VII Tent Life ON MULEBACK THROUGH MINAS GERAESPIONEER WORK BEARING FRUITTHE BLACK RIVER THE NIAGARA OF SOUTH AMERICA.
THE general direction taken to reach this district was by rail from Rio de Janeiro to the city of São Paulo, a distance of about 300 miles, and from thence northward by rail to Campinas, a distance of sixty-two miles, and then by the Mogyanna railroad to Jaguara, the first station just across the Rio Grande, a distance of 318 miles, since extended to Araguary, 175 miles more. This system has in operation 741 miles of road, and is doing much to open up and develop one of the most fertile sections of the country. The work through the State of São Paulo will be described in another chapter. So then our story begins from the banks of the Rio Grande and carries us northward for six weeks on muleback by a circuitous route of about 400 miles to the Rio Preto, which flowing into the Paracath river, forms the largest western tributary to the head waters of the great San Francisco. We descended the Rio Preto, Paracatú and San Francisco rivers almost all the way in canoe to the Atlantic ocean, a distance of 1,500 miles, and returned from thence by ocean steamer to Rio de Janeiro, a distance of 1,000 miles.
We began the real work of the journey at Jaguára. At this time there were perhaps seventy-five or 100 persons living about the place. I had brought with me a full outfit for travel, consisting of a tent, traveller's bed, wearing apparel, a small supply of canned foods, a few simple medicines, a quantity of books, etc. I had instructed our colporteur, Sr. Lourenço d'Almeida, to secure the necessary animals and harness for the journey, and had previously shipped on a large supply of books. On landing at the station I was disappointed not to find him waiting for me. I had secured a letter of introduction from my friend, Dr. Orville Derby, to a well-to-do farmer who lived very near the station, and soon made my way to his house, where I was cordially received and well entertained. I found him to be a very liberal-minded man, and one who seemed ready for the new order of things that was to take place in the very near future, such as the liberation of the slaves, the overthrow of the monarchy, etc. But the Colonel, as everybody called him, was too advanced in years to do much active service for his country. He had freed all his slaves several years before, and had very comfortably and wisely adjusted himself to the new conditions. We had long talks together about the Bible, and I read and explained to him passages of the Word.
He bought a Bible, which I handed to him with a prayer that it might prove a great blessing to him in his declining years. There were about the plantation a number of children, for whom, as I learned upon inquiry, there was no school; a state of things of frequent occurrence through the interior of the country.
Early the next morning while waiting for my colporteur I started out to offer the Scriptures, and sold ten copies, two of them to men who lived a long distance away, and who had come to the railroad in ox carts loaded with produce. Down by the river side I visited several boatmen in their mud huts, one of whom was quite sick. I selected and read to him what I thought to be a few appropriate passages of Scripture, and talked to him of Jesus the Saviour of men. It all seemed new to him and he grew deeply interested. The Spirit was present, and as the poor, sick man began to grasp some knowledge of the truth his face brightened, and his heart rejoiced. Several others standing by listened with great attention. This was the first opportunity these men had ever had of hearing the Word of God. It must not be inferred from this statement that this was the first time that the Bible had crossed the Rio Grande. Several years previous to this two of the colporteurs of the American Bible Society had penetrated into that interior region on foot, sending their books from place to place by pack-mules. They would go on long journeys and be absent for several months at a time, and on their return to the nearest mission station, which was Mogy-Mirim, they would relate their thrilling experiences and work to the missionary, and urge him to go with them and preach the Gospel to the many who were anxious to hear and who were reading their Bibles. Many times they would tell also of the opposition and persecutions encountered. At the town of Uberaba José Tonelli, an old soldier of Garibaldi, had been stoned and left by the roadside for dead.
It was principally through the influence of Felippe Weingeter that the Rev. John Boyle, a pioneer missionary, whose grave makes dear to the Church of Christ that whole interior region, was induced to go on an evangelistic tour and inspect the work being done by these men. He turned over to native workers what he had wisely planted in and about Mogy-Mirim, and with his family settled in the far interior, at what he deemed a convenient centre from which to make evangelistic tours in many directions through the Provinces of Minas Geraes and Goyaz.
The work has prospered from the very beginning and a number of small congregations have sprung up throughout that extensive region.
On the second morning two men rode up accompanied by several pack-mules. I asked one of them if he did not wish to buy a Bible; he thanked me and said he had a Bible, and I was agreeably surprised to find that this was my colporteur, whom I had never before seen; the other was the servant who was to do our cooking and look after the animals. Our troop consisted of nine animals, one for each of us to ride, and four for cargo, which consisted of a tent, a few cooking utensils, a small quantity of provisions, wearing apparel and our supply of Scriptures.
