merely cause a slight tickling as they crawl over the skin. There were some big bees, however, which, although they crawled about harmlessly after lighting if they were undisturbed, yet stung fiercely if they were molested. The insects were not ordinarily a serious bother, but there were occasional hours when they were too numerous for comfort, and now and then I had to do my writing in a head-net and gauntlets.
The night we reached the Burity it rained heavily, and next day the rain continued. In the morning the mules were ferried over, while the oxen were swum across. Half a dozen of our men—whites, Indians, and negroes, all stark naked and uttering wild cries, drove the oxen into the river and then, with powerful overhand strokes, swam behind and alongside them as they crossed, halfbreasting the swift current. It was a fine sight to see the big, long-horned, staring beasts swimming strongly, while the sinewy naked men urged them forward, utterly at ease in the rushing water. We made only a short day’s journey, for, owing to the lack of grass, the mules had to be driven off nearly three miles from our line of march, in order to get them feed. We camped at the headwaters of a little brook called Huatsui, which is Parecís for “monkey.”
Accompanying us on this march was a soldier bound for one of the remoter posts. With him trudged his wife. They made the whole journey on foot. There were two children. One was so young that it had to be carried alternately by the father and mother. The other, a small boy of eight, and much the best of the party, was already a competent wilderness worker. He bore his share of the belongings on the march, and when camp was reached sometimes himself put up the family shelter. They were mainly of negro blood. Struck by the woman’s uncomplaining endurance of fatigue, we offered to take her and the baby in the automobile, while it accompanied us. But, alas! this proved to be one of those melancholy cases where the effort to relieve hardship well endured results only in showing that those who endure the adversity cannot stand even a slight prosperity. The woman proved a querulous traveller in the auto, complaining that she was not made as comfortable as apparently, she had expected; and after one day the husband declared he was not willing to have her go unless he went too; and the family resumed their walk.
In this neighborhood there were multitudes of the big, gregarious, crepuscular or nocturnal spiders which I have before mentioned. On arriving in camp, at about four in the afternoon, I ran into a number of remains of their webs, and saw a very few of the spiders themselves sitting in the webs midway between trees. I then strolled a couple of miles up the road ahead of us under the line of telegraph-poles. It was still bright sunlight and no spiders were out; in fact, I did not suspect their presence along the line of telegraph-poles, although I ought to have done so, for I continually ran into long strings of tough fine web, which got across my face or hands or rifle barrel. I returned just at sunset and the spiders were out in force. I saw dozens of colonies, each of scores or hundreds of individuals. Many were among the small trees alongside the broad, cleared trail. But most were dependent from the wire itself. Their webs had all been made or repaired since I had passed. Each was sitting in the middle of his own wheel, and all the wheels were joined to one another; and the whole pendent fabric hung by fine ropes from the wire above, and was in some cases steadied by guy-ropes, thrown thirty feet off to little trees alongside. I watched them until nightfall, and evidently, to them, after their day’s rest, their day’s work had just begun. Next morning—owing to a desire to find out what the facts were as regards the ox-carts, which were in difficulties—Cherrie, Miller, Kermit, and I walked back to the Burity River, where Colonel Rondon had spent the night. It was a misty, overcast morning, and the spiders in the webs that hung from the telegraph-wire were just going to their day homes. These were in and under the big white china insulators on the telegraph-poles. Hundreds of spiders were already climbing up into these. When, two or three hours later, we returned, the sun was out, and not a spider was to be seen.
Here we had to cut down our baggage and rearrange the loads for the mule-train. Cherrie and Miller had a most workmanlike equipment, including a very light tent and two light flies. One fly they gave for the kitchen use, one fly was allotted to Kermit and me, and they kept only the tent for themselves. Colonel Rondon and Lyra went in one tent, the doctor and Oliveira in another. Each of us got rid of everything above the sheer necessities. This was necessary because of the condition of the baggage-animals. The oxen were so weak that the effort to bring on the carts had to be abandoned. Nine of the pack-mules had already been left on the road during the three days’ march from Utiarity. In the first expeditions into this country all the baggageanimals had died; and even in our case the loss was becoming very heavy. This state of affairs is due to the scarcity of forage and the type of country. Good grass is scanty, and the endless leagues of sparse, scrubby forest render it exceedingly difficult to find the animals when they wander. They must be turned absolutely loose to roam about and pick up their scanty subsistence, and must be given as long a time as possible to feed and rest; even under these conditions most of them grow weak when, as in our case, it is impossible to carry corn. They cannot be found again until after daylight, and then hours must be spent in gathering them; and this means that the march must be made chiefly during the heat of the day, the most trying time. Often some of the animals would not be brought in until so late that it was well on in the forenoon, perhaps midday, before the bulk of the pack-train started; and they reached the campingplace as often after nightful as before it. Under such conditions many of the mules and oxen grew constantly weaker and ultimately gave out; and it was imperative to load them as lightly as possible, and discard all luxuries, especially heavy or bulky luxuries. Travelling through a wild country where there is little food for man or beast is beset with difficulties almost inconceivable to the man who does not himself know this kind of wilderness, and especially to the man who only knows the ease of civilization. A scientific party of some size, with the equipment necessary in order to do scientific work, can only go at all if the men who actually handle the problems of food and transportation do their work thoroughtly.
Our march continued through the same type of high, nearly level upland, covered with scanty, scrubby forest. It is the kind of country known to the Brazilians as chapadão—pronounced almost as if it were a French word and spelled shapadón. Our camp on the fourth night was in a beautiful spot, an open grassy space, beside a clear, cool, rushing little river. We ourselves reached this, and waded our beasts across the deep, narrow stream in the late afternoon; and we then enjoyed a bath and swim. The loose bullocks arrived at sunset, and with shrill cries the mounted herdsmen urged them into and across the swift water. The mule-train arrived long after nightful, and it was not deemed wise to try to cross the laden animals. Accordingly the loads were taken off and brought over on the heads of the men; it was fine to see the sinewy, naked figures bearing their burdens through the broken moonlit water to the hither bank. The night was cool and pleasant. We kindled a fire and sat beside the blaze. then, healthily hungry, we gathered around the ox-hides to a delicious dinner of soup, beef, beans, rice, and coffee.
