WHERE THE TWO GREAT OCEANS MEET
Perhaps there is no section of the
globe about which most well-informed persons know
so little as the southern part of South America.
Judged by the reports of early discoverers and explorers,
this region until recently has been considered a desolate
stretch of snow mountains, barren plains, and extensive
morasses, sparsely inhabited by a few thousand human
beings of the lowest type and worthless to civilized
Such a picture is but partly true.
Many of the highest mountains are snow-capped throughout
the year and are scored by immense glaciers which
are constantly moving down their grooved sides; but
there are also heavily forested slopes flanked by
valleys and plains covered with rich grasses, making
most excellent pasturage. The best land, comprising
a large area, is now occupied as grazing grounds principally
by sheep farmers.
In the early part of the sixteenth
century it was rumored that a water passage traversed
the southern part of South America. This rumor
was proved true in 1520, when Ferdinand Magellan,
a Portuguese navigator in the service of Charles V
of Spain, sailed through the strait which now bears
his name. He called the passage Todos los Santos literally,
“All Saints” but later the
name was changed to commemorate the bold captain who
discovered the route.
Magellan was the first not only to
sail through the strait, but to cross the broad Pacific
Ocean, which was so named by him on account of the
quietness of its waters. Because he saw the fires
built by the natives blazing on the islands along
the south side of the channel, he called them Tierra
del Fuego, meaning “Land of Fire.”
The Strait of Magellan varies from
three to seventy miles in width. The scenery
along its shores, low and treeless in the eastern part,
elsewhere is mountainous and heavily wooded mainly
with beech. In various places lofty precipices
rise abruptly from the water’s edge; throughout
most of its extent the shore line is rock-bound and
studded with islets.
A more picturesque route, and one
abounding in the grandest and most stupendous scenery
in the world, is that from the Pacific by way of Smyth
Channel, the entrance to which is four hundred miles
north of the entrance to Magellan Strait. By
this route one follows a series of channels and reaches
the strait proper near Desolation Island. On
account of the dangers besetting this course, underwriters
refuse to insure vessels taking it.
It remained for a Hollander named
Schouten to discover Cape Horn, in 1616, and thus
find a safer way for sailing vessels going from the
one great ocean to the other. Schouten named
the cape “Hoorn,” from his native city
in Holland. Afterward the name was shortened to
Horn, which is applied both to the cape and to the
island from which it projects. Since the western
entrance to the strait is subject to rough, tempestuous
weather and strong currents, very few modern sailing
vessels take the shorter course, preferring to double
the cape. Though doubling the cape is the safer
route, yet this passage itself is beset by dangerous
storms and tempestuous seas. Fortunate is the
sailing master who rounds the Horn with pleasant weather.
Some of the smaller islands of the
archipelago are densely wooded and practically unexplored.
Gold has been found on the beaches of several of the
islands in paying quantities, and these placers
have been worked successfully for several years.
On the islands are found wild strawberries of great
size and fine flavor, wild raspberries, gooseberries,
grapes, and celery; in the spring the pastures are
covered with a variety of wild flowers. A profusion
of ferns is seen almost everywhere. Wild geese
and swans are found on the lagoons and lakes in large
Once upon a time Patagonia, as the
southern part of the continent is popularly called,
was regarded as a waste; now it is recognized as a
wonderfully fertile region, and is being rapidly settled.
European colonies have been established there, and
they are highly prosperous. The native Indians
are disappearing, hurried to extinction chiefly by
King Alcohol, which, once tasted, seems to conquer
them. Traders know the weakness of these savages,
and exploit it for all they are worth. The articles
which the Indians chiefly barter are skins, pelts,
and ostrich feathers.
The Indians are well supplied with
horses, the descendants of those brought to South
America by Spanish explorers. They are wonderful
riders and excel in the use of a peculiar lasso called
the bolas. It consists usually of three balls
of stone or metal covered with rawhide and attached
to one another by twisted thongs of the same material.
In fighting as well as in capturing wild animals,
this instrument is indispensable. The operator,
holding one of the balls, swings the others over his
head and when sufficient momentum has been obtained
lets them go. If well aimed, the connected balls
circle around the legs of the animal to be caught,
entangling and throwing it down.
The Indians of the mainland are strong
and tall. Unlike most South American Indians,
they go about well clothed. Occasionally they
kill their horses for food, but their chief reliance
for both food and clothing is the guanaco.
Although the Indians have inhabited
this part of South America for centuries, they follow
well-beaten trails. They live in a superstitious
dread of evil spirits, who they believe dwell in the
densely wooded mountain slopes of the Cordillera.
