Traces Of Welsh Colonists
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Things were exciting along the Rio Negro. Again we crossed the island. Just before we reached the coast, we came to a farm belonging to our guide, and a house perched on an artificial hill, like an Indian mound. "Whose work is that?" I asked. "The Galeuses," was the reply. "Galense" is the term used by the Argentines to denote the Welsh. We stopped, and going inside, it was our delight to see a fine fire in a real fireplace that did not smoke. That, also, was the work of the Welshmen, who, it seems, had made the irrigating canals and afterward sold them and gone away to Chubut. "Whys" I asked our Italian guide, "did the Welshmen leave this fine land and their good beginning here?" "Because civilization was getting too close for them," was the reply, meaning that too many Latins came too near. This amused me much as being an instance of the lack of appreciation that races have for one another, the Welshmen believing their ideals and civilization far superior to that of the Argentines. I could forgive the Argentines if only they would learn of the Welshmen, or of some one, to build chimneys and to have firesides while there.
After a cup of tea, we pushed on, somewhat anxiously, for yet the rain poured, and when we reached the ferry the boat was some distance from the shore. With some peril we made the passage, and rejoiced. It was dark as we set out for Choele-Choel, distant three leagues, over a road which was a mere track winding through the brush. Soon the ominous roar of little Niagaras pouring down from the hills behind told us to have a care; we indeed came near putting wheel into a chasm washed six feet deep in the sandy earth. The guide wavered and turned, declaring it unsafe to proceed in the dark, and so we made for old Choele-Choel, a ruinous village on the river bank a mile away, left in-land by the railway. Soon lights appeared, then wide streets running great rivers, then the inn. We put away the horses, then the heathen raged and I at least imagined vain things, for we were wet through and chilled and at the inn there was not so much as a chimney where a stove could be put and no place to dry wet garments. We had driven through at least fifty miles of brush and trees that would all have made good fuel. We had dinner and then stole into the little kitchen where the fat and jolly cocinero made ready the dinners of his patrons; there we warmed up a very little ° and slipped away to bed—the one safe refuge in Argentina in winter time.
In the night I awoke to hear a distant and mournful "hallo." "It is some poor devil about to drown," I reflected, as I heard the rain drip and the rivers ripple in the street and turned luxuriously over in my warm bed to sleep. You see I did not know the word for "drown" in Spanish, so `I could be of little use. But the man had his revenge. He and a guilty conscience kept me awake most of the night. Was ever there a man so slow in drowning l In the morning I learned to my disgust that he was a mere guard in a penitentiary near by; that his bellowings were merely to remind the in-mates of their sins, and the consequences thereof.
The rain put water over all the valley of the Rio Negro. We saw the cattle coming out to the highlands that skirt the valley. I take it that this valley has a fine, rich, enduring soil, full of lime and other mineral salts; that with irrigation it will grow fine alfalfa and also figs, peaches, apples, pears and many other fruits, but that because of floods one would occasionally have a wet dooryard. I look, however, soon to see a dense population on the Rio Negro, where soil and climate are both much as we are used to in Colorado. There are sandy valleys where by a sort of natural sub-irrigation alfalfa grows well and immense crops of seed are harvested. Dr. Garrahan and I could not but notice the fine, vigorous types of people. It should some day be the Scotland of Argentina.
We slipped back to Bahia Blanca again and to our fine hotel. Eagerly I approached the steam radiators, but they were yet filled with icy vapors. Coal coming from England is dear in Argentina and we perhaps were the only guests who especially cared for fire. The hotel was losing money every week. What they lacked in steam heat they quite made up in kindness and courtesy to us.
