National Geographic : 1901 Jan
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE Tehuelches. Upon examination of many of the more perfect of these earthen ves sels, it was found that they were punct ured with a series of small holes in the bottom, and that the surface of the in terior, over the bottom and a considerable portion of the sides also, was blackened and charred, thus bearing unmistakable evidence of having been subjected to the continued action of fire. It occurred to me that such earthen vessels were used for conveying fire from one encampment to another when on the march. Upon in quiry I was pleased to hear this theory confirmed by an aged Tehuelche woman who remembered distinctly that in her childhood fire was frequently transported with them when on the march. The Tehuelches find their chief em ployment in hunting the guanaco and rhea or South American ostrich. The region inhabited by them extends northward from the Strait of Magellan along the western border of that part of the country occupied by the prosperous Patagonian sheep farmers, and which lies adjacent to the Atlantic coast. This sheep-farming district extends westward from the coast for an average distance of about thirty miles. Between this thirty-mile strip and the Andes is the home of the Tehuelche. Of the habitable portions of the earth's surface, it is perhaps the most sparsely set tled of all. Notwithstanding its natural re sources, over thousands of square miles are entirely uninhabited. For the most part, it is indeed comparatively barren, as in the lava beds of the central interior region, but to the westward over the lower slopes of the Andes and in the valleys entering the mountains, there are exceedingly fer tile regions, capable of supporting con siderable populations, but at present quite unoccupied by either Indians or Euro peans. The writer, together with Mr. O. A. Peterson, spent five months of travel during the summer of 1896-97 in the country lying between the sources of the Santa Cruz and Desire Rivers without encountering either whites or natives. The Tehuelche is and always has been a plainsman. His methods and the im plements employed by him in the chase are designed for a level open country, and are not adapted to rough, mountain ous, or wooded districts. Greatly reduced in numbers he finds the area still left to him in his natural habitat more than am ple to supply his simple wants and satisfy his inherent, nomadic disposition. Left to himself, his necessities are few and easily supplied, for nature in Patagonia is exceedingly lavish in furnishing those animals that provide him with every do mestic necessity. Give to the Tehuelche his horse, dogs, and bolas, and destroy all other animal life indigenous to the region save only the guanaco, and he would con tinue to exist, experiencing little incon venience. The guanaco is to his existence the one important and indispensable animal. From its flesh he derives his chief and for long periods only sustenance, while from its skin his industrious wife constructs the family toldo and makes with admirable skill and patience their ample clothing and bedding, fitting and sewing the parts with the nicety and proficiency of a skilled seamstress. A wooden or bone awl used as a delicate punch is her needle, and the sinew taken from the loin of the same ani mal her thread. From this same beast he likewise obtains the sinew for the lightbut exceedingly strong thongs of his bolas. But the guanacos are in no danger of extinction. They roam in thousands over the Patagonian plains. So abundant are they that in travelling across the country it is scarcely possible to pass out of sight of them. Contrary to the general rule with undomesticated animals, the guana cos inhabiting settled regions are far less timid than those of unsettled districts. In that region along the coast occupied by the sheep farmers, they exist in great numbers, are exceedingly tame, and are a source of considerable annoyance to the herdsmen, who nevertheless suffer them to go unmolested.