Exploration of the Valley of the Amazon, Vol. II/8
Cinchona forests — Indians shooting fish — Department of the Beni — Vinchuta — Smallpox — Canichanas boat’s crew — Cotton cloth and silver coins — Our faithful servant José Casses and the mules — Trade at Vinchuta — A night on Coni creek — Embarkation at the base of the Andes — Chapare river — Canoe life — Floods — Bark cloth — Pick up the sick — Indians at prayers in the wilderness — Lassoing an alligator
CINCHONA FOREST. 193
The cinchona trees of Bolivia are found in that boisterous uninhabited region on the east side of the Andes which we have just passed through, in a sort of belt all along the side of the mountains, stretching from about half-way down to the feet of the Andes; a beautiful green skirt, which clothes these lofty mountains and protects their nakedness from the heavy east winds and beating rains. The general impression on the other side of this valuable forest is, that the cinchona tree may be found many miles to the eastward of where the bark gatherer has penetrated. This is not so; probably most of them have touched the lowest edge of this rich dress. On the road to the head, of the Madre-de-Dios, in Cuzco, I passed beyond where the bark gatherers went, and Leechler, who made his living by collecting bark, was constantly saying to me, after we got fairly down into the bottom of the Amazon basin, “I see no cinchona trees, sir, and I am looking out for my fortune down here.” When we returned to the boisterous region, there he was calling my attention to the shining leaf, clearly distinguished from the other foliage.
The impression in Bolivia is that the Yungas forest is giving out, and the bark gatherers are turning their attention to the Yuracares forests. There is no doubt that the forests of Yungas have been nearly stripped of this valuable tree. The only way to save the cinchona tree is to take the bark off in strips, so that the tree will cover itself again, and then the supply will be constant. The decree issued by the government, prohibiting the cutting of bark for the next three years, is no remedy. The forest does not become enriched by a new growth of trees in that time. It requires a man’s life, and probably more, for the cinchona tree to become of full size, and after the first growth is cut down that species of tree may be forever lost to the land where it was originally found in such abundance. The cinchona tree requires care and protection.
At daylight in the morning twelve or fourteen Indians came to San Antonio’s shed to see us. Three of them were on their way to a lake
194 INDIANS SHOOTING FISH.
for fish. While the mules were loading for the ferry I accompanied the three savages. As we walked along they asked me all sorts of questions, none of which I could understand. When they saw a bird they called my attention to it, and made signs for my gun to shoot. They seemed to admire my gun as much as I did their bows and arrows. I drew from my belt one of Colt’s revolvers and showed the number of balls it carried. By way of trying one of them, I offered it to him; he shook his head, no; patting his hand on his arrows, as much as to say he admired his own invention the best. As we neared the fishing place they quickened their pace and walked single file, like soldiers marching up to a fortification. The lake was small and deep, with water so clear that the bottom was plainly to be seen. The stream that fed it ran off the side of a hill, thickly wooded. Long stakes had been driven into the muddy bottom, and to the heads, which stick out of water, poles were fastened by means of creepers, so that the Indians could walk out upon a platform just above the surface of the water. As they did so they arranged their black spears, which were about twelve feet long, and silently watched on the bottom, one at each end of the lake and one in the middle. Their arrows were pointed down into the water; when one fired and missed there was a general shout of laughter, and he good naturedly talked to them and to the fish as he caught the arrow when it rebounded to the surface, between the bow and its string, a stout cord, neatly twisted, made of white cotton. The next one that shot caught his arrow in the same way, which was shaking with a heavy fish, a foot in length. He killed it by sticking his knife into the back of its head, took out the arrow, and threw the fish on the shore. Turning up the point of his weapon he sharpened it with his knife, and made ready the second time. The knife was fastened to a string suspended round the neck; after using it, he threw it over his shoulder, where it hung on his back out of his way till the next fish was caught. The knife looked like a table knife broken square off, and sharpened at the end like a chisel, and was used as such, not like a common knife.
As the fish were thrown out one after the other, in quick succession, the excitement became very great; they chatted and laughed all the while, and appeared to be joking one another. Their faces brightened pleasantly as they drew out the fish, and whenever one of them missed, they all shouted in loud laughter. Each man shot five fine fish, and one of them one more. They then repaired their fishing scaffold and left the lake. After we had returned some distance they stopped, cut fresh green leaves from a sort of cabbage plant, and rolled them one by one therein, after their entrails had been taken out. One of them made
MANNERS OF THE INDIANS. 195
a little willow hand basket in a moment, and the game was secured from the heat of the sun, which by this time was shining down brightly. A part of their morning’s labor was presented to me. I returned fishhooks, which pleased them more than anything that could be given to them. A little aboriginal came for the fish, and while he took them home to the women, the Indians went with us to the ferry.
These Indians are much more cheerful than those on the mountains, They have a great fancy for bright colors, and live after their own fashion. Their manners and customs are their own, and have never been changed by the influence of the white man. Like the country they live in, they are as the God of nature made them. Their natural disposition is a peaceful one, with a decided character, which shows that the Spaniards may come among them and live with them if they please. But the happy life of the hunter is not to be given up for the more laborious work of cultivating coca patches.
These Indians occupy about the same district of country here that the savage and unfriendly Chunchos do in Peru, on the tributaries of the Madre-de-Dios; but have a different expression of face, now that we know them better. They are more manly in deportment than the Chunchos, who are described to crawl through the woods with willful determination of assassins.
They loaded the canoe with our baggage, and in a smooth place in the San Mateo, below a very rapid fall, paddled across. By several trips, they safely carried all our boxes over, and then swam the mules. One of them led the old white mare into the stream; the mules followed the Indians dashed in after them, and the train swam to the opposite shore. The canoe came back for us, and we embarked at the foot of the Andes on a voyage across a stream, which was not navigable, even for a canoe, except where we passed. The color of the water was milky. We met another train of mules, loaded with cacao, on their way to Cochabamba. The Indians transported them over the same way they did us. Our mules were so much exhausted that they stood upon the rocky beach hanging their heads. As the water, dripped from their sides the hot sun dried them, and the swarms of sand-flies troubled them as much as us. Cornelio told me his animals could not proceed — they were nearly worn out; so that we had to spend the day on the bank of the river, while the mules roamed into the woods and along the wide flat, which overflows in the rainy season.
The department of the Beni is the ninth and last in Bolivia. It
196 DEPARTMENT OF BENI.
comprises the northeastern portion. This and the department of Santa Cruz are the two largest and most easterly parts of the country. They stretch from the Andes to the Brazilian territory.