CONSTRUCTION WORK IN CEMENT
At Bahia Blanca I learned how they make pal-aces of marble. First of all they are roughly-built structures of cheap brick. Then come the Italians who coat them with cement plaster, making wonderful effects of great stone blocks, columns and cornices, all the beautiful architectural details that one could desire, and in general the effects are simple and good. It would be a pleasure to be an architect down there, for one's dreams could be carried out with ease and at small cost. The cement plaster is made of a mixture of two cements, one a white one, with sand and, I think, a proportion of lime. It appears to be singularly free from defects. I saw glorious columns that were indistinguishable from the finest stone.
In Bahia Blanca we found Dr. E. Graham, a veterinarian, a son of an English estanciero and a man who has traveled over most of Argentina. As an earnest of what Argentina can do, and I hope will do, I must tell something of Dr. Graham. He thinks in Spanish ; it is the language that he uses most, but he speaks good English. He is thoroughly educated, practical and a student, with the same ideals that good men have everywhere. "Come and see my hospital," said the doctor. It was equipped much as a veterinary hospital would be anywhere. As we were inspecting, a native teamster or coachman brought in a horse and stated plaintively his case, whereat the doctor replied with a laugh, "He tells me to cure the horse, so that he can use it at once!" he explained. Horses are not always well cared for in Argentina; there was a time when they were so common that if one got lame, sore or tired it was no matter ; another was at hand to replace it. Few vehicles are provided with singletrees or doubletrees; the horses pull directly against dead, unyielding bulk, and bad shoulders are common.
"Come with me, here; we have an industry that may be new to you;" and he led to a shed where stood a row of meek asses, distinctly unlike North American asses, having dark stripes down their backs and shoulders, their bodies a soft mouse col-or. "Asses' milk is used for feeding babies; it is the best of milk for that use," he explained. In a pen were the little ass colts, with shaggy hair, great ears and soft, appealing eyes. "They get bran and water only, but they thrive well enough ; we can not afford to give them milk," he explained. He obtains the asses, wild, from the region west. Cows and their calves are driven along the streets, the calves' noses thrust in leather pokes. The cows are milked in front of any house where milk is wanted. This is not a bad scheme, if one wishes to be sure that the milk is not watered. All of the cows so used that I saw were a sort of old-fashioned Short-horn.
ESTANCIA SAN RAMON
Dr. Graham's father is manager at Lopez Le-cube of the estancia San Ramon, only a few hours from Bahia Blanca, so we three went out one afternoon. The way lay through interesting fields of green pastures, covered with alfileria or bur clover, with here and there the giant grasses characteristic at one time of the pampas. The soil was a soft, dark-brown loam, evidently rich in organic matter. Under it at depths of from a foot to several feet lay the white "tosca" rock, which I suspect is largely of calcium. There were immense pastures along the way, their green fields sloping up to ragged, barren-looking mountains in the distance. There were great farms too, and farming villages where men lived who grew wheat and possibly some oats for pasture or early feed for horses in spring. This farming is done commonly by tenant farmers who put in 200, 300 or 400 acres to a man, and when it rains well they make good profit.
After the deluges of rain the men have abounding hope and confidence, and are afield in numbers, driving often six horses to an American two-furrow plow, sometimes with four or more plows in one field. They do not plow too deep nor too well, but rush the work to get as much ready as possible. How productive the soil looked. How interesting to remember its inexorable evolution. First, the country was the wild, unfenced pampas, covered with coarse grass. Then in the late 70's, or early 80's, came civilized man, the driving out of the Indians, and the partitioning out of the land very often in immense stretches. After that came the heavy stocking, often with horses, supposed to be useful in destroying the wild, coarse grasses, then the fencing and stocking with cattle, the stocking with sheep, the heavy overstocking that resulted in the disappearance of the old wild native grasses and the "fining" of the camp. It was noted that this had been hurtful, lessening the carrying capacity of the pastures, especially during dry years, since the plants left were annuals of various sorts, so there was a sensible reduction in the numbers of sheep and mixed stocking with cattle, horses and sheep. With the introduction of agriculture and the advance in price of lands and the coming in of the farmer, there came the division and sub-division of estates, and year by year the diminishing numbers of sheep.