Next day we made a short march, crossed a brook, and camped by another clear, deep, rapid little river, swollen by the rains. All these rivers that we were crossing run actually into the Juruena, and therefore form part of the headwaters of the Tapajos; for the Tapajos is a mighty river, and the basin which holds its headwaters covers an immense extent of country. This country and the adjacent regions, forming the high interior of western Brazil, will surely some day support a large industrial population; of which the advent would be hastened, although not necessarily in permanently better fashion, if Colonel Rondon’s anticipations about the development of mining, especially gold mining, are realized. In any event the region will be a healthy home for a considerable agricultural and pastoral population. Above all, the many swift streams with their numerous waterfalls, some of great height and volume, offer the chance for the upgrowth of a number of big manufacturing communities, knit by rail-roads to one another and to the Atlantic coast and the valleys of the Paraguay, Madeira, and Amazon, and feeding and being fed by the dwellers in the rich, hot, alluvial lowlands that surround this elevated territory. The work of Colonel Rondon and his associates of the Telegraphic Commission has been to open this great and virgin land to the knowledge of the world and to the service of their nation. In doing so they have incidentally founded the Brazilian school of exploration. Before their day almost all the scientific and regular exploration of Brazil was done by foreigners. But, of course, there was much exploration and settlement by nameless Brazilians, who were merely endeavoring to make new homes or advance their private fortunes: in recent years by rubber-gatherers, for instance, and a century ago by those bold and restless adventurers, partly of Portuguese and partly of Indian blood, the Paolistas, from one of whom Colonel Rondon is himself descended on his father’s side.
The camp by this river was in some old and grown-up fields, once the seat of a rather extensive maize and mandioc cultivation by the Nhambiquaras. On this day Cherrie got a number of birds new to the collection, and two or three of them probably new to science. We had found the birds for the most part in worn plumage, for the breeding season, the southern spring and northern fall, was over. But some birds were still breeding. In the tropics the breeding season is more irregular than in the north. Some birds breed at very different times from that chosen by the majority of their fellows; some can hardly be said to have any regular season; Cherrie had found one species of honey-creeper breeding in every month of the year. Just before sunset and just after sunrise big, noisy, blue-and-yellow macaws flew over this camp. They were plentiful enough to form a loose flock, but each pair kept to itself, the two individuals always close together and always separated from the rest. Although not an abundant, it was an interesting, fauna which the two naturalists found in this upland country, where hitherto no collections of birds and mammals had been made. Miller trapped several species of opossums, mice and rats which were new to him. Cherrie got many birds which he did not recognize. At this camp, among totally strange forms, he found an old and familiar acquaintance. Before breakfast he brought in several birds; a dark colored flycatcher, with white forehead and rump and two very long tail-feathers; a black and slate-blue tanager; a black ant-thrush with a concealed white spot on its back, at the base of the neck, and its dull-colored mate; and other birds which he believed to be new to science, but whose relationships with any of our birds are so remote that it is hard to describe them save in technical language. Finally, among these unfamiliar forms was a veery, and the sight of the rufous-olive back and faintly spotted throat of this singer of our northern Junes made us almost homesick.
Next day was brilliantly clear. The mules could not be brought in until quite late in the morning, and we had to march twenty miles under the burning tropical sun, right in the hottest part of the day. From a rise of ground we looked back over the vast, sunlit landscape, the endless rolling stretches of low forest. Midway on our journey we crossed a brook. The dogs minded the heat much. They continually ran off to one side, lay down in a shady place, waited until we were several hundred yards ahead, and then raced after us, overtook us, and repeated the performance. The pack-train came in about sunset; but we ourselves reached the Juruena in the middle of the afternoon.
The Juruena is the name by which the Tapajos goes along its upper course. Where we crossed, it was a deep, rapid stream, flowing in a heavily wooded valley with rather steep sides. We were ferried across on the usual balsa, a platform on three dugouts, running by the force of the current on a wire trolley. There was a clearing on each side with a few palms, and on the farther bank were the buildings of the telegraph station. This is a wild country, and the station was guarded by a few soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Marino, a native of Rio Grande do Sul, a blond man who looked like an Englishman—an agreeable companion, and a good and resolute officer, as all must be who do their work in this wilderness. The Juruena was first followed at the end of the eighteenth century by the Portuguese explorer Franco, and not again until over a hundred years had elapsed, when the Telegraphic Commission not only descended, but for the first time accurately placed and mapped its course.
There were several houses on the rise of the farther bank, all with thatched roofs, some of them with walls of upright tree-trunks, some of them daub and wattle. Into one of the latter, with two rooms, we took our belongings. The sand-flies were bothersome at night, coming through the interstices in the ordinary mosquito-nets. The first night they did this I got no sleep until morning, when it was cool enough for me to roll myself in my blanket and put on a head-net. Afterward we used fine nets of a kind of cheese-cloth. They were hot, but they kept out all, or almost all, of the sand-flies and other small tormentors.
Here we overtook the rearmost division of Captain Amilcar’s bullock-train. Our own route had diverged, in order to pass the great falls. Captain Amilcar had come direct, overtaking the pack-oxen, which had left Tapirapoan before we did, laden with material for the Dúvida trip. He had brought the oxen through in fine shape, losing only three beasts with their loads, and had himself left the Juruena the morning of the day we reached there. His weakest animals left that evening, to make the march by moonlight; and as it was desirable to give them thirty-six hours’ start, we halted for a day on the banks of the river. It was not a wasted day. In addition to bathing and washing our clothes, the naturalists made some valuable additions to the collection—including a boldly marked black, blue, and white jay—and our photographs were developed and our writing brought abreast of the date. Travelling through a tropical wilderness in the rainy season, when the amount of baggage that can be taken is strictly limited, entails not only a good deal of work, but also the exercise of considerable ingenuity if the writing and photographing, and especially the preservation, of the specimens are to be done in satisfactory shape.
