Through the Brazilian Wilderness/Through the Highland Wilderness of Western Brazil
WE were now in the land of the bloodsucking bats, the vampire bats that suck the blood of living creatures, clinging to or hovering against the shoulder of a horse or cow, or the hand or foot of a sleeping man, and making a wound from which the blood continues to flow long after the bat’s thirst has been satiated. At Tapirapoan there were milch cattle; and one of the calves turned up one morning weak from loss of blood, which was still trickling from a wound, forward of the shoulder, made by a bat. But the bats do little damage in this neighborhood compared to what they do in some other places, where not only the mules and cattle but the chickens have to be housed behind batproof protection at night or their lives may pay the penalty. The chief and habitual offenders are various species of rather small bats; but it is said that other kinds of Brazilian bats seem to have become, at least sporadically and locally, affected by the evil example and occasionally vary their customary diet by draughts of living blood. One of the Brazilian members of our party, Hoehne, the botanist, was a zoologist also. He informed me that he had known even the big fruit-eating bats to take to bloodsucking. They did not, according to his observations, themselves make the original wound; but after it had been made by one of the true vampires they would lap the flowing blood and enlarge the wound. South America makes up for its lack, relatively to Africa and India, of large man-eating carnivores by the extraordinary ferocity or bloodthirstiness of certain small creatures of which the kinsfolk elsewhere are harmless. It is only here that fish no bigger than trout kill swimmers, and bats the size of the ordinary “flittermice” of the northern hemisphere drain the life-blood of big beasts and of man himself.
There was not much large mammalian life in the neighborhood. Kermit hunted industriously and brought in an occasional armadillo, coati, or agouti for the naturalists. Miller trapped rats and a queer opossum new to the collection. Cherrie got many birds. Cherrie and Miller skinned their specimens in a little open hut or shed. Moses, the small pet owl, sat on a cross-bar overhead, an interested spectator, and chuckled whenever he was petted. Two wrens, who bred just outside the hut, were much excited by the presence of Moses, and paid him visits of noisy unfriendliness. The little white-throated sparrows came familiarly about the palm cabins and whitewashed houses and trilled on the rooftrees. It was a simple song, with just a hint of our northern white-throat’s sweet and plaintive melody, and of the opening bars of our song-sparrow’s pleasant, homely lay. It brought back dear memories of glorious April mornings on Long Island, when through the singing of robin and song-sparrow comes the piercing cadence of the meadowlark; and of the far northland woods in June, fragrant with the breath of pine and balsam-fir, where sweetheart sparrows sing from wet spruce thickets and rapid brooks rush under the drenched and swaying alder-boughs.
From Tapirapoan our course lay northward up to and across the Plan Alto, the highland wilderness of Brazil. From the edges of this highland country, which is geologically very ancient, the affluents of the Amazon to the north, and of the Plate to the south, flow, with immense and devious loops and windings.
Two days before we ourselves started with our muletrain, a train of pack-oxen left, loaded with provisions, tools, and other things, which we would not need until, after a month or six weeks, we began our descent into the valley of the Amazon. There were about seventy oxen. Most of them were well broken, but there were about a score which were either not broken at all or else very badly broken. These were loaded with much difficulty, and bucked like wild broncos. Again and again they scattered their loads over the corral and over the first part of the road. The pack-men, however—coppercolored, black, and dusky-white—were not only masters of their art, but possessed tempers that could not be ruffled; when they showed severity it was because severity was needed, and not because they were angry. They finally got all their longhorned beasts loaded and started on the trail with them.
On January 21 we ourselves started, with the muletrain. Of course, as always in such a journey, there was some confusion before the men and the animals of the train settled down to the routine performance of duty. In addition to the pack-animals we all had riding-mules. The first day we journeyed about twelve miles, then crossing the Sepotuba and camping beside it, below a series of falls, or rather rapids. The country was level. It was a great natural pasture, covered with a very open forest of low, twisted trees, bearing a superficial likeness to the cross-timbers of Texas and Oklahoma. It is as well fitted for stock-raising as Oklahoma; and there is also much fine agricultural land, while the river will ultimately yield electric power. It is a fine country for settlement. The heat is great at noon; but the nights are not uncomfortable. We were supposed to be in the middle of the rainy season, but hitherto most of the days had been fine, varied with showers. The astonishing thing was the absence of mosquitoes. Insect pests that work by day can be stood, and especially by settlers, because they are far less serious foes in the clearings than in the woods. The mosquitoes and other night foes offer the really serious and unpleasant problem, because they break one’s rest. Hitherto, during our travels up the Paraguay and its tributaries, in this level, marshy tropical region of western Brazil, we had practically not been bothered by mosquitoes at all, in our home camps. Out in the woods they were at times a serious nuisance, and Cherrie and Miller had been subjected to real torment by them during some of their special expeditions; but there were practically none on the ranches and in our camps in the open fields by the river, even when marshes were close by. I was puzzled—and delighted—by their absence. Settlers need not be deterred from coming to this region by the fear of insect foes.
