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

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Extant Patagonian Horses Part III

This is our third post on the series about "Extant Native American Megafaunal Horses", and our second part regarding Anibal Cardoso's 1912 essay on the subject [1]

See the previous posts:

Part II
Part I

Cardoso mentions that the natives engraved rocks with American ostrich (Rhea) foot prints and also horse hoof marks. I have posted about this type of rock art in Patagonia ( Read More ).

He then goes on to analyze the Boleadoras. These were made by placing a stone inside a tightly fitting leather pouch, tied to a braided leather cord. They came in different varieties:

Bola perdida, a single stone, used to hit an animal or kill an opponent by smashing them on the head. They could be hurled long distances at running prey, to knock them on the head or body.

The small 2 stone variety. It was used to hunt Rhea (American ostrich) and was guanaco (the animal from which domesticated llama descend, native to Argentina). These were known as Bolas. One stone was larger than the other one (it was held by this one while the other whirled around the head). They were thrown at the neck of the animal because it was difficult to ensnare their legs.

The larger 3 stone variety used exclusively to hunt horses. The stones were considerably larger than the "bolas" type.

Bolas are found where guanaco and Rhea are abundant, from Bolivia to the tip of Patagonia. The 3 stone kind are found in the Pampas and Patagonia: the land of the American horse.

Patagonian horses

Cardoso quotes Alcides Mercerat [2]:

"I will just point out the presence of wild or Bagual horses in the Andes. It is a horse that is slightly shorter than the horse that currently lives in the Pampa, and its hide is invariably of the color known as rosillo. From the Indian traditions it seems that this horse has always existed in the Andes and that therefore this animal has never become extinct in American soil."

Rosillo colored horse.

Rosillo. This color is a mixture of red, black and white, where the first two prevail. See the photograph below.

Bagual. The word used by Mercerat, Bagual or Bawal, is not of Spanish origin. According to Cardoso, when the Spaniards resettled Buenos Aires in 1580, they used the native word for "wild horses" which in Spanish are called "Cimarrón" or "alzado" (feral, wild). They adopted the word used by the Querandí natives: Bagüalada as a collective noun and Bawal or Bagual as singular.

The English pronounciation of Bagual is: "Bag- Wall". Which as we will see below is not at all like the word used for horse.

The name given by the native Puelche in the Pampas, the Tehuelche in Northeast, Central and Southern Patagonia and the Mapuche in Chile and Northwestern Patagonia are all very similar: Kahualk, Kaahuel and Kahuwello (in English it would sound something like: "Cow-L-Oh") yet they derive from Bagual even though they sound similar to the Spanish word Caballo (horse) - it sounds, using English pronunciation as follows: "Cab-Al-E-Oh".

However, the Mapuche had a specific non-Spanish-origin word for mares: Auca and wild colts: Caftá. These were used in Prehispanic days. Only after the Spanish conquest did they adopt the word Kahuello to apply it to domesticated horses.

The maths

Cardoso goes on to do the numbers. He takes the 5 mares that were allegedly left behind when Buenos Aires was abandoned. And calculates their offspring.

Each mare has a life expectancy of 20 years, and produces an offspring each after an 11 month pregnancy, with an 80% survival rate and a 50/50 male to female mix. These in turn would reproduce after the age of 3.

The outcome, between 1537 and 1582 yields only 1,580 horses in total. A figure way below the "vast quantity of animals roaming the prairies from the sea to the Andes".

He does another calculation assuming no ponies dying, that the mix of offspring is 3 mares to 2 colts and that they begin to reproduce when they are 2 1/2 years old. This results in: 23.292 animals.

The only way to get vast quantities of horses is by assuming that they were already there in vast quantities: native horses.

More information

Apart from Cardoso, we have some additional information on these "American" horses.

Charles Darwin and George Musters both wrote that Spanish explorer had seen horses at the Strait of Magellan in 1580 and marvelled at how quickly they had dispersed from the River Plate to the tip of the continent. However Drake, was attacked by natives on foot at Puerto Deseado in Central-East Patagonia in 1586.

If the animals came from the North, from Buenos Aires, why were none seen in Central Patagonia yet they were abundant in Southern Patagonia?

An explanation is that they survived the shipwreck of the fleet of the Bishop of Plasencia, which carried horses. This happened in 1526, and only one ship survived, they did not manage to help the castaways and returned to Spain. The survivors were never seen again. Could these horses have survived in Patagonia?


[1] Anibal Cardoso (1912), Antigüedad del Caballo En El Plata. Anal. Mus. Nac. Bs. As., Serie III t. xv. Marzo 4, 1912. pp 371+ Read the article.

[2] Alcides Mercerat, Un viaje de exploración en la Patagonia Austral.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2012 by Austin Whittall © 

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