We had found the birds for the most part in worn plumage, for the breeding season, the southern spring and northern fall, was over.
But some birds were still breeding. In the tropics the breeding season is more irregular than in the north. Some birds breed at very different times from that chosen by the majority of their fellows; some can hardly be said to have any regular season; Cherrie had found one species of honey-creeper breeding in every month of the year.
Just before sunset and just after sunrise big, noisy, blue-and-yellow macaws flew over this camp. They were plentiful enough to form a loose flock, but each pair kept to itself, the two individuals always close together and always separated from the rest.
Although not an abundant, it was an interesting, fauna which the two naturalists found in this upland country, where hitherto no collections of birds and mammals had been made. Miller trapped several species of opossums, mice and rats which were new to him. Cherrie got many birds which he did not recognize. At this camp, among totally strange forms, he found an old and familiar acquaintance. Before breakfast he brought in several birds; a dark colored flycatcher, with white forehead and rump and two very long tail-feathers; a black and slate-blue tanager; a black ant-thrush with a concealed white spot on its back, at the base of the neck, and its dull-colored mate; and other birds which he believed to be new to science, but whose relationships with any of our birds are so remote that it is hard to describe them save in technical language.
Finally, among these unfamiliar forms was a veery, and the sight of the rufous-olive back and faintly spotted throat of this singer of our northern Junes made us almost homesick. Next day was brilliantly clear. The mules could not be brought in until quite late in the morning, and we had to march twenty miles under the burning tropical sun, right in the hottest part of the day.
From a rise of ground we looked back over the vast, sunlit landscape, the endless rolling stretches of low forest. Midway on our journey we crossed a brook. The dogs minded the heat much. They continually ran off to one side, lay down in a shady place, waited until we were several hundred yards ahead, and then raced after us, overtook us, and repeated the performance. The pack-train came in about sunset; but we ourselves reached the Juruena in the middle of the afternoon. The Juruena is the name by which the Tapajos goes along its upper course.
Where we crossed, it was a deep, rapid stream, flowing in a heavily wooded valley with rather steep sides. We were ferried across on the usual balsa, a platform on three dugouts, running by the force of the current on a wire trolley. There was a clearing on each side with a few palms, and on the farther bank were the buildings of the telegraph station. The Juruena was first followed at the end of the eighteenth century by the Portuguese explorer Franco, and not again until over a hundred years had elapsed, when the Telegraphic Commission not only descended, but for the first time accurately placed and mapped its course.
There were several houses on the rise of the farther bank, all with thatched roofs, some of them with walls of upright tree-trunks, some of them daub and wattle. Into one of the latter, with two rooms, we took our belongings. The sand-flies were bothersome at night, coming through the interstices in the ordinary mosquito-nets.
The first night they did this I got no sleep until morning, when it was cool enough for me to roll myself in my blanket and put on a head-net. Afterward we used fine nets of a kind of cheese-cloth. They were hot, but they kept out all, or almost all, of the sand-flies and other small tormentors. Our own route had diverged, in order to pass the great falls.
He had brought the oxen through in fine shape, losing only three beasts with their loads, and had himself left the Juruena the morning of the day we reached there.
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It was not a wasted day. Travelling through a tropical wilderness in the rainy season, when the amount of baggage that can be taken is strictly limited, entails not only a good deal of work, but also the exercise of considerable ingenuity if the writing and photographing, and especially the preservation, of the specimens are to be done in satisfactory shape. It is a hazardous thing to descend a swift, unknown river rushing through an uninhabited wilderness.
To descend or ascend the ordinary great highway rivers of South America, such as the Amazon, Paraguay, Tapajos, and, in its lower course, the Orinoco, is now so safe and easy, whether by steam-boat or big, native cargo-boat, that people are apt to forget the very serious difficulties offered by the streams, often themselves great rivers, which run into or form the upper courses of these same water highways.
Few things are easier than the former feat, and few more difficult than the latter; and experience in ordinary travelling on the lower courses of the rivers is of no benefit whatever in enabling a man to form a judgement as to what can be done, and how to do it, on the upper courses. Failure to remember this fact is one of the obstacles in the way of securing a proper appreciation of the needs and the results, of South American exploration.