The great Beni river, which rises among the mountains of La Paz; the Mamoré, from the department of Cochabamba; and the Itenez, whose headwaters commence in the mountains of Matto Grosso, in Brazil, all flow through the department of the Beni; yet it is the wild country of Bolivia, and probably the most wealthy of the States of this confederacy.
That part of the Beni which lies on the eastern border of Yungas is called the province of Apolobamba. The chocolate, coca, and cinchona bark from Apolobamba are superior. The southeast trade-winds from the South Atlantic ocean meet, and are checked by the great Sorata mountains. The town of Apolobamba, on the river Tuiche, is situated half-way between the gold mines of Tipuani and Carabaya. There is no such cinchona as that known as the “calisaya” of Apolobamba. At the feet of these trees are found the richest gold mines of Bolivia.; and on the other side of the mountain range are said to be the richest gold mines in South America.
The southeast trade-winds are uninterrupted, after they rise from the ocean and pass over the beautiful “Organ” mountains in sight of Rio Janeiro, until they strike the slope on which the town of Apolobamba is situated. The same wind that propels the sailor from the equator towards Cape Horn, on the South Atlantic ocean, on his way for the Peruvian bark, carries the moisture from the same ocean to give life to the trees from which the sailor receives his cargo. No man is supposed by seamen to have a right to the privileges of grumbling at the world or the winds until he has doubled Cape Horn.
Having rested our mules, we pushed on for eight leagues over a level road to the port of Vinchuta, which is composed of six sheds, or Yuracares houses, one of them two stories. As this was the governor’s, we dismounted and walked up stairs. On gaining the upper floor, a young Creole stepped forward and politely invited us to a seat, from which we could overlook the town. We were told that the governor and the inhabitants had deserted the place — they took fright at the small pox; and, the young man, pointing to a little Indian boy with a most ghastly stare, who was wrapped up in a poncho laying near me, said, “my servant, sir, is suffering very much with that disease, and down the country the Indians are being swept off at a terrible rate.” This was not the most agreeable news, particularly as we were obliged to remain here
until the governor came to his post to discharge a large canoe which was ready to leave for Trinidad, the capital of the department, and in which consisted our only way of proceeding. A message was sent to the governor, who was at the small town of Chimoré, where the Indians had collected as a retreat from the smallpox, and where there was a padre.
Vinchuta is the point at which the traders in the cacao of the province of Mojos reach those of Cochabamba with salt. A cake of salt, cut out of the Lakes of Oruro or Potosi, brought down to Cochabamba, is worth thirty-seven and a half cents. When that cake reaches Trinidad, it is worth two dollars. A mule carries eight cakes, or six arrobas — one hundred and fifty pounds. Salt sells, therefore, in this department at a little over ten cents a pound. The freight to Vinchuta from Cochabamba is eight dollars the mule load. We have made the journey in ten days, which is about the average passage; the return train is a couple of days longer, but it has been made in ten days back.
Cacao is bought in Trinidad at from one dollar and fifty cents to two dollars and fifty cents the arroba, or twenty-five pounds. The market price in Cochabamba is usually six dollars. Chocolate may be had, then, in Trinidad at six cents a pound, while in Cochabamba it costs twenty- four.
The houses were surrounded by the primitive forest, the only land cleared being the space of ground in the centre, where there was a growth of grass showing what beautiful pasture lands these flats would make were the forests cleared away. We observed a single papaya and a few pepper plants by one of the houses. The mules were turned into the woods, and we towards our baggage for supper. As the young Creole and his sick “servant” were without provisions, they appeared glad to see us.
We found the Creole was a schoolmaster, going down to one of the small towns in the country, to teach young Indians Spanish. The government supports, upon a very small pay, teachers in all the towns to instruct the Indian.
The next morning the governor made his appearance, read our passports, and said there was a large canoe ready for us; that she might go off to-morrow. He seemed to be an active little man and very obliging; wanted to know all the news from Cochabamba, and was constantly complaining he had nothing nice to give us, besides which he was very particular to let us know he had the roads put in fine order, as he had been ordered to do by the prefect of his department, as they knew we were coming. We found the roads at best shockingly bad.
198 CANICHANAS INDIANS.
While he was talking, a man came in who had been to Potosi and back for the purpose of getting the governor’s place, but the government refused to make a change, so the disappointed expectant governor had to present his passports to the one in office, which he seemed to dislike.
The crew of the canoe was sent for; they were fine, stout, open-countenanced, respectable-looking Indians of the “Canichanas” tribe, from a town in the province of Mojos, near the Mamoré river. These polite mannered men stood before us with straw hats in hand, dressed in a bark-cloth “camisa,” listening to what the governor said to our interpreter — that the President of Bolivia wished them to take particular care of us; that we wanted to go down and look at the great rivers, and stated how many yards of white cotton cloth he would give them apiece, namely, three yards, about enough to make each a shirt. They promised to do their duty and obey my orders.
Had I known at the time what I discovered afterwards, I should have made the bargain with the men myself. It appeared that the governor paid them in cotton cloth, while I paid him in silver money. The honest laboring Indian, who was supposed to be ignorant of the act, felt the injustice and saw its wrong more clearly than he was supposed to do. One day, long after our first meeting, I happened to ask the interpreter which the Indians cared the most for, silver coin or cotton cloth, thinking of course they preferred the latter, but I found they knew how to make cotton cloth with their own hands. So little do they care for it, that the governor had every one of their canoe paddles standing up in a corner of his bed room for fear they would leave without a cargo and go home with an empty boat, after landing the chocolate which a Creole sent from Trinidad.
José was to leave us here. The good old man had performed his duty in the service of the United States very faithfully. He had not heard from his wife and family for the nine months he has been with us. We engaged him as a guide, but had passed beyond his knowledge of the country before we got to Cuzco; his fluency in the Quechua language made him indispensably necessary to the expedition; he made himself so useful to our small party we shall long remember his kindness. As he was nearly 60 years of age, with a large family in the Juaja valley, in Peru, we could not persuade him to go farther with us; we shall miss him very much. I gave the old man “Bill,” as Richards called his mule, to return home, in addition to his pay, and an honorable discharge, in writing, from the naval service of the United States.
José had two faults, more or less natural ones — he had a standing rule to get intoxicated periodically, every six months; and, when he
TRADE OF VINCHUTA. 199
had time, he would also slip into a gambling house and lose his month’s wages in a few moments. I have often persuaded him to let me keep back his pay, and told him he should not throw it away; when he would gently answer, “Ah, Señor, there are very few perfect people in this world.” We became much attached to him; Richards would often say, “if we could only persuade José to go down the rivers with us, we would be certain to get through.”