At the telegraph office we received news that the voyage of Lauriadó and Fiala down the Papagaio had opened with a misadventure. In some bad rapids, not many miles below the falls, two of the canoes had been upset, half of their provisions and all of Fiala’s baggage lost, and Fiala himself nearly drowned. The Papagaio is known both at the source and the mouth; to descend it did not represent a plunge into the unknown, as in the case of the Dúvida or the Ananás; but the actual water work, over the part that was unexplored, offered the same posibilities of mischance and disaster. It is a hazardous thing to descend a swift, unknown river rushing through an uninhabited wilderness. To descend or ascend the ordinary great highway rivers of South America, such as the Amazon, Paraguay, Tapajos, and, in its lower course, the Orinoco, is now so safe and easy, whether by steam-boat or big, native cargo-boat, that people are apt to forget the very serious difficulties offered by the streams, often themselves great rivers, which run into or form the upper courses of these same water highways. Few things are easier than the former feat, and few more difficult than the latter; and experience in ordinary travelling on the lower courses of the rivers is of no benefit whatever in enabling a man to form a judgement as to what can be done, and how to do it, on the upper courses. Failure to remember this fact is one of the obstacles in the way of securing a proper appreciation of the needs and the results, of South American exploration.
At the Juruena we met a party of Nhambiquaras, very friendly and sociable, and very glad to see Colonel Rondon. They were originally exceedingly hostile and suspicious, but the colonel’s unwearied thoughtfulness and good temper, joined with his indomitable resolution, enabled him to avoid war and to secure their friendship and even their aid. He never killed one. Many of them are known to him personally. He is on remarkably good terms with them, and they are very fond of him—although this does not prevent them from now and then yielding to temptation, even at his expense, and stealing a dog or something else which strikes them as offering an irresistible attraction. They cannot be employed at steady work; but they do occasional odd jobs, and are excellent at hunting up strayed mules or oxen; and a few of the men have begun to wear clothes, purely for ornament. Their confidence and bold friendliness showed how well they had been treated. Probably half of our visitors were men; several were small boys; one was a woman with a baby; the others were young married women and girls.
Nowhere in Africa did we come across wilder or more absolutely primitive savages, although these Indians were pleasanter and better-featured than any of the African tribes at the same stage of culture. Both sexes were well-made and rather good-looking, with fairly good teeth, although some of them seemed to have skin diseases. They were a laughing, easy-tempered crew, and the women were as well-fed as the men, and were obviously well-treated, from the savage standpoint; there was no male brutality like that which forms such a revolting feature in the life of the Australian black fellows and, although to a somewhat less degree, in the life of so many negro and Indian tribes. They were practically absolutely naked. In many savage tribes the men go absolutely naked, but the women wear a breech-clout or loincloth. In certain tribes we saw near Lake Victoria Nyanza, and on the upper White Nile, both men and women were practically naked. Among these Nhambiquaras the women were more completely naked than the men, although the difference was not essential. The men wore a string around the waist. Most of them wore nothing else, but a few had loosely hanging from this string in front a scanty tuft of dried grass, or a small piece of cloth, which, however, was of purely symbolic use so far as either protection or modesty was concerned. The women did not wear a stitch of any kind anywhere on their bodies. They did not have on so much as a string, or a bead, or even an ornament in their hair. They were all, men and women, boys and well-grown young girls, as entirely at ease and unconscious as so many friendly animals. All of them—men, women, and children, laughing and talking—crowded around us, whether we were on horseback or on foot. They flocked into the house, and when I sat down to write surrounded me so closely that I had to push them gently away. The women and girls often stood holding one another’s hands, or with their arms over one another’s shoulders or around one another’s waists, offering an attractive picture. The men had holes pierced through the septum of the nose and through the upper lip, and wore a straw through each hole. The women were not marked or mutilated. It seems like a contradiction in terms, but it is nevertheless a fact that the behavior of these completely naked women and men was entirely modest. There was never an indecent look or a consciously indecent gesture. They had no blankets or hammocks, and when night came simply lay down in the sand. Colonel Rondon stated that they never wore a covering by night or by day, and if it was cool slept one on each side of a small fire. Their huts were merely slight shelters against the rain.
The moon was nearly full, and after nightfall a few of the Indians suddenly held an improvised dance for us in front of our house. There were four men, a small boy, and two young women or grown girls. Two of the men had been doing some work for the commission, and were dressed, one completely and one partially, in ordinary clothes. Two of the men and the boy were practically naked, and the two young women were absolutely so. All of them danced in a circle, without a touch of embarrassment or impropriety. The two girls kept hold of each other’s hands throughout, dancing among the men as modestly as possible, and with the occasional interchange of a laugh or jest, in as good taste and temper as in any dance in civilization. The dance consisted in slowly going round in a circle, first one way then the other, rhythmically beating time with the feet to the music of the song they were chanting. The chants—there were three of them, all told—were measured and rather slowly uttered melodies, varied with an occasional half-subdued shrill cry. The women continually uttered a kind of long-drawn wailing or droning; I am not enough of a musician to say whether it was an overtone or the sustaining of the burden of the ballad. The young boy sang better than any of the others. It was a strange and interesting sight to see these utterly wild, friendly savages circling in their slow dance, and chanting their immemorial melodies, in the brilliant tropical moonlight, with the river rushing by in the background, through the lonely heart of the wilderness.
The Indians stayed with us, feasting, dancing, and singing until the early hours of the morning. They then suddenly and silently disappeared in the darkness, and did not return. In the morning we discovered that they had gone off with one of Colonel Rondon’s dogs. Probably the temptation had proved irresistible to one of their number, and the others had been afraid to interfere, and also afraid to stay in or return to our neighborhood. We had not time to go after them; but Rondon remarked that as soon as he again came to the neighborhood he would take some soldiers, hunt up the Indians, and reclaim the dog. It has been his mixture of firmness, good nature, and good judgment that has enabled him to control these bold, warlike savages, and even to reduce the warfare between them and the Parecís. In spite of their good nature and laughter, their fearlessness and familiarity showed how necessary it was not to let them get the upper hand. They are always required to leave all their arms a mile or two away before they come into the encampment. They are much wilder and more savage, and at a much lower cultural level, than the Parecís.
