Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Native Pre-Hispanic Cattle in Patagonia?


Another post in my “All you ever wanted to know about” series. Today we will talk about native Patagonian cattle.

While posting on water bulls I wondered why would native American myths include a foreign creature such as a bull (Foreign, because cattle was, according to mainstream science, brought to America by its European discoverers after 1492).

Wouldn’t a boar or a deer, a tapir or even a jaguar make a better “lake monster”? Perhaps, but for some unknown reason, the myths are based on bulls, and that spells bovines.

I did some research on Patagonian cows (of the native variety), bulls, buffalo and bison, but the only reference that I have found was one about fake furs, in which the fancy trade name “Patagonian bison”, was given to the hair of a “short haired Chinese Sheep”. [28]

Evidently I had to do some deeper research. Today I will share my findings with you.

Piri Reis map and Patagonian horned animals. First European reference ca. 1513.

While discussing the Piri Reis map (in my post on Patagonian Unicorns), I mentioned two strange horned animals (shown in the images below), both of them are “cow-like” and definitively do not match any known native Patagonian animal that could have been sighted along Patagonia’s coastline in the early 1500s.

The map, has been dated to six years before Magellan’s official discovery (it was drawn in 1513). I was drawn by Turkish admiral and cartographer Piri Reis who compiled it based on information garnered from Portuguese sailors.[1][2]

It shows South American coast to a latitude beyond 50°S; a fact that, though disputed by some scholars, is taken as proof that Magellan was not the first European to sail along the Patagonian coast and that a covert Portuguese expedition had been there before him. The map shows some well known Patagonian animals such as deer -maybe the Pampas deer (Ozotoceros bezoarticus) or the huemul.

Cattle - Detail Piri Reis map
Detail of Piri Reis World Map (1513) showing: Unicorn (top center), and puma (right). Unknown “cow-like” animal, bottom center.

From: [7]. Piri Reis. The World Map. Library of Topkapi Palace Museum.

There are two strange animals drawn on the map, which do not correspond to any known Patagonian beasts:

One shown above, has a spotted hide with two long horns above its short ears, a fox-like tail, and two tusks like those of a wild boar.

Some have identified it with a llama, which is very unlikely since llamas lack both horns, tusks, spots or fox tails. Others believe that it is a medieval European mythical being, the Yale.

If bovid, it is a very strange specimen (no bovids have tusks or a fox tail), it looks rather “deer-like”.

The other unknown animal shown below (on the right) is described as “white-haired monster” and drawn with a long tail, deer-like head and body, slender legs, and two long backwardly curved horns.

Bovine animal - Detail Piri Reis map
Detail of Piri Reis World Map (1513) showing: the unknown bovid bottom right.
From: [3]. Piri Reis. The World Map. Library of Topkapi Palace Museum.

If it was cattle, it should be a native creature because no cows were brought into Southern South America until the mid 1530s (when the citiy of Buenos Aires was founded), and even then, they were at least 1,000 km (620 mi.) beyond Patagonia’s northern limit.

Piri Reis is therefore our first “Western” record on native Patagonian cattle. We will try to find if there are other sources mentioning horned animals in Patagonia.

Fuegian myths

One of the first person of European descent to be born in Tierra del Fuego was Lucas Bridges (1874-1949), developed a very close relationship with the native Selk’nam, and recorded one of their myth regarding a horned creature; the “Hachai”.

It was also known as Halahachish which, in their language meant “lichen covered rock”.

It was represented by the natives during their Hain initiation ceremonies.

Hachai was a “horned man” with “long sharp horns” spanning over one meter (3 ft.), his face was that of a short snouted cow; his fur was whitish. Note that it is not a deer (with antlers), but a bovine (with horns), furthermore, there are no deer (huemul) in Tierra del Fuego.