I also regretted to part with my faithful mule, Rose. She had carried me nearly two thousand miles over the worst roads known to the white man, without having fallen once during the whole route. This was the third time she had descended the eastern side of the Andes into the montaña, without injury to herself or others. When she saw danger she came to a stand-still, and never would proceed until I dismounted, and then she would often refuse to go on until some other mule went before her. The horse may be driven into danger by the rider; with the spur a horse may be made to break his neck over a rickety mountain bridge; he is man’s favorite; is stabled, fed, combed, and watered, in health; when sick he has a doctor. But the jackass will not cross a dangerous place; whip him, he hangs down his head, lays back his long ears, and lets fly both heels at whoever attempts to force him. He will turn round and bite; in this he shows a higher order of intelligence than the horse. Man beats the jack; uses him all day, and at night turns him out on the road-side to feed upon thistles, and to find drink where he can.
Rose has the characteristics of both animals. In gentleness of disposition and intelligence, she takes after her sure-footed father, the jack; in activity, beauty of form, and liveliness of spirit, after her mother, the mare, of the Argentine pampas. This cross is the only animal valuable as a beast of burden in these mountainous countries. The horse would fall or be worried to death where the mule passes with ease. Their backs are short, and therefore can carry a load better than a horse. The jackass is too slow for a long journey, but like the llama will serve the purposes of the Indian, who suits himself to the gait of those animals. The best mules are thought to be the females; they are better tempered, work easier, carry heavier loads, and keep in good order upon less food than the male mule. The females are invariably the best saddle mules.
Vinchuta is the eastern commercial emporium of Bolivia, but foreign manufactures come down from the mountains of the country instead of up the rivers from the sea. After the cotton goods, glass ware, and
200 CONI CREEK.
cutlery of Europe and North America are disembarked at Cobija, they traverse the Cordilleras over rocky roads, through the desert of Atacama the barren plains of Oruro, over the Andes, and down those terrible roads we have just travelled. After worrying and tugging for more than eight hundred miles, all of that part of the cargo not ruined by such a journey on the backs of mules, arrives at the most important commercial port this country possesses.
There is very little trading going on here, because the outlet on the one hand is such as we describe, and the people seem to be ignorant of the advantages offered to them from the Atlantic direct, instead of the round-about way of the Pacific.
But the business under these sheds in the wilderness attracts attention. We find the Aymara, Quechua, and Spanish languages mingling with the Yuracares and Canichanas; we are pleased to add the Anglo-Norman. The arriero and the canoe men meet in friendship with each and with us.
TUESDAY, 25th MAY 1852., we descended the steep bank of Coni creek, stepping into a canoe made of a log forty feet long and four feet wide,. The model of this canoe appeared to us a beautiful one as she sat upon the water. She was one of the largest used by the Bolivian Indians and the contour of the vessel resembled a model frigate more than any other. Her cargo was piled up on the bank under a rustic house built by the crew of the leaves and branches of trees. The boat-keeper was washing out the canoe; she was open fore and aft.
The creek was fifty yards wide, with a swift current. As we stood in the canoe and looked up the stream, we could see the great Andes far back among the clouds. This was to be our last view; they were nearly out of sight, and we were to enter upon a new life. José and the mules had left us. Our party was composed of Mamoré, Richards, and myself. As the crew came one by one from Vinchuta, with parts of the cargo carried on their backs, Mamoré barked; his loud voice made the wild forest ring. The crew became attached to him at once, and laughed at the fear expressed by those who came up last. We found him to be valuable, and rated him as sentinel both by night and by day.
The boat’s crew was deficient. There were ten men here, four had been left along the banks of the river on their way up with the smallpox, and one of the ten was taken sick here; therefore our crew was reduced to nine working men. The sick boy lay on the bank with this horrible disease, shaded by a few green leaves from the hot sun in the day, and partly protected from the rain during the night, without medical
CONI CREEK. 201
attention or any relief whatever. The poor creature seemed to bear the pain with patience, but his stare was sickening as he looked up from under the bushes.
Two of the crew were engaged with small iron axes cutting sticks of wood long enough to rest the ends on the inside of the canoe across the bottom, so as to leave an inch or two space under this flooring for any water to pass clear of the baggage. Five of these floorings were laid at equal distances apart, wide enough to place two trunks lengthwise, and two more on top of them, with space between for two canoemen to sit and paddle. Raw-hides were placed on the platforms, and on them the baggage was neatly laid. Our trunks and boxes stowed very well, and were covered with raw-hide. As the bottom of our boxes were water-tight, we were satisfied that unless we upset or filled, the baggage would go perfectly dry — an important matter in a wet climate under the most favorable circumstances — and more so when there is no stopping-places on the road from town to town, where the traveller can pick up a dinner.
Vines and creepers were bowed and fastened by the ends to the sides of the after-part of the canoe, and over them were spread raw-hides, hair side under, for the length of twelve feet. This was the cabin, Our gun was slung overhead, powder-flask and shot-bag to the bows. The instrument box was safely stowed inside, so that we might get at the ruled paper, and chart the river. We set our compass inside also. The floor of the cabin was a rustic grating made by one of the crew, with small, straight sticks fastened to a heavy cross piece by means of a slender creeper. Our beds were kept in India-rubber bags. After getting nearly ready, we found there still remained another load of salt in the governor’s house, and as night had come on and the rain began to fall, we would be detained until the next day. Then, too, the schoolmaster and the disappointed ex-governor were to take passage in the same canoe; it was their only chance like ours, and as there was no telling when another canoe would be here, all claim a right to go. Of course I could not object, under such circumstances, although they would be very much in our way, as we were about to explore a critical part of navigation on the upper waters of the Madeira.
So our tent was pitched on the bank; it had been our house on the barren mountain-tops, and now it was put up in the wild woods. There the climate was cold, and the tent protected and kept us warm. Here the climate is hot, and when the tent is closed and the canvass became wet, we found the heat oppressive. We could not sleep, so we threw open the door-way and in swarmed musquitoes. It was evident that
202 LIFE OF CANOEMEN.
the tent could not accommodate so many comfortably; we were therefore driven out. The rain-storm increased. I found my way down the clayed bank to the canoe. Richards joined the schoolmaster under the rustic hut. The musquitoes soon drove me out, and we all gathered round a large fire built by the Indians, and watched their mode of passing such a night.
