Over Uruguayan Pastures
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
It was with real regret that we left the hospitable Tidemann estancia with its teeming pastures. Our host sped us on our way in an American two-wheeled sulky, very comfortable indeed, with all our baggage. Two hours ahead of us were sent two spare horses to await our arrival along the road. Manager Steinich mounted on a fine, big horse, accompanied us for many miles pointing out interesting features, until at last we reached the limits of the estancia and were on the broad but little traveled highway that led in a general direction westward.
We had as a guide a swarthy peon who had a look of trustworthiness, and our horse was a good one, so we were content. Frost lay over the earth and a skim of ice was over the tiny pools. A strange land is Uruguay. It is not hilly, yet it undulates nicely; the earth is black and seems rich, and yet here and there the granite rocks stick up through the soil, maybe in little points, half concealed by the grass and again in great rounded masses. Between the lines of stone there is usually a good depth of soil.
Hour after hour we jogged along, the distance some forty miles, more or less. Always on either hand were the far-reaching pastures of green, dotted with sheep or cattle or with both classes of animals in the one field. Very wide were the pastures, usually, with 200, 400 or more acres in one enclosure. Occasionally we would pass a farm with its maize and winter oats, lush and green, and. its wheat just coming up. Once we passed some sort of country store and drinking place, near which lounged swarthy men, their horses saddled close by. Birds flitted along the way; little flowers hugging the earth bloomed bravely.
WHERE HEREFORDS THRIVE
The homes of estancieros are wide apart; only two or three did we pass on the way. These places belonged to Basques or small proprietors only. At last, as the shadows lengthened, in the short win-ter day of late June, we reached a puesto, where the guide secured a gate key. We turned in to the pasture lands of Los Altos. Ahead of us was the array of gleaming white buildings at the headquarters, and an hour or so more of steady jogging across the pastures brought us to our destination.
Along the way fine Lincoln sheep came into view, as also did grand old Hereford cows, with splendid lusty calves. I could win fame if I could show photographs of those sheep as they stood, heads erect, watching our approach, or scampering off, fleeces flying, as we drew too near to please them.
Manager C. Francisco Gepp met us smiling. "I had been hoping you would get over our way. Won't you join us for a cup of tea?" We joined. Forty miles in the crisp air of Uruguay gives one an appetite. Some neighbors had dropped in—a young wife and mother and her husband—bright, interesting native-born folk of English blood. It was a shock to discover that the children did not speak English. They learn Spanish first because it is the easiest of languages to learn (so they tell me) especially for children. I wish I were a child; maybe I should then have better success with my tongue.
After tea we inspected the Herefords. There were some sappy youngsters in sheds, knee-deep in bright straw, munching oat hay. Unhappily this is not yet an alfalfa country but oats grow well. When they plow very deep it may be found that alfalfa will grow also. It is pre-eminently a Here-ford country. Mr. Gepp loves the "white-faces" and breeds them with good judgment. He has at Los Altos 25,000 acres on which there are 4,000 Herefords and 9,000 Lincoln sheep. Of the cattle nearly all are practically pure-bred, though only about 200 of them are registered. He breeds the low, thick, beefy kind, that we so much admire in North America.
Dinner enjoyed, we sat by a blazing wood fire, though to my amusement the outer door was wide open, frost crystals forming on the grass. South America is no place for cold-blooded North Americans to visit for pleasure in winter.
We got up with the lark the next day and drove over wide pastures, again looking at glorious Lincoln ewes. All were neatly shorn on their udders and about the places where wool is easily soiled, ready for their lambing, which was soon to come. Just before lambing time, Mr. Gepp kills a few sheep and strychnines their carcasses for the foxes. He has good lambings because his sheep are never crowded. He averages about 90 per cent. He does not dip. He learned the art of shepherding from the Tidemann place and absorbed the idea that it is a disgrace to have scab and need forever to be dipping. Therefore he dipped so thoroughly one year that his sheep have been clean ever since. He is careful that they do not get too near to neighbors' flocks; usually there is a pasture between them.
