The Gibson Estancia
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
"These Gibsons are men of independent thought and character. They breed a sort of Lincoln that is distinctly different from any that I have seen elsewhere. The origin of these sheep was of course Lincolnshire, where they were bred by Kirkham. His flock was dispersed in the '60's, and taken to New Zealand. Thence the Gibsons imported them, bringing over 300 ewes. The sheep have been bred especially for their unusually good covering of long, lustrous wool. One can in short order select here a pen of sheep that would puzzle a judge who had not seen them to name the breed, they are so distinctly different from the regular English type. They have often a splendid covering over the heads, with locks coming down nicely over the face; also they have long, lustrous wool that almost drags the ground. They are somewhat smaller than Lincolns that mod-ern Englishmen breed, but they fatten astonishingly and are of nearly perfect form.
"The management is in one important essential unlike any that we have seen. Each year there is plowed about twenty per cent of the land which is sown to oats, alfalfa and grasses. Thus the camp carries many more animals than camps left in a state of nature. For the rest, the care taken is of the customary simple sort. The sheep are carefully dipped four times a year and kept clean of scab. They are pastured out always of course, for no snow comes, and with moisture grass is green the year around. Lambs and wool are sold-astonishing amounts of wool—as much as eight and one-quarter pounds per head for the whole lot of sheep.
"One thing here that impresses me much is the quiet energy of Mr. Runnacles and the way he trains his men to care for animals. South America is not a land where kindness is customarily shown to dumb beasts. At Los Inglesitos there was no sore-backed or sore-shouldered horses and the sheep are handled with care and gentleness.
"Herbert Gibson is one of the most original and brilliant men connected with agriculture whom I have met in the world. It was a delight to hear him tell of Argentina, past and present. Then the thought drifted to old England; we recalled mutual friends and finally I mentioned Wedderlie. Then with sparkling eyes spoke W. O. Wills, the Scott, who is the new manager, `Wedderlie, did you say, Mr. Wing? - Have you been there?'
" `Yes, do you know Wedderlie?'
" `Indeed I do, man. I was born and reared on a neighboring farm.' What memories were awakened then, and it was long after the hour for farmers to retire when we reluctantly bade each other `good night.'
"I find this place makes a splendid profit, far in excess of that made by most other estancias that I have seen. They plow land, grow oats, alfalfa and grass for the sheep instead of depending on native camp. They have a good class of sheep; they sell lambs for long prices; they have had good management. E. O. Runnacles would make a thing pay any-where ; here, backed by such a man as Herbert Gib-son, on this good camp, it had to pay. Land here is worth $40 per acre.
"The shadows have come; the short May day is drawing to a close; the chrysanthemums hang their heads ; the parrot scolds and wipes his other eye ; the cold wind sighs in the tops of the eucalyptus trees; my work in southern Buenos Aires is done. Tonight I reluctantly turn my face northward."
The next morning on the Avenida, a respectable looking young man stepped up to me saying, "I beg your pardon, sir, but I am unfortunate. I have been working on the docks and now have no employment. I have spent the night on the streets and I am very cold." As he spoke he shivered wretchedly. I was glad to help him and wish him better luck. A South American port is no good place in which to be stranded.
Speaking of this unhappy fellow reminds me that at the American consulate one saw frequently the drifts and wrecks and strays that are cast upon foreign shores—men begging to be sent home. This the consul was often able to do on returning ships, perhaps getting the men an opportunity to work their passage. The wage scale in South America is advancing, but it is still far below what it is in the United States. There is not the same appreciation of the honorable character of common every-day manual labor that we have in the United States. I think few eminent South Americans would boast of having been at one time ditch-diggers or plowmen or shepherds, and rail-splitters in a treeless land are naturally out of the question.
A young German business man of good education told me this story. When he went to Argentina he had difficulty in finding suitable employment. Rather than be idle he took a pair of horses and plowed up a forty-acre field and sowed it to wheat. He enjoyed the work. Unhappily, as he related, it took him years to live down the disgrace of having done this kind of work.
IN WESTERN BUENOS AIRES
We spent a day in Buenos Aires, to allow the doctor to see his sweetheart. I read and wrote letters and engaged my passage home on the steamer Vasari, to sail July the 8th. It was amazing what comfort I felt with that ticket in my pocket. It had for some reason far more reassurance than did gold, and already it seemed to me that I had been years absent from home. We bought tickets then to General Villegas, a town in western Buenos Aires, nearly 300 miles as the crow might fly.
"What a clean country Argentina is now. There is no dust; there are no chimneys, so there is no smoke. The locomotives do not smoke. Perhaps this is because coal is so dear that they- must use it with caution. I find that I can wear a linen collar for days. I have been all day in a state of wonder—wondering that I am so warm and well; that I am so' fortunate in life, given work to do and strength to do it., given appreciative eyes and a chance to use them. Today all these things come over me, and I can sit here in the car and look across the seas to Ohio and see all the environs of Woodland Farm—the fields, the forest, the homestead, my señora with her cheery voice and radiant smile, and the big, sober boys who are mine. I can see that señora of mine walking about the lawn looking at the flowers and stopping to pass a cheery word with a neighbor or neighbor's children. I close my eyes and am in Paradise. The conductor stops to watch my ma-chine and to exclaim at it `por pasatiempo?' `A mi, señor," I smiling explain to him, and he nods inappreciation.