A large pot of water was put on the fire. It was midnight; the wind roared through the forest trees, and the rain beat heavily at the feet of the Andes. The Indians drew knives and gathered round the light of the fire to skin the yuca. Some divided them into small pieces, and pitched them into the pot with a piece of salted meat. After the pot was properly hung over the fire by a strong raw-hide rope, they lay down under their green leaf roof, and with their feet to the hot ashes, and heads covered with an extra shirt, stretched out for a nap. One kept awake as cook to attend the boiling pot.
All slept soundly for a while. We were then disturbed by musquitoes and the rain. The Indians were snoring; the cook was talking to his pot as it boiled over, and the water caused a hissing noise in the fire. Suddenly all jumped up, leaving their bark-cloth camisas under cover, and joined the cook in the rain.
We carry a tin wash-basin, which happened to be close by in the light of the fire. I did not understand why it had not been put into the canoe with other things. One of the naked red men picked it up and placed it near the cook, who turned the hot yuca soup into the basin. A satisfactory expression shone in every face as they squatted around our tin wash-basin. Each man formed his fingers into spoon-shape, and dipped in; thus they laughingly passed the remainder of the night. One hand was actively playing between the basin and their mouths, while the other was constantly in motion flapping the musquitoes, who came up from the darkness behind. Our dog rose up from his sleeping position to look on. The men were constantly calling him by his familiar name, and dividing their share of the supper with him. We were obliged to be resigned to our fate, not knowing where to go for comfort, or how to get to sleep. These wild men accommodated themselves perfectly to circumstances. We looked on as long as we could keep our eyes open, and at last fell asleep. At day-break I found myself refreshed; but on opening my eyes, saw my pillow had been the body of the poor sick boy, who was so weak with the small-pox that we had him sent up to the governor.
These kind-hearted men pay all the attention to the sick they possibly can; but they are at a loss to know what to do for the small-pox.
They wait patiently until it passes away. I believe they think it is a punishment sent to them, and they must bear it the best way they can.
The Yuracares Indians are not navigators, but hunters, and are less under the control of the church than either the cultivators of the soil or our canoemen. I was unable to find out the number composing the Yuracares tribe, but there are not many of them. Chimoré is the capital of the province, and in the list of “villas,” which are given for all places containing over three hundred inhabitants, Chimoré is not found. The Yuracares tribe are scattered along the base of the Andes in this province in little bands of from seven to twenty; and there may be in the whole province six hundred Yuracares Indians. The present productions of Yuracares are confined principally to the cinchona bark and coca.
As the streams and soils have not been carefully examined, we are ignorant of its mineral wealth. Yuracares is an extensive province, well wooded and watered, with a very sparse population throughout. At the base of this ridge of mountains appears the most inviting place we have met in Bolivia for the cultivator of the soil. It is within the rain-belt. The coffee tree of Yuracares is much more heavily loaded with grains than those seen at Rio Janeiro, in Brazil.
The small-pox was brought by the Indians of the low country, who in turn had it from Brazil, and finally bore it up the mountain-side into the city of Cochabamba. A warehouse should be constructed in Vinchuta in the most careful way, to avoid the dampness of the climate. Flour spoils quickly, particularly that made from grain produced in a cold climate. Southern grain lasts the longest there. White cotton goods must be covered to avoid the wet, as well as all other articles which are in the least injured by damp weather. All valuable goods should be well packed in bales of seventy-five pounds weight. A mule carries half a cargo up the eastern side of the Andes, Two bales, weighing one hundred and fifty pounds, are taken at the same price three hundred are carried for on better roads. The Indians bring up quantities of chocolate from Mojos enclosed in raw-hides. They stow four of these bails on one platform in a canoe; but when they arrive here, the arriero must rip the bales open and divide them, to form suitable loads for each of his mules. By this means, some is wasted, and all exposed to the climate. Pieces of machinery, boxes of wine, or valuable articles, are often left behind by not being of proper weight. Even if the animals were
204 DISPOSITION OF PUBLIC LANDS.
strong enough to carry them, the roads are not wide enough to admit a passage.
We saw an elephant travelling on the table-lands of Bolivia, who walked through the Cordillera range of mountains at the pass of Antarangua, sixteen thousand feet above the Pacific ocean. When he came to the Apurimac suspension bridge, the toll-man shut his door, and refused positively to allow the elephant to attempt to cross over, even if he could have done so. The keeper, a Yankee, swam him over the stream. There were many places on the mountains where the rocks were cut to admit a mule-load to pass, where the elephant scraped his back and sides.
Goods covered with raw-hide are preserved best from rain. It is frequently thus used to protect bark, chocolate, sugar, and coffee.
At the national convention of 1851, a grant of twelve square leagues, in the province of Yuracares, excepting the cinchona  trees upon the soil, was made to Don Carlos Bridoux, upon condition that he would exert himself to raise the indigo plant, cotton, tobacco, sugar, cacao, and coffee; provided he would take possession of the land within a certain time.
By the same law, the executive was authorized to make grants to citizens or foreigners of from one to twelve square leagues, in consideration of advantages to be offered for the public benefit in working the lands. Señor Bridoux has selected his lands near the port of Vinchuta. This gentleman was very kind to the expedition in Cochabamba. We are indebted to him for personal attention at his hospitable house. We owe him many thanks for aid and assistance offered in a most generous spirit.
Citizens or foreigners wishing to cultivate the public lands of Bolivia, may do so by a formal application to the prefect of the department in which the lands are situated, and the prefect has authority, by custom, to secure to the settler one square league.
For the want of laws touching the sale of public lands, citizens or foreigners are deprived of the advantage of purchasing, but are at liberty to settle where they please, so long as they do not interfere with others, or the public treasury.
So extensive are the public lands of Bolivia, and so few emigrants enter the country, that the government has thought it policy to make liberal grants to actual settlers, as well to citizens of other countries as to their own. These valuable lands lie idle for the want of population. The men of intelligence in Bolivia received the idea of exploring their
EMBARKATION ON CONI CREEK. 205
rivers to the Atlantic with enthusiasm. In Cochabamba the whole population have been aroused to the importance of the enterprise.
When the rivers are swollen in the low lands, the arms of the canoe-men have not power to propel their vessels against the current. Trade, for half the year, stands still; human strength is not equal to the requirements of the trade that is carried on.
There are supposed to be at least ten thousand silver and gold mines abandoned in this country; one-third may have been exhausted, and the remainder have been left because the miners struck below the waterline.