In the afternoon of the day following our arrival there was a heavy rain-storm which drove into the unglazed windows, and here and there came through the roof and walls of our daub-and-wattle house. The heat was intense and there was much moisture in this valley. During the downpour I looked out at the dreary little houses, showing through the driving rain, while the sheets of muddy water slid past their door-sills; and I felt a sincere respect for the lieutenant and his soldiers who were holding this desolate outpost of civilization. It is an unhealthy spot; there has been much malarial fever and beriberi—an obscure and deadly disease.
Next morning we resumed our march. It soon began to rain and we were drenched when, some fifteen miles on, we reached the river where we were to camp. After the great heat we felt quite cold in our wet clothes, and gladly crowded round a fire which was kindled under a thatched shed, beside the cabin of the ferryman. This ferry-boat was so small that it could only take one mule, or at most two, at a time. The mules and a span of six oxen dragging an ox-cart, which we had overtaken, were ferried slowly to the farther side that afternoon, as there was no feed on the hither bank, where we ourselves camped. The ferryman was a soldier in the employ of the Telegraphic Commission. His good-looking, pleasant-mannered wife, evidently of both Indian and negro blood, was with him, and was doing all she could do as a housekeeper, in the comfortless little cabin, with its primitive bareness of furniture and fittings.
Here we saw Captain Amilcar, who had come back to hurry up his rear-guard. We stood ankle-deep in mud and water, by the swollen river, while the rain beat on us, and enjoyed a few minutes’ talk with the cool, competent officer who was doing a difficult job with such workman-like efficiency. He had no poncho, and was wet through, but was much too busy in getting his laden oxen forward to think of personal discomfort. He had had a good deal of trouble with his mules, but his oxen were still in fair shape.
After leaving the Juruena the ground became somewhat more hilly, and the scrubby forest was less open, but otherwise there was no change in the monotonous, and yet to me rather attractive, landscape. The ant-hills, and the ant-houses in the trees—arboreal ant-hills, so to speak—were as conspicuous as ever. The architects of some were red ants, of others black ants; and others, which were on the whole the largest, had been built by the white ants, the termites. The latter were not infrequently taller than a horseman’s head.
That evening round the camp-fire Colonel Rondon happened to mention how the brother of one of the soldiers with us—a Parecís Indian—had been killed by a jararaca snake. Cherrie told of a narrow escape he had from one while collecting in Guiana. At night he used to set traps in camp for small mammals. One night he heard one of these traps go off under his hammock. He reached down for it, and as he fumbled for the chain he felt a snake strike at him, just missing him in the darkness, but actually brushing his hand. He lit a light and saw that a big jararaca had been caught in the trap; and he preserved it as a specimen. Snakes frequently came into his camp after nightfall. He killed one rattlesnake which had swallowed the skinned bodies of four mice he had prepared as specimens; which shows that rattlesnakes do not always feed only on living prey. Another rattlesnake which he killed in Central America had just swallowed an opossum which proved to be of a species new to science. Miller told how once on the Orinoco he saw on the bank a small anaconda, some ten feet long, killing one of the iguanas, big, active, truculent, carnivorous lizards, equally at home on the land and in the water. Evidently the iguanas were digging out holes in the bank in which to lay their eggs; for there were several such holes, and iguanas working at them. The snake had crushed its prey to a pulp; and not more than a couple of feet away another iguana was still busily, and with entire unconcern, engaged in making its burrow. At Miller’s approach the anaconda left the dead iguana and rushed into the water, and the live iguana promptly followed it. Miller also told of the stone gods and altars and temples he had seen in the great Colombian forests, monuments of strange civilizations which flourished and died out ages ago, and of which all memory has vanished. He and Cherrie told of giant rivers and waterfalls, and of forests never penetrated, and mountains never ascended by civilized man; and of bloody revolutions that devastated the settled regions. Listening to them I felt that they could write “Tales of Two Naturalists” that would be worth reading.
They were short of literature, by the way—a party such as ours always needs books—and as Kermit’s reading-matter consisted chiefly of Camoens and other Portuguese, or else Brazilian, writers, I strove to supply the deficiency with spare volumes of Gibbon. At the end of our march we were usually far ahead of the mule-train, and the rain was also usually falling. Accordingly we would sit about under trees, or under a shed or lean-to, if there was one, each solemnly reading a volume of Gibbon—and no better reading can be found. In my own case, as I had been having rather a steady course of Gibbon, I varied him now and then with a volume of Arséne Lupin lent me by Kermit.
There were many swollen rivers to cross at this point of our journey.Some we waded at fords. Some we crossed by rude bridges. The larger ones, such as the Juina, we crossed by ferry, and when the approaches were swampy, and the river broad and swift, many hours might be consumed in getting the mule-train, the loose bullocks, and the ox-cart over. We had few accidents, although we once lost a ferry-load of provisions, which was quite a misfortune in a country where they could not be replaced. The pasturage was poor, and it was impossible to make long marches with our weakened animals.
At one camp three Nhambiquaras paid us a visit at breakfast time. They left their weapons behind them before they appeared, and shouted loudly while they were still hid by the forest, and it was only after repeated answering calls of welcome that they approached. Always in the wilderness friends proclaim their presence; a silent advance marks a foe. Our visitors were men, and stark naked, as usual. One seemed sick; he was thin, and his back was scarred with marks of the grub of the loath-some berni fly. Indeed, all of them showed scars, chiefly from insect wounds. But the other two were in good condition, and, although they ate greedily of the food offered them, they had with them a big mandioc cake, some honey, and a little fish. One of them wore a high helmet of puma-skin, with the tail hanging down his back—handsome head-gear, which he gladly bartered for several strings of bright coral-red beads. Around the upper arms of two of them were bands bound so tightly as to cut into and deform the muscles—a singular custom, seemingly not only purposeless but mischievous, which is common among this tribe and many others.
