Patagonia is the name given to the southernmost extremity of South America. Its boundary on the north is about 44 ° S. lat. and on the south the Straits of Magellan. On the west it extends to the Cordilleras and Chile, and on the east to the South Atlantic. It has an area of about 300,000 square miles. It was discovered by Magellan in 1520, although as early as 1428 a map of the world described by Antonio Galvao showed the Straits of Magellan under the title of the Dragon’s Tail. Magellan is supposed to have called the inhabitants “Patagoas” on account of the largeness of their feet. To this day they wear coltskin shoes which project far beyond their toes, which accounts for their size and his mistake. The surface of the country is very varied. Trackless pampas (plains) rise in gently graduated terraces to the lofty ranges of the Andes, between which there is a mighty network of lakes and lagoons. From the south to the Sierra Nevada stretch these pampas in ever rolling waves of tussock grass, thorn bushes, guanacos, and mirages. On the western rim the Cordilleras rise against the sky, holding in their jagged bosoms glaciers and icy blue lakes. On the flanks of these mountains are to be found thousands of square miles of shaggy, primeval forests, only the bare edges of which have up to the present been explored. On the eastern coast the Chubut, the Deseado, the Southern Chico (which joins the Santa Cruz in a wide estuary before emptying its waters into the South Atlantic), and the Gallegos, are the only really important rivers. In general it may be said that the eastern part of Patagonia is level and treeless, with few bays, whilst the west, really the Chilian seaboard, is everywhere pierced with fiords, and has many headlands covered with dark, thick forests, jutting out into the sea. The climate in the north of Patagonia is not so severe as in the south. Very little ice is seen there, except in the mountains, and snow seldom remains long on the ground. In the south it is very cold, the ground being covered with snow in winter, and the lakes and rivers choked with ice. For at least six months in the year there are strong gales of wind, and rain is prevalent all over the country. In the south there is practically no summer, whilst in the north there is a mild season which lasts for several months.
The principal settlements are: Gallegos, 3000 inhabitants, on the Gallegos River; Punta Arenas, 11,000 inhabitants; and the smaller Welsh ones at Trelew, Rawson, Gaimon Colhaupi near Lake Musters, and Chubut. The original inhabitants are all descended from the Araucanian race. They are mostly tall and muscular, averaging at least six feet, and are splendidly developed. In the interior are to be found the Pampas Indians and the tribes of the Tehuelches. The latter are very lazy, and amongst those whom the missionaries have not yet evangelized; it is said that wives are still bought and sold. There is the tribe of the Alacalufe in the south, and the warlike Onas who inhabit Tierra del Fuego. The natives are nomadic in their habits, and live principally on the products of the chase. They hunt the pampa fox, the ostrich (rhea Darwini), the guanaco or wild llama, and the puma. Some of the tribes, however, are not sufficiently civilized to understand the use of the bow and arrow. They live in toldos, or tents made of raw hide. Agriculture is unknown among them. They are ruled by military governors from Chili or Argentina, according to the territory in which they live. These governors reside in the larger settlements, such as Punta Arenas, Gallegos, and Chubut. They are each at the head of a small military force, to be used if necessary in punitive expeditions. Their religion is the crudest form of Dualism. They believe in a bad spirit called Gualicho, and in an inferior good spirit. The latter is much neglected, whilst the former, with his attendant devils, requires a great deal of propitiation. Their notion of Heaven is a very elementary one, and consists in a kind of happy hunting ground. Their language is guttural and harsh. It is very deficient in words, one sound having frequently to do duty for a large number of ideas. Owing, however, to their intercourse with the whites, many of them have acquired a sufficient knowledge of Spanish to make themselves understood. Ancient remains have been discovered in the country, at about 44° S. lat. Skulls and flint arrowheads and knives have been found, also the mummy of a female, which has been presented to the Smithsonian Institute. There is no industry to be found in Patagonia, except among the European settlers. They are largely engaged in sheep breeding, and in cattle and horse rising. The government of the Catholic Church in Patagonia is divided into two parts, northern and southern. The Vicariate of Northern Patagonia was founded in 1883, and canonically approved by Decree on January 20, 