We left the railroad station about 2:30 o'clock, March 30. The way was through a rough and hilly section, sparsely inhabited. As the sun seemed to touch the tree-tops of the western hills we camped where the grass grew fresh beside a small stream. We passed the town of Sacramento about nine A. M., the next day, and left copies of the Scriptures. Very soon we were on the plains, almost uninhabited. At times we seemed to be in a great sea of prairie grass, "planted with island groves," extending to the horizon. At four o'clock of Saturday we came to a convenient place and pitched our tent beside the water for rest on Easter Sunday.
The morning was bright and lovely, the shower having cleared the air. I talked to my men of our Lord's resurrection, and we felt a touch of the resurrection power. In the afternoon an ox cart came by, and one of the men stopped and asked us for a cup of coffee. As the servant gave it to him I preached to him Jesus Christ and the commandments. It seemed to him strange, but he became interested and tarried quite a while. I read to him the commandment on the Sabbath, and gave him a copy of the Gospel. When about to leave, he said he would overtake his ox cart and rest for the remainder of the day. We passed the evening pleasantly, reading and singing hymns, and the day was a happy one. I had my opportunities, though I was only with these three men on the plain. Where there is one man there is an opportunity. Our Saviour preached to the woman at the well of Samaria.
Monday morning we were up at three o'clock, and before daylight, while the moon yet shone brightly, we started on our way. At a house beside the road, where we stopped to breakfast, the man of the house became much interested, and as we began to load the animals, he said to me: "Read more to me and let the other men load the animals." Some of his neighbours came in, and he had me to read and explain passages to them also. He and others bought copies of the Word.
From thence until night we journeyed across vast plains upon which scarcely any vegetation grows, except the prairie grass two or three feet high. Now and then, near the small streams, where were a few trees, we saw birds and animals such as the ostrich, parrot, tatou and fox. Late in the afternoon we began to despair of finding water for the animals and ourselves. One of the men suggested that one of our little pack-mules, if put in front, would find water if there was any near the road; so we all followed the little mule. After about one-half hour he turned aside from the road; we all followed, and very soon he led us down beside a small stream, where we found good grass for the animals and a pleasant camping ground. The next morning we resumed our journey at an early hour.
About one P. M. near a village I met a man and talked to him of the Scriptures. He became much interested, and though he could not read, bought a copy, saying he had a friend who could read.
At first he seemed surprised that Jesus Christ should have lived and died for sinners nearly nineteen hundred years ago, and the truth was just now being made known to him and his friends. He was slow to believe because of this fact. It is true the Roman Church pretended to exist in this country; but the truth is not preached, and the people know nothing of the real truth of the Gospel. Let the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ think on the questioning in this ignorant man's mind. If Jesus died nearly 1,900 years ago to save sinners, and gave the command "go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to' every creature," what has the Church and ministry been doing all these years, that men to-day, for the first time are hearing the good news? How long before there will not be one man on earth who has not heard the story? If all the energies and forces of the Church were brought to bear to accomplish this one end, how soon it might be done!
At Bagagem we had a cordial welcome from two Presbyterian missionaries, the Rev. John Boyle and the Rev. G. W. Thompson, in company with whom I came to Brazil. They had recently moved to this town, and were preaching in a number of towns and villages in this section. Sunday afternoon I preached at Estrella do Sul ("Star of the South"), a small town named for the second largest known diamond in the world. This gem was found by a negress in the year 1853, who presented it to her owner to obtain her freedom. After being cut at Amsterdam it weighed 125 carats, and was valued at $10,000,000 to $12,000,000. A few years ago it belonged to the Pasha of Egypt.
We sold many copies of the Scriptures in Bagagem, and on April 18th set out for Paracatú, about one hundred and sixty miles to the north. We travelled for several hours over hills and highlands, and at evening came to Carmo, a village of a few hundred inhabitants, said to be a very fanatical place, where there is much opposition to the Gospel. The next morning a heavy rain continued until near midday, and during the morning we made a canvass of the town, succeeding in selling seventeen copies of the Scriptures, notwithstanding the opposition of some who were very bitter against us.
After a pleasant Sunday by a beautiful little stream, we came on Monday to the Paranahyba river, which we crossed in canoes, the animals having to swim across. From the river we ascended a great serra into the highlands, or watershed, between the north and south, east and west. We continued on this great highland until within a few miles of Paracatú. We saw very few people during the time, but met two tropas of pack-mules loaded with leather, on their way to the railroad.