The Indians of Tierra del
Fuego archipelago are much inferior to those
of the mainland. They go almost or entirely naked
and subsist on fish. The canoe Indians, as those
in the western part are called, build boats of bark
sewn together with sinews. The boats are about
fifteen feet long, and in the centre a quantity of
earth is carried, upon which a fire is built.
The canoe Indians have neither chief nor tribal relations;
each family is a law unto itself. They spend most
of their time during the day in rowing among the different
channels where fish may be obtained. At night
they generally go on shore to sleep. A hole scooped
out of the ground or a sheltered rock with a few boughs
bent down suffices for a house where all can huddle
close together for warmth. Seldom do they sleep
more than one night in a place, fearing that if they
do not move on an evil spirit will catch them.
In the eastern part of Tierra
del Fuego and on some of the other larger
islands two tribes of Indians are found whose subsistence
consists of sea food, guanacos, and such sheep
as they can steal. These tribes are continually
at enmity with the white settlers and will kill them
In spite of cloudy weather and cold
winds, which are common a part of the year, the climate
of Patagonia is milder than that of places much farther
north, and the sheep require no feeding during the
winter season. In the matter of sheep farms this
section rivals Australia, since there is no fear of
drought. The grass continues green the year around,
and the sheep easily fatten upon it.
The drawbacks to successful sheep-growing
are many and the business requires constant vigilance.
Vultures, foxes, wild dogs, pumas, and Indians
make serious inroads on the flocks. The wild dogs
live in the surrounding forests and from time to time
rush out in packs of from ten to thirty and attack
the sheep. Notwithstanding all these troubles,
however, the profits of sheep-growing are large.
Russians, Germans, French, Australians,
English, and Scotch, many of whom have amassed large
fortunes in a few years, are engaged in this lucrative
business. As in all other sheep-raising countries,
the collie is an invaluable aid to the shepherds.
Not only are the principal islands chiefly devoted
to sheep-raising, but a considerable part of the southern
mainland is also devoted to this industry. On
the island of Tierra del Fuego alone
there are upward of a million sheep.
Most of the land is leased from the
government for a long term of years. Many of
the proprietors have enclosed their holdings with wire
fences, thereby lessening the expense of caring for
their flocks. Some of the holdings range from
twenty-five thousand to more than two million acres.
Southern Patagonia has immense numbers
of guanacos, or wild llamas. These animals
frequent the Andean slopes and the adjacent pampas.
During the winter season they come down to the lowlands
to drink in the unfrozen lakes and feed upon the herbage.
During severe winters sometimes hundreds are found
dead from starvation in the valleys near the frozen
Thousands of wild cattle are found
on the eastern slopes of the Andes, but they are difficult
to capture; they are exceedingly wary and can scent
a man far off. In agility in climbing the steep,
rough places they equal the goat. If one of their
number is killed the whole herd deserts the locality
at night. When wounded they are fierce fighters,
if forced into close quarters.
Punta Arenas, or “Sandy Point,”
is on the north side of the Strait of Magellan and
is Chilean territory. It is a new town cut out
of the woods, and even yet many of the streets are
diversified by the stumps of big beech trees.
The place is an important coaling and provision station
and, next to Honolulu, the most important ocean post-office
in the world. It has a population of twelve thousand,
and is the capital and centre of the great wool industry
of the Territory of Magellan, which comprises a majority
of the islands south of the mainland, together with
the southern part of Patagonia.
A few years ago, in order to encourage
the building up of Punta Arenas, the government offered
a lot free to any one who would erect a building on
it. Many accepted the offer, and to-day some of
the lots in the business part of the town are very
valuable. Although most of the buildings are
constructed with regard to economy rather than beauty,
yet some of the business blocks will compare favorably
with those of the new cities in the United States.
Like several Australian cities, Punta
Arenas was a convict colony. It was founded as
such in 1843, and so remained until the European steamships
began to thread the strait instead of doubling the
Horn. Then it became a coaling station, a supply
store, a half-way town, and an ocean post-office.
All this business was previously carried on at the
Falkland Islands, but the route through the strait
settled the business for both places. The Falkland
station was abandoned; Punta Arenas became a thriving
town. A ticket-of-leave was given to each convict
who consented to join the Chilean army.
The town forthwith blossomed into
a typical frontier settlement banks and
gambling dens, churches and saloons, schools and bullfights.
Every race of people and almost every industry is
represented there. The Spanish see to it that
the Sunday bullfights are correct; the French insure
the proper social functions; the Germans manage the
banks; and the Americans take the profits of the railways,
telegraph lines, and flour-mills. As to latitude,
Punta Arenas is cold and inhospitable; but for business
and social affairs, it is very, very warm, especially
in the matter of social affairs.