The Captain had bought from the Gaucho soldiers a large Puma or South American lion, & this morning it was killed for its skin. These animals are common in the Pampas, I have frequently seen their footsteps in my walks: it is said they will not attack a man; though they evidently are quite strong enough. The Gauchos secured this one; by first throwing the balls & entangling its front legs, they then lassoed or noosed him, when by riding round a bush & throwing other lasso's, he was soon lashed firm and secure.
After breakfast I walked to Punta Alta, the same place where I have before found fossils. I obtained a jaw bone which contained a tooth: by this I found out that it belongs to the great ante-diluvial animal the Megatherium. This is particularly interesting as the only specimens in Europe are in the Kings collection at Madrid, where for all purposes of science they are nearly as much hidden as if in their primaeval rock. I also caught a large snake, which at the time I knew to be venomous; but I find it equals in its poisonous qualities the Rattle snake. In its structure it is very curious, & marks the passage between the common venomous & the rattle snakes. Its tail is terminated by a hard oval point, & which, I observe, it vibrates as those possessed with a more perfect organ are known to do.
Captain Robert Fitzroy:
We next returned to the Wells, and while some assisted the outfit of Lieutenant Wickham's little vessels, others explored the upper parts of the port, quite to its end, and Mr. Darwin took advantage of the opportunity to make some of those interesting excursions which he describes in his volume. At this time there were no soldiers to watch us, neither was there any longer a suspicion of our character; for it appeared that an express had been sent off to Buenos Ayres, at our first arrival, giving an exaggerated and rather ludicrous account of our officers, instruments and guns—to which an answer had been immediately returned, desiring the commandant to afford us every facility in his power, and checking the old major rather sharply for his officious and unnecessary caution. Had we not been hastily treated in the roads of Buenos Ayres, when I went there to communicate with the Government, and obtain information, I should doubtless have carried with me orders, or a letter, to this commandant, which would have prevented a moment's suspicion: but, as it happened, no real delay was occasioned, and no person was much disturbed except the major, who fancied that our brass guns were disguised field-pieces, our instruments lately invented engines of extraordinary power, our numerous boats intended expressly for disembarking troops; and an assertion of mine, that any number of line-of-battle ships might enter the port, a sure indication that the Beagle was sent to find a passage for large ships: which would soon appear, and take possession of the country. Such was the substance of his communication to the Government at Buenos Ayres, and as he acted as secretary—(Rodriguez being a man of action rather than words)—he had free scope for his disturbed imagination. I shall not easily forget his countenance, when I first told him—thinking he would be glad to hear it—that there was a deep channel leading from Blanco Bay to the Guardia near Argentina, and that a line-of-battle ship could approach within gunshot of the place where I first met the commandant. He certainly thought himself almost taken prisoner; and I really believe that if he had been commanding officer, we should have been sent in chains to Buenos Ayres, or perhaps still worse treated. Fortunately, Rodriguez the commandant, being a brave man, and a gentleman, contemplated no such measures.