Passing over this extensive highland and coming to the serra on the north, we had a view of one of the most extensive and beautiful valleys I have ever looked upon. We stopped for a while, that our minds and souls might drink in the inspiration of such a scene of grandeur and beauty, then descended into the valley and pitched our tent beside a stream. The next morning we found that three of our animals had strayed off or were stolen, and the entire day was spent in searching for them, but in vain, while both Mr. Thompson and I were badly lost in the wild woods of this great valley. There were few inhabitants in this valley, and they very poor, but we hired an ox cart. A short time before midday we found the strayed animals beside the road, some eight or ten miles from the camp.
The soil of this valley is reasonably fertile, and produces the finest pasture I have seen in Brazil. 'We came to the city of Paracatú late in the afternoon of April 27. This place, of perhaps 5,000 inhabitants, is the largest town of this interior section, and is situated beside a small stream that, with others, forms the head-waters of the great San Francisco river. Great quantities of gold have been dug from the hills and banks of the river, and after a heavy rain a great many persons are employed in gathering up the dirt washed down from the mountains, which frequently contains considerable quantities of gold.
The people of Paracatú received us cordially, the authorities gave us permission to preach in the streets, and we spent nine days there. During the daytime we offered the Scriptures for sale and conversed with many who were interested in the Gospel. For seven successive nights we preached to large audiences gathered in the public square, at that time quite a new and unusual thing. I inquired how it was that we were granted this liberty and met with so little opposition, and learned that the vicar of the town was an old man, who had grown very wealthy and was no longer specially interested or concerned with the religious interest of the people. While we were circulating the Bible and preaching to his people he was quietly taking his ease in his comfortable house, surrounded by servants and all the luxury to be had in that far interior town. From the very first visit of a colporteur and missionary the work has prospered in that place.
During our stay there I had seen almost every day a man dressed in a black and purple robe that hung down below his knees going through the streets. In one hand he carried a rod, on the end of which was a little silver figure of a dove, while in the other was a tin plate over which was spread a beautifully embroidered white cloth; he would ask each person he met or who would come to the door when he knocked, to kiss the image of the dove and to put money in the plate. On Sunday afternoon our colporteur came into our room in a great state of excitement, saying that he had just witnessed a very disgusting scene of idolatrous worship and blasphemy. Looking out I saw what was known as the procession of the Holy Spirit. The old priest and his assistants, accompanied with a band of music and quite a multitude, composed principally of the lower classes and street urchins, all with bare heads, were carrying the rod with the silver image of a dove and something like a banner on which was painted a dove. They were constantly sending up great quantities of fire rockets; the boys specially seemed to be having a grand time and there was not the slightest evidence of serious thought or conviction with any one in the crowd as to the real meaning of the Holy Spirit. I then learned that the man with the rod, during the past week, by having people pay for the privilege of kissing the image of the Holy Spirit, had been collecting money to defray the expenses of the procession; that the amount collected was considerable, while the expenses were insignificant. It was by such methods as this that the priest had enriched himself.
On the morning of May 7 we left Paracatú for the Rio Preto (Black River), about sixty-five miles to the north. The country through which we passed was flat and swampy. Recent rains had swelled all the little streams and filled to overflowing the pools and lakes, so that travelling was exceedingly difficult and dangerous. Wild birds and animals were numerous; the malaria from the lakes and swamps was abundant, and there were but few inhabitants along the way. After two and a half days of travel we reached the river and were entertained at a farmer's house while we disposed of the animals, and made preparations to descend the river. Some of the slaves and others were much impressed with the singing, and asked for copies of the hymns, especially of a hymn, "The Precious Blood of Jesus." As they could not read, I was curious to know what they would do with them; I thought, however, as one boy among them could read, they perhaps would have him teach them the words. The next day I found they had sewed them up in a little sack of cloth, and with a string had fastened them around their necks. Their idea was that they were now saved; that those copies of hymns contained the whole doctrine of salvation, and that it was only necessary to be in possession of a copy in order to be saved. We spent what time we could in giving them further instruction in the truth. We bought of the farmer a large canoe the body of a great tree hewn out. It was nearly thirty feet long, two feet six inches deep, and about three feet wide. We gave our boat the name of Boas Novas (Good News). Our baggage consisted of three hundred and sixty-three copies of the Scriptures, a supply of provisions, cooking utensils, our bedding, and valises. We employed two menone a pilot, the other an oarsman.