Father Gusinde, an anthropologist who witnessed a Hain ceremony in the 1920s, called him Halaháches, Kótaich or Kataix;[4] a powerful and mostly benign being, which protected men from the evil Xalpen, who backed off when he appeared. According to Gusinde, his body was white with red bands across it. [5]. American ethnologist Anne Chapman [8] added that the creature “ has a physical defect, a pot belly”.

Below is a photograph of Halaháches taken by Gusinde:

Kótaich or Halaháches.
From: [6] . Gusinde, M. (Archive-N° GU 24.13). Anthropos Institut St. Augustin.

Hachai was the most feared spiri of the Haint, the spirit of the dark cliffs; he was thick and walked slowly (a bovid feature). [7] Though he kept evil Xalpen at bay, he too could be a killer.

During the Hain, when Xalpen got out of hand, the women would chant its name to invoke its presence by singing Halaháches.

Click to hear a short audio clip of the Haláhaches chant, eery voices from the now dead Selk’nam people. [9]

Getting back to Halaháches, he had two sisters who were just as fierce as he was and though the natives swore that they had been chased by them in the forests, Lucas Bridges was quite certain that they lied to him and that Hachai, unlike Yosi, was not a real being, but a spirit. [5], [10]

Nevertheless he was intrigued because even though “in Tierra del Fuego there is no indigenous animal with horns” the pantomime of this horned being that he witnessed, done by a native named Talimeoat, “was perfect; yet Talimeoat was an old man who had never seen a domestic cow”.[5]

This is a very interesting comment and though we could argue that the Bridges family mission had cows, the myth is evidently a very ancient one, and predates the mission (set up in the late 1860s) by several thousand years.

A mysterious horned Fuegian fish

How could the Fuegians, who had been isolated in Tierra del Fuego for millennia, since the Strait of Magellan flooded at the end of the last Ice Age, have learned about a horned buffalo-like animal and its behavior?

Could there be indigenous horned animals in southern Patagonia? Had they survived extinction in Tiera del Fuego? Had Talimeoat seen them? Or were they a faint memory of bovids encountered in the distant days when Fuegians had crossed the world from Asia on their trek to Patagonia?

Anne Chapman believed that “The horns do not represent those of a stag or a bull as some authors assumed but rather a horned fish (háchai), a metamorphosed hoowin ancestor”.[8]

I don’t know what made her believe that. Perhaps the fact that there were no cattle in Patagonia and also, the existence of a Fuegian myth regarding horned fish.

Hoowin was a distant mythical era, when all those that inhabited the Earth were supernatural beings, powerful shamans. A period when animals and things had human behavior.

If Chapman is correct, our horned Hachai is a horned fish, a surviving being from ancient times. Could this be possible?

Horned Fish myths and tales.

1. Shai.

I have recorded two different horned “fish” stories, one is a Fuegian myth, that circulated among the Selk’nam. It told of a very fat yet agile hunter named Shai (which sound similar to Hachai), who “transformed into a hollow fish without scales, thick, with two horns on its head”.[11]

Personally I don’t believe that Shai and Hachai are the same creature, but I have no proof (yet).

2. Chiloé monster.

A similar horned monster was seen in northwestern Patagonia, in the sea by Chiloé Island, and recorded by historian Diego de Rosales in 1674:

[fish] as large as whales with two heads and one with the body of a small whale with a horrible head notably out of proportion with its body, armed with two long and sturdy horns; that on its back it had a wide eye. It was an enormous and stupendous beast.[12]

Stupendous indeed, a cyclops, horned small whale-like sea monster swimming beside a bi-cephalic whale. Maybe a tall tale. Or perhaps a story based on fact (horned animal seen in the sea9.

3. The water “Trauco”.

In previous posts, I have mentioned the dwarfish Trauco elf,. A creature that is not always depicted as a midget troll. It it has some local variations: for instance on Mount Quicavi on the eastern coast of Chiloé Island it is described as a dangerous goat with a long beard that has guanaco-like legs; its body is covered with scales and tufts of bristly hair.[13]

At other places within Chilo´ it is a sea creature “with the legs of a guanaco, fish tail, the [spiky] bristles of a sea urchin and two pointed horns”.[14]

Once again the horned “fish”.

