A history of Tierra del Fuego and the Fuegians
In February of 2009 Barbara and I will go ashore at two locations in Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia (Oo-shoo-wai-ya), Argentina and Punta Arenas, Chile, while on a 26 day cruise to South America and Antarctica. In 1966, I visited Punta Arenas on my way back to the states from Antarctica. At the time I wasn’t much interested in the area, so I did not spend much of my time there delving into the history or geography of Tierra del Fuego. My best memory of the days we spent there in the hotel was the fabulous crab salad served in the dining room for a dollar. It wasn’t until we were stationed in Washington DC in the early 70’s that I came across a book in the Alexandria, VA public library detailing the lives of the Indians that lived in the coastal areas of Tierra del Fuego. It was a page turner, and at the time one of a kind. The stories detailed in that one book stayed in my memory for many years, but in time began to fade until we booked this cruise. Although I searched the Internet, I could not come up with anything until Barbara found a travel book that mentioned the title of this article “Uttermost Part of the Earth” written by E. Lucas Bridges. When I did my next search, the title immediately came up for sale on Amason.com. Thinking this might be “my” book I ordered a copy on that day, Thursday, and it arrived the next day! After reading the first few chapters, I realized this was not the book I sought, but one of greater importance and detail concerning the lives of the “Fuegians”, and one I found hard to put down.
Quoting from the flyleaf now:
Rapturous praise met the publication of Lucas Bridges’ marvelous chronicle of Tierra del Fuego when it first came out in 1948, and that praise has hardly abated these last 60 years nor has a book been written that supplants Uttermost Part of the Earth as the classic work on Tierra del Fuego and the little-known culture of the near-vanished Fuegians.
When the author was born in Tierra del Fuego in 1874, it was truly an unknown land. On the southern coast was the small settlement established by his missionary parents; the rest of it, over 18,000 square miles of mountain, forest, marsh, and lake, was the hunting ground of fierce and hostile tribes. Bridges grew up amongst the coastal Yaghans, learning their language and their ways. In young manhood he made contact with the wild inland Ona tribe, became their friend and hunting companion, and was initiated into the men’s lodge. Surely the New York Tiimes’ critic’s prediction for this book on its first publication has come true: “I have no doubt that Uttermost Part of the Earth will achieve a permanent place in the literature of several subjects: adventure, anthropology, and frontier history.” Indeed it is still the essential work and indispensable introduction for anyone yearning to experience the breathtaking remoteness and stunning landscapes of this far-flung wilderness at the”uttermost part of the earth.” End quote.
Realizing the few short hours we will be in Ushuaia would never allow us to appreciate fully what this wondrous land has to offer, the pages of this classic have certainly given me a better understanding of what the Bridges family and their descendants did to help the Yaghans and Onas people as they faced the onslaught of “civilization”.
I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who is planning a trip to this “uttermost part of the earth”.
Next time – preparation – all that goes into getting the most out of one’s cruise. JWC