• Carolyn

Perito Moreno's escape

Updated: a day ago

The spectacular Perito Moreno glacier in Patagonia is named after a famous argentine - the naturalist, explorer and surveyor - or 'perito' - Francisco Moreno.

Moreno visited Patagonia on a number of occasions, and during one of these trips, when he was 28 years old, he had the adventure of a lifetime. It took place during the wars between the Argentine army and the Indigenous tribes.

In 1879 Moreno was named the leader of an expedition to explore the region between the Rio Negro and the Rio Deseado. On his way on horseback to the Andes mountains, he passed the location of present-day Esquel in the province of Chubut, and met - on very cordial terms - with his Indigenous friends Incayal and Foyel.

He continued northward, reaching lake Nahuel Huapi, where current-day Bariloche is situated. Whilst looking for a pass across the mountains into Chile he was surrounded by an Indigenous group - unrelated to that of his friends - and taken to their chieftain. During this time, he overheard plans of a major attack on European settlers, but could do nothing to warn them.

After three days of deliberations by the tribe, Moreno was sentenced to a rather grisly death. But in a stroke of luck, the chief of the tribe delayed carrying out the sentence, and Moreno and his companions were able to escape.

They managed to get to the Collón Cura river, and to throw themselves onto a raft they'd made from branches. At night they travelled along the river, often through rapids, and during the day they hid. They continued along the Limay river, and on the seventh day they reached the Neuquen river. Altogether they rafted 300 kilometers.

Moreno then rode for 1,300km with hardly any rest before catching a train to Buenos Aires. Along the way he sent telegrams to the authorities, warning of the imminent attack from local tribes.

By the time he boarded the train, his clothes were in rags, he was dirty, his glasses were broken and he’d lost one of the lenses, and he smelt terrible, but all this provided one of the lighter aspects of his story. In the carriage were two distinguished ladies from Buenos Aires, and one said to him, disdainfully, ’You are mistaken, my good man, this is a first class carriage.’ He sat in a corner, hoping they would forgive his boldness, and listened to their conversation.

’Poor Moreno, it seems that the Indians are holding him captive in the Andes . . . ,’ said one of them.

Moreno interrupted their conversation.

‘If you will allow me, ladies, the news is not correct,’ he said.

They looked at him in surprise. ’And how do you know?’ ‘

‘Because I am Moreno!’

He later discovered that the ladies were friends of his sister, and for the rest of the journey, according to Moreno, they enjoyed a lively conversation.

On May 11 he arrived at the Central Station of Buenos Aires, where - despite his cheery story - he was taken off the train on a stretcher. He was met by a crowd that included his future wife.

But despite Moreno’s telegrams and warnings upon arrival, he was ignored, and the tribes carried out their attack. Hundreds of settlers were killed, and thousands of head of cattle taken.


Perito Francisco Pascasio Moreno, Un héroe civil. Héctor L Fasano. Fundación Museo de la Plata



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