These three varieties of horned sea creatures may actually be a terrestrial mammal taking a dip in the sea (such as a huemul). A horned aquatic beast is something unheard of by science, excluding the one horned narwahl that lives in the Arctic waters; there is no other animal with this feature. This fact makes me believe that these stories refer to a terrestrial bovine swimming in the Ocean.

More on the terrestrial horned being

During Magellan’s discovery voyage, at Patagonia, his chroncler, Antonio Pigafetta reported (1520) a horned monster when describing the native Patagon’s (in this case, they were Aonikenk) beliefs; he wrote that they “had seen devils with two horns on their head, and with long hair down to their feet, and through their mouth and backside they belched fire”.[15]

The flaming farts evoking those of the Bonaccon, a European mythical creature and the dragon-like fire belching are evidently an embellishment added by Pigafetta.

Perhaps they were inspired by Pigafetta’s Christian concept of the “Devil” (the red horned fallen angel).

Nevertheless, it may be (faintly) possible that the story is true, and that the core of the native’s belief may have been based on a real horned animal.
Ajchüm, the evil Tehuelche spirit.

We now know that the Aonikenk represented their leading divinity, Ajchüm as a horned red faced being, and that its counterpart among the Mapuche people, Elel, was also a horned “devil”. Perhaps it may have represented a real creature.

Ajchüm, was a female, the “leader of devils”.[17][18] and was the Aoniken’s equivalent to the monstrous Elengassen of the Northern Tehuelche natives.

Elengassen/ Ajchüm is intimately tied to the Aonikenk’s hero and demigod Elal.

He was the son of Teo, a cloud, and the enormous monster Nosjthej who raped her and later finding her pregnant tore her belly open to devour the baby. Fortunately Terr-werr, a field mouse who was Elal’s grandmother, saved the baby boy and hid him in her burrow.

Elal grew into a fine strong fellow who invented the bow and arrow, hunting, fire and cooking. All of which he taught to men, civilizing them in a Promethian manner. He thus assumed a leading role in their religion replacing Kooch, the creator of the Universe.

Getting back to Ajchüm, she was a fearful humanoid monster, that being divine, was revered and propitiated during the Aonikenk initiation rites of their pubescent girls, where it was personified by a shaman wearing a big horned hat with its face painted red, who presided over the ceremony.[16]


In the late 1700s, Spanish Jesuit priest Herv´s wrote that the Mapuche’s “balichu [sic] means evil spirit: elel prince of the devils”. He noted that it was represented by a “devil’s mask” worn by the leader of the dances.[19]

Note the devil’s mask and the homophone name “elel”= Elal, virtually identical to the Tehuleche’s myth and legendary being.

This relationship between demons and horns, may be the reason for the aversion that Patagonian natives had for bulls. This fear was recorded by French naturalist Alcides D’Orbigny, who interviewed Tehuelches in the late 1820s.

He wrote that “the Patagons [i.e. Aonikenk] of the most southern zones also fear bulls”. .[20] Also because the Northern Tehuelche feard them too.

These natives were not afraid of our European bulls, but of the living memory of the native American bulls that haunted their ancestors.

New. Oct. 18, 2010. I posted on a comment by Francis Fletcher published after Drake's 1577 voyage around the world. It is about "horned" demon-like Tehuelche natives:Patagonian devils or cattle?.

I have mentioned in my post on lake bulls the special word for cow used by the Tehuelche :

Teushen (Boreal Southern Tehuelche): ch’oi or choji
Aonikenk (Austral Southern Tehuelche): tr’oi or chói
the Gennakenk or Northern Tehuelche: treye or treyie
Unlike the Mapuche word, huaca which is very similar to the Spanish one vaca, the Tehuelche word is totally different sounding like troy.