Respectfully taking off our hats to the gigantic Andes, we push on in our little canoe. As the men dip their paddles in the water we glide rapidly along with the current of Coni creek. After being tossed up and down on the mountains for a year, the change is enlivening. We feel this water-carriage is put in motion by the All Powerful, in whom we have placed our trust and confidence in a long journey through the wilderness towards our homes.
The Indians suddenly began to work hard at their paddles; the fine-looking old captain talked to the crew sharply, and we went dashing over rapids at a most furious rate; the waters roared against the great trunks of trees that stuck up in the shape of snags; the logs were in constant motion, like sawyers; the channel was narrow; one little mistake of the pilot would have dashed us sideways among the snags, and our canoe must have rolled under. Every man’s eyes seemed, for the moment, half a size larger, for the reduced crew of the heavy and long canoe had to exert themselves to the utmost of their strength to manage and keep her clear of danger.
Our cargo was bulky — cakes of salt brought her down so deep in the water that she moved sluggishly. Richards, seated on the baggage in front, guarded Mamoré, who was unaccustomed to the water, and it was with difficulty he could be kept from jumping overboard.
Coni creek is not navigable for a steamboat; the lands on both sides are flat and thickly wooded with a rich growth of bamboo; these lands are all overflowed in the wet season, and therefore are uninhabitable. Temperature of water, 74°. We saw a small lion or puma on the bank, besides a number of wild turkeys, and shot a wild goose. The banks break down perpendicularly with rich black surface soil one foot and a half thick.
Our canoe was soon launched into the waters of the river Chaparé, one hundred yards wide, and where we entered it twelve feet deep; we have scarcely lost sight of the Andes. The canoe was stopped that we
206 RIO CHAPARE.
might repeat the soundings; as we descended the soundings increased to two and a half fathoms upon a current of one and five-tenths of a mile per hour. The muddy stream wound its way through the forest trees and thick cane-brakes like a great slow-moving serpent. We find, at the foot of the most lofty mountains, that the lands on both sides of this navigable river are semi-annually deluged; that the rise of the waters in the wet season is about thirty feet, and by the marks on the trunks of the trees, the appearance of the undergrowth, with the information gained from the Creoles and confirmed by the Indians, the banks are overflowed about two feet deep. In the rainy season, the bottom of the Madeira Plate would have been found covered with water, so that we might navigate over the land in a canoe drawing less than two feet; our canoe draws but six inches when fully loaded.
The forest trees here are not so large as higher up the country, nor is vegetation heaped up in such luxuriance as we saw it on our way down through the boisterous region. The climate is more mild and gentle in its action. As night comes on, thunder roars and lightning flashes above us towards the southwest among the mountains, while here the sky is clear, and winds gently blow from the northwest. The winds strike heavily against the great elevated side of the earth, and the storm there is raging from the southeast.
The sun passes from our view behind dark clouds, and cuts our day short by setting below the great ridge which stand between us and the Pacific. We have watched the mercury in our thermometer as it fell by the application of boiling water in ascending those mountains from the great western ocean, and saw its indisposition to rise or to fall as we travelled along on the table lands of the Titicaca basin. As we descend on this side it gradually ran up again, until now we have arrived on a level. The observation of yesterday was the same as that of to-day, at our journey’s end.
Turning to the table of observations, in Lima, 22d April, 1851, at 3 p.m., boiling point, 209, 500; temperature of air, 77°. Here on the Chaparé river, May 21, 1852, at 9.30 a.m., boiling point, 209, 500; temperature of air, 75°. These show how near the bottom of the Madeira Plate is on a level with the ocean. They tell us we are below Lima; but Lima, according to our barometrical measurement, was 493 feet above sea, level. On the river we are 28 feet below the general level of this part of the Madeira Plate.
The Indians paddle their canoe for a short distance with a will, and then let her ride along on the current. They lay up the paddles on the gunwale, put one leg over the handle, and drawing from among the
CANOE LIFE. 207
baggage a piece of corn husk, cut it into squares, and rolling tobacco up fine, make the husk serve as a wrapper for their cigars.
Each one carries a little spunk in the hollow end of a cow’s horn, which indicate cattle ahead somewhere, and with a piece of flint rock strike light with the back of a knife. We noticed that the crew carried small bags filled with flint rocks, which they gathered about Vinchuta, and were taking down to the province of Mojos for sale. We have just passed the rocky formation, and find the soil alluvial for over thirty feet.
We camped on a low sand beach on the west side of the river. The crew gathered a number of canes from the brake, and the captain made a frame-work, over which an India-rubber  poncho was hung; underneath the leaves of the cane were spread as a protection from the dampness of the soil on which the bed was laid, and over it a musquito net.
The crew made a house by stacking cane leaves and branches on the side of a ridge-pole, like farmers make a shed of corn fodder for cattle. The open side of this shed was facing the east. A fire was soon made, and our disappointed governor proved to be as good at cooking as the schoolmaster at eating chupe. The only provision the ex-governor had made was a bladder filled with what sailors call slush, a few cakes of chocolate, a pot, and some bread turned green with mould. The Indians pealed yuca, and we supplied rice and goose for the chupe, and sugar, and tin pots for the chocolate. The schoolmaster came unprovoked with grub; it is presumed he was usually “boarded out.”
The Indians gathered around their fire, while the captains of the boat saw the patron’s bed attended to. When the chupe was made, the cook politely informed the captains, and after they had seated themselves by our tin basin, the others gathered round. All in turn talked and joked as they enjoyed their suppers. The crew elect their own captains; the most active, energetic, and intelligent man was chosen, without regard to age. Should he prove incapable, or misbehave, he is broken and placed in the seat of the paddle-man selected over him. Every man obeys his orders, and is particular in his mode of addressing the captain and his mate, or rather a second captain, who helps to steer the canoe, and generally encourages the men to keep good time with their paddles by stamping his foot upon the floor of the canoe where he stands behind the cabin. The captain only stamps his foot on particular occasions, when the crew work unusually well, laying out their whole strength when he speaks to them. The captains do very little but steer the canoe, and attend to the wants of the person who employs them. Every man attends to his duty according to the usages of their service. They take turns at cooking or bailing out the boat, and while one or two
secure the canoe, a number of others run up to the woods and bring fuel for a fire, and cut cane for the house. While one cook fetches water, another breaks out from a platform in the canoe their provisions for supper.
As they all sat joking about the arrieros, while they smoke tobacco, they laugh at the Quichua Indians they saw at Vinchuta, with the arrieros, chewing coca leaves “like horses,” as they said.
At midnight the captain called me, speaking in the Canichana language, which I could not understand, however; when a man is called up in the silence of night in such a wild country as this, he soon gains his feet.