This does not mean that there are not such foes. Outside of the clearings, and of the beaten tracks of travel, they teem. There are ticks, poisonous ants, wasps—of which some species are really serious menaces—biting flies and gnats. I merely mean that, unlike so many other tropical regions, this particular region is, from the standpoint of the settler and the ordinary traveller, relatively free from insect pests, and a pleasant place of residence. The original explorer, and to an only less degree the hardworking field naturalist or big-game hunter, have to face these pests, just as they have to face countless risks, hardships, and difficulties. This is inherent in their several professions or avocations. Many regions in the United States where life is now absolutely comfortable and easygoing offered most formidable problems to the first explorers a century or two ago. We must not fall into the foolish error of thinking that the first explorers need not suffer terrible hardships, merely because the ordinary travellers, and even the settlers who come after them, do not have to endure such danger, privation, and wearing fatigue—although the first among the genuine settlers also have to undergo exceedingly trying experiences. The early explorers and adventurers make fairly well-beaten trails; but it is incumbent on them neither to boast of their own experiences nor to misjudge the efforts of the pioneers because, thanks to these very efforts, their own lines fall in pleasant places. The ordinary traveller, who never goes off the beaten route and who on this beaten route is carried by others, without himself doing anything or risking anything, does not need to show much more initiative and intelligence than an express package. He does nothing; others do all the work, show all the forethought, take all the risk—and are entitled to all the credit. He and his valise are carried in practically the same fashion; and for each the achievement stands about on the same plane. If this kind of traveller is a writer, he can of course do admirable work, work of the highest value; but the value comes because he is a writer and observer, not because of any particular credit that attaches to him as a traveller. We all recognize this truth as far as highly civilized regions are concerned: when Bryce writes of the American commonwealth, or Lowell of European legislative assemblies, our admiration is for the insight and thought of the observer,and we are not concerned with his travels. When a man travels across Arizona in a Pullman car, we do not think of him as having performed a feat bearing even the most remote resemblance to the feats of the first explorers of those waterless wastes; whatever admiration we feel in connection with his trip is reserved for the traffic-superintendent, engineer, fireman, and brakeman. But as regards the less-known continents, such as South America, we sometimes fail to remember these obvious truths. There yet remains plenty of exploring work to be done in South America, as hard, as dangerous, and almost as important as any that has already been done; work such as has recently been done, or is now being done, by men and women such as Haseman, Farrabee, and Miss Snethlage. The collecting naturalists who go into the wilds and do first-class work encounter every kind of risk and undergo every kind of hardship and exertion. Explorers and naturalists of the right type have open to them in South America a field of extraordinary attraction and difficulty. But to excavate ruins that have already long been known, to visit out-of-the-way towns that date from colonial days, to traverse old, even if uncomfortable, routes of travel, or to ascend or descend highway rivers like the Amazon, the Paraguay, and the lower Orinoco—all of these exploits are well worth performing, but they in no sense represent exploration or adventure, and they do not entitle the performer, no matter how well he writes and no matter how much of real value he contributes to human knowledge, to compare himself in anyway with the real wilderness wanderer, or to criticise the latter. Such a performance entails no hardship or difficulty worth heeding. Its value depends purely on observation, not on action. The man does little; he merely records what he sees. He is only the man of the beaten routes. The true wilderness wanderer, on the contrary, must be a man of action as well as of observation. He must have the heart and the body to do and to endure, no less than the eye to see and the brain to note and record.
Let me make it clear that I am not depreciating the excellent work of so many of the men who have not gone off the beaten trails. I merely wish to make it plain that this excellent work must not be put in the class with that of the wilderness explorer. It is excellent work, nevertheless, and has its place, just as the work of the true explorer has its place. Both stand in sharpest contrast with the actions of those alleged explorers, among whom Mr. Savage Landor stands in unpleasant prominence.
From the Sepotuba rapids our course at the outset lay westward. The first day’s march away from the river lay through dense tropical forest. Away from the broad, beaten route every step of a man’s progress represented slashing a trail with the machete through the tangle of bushes, low trees, thorny scrub, and interlaced creepers. There were palms of new kinds, very tall, slender, straight, and graceful, with rather short and few fronds. The wild plantains, or pacovas, thronged the spaces among the trunks of the tall trees; their boles were short, and their broad, erect leaves gigantic; they bore brilliant red-and-orange flowers. There were trees whose trunks bellied into huge swellings. There were towering trees with buttressed trunks, whose leaves made a fretwork against the sky far overhead. Gorgeous red-and-green trogons, with long tails, perched motionless on the lower branches and uttered a loud, thrice-repeated whistle. We heard the calling of the false bell-bird, which is gray instead of white like the true bell-birds; it keeps among the very topmost branches. Heavy rain fell shortly after we reached our camping-place.
Next morning at sunrise we climbed a steep slope to the edge of the Parecis plateau, at a level of about two thousand feet above the sea. We were on the Plan Alto, the high central plain of Brazil, the healthy land of dry air, of cool nights, of clear, running brooks. The sun was directly behind us when we topped the rise. Reining in, we looked back over the vast Paraguayan marshes, shimmering in the long morning lights. Then, turning again, we rode forward, casting shadows far before us. It was twenty miles to the next water, and in hot weather the journey across this waterless, shadeless, sandy stretch of country is hard on the mules and oxen. But on this day the sky speedily grew overcast and a cool wind blew in our faces as we travelled at a quick, running walk over the immense rolling plain. The ground was sandy; it was covered with grass and with a sparse growth of stunted, twisted trees, never more than a few feet high. There were rheas—ostriches—and small pampas-deer on this plain; the coloration of the rheas made it difficult to see them at a distance, whereas the bright red coats of the little deer, and their uplifted flags as they ran, advertised them afar off. We also saw the footprints of cougars and of the small-toothed, big, red wolf. Cougars are the most inveterate enemies of these small South American deer, both those of the open grassy plain and those of the forest.
It is not nearly as easy to get lost on these open plains as in the dense forest; and where there is a long, reasonably straight road or river to come back to, a man even without a compass is safe. But in these thick South American forests, especially on cloudy days, a compass is an absolute necessity. We were struck by the fact that the native hunters and ranchmen on such days continually lost themselves and, if permitted, travelled for miles through the forest either in circles or in exactly the wrong direction. They had no such sense of direction as the forest-dwelling ’Ndorobo hunters in Africa had, or as the true forest-dwelling Indians of South America are said to have. On certainly half a dozen occasions our guides went completely astray, and we had to take command, to disregard their assertions, and to lead the way aright by sole reliance on our compasses.