The Nhambiquaras are a numerous tribe, covering a large region. But they have no general organization. Each group of families acts for itself. Half a dozen years previously they had been very hostile, and Colonel Rondon had to guard his camp and exercise every precaution to guarantee his safety, while at the same time successfully endeavoring to avoid the necessity of himself shedding blood. Now they are, for the most part, friendly. But there are groups or individuals that are not. Several soldiers have been killed at these little lonely stations; and while in some cases the attack may have been due to the soldiers having meddled with Nhambiquara women, in other cases the killing was entirely wanton and unprovoked. Sooner or later these criminals or outlaws will have to be brought to justice; it will not do to let their crimes go unpunished. Twice soldiers have deserted and fled to the Nhambiquaras. The runaways were well received, were given wives, and adopted into the tribe.
The country when opened will be a healthy abode for white settlers. But pioneering in the wilderness is grim work for both man and beast. Continually, as we journeyed neyed onward, under the pitiless glare of the sun or through blinding torrents of rain, we passed desolate little graves by the roadside. They marked the last resting places of men who had died by fever, or dysentery, or Nhambiquara arrows. We raised our hats as our mules plodded slowly by through the sand. On each grave was a frail wooden cross, and this and the paling round about were already stained by the weather as gray as the treetrunks of the stunted forest that stretched endlessly. on every side.
The skeletons of mules and oxen were frequent along the road. Now and then we came across a mule or ox which had been abandoned by Captain Amilcar’s party, ahead of us. The animal had been left with the hope that when night came it would follow along the trail to water. Sometimes it did so. Sometimes we found it dead, or standing motionless waiting for death. From time to time we had to leave behind one of our own mules.
It was not always easy to recognize what pasturage the mules would accept as good. One afternoon we pitched camp by a tiny rivulet, in the midst of the scrubby upland forest; a camp, by the way, where the piums, the small, biting flies, were a torment during the hours of daylight, while after dark their places were more than taken by the diminutive gnats which the Brazilians expressively term “polvora,” or powder, and which get through the smallest meshes of a mosquito-net. The feed was so scanty, and the cover so dense, at this spot that I thought we would have great difficulty in gathering the mules next morning. But we did not. A few hours later, in the afternoon, we camped by a beautiful open meadow; on one side ran a rapid brook, with a waterfall eight feet high, under which we bathed and swam. Here the feed looked so good that we all expressed pleasure. But the mules did not like it, and after nightfall they hiked back on the trail, and it was a long and arduous work to gather them next morning.
I have touched above on the insect pests. Men unused to the South American wilderness speak with awe of the danger therein from jaguars, crocodiles, and poisonous snakes. In reality, the danger from these sources is trivial, much less than the danger of being run down by an automobile at home. But at times the torment of insect plagues can hardly be exaggerated. There are many different species of mosquitoes, some of them bearers of disease. There are many different kinds of small, biting flies and gnats, loosely grouped together under various titles. The ones more especially called piums by my companions were somewhat like our northern black flies. They gorged themselves with blood. At the moment their bites did not hurt, but they left an itching scar. head-nets and gloves are a protection, but are not very comfortable in stifling hot weather. It is impossible to sleep without mosquito-biers. When settlers of the right type come into a new land they speedily learn to take the measures necessary to minimize the annoyance caused by all these pests. Those that are winged have plenty of kinsfolk in so much of the northern continent as has not yet been subdued by man. But the most noxious of the South American ants have, thank heaven, no representatives in North America. At the camp of the piums a column of the carnivorous foraging ants made its appearance before nightfall, and for a time we feared it might put us out of our tents, for it went straight through camp, between the kitchen-tent and our own sleepingtents. However, the column turned neither to the right nor the left, streaming uninterruptedly past for several hours, and doing no damage except to the legs of any incautious man who walked near it.
On the afternoon of February 15 we reached Campos Novos. This place was utterly unlike the country we had been traversing. It was a large basin, several miles across, traversed by several brooks. The brooks ran in deep swampy valleys, occupied by a matted growth of tall tropical forest. Between them the ground rose in bold hills, bare of forest and covered with grass, on which our jaded animals fed eagerly. On one of these rounded hills a number of buildings were ranged in a quadrangle, for the pasturage at this spot is so good that it is permanently occupied. There were milch cows, and we got delicious fresh milk; and there were goats, pigs, turkeys, and chickens. Most of the buildings were made of upright poles with roofs of palm thatch. One or two were of native brick, plastered with mud, and before these there was an enclosure with a few ragged palms, and some pineapple plants. Here we halted. Our attendants made two kitchens: one was out in the open air, one was under a shelter of ox-hide. The view over the surrounding grassy hills, riven by deep wooded valleys, was lovely. The air was cool and fresh. We were not bothered by insects, although mosquitoes swarmed in every belt of timber. Yet there has been much fever at this beautiful and seemingly healthy place. Doubtless when settlement is sufficiently advanced a remedy will be developed. The geology of this neighborhood was interesting—Oliveira found fossil tree-trunks which he believed to be of cretaceous age.
Here we found Amilcar and Mello, who had waited for us with the rear-guard of their pack-train, and we enjoyed our meeting with the two fine fellows, than whom no military service of any nation could produce more efficient men for this kind of difficult and responsible work. Next morning they mustered their soldiers, muleteers, and pack-ox men and marched off. Reinisch the taxidermist was with them. We followed in the late afternoon, camping after a few miles. We left the oxcart at Campos Novos; from thence on the trail was only for pack-animals.
In this neighborhood the two naturalists found many birds which we had not hitherto met. The most conspicuous was a huge oriole, the size of a small crow, with a naked face, a black-and-red bill, and gaudily variegated plumage of green, yellow, and chestnut. Very interesting was the false bell-bird, a gray bird with loud, metallic notes. There was also a tiny soft-tailed woodpecker, no larger than a kinglet; a queer humming-bird with a slightly flexible bill; and many species of ant-thrush, tanager, manakin, and tody. Among these unfamiliar forms was a vireo looking much like our solitary vireo. At one camp Cherrie collected a dozen perching birds; Miller a beautiful little rail; and Kermit, with the small Lüger belt-rifle, a handsome curassow, nearly as big as a turkey—out of which, after it had been skinned, the cook made a delicious canja, the thick Brazilian soup of fowl and rice than which there is nothing better of its kind. All these birds were new to the collection—no naturalists had previously worked this region—so that the afternoon’s work represented nine species new to the collection, six new genera, and a most excellent soup.