1902. Monsignor Giovanni Cagliero, S.C., titular Archbishop of Sebaste, and Apostolic Delegate of Costa Rica, is at its head, with the Very Rev. Father Stefano Pagliere, S.C., as his vicar-general for the missions. The entire vicariate is under the control and direction of the Salesian Congregation. There are now in it about fifty priests and a large number of brothers, engaged in mission work and in the various institutes and schools. In the beginning the pioneer work was done by Monsignor Cagliero, Fathers Fagnano, Costamagna, Rabagliati, and Espinosa, who formed a small band of missionaries, carefully trained under the eye of the founder of the congregation, Don Bosco. So far there has been no synod, the special conditions of the situation rendering it unnecessary. Besides the priests who are sent on the mission from Europe, there are many undergoing training in the institutes and houses established in the vicariate. Each house is a center from which the natives are visited in their settlements. There are at present nineteen centers, which are situated as follows: The Institute of Don Bosco of the Holy Family, the parish church of Our Lady of Mercy, and the subordinate church and Institute of Our Lady of Pity, all in the same settlement of Bahia Blanca; the Mission of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, at Choele-Choel; the parish church of Our Lady Immaculate, at Chosmalal; the church and Institute of St. Lawrence, at Conesa-Sur; the Institute of St. Peter, at Fortin Mercedes; the parish and Institute of Mary Immaculate, at General Acha; the parish of St. Rose of Toay, at Guardia Pringles; the parish and Institute of Our Lady of Snow, at Junin de los Andes; the parish of Our Lady of Carmel and the Institute of St. Joseph, at Patagones; the parish and Institute of St. Michael, and St. Joseph‘s School of Agriculture, at Roca; the parish and Institute of Mary Help of Christians, at Victorica; the parish of Our Lady of Mercy, and the Institute of Arts and Trades, dedicated to St. Francis de Sales, at Viedma; the Michael Rua Institute and the Mission of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, at Puerto Madryn, Chubut; the parish and Institute of Our Lady of Sorrows, at Rawson; and St. Dominic’s Institute, at Trelew. The Prefecture of Southern Patagonia was founded in 1883, and received canonical approval by Decree dated January 20, 1902. The prefect Apostolic is Monsignor Fagnano, S.C. This prefecture is also under the control of the Salesian Congregation, all its missions and institutes being in the hands of its members. There are about twenty-four priests engaged in mission and teaching work, and there are also many brothers being prepared for the same field of labor. In this southern part of Patagonia the pioneer work was done by Monsignor Fagnano, with Fathers Beauvoir, Borgatello, and Diamond; the latter afterwards founded the Mission of Our Lady Star of the Sea, at Port Stanley, Falkland Islands, in 1888. There are at present ten centers, which are situated as follows:—The Mission of Our Lady of Candelaria, at Cabo Peña; the Mission of St. Agnes, at Cabo Santa Ines; the Mission of the Good Shepherd, and that of St. Raphael, on Dawson Island; the parish and Institute of Our Lady of Lujin, Gallegos, on the River Gallegos; the church and Institute of Our Lady Star of the Sea, at Port Stanley, Falkland Islands; the Institute of St. Joseph, at Punta Arenas, and the dependent parish of St. Francis de Sales at Porvenir; the parish and Institute of the Holy Cross, at Santa Cruz; and the Church of Our Lady of Mercy, at Ushaia, Tierra del Fuego. In both Northern and Southern Patagonia the entire religious and educational work is in the hands of the Salesian Congregation, and the Sisters of Mary Help of Christians. There is no other religious order at present in Patagonia, and no native missionaries. Many Indian youths have been received as students, but so far not one has been raised to the dignity of the priesthood. The principal work of the Sisters of Mary Help of Christians is the care of children, especially during the winter time. In fact this is the only period of the year when the children can be instructed in the Catholic religion, as during the summer months they are away with their parents on their nomadic excursions. The children in the institutes, which are attached to nearly every one of the Salesian Missions, are fed, clothed, and taught by the nuns. A few of the girls have been admitted into the order, where they are working for their compatriots. The Sodality of the Children of Mary, among the girls, the Guild of St. Aloysius, among the boys, and the Confraternity of the Sacred Heart among the adults, are in a flourishing condition. Slowly and steadily, as far as it can be done, the Catholic parochial system and life are being introduced and developed among these poor and uncivilized natives.