Posted by: Rob Viens | September 15, 2012

Shootin’ and Ridin’ with the Gauchos

Life has gotten a bit hectic for me (getting ready for another school year to start this week), so I thought I’d just post Darwin’s recent entries for those that might be missing their daily Darwin “fix” (I know I do :)).

On September 14th, Darwin was still happily out “shooting”, comparing the experience to hunting back home and noting the pleasure of hunting for food rather than just for sport:

“I am spending September in Patagonia, much in the same manner as I should in England, viz in shooting; in this case however there is the extra satisfaction of knowing that one gives fresh provisions to the ships company.— To day I shot another deer & an Agouti or Cavy.— The latter weighs more than 20 pounds; & affords the very best meat I ever tasted.— Whilst shooting I walked several miles within the interior; the general features of the country remain the same, an undulating sandy plain covered with coarse herbage & which as it extends, gradually becomes more level.— The bottoms of some of the vallies are green with clover: it is by cautiously crawling so as to peep into these that the game is shot.” (Sept 14)

His description reminds me of a carnival shooting gallery – with animals popping out from behind bushes and small hills. I can almost see him quickly aiming and taking the shot:

“If a deer has not seen you stand upright; generally it is possessed with an insatiable curiosity to find out what you are; & to such an extent that I have fired several times without frightening it away.” (Sept 14)

Now the weekend was a different story – Darwin got to spend some more time traveling with his new gaucho friends. They were hunting with their bolas, which Darwin describes in some detail:

“The Spaniards, whom we some time since thought were Indians, have been employed hunting for us & have generally bivouacced near the coast.— They offered to lend me a horse to accompany them in one of their excursions; of this I gladly accepted.— The party consisted of 9 men & one woman; the greater number of the former were pure Indians, the others most ambiguous; but all alike were most wild in their appearance & attire.— As for the woman, she was a perfect non descript; she dressed & rode like a man, & till dinner I did not guess she was otherwise.— The hunters catch everything with the two or three balls fastened to the thongs of leather; the manner of proceeding is to form themselves into a sort of crescent, each man less than a quarter of a mile apart; one goes some way ahead & endeavours to drive the animals towards the others & thus in a manner encircling them.— I saw one most beautiful chace; a fine Ostrich tried to escape; the Gauchos pursued it at a reckless pace, each man whirling the balls round his head; the foremost at last threw them, in an instant the Ostrich rolled over & over, its legs being fairly lashed together by the thong.— Its dying struggles were most violent.— The men then formed a ring & drove to the centre several cavies; they only killed one; but their riding was most excellent, especially in the quickness & precision with which they turn.— The horses are soon fatigued from such violent exercise & it is necessary often to change them & pick out fresh ones from the herd which always accompanies a party.— At this time of year, the eggs of the ostrich is their chief prize.— In this one day they found 64, out of which 44 were in two nests; the rest scattered about by ones or twos.— They also catch great numbers of Armadilloes.— In the middle of the day they lighted a fire & soon roasted some eggs & some Armadilloes in their hard cases:— They had neither water, salt or bread; of the two latter for weeks together they never taste; so that it makes little difference to them where they live.” (Sept 15)

Roasted Armadillo (from Fluffy Chix Cook blog)

With Darwin’s love of hunting and riding, it is no doubt that he took an instant liking to the gauchos.  I wonder what he thought of the roasted armadillos? (RJV)


  1. Does Darwin explain how he discovered that hunter #9 was female – at dinner, no less? Table manners? She served the men? This is driving me crazy!

    • Hmm….Good question. Are you asking that as a biologist, anthropologist or psychologist? 🙂 I’m not sure what the cultural norms where in that area for gender-based clothing and behavior…hadn’t thought about it.

  2. […] fossils of recently extinct megafauna (See Darwin’s Sloth) and riding with the gauchos (see Shootin’ and Ridin’ with the Gauchos and Learning New Skills) have to be highlights of the last couple months. Though the beauty of the […]

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