At the Juruena we met a party of Nhambiquaras, very friendly and sociable, and very glad to see Colonel Rondon. He never killed one. Many of them are known to him personally. They cannot be employed at steady work; but they do occasional odd jobs, and are excellent at hunting up strayed mules or oxen; and a few of the men have begun to wear clothes, purely for ornament.
Their confidence and bold friendliness showed how well they had been treated. Probably half of our visitors were men; several were small boys; one was a woman with a baby; the others were young married women and girls. Nowhere in Africa did we come across wilder or more absolutely primitive savages, although these Indians were pleasanter and better-featured than any of the African tribes at the same stage of culture. Both sexes were well-made and rather good-looking, with fairly good teeth, although some of them seemed to have skin diseases.
They were a laughing, easy-tempered crew, and the women were as well-fed as the men, and were obviously well-treated, from the savage standpoint; there was no male brutality like that which forms such a revolting feature in the life of the Australian black fellows and, although to a somewhat less degree, in the life of so many negro and Indian tribes.
They were practically absolutely naked. In many savage tribes the men go absolutely naked, but the women wear a breech-clout or loincloth. In certain tribes we saw near Lake Victoria Nyanza, and on the upper White Nile, both men and women were practically naked. Among these Nhambiquaras the women were more completely naked than the men, although the difference was not essential. The men wore a string around the waist. Most of them wore nothing else, but a few had loosely hanging from this string in front a scanty tuft of dried grass, or a small piece of cloth, which, however, was of purely symbolic use so far as either protection or modesty was concerned.
The women did not wear a stitch of any kind anywhere on their bodies. They did not have on so much as a string, or a bead, or even an ornament in their hair. They were all, men and women, boys and well-grown young girls, as entirely at ease and unconscious as so many friendly animals. They flocked into the house, and when I sat down to write surrounded me so closely that I had to push them gently away. The men had holes pierced through the septum of the nose and through the upper lip, and wore a straw through each hole.
The women were not marked or mutilated. It seems like a contradiction in terms, but it is nevertheless a fact that the behavior of these completely naked women and men was entirely modest. There was never an indecent look or a consciously indecent gesture. They had no blankets or hammocks, and when night came simply lay down in the sand. Colonel Rondon stated that they never wore a covering by night or by day, and if it was cool slept one on each side of a small fire.
Their huts were merely slight shelters against the rain. The moon was nearly full, and after nightfall a few of the Indians suddenly held an improvised dance for us in front of our house. There were four men, a small boy, and two young women or grown girls. Two of the men had been doing some work for the commission, and were dressed, one completely and one partially, in ordinary clothes. Two of the men and the boy were practically naked, and the two young women were absolutely so. All of them danced in a circle, without a touch of embarrassment or impropriety.
The dance consisted in slowly going round in a circle, first one way then the other, rhythmically beating time with the feet to the music of the song they were chanting. The women continually uttered a kind of long-drawn wailing or droning; I am not enough of a musician to say whether it was an overtone or the sustaining of the burden of the ballad. The young boy sang better than any of the others.
It was a strange and interesting sight to see these utterly wild, friendly savages circling in their slow dance, and chanting their immemorial melodies, in the brilliant tropical moonlight, with the river rushing by in the background, through the lonely heart of the wilderness. The Indians stayed with us, feasting, dancing, and singing until the early hours of the morning. They then suddenly and silently disappeared in the darkness, and did not return. Probably the temptation had proved irresistible to one of their number, and the others had been afraid to interfere, and also afraid to stay in or return to our neighborhood.
We had not time to go after them; but Rondon remarked that as soon as he again came to the neighborhood he would take some soldiers, hunt up the Indians, and reclaim the dog. In spite of their good nature and laughter, their fearlessness and familiarity showed how necessary it was not to let them get the upper hand. They are always required to leave all their arms a mile or two away before they come into the encampment.
In the afternoon of the day following our arrival there was a heavy rain-storm which drove into the unglazed windows, and here and there came through the roof and walls of our daub-and-wattle house. The heat was intense and there was much moisture in this valley. During the downpour I looked out at the dreary little houses, showing through the driving rain, while the sheets of muddy water slid past their door-sills; and I felt a sincere respect for the lieutenant and his soldiers who were holding this desolate outpost of civilization.
