Posted by: Rob Viens | August 18, 2013

On the Road and “Souzed in Black Mire”

On the 16th, with all his papers in order, Darwin left General Rosas’ camp and headed north to Bahia Blanca.  Since Darwin’s entry is long today, I thought I let him do the talking and just annotate with a couple of comments and a few photos. So here goes – Darwin’s description of the trip from the Rio Colorado to Bahia Blanca:

“Started early in the morning. Mr Harris did not accompany me as he was not quite well, & I was anxious to arrive at Bahia Blanca, not knowing when the ship would be there.” (Aug 16)

Ironically, this modern photo is taken very close to where General Rosas’ camp was located. It seemed appropriate for the trip! (uploaded to Google Earth by el budi):

Roadsign to Bahia Blanca

“We passed the Toldos of the Indians, which are without the regular encampment. — They are little round ovens covered with hides, with the tapering Chusa stuck in the ground by its entrance. — They were divided into separate groups, which belonged to the different Cacique’s tribes, & each group of huts were divided into smaller ones, apparently according to the relationship of the owners.” (Aug 16)

Toldas in Patagonia (from the Quantulumcumque blog)


From here Darwin followed a series of military “posts” (Posta) laid out along the route to Bahia Blanca.  He refers to them by number:

“The first Posta lay along the course of the Colorado. — the diluvial plains on the side appeared fertile & it is said are well adapted for the growth of corn: the advantage of having willows trees will be very great for the Estancias which General Rosas intends making here. — This war of extermination, although carried on with the most shocking barbarity, will certainly produce great benefits; it will at once throw open four or 500 miles in length of fine country for the produce of cattle. —

From the 2nd to 3rd Posta began the grand geological formation, which I believe continues the same to St Fe, a distance of at least 600 miles. — The country had a different appearance from that South of the Colorado: there were many different plants & grasses & not nearly so many spiny bushes, & these gradually became less frequent; untill a little to the North there is not a bush. — The plain is level & of a uniform brownish appearance; it is interrupted by nothing, till about 25 miles North of the river, with a belt of red dunes stretching as far as the eye reaches to the East & West. — These are invaluable in the country, for resting on the clay the[y] cause small lakes in the hollows & thus supply that most rare article, fresh water. The extreme value of depressions & elevations in the land is not often reflected on. — the two miserable springs in the long passage between the Rios Nigro & Colorado are formed by two trifling inequalities in the plain, without which there absolutely would be none & of course boring would be quite unsuccessful. — The belt of sand hills is about eight miles wide, on the Northern edge the fourth Posta is situated; as it was evening & the fresh horses were distant we determined to pass the night here.” (Aug 16)

A view of the landscape on the road to Bahia Blanca (uploaded to Goodle Earth by water dh)

landscape on the road to Bahia Blanca

“The house is at the base of a ridge between one & two hundred feet high, a most remarkable phenomenon in this country — from this ridge there was an excellent view of the Sierra Ventana, stretching across the country & not appearing as at Bahia Blanca as a solitary mountain. — This posta was commanded by a Negro Lieutenant born in Africa & to his credit be it said there was not a Rancho between the Colorado & B. Ayres in nearly such neat order. He had a little room for strangers & a small Corral for the horses, all made of sticks & reeds. He had dug a ditch round the house, as a defence in case of being attacked; it would however be poor one if the Indians were to come. — His only comfort appeared to be that he would sell his life dear. Some short time ago, a body of Indians had travelled past his house in the night.1 If they had been aware of the Posta our black friend & his four soldiers would assuredly have been slaughtered. — I did not anywhere meet a more obliging man than this Negro; it was therefore the more painful to see that he would not sit down and eat with us.” (Aug 16)

The Sierra de la Ventana, which Darwin would have seen on the horizon to the north, are reported to be one of only two real mountain ranges rising up out of the pampas. Located just north of Bahia Blanca, the highest peaks in the range reach heights of between 1,000 and 1,200 m (~3,500 to 4,000 ft).  The highest peak – Cerro Tres Picos – is 1,239 m (4,065 ft) tall.

The Sierra de la Ventana (on Wikipedia Commons, by Raul Senzacqua)

Sierra Ventana

As the party approached the “White Bay” the next day, they began to encounter the marshy area that surrounded the estuary.  Along the way, the classic image of Darwin becomes (literally) tarnished when he managed to fall off his horse into the smelly, organic-rich muds of the marsh.  Picture Darwin covered in mud, without a change of pants for miles! I just love these “real” images of young Darwin.

“In the morning he sent for the horses very early & we started for another exhilarating gallop. — We passed the Cabeza del Buey, an old name given to the head of a large marsh which extends from Bahia Blanca. Here we changed horses & passed through some leagues of swamps & saltpetre marshes; Changing horses for the last time, we again began wading through the mud. — My animal fell & I was well souzed in black mire, a very disagreeable accident, when one does not possess a change of clothes.” (Aug 17)

Darwin arrived at the fort at Bahia Blanca amid a slight scare.  It was clear that all of the stories he had been hearing was making him a little on edge about his safety around the natives:

“Some miles from the Fort we met a man who told us that a great gun had been fired, which is a signal that Indians are near. — We immediately left the road & followed the edge of a marsh, which when chaced, offers the best mode of escape; we were glad to arrive within the walls, when we found all this alarm was about nothing, for the Indians turned out to be friendly ones, who wished to join General Rosas.” (Aug 17)

On the 18th, the waiting would begin… (RJV)


  1. […] I covered these mountains last month back when Darwin described them in the distance (see On the Road and “Souzed in Black Mire”). At last he was finally there, so he had a little more to say about them up […]

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