On May 12 we began our voyage down the great valley of the San Francisco river. The muddy banks of the Rio Preto were densely covered with trees, bushes and vines; multitudes of land and water animals and birds interested us. The parrots, monkeys, alligators and water hogs were the most numerous. When I saw the dense mat of forest, these wild birds and animals, and the muddy stream, I thought I could see the appropriateness of calling it the Black River.
We descended this river about sixty miles, to its mouth, and did not see a human being, or scarcely a sign of an inhabitant. We entered the Paracatú river, and for a distance of forty-five miles saw only one man. The first village we came to had about 125 inhabitants, not a white man among them. They received us kindly, and the chief officer of the village arranged for us to preach, himself inviting all the people. It was a strange proceeding, especially in Brazil, to hear the officer, about dark, calling aloud to the people to assemble to hear the Gospel. I think nearly every man, woman and child in the place came as we preached to them salvation by Christ. Although the people are poor, and only a few can read, a number bought copies of the Scriptures. The next morning, when we were in our canoe ready to leave, about twenty-five of them came down to the river and asked us to once more sing for them some of our beautiful hymns. We stepped on shore, under the shade of the trees, sung, prayed and spoke a few words to them, and received from each a warm shake of the hand and an expression of a hearty appreciation of our visit. Along the Paracatú river we visited a few settlements and came next into the San Francisco river. The first place visited was San Romão, a village of about 8oo inhabitants, where we had little success.
In the afternoon of Sunday as we were in our tent on the bank of the river, a number of men came to visit us. We talked to them of the Gospel of truth and light. One man invited us to his house and arranged for us to preach. Many came, and we had a precious service. Early Monday morning we went into the streets, and sold more than twenty copies, some to men who lived a long distance away. I have since learned that at least one of these copies was fruitful of good results, the reader of it and several of his friends have become believers in the religion of Jesus Christ, and are begging for some one to go to their community to preach to them more fully the Gospel of salvation.
On our way to this town we had spent the night with a man living on the banks of the river, whose heart was attentive to the Word. He bought a Bible and besought us to return soon to visit him again.
About seven or eight years after this I had a letter from a Presbyterian preacher, who had been on a journey through the large territory opened up by the colporteurs and Mr. Boyle through western Minas and the State of Goyaz. He said that a man with whom he had spent the night on this journey had travelled more than 120 miles on horseback to hear the preaching and to plead with him to go and visit his community. Re told the preacher of our visit, the night we spent with him, and said he had been reading the Bible for all these years. He had read it to his neighbours and a number of them had become believers and wanted to see and hear a preacher.
While resting on this Sabbath I witnessed what I have never seen in any other place nor heard tell of before, the worshipping of the ass upon which Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem. We were quietly resting and reading under the shade of a great tree by the river side, when suddenly we heard the noise and crude music of a crowd that was marching out of the town along the road leading to the river. I soon saw in the midst of the crowd a small donkey, all decorated, and upon inquiry was told that they were worshipping the animal in commemoration of the fact that Jesus rode into Jerusalem upon an ass. They told me that that animal was never used for ordinary purposes, but was kept as a sacred animal and object of worship.
The section of country drained by the San Francisco river and its tributaries, is estimated to have an area of 250,000 square miles. The river rises in the Serra das Canastras, at an altitude of more than 2,500 feet above the level of the sea, and flows first in a northerly direction, then eastward and empties into the Atlantic ocean about midway between the cities of Bahia and Pernambuco, about 1,740 miles from its source. Numerous tributaries, increase the volume of water, and there are rapids, cascades, and cataracts, especially in the upper and lower parts of the river.
From the Pirapora falls, near the mouth of the Rio das Velhas, in Minas Geraes, to the Sobradinho rapids in the State of Bahia, a distance of about 800 miles, the river is easily navigable by vessels of very light draft. In recent years the government has completed the work of opening a channel through the Sobradinho rapids and thus another section of about 120 miles is now open to navigation as far as Boa Vista. When I passed down the river in the year 1888 this work was just being completed. It is doubtful if the section from Boa Vista to Jatoba, a distance of about 150 miles, will ever be made navigable, though at certain seasons of the year canoes and small barges do go up and down these cascades. In the section from Jatoba to Piranhas, a distance of about sixty-five miles, are the famous Paulo Alfonso Falls, said to be second only to the great Niagara of North America, and claimed by some not to be surpassed in picturesqueness by any in the world. The volume of water, a little less than that of Niagara, is first poured into a narrow channel between two natural walls of granite; and then it is divided into three great falls, increased to four in the rainy season when the volume of water is very great.