On this cool day we travelled well. The air was wonderful; the vast open spaces gave a sense of abounding vigor and freedom. Early in the afternoon we reached a station made by Colonel Rondon in the course of his first explorations. There were several houses with whitewashed walls, stone floors, and tiled or thatched roofs. They stood in a wide, gently sloping valley. Through it ran a rapid brook of cool water, in which we enjoyed delightful baths. The heavy, intensely humid atmosphere of the low, marshy plains had gone; the air was clear and fresh; the sky was brilliant; far and wide we looked over a landscape that seemed limitless; the breeze that blew in our faces might have come from our own northern plains. The midday sun was very hot; but it was hard to realize that we were in the torrid zone. There were no mosquitoes, so that we never put up our nets when we went to bed; but wrapped ourselves in our blankets and slept soundly throught the cool, pleasant nights. Surely in the future this region will be the home of a healthy highly civilized population. It is good for cattle-raising, and the valleys are fitted for agriculture. From June to September the nights are often really cold. Any sound northern race could live here; and in such a land, with such a climate, there would be much joy of living.
On these plains the Telegraphic Commission uses motor-trucks; and these now to relieve the mules and oxen; for some of them, especially among the oxen, already showed the effects of the strain. Travelling in a wild country with a pack-train is not easy on the pack-animals. It was strange to see these big motor-vans out in the wilderness where there was not a settler, not a civilized man except the employees of the Telegraphic Commission. They were handled by Lieutenant Lauriadó, who, with Lieutenant Mello, had taken special charge of our transport service; both were exceptionally good and competent men.
The following day we again rode on across the Plan Alto. In the early afternoon, in the midst of a downpour of rain, we crossed the divide between the basins of the Paraguay and the Amazon. That evening we camped on a brook whose waters ultimately ran into the Tapajos. The rain fell throughout the afternoon, now lightly, now heavily, and the mule-train did not get up until dark. But enough tents and flies were pitched to shelter all of us. Fires were lit, and—after a fourteen hours’ fast—we feasted royally on beans and rice and pork and beef, seated around oxskins spread upon the ground. The sky cleared; the stars blazed down through the cool night; and wrapped in our blankets we slept soundly, warm and comfortable.
Next morning the trail had turned, and our course led northward and at times east of north. We traversed the same high, rolling plains of coarse grass and stunted trees. Kermit, riding a big, iron-mouthed, bull-headed white mule, rode off to one side on a hunt, and rejoined the line of march carrying two bucks of the little pampasdeer, or field deer, behind his saddle. These deer are very pretty and graceful, with a tail like that of the Colombian blacktail. Standing motionless facing one, in the sparse scrub, they are hard to make out; if seen sideways the reddish of their coats, contrasted with the greens and grays of the landscape, betrays them; and when they bound off the upraised white tail is very conspicuous. They carefully avoid the woods in which their cousins the little bush deer are found, and go singly or in couples. Their odor can be made out at quite a distance, but it is not rank. They still carried their antlers. Their venison was delicious.
We came across many queer insects. One red grasshopper when it flew seemed as big as a small sparrow; and we passed in some places such multitudes of active little green grasshoppers that they frightened the mules. At our camping-place we saw an extraordinary colony of spiders. It was among some dwarf trees, standing a few yards apart from one another by the water. When we reached the camping-place, early in the afternoon—the pack-train did not get in until nearly sunset, just ahead of the rain—no spiders were out. They were under the leaves of the trees. Their webs were tenantless, and indeed for the most part were broken down. But at dusk they came out from their hiding-places, two or three hundred of them in all, and at once began to repair the old and spin new webs. Each spun its own circular web, and sat in the middle; and each web was connected on several sides with other webs, while those nearest the trees were hung to them by spun ropes, so to speak. The result was a kind of sheet of web consisting of scores of wheels, in each of which the owner and proprietor sat; and there were half a dozen such sheets, each extending between two trees. The webs could hardly be seen; and the effect was of scores of big, formidable-looking spiders poised in midair, equidistant from one another, between each pair of trees. When darkness and rain fell they were still out, fixing their webs, and pouncing on the occasional insects that blundered into the webs. I have no question that they are nocturnal; they certainly hide in the daytime, and it seems impossible that they can come out only for a few minutes at dusk.
In the evenings, after supper or dinner—it is hard to tell by what title the exceedingly movable evening meal should be called—the members of the party sometimes told stories of incidents in their past lives. Most of them were men of varied experiences. Rondon and Lyra told of the hardship and suffering of the first trips through the wilderness across which we were going with such comfort. On this very plateau they had once lived for weeks on the fruits of the various fruit-bearing trees. Naturally they became emaciated and feeble. In the forests of the Amazonian basin they did better because they often shot birds and plundered the hives of the wild honey-bees. In cutting the trail for the telegraph-line through the Juruena basin they lost every single one of the hundred and sixty mules with which they had started. Those men pay dear who build the first foundations of empire! Fiala told of the long polar nights and of white bears that came round the snow huts of the explorers, greedy to eat them, and themselves destined to be eaten by them. Of all the party Cherrie’s experiences had covered the widest range. This was partly owing to the fact that the latter-day naturalist of the most vigorous type who goes into the untrodden wastes of the world must see and do many strange things; and still more owing to the character of the man himself. The things he had seen and done and undergone often enabled him to cast the light of his own past experience on unexpected subjects. Once we were talking about the proper weapons for cavalry, and some one mentioned the theory that the lance is especially formidable because of the moral effect it produces on the enemy. Cherrie nodded emphatically; and a little cross-examination elicited the fact that he was speaking from lively personal recollection of his own feelings when charged by lancers. It was while he was fighting with the Venezuelan insurgents in an unsuccessful uprising against the tyranny of Castro. He was on foot, with five Venezuelans, all cool men and good shots. In an open plain they were charged by twenty of Castro’s lancers, who galloped out from behind cover two or three hundred yards off. It was a war in which neither side gave quarter and in which the wounded and the prisoners were butchered—just as President Madero was butchered in Mexico. Cherrie knew that it meant death for him and his companions if the charge came home; and the sight of the horsemen running in at full speed, with their long lances in rest and the blades glittering, left an indelible impression on his mind. But he and his companions shot deliberately and accurately; ten of the lancers were killed, the nearest falling within fifty yards; and the others rode off in headlong haste. A cool man with a rifle, if he has mastered his weapon, need fear no foe.