His steer calves are carefully dehorned at an early age. He gives them wide room and they are always fat, locusts and drouth permitting. The estancia is not overstocked and yields a good profit. Yet it must end; the edict has gone forth, "Sell the place." Last year the half was sold and yielded $32 per acre, going chiefly to Swiss dairymen. Now the rest of it is to be divided and sold. The land yields good interest on that valuation, but the owners wish to cash in while they can secure what they consider large profits.
AN ATTRACTIVE WHITEWASH
At Los Altos I learned how to make whitewash of lime nearly as durable as oil paint. Take leaves of cactus plants, cut them in slices and pound them a little ; pour water over the mass and let it stand for twenty-four hours. The whitewash is then made with lime, using this water, much in the usual manner. The result is a brilliant white coating that will neither rub nor wash off. It adheres perfectly to galvanized iron, that ubiquitous building material of South America; and protects it from corrosion by the elements. It makes all it touches a dazzling and permanent white. Our ranchers in the Southwest are surrounded by wild cacti; there is a hint here for them. Dwellers in our southern states can grow the large species of cacti in waste corners and make their whitewashes durable.
I strolled into the garden where I plucked a few violets and a Japanese quince, looked at the apple blooms and medlars, the orange trees and the em-bus, and reflected that they say that here the nights are usually too cool in summer to perfect the maize of our cornbelt. Perhaps also the climate is a little too dry for it at times. Then I strolled across a pasture thick with grass and young bur clovers, just springing, and saw the fine, matronly Here-fords and their dazzlingly white-headed babies. Then I entered a plowed field, a new breaking, that was just getting its cross-plowing. This was done with two yokes of great criollo or Hereford oxen, each attached to an American riding plow. Swarthy peons, each one having a knife with a sixteen-inch blade thrust through his belt, guided and encouraged the "bueys" with long prod poles of bamboo, although these well-fed oxen needed little prodding and received little. They went along nearly as rapidly as draught horses. Mr. Gepp prefers the Hereford ox. Most men think the native criollo more enduring, but the Hereford is probably the more tractable. It was interesting to hear the drivers address their beasts in Spanish, which evidently was well understood, yet they were but dumb oxen; and I, with a man's brain had labored almost in vain for months to grasp the tongue. Some of the plowmen were almost as black as negroes, yet with no trace of negro features or blood. They descend from Canary Islanders, I presume.
THE RICH SOIL OF URUGUAY
The soil, rich, black and full of humus, has been increasing in fertility since the days of Noah. Great, fat earthworms were turned up, just as one sees in the best soils of North America or Europe. They astonished me more than anything that I had seen, convincing me that this land was made for civilized, cultivating, boy-rearing man. Given a black, rich soil, full of earthworms, a man with his feet on the earth and his head full of good purpose, while his hands are busy, and a woman fit for him—one hand rocking the cradle while the other kneads the bread—and her soul up among the stars—given that combination and the greatest events possible can occur. "Wanted!" cry these prairies, "wanted! men, and women, and trees."
The sun streams in as I write this late winter's afternoon. The birds call, children's voices are heard in the garden outside, and from the field comes the cry of the ox-drivers, "vamos; vamos, vamos bueys!"
And so you see a place in South America is not a tumbledown, ramshackle affair, with rotting, leaning buildings, broken gate, disorder and con-fusion reigning everywhere. Maybe there are such places, but at Los Altos, as at Tidemann's, the picture is far different. The fences are splendidly strong, all the posts in exact line and all the wires taut as fiddlestrings. All the gates are strong and swing easily. On all the camp there are neither dead animals nor bleaching bones. The buildings, while of simple design and comparatively inexpensive construction, are each in perfect order and all gleam white with lime wash. Not a tool is out of place. I have seen no finer order or neatness in Europe or North America. I should rather seek for a neater, better-kept place in Argentina or Uruguay than in North America.
From sun to sun the peons work cheerfully, for their wage of $12 to $15 per month, with food. The bell rings to call them to work and to signal when to cease, as in our southern states. It is all very interesting to see the Anglo-Saxon brain working energetically south of the equator, accomplishing splendid results, just as it accomplishes in North America. It is interesting to see the cattle, sheep and men retain their quality and virtues under the Southern Cross, just as under the North Star.