"What is it like outside? There are no trees except at the estancia headquarters or at the rarely seen villages. The peasants go over the land with two yoke of big oxen dragging American sulky plows, the men usually walking, as the oxen are none too strong after this year of famine. The way has been monotonous, but here and there rise fine eucalypts. As I write now there is not a tree in sight. We go straight west; the sun streams in from the north, and it seems only natural that it should be so, since we become accustomed to things. For some reason today I am strangely filled with the joy of the world, with a sense of the essential order of things and with gratitude that I am given part in it. A little way to the southwest of us in Pampa Central three crops have been lost in succession, and famine with starvation hovers hideously over the huts of the colonists, who because of their great need steal the sheep of the estancieros and devour them. The government is sending seed grain and food to these poor people. Let us hope they are to have harvests this time.
"We pass through a hill. It is nearly or quite six feet high, and thus we pass through a cut of that depth for a little way. Whatever on earth made that rise in the ground? All around us for scores of miles is land as flat and smooth as it could be planed. General Villegas proved the typical camp town, drier and dirtier than some ; but the hotel was tolerable, and we slept well in happy anticipation of the morrow, for then we were to go eight leagues across the plain by coach to estancia Blança Manco, where dwelt a friend whom we had as yet never seen, George Wright. We were in the west-ern part of the province of Buenos Aires, a province half as large as all of France, and France is as far across in its longest dimension as from New York to Chicago.
"It did not take long to secure a team of three horses and a light carry-all, and soon we were rolling swiftly out into the camp. A long, wide, straight road stretched away before us, farther than the eye could reach. It was not like anything in North America; there were only a few houses or farms along the way. There were few places near town. Then one could ride and ride without seeing aught more than an occasional `puesto' or small house in which lived some fence guard or peon, who looked after a pasture. Presently we came to an alfalfa field. It was a pretty wide strip. There were many stacks of alfalfa hay in it. Short-horn cattle were scattered about in the field. In the distance I saw next the sky a curious dark line, somewhat lumpy. I wondered vaguely; mayhap it was a 'monte' or some sort of forest planting. What could it bel Then I awoke to the fact that the line was composed solidly of cattle. There were a thousand or more grazing on green alfalfa in June, which is the December of Argentina. If their alfalfa got short there were the stacks ready for them. The sunlight streamed down, though the air was cool. This, then, seemed a cattleman's heaven.
"A great estancia house stood beyond the cattle, with its white walls, and about it were numerous dwellings and structures. It would have been an interesting spot to visit, but we passed on. There were eight leagues between us and Blanca Manco, and Blanca Manco held our breakfast. What an interesting soil study it was as we drove along. In the eight leagues we passed there was not one watercourse. In places there was water a few inches deep in the road, extending for a quarter of a mile. Why not ditch it offs Where would the ditch run? It was 200 miles to any running watercourse. There is in fact no need of drainage, except possibly at some places in the roads. The rainfall has been so nicely proportioned that the soil takes up every drop. It is like the legs of the man, as specified by Lincoln : they should be just long enough to reach from his body to the earth.
"This land is like that. With marvelous accuracy the capacity of the earth has been proportioned to the rainfall. With a large rainfall it would be necessary to cut drainage canals hundreds of miles long. As it is, the sandy subsoil takes up all the water that falls; in fact, it not infrequently cries for more. Whence came these thousands upon thou-sands of square miles of rich, level earth, so much alike in every party? What ancient river left this soil in the bottom of a shallow sea? Doubtless the great Parana should have the credit. We were interested to see the beginning of roadmaking; men with wheelbarrows were grading up middles, wide and rounded. The sections of soil that they cut through were marvelous. The topsoil was black; under it was a friable brown earth, with a fine sandy subsoil. All of it was rich and capable of producing, with moisture, great crops of almost anything. What makes this special soil so good for alfalfa is that it has a porous subsoil that is not found in all of Argentina. It lets the alfalfa roots and the rain-fall down and thus encourages alfalfa to make, its glorious growth.
"Perhaps it was typical of South America to see these gangs of men with wheelbarrows making roads when horses could be bought for $25 per head.. A few short years ago no man hereabouts knew how to work a horse except. under the saddle. This soil could work very satisfactorily with road ma chines or scrapers. We were glad to see any sort of road being built that would raise us above the water. There was no water on the fields; there the earth had drunk it all down and the alfalfa was making use of it. Here and there, fields of oats were lushly green and were pastured; men were busily plowing for wheat.
`Reaching Blanca Manca, we drove into a field, meaning that we went `across lots' to the headquarters. After passing three or four miles inside, we came to the house of a colonist who told us that we must go back and follow the road around, which we did, arriving just as they were sitting down to breakfast. We had a hearty welcome. `Oh, Mr. Wing, why did you not let us know? We should have had something fit for you to eat.' How well I re-member that breakfast, at mid-day—the muchness and the goodness of it. George Wright proved to be a Lancashire man, long in Argentina. His wife grew up in the country, and yet she has the manners of an English-born woman, kindly and hospitable. For years they have read THE GAZETTE and find it a never-failing source of pleasure.