At this camp the auto-vans again joined us. They were to go direct to the first telegraph station, at the great falls of the Utiarity, on the Rio Papagaio. Of course they travelled faster than the mule-train. Father Zahm, attended by Sigg, started for the falls in them. Cherrie and Miller also went in them, because they had found that it was very difficult to collect birds, and especially mammals, when we were moving every day, packing up early each morning and the mule-train arriving late in the afternoon or not until nightfall. Moreover, there was much rain, which made it difficult to work except under the tents. Accordingly, the two naturalists desired to get to a place where they could spend several days and collect steadily, thereby doing more effective work. The rest of us continued with the mule-train, as was necessary.
It was always a picturesque sight when camp was broken, and again at nightfall when the laden mules came stringing in and their burdens were thrown down, while the tents were pitched and the fires lit. We breakfasted before leaving camp, the aluminum cups and plates being placed on ox-hides, round which we sat, on the ground or on camp-stools. We fared well, on rice, beans, and crackers, with canned corned beef, and salmon or any game that had been shot, and coffee, tea, and matté. I then usually sat down somewhere to write, and when the mules were nearly ready I popped my writing-materials into my duffel-bag—war-sack, as we would have called it in the old days on the plains. I found that the mules usually arrived so late in the afternoon or evening that I could not depend upon being able to write at that time. Of course, if we made a very early start I could not write at all. At night there were no mosquitoes. In the daytime gnats and sand-flies and horse-flies sometimes bothered us a little, but not much. Small stingless bees lit on us in numbers and crawled over the skin, making a slight tickling; but we did not mind them until they became very numerous. There was a good deal of rain, but not enough to cause any serious annoyance.
Colonel Rondon and Lieutenant Lyra held many discussions as to whither the Rio da Dúvida flowed, and where its mouth might be. Its provisional name—“River of Doubt” —was given it precisely because of this ignorance concerning it; an ignorance which it was one of the purposes of our trip to dispel. It might go into the Gy-Paraná, in which case its course must be very short; it might flow into the Madeira low down, in which case its course would be very long; or, which was unlikely, it might flow into the Tapajos. There was another river, of which Colonel Rondon had come across the head-waters, whose course was equally doubtful, although in its case there was rather more probability of its flowing into the Juruena, by which name the Tapajos is known for its upper half. To this unknown river Colonel Rondon had given the name Ananás, because when he came across it he found a deserted Indian field with pineapples, which the hungry explorers ate greedily. Among the things the colonel and I hoped to accomplish on the trip was to do a little work in clearing up one or the other of these two doubtful geographical points, and thereby to push a little forward the knowledge of this region. Originally, as described in the first chapter, my trip was undertaken primarily in the interest of the American Museum of Natural History of New York, to add to our knowledge of the birds and mammals of the far interior of the western Brazilian wilderness; and the labels of our baggage and scientific equipment, printed by the museum, were entitled “Colonel Roosevelt’s South American Expedition for the American Museum of Natural History.” But, as I have already mentioned, at Rio the Brazilian Government, through the secretary of foreign affairs, Doctor Lauro M¨ller, suggested that I should combine the expedition with one by Colonel Rondon, which they contemplated making, and thereby make both expeditions of broader scientific interest. I accepted the proposal with much pleasure; and we found, when we joined Colonel Rondon and his associates, that their baggage and equipment had been labelled by the Brazilian Government “Expedição Scientifica Roosevelt-Rondon.” This thenceforth became the proper and official title of the expedition. Cherrie and Miller did the chief zoological work. The geological work was done by a Brazilian member of the expedition, Euzebio Oliveira. The astronomical work necessary for obtaining the exact geographical location of the rivers and points of note was to be done by Lieutenant Lyra, under the supervision of Colonel Rondon; and at the telegraph stations this astronomical work would be checked by wire communications with one of Colonel Rondon’s assistants at Cuyabá, Lieutenant Caetano, thereby securing a minutely accurate comparison of time. The sketch-maps and surveying and cartographical work generally were to be made under the supervision of Colonel Rondon by Lyra, with assistance from Fiala and Kermit. Captain Amilcar handled the worst problem—transportation; the medical member was Doctor Cajazeira.
At night around the camp-fire my Brazilian companions often spoke of the first explorers of this vast wilderness of western Brazil—men whose very names are now hardly known, but who did each his part in opening the country which will some day see such growth and development. Among the most notable of them was a Portuguese, Ricardo Franco, who spent forty years at the work, during the last quarter of the eighteenth and the opening years of the nineteenth centuries. He ascended for long distances the Xingu and the Tapajos, and went up the Madeira and Guaporé, crossing to the head-waters of the Paraguay and partially exploring there also. He worked among and with the Indians, much as Mungo Park worked with the natives of West Africa, having none of the aids, instruments, and comforts with which even the hardiest of modern explorers are provided. He was one of the men who established the beginnings of the province of Matto Grosso. For many years the sole method of communication between this remote interior province and civilization was by the long, difficult, and perilous route which led up the Amazon and Madeira; and its then capital, the town of Matto Grosso, the seat of the captain-general, with its palace, cathedral, and fortress, was accordingly placed far to the west, near the Guaporé. When less circuitous lines of communication were established farther eastward the old capital was abandoned, and the tropic wilderness surged over the lonely little town. The tomb of the old colonial explorer still stands in the ruined cathedral, where the forest has once more come to its own. But civilization is again advancing to reclaim the lost town and to revive the memory of the wilderness wanderer who helped to found it. Colonel Rondon has named a river after Franco; a range of mountains has also been named after him; and the colonel, acting for the Brazilian Government, has established a telegraph station in what was once the palace of the captain-general.
