The title deceives those readers of Argentine history who are unfamiliar with the author. An evangelical pastor and vice-president of the Argentine Biblical Society, Arnoldo Canclini in this volume writes of Episcopalian proselytism among the Patagonian Indians between 1830 and 1916. British missions were quite isolated in the nascent settlements of Tierra del Fuego. Foreign evangelists had greater success far from civil authorities, from Catholic priests, and from the merchants, sailors, miners, and herdsmen of the northern Patagonia. In the south, the few Protestant missionaries moved freely in the wilderness, baptized numerous devotees, and recorded the native dialects. Their goal had been to teach civilized ways and the Christian religion to the natives. However, the missionaries accomplished much less than Canclini’s title indicates. By the beginning of the twentieth century, typhoid and other “white man’s” diseases had devastated the aboriginal population of southern Argentina and Chile.
Canclini’s scholarship is rather more narrative than critical. He bases his research primarily on the letters and diaries of the missionaries. Thus he tends to defend the evangelists from all critics, and his conclusions are more opinionated than substantiated. Some of his conclusions include the contention that the number of Indian baptisms was modest. This fact does not indicate evangelistic failure but reflects a policy of careful selection by the missionaries. Moreover, evangelists did not exploit the Indians economically, despite the little fur trading, cultivation, and husbandry accomplished at the missions. British missionaries maintained good relations with all government authorities in the area but recognized the suzerainty of Argentina. Canclini, an Argentine, infers that the Argentine Republic had greater claim to the lands of the Tierra del Fuego than did the Chileans. Finally he believes that other white men provoked the epidemics that exterminated the Indians. British evangelists numbered too few to have brought such diseases.
Researchers may scan this study for preliminary information on Protestant missions in the region, on relations between whites and Indians in fringe areas, and on native cultures. In the end, the decline of the aboriginal population dominates the book. Canclini estimates the number of one group, the Yaganes, to have dwindled from 3,000 in 1830, to 1,000 in 1884, and to 110 at the turn of the century. Other native groups in Patagonia endured the same fate. The author’s account of the destruction of the Indians—even while evangelists doubled their religious efforts—gives this book a tragic quality.