Next morning we resumed our march. It soon began to rain and we were drenched when, some fifteen miles on, we reached the river where we were to camp. After the great heat we felt quite cold in our wet clothes, and gladly crowded round a fire which was kindled under a thatched shed, beside the cabin of the ferryman.
This ferry-boat was so small that it could only take one mule, or at most two, at a time. The mules and a span of six oxen dragging an ox-cart, which we had overtaken, were ferried slowly to the farther side that afternoon, as there was no feed on the hither bank, where we ourselves camped. The ferryman was a soldier in the employ of the Telegraphic Commission. His good-looking, pleasant-mannered wife, evidently of both Indian and negro blood, was with him, and was doing all she could do as a housekeeper, in the comfortless little cabin, with its primitive bareness of furniture and fittings.
Here we saw Captain Amilcar, who had come back to hurry up his rear-guard. He had no poncho, and was wet through, but was much too busy in getting his laden oxen forward to think of personal discomfort. He had had a good deal of trouble with his mules, but his oxen were still in fair shape. After leaving the Juruena the ground became somewhat more hilly, and the scrubby forest was less open, but otherwise there was no change in the monotonous, and yet to me rather attractive, landscape.
The architects of some were red ants, of others black ants; and others, which were on the whole the largest, had been built by the white ants, the termites. Cherrie told of a narrow escape he had from one while collecting in Guiana. At night he used to set traps in camp for small mammals. One night he heard one of these traps go off under his hammock.
He reached down for it, and as he fumbled for the chain he felt a snake strike at him, just missing him in the darkness, but actually brushing his hand. He lit a light and saw that a big jararaca had been caught in the trap; and he preserved it as a specimen. Snakes frequently came into his camp after nightfall. He killed one rattlesnake which had swallowed the skinned bodies of four mice he had prepared as specimens; which shows that rattlesnakes do not always feed only on living prey. Another rattlesnake which he killed in Central America had just swallowed an opossum which proved to be of a species new to science.
Miller told how once on the Orinoco he saw on the bank a small anaconda, some ten feet long, killing one of the iguanas, big, active, truculent, carnivorous lizards, equally at home on the land and in the water. Evidently the iguanas were digging out holes in the bank in which to lay their eggs; for there were several such holes, and iguanas working at them. The snake had crushed its prey to a pulp; and not more than a couple of feet away another iguana was still busily, and with entire unconcern, engaged in making its burrow. Miller also told of the stone gods and altars and temples he had seen in the great Colombian forests, monuments of strange civilizations which flourished and died out ages ago, and of which all memory has vanished.
He and Cherrie told of giant rivers and waterfalls, and of forests never penetrated, and mountains never ascended by civilized man; and of bloody revolutions that devastated the settled regions. At the end of our march we were usually far ahead of the mule-train, and the rain was also usually falling. There were many swollen rivers to cross at this point of our journey. Some we waded at fords. Some we crossed by rude bridges. The larger ones, such as the Juina, we crossed by ferry, and when the approaches were swampy, and the river broad and swift, many hours might be consumed in getting the mule-train, the loose bullocks, and the ox-cart over.
We had few accidents, although we once lost a ferry-load of provisions, which was quite a misfortune in a country where they could not be replaced. The pasturage was poor, and it was impossible to make long marches with our weakened animals. At one camp three Nhambiquaras paid us a visit at breakfast time. They left their weapons behind them before they appeared, and shouted loudly while they were still hid by the forest, and it was only after repeated answering calls of welcome that they approached. Always in the wilderness friends proclaim their presence; a silent advance marks a foe.
Our visitors were men, and stark naked, as usual. One seemed sick; he was thin, and his back was scarred with marks of the grub of the loath-some berni fly. Indeed, all of them showed scars, chiefly from insect wounds. But the other two were in good condition, and, although they ate greedily of the food offered them, they had with them a big mandioc cake, some honey, and a little fish.