Our northward trail led along the high ground a league or two to the east of the northward-flowing Rio Sacre. Each night we camped on one of the small tributary brooks that fed it. Fiala, Kermit, and I occupied one tent. In the daytime the “pium” flies, vicious little sand-flies, became bad enough to make us finally use gloves and head-nets. There were many heavy rains, which made the travelling hard for the mules. The soil was more often clay than sand, and it was slippery when wet. The weather was overcast, and there was usually no oppressive heat even at noon. At intervals along the trail we came on the staring skull and bleached skeleton of a mule or ox. Day after day we rode forward across endless flats of grass and of low open scrubby forest, the trees standing far apart and in most places being but little higher than the head of a horseman. Some of them carried blossoms, white, orange, yellow, pink; and there were many flowers, the most beautiful being the morning-glories. Among the trees were bastard rubbertrees, and dwarf palmetto; if the latter grew more than a few feet high their tops were torn and dishevelled by the wind. There was very little bird or mammal life; there were few long vistas, for in most places it was not possible to see far among the gray, gnarled trunks of the wind-beaten little trees. Yet the desolate landscape had a certain charm of its own, although not a charm that would be felt by any man who does not take pleasure in mere space, and freedom and wildness, and in plains standing empty to the sun, the wind, and the rain. The country bore some resemblance to the country west.of Redjaf on the White Nile, the home of the giant eland; only here there was no big game, no chance of seeing the towering form of the giraffe, the black bulk of elephant or buffalo, the herds of straw-colored hartebeests, or the ghostly shimmer of the sun glinting on the coats of roan and eland as they vanished silently in the gray sea of withered scrub.
One feature in common with the African landscape was the abundance of ant-hills, some as high as a man. They were red in the clay country, gray where it was sandy; and the dirt houses were also in trees, while their raised tunnels traversed trees and ground alike. At some of the camping-places we had to be on our watch against the swarms of leaf-carrying ants. These are so called in the books—the Brazilians call them “carregadores,” or porters—because they are always carrying bits of leaves and blades of grass to their underground homes. They are inveterate burden-bearers, and they industriously cut into pieces and carry off any garment they can get at; and we had to guard our shoes and clothes from them, just as we had often had to guard all our belongings against the termites. These ants did not bite us; but we encountered huge black ants, an inch and a quarter long, which were very vicious, and their bite was not only painful but quite poisonous. Praying-mantes were common, and one evening at supper one had a comical encounter with a young dog, a jovial near-puppy, of Colonel Rondon’s, named Cartucho. He had been christened the jolly-cum-pup, from a character in one of Frank Stockton’s stories, which I suppose are now remembered only by elderly people, and by them only if they are natives of the United States. Cartucho was lying with his head on the ox-hide that served as table, waiting with poorly dissembled impatience for his share of the banquet. The mantis flew down on the ox-hide and proceeded to crawl over it, taking little flights from one corner to another; and whenever it thought itself menaced it assumed an attitude of seeming devotion and real defiance. Soon it lit in front of Cartucho’s nose. Cartucho cocked his big ears forward, stretched his neck, and cautiously sniffed at the new arrival, not with any hostile design, but merely to find out whether it would prove to be a playmate. The mantis promptly assumed an attitude of prayer. This struck Cartucho as both novel and interesting, and he thrust his sniffing black nose still nearer. The mantis dexterously thrust forward first one and then the other armed fore leg, touching the intrusive nose, which was instantly jerked back and again slowly and inquiringly brought forward. Then the mantis suddenly flew in Cartucho’s face, whereupon Cartucho, with a smothered yelp of dismay, almost turned a back somersault; and the triumphant mantis flew back to the middle of the oxhide, among the plates, where it reared erect and defied the laughing and applauding company.
On the morning of the 29th we were rather late in starting, because the rain had continued through the night into the morning, drenching everything. After nightfall there had been some mosquitoes, and the piums were a pest during daylight; where one bites it leaves a tiny black spot on the skin which lasts for several weeks. In the slippery mud one of the pack-mules fell and injured itself so that it had to be abandoned. Soon after stârting we came on the telegraph-line, which runs from Cayubá this was the first time we had seen it. Two Parecís Indians joined us, leading a pack-bullock. They were dressed in hat, shirt, trousers, and sandals, precisely like the ordinary Brazilian caboclos, as the poor backwoods peasants, usually with little white blood in them, are colloquially and half-derisively styled—caboclo being originally a Guaraný word meaning “naked savage.” These two Indians were in the employ of the Telegraphic Commission, and had been patrolling the telegraph-line. The bullock carried their personal belongings and the tools with which they could repair a break. The commission pays the ordinary Indian worker 66 cents a day; a very good worker gets $1, and the chief $1.66. No man gets anything unless he works. Colonel Rondon, by just, kindly, and understanding treatment of these Indians, who previously had often been exploited and maltreated by rubber-gatherers, has made them the loyal friends of the government. He has gathered them at the telegraph stations, where they cultivate fields of mandioc, beans, potatoes, maize, and other vegetables, and where he is introducing them to stock-raising; and the entire work of guarding and patrolling the line is theirs.
