Northward In Corrientes
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
From my notebook I quote : "I am on a train going north through the province ; now we are passing through a great forest of palms. Here and there, beside palm-thatched huts, are heavily-laden orange trees or little fields of corn. Great long-horned cattle, huge of frame, ancient of days, graze beneath the palms. Did ever you hear of the flowery pastures of Corrientes? Nor I, until this after-noon we discovered them, miles of land pink, other miles yellow, other miles green, then miles of the three colors deliciously blended, and grazing on them thousands of cattle and sheep. The painter who would dare paint it would be reviled and scorned. Now we enter grass so tall that it almost hides the cattle, but this coarse grass is not nourishing; the beasts are thin. Doubtless the land would support good grasses, however; it calls for the plow, but that may not come soon on these immense ranges, owned by native people, who are well con-tent. It is, after all, a good land. As I close this' we approach the northern limit of sheep-farming. I started with them in Tierra del Fuego and have traced them steadily north here, where bananas grow wild and there is both heat and rain, but no sheep, although natives do keep half-wild, long wooled sheep. Now I will turn southward again to take up the study in Santa Fe."
On the train going up through Corrientes we saw many interesting sights. The trains, by the way, were equipped with cars that had double roofs to dissipate the terrific heat of the summer's sun. Corrientes presents a puzzle to the stranger; it is untilled. I quote from my journal:
"Just now we are passing through a curious forest of miniature trees, with also an Indian village, but there are no farms or gardens in sight. Now and then we pass ostriches. I amuse myself by watching for the clay-domed homes of the oven birds, perched on the telegraph poles. Here are other miles of grass land pink and yellow with flowers and grazed by great collections of cattle and sheep. I learn that if a man will place in a pasture 1,000 sheep and simply let them alone, they will all die within a year or two, presumably from internal parasites. They need shifting about from pasture to pasture. We are now in the latitude of Florida. Here are little pools of water under the trees, be-side the pools are myriads of crocus-like blossoms and back a little way woodmen are cutting the little trees, each one of which will make a fence post 'and one in a thousand will make a railway tie—but that tie will not rot for a thousand years. The scene changes; we cross lagoons of dark and dangerous looking water; we enter a region of palms. Then we come to soil. In the south of Corrientes it seems to be rock near the surface or else hardpan and no agriculture at all, but we begin to see little fields of corn and wonderful, marvelous orange trees laden with fruit. There were of course little palm-thatched huts and others covered with tiles and some with palm trunks, split, and laid on like tiles. Then it got dark, but not before we passed great pastures of tall wild grass and in it ancient huge cattle, very old, and then fields, thousands of acres, of haycocks as thick as they could stand—nice, green living haycocks. What they really were I give up; I suspected they were anthills. I fell to watching for oven birds' nests on the tops of telephone poles, about one to every ten poles, and then it grew dark and we went in to dinner in' the dining-car.
"A great crowd of carriages surrounded us at Corrientes; we drove slowly to the correo or post-office. I found in a list on the wall that there was a letter here for `Ving, Joseph,' so took courage. A grave and venerable man discussed the matter with us at some length ; then he went to a safe and took from it a package of letters, three dear ones from home. Oh, I was glad! We came then to our hotel and I fell into a chair in the dining-room and began devouring letters, by the good light there. The latest one was forty-five days old. I was up at daybreak the next morning and sallied out to explore. This is the farthest north that I can get, but I wish I could go on—the farther north one goes, the more interesting it is. The houses are much like those in other parts, but there are more patios and rare and lovely tropical things. Even the great church has a semi-circular garden at its front, a porch with huge columns leading at either side to the church, from the street, and enclosing the garden, which is half a circle. In the garden there are wonderful poinsettias, hibiscus and other blooms.
"I explored the suburbs, where I could see the majestic river with steamships on it and steam-boats, the far shore a long way off. Then by little footpaths I walked through a 'combination of pasture, garden and jungle, noting the great bamboos and the curious growths of one sort and another. The little brown women whom I met were taking care to wish me `buenos dia.' And I found another lily tree. It is not the same species ; it is lemon-yellow and the tree trunk has cunning little knobs studded on it, sharp as needles, but cone-shaped and two inches long. That gives the otherwise smooth, round trunk a singular appearance. This tree was in a small garden, and in the garden there was a tiny white house of mud with a thatched roof. I entered; a woman was making a fire of sticks in a shed, evidently a kitchen; I asked if I might have a flower and she assented. I crossed a suspension bridge over a gully and stood admiring the tree for some time. At last I picked one flower and left her a coin, she did not know the name of the tree, though if I understood her aright it bears fruit, but. as she also used the word algodon, which means cotton, I am at a loss to understand. The señora at this hotel does not know the flower and had never seen it, I guess. In her patio are orchids, curious new fruits, roses and oranges."
I sat a long time in the breakfast room of the hotel. Withered beggar women came to the door with staffs and baskets; the señora sent them out ancient loaves of bread, and they went away grateful. When one gets near the equator one finds much poverty and beggary; it is because people live so easily that they see no need of labor. And then they no doubt multiply rapidly under these conditions. A lad shined my shoes ; I had no money less than a $100 bill; we had a friendly discussion in sign language with some words about what was best to be done. I tried to tell him to return at breakfast time and showed him the amethyst crystals I had found which much interested him; he was in no hurry, but at last I borrowed 10 cents of the waiter.