In my opinion this shows that the Tehuelche groups on the eastern side of the Andes in the steppe area of Patagonia had a pre-Hispanic word for cow probably associated to a local bovid.

Buffalo at Port Desire

After Piri Reis, the next reference to these creatures came from Oliver van Noort at Puerto Deseado (Port Desire), on the arid Atlantic shore, who in 1598 “found beasts like stags and buffaloes”.[21]

The stags are evidently guanaco, but what were the buffalo? Did he see a big cow-like being and thought it was a buffalo? Could it be the animal that inspired Ajchüm?

It may be possible that he saw bovines, of the cow type: Spaniards had introduced cattle into the Pampas in the mid 1500s, and by 1598, they could have expanded their range into Patagonia.

More evidence: Patagonian sheep and cows.

1. Survivors from a shipwreck.

We also have other clues regarding horned animals in the region which may offer an explanation to this mystery.

Chilean social scientist, Ricardo Latcham noted that one of the ships of the Bishop of Plasencia’s fleet to the East Indies that disappeared without a trace in the Strait of Magellan in 1540, carried “asses or mules and also lesser cattle like sheep and goats”.[22]

We are positive that some sheep may have survived because they were reported by Ladrillero during his (1557) expedition to the Strait of Magellan (“there are sheep and guanacos, and deer” that in winter hide in the mountains).[23]

Latcham was also persuaded that Plasencia’s sheep somehow managed to survive and were later hunted by the natives of the Pampas. To support this, he uncovered a Spanish document dated 1586 mentioning an area just north of Patagonia, where:

many ‘sheep of the country’ [name that the Spaniards gave the llama] like those that in Perú […] and that they also use other animals that are said to be larger than those sheep and that have their horns with their tips curved backwards which this witness guesses must be buffalo and that they say that the males are black and the females white and that they have soft wool. [22]

It is clear that these animals are neither llama nor guanaco (which lack horns).

The buffalo comparison is remarkable, and may be on the mark. Notice that they are woolly (like the American bison – more on bison later).

Latcham however believed that they were sheep. Perhaps he was mistaken; they cannot be sheep because they are horned and larger than a llama, which would make them cow sized – too large for sheep.

In my opinion, they appear to be some kind of wooly buffalo.

2. FitsRoy’s testimony.

In 1833, English Captain FitzRoy noted that at Madre de Dios Islands in southern Chile (50°18’ S, 75°07’ W) “one of the men of this tribe [Chono], seeing two long powder-horns on board the Adeona, placed them to his head and made a noise like the bellowing of cattle”.[24]

Evidently this canoe Indian had seen a cow-like beast on the western Andean coast. A place that was thousands of kilometers from the nearest Spanish establishment. It would have been a very long trek through a rough and broken terrain or a dangerous voyage in the Chono’s open canoes.

It is very likely that the man had never seen domestic cattle at a Spanish settlement. It is highly probable that he had seen some other kind of creature. Perhaps our Patagonian cattle.

Nevertheless, it may be probable that these animals reported by Latcham and FitzRoy could have been cows that survived de Plasencia’s shipwreck and evolved a long coat like the feral cattle at Los Glaciares National Park. We dono’t know if Plasencia’s fleet carried cows. But it may have.

Even so, they can't explain Pigafetta’s comment (1520), because the Bishop’s ships sank twenty years after (1540) he wrote about the horned demons.

This leaves the door open to some yet unknown (or now extinct) local horned Patagonian animal. Interestingly, the Alakaluf rock art preserved a depiction of a horned being, which some archaeologists believe may be Kawtcho. Thus, Kawtcho is a horned being.

Pre-Hispanic Cattle in America?

There are bovids in America, in North America. The well known “buffalo” of Buffalo Bill fame, the American Bison (Bison bison).