After six hours’ march we came to the crossing of the Rio Sacre at the beautiful waterfall appropriately called the Salto Bello. This is the end of the automobile road. Here there is a small Parecís village. The men of the village work the ferry by which everything is taken across the deep and rapid river. The ferry-boat is made of planking placed on three dugout canoes, and runs on a trolley. Before crossing we enjoyed a good swim in the swift, clear, cool water. The Indian village, where we camped, is placed on a jutting tongue of land round which the river sweeps just before it leaps from the over-hanging precipice. The falls themselves are very lovely. Just above them is a wooded island, but the river joins again before it races forward for the final plunge. There is a sheer drop of forty or fifty yards, with a breadth two or three times as great; and the volume of water is large. On the left or hither bank a cliff extends for several hundred yards below the falls. Green vines have flung themselves down over its face, and they are met by other vines thrusting upward from the mass of vegetation at its foot, glistening in the perpetual mist from the cataract, and clothing even the rock surfaces in vivid green. The river, after throwing itself over the rock wall, rushes off in long curves at the bottom of a thickly wooded ravine, the white water churning among the black bowlders. There is a perpetual rainbow at the foot of the falls. The masses of green water that are hurling themselves over the brink dissolve into shifting, foaming columns of snowy lace.
On the edge of the cliff below the falls Colonel Rondon had placed benches, giving a curious touch of rather conventional tourist-civilization to this cataract far out in the lonely wilderness. It is well worth visiting for its beauty. It is also of extreme interest because of the promise it holds for the future. Lieutenant Lyra informed me that they had calculated that this fall would furnish thirty-six thousand horse-power. Eight miles off we were to see another fall of much greater height and power. There are many rivers in this region which would furnish almost unlimited motive force to populous manufacturing communities. The country round about is healthy. It is an upland region of good climate; we were visiting it in the rainy season, the season when the nights are far less cool than in the dry season, and yet we found it delightful. There is much fertile soil in the neighborhood of the streams, and the teeming lowlands of the Amazon and the Paraguay could readily—and with immense advantage to both sides—be made tributary to an industrial civilization seated on these highlands. A telegraph-line has been built to and across them. A rail-road should follow. Such a line could be easily built, for there are no serious natural obstacles. In advance of its construction a trolley-line could be run from Cuyabá to the falls, using the power furnished by the latter. Once this is done the land will offer extraordinary opportunities to settlers of the right kind: to home-makers and to enterprising business men of foresight, coolness, and sagacity who are willing to work with the settlers, the immigrants, the home-makers, for an advantage which shall be mutual.
The Parecís Indians, whom we met here, were exceedingly interesting. They were to all appearance an unusually cheerfull, good-humored, pleasant-natured people. Their teeth were bad; otherwise they appeared strong and vigorous, and there were plenty of children. The colonel was received as a valued friend and as a leader who was to be followed and obeyed. He is raising them by degrees—the only way by which to make the rise permanent. In this village he has got them to substitute for the flimsy Indian cabins houses of the type usual among the poorer field laborers and back-country dwellers in Brazil. These houses have roofs of palm thatch, steeply pitched. They are usually open at the sides, consisting merely of a framework of timbers, with a wall at the back; but some have the ordinary four walls, of erect palm-logs. The hammocks are slung in the houses, and the cooking is also done in them, with pots placed on small open fires, or occasionally in a kind of clay oven. The big gourds for water, and the wicker baskets, are placed on the ground, or hung on the poles.
The men had adopted, and were wearing, shirts and trousers, but the women had made little change in their clothing. A few wore print dresses, but obviously only for ornament. Most of them, especially the girls and young married women, wore nothing but a loin-cloth in addition to bead necklaces and bracelets. The nursing mothers—and almost all the mothers were nursing—sometimes carried the child slung against their side of hip, seated in a cloth belt, or sling, which went over the opposite shoulder of the mother. The women seemed to be well treated, although polygamy is practised. The children were loved by every one; they were petted by both men and women, and they behaved well to one another, the boys not seeming to bully the girls or the smaller boys. Most of the children were naked, but the girls early wore the loin-cloth; and some, both of the little boys and the little girls, wore colored print garments, to the evident pride of themselves and their parents. In each house there were several families, and life went on with no privacy but with good humor, consideration, and fundamentally good manners. The man or woman who had nothing to do lay in a hammock or squatted on the ground leaning against a post or wall. The children played together, or lay in little hammocks, or tagged round after their mothers; and when called they came trustfully up to us to be petted or given some small trinket; they were friendly little souls, and accustomed to good treatment. One woman was weaving a cloth, another was making a hammock; others made ready melons and other vegetables and cooked them over tiny fires. The men, who had come in from work at the ferry or along the telegraph-lines, did some work themselves, or played with the children; one cut a small boy’s hair, and then had his own hair cut by a friend. But the absorbing amusement of the men was an extraordinary game of ball.
In our family we have always relished Oliver Herford’s nonsense rhymes, including the account of Willie’s displeasure with his goat:
- “I do not like my billy goat,
- I wish that he was dead;
- Because he kicked me, so he did,
- He kicked me with his head.”
Well, these Parecís Indians enthusiastically play football with their heads. The game is not only native to them, but I have never heard or read of its being played by any other tribe or people. They use a light hollow rubber ball, of their own manufacture. It is circular and about eight inches in diameter. The players are divided into two sides, and stationed much as in association football, and the ball is placed on the ground to be put in play as in football. Then a player runs forward, throws himself flat on the ground, and butts the ball toward the opposite side. This first butt, when the ball is on the ground, never lifts it much and it rolls and bounds toward the opponents. One or two of the latter run toward it; one throws himself flat on his face and butts the ball back. Usually this butt lifts it, and it flies back in a curve well up in the air; and an opposite player, rushing toward it, catches it on his head with such a swing of his brawny neck, and such precision and address that the ball bounds back through the air as a football soars after a drop-kick. If the ball flies off to one side or the other it is brought back, and again put in play. Often it will be sent to and fro a dozen times, from head to head, until finally it rises with such a sweep that it passes far over the heads of the opposite players and descends behind them. Then shrill, rolling cries of good-humored triumph arise from the victors; and the game instantly begins again with fresh zest. There are, of course, no such rules as in a specialized ball-game of civilization; and I saw no disputes. There may be eight or ten, or many more, players on each side. The ball is never touched with the hands or feet, or with anything except he top of the head. It is hard to decide whether to wonder most at the dexterity and strength with which it is hit or butted with the head, as it comes down through the air, or at the reckless speed and skill with which the players throw themselves headlong on the ground to return the ball if it comes low down. Why they do not grind off their noses I cannot imagine. Some of the players hardly ever failed to catch and return the ball if it came in their neighborhood, and with such a vigorous toss of the head that it often flew in a great curve for a really astonishing distance.