Two days after leaving Campos Novos we reached Vilhena, where there is a telegraph station. We camped once at a small river named by Colonel Rondon the “Twelfth of October,” because he reached it on the day Columbus discovered America—I had never before known what day it was!—and once at the foot of a hill which he had named after Lyra, his companion in the exploration. The two days’ march—really one full day and part of two others—was through beautiful country, and we enjoyed it thoroughly, although there were occasional driving rain-storms, when the rain came in almost level sheets and drenched every one and everything. The country was like that around Campos Novos, and offered a striking contrast to the level, barren, sandy wastes of the chapadão, which is a healthy region, where great industrial centres can arise, but not suited for extensive agriculture as are the lowland flats. For these fortyeight hours the trail climbed into and out of steep valleys and broad basins and up and down hills. In the deep valleys were magnificent woods, in which giant rubber-trees towered, while the huge leaves of the low-growing pacova, or wild banana, were conspicuous in the undergrowth. Great azure butterflies flitted through the open, sunny glades, and the bell-birds, sitting motionless, uttered their ringing calls from the dark stillness of the columned groves. The hillsides were grassy pastures or else covered with low, open forest.
A huge frog, brown above, with a light streak down each side, was found hiding under some sticks in a damp place in one of the improvised kitchens; and another frog, with disks on his toes, was caught on one of the tents. A coral-snake puzzled us. Some coral-snakes are harmless; others are poisonous, although not aggressive. The best authorities give an infallible recipe for distinguishing them by the pattern of the colors, but this particular specimen, although it corresponded exactly in color pattern with the description of the poisonous snakes, nevertheless had no poison-fangs that even after the most minute examination we could discover. Miller and one of the dogs caught a seriema, a big, long-legged, bustardlike bird, in rather a curious way. We were on the march, plodding along through as heavy a tropic downpour as it was our ill fortune to encounter. The sariema, evidently as drenched and uncomfortable as we were, was hiding under a bush to avoid the pelting rain. The dog discovered it, and after the bird valiantly repelled him, Miller was able to seize it. Its stomach contained about half a pint of grass-hoppers and beetles and young leaves. At Vilhena there was a tame sariema, much more familiar and at home than any of the poultry. It was without the least fear of man or dog. The sariema (like the screamer and the curassow) ought to be introduced into our barnyards and on our lawns, at any rate in the Southern States; it is a good-looking, friendly, and attractive bird. Another bird we met is in some places far more intimate, and domesticates itself. This is the pretty little honey-creeper. In Colombia Miller found the honeycreepers habitually coming inside the houses and hotels at meal-times, hopping about the table, and climbing into the sugar-bowl.
Along this part of our march there was much of what at a hasty glance seemed to be volcanic rock; but Oliveira showed me that it was a kind of conglomerate, with bubbles or hollows in it, made of sand and iron-bearing earth. He said it was a superficial quaternary deposit formed by erosion from the cretaceous rocks, and that there were here no tertiary deposits. He described the geological structure of the lands through which we had passed as follows: The pantanals were of pleistocene age. Along the upper Sepotuba, in the region of the rapids, there were sandstones, shales, and clays of permian age. The rolling country east of this contained eruptive rocks—a porphyritic disbase, with zeolite, quartz, and agate of triassic age. With the chapadão of the Parecís plateau we came to a land of sand and clay, dotted with lumps of sandstone and pieces of petrified wood; this, according to Oliveira, is of mesozoic age, possibly cretaceous and similiar to the South African formation. There are geologists who consider it as of permian age.
At Vilhena we were on a watershed which drained into the Gy-Paraná, which itself runs into the Madeira nearly midway between its sources and its mouth. A little farther along and northward we again came to streams running ultimately into the Tapajos; and between them, and close to them, were streamlets which drained into the Dúvida and Ananás, whose courses and outlets were unknown. This point is part of the divide between the basins of the Madeira and Tapajos. A singular topographical feature of the Plan Alto, the great interior sandy plateau of Brazil, is that at its westernmost end the southward flowing streams, instead of running into the Paraguay as they do farther east, form the headwaters of the Guaporé, which may, perhaps, be called the upper main stream of the Madeira. These westernmost streams from the southern edge of the plateau, therefore, begin by flowing south; then for a long stretch they flow southwest; then north, and finally northeast into the Amazon. According to some exceptionally good geological observers, this is probably due to the fact that in a remote geologic past the ocean sent in an arm from the south, between the Plan Alto and what is now the Andean chain. These rivers then emptied into the Andean Sea. The gradual upheaval of the soil has resulted in substituting dry land for this arm of the ocean and in reversing the course of what is now the Madeira, just as, according to these geologists, in somewhat familiar fashion the Amazon has been reversed, it having once been, at least for the upper two thirds of its course, an affluent of the Andean Sea.
From Vilhena we travelled in a generally northward direction. For a few leagues we went across the chapadão, the sands or clays of the nearly level upland plateau, grassy or covered with thin, stunted forest, the same type of country that had been predominant ever since we ascended the Parecís table-land on the morning of the third day after leaving the Sepotuba. Then, at about the point where the trail dipped into a basin containing the headsprings of the Ananás, we left this type of country and began to march through thick forest, not very high. There was little feed for the animals on the Chapadão. There was less in the forest. Moreover, the continual heavy rains made the travelling difficult and laborious for them, and they weakened. However, a couple of marches before we reached Tres Burity, where there is a big ranch with hundreds of cattle, we were met by ten fresh pack-oxen, and our serious difficulties were over.
There were piums in plenty day, but neither mosquitoes nor sand-flies by night; and for us the trip was very pleasant, save for moments of anxiety about the mules. The loose bullocks furnished us abundance of fresh beef, although, as was inevitable under the circumstances, of a decidedly tough quality. One of the biggest of the bullocks was attacked one night by a vampire bat, and next morning his withers were literally bathed in blood.