They and their Old world relative (Bison bonasus) are bovines, closely related to cattle, which can measure up to 3 m long, 1,9 m at its shoulder and weigh between 450 and 1350 kg.

However they seem to have not expanded beyond Mexico.

The other native American bovid is the Musk Ox (Ovibos moschatus)), which despite being a bovid, and looking like a cow, is not a bovine. It is actually a member of the caprinae sub-family and is therefore closer to sheep and goats. It lives in the Arctic areas and we are positive that it never pushed south towards South America.

Both bisons and musk oxen are the real native American cattle and both are restricted to North America. But, did they, in prehistoric times expand their habitat southwards?

During the early days of Spanish conquest, the chroniclers reported native cattle such as the “vacas corcovadas” (hump backed cows) at Quivira, a mythical city which the Spaniards placed in western North America. [25]

They also mention a similar animal at another mythical city, the Cibola bulls.

The appearance of both creatures is strikingly similar to that of the American bison, so it is likely that they are just bisons.

American bison
American Bison. Engraving. Thevet. From [26].

What does science say?

In Central America in Costa Rica, El Salvador and Nicaragua, very close to South America, a paper clearly states that American bison could have coexisted in some refugia with the Amerindians in Central America until as recently as 150 A.D.” [27].

Furthermore, “there are isolated reports of the presence of bovids in South America: the Colombibos atactodentus in Colombia (Hernándeez & Porta, 1960[*]) and the Platatherium in Argentina (Hoffstetter, 1971[**])” [27]

The paper cites these two articles:
[*] Hernándeez & Porta, (1960). Un nuevo Bóvido Pleistocénico de Colombia: Colombibos atactedentus. Bol. Geol., Bucaramanga, 5:41-52
[**] Hoffstetter, (1971). Los vertebrados Cenozoicos de Colombia: yacimientos, faunas, problemas planteados. Geol. Colombiana, 8:37-61,

It also mentions the sightings of cibola in Guatemala (a name that the Spaniards gave the bison).[27]

Finally, unlike its relatives from the Great Plains, the article suggests that the evidence tindicates the existence of small and isolated populations of bisons adapted to the forest and forested lands [27]. This would have allowed it to expand via the Amazon forests south into South America.

Regarding the Platatherium I have found only one reference to it, in the original paper by Ameghino and Gervais, which is described as a great ruminant.[29]

No other papers mention cattle or bovids in South America.

This may be due to the paucity of fossil records, the lack of research or, that there simply were no South American bovids.

Closing comment.

There is a very “cow looking” animal on the map that French King Henry II ordered to be drawn in the mid 1550s.[30]

I have not been able to find which is the map, but the image published with the article (I copy it below), shows a cow-like being beside a peccary.

Detail of Henry II Map ca. 1555 showing "cattle" (bottom) and peccary (?) (top). From: [30].

It may be the native variety of cattle (why would a cartographer draw a cow on a map? He would have drawn some exciting kind of animal), but not knowing in which part of America it was placed, I can’t be sure if it is a South American “bull”.

To summarize:

   1. There are native myths involving horned beings in Patagonia. The natives had a specific word for “cow”, different to the Spanish one.
   2. The first reports by Western explorers in the XVIth century reported buffalo or horned creatures in Patagonia.
   3. Though not an othodox scientific belief, there is evidence that bison may have entered South America during the Holocene.

What was the fate of this “cattle”, did they die out? are they surviving hidden in the Andean forests?