That night a pack-ox got into the tent in which Kermit and I were sleeping, entering first at one end and then at the other. It is extraordinary that he did not waken us; but we slept undisturbed while the ox deliberately ate our shirts, socks, and underclothes! It chewed them into rags. One of my socks escaped, and my undershirt, although chewed full of holes, was still good for some weeks’ wear; but the other things were in fragments.
In the morning Colonel Randon arranged for us to have breakfast over on the benches under the trees by the waterfall, whose roar, lulled to a thunderous murmur, had been in our ears before we slept and when we waked. There could have been no more picturesque place for the breakfast of such a party as ours. All travellers who really care to see what is most beautiful and most characteristic of the far interior of South America should in their journey visit this region, and see the two great waterfalls. They are even now easy of access; and as soon as the traffic warrants it they will be made still more so; then, from São Luis Cáceres, they will be speedily reached by light steamboat up the Sepotuba and by a day or two’s automobile ride, with a couple of days on horse-back in between.
The colonel held a very serious council with the Parecís Indians over an incident which caused him grave concern. One of the commission’s employees, a negro, had killed a wild Nhambiquara Indian; but it appeared that he had really been urged on and aided by the Parecís, as the members of the tribe to which the dead Indian belonged were much given to carrying off the Parecís women and in other ways making themselves bad neighbors. The colonel tried hard to get at the truth of the matter; he went to the biggest Indian house, where he sat in a hammock—an Indian child cuddling solemnly up to him, by the way—while the Indians sat in other hammocks, and stood round about; but it was impossible to get an absolutely frank statement.
It appeared, however, that the Nhambiquaras had made a descent on the Parecís village in the momentary absence of the men of the village; but the latter, notified by the screaming of the women, had returned in time to rescue them. The negro was with them and, having a good rifle, he killed one of the aggressors. The Parecís were, of course, in the right, but the colonel could not afford to have his men take sides in a tribal quarrel.
It was only a two hours’ march across to the Papagaio at the Falls of Utiarity, so named by their discoverer, Colonel Rondon, after the sacred falcon of the Parecís. On the way we passed our Indian friends, themselves bound thither; both the men and the women bore burdens—the burdens of some of the women, poor things, were heavy—and even the small naked children carried the live hens. At Utiarity there is a big Parecís settlement and a telegraph station kept by one of the employees of the commission. His pretty brown wife is acting as schoolmistress to a group of little Parecís girls. The Parecís chief has been made a major and wears a uniform accordingly. The commission has erected good buildings for its own employees and has superintended the erection of good houses for the Indians. Most of the latter still prefer the simplicity of the loin-cloth, in their ordinary lives, but they proudly wore their civilized clothes in our honor. When in the late afternoon the men began to play a regular match game of headball, with a scorer or umpire to keep count, they soon discarded most of their clothes, coming down to nothing but trousers or a loin-cloth. Two or three of them had their faces stained with red ochre. Among the women and children looking on were a couple of little girls who paraded about on stilts.
The great waterfall was half a mile below us. Lovely though we had found Salto Bello, these falls were far superior in beauty and majesty. They are twice as high and twice as broad; and the lay of the land is such that the various landscapes in which the waterfall is a feature are more striking. A few hundred yards above the falls the river turns at an angle and widens. The broad, rapid shallows are crested with whitecaps. Beyond this wide expanse of flecked and hurrying water rise the mist columns of the cataract; and as these columns are swayed and broken by the wind the forest appears through and between them. From below the view is one of singular grandeur. The fall is over a shelving ledge of rock which goes in a nearly straight line across the river’s course. But at the left there is a salient in the cliff-line, and here accordingly a great cataract of foaming water comes down almost as a separate body, in advance of the line of the main fall. I doubt whether, excepting, of course, Niagara, there is a waterfall in North America which outranks this if both volume and beauty are considered. Above the fall the river flows through a wide valley with gently sloping sides. Below, it slips along, a torrent of whity-green water, at the bottom of a deep gorge; and the sides of the gorge are clothed with a towering growth of tropical forest.
Next morning the cacique of these Indians, in his major’s uniform, came to breakfast, and bore himself with entire propriety. It was raining heavily—it rained most of the time—and a few minutes previously I had noticed the cacique’s two wives, with three or four other young women, going out to the mandioc fields. It was a picturesque group. The women were all mothers, and each carried a nursing child. They wore loin-cloths or short skirts. Each carried on her back a wickerwork basket supported by a head-strap which went around her forehead. Each carried a belt slung diagonally across her body, over her right shoulder; in this the child was carried, against and perhaps astride of her left hip. They were comely women, who did not look jaded or cowed; and they laughed cheerfully and nodded to us as they passed through the rain, on their way to the fields. But the contrast between them and the chief in his soldier’s uniform seated at breakfast was rather too striking; and incidentally it etched in bold lines the folly of those who idealize the life of even exceptionally good and pleasant-natured savages.
Although it was the rainy season, the trip up to this point had not been difficult, and from May to October, when the climate is dry and at its best, there would be practically no hardship at all for travellers and visitors. This is a healthy plateau. But, of course, the men who do the first pioneering, even in country like this, encounter dangers and run risks; and they make payment with their bodies. At more than one halting-place we had come across the forlorn grave of some soldier or laborer of the commission. The grave-mound lay within a rude stock-ade; and an uninscribed wooden cross, gray and weather-beaten, marked the last resting-place of the unknown and forgotten man beneath, the man who had paid with his humble life the cost of pushing the frontier of civilization into the wild savagery of the wilderness. Farther west the conditions become less healthy. At this station Colonel Rondon received news of sickness and of some deaths among the employees of the commission in the country to the westward, which we were soon to enter. Beriberi and malignant malarial fever were the diseases which claimed the major number of the victims.