MAKING MOSAIC TILES
I stopped one morning in a factory where men make the beautiful mosaic tiles that are universally used for floors in Corrientes. They are very easily and simply made. There is a mould, say eight inches square, and in it a pattern of tin, like a fancy cooky cutter. This mould is of the shape of the pattern of the tile. The workman simply pours from little pitchers different colored cements in each compartment of the mould, filling them to a depth of a quarter of an inch. Pure cement is sifted over this, after the mould has been lifted out, then comes a backing of cement and sand and then the whole is pressed hard by a great screw press and the tile taken out to harden. This is finally done under water. The work is done rap-idly and the result is often beautiful. It is an industry well worth introduction into the United States.
Corrientes is more ancient than most of our old-est cities in the United States, but it has mosquitoes; also its cab horses are underfed and over-whipped. The brutality of the Argentine carriage driver is most repulsive to a North American. Here I became so indignant that I stopped our driver and got out of his carriage, but I could not speak Spanish well enough to make him under-stand why. It was at Corrientes that an amusing thing happened to me. Nearly all the plant growths were new to me, and I plagued the doctor by asking him questions that he could not answer until at last he disappeared, returning finally with smiling countenance. "Señor, I have found for you a man who lives here and who speaks English and who can answer your questions." I was happy. We went to meet the man who proved to be young and agreeable. Introductions followed and I learned that he had been to an agricultural college in the United States. He had also had Argentine schooling. "I am so happy," I cried. "Now you can tell me the things that I desire to know." "Please ask me," was his calm and confident rejoinder. "Very well, what is the name of that tree across the street?" "That I am sorry to say I can not tell you." "Well, please tell me what is the name of that wonderful flowering shrub hanging over the wall." "Nor can I tell you that, either, for I do not know." "Will you, please, tell me the name of the strange tree that bears fruits as large as melons and that grows in the patio of our hotel?" "No, señor; I regret, but I do not seem to know any of the things that you wish me to know." "Pardon me," I said, blushing; "I did not understand. I thought that the doctor said that you lived here." "Well, that is true; I do live here." "No, but I mean," I cried with a deeper blush, as I saw how I was verging hard on the edge of discourtesy; "I understood that you had always lived here." "Yes, señor, that is right. I always have lived here," replied the unhappy young man.
I present him as a striking object lesson of how not to educate a boy, for he apparently knows not the name of one tree or shrub or flower in his own marvelously decorated city.
Near Corrientes I saw a sight rather characteristic of tropical lands everywhere—a house of bamboo, covered with thatch. Beside the house were great orange trees and banana plants. Under a thatched porch were seated a fat brown man and a woman. Many half-naked children played near by. Out near the railway grew a clump of grass ten feet high, and there two slender children, a girl and a boy, worked at cutting grass in straight handfuls, using the family butcher knife. The grass was no doubt for the mending of the roof, for it had been very rainy. The sight amused. I could imagine the fond father looking out from his soft seat in the shade of the porch roof and saying, "See those poor, dear children. How hard they work. How I hope these others will soon grow up to be a help to them."
RECROSSING THE GREAT RIVER
It was a warm day; mosquitoes were bad—the first to much afflict us. We were near the line of Paraguay and Brazil. A Uruguayan battleship lay at anchor, a reminder of the marvelous river that we had been following. We took boat again and crossed to the west side, to the town of Resistencia. The river was miles wide with strong current. It was a curious thought that this river came all of it from tropical mountains and forests —the greater part of it from an uninhabited land of forest and jungle. It is because it comes from the regions of tropical rains that it is so great a river; our own Mississippi comes from dry plains and semi-arid mountains; hence it is normally a far smaller stream.
The land at Resistencia had a new look; indeed I think it not so many years since the Indians were here dispossessed. There are forested areas and open, with grassy glades between. The soil is as rich as black mud and much resembles our heavier black soils in Louisiana and the delta region of Mississippi.
Resistencia is a neatly built and ambitious little city. We met there Señor Juan S. Attwell, an Englishman of Argentine birth. He took us to his cotton farms, which he manages with the aid of Italian tenantry. The cotton was great, as high as my shoulder, fairly well laden with open bolls, and continuing to bloom. I think that frost does not visit that region. It had been poorly cultivated by ox-power and the stand was , poor; yet the land would grow cotton well—that was evident. Alfalfa was growing well, also castor beans, which make trees, and there were oranges on trees which were larger than I had ever seen before; they were obviously old trees. There was no scale on the oranges; the trees have no attention after being planted. Some of the alfalfa did not look so well as it might ; I advised that the land be plowed deeper, as it was a hard, black clay and subject to drouth. The intelligent Italian farmer agreed. The practical difficulty in growing cotton there' is to get the labor to pick it. It seemed fine,. how-ever, if one wished to grow cotton, to be able to grow it in a land that would grow alfalfa, corn, oranges and I know not what else. In North America usually cotton is grown on poor soils; those at Resistencia were so fat and black. It is not a paradise there, however, for one year in four locusts destroy most of the crops.
The fields of cotton were usually about two to five acres, cared for by Italian colonists who had also alfalfa, maize, oranges and tapioca (cassava). They were indifferently cultivated and often some-what weedy. The cotton stood usually about three to five feet high. The plants were full of fruit. A part of it had been gathered; I should judge that I saw fields that would make 500 pounds (a bale), of lint to the acre, and perhaps I saw some that would make more. The defects in cultivation were a poor stand, and indifferent cultivation, which is usually given by aid of oxen.
Senor Attwell said that there was much land in the northern chaco adapted to cotton; that the climate though hot, was healthful, without malarial fevers; that land could be bought for $15 per acre, more or less, according to location and quality. Labor was very cheap and of fair quality. It would seem that there was an opportunity for a considerable development of cotton-growing. Señor Attwell was desirous of getting North American cotton-growers to come to this country. The transportation out is by water to Buenos Aires, via the Rio Parana.