After the plow what California has shown that wheat following wheat brings soil depletion after a time. It is plain then that wheat cannot always be grown in this fertile country. But alfalfa grows well and it restores soils. Some day there will be millions of acres of alfalfa and farmers themselves will feed it to animals. At present the withdrawal of land from pasture and turning it to agriculture means the total disappearance of that land as a producer of animals. The farmers buy their meat, or more rarely, steal it.
"I hope father will meet us at the station," re-marked Dr. Graham. "Oh, we can walk out; you say the station is on the place," I remarked, jauntily. The doctor smiled, but the father met us with an American automobile. We bundled in, and were soon speeding away across pastures. To the left and right of us great Lincoln ewes were grazing. The sheep were of huge size and with distended sides looked fat. "Would you believe that these sheep were dying of starvation thirty days ago?" asked Dr. Graham. No one could have believed it; they were growing fat. Such is the richness of the soil and the feed that springs from it when rain comes.
"How do you like these fences, Mr. Wing?" "I replied that they were the best that I had ever seen, which was true. They were made of large wire, well galvanized, none of it rusty; the posts were of an imperishable Argentine wood; there was not a staple in it, for each wire ran through a hole in the middle of the post—which is the custom in Argentina, and every wire was as taut as a string.
We dashed across the plain at thirty-five miles an hour and at last, after passing seven miles through the pasture lands of San Ramon, came to a little vale that appeared to be an ancient wood of pines, eucalyptus and other trees. Dr. Graham manages 115,000 acres; he has 25,600 sheep, 1,200 horses and 6,000 cattle. The sheep were originally of Rambouillet blood, but for many years Lincoln rams had been used. Now nearly all of the sheep are of Lincoln type. A few showed Rambouillet - blood. "Are not these cross-bred sheep giving you the best wool" "Oh, no doubt of that," was the reply.
"Then why do you not use Rambouillet blood more" "Why, I have worked so long to get my sheep to a uniformity that I hate to lose it by in-fusing Merino blood. Would you do it in the United States V "
"Assuredly we would; we do not feel that we can do without a percentage of Merino blood in any business flock," I replied.
Learning that I admired the Rambouillet, Dr. Graham brought up for my inspection a flock of ewes of that breed. They were marvelous ewes, denser-wooled and more inclined to wrinkles than those we breed in the United States. I begged him to take 500, 1,000 or 10,000 ewes and breed them to Rambouillet rams, as an experiment, putting their ewe lambs aside and when old enough breeding them again to Lincoln rams. He would thus obtain that excellent cross-bred wool that we need in North America.
A FLOCK OF LINCOLN SHEEP
"I suppose you have many finer lots than these in North America, Mr. Wing," remarked Dr. Graham, as we stood looking at 4,000 Lincoln ewes with their heads up, eyes bright, backs broad and legs like pillars under them.
"Neither in North America, nor anywhere else in the world will you find such a sight as this," I replied. For we could have taken 1,000 out of that lot fit to show at our fairs. It is truly a blessed region for sheep, when it rains (and does not rain too much). "I let my sheep out on shares to shepherds, furnishing the land, fences, sheep and cottages in which the men live. In return the shepherds take all care and do all dipping and shear, under my supervision, and they have each one-quarter of the wool and one-quarter of the increase above the original numbers in their flocks. In good years they make good profits; in bad years they work for rather low compensation, but so do we," explained Dr. Graham. Then he told how the owner, Lopez Lecube, bought the whole place in 1880 for $7,200 (gold) and today it is worth for land alone $2,300,000. "When I came here first, many years ago, it was a sheep run; there were no trees, only a barren-looking wind-swept plain. With my own hand I have planted these trees." There were pines that appeared to have been there half a century, and fine eucalyptus and even a few palms, so mild are the winters.