The Nhambiquaras are a numerous tribe, covering a large region. But they have no general organization. Each group of families acts for itself. Half a dozen years previously they had been very hostile, and Colonel Rondon had to guard his camp and exercise every precaution to guarantee his safety, while at the same time successfully endeavoring to avoid the necessity of himself shedding blood.
Now they are, for the most part, friendly. But there are groups or individuals that are not. Several soldiers have been killed at these little lonely stations; and while in some cases the attack may have been due to the soldiers having meddled with Nhambiquara women, in other cases the killing was entirely wanton and unprovoked.
Sooner or later these criminals or outlaws will have to be brought to justice; it will not do to let their crimes go unpunished. Twice soldiers have deserted and fled to the Nhambiquaras. The runaways were well received, were given wives, and adopted into the tribe. The country when opened will be a healthy abode for white settlers.
But pioneering in the wilderness is grim work for both man and beast. Continually, as we journeyed neyed onward, under the pitiless glare of the sun or through blinding torrents of rain, we passed desolate little graves by the roadside. They marked the last resting places of men who had died by fever, or dysentery, or Nhambiquara arrows. We raised our hats as our mules plodded slowly by through the sand. On each grave was a frail wooden cross, and this and the paling round about were already stained by the weather as gray as the treetrunks of the stunted forest that stretched endlessly.
The skeletons of mules and oxen were frequent along the road. The animal had been left with the hope that when night came it would follow along the trail to water. Sometimes it did so. Sometimes we found it dead, or standing motionless waiting for death. From time to time we had to leave behind one of our own mules. It was not always easy to recognize what pasturage the mules would accept as good.
The feed was so scanty, and the cover so dense, at this spot that I thought we would have great difficulty in gathering the mules next morning. But we did not. A few hours later, in the afternoon, we camped by a beautiful open meadow; on one side ran a rapid brook, with a waterfall eight feet high, under which we bathed and swam. Here the feed looked so good that we all expressed pleasure.
But the mules did not like it, and after nightfall they hiked back on the trail, and it was a long and arduous work to gather them next morning. Leave a Reply Want to join the discussion? Feel free to contribute! Leave a Reply Cancel reply You must be logged in to post a comment. Check it out! Looking forward to Spring!
Accessible only by foot, by mule, or by helicopter, Supai is the capital of the Havasupai Indian Reservation, and must bring in most of its supplies as well as its mail by mule. Craig Brown, a Colorado-based picture-book artist and teacher, follows Anthony the Postm The only mule-train mail delivery route in the United States, muleteer Anthony Paya's daily trek takes him from the south rim of the Grand Canyon to the small village of Supai, a remote community located at the bottom of the canyon.
Mule Train Mail
Craig Brown, a Colorado-based picture-book artist and teacher, follows Anthony the Postman in Mule Train Mail , offering a very brief snapshot of an unusual mailman and his daily routine. His accompanying pastel and pencil illustrations give a sense of the rich earthy colors of the Grand Canyon. A brief afterword provides more information about the mule train, and the Havasupai reservation. I can't say that this is one of the most entertaining picture-books I have read recently, or that the illustrations are really to my taste.
But the story Brown relates is an unusual one, and I think young readers will find it interesting. I am pleased to see that a portion of the proceeds from sales will be donated to the Havasupai Head Start program. All in all, a solid non-fiction title for younger children.
(Gallery) There’s a mule train in that field | Farm Progress
May 27, Chris rated it liked it Shelves: picture-books , arizona. This book is very simple and suited for younger children. I'm not sure how I want to say this, but it just wasn't Although I enjoyed the illustrations, they were all similar to each other, nothing different or surprising. I plan to read it aloud during my Arizona unit, as a starting place for research into the Grand Canyon. I like the information in the author's note at the end.
Jun 19, Rosa Cline rated it really liked it Shelves: kids , biography-real-people. I read this nice 'true life' story to my special needs teenage son. We both enjoyed the story and the drawn illustrations. In the back it has a small summary of the 'true life' Mule Train Mail man. Along with a story about how the author traveled to the Grand Canon to see the real life mailman and community in which they take mail to. So he could get his story as closely as possible to real life. We did enjoy this book and it being based on true facts makes it that much more nicer.
Aug 27, Alice rated it really liked it Shelves: 4-stars.