[1] Leman Yolaç and Ayşe Afetinan, (1954). Life and Works of the Turkish Admiral Piri Reis: The Oldest Map of America. Ankara. pp. 28-34.
[2] Dutch, S., (1997). Online.
[3] Piri Reis. The World Map (1513) [Map]. Library of Topkapi Palace Museum. No. H. 1824.
[4] Gusinde, M., (1951). Hombres primitivos en la tierra del fuego: de investigador a compañero de tribu. Sevilla: Escuela de Estudios Hispano-Americanos de Sevilla. pp. 304-5.
[5] Bridges, L., (2008). Op. Cit. pp. 400 and 407-408.
[6] Gusinde, M., (1923). Espíritu de Halaháches en el Hain. [Photograph] (Archive-N° GU 24.13). Anthropos Institut St. Augustin.
[7] Gallardo, C., (1910). Los Onas. B. Aires: Cabaut. pp. 332.
[8] Chapman, A., (1982). Drama and power in a hunting society: the Selk'nam of Tierra del Fuego. CUP. pp. 144.
[9] Interpreted by Lola Kiepja. Compiled by Anee Chapman. Selk'nam chants of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. [recording], descriptive notes and translations of texts by Anne Chapman ; cantometric analysis by Alan Lomax. New York, U.S.A. : Folkways, 1972-1977. Song 25. Vol. 2, record 2, side A, track 5.
[10] Bridges, L., (1935). Supersticiones de los Onas. La Argentina Austral, Año VII, N° 73. pp. 33.
[11] Canclini, A., (2007). Op. Cit. pp. 92.
[12] de Rosales, D. Op.Cit. v. 1 pp. 308-309.
[13] Barrio, J. El Diccionario de Mitos y Leyendas. Online.
[14] Housse, E., (1939). Une epopee indienne: les Araucans du Chili; histoire... Paris: Lib. Plon. pp. 150.
[15] Pigafetta, A. Op. Cit. pp. 16.
[16] Mordo, C., (2001). La Herencia Olvidada Arte indígena de la Argentina. B. Aires: Fondo Nacional de las Artes. pp. 33.
[17] Baleta, M., (2002). Cuentan Los Chonkes - Leyendas de la Patagonia Tehuelche. B. Aires: Zagier & Urruty. pp. 27.
[18] Prieto, A., (1992). Arte Primitivo. Fuentes Decorativas, Punta Arenas. Año 3. N° 32. 05-1992.
[19] Hervás y Panduro, L., (1800). Catálogo de las lenguas de las naciones conocidas: Y numeracion, Division, y clases de estas segun la diversidad de sus idiomas y dialectos. Ranz, 1800. v.1. pp 133.
[20] D’Orbigny, A. Op. Cit. pp. 326 - 327.
[21] Galt, J., (1844). All the Voyages Round the World: From the First by Magellan… to that of Freycinet… New York: W. Colyer. pp. 52.
[22] Latcham, R., (1929). La Leyenda de los Césares Su origen y su evolución. Santiago: Impr. Cervantes. pp. 208, 225 and 250.
[23] Anuario Hidrográfico de la Marina de Chile, (1880). Op. Cit. pp. 501.
[24] FitzRoy, R., (1839). Op. Cit. v. ii. pp. 195.
[25] López de Gómara, (1852). Historiadores primitivos de Indias. Madrid: Rivadeneyra. V. 1. pp. 288-289. Online:

[26] Thevet, A. Singularitez. Pp. 148. Online
[27] Alvarado, G., Spencer, L.and Gónez, L., (2008). Evidencias Directas e Indirectas sobre la probable coexistencia de bisontes y el ser humano en Centroam´rica durante el Holoceno. Revista Geológica de América Central, 39: 53-64.
[28] Henderson, Junius and Craig, Elberta, (1932) Economic Mammalogy. Springfield: C. Thomas. pp. 53 Online
[29] Ameghino, F., and Gervais, H. (1881). Les mammifer̀es fossiles de l'Amerique du Sud. pp.31
[30] Cardoso, A., (1915). El fabuloso ‘su’ o ‘succarath’ y los primitivos retratos de los didelfidos. Museo Nacional de Historia Natural de Buenos Aires
t.27. pp. 438-439. Online.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia

2010 International Year of Biodiversity
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