We found that the storm on the mountains had flooded the river; the canoe floated in close to my bed, which was gathered before the flood passed over the spot, where a few moments before we were sleeping. As the river was rising very fast, we were obliged to embark or be driven into the cane brakes, which is the bed of the tigers, who growl if disturbed by gentlemen at night.
We all took our seats in the canoe and slept sitting, as well as the musquitoes would let us. The bow was made fast to the root of a tree, which was fastened to the bottom by its branches.
These Indians are very careful people, constantly on the look-out. We were aroused from a sound sleep in a moment by these watchful fellows. Had the crew been an inexperienced one, the canoe might have been carried off by the flood and we left in the canebrake. The Indians expected a freshet. In the evening they carried our cooking utensils far from the boat to the most elevated part of the beach, which was not highest near the bank. When the flood came, the water passed between us and the bank, leaving us on a sand island, which was afterwards completely overflowed.
At daylight the Indians begin at the paddles. They work best early in the mornings and in the evenings.
As we moved slowly down stream, rain began to fall; the winds were variable. Some four or five different kinds of monkeys kept up an excited chattering. An awkward, thick-set, ugly, bay-coated fellow was bellowing out a noise not unlike that made by a large bullfrog. The black ring-tailed squealed as he scampered off among the tree-tops. The little white-whiskered tribe come down close to the river-bank among the canes, and seem quizzically disposed to examine the character of the craft that intruded upon their morning sports. There goes a chocolate-colored little family, as though frightened to distraction. Richards shouts at them in English, and the Canichanas roar with
BANKS AND CURRENTS. 209
laughter. The crew desire a ring-tailed monkey for breakfast. Their bows and arrows lay on the roof of the cabin, but they prefer to see one fall by a shot from our gun.
The captain suddenly called to the men, and they all shouted. Looking down the river, we discovered two canoes well peopled, working manfully against the current close along the bank. Canoes going down keep in mid-channel, where the current is most rapid. These canoes were from Trinidad on their way to Vinchuta, with orders from the prefect of the department to report themselves to me for service in the expedition as soon as they landed their cargo of cacao, sugar, and passengers.
A basket of fine oranges was passed on board of us, the compliment being returned in biscuit. Our captain received news of some men he had left on the banks of the river with small-pox.
We pushed on by islands in the stream. Though the river is flooded, there is little or no drift-wood. Along the beach large trees have been left as the rain-belt passed north. These trees lay on the inner side of the turns in the stream. That side is a flat sand-beach, while the long or outer side of the turn breaks down perpendicularly. The current of the river strikes the bank; the drift-wood beats against the alluvial soil; undermines the forest trees; the roots are washed clean, and the tops fall down into the river; their branches sink; the heavy green leaves go to the bottom loaded with mud; become entangled or anchored. Driftwood and rubbish collect about them; and while an island is built up on the small frame-work of one single log of wood, the bank gives way for the river to pass on.
The turns in this stream are very short. We are at one time heading northeast, then northwest, and often southwest, when we turn round northeast again. The distance between the upper and lower turns, in a north direction, is constantly decreasing; for the perpendicular bank on the upper turn is being dug away towards the north, and the same bank on the lower turn is caving in on the south side. When the work is done, the upper waters flow straight through to the lower; and as the river grows older, like a well-drilled soldier, it straightens.
The southwest turn is deserted by the waters, and the bed of the river lies uncovered, and becomes a proof to us that, while rivers travel, they do not always sleep on the same side of their bed, but shift from one to the other, as suits their convenience. The speed of the current of the river, after it has straightened itself through the land, instead of winding down, as the llama descends the side of a mountain, appears to us the same. That the older the river grows the more rapid the current
210 SNAGS AND SAWYERS.
would be a work directly in opposition to the natural purposes of navigation. for which it was intended.
As the upper country wears away, and the heavy load of earth is carried down towards the mouth of the river, the head of the stream is deepening, and being constantly cut down towards a level with the bottom, which is filling up at its mouth. This will be best explained by the sounding-line, cast from a vessel entering the mouth of a river, The pilot is taken on board to carry the ship safely over the bar, or that bank of earth which has been carried down from the head of the streams and deposited at the river’s mouth. As the ship crosses this shoal, the man at the lead-line calls deeper and deeper soundings as he enters the river. He will continue to do so some distance up. From this point back to the bar, the bottom of the river is an inclined plane, sloping from the edge of the sea towards the mountains, down to the last deep soundings of the leadsman, from which place to the ocean the river may be said to be running up hill; a hill made by its own action, and which is stretching farther and farther up stream.
We find some snags and sawyers in the channel that should be cleared out to make this river in a condition for steamboat navigation.
As we descend, the Chaparé widens in some places two hundred yards, and from two and a half to three fathoms water. The river has risen three feet by rains in the up country, though the current remains about the same, which is not half the rate of the Gulf stream between the Florida reefs and the Bahama banks.
After paddling from daylight until 9 a.m. the crew were ready for breakfast. Mamoré sported over the beach. We made after ducks, geese, and wild turkeys as the only safety-valve to our boiling pot. The beautiful pink and white spoon-bill skims the insects from the surface of the river, while the proud-looking but homely tall white cranes survey us like some bodies with very stiff shirt collars. Temperature of the river water, 74°; air, 16°; and wet bulb, 74°.
We have been unfortunate at fishing. As the Indians pay no attention to it just here, we are inclined to believe there are few fish, while in the rocky formation we found the Indians pursuing them. There the water is not so muddy as here. In Lake Titicaca the most fish are found on the east side of the lake, where the water was limpid. We found more fish at the southern end of that lake when the waters were settled than at the north, where they come in turbid.
The air at night seems to be filled with musquitoes and bats; by daylight birds appear in proportion. Thousands of parrots keep the woods in a constant din.
BARK CLOTH. 211
The forest trees decrease in size and thickness; as we descend the canebrake takes their place. Some of the logs on the beach and snags in the stream are larger than those we generally see. These large trees are found in the upper forests as the exception rather than the rule.
The general course of the Chaparé is north; its bottom is sandy and muddy. There are no streams flowing into it, nor are there any appearance of beds of streams to be filled in the rainy season. We judged, therefore, the country on both sides of it, as far as we have come upon it, is a dead level.
After breakfast the men entered the woods, cut down some trees, stripped off the bark twelve or fourteen feet long and two feet wide, rolled it and brought it on board.