Surely these are “the men who do the work for which they draw the wage.” Kermit had with him the same copy of Kipling’s poems which he had carried through Africa. At these falls there was one sunset of angry splendor; and we contrasted this going down of the sun, through broken rain-clouds and over leagues of wet tropical forest, with the desert sunsets we had seen in Arizona and Sonora, and along the Guaso Nyiro north and west of Mount Kenia, when the barren mountains were changed into flaming “ramparts of slaughter and peril” standing above “the wine-dark flats below.”
It rained during most of the day after our arrival at Utiarity. Whenever there was any let-up the men promptly came forth from their houses and played head-ball with the utmost vigor; and we would listen to their shrill undulating cries of applause and triumph until we also grew interested and strolled over to look on. They are more infatuated with the game than an American boy is with baseball or football. It is an extraordinary thing that this strange and exciting game should be played by, and only by, one little tribe of Indians in what is almost the very centre of South America. If any traveller or ethnologist knows of a tribe elsewhere that plays a similar game, I wish he would let me know. To play it demands great activity, vigor, skill, and endurance. Looking at the strong, supple bodies of the players, and at the number of children roundabout, it seemed as if the tribe must be in vigorous health; yet the Pareís have decreased in numbers, for measles and smallpox have been fatal to them.
By the evening the rain was coming down more heavily than ever. It was not possible to keep the moisture out of our belongings; everything became mouldy except what became rusty. It rained all that night; and day-light saw the downpour continuing with no prospect of cessation. The pack-mules could not have gone on with the march; they were already rather done up by their previous ten days’ labor through rain and mud, and it seemed advisable to wait until the weather became better before attempting to go forward. Moreover, there had been no chance to take the desired astronomical observations. There was very little grass for the mules; but there was abundance of a small-leaved plant eight or ten inches high—unfortunately, not very nourishing—on which they fed greedily. In such weather and over such muddy trails oxen travel better than mules.
In spite of the weather Cherrie and Miller, whom, together with Father Zahm and Sigg, we had found awaiting us, made good collections of birds and mammals. Among the latter were opossums and mice that were new to them. The birds included various forms so unlike our home birds that the enumeration of their names would mean nothing. One of the most interesting was a large black-and-white woodpecker, the white predominating in the plumage. Several of these woodpeckers were usually found together. They were showy, noisy, and restless, and perched on twigs, in ordinary bird fashion, at least as often as they clung to the trunks in orthodox wood-pecker style. The prettiest bird was a tiny manakin, coal-black, with a red-and-orange head.
On February 2 the rain let up, although the sky remained overcast and there were occasional showers. I walked off with my rifle for a couple of leagues; at that distance, from a slight hillock, the mist columns of the falls were conspicuous in the landscape. The only mammal I saw on the walk was a rather hairy armadillo, with a flexible tail, which I picked up and brought back to Miller—it showed none of the speed of the nine-banded armadillos we met on our jaguar-hunt. Judging by its actions, as it trotted about before it saw me, it must be diurnal in habits. It was new to the collection.
I spent much of the afternoon by the waterfall. Under the overcast sky the great cataract lost the deep green and fleecy-white of the sunlit falling waters. Instead it showed opaline hues and tints of topaz and amethyst. At all times, and under all lights, it was majestic and beautiful.
Colonel Rondon had given the Indians various presents, those for the women including calico prints, and, what they especially prized, bottles of scented oil, from Paris, for their hair. The men held a dance in the late afternoon. For this occasion most, but not all, of them cast aside their civilized clothing, and appeared as doubtless they would all have appeared had none but themselves been present. They were absolutely naked except for a beaded string round the waist. Most of them were spotted and dashed with red paint, and on one leg wore anklets which rattled. A number carried pipes through which they blew a kind of deep stifled whistle in time to the dancing. One of them had his pipe leading into a huge gourd, which gave out a hollow, moaning boom. Many wore two red or green or yellow macaw feathers in their hair, and one had a macaw feather stuck transversely through the septum of his nose. They circled slowly round and round, chanting and stamping their feet, while the anklet rattles clattered and the pipes droned. They advanced to the wall of one of the houses, again and again chanting and bowing before it; I was told this was a demand for drink. They entered one house and danced in a ring around the cooking-fire in the middle of the earth floor; I was told that they were then reciting the deeds of mighty hunters and describing how they brought in the game. They drank freely from gourds and pannikins of a fermented drink made from mandioc which were brought out to them. During the first part of the dance the women remained in the houses, and all the doors and windows were shut and blankets hung to prevent the possibility of seeing out. But during the second part all the women and girls came out and looked on. They were themselves to have danced when the men had finished, but were overcome with shyness at the thought of dancing with so many strangers looking on. The children played about with unconcern throughout the ceremony, one of them throwing high in the air, and again catching in his hands, a loaded feather, a kind of shuttlecock.
In the evening the growing moon shone through the cloud-rack. Anything approaching fair weather always put our men in good spirits; and the muleteers squatted in a circle, by a fire near a pile of packs, and listened to a long monotonously and rather mournfully chanted song about a dance and a love-affair. We ourselves worked busily with our photographs and our writing. There was so much humidity in the air that everything grew damp and stayed damp, and mould gathered quickly. At this season it is a country in which writing, taking photographs, and preparing specimens are all works of difficulty, at least so far as concerns preserving and sending home the results of the labor; and a man’s clothing is never really dry. From here Father Zahm returned to Tapirapoan, accompanied by Sigg.