With the chapadão we said good-by to the curious, gregarious, and crepuscular or nocturnal spiders which we found so abundant along the line of the telegraphwire. They have offered one of the small problems with which the commission has had to deal. They are not common in the dry season. They swarm during the rains; and, when their tough webs are wet, those that lead from the wire to the ground sometimes effectually shortcircuit the wire. They have on various occasions caused a good deal of trouble in this manner.
The third night out from Vilhena we emerged for a moment from the endless close-growing forest in which our poor animals got such scanty pickings, and came to a beautiful open country, where grassy slopes, dotted with occasional trees, came down on either side of a little brook which was one of the headwaters of the Dúvida. It was a pleasure to see the mules greedily bury their muzzles in the pasturage. Our tents were pitched in the open, near a shady tree, which sent out its low branches on every side. At this camp Cherrie shot a lark, very characteristic of the open upland country, and Miller found two bats in the rotten wood of a dead log. He heard them squeaking and dug them out; he could not tell by what method they had gotten in.
Here Kermit, while a couple of miles from our tents, came across an encampment of Nhambiquaras. There were twenty or thirty of them—men, women, and a few children. Kermit, after the manner of honest folk in the wilderness, advanced ostentatiously in the open, calling out to give warning of his coming. Like surroundings may cause like manners. The early Saxons in England deemed it legal to kill any man who came through the woods without shouting or blowing a horn; and in Nhambiquara land at the present time it is against etiquette, and may be very unhealthy, to come through the woods toward strangers without loudly announcing one’s presence. The Nhambiquaras received Kermit with the utmost cordiality, and gave him pineapple-wine to drink. They were stark naked as usual; they had no hammocks or blankets, and their huts were flimsy shelters of palm-branches. Yet they were in fine condition. Half a dozen of the men and a couple of boys accompanied Kermit back to our camp, paying no slightest heed to the rain which was falling. They were bold and friendly, good-natured—at least superficially—and very inquisitive. In feasting, the long reeds thrust through holes in their lips did not seem to bother them, and they laughed at the suggestion of removing them; evidently to have done so would have been rather bad manners—like using a knife as an aid in eating ice-cream. They held two or three dances, and we were again struck by the rhythm and weird, haunting melody of their chanting. After supper they danced beside the camp-fire; and finally, to their delight, most of the members of our own party, Americans and Brazilians, enthusiastically joined the dance, while the colonel and I furnished an appreciative and applauding audience. Next morning, when we were awakened by the chattering and screaming of the numerous macaws, parrots, and parakeets, we found that nearly all the Indians, men and women, were gathered outside the tent. As far as clothing was concerned, they were in the condition of Adam and Eve before the fall. One of the women carried a little squirrel monkey. She put it up the big tree some distance from the tents; and when she called, it came scampering to her across the grass, ran up her, and clung to her neck. They would have liked to pilfer; but as they had no clothes it was difficult for them to conceal anything. One of the women was observed to take a fork; but as she did not possess a rag of clothing of any kind all she did do was to try to bury the fork in the sand and then sit on it; and it was reclaimed without difficulty. One or two of the children wore necklaces and bracelets made of the polished wood of the tucum palm, and of the molars of small rodents.
Next day’s march led us across a hilly country of good pastureland. The valleys were densely wooded, palms of several kinds being conspicuous among the other trees; and the brooks at the bottoms we crossed at fords or by the usual rude pole bridges. On the open pastures were occasional trees, usually slender bacaba palms, with heads which the winds had dishevelled until they looked like mops. It was evidently a fine natural cattle country, and we soon began to see scores, perhaps hundreds, of the cattle belonging to the government ranch at Tres Burity, which we reached in the early afternoon. It is beautifully situated: the view roundabout is lovely, and certainly the land will prove healthy when settlements have been definitely established. Here we revelled in abundance of good fresh milk and eggs; and for dinner we had chicken canja and fat beef roasted on big wooden spits; and we even had watermelons. The latter were from seeds brought down by the American engineers who built the MadeiraMarmoré Railroad—a work which stands honorably distinguished among the many great and useful works done in the development of the tropics of recent years.
Amilcar’s pack-oxen, which were nearly worn out, had been left in these fertile pastures. Most of the fresh oxen which he took in their places were unbroken, and there was a perfect circus before they were packed and marched off; in every direction, said the gleeful narrators, there were bucking oxen and loads strewed on the ground. This cattle-ranch is managed by the colonel’s uncle, his mother’s brother, a hale old man of seventy, white-haired but as active and vigorous as ever; with a fine, kindly, intelligent face. His name is Miguel Evangalista. He is a native of Matto Grosso, of practically pure Indian blood, and was dressed in the ordinary costume of the Caboclo—hat, shirt, trousers, and no shoes or stockings. Within the last year he had killed three jaguars, which had been living on the mules; as long as they could get mules they did not at this station molest the cattle.
It was with this uncle’s father, Colonel Rondon’s own grandfather, that Colonel Rondon as an orphan spent the first seven years of his life. His father died before he was born, and his mother when he was only a year old. He lived on his grandfather’s cattle-ranch, some fifty miles from Cuyabá. Then he went to live in Cuyabá with a kinsman on his father’s side, from whom he took the name of Rondon; his own father’s name was DaSilva. He studied in the Cuyabá Government School, and at sixteen was inscribed as one of the instructors. Then he went to Rio, served for a year in the army as an enlisted man in the ranks, and succeeded finally in getting into the military school. After five years as pupil he served three years as professor of mathematics in this school; and then, as a lieutenant of engineers in the Brazilian army, he came back to his home in Matto Grosso and began his life-work of exploring the wilderness.