"Come, we cannot spend all our time with sheep; we have cattle to see as well," and we went to inspect some Short-horn bulls. We found them in comfortable quarters, in fitting for the great Palermo show, and soon had them out for inspection. "Is not this a grand one, Mr. Wing?" "Yes, but here is a much better one," and I laid my hand on one that would have caused spectators to sit up and look at our International. He was a low blocky bull, thick, wide and massive, with marvelous loin and rib. "Ah, yes, that is a good little bull, a real good little bull, but he has no style; he will not get a second look from the judges at Palermo." "You mean his neck is not long enough?'' . "That's it; he has not the carriage he ought to have; the judges do not get very close to their animals at Palermo."
"But Dr. Graham, which is the business end of a bull or a bullock?"
"Oh, yes, I know what your American packers like, but we have quite different ideals in our show-rings at present. However, I'll take them both along, but you will see that your favorite will get no attention whatever."
"Your cattle are better now than, ours in North America, Dr. Graham; if your judges persist in selecting as you indicate, ours will be better than yours some day," was my retort.
We visited the alfalfa fields; they looked well after the rain. We saw part of the horses and some exceedingly good ones. I wandered, looking at trees, shrubs and flowers, remembering that it was mid-May and at home on Woodland Farm the buds had opened on the oaks, warblers were in the branches and 'there was in the air a mingled sound of doves cooing and the drone of diligent bees.
What did it cost to operate this place? Counting interest on the land in use and devoted to sheep, with all other costs, the total was more than one with faint heart would like to contemplate, and, as in America, the feeling was that the land would pay better in agriculture. It is only a matter of time when the plow takes fair San Ramon, bit by bit.
A DAY AT CURAMALAN
When morning broke at Curamalan in Southern Buenos Aires Province, I found myself in a great, roomy, comfortable bed-room, through the windows of which streamed the morning May sun. There was a great twittering of nesting birds, it seemed to me, such as we hear in Ohio in Maytime. I arose hastily and went to the window. My entrance to Curamalan had been after dark, so all that I had known was that we approached the place between rows of tall pines, that the house bulked large in the gloom, that as we entered we encountered a smiling hostess, and that .she led us directly to a cheerful fire in the grate. Later a memorably good dinner was served in the long dining-room, and there also, oh wonder of wonders, a fire blazed on the hearth. The next morning A. F. Taylor awaited me in the dining-room. It is the custom for people to take their morning bite as they like, one at a time, at different hours ; we were the early ones. Mr. Taylor was the manager, an Englishman from Uruguay, South American-born, as much like a jolly, shrewd sensible, courteous North American as one could find. When we had finished our eggs, toast and coffee, we sallied out, for he had sheep in the corral to show me. As we walked we talked. The place once carried 300,000 sheep; it now has about 45,000, but they are practically pure-bred Lincolns. The place contains 170,000 acres. On it there are 3,000 horses and 13,000 cattle. Mr.. Taylor's remarks are here condensed from memory:
"Away back in 1870 it was that the government wishing to open up and develop this wild country towards Bahia Blanca, from which the Indians had lately been driven, granted the land for $400 gold per league (6,250 acres). There was another stipulation ; the land was covered with the coarse, innutritious grasses; the owner was to stock the place with 50,000 horses, which were thought to destroy the coarse grasses and. bring in finer ones. Horses were rather difficult to buy in sufficient numbers, so that when the day of counting came there were really only about 35,000 horses on the place. However, the Irish manager thought he could make them do. The government counters were stationed at a point where the mares could be made to pass by them and were told to begin counting. They were city men; at any rate they soon complained that it was impossible to count as fast as they went by, and to move wild mares slowly was impossible. So it was decided to count how many passed in five minutes, then to count them after this by the hour, so many to pass in an hour. This was satisfactory to all interested; the mares were run through; after a few hours those that had run through first had made a detour behind the counters and were rim through the second time, so that all was found satisfactory; a big dinner was given to all concerned and Curamalan was bravely launched on its career.