The common percussion lock shot-gun is the proper arm for the traveller in this country; the shot will keep him supplied with game. In case of necessity, a ball carried in the pocket can be slipped in over the shot, and answers all purposes, as the ball does execution much farther than an Indian’s arrow. The most serviceable and important arms are double-barreled shotgun and a five-chambered revolver of Colt’s.
The men pull irregularly. When they pull a moderate stroke, by our log they make about two miles per hour; but going with the current they only pull half-the time, because on their upward passage they are obliged to pull incessantly, except when they stop for breakfast, or for the night. The down trip is the resting one. They work hard when they meet with obstructions, and overcome the difficulties. When they find things in their favor, they slide through them as easily as possible.
After supper they commenced manufacturing bark cloth by the light of the fire. The end of the piece of bark was laid over the end of a smoothly-barked log, and they commenced beating upon it with mallets, beginning at the corner and striking diagonally the piece to the middle, where the mallet was turned to the same angle at the other corner. They beat the bark regularly along. The fibres spread out, and the piece two feet wide was beaten out one foot more, to the thickness of stout pilot cloth. After all is beaten out, it is rolled up. The cloth is afterwards spread out in the sun to dry; the sap which has been so thoroughly pressed out from among the fibres by the beating, soon becomes dissipated by the sun, and the cloth is left with quite a woolly feel, and is painted in figures to suit the fancy of the wearer. By his own peculiar process it is cut out to form a very simple garment, and the Indian is dressed in a fancy-colored shirt, which reaches below his knees. This, with a hat of grass from the river-bank, is his wardrobe, except an
212 PICK UP THE SICK.
extra shirt of foreign manufactured cotton, worn in the heat of the day when not at work, or in the evening when the musquitoes are troublesome. The bark cloth is most frequently used at night, when they particularly protect themselves. In the middle of the day they take off their clothes, carefully fold them up, and place them aside until they are required. When it rains very heavily they always undress, but as soon as the storm is over, or after the weather has been unpleasant for some time, and the air becomes cold, they dress again. They undress while at their seats in the canoe. As soon as we stop to breakfast, every man puts on his shirt before he leaves the boat; the captains always wear their clothes. The men seem to be very careful about the temperature at night. I have seen them put one shirt over another, and double their garments.
MAY 28, 1852. — The night was cloudy, and morning foggy. At daylight we were under weigh again, after sleeping comfortably in the woods on the bank, which varies its height from four to five feet. During the night the river rose three feet and fell again one. A short distance below we ran into a canebrake, and there, to our astonishment, stood three men belonging to this crew. The poor creatures had been here seventeen days, with the small pox. A little shelter of canes shaded them from the heat of the sun, but rain beat in upon them as they lay helpless on beds of green leaves, with no one to attend them. A knife was their only protection from the savage tiger, unless the stench from the disease kept wild animals at a distance.
Their faces brightened as they saw their friends; but there were only three. Where was the fourth, inquired the crew? Their answer was, that during the fever, in the middle of the night, he had rushed into the river; they heard a splash and never saw their companion after; he was carried down the stream by the current and drowned.
One of them was still quite sick; the others could work. Their usual seats were in the after part of the canoe, but as the odor from their bodies was great, I sent them as far forward as they could go. One of them, called the padre of the crew, became very much affronted at this order, and was disposed to disobey it, but the captain insisted, and he moved. His duties were lighter were he was sent, and there he was not ¦so confined among us and the men. The idea of all being afflicted with the small pox in this little canoe, was an unpleasant one. We were in constant expectation of seeing some others taken sick.
The first symptoms, as described to us, were fever with pain in the back, which lasts three days. Then the breaking out commences, with inflamed lips. At the end of six days the disease has attained its height,
RIVER BANKS. 213
when the case of life or death is decided. After six days more they begin to bathe, if they are well enough. This is the course the distemper takes when the patient lies out in the woods, without medical aid or shelter from the weather.
One of them had employed himself in making a white grass hat, after the fashion of a Panama. They were delighted to get on board, and as we paddled along, the one with the new hat was telling the crew what sort of a time they had. The schoolmaster gave us the amount of what he could understand. The crew were silent while Straw Hat was speaking, but kept him going by questions when he held up. They seemed very much affected, and, one by one, gave expression to his feelings at the loss of the missing man.
At 9 a.m. we came to, as usual, for breakfast. Thermometer, 76°; wet bull, 74°. Temperature of water, 71°. The channel, as we descend, is less obstructed by drift-wood, snags, and sawyers. The banks are three feet high, the trees smaller, and the wind light from the north. We passed an Indian slung up in a hamoc between two poles stuck in a mud bank. The crew called to him, and saw the hamoc move, which was our only sign that the poor creature was alive. He had been left with the small pox by one of the canoes we met. The flooded river had reached the under part of the hamoc last night, and now the hot sun was shining over him. The old captain shook his head when we wanted him to go and see what could be done for the man. The crew pulled rapidly by.
The beach here is mud. On the shore of San Mateo, the beach was rocky, with large and small round stones, such as are used for paving streets. After we got below the rocky formation we found sand beaches, white and grey. The banks of the river were high. Here we have low banks, and run out of the sandy region into the mud. For the first time we saw an alligator.
The waters of a stream, as it increases from a mountain torrent to a large river, performs the labor of a system of sifters. The earth and rocks are broken away; stone, sand, and earth, are carried down the side of the Andes by the floods in the rainy season. The large stones are thrown out on the sides of the stream, as it reaches the base of the mountains, while the sand and earth pass through. Finally, the sand is separated and deposited in another place below, and the mud, in its turn, settles through and leaves the sifter clean. The water at the mouth of a muddy stream is the clearest. When river water meets the heavy salt water of the ocean, the river current comes to a stand, and it is there, while standing still, that dirt settles from water the quickest; there
214 CURRENTS OF THE RIVER.
careful navigators look out for the bar across the mouth of the river as they come in from the sea.
The muddy waters of rivers seem indisposed to mingle with the salt waters of the sea, or rather the salt waters of the ocean turn the muddy waters on the one side or the other of the mouth of rivers, until they have deposited their mud, and then the clear new water cordially joins the older, briny ocean. Where a large river empties into the sea, if the current of the ocean flows parallel to the coast, and strikes the river current at a right angle, all the mud is carried with the ocean current, and is quickly placed on the bottom. By the arming on their lead, navigators may tell, at night or in a fog, on which side of the mouth of the river they are on they near the coast, provided they study the ocean currents. This is, however, not always the case. An ocean current, sweeping by the mouth of a navigable river, may not have sufficient force to be of this service to the mariner; but it is the case in a very important river on this continent. Where sand is found on the south, and mud on the north side of the outlet, the former is washed from the bottom of the sea, the latter comes down from the highlands, and is carried out by the river.