The principal fall forms a curve, and about midway the waters are dashed against the north side of the channel and, broken into foam and spray, go leaping madly down the precipice into the wild depths below. This channel is about fifty-three feet wide, and the height of the entire system of rapids, cascades and cataracts is about 270 feet. Then comes a series of rapids making the river unnavigable until we reach the town of Piranhas, from which to the ocean, about 100 miles, there are no obstructions. The river thus easily furnishes 2,400 miles of navigation, especially in the rainy season; in the dry season this might be lessened somewhat. The valley or valleys drained by this system of rivers form an extensive region of fertile lands capable of very large agricultural productions, while the hillsides and plains are well adapted to stock raising. Almost the entire section lies between 10° and 20° south of the Equator, and comprises about 200,000 square miles of territory. The river is noted more for its width than for its depth, and like the Nile overflows its banks in the rainy season, from November to March. The average width of the river in the extensive navigable section above the falls is about 1,100 yards, while the mean depth away from the sand banks does not exceed a few feet. The overflows during the rainy season enrich the soil and planting begins as the waters abate. The population in this region is calculated to be about 1,500,000 but it is estimated that 20,000,000 souls and more could be easily supported there.
Sugar-cane, cotton, rice, corn, potatoes and indeed most of vegetables and fruits belonging to sub-tropical and temperate regions may be easily grown in great abundance. The lumber trade is susceptible of large development; and granite for building is abundant. Those who have studied this region from scientific standpoints tell us that it is rich also in mineral resources.
Our next objective point was the town, or city, as it is called, of Januaria, so named in honour of the sister of the Emperor, Dom Pedro II. The distance travelled was about ninety or 100 miles, and we visited a large number of villages and settlements along the way, meeting for the most part with a cordial reception and selling a large number of copies of the Scriptures.
The site of the town of Januaria on the left bank of the river is an extensive flat sandy plain, with a range of hills some five or six miles to the northwest, while to the east in the distance rises the Serra de S. Felippe. The total number of houses was about 750, built of adobe and mud with tiled and thatched roofs; many of them with dirt floors and no ceiling, and nearly all of one story. The chief of police, who seemed to be the highest authority in the town, was very kind to us; gave permission to sell our books in the streets and promised us every protection. The population numbered about 7,000 souls. This is the great commercial and social centre for all that upper valley region. It is distant from Rio de Janeiro about 650 miles and from Bahia about 620 miles, but the importations, which are chiefly dry goods and salt, come via Joazeiro, about 650 miles distant by the river. The mails come mostly by packmules from Ouro Preto, the capital of Minas Geraes. We rented a small house in which to lodge for a few days; one large front room with windows opening on the street proved very suitable for preaching. We very soon began our work of offering to the inhabitants the Word of God, and I was struck at once with the very liberal spirit shown by the people in general, many buying Bibles without hesitation.
In the course of the day several persons referred to a visit made to that City more than twenty years before by a Spaniard who sold a few Bibles, and then I understood why it was that the people seemed more liberal and open to the Gospel than I had found them in any other place along the river. In all this period no Gospel messenger had returned to visit them, but the fruit of Thomas Goulart's visit and the reading of the Bible was visible on every hand. The local mind had indeed been greatly unsettled, and many were anxiously seeking some solid ground to rest upon. When invited to come and talk with us privately about the Gospel several gladly accepted, and there was some real earnest spiritual work done that Saturday night in our quiet room. God did richly manifest his presence as we tried to point the inquirers to "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world."
It is a painful reflection that another twelve years has passed by and no permanent evangelistic work has been established in the place, but I rejoice that plans are on foot at the Bahia mission station to establish work there soon. We sold 126 copies of the Word during our short stay in the place. As I was walking along one of the main streets one day my attention was attracted by a peculiar noise. I drew near to the house from whence it proceeded, and found that it was a school. The teacher sat at one end of the room with about half a dozen children around him, all trying to read from one book, while thirty others were scattered over the room in groups of five or six, and each group had only one book: all were reading and spelling aloud, in a sing song tone that would remind one of a nest of bumble bees. The door stood open and I looked in for a moment. As I started on my way a boy came out and asked about the books I had in my hand; he carried one in for the teacher to see and then ran home to get a few coppers to buy a Gospel. In a very short time his example was followed by a number of his schoolmates, and the next day as I passed by I found them all studying and reading from their New Testaments and Gospels.
One man, who lived several leagues away, bought a few copies of the Scriptures to sell to his friends. I have recently heard that some of these have been read, and that there are some thirty or forty persons grouped together as a band of believers, who are asking for a preacher to visit them from the Bahia Station.