Next day we journeyed to the telegraph station at Bonofacio, through alternate spells of glaring sunshine and heavy rain. On the way we stopped at an aldea—village—of Nhambiquaras. We first met a couple of men going to hunt, with bows and arrows longer than themselves. A rather comely young woman, carrying on her back a wickerwork basket, or creel, supported by a forehead band, and accompanied by a small child, was with them. At the village there were a number of men, women, and children. Although as completely naked as the others we had met, the members of this band were more ornamented with beads, and wore earrings made from the inside of mussel-shells or very big snail-shells. They were more hairy than the ones we had so far met. The women, but not the men, completely remove the hair from their bodies—and look more, instead of less, indecent in consequence. The chief, whose body was painted red with the juice of a fruit, had what could fairly be styled a mustache and imperial; and one old man looked somewhat like a hairy Ainu, or perhaps even more like an Australian black fellow. My companion told me that this probably represented an infusion of negro blood, and possibly of mulatto blood, from runaway slaves of the old days, when some of the Matto Grosso mines were worked by slave labor. They also thought it possible that this infiltration of African negroes might be responsible for the curious shape of the bigger huts, which were utterly unlike their flimsy, ordinary shelters, and bore no resemblance in shape to those of the other Indian tribes of this region; whereas they were not unlike the ordinary beehive huts of the agricultural African negroes. There were in this village several huts or shelters open at the sides, and two of the big huts. These were of closely woven thatch, circular in outline, with a rounded dome, and two doors a couple of feet high opposite each other, and no other opening. There were fifteen or twenty people to each hut. Inside were their implements and utensils, such as wicker baskets (some of them filled with pineapples), gourds, fire-sticks, wooden knives, wooden mortars, and a board for grating mandioc, made of a thick slab of wood inset with sharp points of a harder wood. From the Brazilians one or two of them had obtained blankets, and one a hammock; and they had also obtained knives, which they sorely needed, for they are not even in the stone age. One woman shielded herself from the rain by holding a green palm-branch down her back. Another had on her head what we at first thought to be a monkey-skin head-dress. But it was a little, live, black monkey. It stayed habitually with its head above her forehead, and its arms and legs spread so that it lay moulded to the shape of her head; but both woman and monkey showed some reluctance about having their photographs taken.
Bonofacio consisted of several thatched one-room cabins, connected by a stockade which was extended to form an enclosure behind them. A number of tame parrots and parakeets, of several different species, scrambled over the roofs and entered the houses. In the open pastures near by were the curious, extensive burrows of a gopher rat, which ate the roots of grass, not emerging to eat the grass but pulling it into the burrows by the roots. These burrows bore a close likeness to those of our pocket gophers. Miller found the animals difficult to trap. Finally, by the aid of Colonel Rondon, several Indians, and two or three of our men, he dug one out. From the central shaft several surface galleries radiated, running for many rods about a foot below the surface, with, at intervals of half a dozen yards, mounds where the loose earth had been expelled. The central shaft ran straight down for about eight feet, and then lateral’y for about fifteen feet, to a kind of chamber. The animal dug hard to escape, but when taken and put on the surface of the ground it moved slowly and awkwardly. It showed vicious courage. In looks it closely resembled our pocket gophers, but it had no pockets. This was one of the most interesting small mammals that we secured.
After breakfast at Bonofacio a number of Nhambiquaras—men, women, and children—strolled in. The men gave us an exhibition of not very good archery; when the bow was bent, it was at first held so that the arrow pointed straight upwards and was then lowered so that the arrows was aimed at the target. Several of the women had been taken from other tribes, after their husbands or fathers had been killed; for the Nhambiquaras are light-hearted robbers and murderers. Two or three miserable dogs accompanied them, half-starved and mangy, but each decorated with a collar of beads. The headmen had three or four wives apiece, and the women were the burden-bearers, but apparently were not badly treated. Most of them were dirty, although well-fed looking, and their features were of a low type; but some, especially among the children, were quite attractive.
From Bonofacio we went about seven miles, across a rolling prairie dotted with trees and clumps of shrub. There, on February 24, we joined Amilcar, who was camped by a brook which flowed into the Dúvida. We were only some six miles from our place of embarkation on the Dúvida, and we divided our party and our belongings. Amilcar, Miller, Mello, and Oliveira were to march three days to the Gy-Paraná, and then descend it, and continue down the Madeira to Manaos. Rondon, Lyra, the doctor, Cherrie, Kermit, and I, with sixteen paddlers, in seven canoes, were to descend the Dúvida, and find out whether it led into the Gy-Paraná, our purpose was to return and descend the Ananás, whose outlet was also unknown. Having this in view, we left a fortnight’s provisions for our party of six at Bonofacio. We took with us provisions for about fifty days; not full rations, for we hoped in part to live on the country—on fish, game, nuts, and palm-tops. Our personal baggage was already well cut down: Cherrie, Kermit, and I took the naturalist’s fly to sleep under, and a very light little tent extra for any one who might fall sick. Rondon, Lyra, and the doctor took one of their own tents. The things that we carried were necessities—food, medicines, bedding, instruments for determining the altitude and longitude and latitude—except a few books, each in small compass: Lyra’s were in German, consisting of two tiny volumes of Goethe and Schiller; Kermit’s were in Portuguese; mine, all in English, included the last two volumes of Gibbon, the plays of Sophocles, More’s “Utopia,” Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus, the two latter lent me by a friend, Major Shipton of the regulars, our military attaché at Buenos Aires.
If our canoe voyage was prosperous we would gradually lighten the loads by eating the provisions. If we met with accidents, such as losing canoes and men in the rapids, or losing men in encounters with Indians, or if we encountered overmuch fever and dysentery, the loads would lighten themselves. We were all armed. We took no cartridges for sport. Cherrie had some to be used sparingly for collecting specimens. The others were to be used—unless in the unlikely event of having to repel an attack—only to procure food. The food and the arms we carried represented all reasonable precautions against suffering and starvation; but, of course, if the course of the river proved very long and difficult, if we lost our boats over falls or in rapids, or had to make too many and too long portages, or were brought to a halt by impassable swamps, then we would have to reckon with starvation as a possibility. Anything might happen. We were about to go into the unknown, and no one could say what it held.
1^ Pronounced “sairtown,” as nearly as, with our preposterous methods of spelling and pronunciation, I can render it.