While floods are constantly shifting the soil from the mountains to the low grounds, and the land is pushed out into the sea, its waves are regularly heaving back all the earth which has gotten over the shore line. Between the currents of rivers and the waves of the sea, the earth is found growing.
We encamped for the night on the east side of the river, where the thick forest trees prevented my getting latitude by the stars. This is the first clear night we have had for a long time. I doubt, even if the branches of the trees were out of the way, if the swarms of musquitoes. would allow me to observe. Richards generally stands by with a bush when the sand-flies or musquitoes are troublesome, but they bite through the holes in a man’s boot in spite of his stockings.
We entered the woods some distance with the gun, just before dark, and found that as we left the river the trees became smaller, and in some cases the land was even now covered with water, long grass, and canebrakes.
The banks of rivers that flow through allow, flat, newly-made soil, are thrown up high by deposits, so much so that the surface of the water, at times, is above the general level of the country near it. When the river rises, it breaks over the banks and floods the back lands.
The largest forest trees are found immediately on the banks; these trees are most frequently undermined and carried down stream by the
PRAYER IN THE WILDERNESS. 215
currents. It will not do to judge of the general character of a country by the size of the trees found driving out of the mouth of a river. When the first navigators on the Amazon saw great logs floating out of the mouth of the river, in whose tributaries we are, they called it “Madeira.” This fact set us all looking about for the largest trees in the world, but they are not to be found here.
After supper the crew knelt by the light of the moon in prayer, “Padre” gave out a hymn, and they all sang according to the teachings of the Catholic church. The scene was a solemn one. Their voices echoed over the waters of the river, and through the woods to the listening wild beasts of the wilderness. Dressed in white cotton “camisas,” they kneeled down with faces up, praying with hat in hand. We were able to look at their countenances, which were grave and serious, with an expression of truthfulness and honest devotion.
The prayers of the evening being over, the captain, a tall, well-built, noble-looking old Indian, stood up and made a speech to the others who lay upon the hairy side of rawhides on the ground. It was an obituary address of some length for the lost member of their canoe. This fine featured Indian had naturally the powers of an orator; he was fluent and spoke fast. When he reached the winding up of his harangue, he was overcome by his feelings, and speaking of the unhappy news they were called upon to convey to the mother and widow, he shed tears. His manly arm was reached out to point towards the paddle of the lost man, as the last and only token left by the father to the son.
When the captain finished, they all uttered “buenos noches” to each other, and we slept by the side of the river.
At daybreak in the morning, the monkeys began the casual chattering. We were struck at the ease with which an ugly, cheerful Indian who looks out for snags in the bow, and is generally laying on his belly keeping watch ahead, repeated English words after Richards, The English language, the schoolmaster decided, came much more easy to these people than Spanish. “Nig,” as Richards called him, was the droll one of the crew. He pronounced clearly each word as it was spoken to him, and yet this man was one, of those who could not speak Spanish, generally considered the most easy to learn. The language of these Indians sounds like German. The Yuracares speak fast and constantly like the French.. The Aymara has the sound of English more than any. The Quechua, both in tone and notes of the words corresponds to the Welsh or Irish, which I have heard spoken.
The Indians beached the canoe, and for the first time had a general bath. As we passed a cross standing on the bank, the crew took off
216 LASSOING AN ALLIGATOR.
their hats; this was out of respect for a friend who had been buried there. We passed several of these wooden crosses; near some of them plantain trees were growing.
The wind is very light, and generally from the north; the current of air seems to follow the bed of the river up-stream. The river widens to two hundred and fifty yards. We find the current by holding on to the end of a snag in mid-channel while we heave the current log. We have no anchor and chain.
The Indians look on with some astonishment at our work; and as Richards was drawing in his sounding-line, with a two-pound lead upon it, “Padre” very knowingly informed him it was useless to attempt to catch fish in that way in the Chaparé. We were sorry to find the “Padre” was the ill-natured one, and frequently quarreled with the men during the day. He spoke Spanish, and always addressed us in that language. The schoolmaster said, when an Indian became the leading man in religious pretension, he invariably was quarrelsome and overbearing in his manners towards others, who seem to treat him with contempt, except when called upon for ceremonial formalities.
We had seen cattle lassoed on the pampas of Buenos Ayres, and boys in Mexico practise the art upon chickens, but to-day “Nig,” our bowman, gave us a treat.
A good sized alligator lay by the mud beach, with his head just on the surface of the water. The canoe was run into the canebrake some fifty yards below. One man cut a long cane, while “Nig,” modestly smiling, with eyes shut and mouth open, drew a hide rope from under part of the baggage. Making a noose in one end, he hung it on the end of the pole, and wound the rope round to the other end, so that he could grasp both pole and rope in one hand. He pulled off his camisa, lowered himself into the river, where he could walk on the bottom with his chin just out of water. The noose was carried by the pole near the surface, and “Nig” slowly moved towards the alligator, who seemed to be somewhat doubtful of results. After watching “Nig’s” eye for a while, he disappeared; by the motion of the water it was evident he was swimming away. The men laughed, but “Nig” stood perfectly still; the stream rolled on in silence. In a moment the alligator’s head appeared again nearly in the same place, only he held it higher, as he attentively looked “Nig” full in the face. He moved slowly and steadily towards the monster of the river, and put the noose over the alligator’s head; when he jumped, it looked as though he wanted to jump through the noose. “Nig “ let go the pole, and in doing so lost the line also ; and while the alligator swam off with one end of the rope, “Nig”
LASSOING AN ALLIGATOR. 217
swam after his end, to the great amusement of our party. “Nig” reached the line, and putting it over his shoulder walked up the beach. As the alligator was led to the edge of the water, “Nig “ stood grinning at one end of the line on shore, while the alligator lay quietly awaiting a ball from my gun or a stroke from the hatchet in the hand of a man. But we were disappointed; “Nig” had no weight to sling to the under part of the noose to keep it under water, so when the alligator jumped he caught the noose in his mouth, and while “Nig” was grinning, his eyes closed with delight, the alligator cut the rope and swam away.
There are parts of the alligator near the back bone which the Indians eat. This is the only manner in which they take alligators here ; their arrows will not enter the scales, which often turn a rifle ball. I have seen a boat’s crew in Mexico fire a volley of musket balls into an alligator and not kill him. The alligators here are much smaller than those found on the rivers in Tobasco. The Indians make buttons, beads, fancy birds, and animals, of their teeth.